Sunday, November 24, 2013

Alpine Lake -- Rocky Ridge Loop

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A pair of coyotes greeted us as we parked at the end of Bon Tempe Road. Unfortunately, although I got my point-n-shoot camera out in time to fire off a few frames, my camera was still set in manual exposure mode for a photo of the moon rising after sunset. Not even close for coyotes in daylight. I didn't realize the mistake until I was trying to get a shot of this Great Egret on top of an oak tree, with the East Peak fire look-out in the background.

There'd been frost in all the shaded areas on the way in, but the sun was bright and warm when we set out around 8:15 a.m. to cross Bon Tempe Dam. Once we reached the other side to hike out around the south side of Alpine Lake, it would be quite a while before we'd feel the sun's warmth again. 

Rocky Ridge Road goes up to the left. We went right to pick up the Kent Trail.

There were lots of ducks, coots and mergansers at this side of the reservoir, but we were surprised to spot three river otters. Judging by all the crunching sounds, they were finding plenty to eat.

The pump sits out in what I would guess is the deepest part of the reservoir. It sure seemed low, but the water district's total capacity (from all seven reservoirs) is only a little below average. It was interesting to note that per capita water consumption this year is much higher than in 2012. I guess when there's less water falling from the sky, people draw more from storage.

It's a beautiful hike out along the edge of Alpine Lake, now through meadow, then forest, then chaparral, and back into forest.

This was our first sunny spot since Bon Tempe Dam. I didn't take a picture of the junction of the Kent Trail and the Helen Markt Trail (which we'd already passed by this point), but it is well-signed and easy to see.

This is one of the biggest Douglas fir trees I've seen out here, and it has a crazy secondary trunk that's as big as a regular tree in its own right.

Once you leave the lake, it's pretty much all uphill on the Kent Trail.

This Doug fir was running with sap, not looking long for the world.

On the maps, this spot is named Foul Pool. They might as well have named it Dragon Swamp. It's no more "foul" than it is the lair of dragons. I'd never been here in the dry season before. Often the edge of the pool comes close to the trail, but it's receded so far at this point that there's nothing but deer-tracked mud quite a ways in. Deer have been browsing on the cattail leaves.

The trail ascends into a nice little redwood grove.

Not all the redwoods are "little", like this fire-hollowed champ with multiple shoots.

No, this is not a picture of Pam petting a triffid. I guess it's got to be a young Hericium erinaceus, or lion's mane fungus. It would be great to see this again in a couple of weeks since it will likely have become much bigger, its spines much longer. This was growing on top of a huge, downed bay laurel log. 

Numerous honey mushrooms were also growing on the log and on other decaying wood nearby. 

We left the Kent Trail, which heads up toward High Marsh, to join the Stocking Trail (named for Clayton Stocking, a long-time MMWD employee. (Link to info on other Mt. Tam place names here.)

This is Hidden Lake along the Stocking Trail. This will be a very different scene once the rains get going again.

I'd never hiked the Stocking Trail past Hidden Lake before, so it was interesting to see completely new territory, including the biggest redwood I've seen anywhere on the mountain outside of Muir Woods.

The woods were great, but it was nice to emerge into the sunny chaparral to continue our climb.

The Stocking Trail meets up with the Rocky Ridge Trail. For a shorter loop, you could simply turn left here and end up back down at Bon Tempe Dam.

We took a right turn instead and continued our ascent.

Rocky Ridge meets up with the Lagunitas-Rock Spring fire road which goes all the way down to Lake Lagunitas. That's Bon Tempe lake (and a toyon chockablock with red berries) behind me.

Pam adjusts her shoes where we leave the fire road for the Berry Trail down to Bon Tempe Lake.

Lovin' life on the Shadyside Trail.

Almost back to the dam, we enjoyed a short break at a nice open spot on the edge of the lake. Hiking at a leisurely pace, the 6.6-mile loop took us just under four hours.

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Sunday, November 17, 2013

Bon Tempe Lake

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I guess there are limits to Photoshop's ability to stitch a panorama. I'm not sure if it's a D800 issue, operator error, or something to do with the fact that the clouds moved during the exposures (it was 41 degrees and windy up there on Azalea Hill). I ended up having to do some manual blending, but it worked out okay in the end.

