Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Arch Rock

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Out at Arch Rock last week in Point Reyes I was interested to see how the collapsed section has changed. There's no longer any remaining arch. The creek remains re-routed at the newly created dam, and I'll be interested to see how long it takes before the collapsed section is completely cleared out.

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Saturday, February 20, 2016

Flowers 'n Stuff

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I'd love to shoot this at sunset, but I'm such a morning person. In all these years I've probably been on Mt. Tam at sunset a half-dozen times. I'm sure a lot of people are just the opposite, and it's definitely great to be up there when a colorful sunset goes off. I'd like to have a lot more callas in bloom when I finally check the sunset shot off my bucket list.

I'd hoped to find shooting stars, and there were just a couple in bloom. I'm sure there are many more at lower elevations. The flower on the left is so fresh its anthers haven't changed to blue yet.

I also spotted a very few telltale spots of pink in the forest and was glad to see my first calypso orchids of the year. Like the shooting stars, they are only just beginning to bloom.

Shooting stars, coming in at an angle.

It was a day for macro photography. I saw the colorful madrone leaf on the ground some distance away and walked toward it thinking it was something man-made. As a bonus, I found it near some pristine moss with no douglas fir needles in it.

California native people used to eat the almond-sized bulbs of these orchids, but I've always resisted doing so myself, not wanting to sacrifice a plant. I finally decided to give it a try though and found it bland with just a slightly bitter tang, and not terribly mucilagenous.

This is a fairly large fruiting of bear's head fungus. This is another wild edible that I have yet to try. I rarely remember to bring wax paper bags with me to collect anything I might find while shooting pictures. I don't really have extra room in the camera pack anyway. Another item for the bucket list.

I enjoyed just slowly stalking around the wet woods and dewy meadows, seeing whatever I might find. The wet season is my favorite time of year on Mt. Tam, and I've resented the long drought for taking that away from me. Days like today, once taken for granted, are now savored.

I know it's been a good morning when I head home with soaking wet knees.

In contrast to the mossy garden, a tapestry of rock and scattered lichen.

Veins and cracks in the serpentine.

I looked for more oak leaf critters like I found on my last visit, but there were none to be found.

My final stop was with a crowded inflorescence of hound's tongue waiting to spring into action.

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Friday, February 12, 2016

Morse Gulch

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Two weeks without rain, and the Great Morse Gulch Flood has receded. I still needed to change out of my hiking shoes due to shallow pools and mud near the trailhead. I wore short pants and the same kind of footwear I like to wear when I'm photographing on the reefs at low tide. They're like rubber moccasins, and they were fine for the whole trail.

I didn't do any photography until I reached the falls, which are maybe a half-mile up the trail, but I did a little shooting on the way back. The trail is maintained basically by people hiking on it, and I saw one set each of relatively fresh human and dog tracks. Although I've only been up there once before, I still remembered it -- walking through pine duff, coming out into a small meadow, treading carefully along a stretch not much wider than my feet. Someone had put up rope in a few places, meaning to be helpful.

Most of the fungi was spooged out, but it was nice to find this late-season cup fungus still attached to its host branch.

The creek runs down that ravine in the middle distance. On the opposite hillside are numerous buckeyes. All that brown on the ground is dried-up sword fern.

I have some canyon gooseberry trying to grow in my very shaded little yard, but it has yet to unfurl its leaves or sprout any flowers.

More gooseberry flowers.

Close-up of the white maids (or milk maids, as some people call them).

After leaving Morse Gulch I went up the mountain and hiked down to Upper Cataract Falls which was already kind of disappointingly tame after two weeks with no rain.

I've been watching for wildlife in vain for so long, I couldn't believe it when I spotted my first coyote in probably a year. It used to be a fairly common thing to see coyotes, and not unheard of to see the occasional bobcat or gray fox, but the last few years have been tough for sightings, at least for me.

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Sunday, February 7, 2016

Gone Trappin'

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I haven't set out my camera trap since the rains started. I like to set it up at water holes since they are a natural lure to animals, but once the rain starts, there's water everywhere, not just in a few places. I had a waterless spot in mind where various animal trails led into the woods next to a meadow, and I happened upon a few chanterelles near my new trap location.

