Monday, September 30, 2013

September Favorites

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I'm convinced that my unabashed appreciation of Bay Area wildness is based on my direct experience of such highly touted places as Alaska, Hawaii, the Galapagos Islands, the polar regions, and Tibet. Only after having photographed all seven continents and both poles do I know with certitude how favorably my home wildlands compare.
--Galen Rowell, Inner Game of Outdoor Photography

Jimson Weed


Bobcat Surprise

Insect Galls on Wild Rose

Jimson Weed Trumpet

Monarch & Milkweed

First Light

Coast Look-Out

Sargent Cypress

Spider Feast

Wind-Brushed Grass

Mossy Bay Laurel

Canyon Live Oak

California Fuchsia

Variegated Meadowhawk

Rifle Camp Meadow

Big-Leaf Maple

Pileated Woodpecker

Mating Dragonflies

Pacific Treefrog

Fall Colors at September's End

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Saturday, September 28, 2013

Things In Trees

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With Pam just coming off a bout of the flu and my having just come down with some kind of crazy allergy (or whatever's going on that involves lots of nose-blowing and a keen desire to get back in bed), we headed up to Mt. Tam with a loose plan to hike out to Potrero Meadow.

Not feeling up to it by the time we got to Rock Spring, though, we decided to just mosey around.

Our mosey took us out along Bolinas Ridge.

For a hike that's really just an excuse to find a great viewpoint, you can't beat Bolinas Ridge. Although there was a line of smoke across the horizon (perhaps from the Hay Kingdom fire out near Winters), there wasn't a lick of fog and we had a clear view out to Chimney Rock at Pt. Reyes as well as the Farallon Islands.

This was the first of three unusual items we found in trees along our route. This is some sort of webbing that's tied into some trees to provide a platform. Not knowing its provenance, I did not climb into it. It's high enough off the ground that you would not want to fall through an unfortunate spot of dry rot.

As we continued our mosey, Pam discovered this Buddhist statue installed on a bay laurel. I believe it's a statue of Avalokiteshvara, bodhisattva of compassion, and I might hazard a guess that it was installed only recently, perhaps on last week's equinoctial Circumambulation of Mt. Tam....

Finally, moseying about on a different patch of the mountain, but still on Bolinas Ridge, I discovered the third unusual item in a tree -- someone's nicely camo'd trail camera! Like the bodhisattva, the camera was bolted in place, obviously set up for a long-term stint. We found raccoon tracks in some nearby mud (what are 'coons doing way up here?!), but my imagination was piqued: has this camera ever trapped a mountain lion?

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Saturday, September 21, 2013

Last Day of Summer

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As I drove up Panoramic Highway past Bootjack (headlights on and windshield wipers squeaking intermittently) I thought I'd be obliged to hang out for a while behind the locked gate since it was still 10 or 15 minutes before 7 a.m. But I pulled up and, what do you know, it was already open. Thankfully I hadn't gotten out of bed super-early to ride my bike up for the sunrise. There were no horizons in view, only a gradual disappearance of the landscape behind billowing clouds.

The rain hadn't yet begun in earnest when I arrived at Rock Spring, so I poked around among the recrudescence of mossy greens, so fresh you just knew it must be the last day of summer.

Several cars arrived shortly after I did, which surprised me due to the funky weather. Each of them drove up to the locked gate on West Ridgecrest, rethought their plans, then turned around and continued up toward East Peak.

The morning was fairly inhospitable, with gusty winds and significant fog-drip in the woods, but I was excited because I was about to check up on the trail camera I'd set up a week before. I'd hemmed and hawed for a few years before I finally decided to take a crack at camera trapping. I think this circumannuation project finally tipped the scale in favor of doing it. Although I'd much rather photograph animals in person, there's something about camera-trapping that enlivens a deep and ancient place in the heart. 

While I was hiking out to the trail camera, planning to swap out memory cards and set the camera in another spot nearby, the rain began. I could hear it pelting my rain jacket, and there I was, completely exposed on Bolinas Ridge. I picked up my pace to a light jog and ducked into the lee of a couple of Douglas fir trees where I could open my umbrella without it blowing inside-out. I was trapped there for quite a while. It was 54 degrees, and I was wearing shorts, but I was also wearing a t-shirt, longjohn top, and light rain jacket -- plus I'd eaten a decent breakfast -- so I wasn't cold. I was near the trail camera, though, and eager to get going, but I bided my time and allowed myself to simply enjoy being out there.

