Sunday, October 20, 2013

Bolinas Moon

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I reached Pantoll gate well before 7 a.m. on the off-chance it would be open early. It wasn't open, though, so I parked and roamed around the general area to look for compositions among the fir-tree silhouettes. Only two more weekends of being able to sleep in (well, sort of) and catch the sunrise.

When I heard the gate squeak open, I jogged back to the Jeep and headed up the mountain to catch the setting of the Hunter's Moon. In this shot and the next one, I blended exposures of the Earth and Moon to retain detail in both, trying to render the scene as it appeared to me. If I hadn't, either the Moon would appear as a bright white disk, or the Earth would be completely black. 

I wanted to photograph the moon behind the layered fir tree but couldn't line it up. There's a steep hill to the left of my position in this frame, and by the time I moved far enough to the left to line up the moon, I could no longer see the tree. In this image, the rising sun is just grazing the tree's top branches and spotlighting the hills beyond.

Meanwhile, looking east, a pretty sunrise tried to steal my attention from the moon.

This moment held the perfect balance of sunlight on the foreground (Earth) and the background (Moon), with some nice atmospheric pastels in the bargain. 

On Friday evening I looked at the moon from our bedroom window and thought, "That's strange, I thought the moon was full tonight." But I quickly dropped the thought from my mind until I saw the untarnished full moon on my way to Mt. Tam the next morning. I still didn't give Friday night's "weird" moon a second thought. I simply figured my eyesight had been distorted somehow. I didn't put two-and-two together until my wife asked me if I'd seen the penumbral lunar eclipse.... 

As the moon dropped behind Bolinas Ridge, its face had lost almost all of its detail due to the bright sun and hazy atmosphere. I'd hoped to get a dramatic telephoto shot of it on the horizon, but it was too washed out. So once the drama was over I drove up the hill and mosied around Rock Spring to look for birds. Whereas last week acorns had been raining from the oaks and whacking the cars parked below, this week the rain was down to a drizzle, and the ground was chockablock with chocolate-colored nuts. 

I wondered why there were so many robins flitting about in the in the area. I presume their beaks aren't adapted for the job of breaking into acorns, and I didn't see them eating any, but I never saw just what they were eating. I found one web site that claims acorns are on a robin's menu. The question made me think about how we acquire knowledge, and I thought about how biologists are able to tell us so much about animals that we've never seen for ourselves. Someone had to have spent an awfully long time devoted to very focused observation. Even if I were as time-rich as I needed to be for that kind of work, I'm not sure it's for me. But wouldn't it be great to find out....

There's quite a bit of thistle in the area, and because I was in no rush to be anywhere, I photographed it. When I got home and looked it up, I found it's called Mt. Tamalpais Thistle. The Marin Flora lists it as occurring around the headwaters of Cataract Creek, among other places, which is right where I was.

This cosmic dandelion-like plant (mountain dandelion?) was the last intact ball of fluff in the whole meadow, waiting for a liberating wind.

The West Ridgecrest gate opened early, so I walked back to the Jeep and drove out to pick up the trail camera. I couldn't resist photographing this madrone full of ripening berries nearby. Talk about "nature's chaos." How would you like to put together a puzzle of this image?

The little bit of rain we had earlier in the month has given the grass a start for the season, putting a faint green tint on the hills. Alpine Lake is fairly low, but I've seen it quite a bit lower. Hopefully we'll have a wet winter and get it filled back up.

I stopped by the Lily Pond to set out the trail camera but changed my mind when I couldn't find just the right place to put it. Several red admiral butterflies stopped by the edge of what remains of the pond to wet their whistles.

A handsome little Pacific wren, hardly bigger than a walnut, bopped around nearby...

...looking for spiders....

It looked pretty dark through the viewfinder (shooting the 300/4 + 1.7X at 1/200 sec. @ f/6.7 and ISO 3200), and I lost several sweet shots when my lens failed to focus. I lost several more when I tried to manually focus. I just couldn't keep up with these little guys. By the time I decided I'd found the focus and was ready to trip the shutter, they were already gone.

There was a slight trail hazard on the path. I'll bet this made a heck of a sound when it fell, even if Pacific wrens were the only ones around to hear it. The snag took out a couple of small bay laurels on its way down.

The was a spongy polypore fungus already growing at the broken base of the snag, and look who'd already found the treat. The banana slug noshed on the fungus for a short while before heading off to shroomier pastures.

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Saturday, October 19, 2013

Deer Cam

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In the wee hours of Sunday, a trio of deer walked past the camera, which I'd set up near the bathtub area I used in Set 1. Note the times -- three deer in three minutes, starting with li'l sister...

...then li'l brother...

...then big daddy.

And the next day, another (different) big daddy passed by.

Dang, I might have missed a bobcat here, but I can't tell for sure.

Except for the lone mystery "cat," it was all about deer on this set, and all the deer passed by during the nighttime hours. Not a single daytime capture.

I was going to put the cam at the Lily Pond next, but I couldn't find a spot that seemed likely to catch critters without catching people, nor a location that wouldn't be easily spotted. I doubt a lot of people use that area in any given week, though, so I might go for it one of these days. I kind of wanted to bring the camera home, anyway, to see if I can catch whatever critters pass through our "back 40" at night.

