Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Begonia & Berries


Backyard Begonia With Twisty Anthers

We were amazed to part the curtains and see a fog-free view this morning. It smelled a little bit smoky, apparently due to the wildfires up north, but a regular sunny day seems almost like some kind of natural wonder after many days of fog.

I found a surprise in the back yard yesterday, a couple of broken branches on the huckleberry plant, and wondered at first if it had anything to do with the family of five raccoons who've been rooting around back there lately. But I think it's more likely that the branches simply broke due to the weight of ripening berries which were mostly congregated at the ends of the branches. 

In the 15 or so years I've had it back there I've never gotten such a big harvest. I collected what berries I could, although many fell to the ground. Surprisingly, none of the local raccoons, squirrels, rats, or birds seem interested in them. I put a heap of them in my oatmeal this morning, and they were excellent.

Heap of Huckleberries

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Sunday, August 27, 2023

More Yardage


Selfheal (Prunella vulgaris)

Selfheal is another one of those plants, like the orchids, that came into our garden on its own. I confess a fondness for it because it reminds me of the couple of years I lived in Arcata, where I first saw it, a common but pretty yard weed. 

Until I took these pictures at a 1:1 magnification ratio, I hadn't realized they were so hairy. We have lots of selfheal in a rectangular patch in our yard (I have to hold the line on its spread into unwanted areas), but this was the only one currently flowering. I was reluctant to cut it when I leaned down with my scissors and saw a hoverfly probing the blossoms. But one thing's for sure about hardy Prunella, there will be plenty more flowers.

Fuzzy Fellow

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Saturday, August 26, 2023

Hope It's Not Hella Boring


Helleborine Orchid

I wanted someplace to post random phone snaps from neighborhood walks and that kind of thing, so I created an account on Instagram for them. Check 'em out at https://www.instagram.com/jwallphoto.sf/

The orchids above and below are actually "weeds" from our little garden. I didn't know what they were when I first saw them growing a couple of years ago. We certainly didn't plant them, at least not on purpose, so I cut them down even though I suspected they might be related to the Epipactis helleborine orchids I've seen on Mt. Tamalpais this time of year. I'm told it's the only naturalized orchid in California. All the other ones we find in the wild are natives. Anyway, this year I decided to let them flower.

Since my computer is still so new I can't help waxing a little enthusiastic about how fast it is. The specs don't seem that different from my old one, but all of a sudden Lightroom and Photoshop open right away, and Helicon Focus blazes through a 17-image focus stack of raw NEF files. I'm impressed.

A Welcome Weed

Fancy Photo Studio

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Monday, August 21, 2023



An immature acorn woodpecker (given away by its begging) crowds an adult as the adult removes a saved morsel from an acorn pantry on Mt. Tamalpais.

I recently replaced my seven-year-old computer because it would no longer connect to the internet. It seemed like a bit of a shame to get a whole new box since I could still use apps like Photoshop, but now that I've gotten everything set up (always a bit of a headache), I'm impressed by how fast the new machine is. It boots up in about a minute, versus the old one's 10-15 minutes! I used to turn on my computer, then go make breakfast and coffee while it booted up.

It seems like I just got back from reveling in the mountain air among the bristlecone pines, but I'm already yearning to make another trip. The tropical storm that just passed through makes the prospect even more enticing, as does next week's blue moon (the second full moon in August).

In the meantime I biked up to Mt. Tam to check on the trail cams. They didn't get as much action as I'd hoped for during the last two weeks. I probably wouldn't even have posted anything on the blog, but the video had a nice surprise in it, with a buck deer shape-shifting into a coyote. 

Also, in homage to the tropical storm, I've posted some old rain-in-the-city file photos.

The adult prepares to launch, taking its acorn to a quieter location.

This animal trail is much steeper than it looks, and the coyotes, deer, and foxes, all negotiated it much more gracefully than I did.

Shape-shifting deer, and foggy fox.

The Cliff House in better times.

Land's End

Rainy but colorful day at the fishing pier.

Commuters (remember those?) in San Francisco's Financial District. 

Life in the weather, downtown San Francisco, 2001.

