Friday, June 30, 2023

Summer's Bounty


Cataract Trailhead at Rock Spring

Riding my bike over the bone-chattering surface of the boardwalk parallel to Coyote Creek is a price I willingly pay to avoid having to tangle with vehicle traffic on the approach to Tamalpais Valley. I stand on my pedals and coast as much as possible, and as I scan for shorebirds I'm also looking forward to reaching the end of the boardwalk. If it's windy enough on the way home, as it was yesterday, I can usually pedal across Highway 1 to the boardwalk and coast all the way until it reaches the smooth bike path behind the Holiday Inn Express. 

It's been a while since I stopped along the boardwalk to photograph something of interest, whether willets in the salt grass, or black-necked stilts foraging in the shallow, brackish pools along the way. As I was noticing all the golden spaghetti-balls of dodder on yesterday's ride across the boards, I saw another plant that made me stop. Was that Castilleja? In the salt marsh? When I stopped I realized there were other interesting plants flowering among the salt grass and pickleweed, although the alleged Indian paintbrush was still just in bud. There was a lot of plant diversity going on in that marsh that I'd never noticed before.

Higher up and above the fog, I was struck by the diversity of grasses flowering along the edge of Panoramic Highway. I wanted to stop to photograph them all, but immediately I realized it wouldn't be possible in the wind. 

More and different grasses greeted me up near Rock Spring, and on the dry hilltop near my trail cameras I was greeted by countless yellow mariposa lilies. Flying insects buzzed everywhere, and clouds of ladybird beetles opened their wings to drift on the breeze, with musical accompaniment provided by the constant buzz of stridulating crickets and grasshoppers. 

Newly minted butterflies fluttered in the sun, and dragonflies patrolled their territories. Fence lizards scuttled and pumped push-ups on rocks and logs. Plant growth was running riot, and as I was about to follow a deer trail through marshy sedges to get a better angle on the first and only blooming leopard lily, I decided to find a different route when I saw all the stinging nettles rising in their midst.

At times I found myself hiking through chest-high grasses, and I picked a bunch of seeds out of my socks when I got home. Somehow I didn't get a single tick on me. The sun baked my feet inside my hiking shoes, and I sought shade wherever I could. In about an hour I'd finished all the water I'd brought (I refilled for the ride home at Pantoll Ranger Station). 

I like warmth, but don't care much for real heat. So many years in the cool climate of San Francisco, I suppose. But even though I miss the fresh coolness of spring's season of rejuvenation, I do appreciate the summer -- despite its heat, insects, prickly seeds, stinging nettles, and poison oak -- for its season of bounty.

I recognized the spaghetti-like dodder (Cuscuta salina), one of four species of this strange, parasitic flowering plant found in Marin County, but it was the circled "paintbrush" that made me stop. The foreground plant with the longer green leaves at its base was also blooming with tiny flowers.

I spotted a small patch of windmill pink (Silene gallica) along Panoramic Highway that I'd probably have missed if I'd been driving.

I don't usually see spotted petals on farewell-to-spring (which is also usually bigger), so these might be winecup clarkia (Clarkia purpurea, ssp. quadrivulnera). I was surprised to find only two clarkia species listed in the Marin Flora (C. elegans and C. concinna).

A black blister beetle feeds on rosinweed (Calycadenia multiglandulosa). I could smell the rosinweed coming up a couple of weeks ago, even before it started flowering. It is the scent of summer on Mt. Tam.

Several grappletail dragonflies stayed close to the water along Cataract Creek.

I don't know what these fence lizards were doing, but I suspect it was something territorial rather than sexual. Note the very different skin patterns on these two.

I think I found the source of all those munch-marks on the petals of the yellow mariposa lilies....

Collecting pollen.

I'd seen a few leopard lilies blooming along Panoramic Highway on the way up, but this was the only flower in bloom among many buds in a marshy spot near Cataract Creek.

Guessing these are some kind of flower longhorn beetles (possibly Anastrangalia laetifica), here in side-view...

...and here in top view.

The hummers really wanted to drink nectar from the lone lily, but they were so skittish that they flew away as soon as they noticed me. See this post for better pix.

Rock, lichen, ferns, and lizard (growing the tip of its tail back) -- an ancient scene from the world of nature long before human beings came along.

A California sister butterfly perches in the sun.

View toward San Francisco from Mt. Tamalpais.

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Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Moving Sand at Ocean Beach


Moving Sand Along the Esplanade (March 7, 2023)

The battle between nature and civilization at Ocean Beach began in the 1800s, when San Franciscans started coming out to enjoy the amenities at what had previously been referred to as The Great Sand Waste. The Cliff House was built in 1863, and Adolph Sutro opened Sutro Baths in 1894. (The Sutro Baths building survived into the 1960s, when it was bought by developers who planned to tear it down and build high-rise apartments on the site. On June 26, 1966, it was obliterated by fire during deconstruction, then bought by the National Park Service in 1980.)

The original Beach Chalet was built right on the beach in 1892, but it was moved inland after a storm in 1914 nearly wiped it out, along with much of the beach itself. 

