Friday, January 31, 2014

January Favorites

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And it seems to me that it’s the work of poets and artists to know what the world-image of today is, and to render it as the old seers did theirs. The prophets rendered it as a manifestation of the transcendent principle. That’s what we lack today, really. I think poets and artists who speak of the mystery are rare. There’s been so much social criticism of our arts, which is just one facet. But the other function of the poet – that of opening the mystery dimension – has been, with few great exceptions, forgotten. I think that what we lack, really, isn’t science but poetry that reveals what the heart is ready to recognize.
--Joseph Campbell, from An Open Life

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Winter Sunrise

Heavy Weather on Hwy. 1


Pale Elfin Saddle

Bobcat Over Bolinas

Black-and-White Cat

Alpine Lake

Open Secret Falls

Coyote Gait

Nurse Log

January 2004 (top) and 2012

Candy Caps

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Saturday, January 25, 2014

Bolinas Lagoon

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After checking out the emptying reservoirs on the eastern side of Fairfax-Bolinas Road last week, it was interesting to head over to the other side of the mountain to find Bolinas Lagoon at high tide, filled to the brim.

I was lucky to arrive just before a showy sunrise.

Lucky because I'd lingered in bed once again, unsure whether I wanted to drive the long and winding road up and over Mt. Tam. A glance out the bedroom window told me it was already windy, yet another Spare the Air day, and here I was, planning to burn a few gallons of gas in the Jeep. I figured if I was going to smog the air, I at least didn't want to waste a trip.

I'd been looking forward to getting out of the city all week, though, so rather than philosophize all morning I decided to just get going.

Stinson Beach was just waking up as I drove north through town. Skirting the lagoon along Highway 1, I was a little disappointed to see so few waterfowl. Despite its importance for birds along the Pacific Flyway, I've only been out there a couple of times when there were lots of birds. The distant, breathy whistling of wigeons was the dominant sound as the sun came up.

I'd picked a good spot to view the sunrise, a place I'd been to once before, just a pull-out along Olema-Bolinas Road where there's lots of broken glass along the shore.

Even here along the shore of an 1100-acre body of water, the salt grass looked dried out.

It still feels like fall. Like the rainy season is just around the bend.

Heading out the Bob Stewart Trail I was taken by the interesting stripes of yellow lichen on the bark of some very nice alder trees.

The trail led out along Pine Gulch Creek which had coho salmon once upon a time.

I didn't see the leg band when I photographed this golden-crowned sparrow. It's kind of funny to realize this bird was once caught in a net and held in someone's hands. I suspect these guys are the culprits.

Although it had been windy up high, there was just a mild breeze at sea level, and this turkey vulture was content to bask in the morning sun until either the wind picked up or it caught the scent of some of Mother Nature's home cookin'.

Like I said, there weren't many waterfowl in sight, but I felt it was my duty after making the trip to Bolinas Lagoon to take at least one picture of some birds, like these ruddy ducks, on the lagoon.

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Tam Cam Replay

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I decided to set the camera trap in a spot I used back in November, when I thought the rainy season was going to be right around the corner. I was surprised to find that there's still a little bit of water here, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised that the same animals are still coming by, including the gray fox (who always appears to pass through without taking a drink).

Back in November the camera was set toward the left of the frames you see here, and in a branch that gave a downward viewing angle. I had to bring in a branch of my own to set up the angle you see here.

I was surprised that most of the deer still entered and exited the area so near the camera when it's much more open up where the fox crossed the scene. I look forward to camera-trapping this spot again in another couple of months if there's still water here. I can't believe I still haven't snagged a bobcat passing through this spot....

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Monday, January 20, 2014

Of Fire & FAT

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After getting turned back on Saturday by the Bolinas Fire, I wasn't sure I'd get back up to Mt. Tam this week. I had a dentist appointment at 2 o'clock today in the Financial District (no, I did not know six months ago that my appointment was on a holiday!), and I'd made a plan last week to take in a movie before heading down there, with a little downtown shopping to follow. I even stayed in bed a little longer than usual this morning. But resistance was futile. The mountain beckoned.

I didn't know if I'd be able to find the one-acre fire area, and if I'd waited until next week I probably would have driven right past it. All I had to do today was follow the yellow-tint hose. Fire crews will probably take the hose back out in a day or two, once they're confident the fire is completely out. As I hiked up to the small stand of scorched redwoods I was surprised how close I had to get before I could smell where the fire had been.

I hadn't been out around the north side of Mt. Tam in quite a while, and I wanted to drop by Lily Lake to see how the drought was going down there. I was surprised to see the pond's still there.

In addition to checking up on the pond itself, I figured the Fetid Adder's Tongues might be in bloom. As I descended the trail toward the pond, I sniffed the air for the telltale aroma of these little blossoms. It's not a sweet smell. Although FATs are members of the lily family, their scent is rather more pugnacious than the dainty pedigree might imply. The smell is most reminiscent to me of . . . a dirty aquarium. You know that smell of walking into a pet store that sells fish? Yeah, that smell.