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Sunday, August 13, 2023

Bristlecone Pine Forest


My New Favorite Bristlecone
(Click to view larger.)

There was a big fire down on Irving Street the night before we got up at 3 a.m. last week to drive across the Sacramento Valley in the cool darkness, on our way to the Bristlecone Pine Forest. We thought nothing of the screaming fire engines (being a common sound around here) until we headed down the hill this morning to pick up a couple of things at Progress Hardware, get some coffee beans at The Beanery, have breakfast at Crepevine, and pick up some berries at the farmer's market. That's when we found the hardware store boarded up and smelling of fire.

Anyway, our drive across the valley last Wednesday was blissfully serene. The early wake-up is not a problem for me, but I was glad my wife went along with it. When we crossed back yesterday during the heat of the day, my car thermometer registered outside temps of 95 most of the way, to a high of 100 just west of Altamont Pass. The air conditioning saved us, but driving in heavy traffic under a blaring sun, especially after a few days in nature, was a chore. Somewhere east of Dublin my wife checked her traffic app and told me it would take more than seven hours to get home. We thought there must be a hellish accident ahead, plus the Outside Lands concert traffic. My heart sank, and I cursed the valley, swearing never again to cross it during the day.

And then my wife realized she had the app set for bicycling.... Luckily, the drive turned out to be a merely ordinary horror.

We retraced some of the stops I made last year when I was out that way in July and October, and I was able to do that very quickly since the light wasn't great anyway. I'd expected to take more time at Blue Canyon near Sonora Pass, but my wife wasn't able to jump across the creek to join me for a short wildflower walk. Nevertheless, she agreed to hang out while I made a quick recon and snapped a few frames, hustling along the trail in the thin mountain air. I figured I could drive back up there if it looked really promising, but what I saw didn't look worth the effort of another long drive on top of the hundreds of miles already being logged on the Bristlecone trip.

We found a site big enough for our enormous tent, a North Face Wawona 6 that I call The Great Pumpkin, at the Grandview Campground, which is about six miles from the Bristlecone Pine Forest visitor center. The suggested donation just increased from $5 to $10, but it's still a bargain. There's no water, but the pit toilets were clean, and the mountain air was so crystal-clear you felt like you could practically see things down to their atomic structure. The campground filled up on Friday as regular folks came for the weekend and astronomy buffs came for the Perseid meteor shower scheduled for Saturday. We met a guy with a telescope built for looking directly at the sun, but it was cloudy at the time, and then it rained, and we never got to look through it.

We hiked the four-mile Methuselah Trail loop from the visitor center, and I carried my FZ80 in one hand and a bottle of water in the other. The bottle was empty by the time we finished the loop. We ran into some folks who were thinking about doing the hike in tennis shoes and with no water, so I showed them my empty bottle and told them it started out full. And we had started out earlier in the day. They kept going at first, but we saw that they'd returned even before we were done looking up plants in the visitor center.

The next day a "Paint Out" was scheduled with the artist Mary Matlick, and my wife had brought her paints and easel and wanted to check it out. The sky was threatening rain, but Mary showed up. She'd been a ranger there in the past and has several fairly large works in the visitor center, so she wasn't put off. My wife was the only other participant, though. I went off and did photography while they painted, but it wasn't long before a thunderstorm began to move in. My wife was dismantling her easel to take cover in the visitor center just as I drove back to check up on her. A light rain fell while she got everything in the car, finishing just as the storm let loose with bb-sized hail and heavier rain.

After the rain passed and we ate some lunch out of the cooler (the two gallon-sized water bags I'd frozen at home lasted the whole trip), we drove up the dirt road toward the Patriarch Grove. We knew that snow blocked the road a mile short of the grove, but we didn't plan to go that far anyway. We stopped near a nice-looking (i.e., gnarly and ancient) bristlecone where I thought I could get a good angle with the mountains in the background. But when I reached the tree I saw that a small hill was blocking the long view. I walked to the top of the little hill and saw and even nicer-looking tree not too far off. That's the tree at the top of this post.

Fire-scarred landscape along Stanislaus River near Dardanelle.

