Saturday, April 29, 2023

Where the Animals Are


Two-Frame Composite of Passing Bobcat

An increase in captures has made me cautiously optimistic about developments along the camera traps, with hopes of catching interesting behavior and eventually kittens, pups, cubs, leverets, chicks, and fawns. Fingers crossed.

Gray Fox at Midnight

This is a healthy coyote, but the limping coyote I first saw on 4/13 was also caught on the traps and appears in the video below.

Another two-frame bobcat composite.

Velvet-Antlered Buck in Lovely Light

Bobcat at Dusk

Video Clips on YouTube

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Friday, April 28, 2023

Cats & Dogs


Bush Lupines & Mt. Tamalpais

In the last couple of weeks the camera traps have picked up more fox, coyote, and bobcat than they did in the previous couple of months. If I was a little disappointed to have so little action for so long, I'm now a little embarrassed by the riches. I used to be sure to keyword "bobcat" in my trail cam images so I could easily find the needles in the haystack, but I quit doing that half-way through this last batch. It felt almost as silly as keywording "deer" which, next to empty frames, account for most of the triggers. (Besides wind-blown grass and tree branches, a fox, bird, or insect flitting across the scene can trigger the sensors, but by the time the camera starts recording there's nothing there anymore.)

As I was crossing the Golden Gate Bridge on my way to the mountain I noticed a work truck and couple of guys doing repairs on the southbound lane right next to the barrier, and my first thought was that it seemed like a supremely unsafe place to be. Since the barriers have gone in, people routinely drive 60 mph in that lane. These guys hadn't even set up orange safety cones. Then about a second later I realized there were no other cars in the southbound lanes. By the time I reached the other end of the bridge, the backed-up traffic was just being released.

Speaking of traffic, I need to figure out how to make a safety recommendation for CA-1, the Shoreline Highway. A lot of tourists from out of state use that route, and they are usually the ones who give me a close shave when they pass. They obviously don't know the law about leaving three feet of distance when passing a cyclist, and street signs about the law might help get the word out.

As I got close to Bootjack I spotted a bush full of the tubular white flowers of pitcher sage growing next to a blue California lilac also in full bloom. Meanwhile, I was surprised to see that the calypso orchids at the top end of the Bootjack parking lot were still going strong. The sky lupines have finally come out in large numbers, but for the most part are obscured by grasses that were tall enough in places to see wind-waves rippling through. 

As I rode out West Ridgecrest Road to check out the same vista point I reached on my last trip, I got a flat tire. Oh good, now I get to see if my new pump really works. I'd also bought some new pre-glued tube patches to try out. Oddly, the tube was punctured on the rim-facing surface. Nothing had punctured the tire to reach the tube. I noticed that the rim tape had gotten all bunched up and pushed aside in that area, and couldn't be straightened out. Bummer, since who carries spare rim tape? I patched the tube and pumped up the tire, only to curse the new pump until I realized the problem was the pre-glued patch. Air was leaking out as fast as I could pump it in. Next I just installed a new tube, and after about 200 pump-strokes had the tire inflated enough for the ride home, with my fingers crossed the whole way that the rim tape issue wouldn't give me another flat.

Two Lanes, No Bridge

I'm wondering how long this overhang of the forest floor along Panoramic Highway is going to hold before a whole bunch of these small redwoods topples into the road.

Wildflowers on Bolinas Ridge

You can just make out the purple lupines on this hillside, but the grass is a little too tall for them to really stand out.

Flat Repair Shop With A View

Bobcat Seeks Gopher Opportunity

King of the Hill Coyote

Travels of The Night Fox

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Thursday, April 27, 2023

Stinky's Back


Latticed Stinkhorn

A small fragment of orange peeked out from the wood chips and caught my attention as I walked along the Sunset Parkway yesterday. A little further investigation turned up several more-developed baskets of Latticed Stinkhorn, which I first spotted last August. Maybe fog-drip gives the mycelium just the right amount of moisture to fruit. I was surprised that our very wet winter didn't produce the bumper crop of mushrooms I expected on Mt. Tam. I guess even fungi can have too much of a good thing.

As I looked again at my wildflower photos from Table Mountain and Carrizo Plain I was struck by how commonplace it seemed to find hills and fields covered with flowers, as if it didn't take driving several hours in an automobile to find them. I'm biking up to Mt. Tam later this morning, where I'm sure the bloom will be much less prolific. It won't be a disappointment, though. It'll be a reminder and reminiscence of the appreciation I felt for the awesome spectacle I experienced farther afield.

