Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Barked at by a Fox

My wife and I encountered some excellent cathedral beams (aka fog beams) during a hike last Sunday, when the only camera I had with me was a smartphone. The beams were so good that I drove back up today with my Nikon and high hopes, only to get skunked. Even at 7 a.m. the fog was too low on the mountain.

I decided to drive down the mountain to try to find the sweet spot where sun, trees, and fog conspire to create cathedral beams, but I was soon waylaid when I spotted a fox next to the road. I was lucky to find a safe pull-out not too far past him, and as I looked in my rear view mirror I saw a second fox that quickly ducked back into the woods. Thankfully I didn't leave my long lens at home again today.

I never saw the second fox again, but the other one, presumably the male, seemed eager to keep himself between me and his mate. That's how I interpreted the behavior, but I suppose this could be a female protecting the other fox which was her kit.

Right off the bat I heard a strange low rumbling sound, and it took me a minute to realize the sound was coming from the fox. I had never been growled at by a fox before. It was an interesting sound, and not one that you'd want to hear outside your tent in the middle of the night if you didn't know it was just a fox. I was surprised when the fox moved toward me, continuing to growl and occasionally to bark as well. This shot was the closest I came to catching it mid-bark.

The fox got bored with me before I got bored with him, and he moved down the steep hillside. The camera traps have been catching so many foxes, it was fantastic to finally have an in-person encounter.

After saying good-bye to the fox I drove down toward Stinson Beach to try to find some fog beams but didn't really find anything to compare with the beams we basked in on Sunday.

This was from Sunday's hike along the Bolinas Ridge Trail.

From Stinson, I drove out around Bolinas Lagoon and up Bolinas-Fairfax Road where I stopped to photograph these ferns in the diffuse light. It was just near this spot that I first photographed a gray fox on Mt. Tamalpais in May 2008. 

I circled back along West Ridgecrest Road where I watched a coyote trot south near the grassland-forest transition zone before disappearing behind a roll in the hillside. 

It was warm and sunny up there, so I removed my hat and put it on the roof of my car, then pulled my longjohn top off over my head. I tossed the longjohn top into the car and drove off with the hat still on the roof. I'd been thinking about getting a new hat anyway....

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Friday, July 24, 2020


I'd thought this image was a dud until I went back to tweak the curves adjustment a little bit just now and realized the Milky Way had shown up okay. I lit the bristlecone with a flashlight--one quick swoop--with an amber gel held in front of it.

And then I decided to rework this one a little bit.

And a brightened version of Neowise (with something like a skipping-stone bouncing off the atmosphere?).

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Thursday, July 23, 2020


One of the awesome things about living in San Francisco is that you can get in the car after breakfast and be in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest before dinner. It's a long drive from the Inner Sunset to the Patriarch Grove, but the only drag is getting out of the Bay Area and crossing the Central Valley. Once you're east of Oakdale, it's a terrific drive.

We couldn't get a reservation to drive through Yosemite, so we went up over Sonora Pass. It was a Sunday, and the amount of traffic on the pass between Kennedy Meadows and I-395 was impressively heavy. I wondered how many of those drivers might have preferred to go over Tioga Pass. I hadn't been up that way in a long time and was glad to find the route newly paved and striped, which made driving a pleasure. The road was so smooth we even saw a guy skateboarding down from Sonora Pass.

The last time we visited the Patriarch Grove I was driving a Jeep Cherokee, and I wasn't sure my Mazda 3 would be able to handle the gravel road above the Schulman Grove, especially the last maybe quarter-mile, which I remembered being pretty rough. There's even a sign at the beginning of the route warning that it costs at least $1,000 if you need a tow truck to come get you.

I took it easy, never really going faster than 18 mph up the 12-mile section, and the last quarter mile was improved enough to be able to get through all right. A Volkswagen sedan had also made it, as well as a Ford Transit-type van and a full-on Mercedes Class C motor home.

Even a Fiat 500 made it, and I was surprised on the way out when I had to pull over to let it fly past us, eating up that gravel road like a champ. I did not care to push my luck to try to keep up. A lady up at the Patriarch Grove had told us she punctured her oil pan one time, and she added that they had a long wait before very expensive help arrived.

