Friday, September 30, 2022

The Sublime

Black-necked Stilt

I wasn't expecting the day to be sublime, which might have made it all the sweeter. I noticed it when I got out of bed yesterday morning and pushed back the curtains to reveal clear air and a fog-free sky. By the time I started rolling out the door around 9:15, the morning had attained perfection. I cut through Golden Gate Park past the green fields of Big Rec and the sparkling landscaping at the Conservatory of Flowers, across the Richmond District and through the Presidio to the Golden Gate Bridge, where a long line of brown pelicans got me off my bike and scrounging for a camera.

The pelicans reached the bridge and surprised me by heading north alongside it instead of flying over it. The squadron eventually broke up, with one group continuing north and another group coming back to fly south. The bike ride over the bridge was sweet and uncrowded, and as I reached the bottom of the Sausalito hill, where the bay comes up to the seawall, the word "sublime" just popped into my head. Then, "Pay attention. Soak it in." I suspect the sublime is always there, even in dismal weather. It's just harder to see.

Even the motorists seemed mellower than usual, and perhaps even too mellow. About half-way up  the winding Shoreline Highway hill I could tell a car was behind me, too timid to pass despite having plenty of room and time to do it. This went on for a while, and I pictured some poor gray-haired old lady from a flat state where there aren't any bicyclists to share the road with. Finally the driver took a chance and went around me, and I was surprised to see it was a couple of young guys in a small cherry-red Ferrari with the top down. A whole slew of cars had backed up behind him, and I was grateful for just enough of a breeze to clear the smog as they all passed me.

The temperature at Rock Spring was a perfect 76 degrees, and I hiked out to the trail camera to swap out the card and batteries. I also moved it back down to the edge of the pool of water, figuring it's not going to rain again anytime soon. A dragonfly dipped her tail-end into the pool, presumably dropping off some eggs, although I didn't see any. A male flew by a little later, just to trip the trail camera and give me some blank frames.

There were some male coyote brush plants along the trail that were teeming with insect life gathering pollen and/or nectar. Just that morning I had read Jake Sigg's e-newsletter which linked to FoundSF: "The insect associates of Baccharis pilularis (coyote bush), a common plant of the dunes and other coastal shrub communities, are legion, supporting no less than 29 species of spiders, 7 mites, and 221 species of insects (of these, 56 are only loosely associated, leaving 165 species as its true associates). Several of these, including several abundant moth species that play a keystone role in the insect economy, are apparently specific to coyote bush."

Although I stepped carefully on approach to a particularly festive coyote brush, watching for rattlesnakes, I jumped back in surprise when a buzzworm saw me first and gave me what for. I could tell it wasn't one of the big daddies by the tone of the rattles, but it still made me jump. It slithered under a boulder for cover, and after I got my fill of photographing insects I peaked over the rock to see if the snake had come back out. The snake had only just emerged and, seeing me, it ducked back under the rock.

Back at Rock Spring I got my bike ready to head home when I decided to try my luck with the acorn woodpeckers nearby. The acorn pantries, recently empty, are filling up. The birds flew away as I crunched noisily through the dry leaves to get near them, but I found a spot in the shade and waited for them to come back. They never did come back, at least not within range, but a blue-tailed skink rustled noisily into view, and I enjoyed watching it prowl around for whatever it could catch and conquer.

Wading Birds Relaxing as the Tide Comes In

Looking Past the Reflection

Coyote Brush Variety Pack #1: Ants Greeting Each Other On Coyote Brush Flowers

Coyote Brush Variety Pack #2

Coyote Brush Variety Pack #3

Coyote Brush Variety Pack #4

Coyote Brush Variety Pack #5

Coyote Brush Variety Pack #6

Coyote Brush Variety Pack #7

Coyote Brush Variety Pack #8

Coyote Brush Variety Pack #9

Coyote Brush Variety Pack #10

Coyote Brush Variety Pack #11

Coyote Brush Variety Pack #12

Rattlesnake Takes A Peek

Acorn Pantry in Standing Snag

Acorn and Bay Nut Collection

Blue-tailed Skink On the Prowl

It looked like the skink was tussling with something, and it sort of looks like a forest scorpion.