This is a 16x24 crop from the 29x72 panorama.

Did I mention it was 41 degrees up there? And windy? My fingers froze, and I ducked behind rocks to get out of the wind when I wasn't taking pictures. My plan for the morning was to shoot the sunrise from up here at Azalea Hill, then circumambulate Bon Tempe Lake. After I finished with the sunrise (numerous coyotes yipping in the distance helped me forget about the cold), I started walking down the hill toward the lake, only to find that the trail appeared to loop back up the hill. Looking around for a bushwhack route, the way down appeared to involve some very steep descents that I didn't think I'd want to ascend later.

So I hiked back up the hill and photographed this beautifully shaped Coast Live oak as a consolation prize on the way to the Jeep.

Back at the Jeep, surrounded by guys preparing to head out on their mountain bikes, I stowed my gear and drove down to Sky Oaks Road. On the way I spied this handsome buck with gorgeous antlers by the side of the road. I continued a short distance to a parking area across from the Meadow Club golf course and walked back with my camera to photograph him.

Handsome devil.

This is the same buck on a hillside with a California buckeye in the background.

I paid my $8 entrance fee at the robot ranger station (sorry, iron rangers, but progress is progress). I fed eight dollar bills into the machine, one at a time, then drove down to the trailhead where the Sunnyside Trail meets the Shadyside Trail. I decided to hike a clockwise loop around the lake to keep the sun in a better position for photography, so I set out along the Sunnyside Trail.


Lots of activity in a gorgeous madrone. The acorn woodpeckers were trying to peck holes, western bluebirds were preening in the high, sunnyside branches, and robins were plucking berries.

It's unusual to see a madrone all by itself like this.

A yellow-rumped warbler was eating the tiny bugs that live on the tree. It wasn't interested in the berries at all.

Right next to the madrone was this beautifully spread-out oak, with Bon Tempe Lake (one of the Marin Municipal Water District's reservoirs) in the background. I'd been wondering about the meaning of the lake's name. It's close to "good time" lake, but not quite right. According to the MMWD: "Bon Tempe is an 'Americanization' of the family name Bautunpi. The three Bautunpi brothers ran a ranch and dairy that was later removed to make way for Bon Tempe and Alpine reservoirs. Bon Tempe Reservoir was constructed in 1948."

Same tree, with East Peak in the distance.

The fisherman told a couple of kids who were looking for a fishing spot of their own that he'd seen a bald eagle last week. I later met a trail-runner who said he'd never seen a bald eagle there in 40 years and wondered if the fisherman had actually seen an osprey (which are not uncommon and even nest in the area).

The fisherman is facing Pine Point. Walking the trail that meanders through that section is almost like hiking in the Sierra -- but the pines actually came from the north coast. Again, from the water district's history page (linked above): "Between 1929 and 1934, 24,000 trees were purchased and brought down from the Fort Bragg area to reforest the watershed. Most of the trees were Bishop and Coulter Pine."

In several areas along the shore I found small, quarter-sized clamshells littering the beach. I'd never before seen the Mt. Tam Clam.

I met up with these two beach vultures about half-way through my hike around the lake. They drank a little water and pecked at the ground (to no useful effect that I could see, even with binoculars), and didn't seem too concerned about being close to hikers and fishers. I soon met up with the Shadyside Trail and hiked through redwoods as I watched common mergansers paddle around and dive for fish. I soon closed the loop at Bon Tempe Dam (made of earth fill and rock; only Alpine Dam is concrete), about an hour-and-a-half trip. 

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Saturday, November 16, 2013

TamCam Set 4 (Cont'd)

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Set 4 was in such a good spot, with good cover and water, that I let it run for another week. It was another week of no rain, and there were even more deer photos this week than last. The little one-spike deer came to drink several times during the week.

The gray fox popped through, but jumped over the lazy stream so quickly that the camera barely caught it.

Another new species fell prey to the camera trap this week -- raccoons!

Just ambling right down the middle of the creek...

...followed by a pair of junior raccoons.

Several bucks used the watering hole, but I think this fella wins the award for largest antlers.

This deer, obviously quite accustomed to the camera by now, struck a cute pose.

