Sunday, March 19, 2017

Crested Woodpecker

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I spent the early part of the morning, while it was still too dark to hike down the Cataract Trail, poking around Serpentine Power Point (see Tamalpais Walking for the origin of that name). I didn't see anything new to photograph, but I noted lots of  (silverleaf?) lupine plants getting started (but still no sign of sky lupine), and lots of cobweb thistle (though only one of the dozens of plants had a flower on it already). Later in the day a bit of warm sunshine opened the closed petals of a few scattered California poppies, but overall the wildflower show, to whatever extent we will have one, is still probably a couple of weeks off. 

Returning to my car in the Rock Spring parking lot, I was questioned by a young man who might have been from Brazil (says my gestalt). He pointed the way I'd just come from and asked, "Is that the trail to the beach?" I cocked my head, unsure if I'd heard him correctly. I figured he'd meant to start at Pantoll and hike out the Matt Davis Trail down to Stinson. He had no map, so I couldn't show him that or any other plausible route. I told him there was no trail to the beach from there, but he gave me a kind of jaunty, defiant look that said, "I will find my way just fine, old man." I pointed him in the right direction as best I could, thinking he had an interesting day ahead of him.

The Rock Spring water tank is still dripping from a loose valve fitting at the top of the tank. As I stood next to the huge thing and thought about the water pressure against those weathered old barrel staves and rusty hoops, I had a brief but scintillating moment of panic. I don't know if I faced my fear or just ignored it, but I threw caution to the wind and made a couple of photographs.

I was well down the Cataract Trail before I realized I'd left my water bottle back in the car. I didn't have a particular hike planned, but I figured I might need it if I got ambitious. After photographing this irresistible group of shooting stars (five flowers and a bud on the stalk, instead of the usual two or three flowers), I got all the way to the Mickey O'Brien Trail without taking my camera out of the bag again. 

My throat felt a little scratchy, maybe due to an incipient cold, so I decided to hike back up to the car. I figured I'd do some poking around up on Bolinas Ridge, but as I hiked back up the trail I thought that if the water tank and the shooting stars were my only photos of the day, I wouldn't have a blog post for today. With very few exceptions, that's always the way I approach an outing on the mountain. I rarely have anything in mind. I rely on inspiration and luck, and sometimes I go home empty-handed.

I've been hearing pileated woodpeckers quite a bit on recent trips, and this morning was no exception. These large woodpeckers often sound tantalizingly close but can nevertheless be difficult to see. I was terrifically excited when this guy swooped over my head, crossed Cataract Creek, and came to rest on a jumble of logs just a hop, skip and creek-dipped-shoe away. My longest lens was a 105mm, but I couldn't resist trying my luck. 

The first bird's mate soon swooped by but was much more skittish about me and hid behind trees until finally fluttering into the woods across the meadow. She was soon followed by the other one. I foolishly followed them despite having no chance whatsoever of being able to photograph them with my puny 105mm. I had binoculars, though, and figured I might enjoy just watching them.

To make a long story short, the more brazen of the two birds, presumably the male, ended up pecking so diligently on a large downed Douglas fir that I was able to waltz right up to him. In truth I approached incrementally, grateful for the bird's forbearance each time I moved a bit closer. 

At no time did Pileated Pete seem the least bit perturbed by my proximity, even when he finally prized out his prize, a big fat grub.

I shot a little bit of hand-held video showing Pete working the wood, then gnoshing on bits of Mr. Grubs before he decided to go for broke. Unfortunately, he couldn't quite fit Mr. Grubs down his gullet and sort of spit him back out. He held one end of the grub in his beak and snapped his head to and fro to try to snap the grub into smaller pieces, but he lost his grip and sent the grub into some nearby brush. I felt bad for him for losing his meal after all that work, but he did not seem bothered in the least. After Pete flew away I managed to find the remains of Mr. Grubs on the ground under some bushes. Not a pretty sight.

I got back to the car and drove out along Bolinas Ridge to walk the same short loop I followed last week. This land snail, perhaps a redwood sideband snail (Monadenia infumata), was crossing the path. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the calypso orchid I replanted (after photographing it from bulb to crown) was still alive. Dozens more have sprouted flowers in just the last week, and spotted coral root is already getting started in a few places. I hung out with the shrieking robins, screaching steller's jays, whistling mourning doves, band-tailed pigeons making very weird noises, and mountain bluebirds sounding as pretty as they look. I think I spooked up a poorwill at one point and was disappointed that I hadn't noticed it before it flushed.

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  1. Great catch on the Woodpecker and nice composition on the shooting stars.

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