Sunday, June 30, 2013

June Favorites

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His first concern was "the hills of home," especially Mount Tamalpais in Marin County. Part of the landmark mountain was parkland, but most of its lower slopes were in dairy farms. "Don't worry," Wayburn was told. "These people have been here forever and will always keep their ranches.... Three months later I heard about the acquisition of one of the ranches by speculators. That really got me going." Wayburn sat down and drafted an ideal future boundary for the state park, including the entire watershed of its major stream, Redwood Creek. It took a quarter century, but this vision of protection was finally fulfilled.
--John Hart writing about Edgar Wayburn in 
Legacy, Portraits of 50 Bay Area Environmental Elders

California Buckeye

Yellow Mariposa Lily


Western Azalea

Common Ringlet

Oakland Star Tulip on Serpentine

Stinging Nettle

Yerba Buena

Collecting Thistle Down

Mt. Tam Jewelflower

Taking Cover


Baby Hummers



Longhorn Beetle

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Saturday, June 29, 2013

North Side Ramble

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I woke up at a crazy time this morning, one of those wee hours where I probably could have made it all the way to Yosemite in time for sunrise. But I had no intention of going to Yosemite, so I spent a couple of unproductive hours trying to go back to sleep before I finally got up and headed out to the north side of Mt. Tam by way of Fairfax-Bolinas Road. That's Mt. Tam's East Peak on the right, and Mount Diablo on the distant horizon.

(4-second timelapse)

I parked at Azalea Hill and stepped out of the Jeep into a mellow pre-dawn darkness, expecting to be slightly chilled -- but it was warm and breezy. I've been out there for sunrise before, but only in the winter, so I couldn't quite wrap my head around the warmth and ended up throwing on a longjohn top just in case, only to peel it off as soon as I reached the top of the hill.

I'd been on the lookout for animals in the road during the drive up but didn't see any. With my commanding view atop Azalea Hill I figured I'd at least see some deer or maybe a jackrabbit, but there was nothing but landscape. 

I stopped off at the Lily Pond but didn't do any photography. I couldn't help noticing a couple of gross patches of used toilet paper on the edge of the pond. Real neighborly. As I was hunkered down in the horsetail looking for an angle to photograph I heard what sounded like a gunshot -- CRACK! I looked toward the sound, which had come from the woods on the other side of the road, and the first crack was followed by more as a huge branch peeled off and crashed to earth.

My next stop was Cataract Gulch, where the creek was running fairly strong due to the rain we had earlier in the week. Once again, though, I wasn't feeling inspired to shoot any pictures. I drove up the hill, but the gate at the top was still locked, so I poked around and photographed the fern just to pass the time. Although I'd cooked a breakfast burrito before leaving the house, I was already hungry again and ate the PB&J I'd brought along. They opened the gate a little later, at about 8:30 a.m.

The light was still pretty nice on Bolinas Ridge, so it was a good time to start a mini-project of photographing the ridge from the same vantage point, with the same lens, at different times of the year. Sort of a longer-term timelapse. The green on the hillsides is not grass, but bracken fern, along with some coyote brush and Douglas firs.

I parked at Rock Spring and hiked a short distance down the Cataract Trail to stalk some leopard lilies. I'd hoped to photograph them being visited by a swallowtail butterfly, but as I was making this image with my macro lens a hummingbird swooped down. Unfortunately, the bird was too nervous to feed in my presence and buzzed away. I changed lenses and waited for the hummer to return. It did return -- several times -- but each time it lost its nerve and zoomed away when it realized I was still there.

While I was waiting for the hummingbird I snagged my first Grappletail dragonfly of the season. These guys are a bit of a nemesis. I've yet to get a shot of one that I'm really happy with. Grappletails and Pacific Spiketails were the two big dogs in the area, but I never saw a spiketail stop to rest.

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Saturday, June 22, 2013

Mount Tam Jam 2013

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Until today, no one had been to a rock concert on Mt. Tam since June 1967.

That concert was the first outdoor rock festival in history and featured the likes of Moby Grape, Steve Miller and The Doors (more info here).

It was an unbelievably brilliant day on the mountain, and clear skies extended to the horizon. The San Francisco skyline rose in the distance in just a slight haze, and the Diablo Range was clearly visible well beyond The City. Oh yeah, the music was rockin' too. Just another great day on the mountain....

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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Mt. Tam Mythology

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Three Views of Mt. Tamalpais from San Francisco

"By virtue of its hilly landscape, its redwood forests and eucalyptus groves, its wayward coastline, and its liberally bohemianized population, the peninsula of Southern Marin has attracted imaginative people from all over the world.... [I]ts geographical center is a mountain holy to the Indians, and named after their princess Tamalpa. Though not much more than twenty-five hundred feet high, Mount Tamalpais rises almost directly from sea level, and thus looks bigger than it is, and most of it has been set aside as a state park. Seen in the first light of dawn ... the whole mass of hills, valleys, and canyons with their forests, groves, meadows, and giant rocks confers an atmosphere of strange beneficence....

"Extraordinary people live upon it. Occasionally you may come across an order of Western yamabushi or Buddhist mountain-monks, with their rattling pilgrim staffs and conch-shell trumpets. There are a few true hermits, on the northern slopes, which are its most lonely and untraveled parts.... There is a psychiatrist who lives all year in a tent and uses astronomy to cure his patients by letting them see their problems from the perspective of the galaxy. There is a surgeon who heals people by doing nothing. There are also mountain lions, bobcats, and deer galore, and wild goats and eagles and vultures and raccoons and rattlesnakes and gophers....