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Saturday, November 9, 2013

Venture to the Interior

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Going to sleep last night I told myself I'd head out to Pt. Reyes if I woke up real early, Mt. Tam if I slept until daylight. Waking up at 6 a.m. last Saturday, I'd still have been in the dark. Not so today. It's just as well. The point of going out to the national seashore was to look for subjects to photograph with the 4x5 view camera. I felt a little remiss in my efforts toward the Mt. Tam Blog, though, and didn't want to wait until next week to post my first November pictures. 

I'd planned to drive straight to the parking area and hike down to High Marsh, but the bright red California fuchsia still blooming on a hillside compelled me to stop. Most of the blossoms were happening right next to the road. In general I find it inadvisable to set up my tripod on the edge of a road, so I scurried up the nearest deer trail and found more blossoms half-way up the hill.

I swear I would not have stopped to photograph this tree for the millionth time, but how could I resist with such cool clouds poised right above them. A hopeful sign of changes in the weather. I tried to capture a similar scene with the 4x5, but I didn't have a wide enough lens. 

On my way to High Marsh via Potrero Meadow's colorful azalea leaves, I checked the trail camera and swapped out the memory card but left the camera in place. I'd thought about taking it down to High Marsh but decided to hold off, which I'm glad I did.

This was the first time I'd hiked so far out Mt. Tam's wilder north side in a long time. I even consulted a trail map before I left home to make sure I knew which trails to use. As I hiked out through the lonely woods through a silence broken only by my footfalls, I felt I was on a "venture to the interior," which is the title of a book written by the late Laurens van der Post about hiking into central Africa. I even felt the title's double meaning -- a venture to a psychological interior as much as a physical one (Laurens was a good friend of Carl Jung's). It's just a little bit spooky, in a good way, to hike alone in territory where there's a chance, however slim, that you're not at the top of the food chain.

(The CBE after Van der Post's name on his letterhead, by the way, is for "Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire".)

It took about an hour to mosey down to High Marsh. I was surprised to see that it was completely dry. All the tule stalks were dry as bleached bones too. Ordinarily you could not reach this rock without getting your feet wet. I've seen countless dragonflies swooping and mating on the edges of this marsh in past years (in late September) when there was still plenty of water for them to complete their life cycles. Ditto for chorus frogs. One of the TV weather guys has been reporting that this is the driest calendar year on record (with records going back to the 1800s).

Every now and then I'll come across a crime scene in the woods. A bunch of feathers on the ground. The perp probably a Cooper's hawk or such like. The victim, I don't know. I thought maybe junco, but I couldn't find a match in my copy of Bird Tracks & Sign by Mark Elbroch. I thought that was the end of my search -- until I found an amazing online resource called The Feather Atlas, courtesy of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Maybe my feathers are Varied Thrush -- which might explain why that species seems more jumpy than, say, robins.

I expected a "moire soiree" when I photographed these feathers with my D800E, which doesn't have the anti-aliasing filter that's supposed to prevent moire patterns. They came out fine.

Once the rains return (assuming they do!), I'll go back to this spot and take another picture. All that grass will be under several inches of crystal clear water.

I hiked back up to the Jeep in about 40 minutes, then drove out along Bolinas Ridge, where the sight and smell of smoke from the Cantwell Fire in Lake County was quite strong.

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TamCam Set 4

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This was the original Set 4 location, but as I headed back to the Jeep I found what I figured would be a more interesting place to set up the trail camera...

...down near a small watercourse. It's the same meadow, and probably the same deer would be caught in both camera traps. I'd hoped to get more diverse species coming for a drink, but it was almost all deer, all the time. Because they felt safe here and had come to enjoy a nice drink of water, they often were caught several times by the camera, which fires off three frames, takes a 5-second pause, then fires another three frames. This deer wasn't taking any chances, though, and kept her eyes peeled for danger.

Gray fox! 

In all three frames, the fox is in about the same position, so I don't know if he leaped over the streamlet. It's possible to get a drink both above and below this position, so he might have taken a drink and just passed through. The camera is strapped to an oak which was dropping acorns, though, so maybe the fox was hoping to catch an acorn-eater for breakfast.

Caught this buck leaping.

This little guy needs to eat his Wheaties and grow another spike.

I decided to leave the camera at this spot for another week. There's even less water in the little streamlet now than there was when I first set the trap. I saw a bobcat on the edge of this meadow some years ago and still hope to catch one on camera at this location.

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