Although we'd spent a long day driving, we couldn't resist waiting for nightfall and the chance to see Comet Neowise.

We couldn't find the comet despite having binoculars, so I amused myself by trying some night photography. The guy with the Class C motor home was with several other experienced and well-equipped astrophotographers (including the Fiat 500 folks) who were smart and dedicated enough to stake out their Milky Way vantage points while it was still light out (some of their lighting shows up in the background above). 

I poked around in the new-moon darkness as best I could but did not manage to get a worthwhile Milky Way shot, even with my ISO pushed to 3200 and exposing for 20 seconds (with a 16mm lens @ f/4). Unlike me, this guy knows what he's doing! 

It was funny how we'd originally been looking for Comet Neowise with our binoculars, picking a star in the sky and looking for a tail. When the comet finally came into view after some clouds cleared up, it was a cinch to see with our naked eyes. I made this shot with a 105mm (ISO 3200, 10 sec. @ f/2.8) as the comet soared above the mountain ridge to the north.

Buckwheat & Bristlecones

Apparently climate change is enabling young bristlecone pines to move farther up the mountain, but the skeleton field already there hints that it has been tried before with limited success.

Silhouette & Mountain Ridges

Tiny White Flowers With Pink Anthers

I tried to look these up on CalPhotos and found a possible match, only to see that I had posted the match myself (Eremogone kingii). I don't recall if anyone verified the ID for me, but this is the closest match I can come up with.

Bristlecone Husk

Counting tree rings in dead bristlecone pines, scientists have a continuous record of growing seasons going back 11,500 years.

I ran a time lapse while I was sitting with this lovely V-shaped snag. This is the shot I made after I stopped running the time lapse so I could quickly pack up my bag before the rain was upon me.

Here's the time lapse (view at YouTube).

Although we didn't see any during the daytime this trip (probably too many people around), a trail camera picked up a white-tailed jackrabbit in this three-frame composite.

We left the bristlecones to spend a couple of nights camping near Sonora Pass.

Unfortunately, we drove home with all the firewood we'd left with due to fire restrictions in the Sierra. However, if we'd had a fire, this small badger would almost certainly not have ventured so close to our camp.

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Saturday, July 18, 2020

Slime Mold in the Yard

I was looking out the window of the laundry room into the back yard to see if the neighborhood cat was around when I spotted something unusual--a slime mold! It appears to be growing out of a stump that has been there since before we moved here in 2002, but which has never before produced any kind of fungal fruiting much less a slime mold. There is more slime mold growing in some nearby leaves, so I'm not actually sure it began with the stump or maybe some leaves lying on top of the stump.

My neighbor, a retired landscape gardener at Golden Gate Park who's lived in his place since the 1960s, said he believes the stump was once a yew tree.

Virtually all of the leaves on the ground are from the neighbor's lilly pilly tree (native to Australia).

Crop 1

Crop 2

I'm almost sorry that we're heading out on a camping trip tomorrow since I won't get to watch the progress of this splendid myxomycete.

Is this Fuligo septica, a white fruiting of the commonly yellow "dog vomit" slime mold, or maybe Enteridium lycoperdon, the false puffball?

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Friday, July 17, 2020

Lassen in July

Lake Helen (compare with June).

Bumpass Hell

Cinder Cone & Painted Dunes

Buckwheat in the Painted Dunes

Variegated Meadowhawk

Dot-tailed Whiteface

Rock Wren

Lewis's Monkey Flower



Lemmon's Paintbrush

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Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Klamath Basin

About twenty years ago this month, a group of farmers in the Klamath Basin opened a sluice gate to protest water being used for the benefit of wildlife. They were soon shut down by federal marshals. The image above seems like a nice reminder that nature deserves water rights too. These are some photos from a July 2007 trip to see the Klamath Basin in the summer.

Eared Grebe (Podiceps nigricollis) with Chicks.

White-faced Ibis (Plegadis chihi)

Northern Harrier (Circus hudsonius)

Eight-spotted Skimmer (Libellula forensis)

Wood Nymph (Cercyonis pegala)

I don't recall what the actual air temperature was, but I remember being instantly drenched in sweat when I stepped out of my air-conditioned car to check out this marsh. I'd never experienced such a humid heat in California before.

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