A great blue heron hunts along the edge of the drowned pickleweed during a four-foot high tide that came up to the boardwalk along Coyote Creek.

Gas went up $1.10/gal. in a week; glad I can reach Mt. Tam on the ebike!

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Friday, September 23, 2022



Beach Weather at the Bottom of Noriega Street

I always carry my smartphone when I go for longer walks, but I rarely snap a photo. Today I got all the way to the beach before I pulled it out to snap a picture of the really great beach weather we're having, and then I went all kinds of shutterbuggin' as I walked back home. When I got back and changed shoes to go for a ride on my ebike I saw that I was reaching a fun milestone on the odometer.

I took a picture of this building back in June, when it was bristling with scaffolding. The work was finally finished recently, and now it's covered with some kind of wood (or lookalike) shingle siding.

The billboard changes quite frequently, and is often just a little bit strange. To have this message here in the city, and in the Sunset District just a few blocks from the beach to boot, struck me as interesting. The wall art, road work machinery, telephone lines, and liquor store sign provide additional local flavor.

An unusually festive display outside a store on Noriega Street that sells mainly packaged food items. I was about to ask a guy nearby what was being celebrated, but he turned and walked away before I could get a word out.

I first noticed a large Lurk Hard decal on the right rear quarter panel (not shown), and while I continued walking and wondering if "Lurk Hard" was about some kind of savage internet trolling, the tail end of this car made me smile. Lurk Hard turns out to be a skater clothing brand, fwiw.

No point making this out-of-focus cabbage white bigger. I watched it flutter and spiral out of a tree and land dazed on the ground. Above me, a black phoebe snapped at something else that wasn't so lucky (assuming the butterfly can recover).

Amazon Prime keeps suggesting that I would like the movie Hard Eight, and they are not wrong. As I left my house on my bike this morning I noticed I was coming up on a Fun Eight, or 8,888 miles on my odometer. I took a picture of the milestone next to one of the street art projects being painted on JFK Drive in Golden Gate Park. Elsewhere in the park, preparations are being made for Hardly Strictly Bluegrass next week, but the street art is something separate.

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Coyote Creek


Black-necked Stilts Along Coyote Creek

The black-necked stilts have returned to Coyote Creek from wherever their summer home was. I wonder if the recent mild rains were their cue to return. Maybe it was the equinox (and a gorgeous equinoctial day it was for a bike ride). This pair was foraging with several greater yellowlegs in the brackish pools adjacent to the boardwalk off the Mill Valley-Sausalito Pathway. I wondered if they are the same pair I've seen here in years past. Audubon says seventy percent of California's black-necked stilts breed in the Sacramento Valley. If this is a breeding pair who raised chicks last season, the chicks have dispersed elsewhere.

Meanwhile, on the Coyote Creek side of the boardwalk, I was surprised to see a great blue heron hunting in the pickleweed along with a much more commonly seen snowy egret. I watched the GBH stalk for a few minutes without making a strike, while the egret seemed to strike quite frequently and successfully. Whatever it was catching was too small to make out, but back at home I zoomed in on a photo that appears to show a small slug in its beak. 

The boarded-up husk of the old Dipsea Cafe is reflected in the creek behind the GBH. The owner had planned back in 2016 to turn the building into a medical marijuana dispensary, but that plan doesn't seem to have gone anywhere. The derelict building makes for a surprisingly decrepit approach to swanky Mill Valley.

Up on Mt. Tamalpais, I need not have worried about my trail camera being flooded out by the kind of gully-washer we had last year, an atmospheric river that splashed down in late October. That storm changed the character of the pool I've had my trail camera on, mostly by removing much of the gently sloping gravel beach. Although fox and raccoon have been showing up as much as before, the bird life has diminished quite a bit. I also suspect the approach to the pool has changed, as often happens in nature, when trails get cut off by fallen trees or new plant growth. Not a single deer passed by my camera trap all summer, whereas they have been quite common in the past.

Great Blue Heron Next to Coyote Creek
(showing reflection of old Dipsea Cafe)

Close Crop of Egret Munchies

Before the rain, a fox passes by the pool. Note the rock in the back of the pool, which I had placed there for birds to land on.

