Saturday, December 26, 2015

End of an Era

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I was poking around on the north side of the mountain most of the morning, not finding much in the way of mushrooms and not feeling much inspiration for photography. I drove up the mountain and south along Bolinas Ridge, hooked a right at Rock Spring and pulled out near Sunset Point to take in the view before heading home. I'm scanning the scene when I notice something is amiss! Holy cow! I thought, "It's the end of an era!" Here's what I saw. Can you tell what's different?

When I saw what had happened I drove back up to the nearest parking lot and hiked down to visit the tree. The wind-sculpted top that's been iconic of Mt. Tam for at least 40 years or so is now an explosion of leafy branches on the ground below. A couple of large branches snagged on the way down and are now swinging in the wind, would-be widow-makers. In case you need a reminder, here's how it used to look:

Here's a picture of the same tree from Galen Rowell's book Bay Area Wild, which came out in 1997. According to the stock image profile at Mountain Light (which, like the book, also misidentifies the tree as a Monterey pine), the photograph was made in 1995.

And to take it back another 20 years, here's the tree in the book Tamalpais, by Bud Fellom and Richard Stortroen, that came out in 1978:

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Thursday, December 17, 2015

Fine Falls

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Despite getting up at 5:30 I still nearly missed the mountain sunrise. Guess I dawdled a little.

Aside from just having a nice hike, I hoped to find enough water in the creek to photograph a waterfall or two.

With the falls in "gentle" mode, I crossed the creek and poked around the peripheral fern grotto.

Probably not that many people have taken in this view, but I know at least someone else has. A nearly full bottle of Sprite had been left behind.

Hopefully very soon there will be much more water pouring down the gulch -- too much to allow anyone to make a photograph from this vantage point at the base of the falls.

First time I ever saw lion's mane (Hericium erinaceus) on Mt. Tam.

This is as far down the trail as I'd planned to go. I was glad at least a little bit of water was falling here. The little orange things on the log are chicken-of-the-woods mushrooms. They must have sprouted before the creek rose.

Little purple cup fungi.

These deer mushrooms were just too perfect to pass up, having sprouted right out of a log just as sassy as you please.

Always nice to have a chance to photograph Western bluebirds.

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Saturday, December 12, 2015

Fresh Fungi

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I didn't stray far from the area around my camera trap this morning. Followed some deer trails and nosed around looking for interesting fungi to photograph, like these cute little orange guys. On checking the trail camera I was disappointed to see that I'd forgotten to turn it on last week, so it's just been sitting out there missing all the action. Gnomes riding bareback on bobcats probably trooped through, of course.

I was a little bit startled by a funny sound on my way down the trail. It was Cataract Creek. There was water in it, and the water was even moving. If the rain keeps coming we might yet have waterfalls before the month is out.

I make a small effort to figure out the scientific names of the mushrooms I photograph. It's interesting to learn some of the diagnostic features of mushrooms, but I leave it to others when it comes to measuring millimeters, performing microscopy and using reagents to check for chemical reactions. Not that it wouldn't be fun to do all that someday.

I like the challenge of photographing mushrooms. I like these little guys, but I'm not crazy about the background. 

The pink gills are younger than the brown gills in the background, but both are the same species.

Not that you can tell, but Lepiotas usually have white gills.

Some fungi, like this little patch of Stereum ochracoflavum don't have gills at all. 

The very slow drip of Douglas fir sap.

Here's a bolete called Xerocomellus zelleri. It's listed as edible in California Mushrooms, and you can see by the scrapes on the cap that a banana slug would agree.

This was an interesting find. It looked like an ordinary large mushroom growing close to the ground, but when I looked for gills I found pores instead. It's actually a polypore, Jahnoporus hirtus, if I may hazard a guess.

It's late Saturday afternoon as I write, and the sky is becoming nicely overcast, with rain virtually assured for tomorrow. All I can say is: Keep it coming!

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Saturday, December 5, 2015

Wet Knees

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This morning, for the first time since last year, my knees got wet when I knelt down to make some photographs. Yay!

