Saturday, May 31, 2014

Around the Horn

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I was thinking about driving around the whole mountain for my last regular post (the farewell post is scheduled for 11:30 tonight), but I didn't plan ahead and couldn't pull it off. I'm usually pretty worn out after a few hours of stalking the wild photographs.

I drove out toward Fairfax to loop around the north side of the mountain. The fog was thick and low and completely obscured any views of the mountain, so there really wasn't anything harrying me and I could pull over to check out some California buckeye flowers without feeling pressed for time.

The deer from the previous shot is still in there.

Okay, I'm going to go with "harvest brodiaea" for this guy. Does anyone really know how to pronounce "brodiaea"? I always hear it as bro-dee-uh, but what about that apparent extra couple of syllables on the end? Is the "ea" silent? Or do some people actually say bro-dee-uh-ee-uh? Or maybe bro-dee-uh-ee? I would feel too self-conscious to say all that. I would just go with "grass nut," which harks back to the days when people dug up and ate the nutritious corms.

Chamise (Adenostoma fasciculatum). 

I remember chamise from way back at Santa Barbara City College when I thought I was going to be a botanist. That was after I ran out of money to continue at Brooks Institute of Photography. SBCC had a great biology department back then, but I was far too math-challenged to really do well in it. I ended up with a degree in journalism, but my heart was never into writing for newspapers. When I'd joined the Navy after high school I thought I was done with school forever, but I eventually went to college to climb the academic ladder, only to storm the walls and realize I was in the wrong castle.

"And so it goes," as Kurt Vonnegut used to say.

If I were able to produce an image of the chamise canyon shown two photos above, you would be able to see the stone-crop, or rock lettuce, in the photo immediately above. This is the no-name canyon I hike to reach Carson Falls. There are Oregon ash trees near the base of the canyon.

I was hoping to photograph some birds this morning, so I stopped at every pull-out along Fairfax-Bolinas Road and watched for movement in the trees while listening for birdsong. I was especially hoping to photograph "the jee-bee bird." I've been hearing it quite a bit the last few weeks. It's "companion call" (the call it uses to keep in touch with others of its kind while foraging for insects among the tree branches) sounds like jee-bee jee-bee jee-bee. I got a very good look at two of them, but I didn't have my telephoto lens either time. They looked to me like black-throated gray warblers. When I listen to the online recordings of this species, I hear something similar, but not exactly the same. Maybe the BTGWs of Mt. Tam have their own dialect.

Just seconds after I pulled into one particular gravel turnout to listen for birds, I was suddenly surrounded by three or four vehicles that I hadn't even known were there. They'd been far enough behind me to be out of sight. Two pulled in behind me, one kept on going, and another pulled in front of me. What luck. I'm trying to listen for bird calls, and suddenly I'm surrounded by yahoos -- at a very improbable place, I might add. This was not a trailhead. I started the Jeep and pulled out, watching as the people in the minivan in front of me started waving and frantically hollering ("No! No!") out their windows. Glancing at my sideview mirror I saw a guy running after me. I hit the brakes, stopping in the middle of the road. The guy caught up to me. "Something I can help you with?" I said. They were looking for the Cataract Trail.

Over the course of the last year, I didn't always photograph subjects I'd photographed before. One such subject is the yellow mariposa lily, Calochortus luteus. I've got such a sweet shot of it that I'm almost afraid to try to photograph it again. Anyway, I could probably say the same thing about dogtail grass, but this morning I just couldn't resist.

As I continued my slow drive along Fairfax-Bolinas Road I stopped at a location I'd never stopped at before. It's mostly a very steep embankment of gravelly serpentine, with very little life growing upon it. In much the same way that moss can't grow on madrone trunks that frequently shed their outermost layer of bark, this serptentine scree slope is still too steep to guarantee long-term purchase for new plant growth. 

But there was still a little bit of water in a ravine at its base, and generous portions of moss seemed to have found a home thereabouts. It reminded me of cryptogamic desert soils. Anyway, I found perhaps the strangest thing I've ever found on Mt. Tam -- a frog skeleton. If it really were the desert, it would probably be a mummy. It's far too big to be a chorus frog, and probably not big enough to be a bullfrog, which means it's probably a foothill yellow-legged frog.

My next stop was the Lily Pond, where someone introduced non-native bullfrogs once upon a time. The bullfrogs (which eat native chorus frogs) were not drought-tolerant and did not survive the dry spell.

For this comparison shot, I was unable to stand in the same place. I'd forgotten to bring the April 25 photo with me, but I was pretty sure I remembered where I'd stood. I ended up having to stand stage-right of my April location because the horsetail was so high that I could not make a photograph through it. Where I stood in April is stage-left of my position in the May shot -- closer to the pond.

From Lily Pond I decided to walk out to Alpine Lake. I was surprised to see how full it was. This little arm reaching into the woods was completely dry the last time I was here. I found some interesting animal tracks in the mud along this stretch and thought it would be an interesting place to set out the camera trap, although people do occasionally pass this way.

There was a pair of female common mergansers floating nearby. They didn't seem too perturbed by my presence, but they didn't come up to the edge of the lake to say hello either. They made interesting companion calls, and once in a while one of them skittered along the surface and took off, only to circle above the woods a few times and land again.

Morning monkey flower at Alpine Lake.


Polygala californica.

I'm going to go out on a limb here...

...and call this a wood pewee. Whatever it is, it's a baby. I heard it being fed and watched one of the parents feed it. The tiny fellow did not seem to mind my presence for quite a while. It even preened its feathers while I made photographs, using the built-in flash to try to fill in for the avalanche of sunlight falling into the background.

But I think I eventually pissed him off. He probably deduced that my presence was the reason mama wasn't coming back to feed him.

Here's where I might have begun the next phase of my photographic explorations if I hadn't been slightly tuckered out. I did in fact look for snakes, but found none. The baby snake I'd left on a rock last week was gone, the rock toppled into a little ravine. I imagined that a passing hawk or raven had looked down and thought, "That is one cocky little snake!"

So I snapped a photo looking south, and another looking north. A couple of tourists soon replaced me at the position, and I aimed for home.

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