Chanterelles often grow under oaks, and these were no exception. This is a close view of the underside of a fallen oak leaf. Our live oaks are evergreen, and I took an interest in the fact that there were still-green leaves that had fallen to the ground. Most of the leaves were very small, but this one was just big enough to be worth photographing. Check out the cropped section below:

When I was out in the woods trying to photograph the leaf, I didn't notice the little denizens burrowed into the brown spots. They look more like a critter than a fungus, don't you think? I have got to start bringing my hand lens with me again. I tried to find the little nuggets in this online field guide to no avail.

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Sunday, January 31, 2016

First Light, First Wildflower

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Oak with Fog-filtered Sunlight

It was still dark as I drove past Mountain Home Inn and began winding up through the forest toward Pantoll. The remnants of road flares at one of the bends in the road indicated there'd been an auto accident, or so I thought until I rounded the bend and had to swerve around a large slide of mud and small rocks that had poured all the way across the uphill lane. I was surprised the usual warning signs hadn't been posted but thought no more about it until I was about to go home several hours later and found the road closed at Pantoll. 

At about 10 minutes before 7 a.m., I must have been the first car through the gate after the ranger who opened it up. I'd been hoping to arrive in time for what I thought would be a colorful sunrise. The sky had looked promising when I left San Francisco. I knew from a recent sunrise during the workweek that the color would happen around 7:10, so I sat in my car and waited for it. It was cold and windy outside. The appointed time for color came and went with nothing doing, so I continued up to Rock Spring.

Moss Sporangia and Hypogymnia Lichen

I'd hoped to find the gate open early at Rock Spring so I could drive out to the parking area above Laurel Dell, but it was still shut, so I poked around the Benstein Trail.

It was still fairly dark on the forest floor, but this bright little panther amanita button was easy to spot.

It was also easy to spot this large, pristine fruiting of witch's butter (Tremella aurantia). I didn't have a ruler, but it was probably a good three inches across, maybe more. I tried to find something at hand to give a sense of scale and used a decaying oak leaf, but that didn't get the job done. Besides, who cares how big it is when the beauty of it is in those sinuous folds.

As it neared 9 a.m. I hung around closer to the gate so I'd be ready when it opened. Morning sunlight painted across the ridge, now through fog...

...and moments later with a little blue sky.

The gate opened and I drove out to the parking area above Laurel Dell, surprised to find a work truck already parked there, the buzzing sound of chainsaws rising from the dell. The water district has been thinning the forest all around that area, and it's surprising to see how much work they've done. Hiking down below Laurel Dell, the chainsaws were soon drowned out by the rushing creek.

I admired the big waterfall from behind the fence but decided not to photograph it this trip. Maybe next time. Although I was the first arrival from the top of the trail, it was already after 9 o'clock so I wasn't surprised to see a hiker already arriving from the bottom of the trail. What did surprise me was that the first hiker was followed by another and another, then many more, all African-Americans. They headed out the High Marsh Trail, perhaps to catch the Kent Trail and loop back to Cataract Creek via the Helen Markt Trail. 

As attractive as the waterfalls were, I was actually more interested in the germinating buckeye seeds, especially when I saw how the shoot emerged from the root. You can see a bulge separating the descending root from the emerging leaves.

Physarum polycephalum

I didn't find any other interesting fungi on my way back up the trail, but I did find this interesting slime mold plasmodium on the prowl.

I'd hoped to find the season's first fetid adder's tongue flowers in a certain spot I know, and was not disappointed. The landscaping crew had called it quits for the day and walked past me as I was setting up my camera down low on the ground, asked if I was looking at a snake. "No," I said. "I'm looking at all these wildflowers." They nodded and pressed on, I assume without ever actually seeing the cryptic flowers. Also, although they are called "adder's tongue," the plant is unrelated to snakes. ;)

Back up on Bolinas Ridge I was surprised to encounter so few cars. Even Rock Spring was nearly empty. I'll bet the bicyclists were loving it. It was only when I got down to Pantoll and found the road closed that I understood what was going on. The only way to get to Rock Spring was via Stinson Beach, and that was also my only way out of there. Since I was forced to be in the neighborhood again, I checked out Morse Gulch and found it still flooded. Being at the very bottom of the mountain, I guess it could remain that way for some time, certainly more than a week.

