Monday, December 26, 2022

Silvery Morning

Silvery Dawn, Ocean Beach

It was good to see the silvery light of morning today, instead of the orange-brown glow of air pollution we've experienced the last week or so. And with rain on the way, and snow coming to the mountains, it feels like a new beginning is at hand. Also, when I suddenly awoke in the wee hours last night I sensed that I'd finally turned the corner on my journey through an influenza infection which inspired me to pull Planet of Microbes by Ted Anton off our bookshelf. 

I've enjoyed encountering phrases highlighted in a previous reading, such as "most of the capabilities of plants and animals derived from bacteria. They make our oxygen and soil, recycle everything that dies, and create most of the processes, such as respiration and metabolism, on which life depends.... Other microbes in the human gut helped us to produce the vitamins we needed to survive."

"Identity is not an object, it is a process," says Lynn Margulis, whose groundbreaking idea that symbiosis is an integral part of the evolution of life was met with ridicule, and not all that long ago either. Even scientists hate to let go of a treasured dogma.

As for having the flu, it was also interesting to read that "our energy-producing mitochondria are descended from typhus-causing Rickettsia" (attributed to Michael Gray). 

I've come to see the influenza virus infecting my body as a fellow traveler in the process that is life on Eartha guest in my body whose departure I hope to joyfully celebrate very soon.

Minutes After the Silvery Dawn

Lunar Eclipse of December 2011, Ocean Beach

Tube Ride, Ocean Beach

Luffenholtz Beach, Humboldt County

Nautilus on the Half Shell

King Tide, Big River, Mendocino, Dec. 21, 2022

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Sunday, December 18, 2022

Flowers & Fungi


Iris #1

I don't know why I still feel surprised to see flowers in December, when fungi should be reigning and the clouds raining too. The iris, Stropharia, and Hericium are from Pt. Reyes, while the Armillaria (honey mushrooms) growing next to a drain were found in front of someone's house along my city walking route. Just yesterday I noticed some currants flowering along Sunset Boulevard.

Iris #2

Stropharia ambigua

Hericium coralloides

Armillaria mellea

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Friday, December 16, 2022

Reef Walker


Exposed Reef at Drake's Beach, Pt. Reyes

Semipalmated Plover

Plover in Backlight

P.S. I looked out the back window this morning, facing east, and saw a really weird cloud that appeared to be glowing. I couldn't figure out where the light was coming from. It wasn't moonlight, and it wasn't city lights. Only later did I learn it was a "noctilucent cloud" created by a SpaceX launch at Vandenberg before dawn, as reported on SFGate. I thought about taking a picture of it, but too much of the neighbor's roof was obscuring a clean shot. Now I wish I'd photographed it anyway.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2022

'Tis The Season


View of Mt. Tam from Coyote Creek

As the year winds down toward winter solstice with increasingly long and chilly nights, the mountain is already gearing up for its new-year revival of life. 

What's that strange sound in the woods? It's the sound of flowing creeks. 


When I checked the trail cams last week I was determined to move them to a new location, but when I hiked out to the general area I had in mind, I couldn't find a specific spot that wouldn't be too exposed to off-trail hikers. I've been amazed several times in the past when the cams have caught people in unexpected places, and unless there are shoe or bike tracks it's not always easy to tell a game trail from an unofficial people trail. Not that it's a big deal if someone sees one of the cams, but part of the fun for me is finding places where only wild animals pass by.

Since I couldn't find a new spot I ended up taking the cams home. In reviewing some of my old footage I found a location that I'd forgotten about and wanted to stake out again, so yesterday I brought the cams back up.

After setting up the trail cams I poked around with the Panasonic FZ-80 and captured a nice fruiting of witch's butter (Tremella aurantia) that was busily parasitizing its usual host bracket fungus, Stereum hirsutum. As I ate the fruit and nuts I'd brought along for my lunch, I found a spot where I could hear lots of birds gathering their own lunch in the canopy of oaks, bay laurels, and Douglas firs. A beautiful townsend's warbler coaxed me into spending some time trying to photograph them.

One time I looked up and thought I saw a robin's red breast, but it was actually a red-breasted nuthatch which, like the townsend's warbler, probably spends its summers in the Sierra Nevada. I know we have year-round residents here on the coast, but it does seem like they are more abundant this time of year. Another "red-breasted" fake-out turned out to be a chestnut-backed chickadee. The FZ-80 was adequate for the job of capturing images, I guess, but only if you don't care too much about the details. The laws of physics probably prevent there being a small and light, easily portable camera that would deliver images to rival a good full-frame 35mm camera.

Besides frost on the boardwalk along Coyote Creek, the only other notable aspect of the bike ride was finding another road-killed squirrel in virtually the same place as the last one, but on the uphill side of the road. This one wasn't bleeding at all, or carrying a peppernut, but I did move it off the road for the safety of scavengers.

Frosty Boardwalk

A Little More Green

Witch's Butter & Bracket Fungus

Townsend's Warbler

Red-Breasted Nuthatch With Seed

Chestnut-Backed Chickadee

Black Phoebe at Rock Spring

A Gopher Sticks Its Neck Out

Buck on a Game Trail

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Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Amanita muscaria


Amanita muscaria, December 5

There's a narrow garden between someone's house and the sidewalk that I often walk past. Back in September I photographed a bunch of princess flower petals lying on the ground there. This time the attraction has been arguably the most iconic of all fungi, the Fly Agaric (my last walkabout fungus was of Latticed Stinkhorn). 

