Tuesday, February 22, 2022


Walked into the bedroom and saw a dozen parrots on the neighbor's roof.


Many of them were also in the neighbor's oak tree, which he planted as an acorn in the 1960s.

I recently placed one of my trail cams in a new spot, thinking I'd be lucky to catch anything. I turned the camera sensitivity from medium to high so I'd be sure to catch, say, a fox or bobcat slinking through. On other cams, the "high" setting is just a little faster than medium, but on this cam every twitch of a blade of grass fired a series of three still photos. In two weeks it had captured 9,866 frames. That was not a good surprise! Not only did I have thousands of frames of blue skies, there were only a handful of frames with animals in them -- a scrub jay, deer on two occasions, and a couple of nights with a pack rat.

I've been keeping another cam at a different location since November. It was nice to catch this bobcat passing through, but most days caught nothing but squirrels and small birds. Even deer seemed to be staying away.

Coyotes are pretty rare as well.

The surprising thing was how few deer passed through over the weeks.

This spot is a good ways from any hiking trail, but the cams picked up a few mountain bike riders, as well as a couple of hikers and a dog-walker, and I wondered if all the human presence was keeping the animals away.

The tire track left by the mountain biker was still easy to see when I was up there on Feb. 18. No rain in all that time to help wash it away. But no new tracks, surprisingly.

And it seems like the cam is picking up an increase in animals passing by.

And of course the perennial gray squirrels.


Plenty of gray fox too. Love those paws up on the branch.

It's always a pleasant surprise to capture a bobcat. The cam is set to capture three still shots followed by a 6-second video, so I was looking forward to seeing the cat move through the scene.

But the cat surprised me by stopping to smell the branch for the whole six seconds. Note the cool cat paw.

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Friday, February 18, 2022

Two Oaks


Oak Snag Covered In Moss

I opened the curtains when my wife's alarm went off at 5:15 a.m., then got back under the covers to enjoy the view of Venus shining just above the roof next door. I could even see a dim companion star just north of Venus, a novelty when you live among city lights. 

Before going to bed last night I saw Orion in the southern sky and said, "Aha, there you are!" I used to enjoy seeing the constellation near the western horizon on the morning walks I take each workday before sunrise, but it disappeared soon after we went off Daylight Savings Time. There's Orion's belt, dot-dot-dot. Each star just an inch apart. Except that even at the speed of light it would take about six-hundred years to travel from one of those dots to the next.

If you lie in bed staring at Venus long enough you can sort of feel the Earth rotating toward the east as you contemplate the fact that Venus isn't rising; the Earth is spinning. It's kind of cool to picture yourself riding our huge planet like that.

Sunrise with Oak & City Silhouettes

I took the day off to drive up to Mt. Tam to photograph a couple of coast live oaks that have interested me for a while, starting with the moss-covered snag at the top of the post. I've hiked past it many times and no doubt have a million pictures of it on my smartphone, at all times of the year. One day it will topple, and a photogenic landmark will be no more.

Golden Light on Bolinas Ridge

The nearly full moon, now waning, slid toward the horizon, playing peek-a-boo with a few rainless clouds. I couldn't help thinking that Bolinas Ridge should be so much greener by now. My wife has been waiting for it to green up so she can paint a vista to contrast with the one she painted last summer. Before "the new abnormal" we'd have waited for March, formerly one of my favorite months due to the thick green coats of new grass growing on Tam's flanks, but we figure we'd better get what little green we can, while we can.

Calla Lilies

The Walking Oak

Oak Snag, Bolinas Ridge

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Saturday, January 22, 2022

Sunsets & Squirrels

Watching the Sunset

The workweek was done, the computer was off, and it was almost time for an Anchor Steam. But the view east from our bedroom window showed some promise for another gorgeous sunset. The clouds were wispy and wind-sculpted in the east, but when I looked out our front windows toward the west the sky appeared to be clear. I didn't see how it would be possible to have such a dramatically different sky from the two viewpoints and wished I could look straight up through the roof to see the dividing line.