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Sunday, January 24, 2016

Changing Plans

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I rolled out of bed early Saturday morning and drove all the way to Stinson Beach and out along Bolinas Lagoon to hike up the little-known, unmaintained Morse Gulch Trail. I was disappointed to find the trail flooded with running water. You'd probably want to be wearing shorts and sandals to go up there. 

I considered heading out to Point Reyes, but it was a bit too windy for that to be appealing, so I drove up Bolinas-Fairfax Road instead and stopped to poke around the redwoods near these little roadside waterfalls. It was a little ominous to see the understory of ferns in such sad shape. They haven't bounced back from the drought as nicely as one might wish. Sword fern is probably the canary in the coal mine for the redwood forest as a whole. 

Hygrocybe punicea
I've been re-reading The Secret Knowledge of Water by Craig Childs. Lots of interesting and surprising, beautifully written stories about water in the desert. No one in a desert takes water for granted.

It was quite blustery up on Bolinas Ridge. That weird-looking spot on the ridgeline in this image is a tree, and I thought the tiny spot next to it was a person (until I visited a week later and saw that it was the top of an adjacent Doug fir tree). A few squalls blew through as I explored along the ridge, each time chasing me back to the car to await their passing.

Speaking of passing, this is all that's left of a tall acorn granary and nesting tree that I've photographed a few times. For years I've always slowed down to a crawl to check the bird action here. There's a convenient pull-out in case I'd want to stop to watch the goings-on. High winds and rot finally took their toll. The acorn woodpecker in this image was probably born in that tree.

While I was poking around I found this deer-browsed bay laurel that appeared to have been sculpted by an arborist.

It was difficult to do photography in the space between rain squalls, but I stuck with it for one of my favorite mushrooms, the purple Laccaria, and an enticingly delicate coral mushroom.

I always forget how hard it can be to look up a coral fungus in a mushroom guide. There are several genera that can be called "coral fungus," and even with pictures I can only guess that this one's a particular species of Ramaria. Maybe you can help me. Can you look at the spores and tell if cystidia are absent and clamp connections are present?

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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Cataract Canyon

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I took in the view out our back window one night between rain storms and enjoyed seeing stars in a clear sky. There was Orion off to the southeast. As a boy, Orion's Belt was one of the first constellations anyone ever showed me. I can picture myself as a boy looking into the night sky as if I were recalling a movie. I thought what a long way I've come since I was a tow-headed kid in the '60s. But old Orion out there, he was just the same. What's five decades to a constellation that probably looks the same now as it did when the Earth was still just a hodgepodge of dust, not even a planet yet, just a sidekick of the Sun.

Incidentally, that was about 4.5 billion years ago, and the sun's predicted to last another 4.5 billion years, give or take. This little middle part between the beginning of the world and its end is where human beings and waterfalls exist. We also exist between the smallest particles and the very edge of the universe. I like to think of our place in the grand scheme of things as being at the crossroads of the infinities.

I was the first person to park at the bottom of Cataract Gulch on the Martin Luther King holiday, but I was soon followed by many others with the same great idea. The Alpine Lake reservoir was filled to the brim, and all of Mt. Tam's ravines were running full steam ahead.

Here's a short, roaring clip of Lower Cataract Falls.

This is the falls and pool at the junction of the Helen Markt Trail. Do you remember that big log that used to be jammed at an angle in the falls? That log got blown out of the waterfall in the big atmospheric river event of February 2014, but the big log remained in the pool. Not any more. It's gone! (See the before and after about half-way through this post.)

I met a guy at Junction Falls who was hiking down from Rock Spring and told me there was a gorgeous waterfall higher up that reminded him of Hawaii. I don't know if this is the falls he was talking about, but it looked good enough to me to call it Hawaiian Falls.

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