Thursday, March 27, 2014

Met Juliet at the base of See Canyon Road at 0830 and drove up to Coon Creek Ranch, where we met the owner. The Nature Conservancy has bought a conservation easement on his 4,000 acre property as part of their push to conserve substantially all of the Irish Hills. This ranch is in fact very nice and has been carefully managed to avoid overgrazing and other abuses, but for me the gem is the access it provides to the middle section of Coon Creek, on BLM land sandwiched between Andre and Montana de Oro State Park.
The creek today is flowing 3-5 cfs, essentially constantly in the area we checked, in a deeply-incised canyon with step walls and very heavy shade, plus a lot of understorey vegetation – mainly dogwood, but plenty of poison oak as well. The water is clear, no foam at waterfalls, and there are lots of trout to about 6” in the larger pools. Most of these pools are rather shallow as there is a fair bit of gravel being transported in the creek bed unlike many local streams, and there are few overhanging banks or deeply undercut rocks. Rocks are silicified bedded sandstones, angular blocks in the creek. We went downstream a little over a mile directly in the streambed, but saw no amphibians other than a hatchling Ensatina I found under a vertical log on the steep bank, and one Batrachoseps under a small log. The absence of Taricha here is very striking. The creek should have been packed with them. It is a relatively small creek here, though more substantial on Montana de Oro, but has the most mesic canyon vegetation anywhere in the region. The canyon walls are a mix of dirt and small outcrops with abundant downed logs and small mammal burrows, plenty of leaf litter from the dense canopy of oaks, laurels and maples, with madrones and Bishop pines halfway up the slopes.

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