The clouds were nice, but the rain was meh.

A raccoon hunts in the post-rain pool. That rock in the back of the pool is now submerged, but the creekbeds remain about as dry as they were before the rain.

A doe browses in a meadow near Rock Spring with her youngster, somewhere between fawn and yearling, staying close to mom.

The California fuchsia are still in bloom along Pantoll Road.

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Monday, September 19, 2022

Critter Cam


Collection of Captures

I'd forgotten about the fun of making composite images with the trail camera, even when the result is not exactly up to National Geographic standards, to say the least! The nice thing about the trail camera, besides always being ready to snap a photo, is that it doesn't move. The acorn woodpecker, flicker, and western tanager are each shown about where they were captured in the original frame. Since the photos were made on different days, and at different times of the day, the light is different as well, which explains most of the obvious compositing. That's less of a problem with night-time images since they are standardized by the use of a flash.

When I was up there on Friday I considered whether to put my camera somewhere else in advance of the coming rain. If there's enough rain, this pool will become obsolete. But I'm curious to see the "before and after" scene, so I decided to keep the cam at the pool but move it to higher ground, where I could strap it to a tree. With any luck, the rain will make this pool obsolete, and next week I'll want to put the camera somewhere else.

Fox Composite

Video Clips from the Week

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Saturday, September 17, 2022

Fantasy Ride


Bridge View Above Fort Point

Riding over the Golden Gate Bridge on a beautiful morning yesterday was a breeze, with hardly any cyclists coming the other way, and virtually no pedestrians. I could even afford to enjoy the view without concern. About mid-span, though, I reached what must have been a busload of tourists, soon  accompanied by an increase in cyclists coming the other way. No more time for reverie. Near the end of the bridge there's a short narrow section that I'm always grateful to be able to get through alone, but on this morning a cyclist coming the other way appeared to actually speed up in order to make sure that wouldn't happen. I'd be curious to know how much space was actually between us as we sped past each other. It seemed like about an inch.

Down in Sausalito, the waterfront was gorgeous, bathed in the same clear morning light that made me stop to take a picture at the Golden Gate Bridge. Richardson Bay was calm, and the tide was still heading to its low, though it hardly seemed like it. The low was going to be +3 feet, down only about a foot-and-a-half from its high. Riding my bike next to traffic on Bridgeway was about the same as usual, with cars and work trucks maybe a bit more than an arm's length away at times. I found myself grumbling in my mind about smog-belching deathmobiles passing too close for comfort until I thought, "Wait, isn't this ride supposed to be fun? Isn't this supposed to be enjoyable?"

I was only able to let the air out of my angst and revenge fantasies when I reached the bike path that starts at Mike's Bikes. I could finally direct my attention to the enjoyable parts of the ride, the lovely morning, pelicans diving into the bay, shorebirds working the tide line, but eventually I'd need to share the road again and live with the subtle stress of knowing I could be ground into roadkill by just one distracted driver. 

During the ride up Shoreline Highway, I savored the breaks between bouts of vehicle traffic. Some drivers will cut it very close in order to pass me, and others will be so timid about passing that I hope they aren't letting traffic pile up behind them, thereby setting the stage for drivers to heat up with rage against cyclists. 

When I finally reach Panoramic Highway I finally feel in the clear enough to relax and enjoy my surroundings once and for all, and it gets even better when I round the bend past Mountain Home Inn. Then I'm riding among the Doug fir and redwood forest, with weekday morning traffic being mercifully light--the cars, trucks, and buses coming few and far between. And then I reach Pantoll Road and head up to Rock Spring with an even lighter heart, scouting the grasslands for wildlife, being mesmerized by fog feeling its way through the forest below, taking note of the seasonal change marked by fallen acorns in the road.

Greater Yellowlegs Foraging Along Coyote Creek

If the coyote hadn't moved, I might not have seen her. Even though I was nowhere near her, she ambled into the woods to get away from a human's prying eyes.

A female California darner clung to a thistle branch along the Cataract Trail and obligingly stayed put long enough for me to snap a picture. She blended in so well with her perch and background that it was a little tricky even to find her in the tiny FZ-80 electronic viewfinder.

Howdy, Skipper!