Back here on the home front -- on my compost bin, that is -- I was surprised to find a garden snail stomach-footing across the lid. It must have hitched a ride in the lovely but invasive Oxalis pes-caprae that I'd pulled from the south-facing slope of nearby Grandview Park (the west and north sides are hopelessly infested), but the trash and compost had already been picked up that morning. Somehow during all the hubbub the snail made it to the outside of the can. (FWIW, my neighbor, who's retired from managing the California Garden at Strybing Arboretum, had invited me to help with the weeding at Grandview, under the auspices of the Parks Department. I don't go around pulling weeds wherever I feel like it!)

Another bit of nature I've seen on my walk recently. There's a house on 16th Avenue that's chock-full of flowering plants that seems like a bee and hummingbird playground. But what I also noticed as I passed by the other day was a fluttering dark butterfly. I watched its acrobatics until it landed -- on a huge patch of pipevine that I'd never noticed before.

Helix aspersa (now Cornu aspersum), dispersing. 

Pipevine Swallowtail In Residence

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Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Return to Carrizo Plain

Purple Parry's Mallow & Friends
(click to view larger)

The wildflowers of Carrizo Plain National Monument (so designated in 2001) have been calling out to me ever since I drove through with my wife about three weeks ago on our way to San Diego. The bloom has certainly matured since then. Some early species have set seed and faded where they once flourished, while others such as larkspur, owl's clover, and a big purple salvia have begun to bloom. Hardy, spiky-stemmed fiddleneck remains the undisputed king of the plain, and even though much of the color has receded in the mountains, the display remains impressive, especially compared with drier springtimes I've seen in the past.

I pulled into the Soda Lake Overlook parking lot while it was still dark, having made the drive during the wee hours. I figured I could spend the time until dawn by photographing the Milky Way with wildflowers in the foreground, but it was densely foggy when I arrived, so I took a nap instead. Truth be told, I was grateful to the fog for giving me an excuse not to go poking around in the dark to find a suitable foreground for the night shot. It almost certainly would have been a futile exercise anyway since I had pictured using the beautiful patch of wildflowers I saw at the overlook on April 4. As I discovered when it was light out, that whole patch was gone.

I drove down from the overlook to Soda Lake, where I parked at the edge of the small lot so I'd easily be able to get out if it got crowded and jim-jammed the way it looked when we were there three weeks ago. I made the short walk to the edge of the lake, then out and back along the slippery, wet boardwalk, and when I eventually circled back to the car I was surprised to see that it was still the only one there. I hardly saw another soul until after 10 a.m., and the pace didn't really pick up to the early-April levels until after 11 a.m.

The area around Soda Lake made for some enjoyable exploration. The peace and quiet was marred by my own appearance at the edge of the lake when one of the two American avocets in the vicinity called out in alarm. It was so vociferous I wondered if it was nesting nearby, so I kept my visit short out of respect. Just across Soda Lake Road was an intriguing patch of pinkish flowers, so I strolled over for a closer look and found they were owl's clover. A small group of elk was resting in the far distance between me and the Caliente Range. I assume there are still pronghorn out there, but I didn't see any.

Although the wildflower bloom had noticeably filled out toward the north end of the monument since I last saw it, the south end still had lots to offer. I also checked out Elkhorn Grade Road, whose existence I only noticed for the first time three weeks ago. I'd never before seen wildflowers on those seemingly inhospitable south-facing mountainsides of the Temblor Range. 

From there I'd like to have driven toward the coast to check out Big Sur, but Caltrans still has CA-1 closed due to rockslides. Instead I drove back up Soda Lake Road and parked to eat lunch and rest under the shade of one of the very few trees out there, in a small planted eucalyptus grove at the KCL Campground. The brightly colored bullock's orioles that captured my attention on a previous visit were nowhere to be seen, and only a starling (which I considered a poor and potentially ominous substitute) called out from the trees.

By the time I passed Soda Lake on my way home that afternoon, the parking area was just as overflowing with vehicles as I'd remembered from three weeks ago. If Carrizo was that popular all year, the Park Service would have to pave the roads and build some sort of tourist complex. But it's probably only like that for a couple of months, and in a dry year not even that. Even my neighbor, who'd never heard of Carrizo Plain, knew the word that gets everyone out there: "superbloom." Here's hoping El Nino brings us another one next year.

This might be Delphinium gypsophilum, one of five larkspur species found at Carrizo.

