Sunday, June 28, 2020

Light Show

I had a bit of luck when I arrived at the gate below Rock Spring at maybe 6:55 a.m. and found it partly open. Maybe it hadn't been been shut properly the night before, but there was no ranger around so I scooted through the half-open gate. If I'd arrived five minutes later I'd have missed the glory and brocken specter.

When I got out of the car I was so stoked I didn't even consider how ephemeral the display might be.

You probably need to get there well before the usual gate opening at 7 a.m. to have a more leisurely experience.

Less than three minutes elapsed between this shot and the previous one, and the fog retreated downhill from there, taking the glory with it. 

I wasn't in the mood to bike in the fog and wind to check on the trail cams, so I took the opportunity of driving to bring my camera gear and maybe photograph a few wildflowers.

I'd checked the day before to see if the air at 2,000 feet would be still enough to run a few focus stacks, and it looked like it might be okay. Unfortunately, the mountain turned out to be windier than I'd expected, and I was only able to fire off this one stack before it became impossible.

The Indian pink was bobbing like a prizefighter by the time I got there (it was near one of the trail cams), and it would have been difficult to get even a single-frame image of it under natural light, so I popped a flash at an angle to keep the background clutter to a minimum.

I've walked past this patch of coyote mint (Monardella villosa) several times lately, but this was the first time I had a camera other than my smartphone with me.

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Saturday, June 27, 2020

Scene in the Avenues

We were out for a long walk in the avenues when we had to detour into the street to get around a work crew lowering elk heads from a second-story window off Lawton Street and loading them into a truck. I'm sorry to say I have no answers to this unusual riddle.

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Friday, June 26, 2020

Mountain Roads

Descent through Redwoods, Panoramic Highway.

Hairpin Turns.

Magic Forest.

Thar Be Hobbits About.

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Thursday, June 25, 2020

Orange Leopards

I'd noticed some Leopard Lilies in bloom while biking up to Mt. Tam along Panoramic Highway a week or so ago, so when I drove up to Rock Spring the other day I visited a spot nearby where I figured I could find more.

It was still early in the morning and the sun had yet to shine in the ephemeral creek drainage where they grow among rushes and hedge nettle, California hemp and giant chain ferns, and also stinging nettle. Just as I was setting up on this blossom, a ray of sunshine beamed right onto it. Later in the day, when the sun pours in, the flowers will attract butterflies and hummingbirds.

Despite the fact that I was wearing short pants, I managed to get in and out without brushing up against any of this stuff. I don't mind terribly if I do get zapped by stinging nettle (Urtica dioica), and I even take a kind of perverse pleasure in continuing to feel the sizzle on my skin when I'm back at home in the city downloading and processing the pictures I took back on the mountain.

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Giddy Up

The other day my wife and I were looking for a nice place up on Bolinas Ridge to lounge around, eat some cheese and crackers, and drink some fancy birthday wine. We pulled over at a spot we've enjoyed before, but it looked like there was a swarm of bees waiting to greet us. We wondered if there was a hive nearby. 

This was an unusual experience for me on Mt. Tam, and I didn't want to drive away without at least checking it out, so I got out of the car as quick as I could, and then I just stood still among the buzzing chaos, hoping I wouldn't get stung. It didn't take long to realize that the insects weren't bees at all, but horseflies, which are arguably worse! 

I swatted a couple of them off me and jumped back in the car, but one of them got inside and was going crazy. I started the engine and rolled a window down so it could escape, and felt lucky that no more took the opportunity to charge inside and bite us. 

Horseflies, also known as gadflies, are in the genus Tabanus. The name was first recorded by Pliny the Younger (the Roman guy born in 62 A.D., not the triple IPA from Russian River Brewing), and it stuck. Horseflies have been found in the fossil record back to the Jurassic, and I wouldn't be surprised if dinosaurs owe their reputations for ferocity to the fact that they didn't have arms to swat the hordes of biting gadflies off their skin. As with mosquitoes, it's the females that do the biting to procure the nutritious mammal blood they need to reproduce.

We did finally find another lounge area along the ridge with just a few buzzing horseflies that let us pass without incident. As we were enjoying our repast, another car pulled in next to ours, and whoever got out screamed about the "bees" and got back in her car to drive to a better spot. We chuckled a little, since she headed off in the direction where they are even more numerous.

For some reason they liked to perch on the side of my car, so when I returned a couple of days later with my Nikon I simply parked and waited for them to land so I could grab a picture.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2020

A Dandy Lion

I decided to take the car up to Mt. Tam so I could carry my Nikon gear along and maybe photograph some more god beams in the fog, but even at around 7:15 a.m. the fog had already settled at a lower elevation. Glories would have to wait for another day. My wildlife cameras have only been in place for less than a week, so I didn't swap cards or batteries, or even go anywhere near them. I decided to just poke around the Rock Spring area where I was soon attracted by these big Mountain Dandelions (Agoseris grandiflorus). My eyes take a voyage in the details and become mesmerized by the concentric flower rays. The etymology of the scientific name means "chief chicory," or maybe "goat chicory" (see Jepson Herbarium). 