The rain finally let up, so I continued my jog toward the trail camera, only to have it start raining again -- and I mean buckets' worth. Once again I was obliged to take cover behind some trees and park under my umbrella. By now I was too wet to simply swap out the memory cards in the field, so at the next break in the rain I jogged back to the Jeep.

I let the heater run for a while even after I drove back and parked. The rain was coming down once again, and I had to wait for a chance to retrieve the camera. When I finally went down for it, I at first didn't see it and my heart sank. "Someone took it!" But then I saw it. No one took it -- but as I found when I downloaded the pictures, it had definitely been found by passing hikers. Thanks for leaving it alone! 

I set the camera in a new location that's not along an even lightly used human trail. Still no guarantee it won't be found, since lots of people hike off-trail, but hopefully it'll be okay. It would be easy enough to lock the camera to a tree, but I'm hoping that won't be necessary. I think anyone savvy enough to spot my camera is going to be cool enough to leave it in peace. 

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TamCam Trail Camera

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Well, I was pretty happy to find that my very first camera-trap subject was a bobcat. That's gotta be a good omen for things to come. This guy walked through in the middle of the day, the same day I set out my new camera. I set the camera out last Sunday near a water trough, figuring the trail was unlikely to be used by hikers before I would return the following Saturday.

I was quite mistaken about that! A group of hikers stopped by and in the course of two minutes tripped 54 frames on the camera, which is set to fire off three fast frames then wait five seconds before being tripped again. The hikers obviously spotted the trail camera, but thankfully did not mess with it. 

The young coyote appears to have been enticed within range by something in the brush, but he never showed his face. 

Buck number one passed by in the wee hours of Wednesday morning. 

The info strip at the bottom of the frame can be turned off, but I like having it.

I wonder if it was birds that set off the camera a bunch of times, only to leave an empty frame. The camera will fire about 0.8 seconds after being triggered by movement, but I figure a bird can fly through too quickly even for such a brief delay. I caught this flicker as well as a junco (who set off numerous frames while hopping about in a tree before finally swooping toward the water trough -- a bathtub complete with rubber duckies), but I had a lot of frames with no animals at all. I suppose the wind-blown vegetation might also have set it off a few times.

This is buck number 2, who took this selfie in the wee hours of Friday morning. Both deer (and the coyote and bobcat) were caught in the fast three frames but were gone before the camera did its 5-second reset. 

I'd like to think this was an owl that swooped in really fast. The next frame shows just a tiny bit of the animal in the upper right corner (also blown out), and the third frame was empty. Rather than an owl, though, it's probably the same buck (note the time), moving toward the water trough.

It was raining when I returned to pick up the camera on Saturday morning. That's an umbrella in my left hand. I took the camera down and brought it back to the Jeep, swapped a new SD card for the old one, and set the camera in a new spot for the coming week. 

The camera is a Moultrie M-880 and costs about $150. Each image is an 8 megapixel JPEG, about 1MB in size. In just one week, I didn't even put a dent in the 32GB SD card I started with. I replaced it with my only other SD card, an 8GB, and I'm sure that'll be fine. The camera runs on eight AA batteries that will last for months.

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Sunday, September 15, 2013

Laurel Dell

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Fitting our time well and giving pause to our thoughts is Thoreau's admonition and despairing cry: "Most men, it seems to me, do not care for nature and would sell their share in all her beauty for a given sum. Thank God men have not yet learned to fly so they can lay waste the sky as well as the earth." Lines like these could not be illustrated, but they made me realize that illustration was not all I wanted to do. I hoped to be able to complement in feeling and spirit Thoreau's thinking one hundred years ago, and to show the peril we face even more today by our ever faster destruction of life not our own.
-- Eliot Porter, from the preface to In Wildness is the Preservation of the World, 1962

It has come to this -- that the lover of art is one, and the lover of nature another, though true art is but the expression of our love of nature. It is monstrous when one cares but little about trees and much about Corinthian columns, and yet this is exceedingly common.
-- Henry David Thoreau (from Porter's book), 1857

The Eliot Porter book quoted above is said to be the first book of color nature photography that was accepted by the art establishment (you know who you are). Before his book of scenes from New England forests came along in the company of Thoreau's then-100-year-old words, only black-and-white photography was considered artistic.