In the photo above you can see part of the Ocean Beach Esplanade that was built by Maurice O'Shaughnessy in 1928 to protect development near the beach. The sea wall between Noriega and Santiago streets wasn't built until the 1980s after part of the Great Highway collapsed onto the beach. When the area had been threatened by storms back in the 1940s the city had dumped tombstones taken from the Laurel Hill cemetery. 

During the last year or so I've often walked to the beach down Noriega Street and have been impressed by the nearly continuous need to remove sand from the Great Highway. The Noriega Street beach entrance sits between a set of dunes to the north and the sea wall to the south, and sand loves to pour onto the road through the slot. Just yesterday I was interested to see the latest attempt to control the sand and protect the road -- in part, it appears, by removing the slot.

Design plans from 2010 are still being carried out for the whole Ocean Beach waterfront. The artist's concept of how it will all look is quite nice (as those things go), and it will be interesting to see if it all comes to fruition. 

Noriega & Great Highway (February 14, 2023)

Noriega & Great Highway (March 3, 2023)

Noriega & Great Highway (March 22, 2023)

Two lanes narrow to one at Noriega & Great Highway (April 14, 2023)

Moving Sand at Noriega & Great Highway (April 25, 2023)

A Month Later: Storm-blown Sand along Great Highway (at Taraval, if I remember right)
(May 16, 2023)

Another Month Later back at Noriega & Great Highway (June 14, 2023)

Large-scale Beach Control Work at Noriega & Great Highway (June 27, 2023)

This is the view from about the same place on May 23, 2020.

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Sunday, June 25, 2023

Stow Lake Herons

The three-heron nest.


I ride my bike past Stow Lake almost every day and keep thinking I should try to photograph the nesting great blue herons, so yesterday afternoon I finally went down there with the FZ80. There were two nests on the little island east of Strawberry Hill. One is packed with three young herons, and the other had two. 

I took a seat on a bench and watched and waited, biding my time watching baby swallows, swimming turtles, soaring red-tails, and numerous paddle-boaters, hoping a parent would fly back from their hunting grounds to feed them. Maybe an hour passed before an adult finally showed up at the two-heron nest. 

After the all-too-short feeding frenzy I rode down to the Cliff House to check out the pelicans on Seal Rocks. I hoped to photograph the huge numbers of them that I had seen there a few days ago during a ride with my wife, remembering all the cormorants I'd seen resting on the rocks back in early May, when there were no pelicans at all.

I was surprised to see that the Giant Camera was open, although it seemed a little forlorn with so little tourist traffic around the the still-defunct Cliff House.

The fog had begun to clear by the time I returned to Stow Lake, and I actually had some great light from my new position on Strawberry Hill. Again I waited and waited for an adult to show up, and when one finally did, it flew to the three-heron nest which was almost completely hidden from my new vantage point. Despite the excellent light and vantage point I had on the two-heron nest, no adult showed up, and I finally had to call it quits at 5 o'clock so I could get home for dinner.

Three Hungry Swallows

Up Periscope

Feeding time at the two-heron nest.

The adult heron paid no mind to several nearby groups of people with their blankets laid out.

The main menu item for the young herons back at the nest is probably gophers. This heron's quick stab was a miss.

Numerous pelicans resting on Seal Rocks.

Surf-fishing off Sutro Baths.

The Camera Obscura has re-opened (though maybe just on weekends).

Mostly fog-free afternoon light on a little playful activity at the two-heron nest.

An adult flies away from the obscured three-heron nest after a quick and noisy feeding. Even with both parents presumably feeding the young, their arrivals were few and far between.

Mama quacker.

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Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Solstice Hike


Heading down Mt. Tamalpais' Old Mine Trail, with Mt. Diablo on the horizon.

We woke up to a mostly clear sky with a fogbank looming above Twin Peaks to the east, but as the sun rose above Sutro Forest it seemed to suck the fog in from the ocean. By the time we left home for Mt. Tam the fog had pretty much covered the whole city, although the Golden Gate Bridge was still clear and beautifully lit by the morning sun. 

We began our hike a little after 8 a.m. under ideal conditions, sunny and cool. The loop was Rock Spring to Old Mine Trail, to Matt Davis Trail, to Coastal Trail, to Willow Camp Fire Road up and over West Ridgecrest Road to pick up the Cataract Trail back to the car.

The longest day of the year begins with the sun rising above San Francisco's Sutro Forest.

View from the mountain to the sea.

A rider on an electric mountain bike heads out the Old Mine Trail.

Acorn woodpecker.

A painted lady butterfly feeds on a cobwebby thistle, with an earwig also burrowing into the purple perianth.

Mt. Diablo view over Richardson Bay.

View of East Peak from Old Mine Trail.

Forest-floor fruiting of fog-drip fungus.

Resting fly.

Dappled light on the Matt Davis Trail.

One of several squirrels we saw along the Matt Davis Trail.

A common wood-nymph butterfly rests on a stalk of grass.

The grass was quite tall along parts of the trail. I picked up my second tick of the season somewhere along here, not noticing it until it began to burrow into the back of my thigh. 

Hike to the Sky

The wreck of the old 1941 Pontiac along the Coastal Trail.

Foxgloves in a meadow along the Cataract Trail.

A chipmunk appeared to be gathering seeds in the sedge along the side of the trail.

Bright-red canyon larkspur and yellow madia stand out on a sun-dappled, summer-green hillside along Cataract Creek.

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