I'm pretty sure this is Delphinium recurvatum, the most prevalent larkspur I saw.

I never thought I would see Soda Lake so full of water, or so foggy!

The elegant, lilac-colored flowers of recurved larkspur.

Grass Riot No. 1
(at Soda Lake parking area; note trail in upper left of frame)

Grass Riot No. 2
(with Soda Lake and Temblor Range)

Larkspur & Friends Lakeside on the Plain

View from Soda Lake toward Caliente Range, with wading American Avocets

Shoreline Curves in Gold

Fiddleneck, King of the Plain

Meadow Dressed in Layers

Owl's Clover Meadow Near Soda Lake

White-colored owl's clover mixing with the pink.

This is as far along Simmler Road as I dared to go in my Mazda 3, due to very deep ruts made when the soil was wet and soft.

View along Soda Lake Road toward Caliente Range

Impressionistic Landscape

Flowers in the Sun
(This was possibly the last relatively cool day, with a high of 75, before a heat wave would move in.)

The first time I ducked out of their way I didn't know what had narrowly missed me. It was at least two of these beetles (Paracotalpa ursina) buzzing through the air, clinched together in what I guess was a mating flight.

Purple thistle sage (Salvia carduacea) frolic in soil too unsuitable for the looming king of the plains.

Thistle Sage

Temblor Range from Soda Lake Road

Still lots of color up there
(view from Soda Lake Road).

These are the hills I saw three weeks ago from CA-166, and this view is from Elkhorn Grade Road, where I was surprised to have a big brown UPS truck pull in behind me until I saw that there's a Nestle/Purina clay-mining facility just off the dirt road. Check out what a trucker says about making deliveries here. (Do you see the SUV trailing dust near the upper left ridge?)

Click to see the large version of these two panoramas, at 1800 pixels wide. This one is from a vista point near the southern end of Elkhorn Road.

Veins of California Gold

Driving to Carrizo in the dark, I had no idea what I was missing.

This stunning and undisturbed meadow is on private property just across the highway from the popular wildflower meadows of Shell Creek Road.

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Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Table Mountain

Wildflowers at North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve
(click images to view larger)

I was introduced to the spring wildflowers of Table Mountain when I briefly lived in Sonora in the late '80s, but of course that's a different Table Mountain. In part because I'm not fond of sharing my trails with cows and lots of people, I never got around to visiting the North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve near Chico until yesterday. It was well worth the trip despite my reservations, though, and I look forward to visiting again in the coming years.

Not knowing what to expect, I packed for an overnight trip. Since I was setting my alarm for 2 a.m. in order to arrive by sunrise I slept in the living room to avoid waking up my wife, who had to go to work in the morning. I actually woke up 15 minutes before the alarm and got on the road before 3 a.m. I let Google Maps guide me through the darkness, and that worked really well until I was confronted by confusing street signs at intersections along Cherokee Road, the final approach to the Reserve. I'd gotten so used to the voice commands that I didn't even think to look at the map on the phone, and I found it hard to tell at a couple of intersections, especially in the dark, which way to go.

As I drove past a "lake" (the Thermalito Diversion Pool) I saw the beautiful, golden shape of a crescent moon rising over the water. I pulled over but couldn't find a good photo opportunity until I got back in the car and drove up and out of the woods. It was still well before sunrise (on what would turn out to be a chilly, overcast, and windy day) when I pulled over again to photograph the moon with an oak tree silhouette. Even in the scant predawn light I could tell I was surrounded by wildflowers.

There was one other car in the Reserve parking lot when I arrived, and two more had come by the time I'd changed into hiking shoes and got on the trail. When I returned around noon, the lot was packed to overflowing. And this was a Monday, with what I would guess is a fairly ordinary bloom (not a "superbloom").

Although I had a hiking map, it did me no good when faced with the actual place. I figured it would be easy to just follow the trail at such a heavily used location, but what appeared to be the main trail soon led me past signs indicating the Reserve boundary. It was perplexing because the wildflowers were better on the wrong side of the boundary.

I waited for the two guys hiking behind me to catch up, but they had never been there before either. Thankfully, one of them had smartly saved directions on his phone and said we should hike along the fence line, so off we went. The hiking instructions I'd read at home said most people hiked along the fence line, but the cognoscenti took a shortcut. I noticed the shortcut as soon as we walked past it at the other end. The way to find the beginning of the shortcut is to face the big sign at the trailhead that tells you to have a Lands Pass: the shortcut takes off straight along your line of sight behind it.

