Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Santa Rosa Creek

Truck in the shop with a busted starter motor (second one), so I rented a car for getting around, and got around up to San Luis Obispo to meet Juliet at 0830. Took hwy 101 N to Vineyard Drive, then west to hwy 46, continuing to Santa Rosa Creek Rd. Headed NW towards Cambria with a stop at the Rocky Creek bridge S of Black Mountain. Creek here looks good for newts, but none to be seen today. Continued over Black Mountain summit and down into Santa Rosa Creek, past Matt Smith’s house below the switchback and into the wooded canyon. There is a large N tributary joining the creek here 2.5 mi. NW of Black Mountain summit, 685 feet elev., and the roadside is unfenced for almost half a mile, so we parked and had a walk. This is just about the same site as 10.0 mi. ESE of Cambria, the uppermost newt seen on 31 March. Coordinates 35.56843N, 120.93816W.
Animals were not common here but Juliet managed to find three males. In this area it is low gradient with large rounded boulders and shallow pools, fully shaded by tall alders with little understorey, looks a lot like Las Tablas Creek along Adelaida Summit road. Saw a few fish but no larval or adult amphibians. Drove a couple miles farther down Santa Rosa Creek Rd, past where the creek crosses to the S side of the road and there are some very nice pools. Looking from the road edge (mostly tightly fenced) we did not see any further newts. Got visited by a fairly nosey sheriff out keeping nature safe from itself. Returned up Santa Rosa Creek and crossed hwy 46 onto Old Creek Rd, followed that E over the divide into Santa Rita Creek. Made a brief stop at the pool at 5.1 mi. SE Vineyard Drive at 995 ft. elev., coordinates 35.56843N, 120.93816W, where we were only able to find a single male newt. A pair of mallard ducks is here, probably eating eggs. Getting short on time, we had to head back to SLO. It is not at all clear why a creek like Santa Rosa should be so stingy with newts, unless perhaps there is a long history of road mortality.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Cuesta Grade sites

Picked up Ashlyn at CCBER and drove to San Luis Obispo to check on reported newt localities near Cuesta Grade. A clear day, high about 70 F, no wind. Went first to Reservoir (Brizziolari) Canyon, an eastern tributary of San Luis Obispo Creek accessible via a short road off hwy 101 a half mile NE of San Luis Obispo. There is a parking area and a trail starting at a large serpentine outcrop that was once the core of a dam, now washed away. Started here and walked upstream in and along the creek, which was flowing at ca. 4-5 cfs in a narrow riparian corridor with steep chaparral slopes to the S and open serpentine grassland on the N. Went upstream about ¾ mile without seeing any newts or egg masses. The stream looks good but is small and shallow, with relatively few refuge pools. Ashlyn found a Batrachoseps nigriventris under a small log, though in general the leaf litter was too dry.
Left here and drove up hwy 101 a short ways. The creek is at roadside here and we walked up about 200 m w/o finding any newts. This is a larger stream, maybe 6-8 cfs, incised into dirt banks with good riparian vegetation and some shallow pools. The stream was slightly muddy indicating some current disturbance at the houses above, and has some trash and evidence of hobo camps. Took Stagecoach Rd over the pass and went to Tassajara Creek Rd, a left turn S of the exit to Santa Margarita. Checked the bridge at hwy 101, saw no newts. The lower canyon here is open valley oak grassland, the stream itself compressing into a narrow corridor at roadside very thick with willows and poison oak, all very professionally fenced by the one original ranch, with horsey rancho 5 acre lots scattered throughout. Found the rancher clearing brush and talked to him for a bit. He and his son both allowed that newts were “pretty much all over this country” but that they rarely saw more than one at a time, including in the creek there. He suggested we go to the “old trout farm” at the end of Sully Spring Rd (1.5 mi. W of jct hwy 101).
Drove up to a parking spot across the creek from houses, with signs urging people not to run over newts, red-legged frogs or turtles. Found the owner in (Ken?), a retired Cal Poly prof, and he readily gave us the OK to have a look around. He said there were fewer newts this year because at least one “merganser” (pretty sure he meant red-breasted) flew in to the ponds almost daily and was seen to eat a couple of newts before leaving. There are six ponds in all here, becoming larger and deeper downslope, fed one into another by concrete runways. The upper three ponds are mostly shaded but have emergent vegetation on the brighter side, and a middle pond is about 1/3 full of short cattails. The lower two ponds are at least 4’ deep and a bit murky. We saw newt eggs in each pond, but found newts only in the upper two, where they were actively breeding. Saw only 8 newts here plus a voucher male. Oddly we saw no Pseudacris eggs at all, nor any tadpoles, nor adults – it is as if P. regilla was extinct. I would have also expected to see Bufo boreas here. Continued N on hwy 101 to Vineyard Drive, and went out Santa Rita Creek 5.0 miles to the large pool visited most recently on 23 March, now 1330 hrs. At that time I counted large numbers of clutches on shallowly-submerged willow branches (4 groups) along the W side of the pool in water 2.5-4’ deep, with lesser numbers on sticks resting on the bottom – I recorded 20 clutches near surface and 11 on the bottom at the first (downstream) willow. Saw a subadult pond turtle on the bottom under these branches near the eggs. I watched it for 10 minutes, it did nothing. 115 clutches were on shallow sticks at the second willow, 16 on the bottom, and lesser numbers upstream, save for 94 clutches counted today on the 4th (upstream) willow. Today nearly all of the shallow clutches were gone. They were blastulas, maybe 4 early neurula stage on the 23rd, no way they could have hatched in two weeks, plus the jelly is gone. On the 23rd I had broken off two large willow branches and sunk them with rocks along the W side of the pool in areas between the willow overhangs. Not a single clutch was laid on them, suggesting that breeding is over already here in late March. Saw 22 animals here, mostly males and over half of them from the bouldery upstream end of the pool, where they were under rocks underwater. Some clutches had been laid on the undersides of rocks here. Saw a single P. regilla here (no eggs/tadpoles), and caught a subadult Clemmys. No fish in this pool, and no indication of crayfish. Had a quick look at a downstream pool and found a pair of mallards, which I strongly suspect to be the shallow water egg predators. We need a couple of remote cameras to verify this. Drove out over Santa Lucia crest. Made a stop 2.0 miles beyond the pool (so 7.1 miles from Vineyard Drive) at the junction of the S fork of Santa Rita Creek where the road climbs away from the creek (jct with Hi Laurel Road) and saw a newt in the creek here, providing a minimum upstream limit. Saw no herps down Old Creek Rd to Cayucos.