I also finally saw a good flush of mushrooms on the forest floor.

The ground is finally wet, but the creeks have yet to start flowing.

It finally feels like the season is changing...

...from dry to wet.

Good thing I checked the trail camera. It had been knocked askew and had some little skinny branches in front of it. I sort of suspect a squirrel that showed up a couple of times. Squirrels don't like being spied on. When I put the camera on the ground once, not attached to anything, a squirrel knocked it over, then kicked it again while it was down.

I was poking around on a little-used path that runs roughly parallel to the Simmons Trail, heading for this grove of valley live oaks to see how their moss coats were doing, when I was surprised by a couple of hikers. I'm sure they were as surprised to see me as I was them. 

Not only were we off the beaten path, but it was still earlier than I usually start to notice hikers. But today, several people had beaten me to the gate at opening time (hey, I slept in), a couple of guys were already setting out to hike down the Cataract Trail when I pulled in to Rock Spring at about 7:15, and a pair of trail runners passed me while I was checking the camera trap. 

Here's a kinder, gentler Gomphidius glutinosis. Not really wet enough to be hideous.

I didn't know what these guys were. At first I thought they were honey mushrooms growing out of a buried chunk of wood, but then I realized they were boletes. I used my photo to try key them out in California Mushrooms by Dennis Desjardin, et al., and ended up (with just a modicum of conviction) at Suillus lakei.

More rain in the forecast for the coming week. Let's hope it comes. It's still way too dry up there for December.

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Wednesday, December 2, 2015


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Canyon Live Oak

Weevil Hole

As I gathered a pocket full of acorns beneath this oak tree, a couple of hikers walked past, maybe 20 feet away, their eyes intent on the trail, and never saw me. And as I plucked the acorns from the earth I didn't realize how beautiful and unusual looking some of them were until I viewed them through a macro lens. One of the great things about photography is being able to bring attention to a common yet beautiful and interesting object that we would otherwise never notice.

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Saturday, November 21, 2015

Good Ole Mt. Tam

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The camera trap hasn't been very busy this last week. I caught a bobcat the first week, a fox the second, and a buck in the third week. That is all. This morning I moved the camera once again to another spot in the same general area, this time along a rarely used trail that has caught both people and coyotes in the past, and where recent raccoon scat can still be found.

This has got to be an old RC Cola can with the red lettering completely faded.

Lichen galaxies.

Haven't seen a bobcat up here in a long time. So I brought my own.

They like it up here.

One of the best bobcat encounters I ever had on Mt. Tam started very near this city-view vantage point, three years ago this week.

Bobcat on Bolinas Ridge, November 18, 2012.

A red-tailed hawk soars above the ridge in an offshore wind.

Once the hawk passed, bird life resumed its busy ways. Here, an acorn woodpecker scores a nut from a canyon live oak (Quercus chrysolepis).

I feel this blog drawing to a close as 2015 winds down. I remain hopeful that we'll get some real rain before year's end. I'd like to close out with some nice mushrooms and waterfalls.

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Saturday, November 14, 2015

North Side

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Hadn't been out around the north side in a long time.

Hoped to see some mushrooms and waterfalls.

But I forgot. You need rain for that stuff.

I felt like I'd seen Alpine Lake lower, but Cataract Gulch was about as dry as I recall ever seeing it. Consolation: the bigleaf maples were looking pretty good.

I was hoping to find another shot of this dry ravine from November in another year to compare with what I found this morning, but I had to settle for a mid-December shot from last year. 

I enjoyed this small fall nevertheless. Too bad we can't tend a small fall like a small flame to make it bigger.

I hate to annoy a red-tail into flight. But I did it anyway. Just by standing there, mind you. It's not like I yelled and waved my arms or anything.

I checked up on the trail camera and caught just one animal all week again, this time a grey fox. I moved the camera to get a different view of what looks like a promising area nearby. I put my schnoz near the rock the bobcat scent-marked (from last week) but didn't smell anything more than mossy rock.

I didn't feel like going home yet. I wanted to do a little more photography first.

So I looked at the ground and found a few interesting leaves.

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