Besides being used as poison to kill flies, this gorgeous mushroom also produces an hallucinogenic compound called muscimol. Check out mycologist Tom Volk's Fungus of the Month for December 1999 to read all about its effects and how the Vikings used it to become berserkers!

Blooming Mushrooms, Blooming Flowers
(click image to view larger)

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Sunday, December 11, 2022

All I Want For Christmas


All I want for Christmas is another bobcat encounter. I spotted this sleepy-head snoozing in a field across the road from the Abbotts Lagoon parking lot. I stopped and got my camera out just in time to see him rise and stretch. He didn't see that I was onto him until he came toward the edge of the road, and then he turned back and walked down the field a ways, stopping once to look back at me. I lost sight of him until he emerged once again to cross the road and lose himself in the coastal scrub around the lagoon.

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Saturday, December 10, 2022

Revisiting the Past


Bluffs Along Tomales Point Trail

You can't go home again, as the saying goes, but you can go back to blog posts from the past, and a wild and wooly morning like today's seemed like a good time to do so. I enjoyed looking back and reading my posts from December 2019, several of which could have been descriptions of this year. All the photos in today's post are from Point Reyes in Decembers past. I've included two landscapes showing the range of drama to serenity to be found out there, and the rest of the shots are of our antlered friends, the elk and deer.

Hog Island

Top O' The World Elk

Three Amigos

King of the Road

Remembering Axis Deer

Elk at Sunrise Near Drake's Beach

Blacktail Bucks Near Chimney Rock

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Friday, December 9, 2022

Grandview Moonrise


Moonrise from Grandview Park

By the time I got back from my ride to Mt. Tam and had showered and downloaded pictures, it was about 3 o'clock, so I only had about an hour to relax before walking over to Grandview Park to catch the moonrise. I had an idea of where it would come up, but as the minutes passed beyond 4:28 p.m. I wondered if I would be able to see the moon through all the haze. Plus there was this one lone cloud over the distant horizon.

While I waited for the moon I snapped a couple of other shots, including the SkyStar Wheel in Golden Gate Park, and a panorama of Mt. Tam (click to view larger). People walked by and took phone snaps of the city skyline, but they were there for the sunset, which was happening on the other side of the hill. As it set, the sun reflected quite obnoxiously off the Salesforce Tower with a glare that would have dominated the scene, leaving the moon in second place. I was relieved when the reflection finally sank into the shadows.

The moon finally made its appearance--from behind the cloud, naturally--and I was excited by its beauty as the first contours of its shape became apparent. 

I had only brought a 300mm lens, so I made most of my shots by rotating the lens to vertical format and shooting a horizontal series to convert into a panorama. A single horizonal frame put the Transamerica Building and the Salesforce Tower very close to the left and right edges of the frame, leaving no room for the image to breathe. 

As I left the park I passed a small crowd of people on the other side of the hill who had been absorbed in watching the sunset. I don't think they even realized what was happening behind them.

SkyStar Wheel in Golden Gate Park

Panorama with Mount Tamalpais

Moon Above Salesforce Tower

Moon Rising Above Sutro Forest

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Thursday, December 8, 2022

Racing the Tide


Resting Buck

A year ago this month I ran into a high tide that flooded the Mill Valley-Sausalito Pathway, cutting off my bike route to Mt. Tam. A large group of cyclists soon showed up and decided to take the freeway, so I joined them, figuring we had a reasonable amount of safety in numbers. It all worked out fine, and we had a nice little adventure.

Back then I had arrived at the flooded path about a half hour after a 6.74-foot high tide. I had planned to do the ride again yesterday and was concerned about the 6.3-foot high tide, but I had no idea if that would be high enough to close off the route. I decided it was worth a try, even if I ended up having to turn back. I'm glad to report that I did not have to turn back. I passed through before high tide, and the path was still dry when I returned afterward, so I know the flooding happens somewhere north of 6.3 feet. 

Later this month we'll have king tides (get your cameras), starting with a 6.4 high tide on the 20th, followed by 6.7, 7.0, and two 7.1 highs on subsequent days, dropping to a 6.9-footer on Christmas Day.

On the way up the mountain I saw that the crazy azaleas (crazaleas?) were still blooming along that little straightaway just before Bootjack. Right in among them were bundles of juicy red toyon berries which are more typical for this time of year. 

Up on the mountain I spotted a big buck deer relaxing in the warm sunshine well above the tule fog that rose almost all the way to the Mountain Home Inn. By and by he stood up and commenced to groom himself before ambling over to the edge of the woods where he began to thrash the tree branches with his antlers. It's long past velvet-shedding time, so I wondered if he was knocking acorns down. I didn't see him eat anything though, so maybe he was trying to shed his antlers or just make a game of sparring with branches.

Speaking of acorns, I'd been wondering why I hadn't seen or heard any wild turkeys in a long time since the ground is covered with ripe nuts, and I finally saw a gaggle of them on my ride down from Rock Spring to Pantoll. They were feeding together, but doing so very quietly, and with no tail-feather flourishing.

December crazaleas on Panoramic Highway

View of Mt. Diablo Over Tule Fog
(inland fog that doesn't come from the ocean)

The Buck Rises

Caught in the Act
(of sparring with branches)

Hiker on the Benstein Trail

Frost on Beetle-Grazed Bark

Shed Antler With A View

Wary Turkey

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