We didn't encounter our first trail sign until we were eight-tenths of a mile into the Reserve , but from then on, the rest of the route to Phantom Falls was easy to follow. 

A group of turkey vultures was perched in a tall snag next to the trail near Ravine Falls, but I didn't have a long lens with me and just enjoyed the view. I figured they'd been roosting there all night. As we approached, the vultures reluctantly flew off the tree one by one, and we soon encountered what the attraction was: a dead cow (alive with maggots) lay next to the trail.

There were lots of wildflowers along the first part of the hike, but few that drew me to photograph individual species. One exception was a low-lying scarlet-petaled monkey flower (Diplacus kelloggii). There were just a couple of them lying low to the ground the first time I saw them, but the next time they were on fairly tall plants, and out around Phantom Falls I found a large patch of them where I photographed a snoozing butterfly. I was glad I'd brought my flash for macro work since it was too windy for natural light.

As I roamed around I found plenty of wildflowers to photograph, and it was a joy to be out on such an interesting an unusual landscape. The main attraction for me was the Phantom Falls escarpment. As with anything else, the pictures don't do it justice. You can't stand right at the edge of a picture! I practically get vertigo just remembering it. I'd packed a sandwich and sat right next to the edge to eat it while yellow-rumped warblers flitted over the chasm next to me with ease, and a canyon wren trilled from the cliffs, its song a descending whistle that would have made an excellent accompaniment to something falling off a cliff.

I found another excellent wildflower patch after my early lunch, but the wind was only getting increasingly troublesome for flower photography, so I soon called it a day. 

I hiked back to the car and drove out of the Reserve by heading north on Cherokee Road (having come in from the south), thinking I'd head east when I got to CA-70. Almost as soon as I turned onto the highway, though, a flashing sign warned that the road was closed nine miles ahead. I drove up a ways anyway but felt like the wildflowers weren't really happening yet in that direction, so I turned around and headed toward Snow Mountain, which still has quite a bit of snow on it. I set Google Maps for a little button of a town called Elk Creek near Stony Gorge Reservoir. From Elk Creek I navigated south and west until I reached Bear Valley Road. 

I'd never been in that area before and was a little taken aback when Bear Valley Road ran out of pavement. I briefly thought about turning around in my low-clearance Mazda 3, but the scenery was so new and beautiful out in that valley, and I told myself I'd gone too far to turn back anyway. I stopped several times to make snapshots over barbed-wire fences of irresistible patches and fields of wildflowers. I encountered maybe two or three other motor vehicles on that long stretch, one of which was an ATV driven by a guy with at least two dogs onboard and a border collie running along behind it -- and all of them, dogs and human, seemed glad to be out on such a beautiful day. 

When Bear Valley Road reached the Wilbur Springs turn-off I knew I was getting close to paved roads again, and I soon came to CA-20 near the intersection of CA-16, which is what I took to head south through the picturesque Capay Valley until it reached I-505. After gassing up in Winters I was home in time to catch most of World News Tonight and have dinner with my wife (who happily slept though my wee-hour departure).

Rising Crescent Moon and Oak Tree

Rolling Terrain with Wildflower Foreground

Landscape with Cattle

Kellogg's Monkey Flower

Early in the morning, a little bit of sunshine broke through the gathering clouds, painting the landscape with soft light.

Oaks in Morning Light with Darkening Western Sky

Monkey Flower Bouquet

Phantom Falls Overlook No. 1

Phantom Falls Overlook No. 2

Landscape of Rock and Flowers

Streamside Meadow Wildflowers

Butter 'n Eggs

Wildflower Canvas

Owl's Clover, Lupine, and Goldfields

Textured Landscape

Veined White Butterfly at Rest

Phantom Falls Escarpment from the Western Side

Having lunch on the edge, I was able to text this photo to my wife, thanks to excellent cell service near Phantom Falls.

I was eating my sandwich and almost didn't think to grab my camera in time to get a shot of this guy who was standing on the western side where I'd just been.

Instead of waiting for a lull, I allowed the wind to do its thing in this 2.5-second exposure.

View Toward the Phantom Falls Trail

Mustard Along CA-160

Snow Mountain

Oak Grove Along Bear Valley Road

Purple Plains Along Bear Valley Road

Bear Valley Bovine Sitting Pretty

Huge Meadow of Cream Cups

Meadow, Woodland, and Hills Along Bear Valley Road

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