The book was the first of many for Porter, but this one is said to be his best. I got it from the library because I've been disappointed before by the print quality in color photography books from that long ago. Like Ansel Adams, Eliot Porter was a master printer who used the painstaking "dye transfer" process to make his prints. Unfortunately, the reproductions in this 50-year-old book don't do justice to his craft, but the book does at least give the flavor of Porter's style.

In order to catch the sunrise this morning I had to park the Jeep across the street from Bootjack, then pedal my bike up to Rock Spring and hike the last section which is closed to bikes. I got a bit of a late start -- it was already 6:20 when I started the bike leg -- and just made it. It was 56 degrees and windy, but even wearing just shorts and a t-shirt I was sweating from the flurry of exertion. By 7:00 a.m. (when the gate opens) it was all over, and I packed up for the trip back down to the truck.

There had been no morning fog in my neighborhood back in San Francisco despite waking up to wet streets every day for the last week. I'd been counting on fog for my sunrise shot and almost took some time to fix a real breakfast and go up to Mt. Tam a little later than usual -- or maybe not at all -- when I saw how clear the sky was. But as usual, I'm glad I decided to go. 

I got off my bike to fire off a few frames looking into the forest.

I finally got back to the Jeep, loaded my bike, and drove back up to Rock Spring to poke around a bit. I just got a relatively inexpensive Moultrie camera trap rig and was looking for someplace to set it up. A little after 8 o'clock, the ranger came up and opened the West Ridgecrest gate, and I slipped in right behind him to drive to my next stop, where I was greeted with a clear view over the Pacific.

This is what remains of the pet cemetery I reported on with my very first post. Whatever was buried in the shallow grave is gone.

It would have been nothing for a coyote to have dug it up, though it wouldn't have been much work for just about any critter that took an interest: coyotes can dig holes deep enough to sleep in. I was excited to see this good-looking chap, my first coyote of the blog-year.

I'd been telling myself to go down to Laurel Dell for a couple of weeks, so today I finally hiked down there. I had no idea what I might find -- it's still way too early to hope for migrating songbirds -- but I was thinking about Eliot Porter wandering around the New England woods, so I imagined he was along for company, and I just kept my eyes open for possibilities.

I finally abandoned my old 200mm Micro-Nikkor, the old Ai-S model. Though inexpensive to buy, it was never really sharp enough to suit me, and on the D800 it's what you might call a soft-focus lens. I find the 105mm AF-D to be a good, sharp stand-in. It's smaller and lighter than the pricey AF-D 200mm and easy to use on a focusing rail. 

As bright and nutritious as rose hips are, I wonder why critters haven't eaten them all by now.

Once I reached the bottom of the hill I decided to mosey down along the creekbed. I was surprised to find some small stones that someone had balanced to create little rock sculptures. I've been surprised quite a few times when I had the illusion that no one goes where I go, and I always enjoy the surprise as long as it's in the form of artwork or a track in the dirt as opposed to a plastic bottle or a clump of toilet paper.

Having just read the Eliot Porter book, I felt inspired to look for subjects and compositions in places I don't often explore.

Intimate landscapes. Anyone can appreciate a dramatic sunrise, but most of life takes place between the dramatic scenes. An excellent gift that anyone can acquire is to learn to appreciate the "haiku moments," the everyday fare that can touch our hearts and give a deeper sense of meaning to our lives than we get by simply accomplishing tasks. I once put together a booklet of "haiku photography," and a few of the haikus were published in Marin Magazine.

Even when the water's no longer flowing, a creek is a good place to be.

It was around 9:45 when I looked at my watch, feeling like a cloak of fatigue had been draped over my shoulder. I didn't actually make it to Laurel Dell proper, even though I was just a stone's throw away, but that's okay. I'll save it for another day....

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