"All these and many more wizards, yogis, artists, poets, musicians, gardeners, and madmen cluster about this mountain, largely unheeded by the orderly streams of tourists who dutifully inspect the vast redwood cathedral of Muir Woods and attend the annual play given in the enormous amphitheater just below the summit."

--From In My Own Way, An Autobiography
by Alan Watts, 1972

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Saturday, June 15, 2013


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Standing in 80-degree sunshine, looking at 56-degree fog. It was interesting to go back to the pet cemetery this week and find that an animal had dug into the grave somewhat, but stopped before reaching the presumed carcass.

I was running the timelapse at the top of this post when I saw these hikers moving toward a photogenic spot. I let the timelapse go until the last moment before turning it off to grab this shot. 

I've always found it important to have 100-percent viewfinder coverage. Using a Nikon F3 for nearly 30 years, I guess I just got used to it. In a scene like this, I'd have been disappointed to have seen this in the viewfinder, only to find in the image that the people or the treetops were cut off.

I saw these blacktailed buck deer feeding on a nearby hillside from a vista point on Bolinas Ridge and walked up the road to photograph them. The angle makes it look like we're on level ground, but I'm actually pointing the camera down a steep hillside.

The trio of bucks seemed fine with my presence at first, but suddenly decided they had business to attend to elsewhere.

The deer had been feeding just on the other side of these guys as they were doing a (presumably) commercial photo shoot featuring their colorful BMW on Pantoll Road.

I took a quick walk down Cataract Creek to look for leopard lilies. I saw some blooming on the south-facing side of the mountain as I drove up to Rock Spring, but they weren't flowering yet along the creek. I know this white-flowered plant is a member of the carrot family, but that's it. I wondered if it was water hemlock (which is even more toxic than poison hemlock), but I'm thinking it's something else. In order to key it out, I'll have to wait until it sets seed. [Update: It's Oenanthe sarmentosa, or water dropwort.]

I didn't recognize this one until I got home and looked it up. I first learned about Prunella vulgaris when I lived in Arcata (where it's a common lawn weed), but I never realized there was a native form of the species that looks quite different. This is the native form.

This is the little marshy area, full of sedge and giant chain ferns, where the leopard lilies are still coming up, but not quite ready to show off.

Another view of the native self-heal. 
Not so squat as the introduced form.

On my way home I made one last stop at the vista point where I'd started the day, just to take in the fog which appeared to be creeping higher up the mountain. I caught a slight movement on the hill below and spotted this gray fox just as he spotted me. I reached through an open window on the passenger side of the Jeep and grabbed my camera, sure that the fox would dive into the woods before I could photograph him.

But he was just a little curious about me, and I was able to get a little closer before I finally did step over the line. I sat down in the hope he'd come back out, but I think I dropped out of his mind as soon as he entered the woods. I was able to follow his progress for a while, at first by listening to his footsteps, then by hearing him being scolded by a bunch of scrub jays, and finally by another scolding by a squirrel farther down the hill.

As you can see, I have changed the name of the blog from John Wall's Natural California to the somewhat ponderous A Circumannuation of Mt. Tam. The plan is to spend the next year blogging only about Mt. Tamalpais. The emphasis will mainly be on biodiversity and landscapes, but I'll also show what the humans are up to on occasion. I might even circumambulate the mountain (video), something I feel I ought to do at least once, even though I'm not Buddhist, just to find out if it would deepen my relationship with the mountain.

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Sunday, June 2, 2013

Home Mountain

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There was a play going on at the Mountain Theater on Mt. Tamalpais today, so the area around Rock Spring was quite busy. I noticed the gate at West Ridgecrest had opened early, so I took advantage of the opportunity to drive out that way before the usual 9 a.m. opening time. The light was pretty good, but the most excellent thing was being visited by a fawn. I heard its footsteps nearby as I composed the shot above, but I figured the steps were not really as close as they sounded. When I turned around to pack up my camera gear I startled the spotted fawn, who quickly turned and pranced away into the woods. The only other time a fawn came so close to check me out was years ago in the Yolla-Bolly Wilderness.

When I walked over the way the fawn had gone I found this apparent burial site, a pet cemetery. I did not dig it up to find out if an actual critter was buried there, but I was surprised a coyote hadn't already done so. Just before I reached the Jeep I spotted a coyote walking sprightly along the road. He kept an eye on me as he passed but didn't change his lightly bouncing gait. I watched him continue quite a ways down the road before he finally turned onto a game trail and disappeared. 

One of these days I'm going to find out what this grass species is called. (Spoke too soon. Doreen Smith just let me know it's Cynosurus echinatus, Crested Dogtail Grass.)

The spittlebugs are usually massed in a hard-to-photograph spot, so I took advantage of this chance to catch them in the open on a thistle stalk. These nymph froghoppers squeeze the spittle out their hind ends to keep them covered while they feed on their host plant, then emerge as adults to continue feeding on plants.

Lady ferns down by Cataract Creek.

Small blue butterflies, creekside denizens, drawn to moisture.

Banana slug climbing a rock, on its way . . . somewhere.

On the way back up to the Jeep I found the most perfect dandelion puff (probably mountain dandelion) and couldn't resist photographing it. I dragged it back down into the woods to be in the shade, but it was still kind of windy even under the Douglas firs. After I finally got it photographed I let it be. It was just too perfect an orb to blow to smithereens.

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