Sunset Over the Sunset District

I realized the illusion of a clear western sky was most likely due to the way the light scattered in that direction, so I packed up my DSLR and, instead of the 16-35mm I took last time, I brought a 50mm lens. With Grandview Park just a 5-minute walk away I had plenty of time before the 5:22 p.m. sunset. I was surprised to see so many cars lined up at the base of the stairs. There was even a mini-traffic-jam with cars waiting for each other to parallel park on the sloping, curved street.

Good Ole Mt. Tam

I took the stairs two at a time, as I do every weekday on my morning walk to enjoy the pre-sunrise view. Going back up at sundown was a nice way to bookend the day. Along with the couple of dozen people already up there, I watched as the sun finally sank below the horizon. My phone said the time was 5:26 p.m., at least four minutes later than sunset at sea-level.

Mating Western Gray Squirrels

Meanwhile, one of my camera traps on Mt. Tam has been catching more mountain bike riders than bobcats, or even foxes. (In the two years I've been monitoring this spot I'd never before caught mountain bikers.) By far, though, it has been catching western gray squirrels, although usually just one at a time. I'd always assumed I was seeing the same squirrel every time, but now I realize that probably isn't the case.

Squirrel Festivities

This frame caught four squirrels, with the mating pair and two others zipping through. About the only other time I've seen more than one squirrel at a time on Mt. Tam, it's been around chinquapins when the nuts are ripe enough to eat. On Mt. Tam the chinquapins tend to grow in isolated pockets, so squirrels will congregate there, whereas acorns and bay nuts can be had all over the mountain.

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Friday, January 14, 2022

Spirit Realm


View Toward Mt. Tamalpais from Grandview Park

With some interesting cloud formations still holding up toward sunset I thought it might be worth walking over to Grandview Park to take in the show. I was also inspired by a recent post of a mesmerizing sunset by Jackie Sones over at The Natural History of Bodega Head.

I almost didn't go because sunset was going to be at 5:13 p.m., which is right about our usual dinner time. I was hungry, and so was my wife, who'd just gotten home from work. Part of me wanted to blow off the sunset and just get dinner started. I hemmed and hawed about what lens(es) to bring, whether I'd need my tripod, and whether I should drive or walk over, and so on. I finally decided to go, on foot and with just the 16-35mm lens, no tripod.

It's not like my life depended on having all my camera gear, and in fact I even took a few snaps with my phone so I could easily text the sunset back to my wife. The walk over to the park was pleasant, as usual, and several other folks were there to take in the day's transition into night. The height of Grandview Park, a knob of sand and chert we sometimes call Turtle Rock, is just a few hundred feet above the city below, but that's enough to get the magic of being a little closer to the heavens.

Color in the East, View Toward Downtown

Last Light Over the Sunset District

Moon & Clouds with Sutro Tower & Window Reflections

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Friday, December 31, 2021

Green Ferns & High Tides

Upper Cataract Falls

A rough year is over, but at least we have water! Holy cow. Down from "exceptional drought" to only "severe drought"? Heck, I might even wash my car. 

I wanted to bike up to Mt. Tam this morning to check on my trail cams, and also to close out the year doing something fun on a sunny day, although it was a little brisk out there. The National Weather Service showed Mill Valley at 34 degrees just before I left. Thankfully the day warmed up quickly, and it was a mellow ride out of the city and across the Golden Gate, all the way to the end of Sausalito. And then I saw something I'd never seen before:

Flooded Bike Route

The bike path from the end of Sausalito to basically forever was completely submerged by the king tide, which peaked at 6.74 feet at 8:50 a.m. I arrived to shoot the photo above at 9:25 a.m. As I was taking stock of the situation and wondering with a few other people how we were going to proceed -- or even if we were going to proceed -- a big group of cyclists showed up and just kept on going, right on the shoulder of the freeway onramp!

It got better! At the other end of the ramp, the exit to Mill Valley was closed. Completely flooded. Even cars were blocked from getting through. Did that deter the peloton? Not even for a minute. I had jumped on my e-bike right after taking the photo above and was following the pack. All of a sudden we're riding along on the edge of the freeway and going up and over the bridge over Richardson Bay, finally getting off at the first Strawberry exit.

