Saturday, September 30, 2023

September Trail Cams


Deer in Forest Fog

It feels like it's time to find a new camera trap location, but I'm still mulling over the possibilities. When I biked up on Thursday to check on them I ended up taking them home. Now that the cams are gone, I'm sure the bobcats, foxes, coyotes, bucks, and turkeys will frolic like elves, and I will miss it. 

In the meantime I've been wondering who's been digging in my own back yard, so I've got a cam out there to hopefully find out. The usual suspects passed by last night -- cat, rat, hermit thrush, raccoons. A couple critters sniffed around the dig area, but no one actually dug, at least not on camera. I did find the area disturbed this morning, but the disturbance happened (of course) after the video timed out.

Once again, the bobcat only went up the canyon instead of down.... (The camera's info strip went haywire at some point and made the dates wrong.) 

Gray Fox

Coyote passes through the dappled sunlight.

The bucks are starting to get frisky.

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Friday, September 29, 2023



First Hazelnut

After so many years with nothing, the native hazel (Corylus cornuta) we planted in our yard finally produced a nut! I actually found it on the ground this morning. I'd thought the lack of nuts all these years was because there are no other hazels nearby to pollinate the flowers (of which there are many females and males each year), so this is a surprise. This year I'm planning to go find some wild hazelnuts so I can collect pollen to bring home. 

In addition to the above nut, I also found a collection of very small nuts in another kind of plant structure. There's a picture of the two nuts on a hazel leaf below.

In addition to finding the nut on the ground, I also found the inflorescence of one of our succulents (possibly Echeveria cante, which I might previously have misidentified as a Dudleya) had been knocked off -- whether by cat, 'coon, squirrel, rat, or bird, I have no idea. I couldn't let it go to waste, so I photographed it.

On my neighborhood walk today I picked a mallow-family blossom to photograph back at home, and I also took some phone snaps of a few flowers I encountered on my walk.

Hazelnuts on Hazel Leaf

Anisodontea capensis, I believe.

Facing the other way.

Echeveria conte (?)

Zinnia in the 7th Avenue Garden

I believe this is called flowering maple (Callianthe striata).

Natal Lilies (Crinum moorei) at the pond across Stanyan Street from the Haight (where an apartment complex is being built on the old McDonald's property next to Amoeba Records).

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Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Orange, Rose, Crimson


Orange Puffer Fish
(aka Goldfish Plant, Columnea nematanthus)

Although I use Google Maps all the time nowadays, there's still nothing quite as good at inspiring wanderlust as a well-made paper map, which is why I recently picked up a California Road & Recreation Atlas. I look forward to making good use of it, and have already been checking out some of the far corners of the state, from the South Warner Mountains in the north to the Old Woman Mountains in the south, and oh so many intriguing places in between.

Meanwhile, with gas having climbed to $5.89 and still showing no sign of retreat, I'm content to explore the hidden intricacies of the macro world of flowers close enough to gather on foot. 

If you click on the above picture to view it at full size, it's 175-times bigger than the actual flower, which I photographed at 1:1 on a full-frame camera (with no cropping). The vertical images are smaller -- only 78-times life size. I'm always seeing stuff in the pictures that I didn't see IRL, like all the silky spider strands on the orange puffer fish. 

In case you're wondering, orange puffer fish is my own name for the plant since I don't know what its proper name is. I tried to find it on Pl@ntNet to no avail. [UPDATE: I have since learned I had the wrong fish; it's called goldfish plant. And if you accidentally search for "goldfish pants," you'll get plenty of results!]

The plant ID came up with Fuchsia microphylla for these little ones. Despite their tiny size, I often seen bumblebees and even hummingbirds feeding on their nectar.

This is from a large fuchsia vine that I started from a cutting given to me by the neighbor whose oak tree has been sporting parrots lately.

Phone snap showing the relative size of the two fuchsia flowers.

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Monday, September 25, 2023

Macro Madness


Rock Purslane (Cistanthe grandiflora)
(click to view larger)

What's worth doing in nature photography? 

I googled the question just for the heck of it and did not get the kind of responses I'm looking for. What I'm looking for is a project I can take on within my limited travel budget, with my current camera gear and 2WD passenger car, that would be fun and interesting. Bonus points for creating something of lasting value beyond my own self-interest.

When I first got hooked on nature photography in the early 1980s, in part by discovering the Santa Ynez Mountains and the San Rafael Wilderness Area near my home in Santa Barbara, I thought it would be cool to photograph all of California's wilderness areas. Back then, there were about thirty (ditto for the number of California condors left in the wild). The Dick Smith Wilderness, for example, which is adjacent to the San Rafael Wilderness, hadn't been designated yet.