Poison Oak Turning Color

This Buckeye Butterfly allowed me to get close as long as my shadow didn't interfere with its sun bath on the Cataract Trail.

The goldfinches are still around, and still gathering to drink at the Rock Spring water tank. I'd seen a red-shouldered hawk not too far away, and the goldfinches kept nearly constant look-out, ready to peel away from the tank and into nearby cover at the slightest provocation.

I almost didn't see the white-breasted nuthatch several feet away from the goldfinches. They were drinking from a spot that water actually dripped from, but the nuthatch was satisfied with a merely damp seep.

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Friday, September 16, 2022

The Fallen


Tibouchina urvilleanum

It's about a week from the fall equinox, that evanescent perfection of Earth's balance of light and darkness. As we tilt toward greater darkness, plants will cannibalize their green chlorophyll machinery and sequester energy for the future. Leaves will fade to yellow, then brown, and finally give in to gravity's embrace. 

Just the other day I walked past fallen royalty, the purple petals of princess flower on Noriega Street. The tree's energy will now turn from flower production to fruit formation.

Leaves and flower petals aren't the only things that fall. I streamed a movie the other night despite knowing nothing more about it than the fact that it starred Harry Dean Stanton. I almost turned it off during the slow beginning, which included scenes of an old guy doing his morning exercises in his underwear. Something that happens pretty much every day where I live. In fact, I hope I'm still doing it when I'm 90 years old like Harry was in the movie, called Lucky

I think I was reaching for the remote when the pace picked up in the nick of time. That might have been when David Lynch appeared, full of years and quirky lines such as, "There are some things in this universe, ladies and gentlemen, that are bigger than all of us. And a tortoise is one of 'em!". (Although David Lynch has a brother named John, David is not related to the movie's director, John Carroll Lynch.)

You could be forgiven for thinking of Lucky as more of a winter movie than a fall movie. But Harry's fall from grace is a metaphor of humanity's fall from grace, its banishment from the Garden of Eden for breaking a rule. Don't light up. Don't become enlightened. If you eat the fruit of knowledge, you will be expelled like a fallen angel. Personally, I like to think that story is about the knowledge of good and evil being the turning point between our animal state of nature and our cultural state of civilization.

Not that I subscribe to any such arbitrary notion that civilization is antithetical to nature. Even if we insist they are different, they remain entwined. And if you wonder which one is the real boss, think about where civilization would be without abundant fresh water. Here we are in all our glory, fancy-pants human beings, utterly dependent for our lives on one little molecule.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Ruby Mountains

September Color at Dollar Lake

After several years of being shut down by weather, wildfire, and scheduling issues, we both figured it was this year or never. So a friend and I decided to make the long drive out to Nevada's Ruby Mountains despite the fact that rain was in the forecast, and that the best part of the Lamoille Canyon Scenic Byway, which also leads to the most popular trailhead, was scheduled to be closed for road maintenance. 

The good news was that the road closure was postponed. The bad news was that inclement weather was the reason.

It had been so long since we first planned to visit the Ruby Mountains (named by early explorers who mistook garnets for rubies) that we couldn't even remember how we'd heard about this small slice of the Sierra Nevada (figuratively speaking) in the basin-and-range country near Elko, Nevada. But the scheduling gods finally granted us an opening, so we threw caution to the winds in the hope of finally kicking this place off our bucket list. 

We loaded everything into my friend's VW camper van and zoomed east on I-80, up through a very smoky Sierra Nevada and into the fresh air of the desert, where the speed limit was sometimes 80 mph. We reveled in the beautiful blue skies studded with massive clouds, including distant thunderheads unleashing dark-gray curtains of rain. 

Having interesting skies in September seemed like a generous bonus from the weather gods during such a long drive. 

Although the daily chance of precipitation in Elko (the town next to the Ruby Mountains) rarely rises above twenty percent even in the rainy season, the National Weather Service issued a flood watch for the region this week due to "significant subtropical moisture" moving in. Yesterday, several rainfall records were broken throughout Nevada, and heavy rain remains in the forecast through tonight around Elko and the Ruby Mountains.