What they lack in olfactory delight, they make up for in visual beauty.

Still plenty of water, with an encroaching layer of duckweed.

Along with fetid adder's tongue, another early-season plant is cleavers, also known as bedstraw. Other diminutive edibles in the neighborhood included chickweed and miner's lettuce.

The main reason I wanted to check out the north side of the mountain along Fairfax-Bolinas Road was to get a closer look at Alpine Lake. I'd read that the water district is pumping water out of Phoenix Lake because of the drought and was curious to see how much the water level has dropped at Alpine Lake.

It's down quite a bit, but it didn't appear especially freaky until. . .

. . .until I saw where Cataract Creek empties into Alpine Lake. Even in summer, the lake usually disappears from view in the background. I don't have photos to back up my memory, but this has got to be about as low a lake level as I've seen here. With any luck, the next time I'm out on the north side it will be impossible to stand where I am in this frame.

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Saturday, January 18, 2014

Fire on the Mountain

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I headed out to the north side of Mt. Tam this morning to check out a couple of places, only to find the road closed at the Azalea Hill parking area across from Pine Mountain Road. It wasn't closed for the red flag fire danger, but for an actual fire that had burned a small area the night before. 

I found a couple of news reports about the fire online at Marin IJ and KTVU. It was around 8:20 when I arrived, and it seemed like there was a chance they'd re-open the road at 9 a.m., so I hiked up Azalea Hill and kept my eyes peeled for bobcats while I waited. 

No such luck, though. No bobcats, no open road. I finally hiked back down and headed home with the photo above being my only shot of the day.

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Monday, January 13, 2014

Winter Sunrise

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I got out of bed sort of lazily around 6 a.m., thinking I had plenty of time. I even fried up an egg for breakfast before I hit the road. I really didn't know what kind of sunrise to expect, but by the time I reached Panoramic Highway I could tell it was going to be a good 'un.

I stepped on the gas a little more heavily to make better time, all the while telling myself not to worry about it. Que sera, sera. There wasn't much traffic, but there was one other car in front of me. "If you catch up to some slowpoke, don't worry," I told myself. "Just take it as it comes." I was glad when I caught up to the car to see that it was a Mustang, and the driver was making good time. 

The sunrise was developing into a Holy Cow blaze of color, and on the way up to Rock Spring the Mustang turned out in the first parking area, the one near the upper right side of the frame in the first picture above. I swooped past him to continue to my favorite spot where I tried to play it cool as I fired off a few frames on one of the hottest sunrises I've been lucky enough to see up there.

I had kind of a crazy schedule planned for the day: catch the sunrise from high on Mt. Tam, then head down the mountain to reacquaint myself with the Muir Beach Overlook (at a surreal angle) on the way still farther down to Redwood Creek to pick up the trail camera. From there I was even thinking about doubling back and going to the other side of the mountain to photograph Alpine Lake, which must be very low right now (and the half-hearted "rain" we just had isn't going to help a bit).

Unless you climb past the fence (and the signs which prohibit you from doing so), you can't really see Muir Beach from the Muir Beach Overlook. Viewing the beach from on high doesn't seem to be the point anyway, as the general vista both up and down the coast is excellent.

After continuing down the mountain from the overlook I parked next to Redwood Creek under my favorite California buckeye whose every branch was draped with "old man's beard" lichen.

After picking up the trail camera down by the deer carcass I made a determined effort to climb the north-facing hill above the creek to get in among the giant, prehistoric-looking ferns. I also wanted to have a closer look at the mysterious pink ribbons that had been tied off on branches. They appeared to mark a route through the forest. Maybe a new trail is being planned.

The thin bright line in the bottom third of the frame is Redwood Creek.

Most of the creek is quite shallow, the sandy bottom just inches below the surface. But every now and then there's a deeper pool. In one misplaced step near one such pool I soaked my left leg up to my knee.  

I used to see crayfish, a non-native species, in this creek, but I haven't seen any since it flooded in a very big way 10 years ago or so.

Which sort of reminds me of a threat to species and the places they call home. An email group I subscribe to that shares information on wildflower, fall color, bird migration and similar kinds of locations has gone through a lot of soul-searching in the wake of having some of those locations trampled after being shared with the internet group. Another local photographer I know stopped blogging for fear of sharing information that could lead to stressed animals. 

But what really surprised me was reading an article in the Jan. 6, 2014 issue of The New Yorker that foreshadowed these problems of the internet age. The article was about the now-extinct passenger pigeon, a bird that once numbered in the billions: 

"As long as America was rural and untraversed by railroads, the killing did not seem to do much more than dent the vast pigeon populations. After the Civil War, however, things began to change rapidly. You could find out by telegraph where pigeons were nesting, get there quickly by train, and sell what you killed to a city hundreds of miles away."

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