Fast-forward about 40 years, and I'm finally retired and have the time to take on a big project like that. Except for one little problem. There are now five-times as many wilderness areas! (And in other good news, there are now about 560 California condors, of which 347 are living in the wild.)

Since there's probably no way I'm going to be able to photograph all those wilderness areas, I'll bundle them into groups based on their proximity to each other, then pick one to represent the whole group. I'm not sure if this will have value beyond my own self-interest, but maybe an organization like the California Wilderness Coalition would be interested in a windfall of such imagery: "Here's what this place looked like, and what I found living there, in the year 2024." And beyond, of course. The plan would be to carry on as long as I can.

The book I put together on Mt. Tamalpais (now available in PDF for the low, low price of just $15!) is composed of pictures I shot over about 20 years. With luck I'll have another 20 years to get to explore at least the periphery of many of California's wilderness areas.

For the pictures in this post I snagged a couple of flowers that have intrigued me on recent walks around the neighborhood, including a flowering Heteromeles arbutifolia on the edge of Golden Gate Heights Park. I decided to try a light background for a change. And apropos of nothing, I saw an osprey gliding south over Ocean Beach this morning -- the first time I've ever seen an osprey out there.

(Heteromeles arbutifolia)

Veronica sp.

Veronica sp.

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Saturday, September 23, 2023

Yard Flowers


Lone Violet

We'd planned to go for a hike on Mt. Tam for the first day of autumn (Friday), but the smoke was kind of a drag, and it was forecast to be clear again by tomorrow (Sunday) so instead we drove over to Sloat Garden Center and bought a bunch of plants and a couple big bags of soil. We'd been meaning to get around to doing some work in our back yard for weeks, but thanks to the smoke, we finally got it done. We went mostly for perennials that will draw bees and hummingbirds, and hopefully they will be able to survive our yard, which gets direct sun for only a couple of hours a day (assuming it's even sunny at all).

It didn't take long to do all that so, still needing some indoor sport, I set up a few more macro compositions using violets, Clivia, Dudleya, and red trumpet vine, with leaves of hazel and redwood sorrel providing some greenery.

Red Trumpet Vine, Deconstructed




The Set-up.

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Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Backyard Beauties


Hummingbird Attractor

I didn't get out much today due to the smoke hazard, but I did watch the cherry-headed conures in my neighbor's oak tree for a while, and while I was back there I figured why not set up a couple more macro shots in my living room using backyard flowers. It's not like I have to get back to work or anything.

Some of the parrots were strolling around the tree branches and pulling off acorns and whatnot (I could hear all kinds of stuff falling from the tree into the leaf litter, but couldn't see what any of it was). Meanwhile several of the other parrots were paired up to groom each other.

An immature parrot picked up some lichen but didn't appear to eat it, then a little farther along the branch it picked up a stick. Unfortunately, it then turned its back to me and no doubt did something fascinating with the stick, like use it to preen its breast feathers, or just chomp on it like Edward G. Robinson with a cigar.

A chestnut-backed chickadee captured a little caterpillar.

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Sunday, September 17, 2023

Grandview Park


View toward downtown San Francisco with faded lizard tail flowers sprawled along Grandview Park's fence line.

My chores done for the day, I walked over to Grandview Park to get a little nature fix. The sky was a mix of sun and low clouds, and it was warm enough to be in shorts and a t-shirt despite a ballcap-stealing wind coming in off the ocean. I brought the FZ80 along just in case something called out to me, and it didn't take long to hear the siren song. Just half-way up the stairs I was struck by a low-slung, probably wind-pruned, female coyote brush (Baccharis pilularis) heavily frosted with white seeds.

After that I was on the lookout for other potential subjects and snapped some photos of lizard tail (Eriophyllum staechadifolium) and coast goldenrod (Solidago spathulata). The goldenrod had numerous west coast lady butterflies (Vanessa annabella) and common drone flies (Eristalis tenax), as well as bumblebees (moving too fast for me to get a decent photo), feasting on its nectar.

Looking out toward the bay I saw a container ship, the CMA CGM Hermes, which I thought was kind of a cool name since just yesterday I saw an excellent play narrated by Hermes, called Hadestown.