I mention all this because even though my friend was going to have a dry sleep in his camper van, I was going to spend the night at the Thomas Canyon Campground staving off several leaks in my North Face Lenticular tent. Luckily I'd thought to bring a towel to sop up the rivulets and puddles I noticed when I was periodically awakened during the night by heavy downpours. The  ground on the nicely groomed tent pad (this was a $27/night USFS campground after all) eventually became saturated, and a pool of water formed. I was grateful that I hadn't pitched my tent where the pool was deepest.

I took stock of the situation in the morning and, despite having experienced an interesting night, I was confident that I could do it again the next night as long as the sun came out and dried my gear. I pulled up stakes for the second time (the first had been done during the night to escape the rising pool of water) and carried my tent over to the relatively dry and non-absorbent cement pad next to the picnic table so it could dry out while we drove up-canyon to see if the road had been closed. 

It had not, and we were able to drive all the way up to road's end. The valley was quite beautiful, even with fog and clouds obscuring the peaks. Had we come in September 2018, we'd have been chased out by wildfire. Now it was raining almost non-stop, and we had to eat our lunch inside the van. When we finally returned to camp I found more rivulets and pools of water inside my soggy tent. The towel that had saved me the night before was still nearly saturated. It was obvious that there was no way for me to stay dry another night.

Even if I'd had a better tent, we'd have been spending all day and night being rained on, so we reluctantly decided to pack up. As I began to take down my tent I was grateful to the weather gods for hitting pause on the rain. But of course, those weather gods do have a sense of humor, and I was soon racing against the rain to get my completely drenched tent disassembled and stuffed into its sack. 

I was expecting that we would descend from the Rubies to find sunshine down in Elko, but  even that was not to be. Storm clouds were everywhere, and there was nowhere to dry out.

So we'd finally gotten to the Ruby Mountains--our Big Rock Candy Mountain that had turned into our White Whale--covering more than a thousand miles of road in two days. We drove through the smoke-filled Sierra with our pandemic face masks on, and the Dutch Fire closed westbound I-80 on our way home, sending us on a detour of dark and unfamiliar winding roads past Nevada City and Auburn. We got home at about 11 p.m., and our clothing smelled like smoke despite the fact that we'd had no campfire and had driven with the windows up and the air on recirculate.

I left my Nikon gear at home and did all my photography with the Panasonic FZ-80 and my smartphone. I'd like to go back someday with my "real" gear, perhaps as a stop on a more wide-ranging tour of the basin-and-range country.

Right now my tent is hanging off the back stairs to dry. It might take a while, as it's quite foggy out. I recently wrote about "sweet fog," but I might have to get on my bike and ride out somewhere to find a little sunshine.

Ominous Beauty on the Approach to the Ruby Mountains

Heading Up Lamoille Canyon Road

Nearly 10,000 acres burned in September 2018.

Lamoille Canyon, September 2022

Tree Skeletons

Trying to Stay Dry

During the night of rain, I had to move the tent to the highest part of the tent pad (one side of which is the wood beam to the right of the tent) to back away from a growing pool of water.

Rabbit Brush in Lamoille Canyon

Lamoille Creek at Road's End, NF-660

Fireweed and Aspen Along Lamoille Creek

Trail angels had left a bunch of bottled water for hikers who might not have brought their own, but there was little chance of dehydrating or getting too hot on this rainy, 55-degree day.

On the Trail: Ruby Crest National Recreation Area

Trailside Views Along Lamoille Creek

Climbing Switchbacks in the Rain

Possible Glacial Erratic on the Edge

Pine Belt Around Dollar Lake

Mushroom in the Pines

Dollar Lake (9,600' elev.), a glacial tarn, has been expanded in size by the handiwork of beavers.

The beaver lodge is that brown hump at the far end of the lake, between the trees.

Beavers had engineered a mud-and-stick dam all around the downstream perimeter. I never saw a beaver, but a duck landed on the lake while I was there. I wondered how beaver ever got to this remote location which is surrounded by desert.

Looking back down from near Dollar Lake, the Road's End parking area is in the center, just in front of the wall of clouds.

Lots of weather at the base of the Rubies

"God beams" on the way back to California.

The sun begins to turn wildfire smoke red as it sinks into the west.

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