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Sunday, October 13, 2013

Sunrise & Acorns

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Leaving San Francisco I encountered light fog outside my door -- the heavier stuff was below our 700-foot elevation. Looking up, I could even see a few stars. The fog wasn't too bad across the Golden Gate Bridge and over Waldo Grade, but it became a thick soup near the top of Highway 1 where it does the hairpin turn up to Panoramic. 

Suddenly I could see only a couple of car lengths ahead. I'd pulled over earlier to let a faster car pass, and they were already long gone; no tail lights to follow. (A traffic sign down near Tam Junction had warned people that both Muir Woods and Stinson Beach were closed, by the way.) 

I broke out of the fog somewhere above Muir Woods, and the view out the driver's side window looked so fine (see above) I decided to stop and await dawn's early light.

I could hear someone sneezing in one of the nearby homes across the street as I waited, watching the fog slowly move up the canyon, then back down, making it seem like the canyon itself was breathing. The sneezing reminded me of Pam, who was at home nursing a cold.

I was dressed warm in jeans and a fleece jacket. I had my coffee and a safe shoulder to wait on. But whoever lives in that sneezing house had an even better spot: their living room. Can you imagine having this view outside your living room window?!

The color started to get good right around sunrise, but the shift to dawn sent the fog right up the hill until it surrounded me. My perfect location was soon completely useless, obscured by fog.

I drove up the road a ways until I was above the fog once again and fired off a few frames with the 300mm. If you use a little imagination, you can just make out a faint orange tint across part of the fog bank.

Here's a scene I've seen countless times, but I still can't resist photographing it. Galen Rowell mistakenly calls the interesting, layered tree a Monterey pine in his excellent, must-have book Bay Area Wild, but it is a Douglas fir.

A bunch of little swallows were zooming overhead while I took in the gorgeous view. This is a composite photo showing several frames of the same bird as it flew by.

Continuing last week's acorn round-up, I wanted to photograph tanoak (named for its use in tanning animal skins)...

...and canyon live oak, or maul oak (named for its dense wood which was used to fashion mauls).

There were acorns galore, and them that eats acorns, like this Steller's jay. 

I spent quite a bit of time just standing in the woods waiting for a bird to land near me, since chance favors the prepared photographer. Every now and then I'd hear a loud metallic thud as an acorn dropped onto the cars parked in the shade of the oak trees.  

I could hear the red-breasted nuthatches calling from high in trees both near and far, but chance finally favored me when one of them flitted down to a nearby snag to work on ... a nest hole!

What the heck? In October? The bird was actively digging out the hole, pulling crumbs out with its beak.

Hard to imagine it's actually going to start raising young nuthatches, but time will tell.

I photographed this acorn woodpecker from nearly the same spot from which I'd watched the nuthatch. You gotta love that well-stocked larder. I saw a pair of ravens near the top of a different acorn-storage tree, and they appeared to be trying to prise acorns out of the holes. Leave it to a raven to try to steal what it could easily gather right off the ground.

I got out my Sibley and National Geographic bird guides to try to figure out which sparrow this is, and my guess is it's a youthful white-crowned sparrow. If so, they have a very sweet song that's quite different from the one we hear in my neighborhood and in Golden Gate Park.

Golden-crowned sparrow foraging in the moss.

When I bought my Nikon D800E (the one without an anti-aliasing filter), I wondered if I would run into moire problems photographing birds when I was close enough to capture feather detail. The image below is a crop from the (full-frame) image above.

Here's the close crop.
(Nikon 300mm f/4 w/ 1.7X teleconverter; 1/125th sec. @ f/6.7, ISO 1600)

Another golden-crowned sparrow perched on a lichen-crusted bay laurel.

I was originally attracted to the shadows of this fern on the rock in the background, as it made the rock look like a fossil.

Sunlight moves through the forest, briefly shining a spotlight on the same patch of deer ferns.

The "fossil" fern....

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Saturday, October 12, 2013

TamCam (Set 2)

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I finally picked a productive spot after two consecutive weeks of duds.

It must have been just dark enough here in the woods to make the camera fire in infrared mode. I wonder if this is the same coyote caught in the previous frame. It's the same day, Sunday, about two hours later.

I got nothing but a squirrel's tail in Set 1, so it was nice to get the whole critter this time. We take gray squirrels for granted, but they are not acclimated to people on Mt. Tam and are not easy to see, much less photograph.

Trail cams are built for hunters, not photographers. All a hunter wants to know is whether game is plentiful and at what time of day it passed by. Even the most basic point-n-shoot can take a better picture, though.

Sorta think this is the same coyote again.

Definitely a different buck, though.

And here's a different coyote, a bit younger than the other one. This is close enough to my first set that this could be the same young coyote I caught over there by the bathtub. This coyote and one doe deer (which I'm not bothering to post) were the only two animals that used the main trail. Several pairs of human hikers passed through, all of whom used the main trail. I believe that white stick of plant material in the foreground set off quite a few empty frames when the wind blew. I've got to be more careful about noticing such things when I set up the camera.

This is a shot of me being captured by the camera this morning. Although this is not a regular, maintained trail, it is obviously a people trail; however, I was still surprised to see that so many people used it. I had hikers on Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Wednesday! Thankfully I placed the camera next to the animal trail, so none of the passing hikers noticed it. A much better spot was available nearby, but it would have been spotted by hikers for sure. I'd also considered putting it where a tree had fallen across the trail, but it would have been right out in the open. I doubt an animal jumping over the log would have been caught by the camera anyway.

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