Re-visiting a gorge west of Sonora Pass that I'd visited last October.

Goldenrod, onions, paintbrush, and lupine catch some late-morning backlight along the trail to Blue Canyon.

Wild onion along the trail to Blue Canyon.

We made our lunch stop here at the Leavitt Falls scenic overlook, which has one of the most well-placed picnic tables in the Sierra.

That's the falls in the right third of the frame.

As I was poking around in the meadow of buckwheat and sage at Grandview Campground I couldn't help going back to the car to get my camera.

Buckwheat & Sage

Buckwheat Flyer

Ah, nectar of the gods.

We hiked up a hill near camp and found this seemingly manicured juniper tree. We were surprised to find we had cell service from this spot, and we'd find an even better signal higher up the mountain.

The view looking southeast from a scenic overlook.

There was still quite a bit of snow on the mountains of the Eastern Sierra.

View of Eastern Sierra from the White Mountains.

Buckwheat and green ephedra (aka Mormon tea) at the scenic overlook.

Panorama stitched from frames shot with 300mm lens.

Crepuscular rays over the town of Bishop.

Weather in the Mountains
(That might be Mt. Whitney on the right.)

I wished the sun would have set farther south, where the more interesting mountain ridges were, but you gotta love "god beams" wherever they shine.

Despite all the clouds in the morning, noon, and evening, the skies were pretty much clear at night. The best night-sky viewing was our first night, before any of the moisture blew in. Even without a cloud in the sky, there was enough moisture in the atmosphere to dim the stars.

Bristlecone pine clings to life along the Methuselah Trail.

After getting skunked last year, I finally got to see what bloomed from these weird, green mats growing like lichen along the trail: rock spiraea (Petrophytum caespitosum).

I got buzzed a few times by sphynx moths that were attracted to my blue water bottle, and then in the predawn it was my blue down parka. Red thistle (Cirsium nidulum) was where the nectar was.

I was up before sunrise and decided to take a walk down to the southern edge of the campground where I'd noticed this excellent lone pinyon pine the day before.

Pinyon Pine

Pinyon pine with fiery sunrise cloud.

Pinyon pine with morning sun striking storm clouds in the west.

Mormon tea (Ephedra viridis) in bloom.

After the rain shut down the "Paint Out," I went back to an especially beautiful bristlecone pine on the edge of the visitor center parking lot. I'd hoped to have a bonus of raindrops hanging from the foliage, but the rain had mostly slipped off the leaves and male (pollen-bearing) cones.

It's anatomically female.

I was looking for compositions down the road from the visitor center while my wife painted, when I saw an iridescent blue thing in one of the bristlecone pines. I put my glasses on and saw what looked like a bird ornament that someone had tossed in there. It looked so lifelike, but it didn't move. I went back to the car for my long lens and confirmed that it was a real live bird. It hardly moved, presumably having taken refuge from the recent thunderstorm. Finally, another of its kind showed up. It chirped in surprise when it saw me, and the chirp sent this one skittering deeper into the crown and out of sight.

Bushy Linanthus (Leptosiphon nuttallii, formerly Linanthus nuttallii).

One bristlecone weathers the storm, while another simply weathers.

Linanthus and Coyote Mint along the unpaved section of White Mountain Road.

The visitor center had pictures of lots of local flora, but I couldn't find a match for this one, which I figure is in the pink family (possibly Palmer's catchfly, Silene bernardina).

Rolling Thunder

This is probably the most gnarled and striking bristlecone pine I've ever seen.

Here it is again, with younger generations keeping it company.

Trunk Detail

Twisting Toward the Sun

More Trunk Detail

Scenic Overlook

Sage with faint rainbow and distant downpour.

The Great Pumpkin
(We slept on an air mattress inside, with lots of room for gear and headroom for standing up. To escape the rain, we moved our chairs into the front vestibule which, all by itself, is about the size of a normal 2-person tent.)

My wife found this longhorn beetle while we were taking down the tent. A woman with her family was camped next to us, and she was really into photographing bugs. Her license plate was personalized along insect lines. She'd have loved to see this, but they had already left by the time we broke camp to make the long drive home.

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