After shooting the plants and insects with the FZ80 I still felt like doing more photography, so I collected a smidgen of plant material to try some 1:1 macro photography back at home. The focus stacks ran from 21 frames to 38 frames, so I could never have done them in the field with all that wind (not to mention all the people and dogs). Even at home I had to contend with changing window light due to the mix of sun and clouds, but now that I've got my indoor set-up pretty dialed in, I'd like to do more 1:1 stuff. It's always interesting to see details with the camera that my naked eye couldn't make out.

Coyote Brush Frosted with Seeds

A Maltese-flagged container ship, recently by way of Thailand, Vietnam, China (and Los Angeles), brings its cargo to the Port of Oakland.

West Coast Lady #1

Common Drone Fly #1

West Coast Lady #2

Common Drone Fly #2

These are the subjects in the macro photos below.

Coast Goldenrod

Lizard Tail

Coyote Brush #1

Coyote Brush #2

Coast Buckwheat Gone to Seed

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Friday, September 15, 2023

Destination, The Journey

A pair of acorn woodpeckers performs maintenance on their pantry holes.

The destination for my ride was Mt. Tam, where I wanted to check up on a third trail camera I set up last week on a somewhat rickety foundation. Although my mind was making a beeline to the cam, my body reminded me to enjoy the journey. 

In the Presidio I rode past a bunch of fallen eucalyptus leaves floating in a puddle of fog-drip created by their own trees. Ordinarily I'd have kept on going, but I figured "what's the rush," and went back to snap a picture.

Because I make the trip fairly often I don't always feel like stopping along the way to record my sightings in pictures, but it feels good to open that door once in a while. I stopped next to watch a handful of brown pelicans dive into Richardson Bay, but they were too far away to photograph. Nearby, a group of shorebirds was foraging on a little bump of marshland that juts into the bay, a flock of maybe twenty greater yellowlegs.

Later I stopped to watch some black-necked stilts in their usual pools along Coyote Creek, then pedaled up the fog-drippy Shoreline Highway and into the thick of the fog billowing over the ridge along Panoramic Highway. There was sun and fog near Pantoll Campground, but the conditions weren't producing crepuscular rays the way they did last week. 

By the time I reached Mountain Home Inn I was surprised to see that I still had four of five bars left on my e-bike battery. I've been riding in "battery off" mode on flat sections and downhills, plus I'd just inflated my tires before leaving home, but I was still surprised. By the time I'd gone all the way up to Rock Spring and part of the way out West Ridgecrest, though, I was down to two bars. Clearly, each bar does not represent twenty percent of the battery's juice. Anyway, I carry a spare battery for the ride home.

I was glad to find that the trail camera I'd lashed to a somewhat rickety branch was still standing. I'd prepared myself to find it in a heap on the ground, perhaps even blown over by a strong wind. What I didn't find out until I got the memory card home was that it even survived having a gray squirrel pounce on it. 

Almost all the best captures came from that cam, which I set up in a ravine where my other cams had previously caught a descending bobcat. Naturally, the bobcat this time ascended the ravine, so we never see its face. Better luck next week.

Eucalyptus leaves lying in a pool of their own fog-drip.

A greater yellowlegs forages amidst the pickleweed along Richardson Bay.

A black-necked stilt forages along the Coyote Creek marsh.

Siesta with black-necked stilt and snowy egret.

I managed to find a fogbow along a steep flank of Mt. Tam, but the conditions never gelled enough to create a brocken specter

It's been a long time since I enjoyed making fire sticks, and as I was recently clearing out some old stuff I don't use anymore I decided to place a few of my hearths and spindles in secret spots within the Rock Spring picnic area, hopefully to be found by someone who takes an interest in them. 

Both the hearth and spindles are made from buckeye wood I collected not too far away (but many years ago). These can be used to make a bow-drill fire, but you'd still need a couple other items to get there. I guess it should come as no surprise that you can actually buy a bow-drill kit on Amazon, but to make your own kit and actually get fire with it is a wonderful experience. I learned this and many other interesting ways to appreciate nature at Tom Brown's Tracker School and Headwaters Outdoor School.

The woodpeckers appeared to be pecking at existing holes in the acorn granary, or pantry, possibly allowing them to more easily accommodate the big acorns maturing on nearby oaks and tanoaks.

A western fence lizard takes in the sun with a wall of fog behind him.

View toward Stinson Beach along West Ridgecrest Road.

The tide was high as I headed home, and the black-necked stilts of the Coyote Creek marsh had gathered together for siesta.

Meanwhile, the snowy egret was still hunting, swishing its front foot in the mud in the hope of spooking prey into showing themselves.

Video clips from the trail cams.

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