Thursday, May 15, 2014

Las Tablas Creek

Met at 0830 off Los Osos Rd S of San Luis Obispo and drove north to Vineyard Rd at Templeton, then west on Hwy 46 to Santa Rosa Creek Road. Clear and hot today, light wind, maximum temperature around 90 F. Grass is all dry S of San Luis Obispo, mostly still green but drying in the upper Salinas Valley. Took Santa Rosa Creek Rd NW to the head of Rocky Creek at Black Mountain summit. The upper part of Rocky Creek near the base of Black Mountain has shaded shallow pools with undercut root bases, and looks very suitable for Taricha, especially since the creek flows S across hwy 46 and joins Santa Rita Creek. It does so by veering away from Santa Rosa Creek Rd to the SE, and runs for 3/8 mile in a deep canyon. This should be checked, although there are several houses along the road nearby at the S end.
Continued NW over Black Mountain summit, and took the dirt road 0.3 mi. N that is variously known as Adelaida Summit Rd or Cypress Mountain Rd (neither is appropriate). This climbs to the Santa Lucia divide in serpentine then enters a long NW-trending tributary of Las Tablas Creek on sandstone and shale bedrock. Batrachoseps minor is known from the first mile or so of this road on the E side of the crest, with a rocky creek very far below in mixed woodland with a lot of madrones. One large tributary lies in a notch in the road, and this usually has water tumbling over steep jagged rocks in the winter. Today it is dry at the road, and Juliet was only able to see a couple of isolated small pools on the way down to the main tributary. Houses and fenced creek start right there, though the fence is decrepit in a number of places. The stream looks very good indeed
for Taricha in the next mile or so, with numerous pools 10-15’ across and up to 30’ long, over 2’ deep in places. Lots of overhanging root masses, and fair numbers of trout. No newts today. This deeply-shaded canyon with alders goes for about 1.2 miles NW until serpentine shows up again and the valley broadens out with digger pine and blue oaks replacing alders, madrones and white oaks. A site called 7X Ranch occupies the mouth of a large tributary about half way down, and about ¼ mile beyond that there are some deep bedrock pools where Juliet saw a large adult red-legged frog. Saw no tadpoles anywhere today, nor pond turtles nor snakes. Drove out past Klau mine onto Vineyard Rd and took Dover Creek Rd W to the bridge at Jack Creek. Still water here, barely flowing, but probably too open for newts. Returned to San Luis Obispo via hwy 1 at 1400, Juliet has to pick up her daughters from school at 1430. There sure are a lot of places that look good for newts that don’t have any – there has to be some way to try to get a handle on that. Going out in this very dry year helps define minimum criteria. The tedious way would be to score up physical features of each drainage and run a principal components analysis of newt vs. no-newt sites. If you could establish that there is no subset of features that makes a stream suitable for newts (as seems likely from the range of places we’ve looked at [what makes Las Tablas Creek different from upper San Simeon Creek, for example]). Then the conclusion would be that accidental historic factors play a dominant role. This is not very satisfying, but it may be the best we can get.

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