What surprised me was how beautiful this flower was, even from underneath. I wonder if that display is attractive to insects, or if it's just the kind of gratuitous beauty in nature that makes a human being smile.

I've photographed the seed heads before and didn't want to repeat myself, but when I saw these two snow globes intertwined with each other, plus a stalk of still-green dogtail grass thrown into the bargain, I decided to see what I could do. A male California quail stood silent sentry on a nearby rock, and I wondered if he was watching over any chicks feeding in the meadow. I felt bad that I had left my long lens at home since I don't often get the chance to photograph quail on Mt. Tam.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Blue Sky Bristlecones

One year we went up to the Bristlecone Pine Forest around my wife's birthday, it being a favorite place of hers. One thing that stands out in these June images compared with July and August is the total lack of clouds.

Strangely enough, the dead bristlecones are often the most photogenic. Here, a once-living tree has turned into a sculptured wind-dancer. 

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Saturday, June 20, 2020

Fun in the Fog

It's been fun creating composite trail camera images from these locations, but I've had the cams out in the same area for several months now and I felt like it was time to change things up, so I moved all three to new locations.

Dropping down from home into my neighborhood yesterday morning I parked my bike outside Posh Bagels and strapped on my face mask to wait in line and score some breakfast before traversing the city along Arguello Street, crossing the windy and foggy Golden Gate Bridge, and finally stopping in a relatively windless spot in Sausalito to finally eat. A gull and a crow dropped by to keep me company, and I felt stingy for resisting the urge to share, but duty-bound to do so.

There were a couple of points along the ride where the fog was dripping out of the trees like a cold shower of rain, but I finally made it to the sun/fog barrier. I'd hoped to get into position to photograph a glory, but the sun was too high. I couldn't get an angle on even the steepest hillside to place my shadow in the center of the circle whose partial circumference you see here.

There were god beams in the woods just behind me, though, which provided a different kind of glory. Nice to have such great lighting effects on the day before Summer Solstice.

With perfect crepuscular rays filtering through the oaks I didn't want to leave. So I stayed awhile.

Then I posed with my intrepid ebike, now with over 3,000 miles on it, in my unbrushed morning helmet hair.

The bucks are branching out nicely as you can see in this composite image (I added the fox to a shot of the two bucks), and foxes were all over the place. In fact foxes appeared on all three cams.

Including this one, which I'd set out near the rattlesnake den. Although this trap netted 699 frames, they were nearly all blanks. It didn't even look like wind was the culprit, so maybe it was darting lizards or flitting birds and butterflies. A handful were wood rats.

I do wish these cams had a faster trigger. It's almost inconceivable to me that the fox didn't trigger the camera before it got to this point.

Ditto for this one, but at least it caught the whole fox.

Daylight composites can work out okay if the light is diffuse.

The cute fawn and its mom are still around. Also of note, but not on the cams, the western azaleas have faded, but the yellow mariposa lilies continue, and spotted leopard lilies (Lilium pardalinum) have come into bloom, as well as California pinks (Silene californica).

Back in the woods where the trail cams were, the air was warm and still beneath a cloudless sky. I wasn't looking forward to dropping back down into the cold wind and fog. The wind, especially, was kind of fierce along the Panoramic Highway ridge between Mountain Home Inn and Highway 1. I thought if it was bad there, it was going to be even worse on the Golden Gate Bridge, but the bridge winds turned out to be strong but unremarkable.

The god beams I photographed in the morning were in that group of oaks on the knoll in the frame above.

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Friday, June 19, 2020

North Coast

Gold Bluffs Beach

Maybe instead of heading up to the Sierra right away, we should go north into Humboldt and Del Norte counties. It would be a slam-dunk if the campgrounds were open.

Fern Canyon


Fern Canyon


Gold Bluffs Beach


Cedar Waxwing on Spruce


Roosevelt Elk


Avenue of the Giants

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Thursday, June 18, 2020

For the Birds

I set up the cam to see if any birds were using the bath on these hot days....

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McGee Canyon

Having second thoughts about heading up to the High Sierra this early, I went poking around my photo files to get an idea of what I'd encountered in June in other years and found these oldies but goodies from a hike up McGee Canyon almost thirty years ago.

Sky Pilot



Sun Cups

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Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Virtual Yosemite

We're looking forward to getting out there pretty soon. Tioga Road has opened, but you need a reservation even to just pass through, so we'll actually be going elsewhere for the time being. June is a gorgeous month to be in Yosemite Valley, though, and I envy anyone who got a reservation.







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