With all my stopping for flood-selfies (getting Mt. Tam in the background) I lost the bike group, but I just followed Hamilton Drive up to Bayfront Park, then picked up Camino Alto to Miller going past Tam High until it turns into Almonte Boulevard. Thankfully Tam Junction wasn't flooded, so I was soon heading up Shoreline Highway. A car would have to take Hamilton to Roque Moraes Drive, then left on E. Blithedale to Camino Alto, then maybe take the short-cut of R. on Miller then L. on Edgewood and up Sequoia Valley to Panoramic. If we decide to go for a hike tomorrow morning, I suspect that's the route we'll take. Gonna be king tides all weekend, thanks to the New Year's New Moon!

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Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Woodland Stroll


Coral Fungus & Christmas Berry Bouquet
(Click images to view larger.)

Having asked Mt. Tamalpais to be my photographic muse for so many years, and having put closure (or something close to that) on those years of inspiration by creating a book with many of my favorite images (which I recently updated), I felt like it was time to give it a rest. Hard to believe that was around six years ago. Since then I've been hiking more with my wife instead of focusing on photography, although I still run a couple of trail cameras, and of course the smartphone/camera always comes along on our hikes. I also like to ride up to Mt. Tam on my ebike when it's time to check up on the trail cams, something I started doing early in the pandemic when the mountain was closed to cars.

Madrone Berries in Mushroom Cap Bowl

So yesterday I drove up with my camera gear to poke around in the woods, partly inspired by a book I just finished reading for the second time, called The Invention of Nature - Alexander von Humboldt's New World, by Andrea Wulf. Humboldt collected enough natural history data during his five-year adventure to generate a lifetime of books, studies, and lectures on what he found. He inspired a younger Darwin to set sail on the Beagle, and he inspired Thoreau to make Walden a classic of literature instead of a dry tally of observations.

Silvery Madrone Leaf

I picked up one of Humboldt's books, Views of Nature, but haven't begun reading it yet. I'm hoping to find some inspiration in there for when I eventually return to blogging more regularly. In any event, I began my stroll in the Tamalpais woods beneath a canopy of madrones. The forest floor was littered with leaves and countless berries, most of which were already fading to black as chemistry and forest decomposers went to work on them. I've seen flocks of band-tailed pigeons feeding on madrone berries in the past, but I wondered about the seeming overproduction of fruit as I stood in a forest with no apparent birds around. Just the sound of light rain striking leaves in the canopy above and on the ground at my feet.

Grandfather Oak Covered With Moss

I was glad I'd brought an umbrella, and also that I'd dressed more warmly than I do when I'm hiking. Even so, after a few hours of poking around, with knees good and muddied, I was chilled to the bone. I thought of Humboldt and his love for data and chided myself for forgetting to bring a thermometer.

Faerie Cave

A camera can be a fine instrument for collecting scientific data, but I confess to being more interested in the subjective business of recording inner impressions. The emerald-colored cave above struck me right away, but I only wanted to make one photograph in the large group of mossy boulders, so I set down my camera gear and walked around to see if some other part of the jumble would call even louder. None did.

Moss and Lichen Colonizing a Rock

But the moss wasn't done with me yet! As I continued on my wander of wonder I was again drawn to a mossy landscape-in-miniature. All these incredible life forms, and all metabolizing in high gear, doing all the necessary work of growing, finding security, and casting the next generation into the world, while the rain lasts.

Witch's Butter

There are two different species called witch's butter, and according to California Mushrooms (Desjardins, et al.) the two are not closely related. When I saw this still-fresh-looking specimen I wanted to photograph it in a way that would show which species this is. I remembered that Tremella aurantia is a parasite on Stereum hirsutum and wanted to include both species in the shot. The thing is, I'm not sure I've actually done that here since I don't know without a doubt that the somewhat decayed, leafy fruitbodies next to the witch's butter are actually Stereum. I also didn't remember to try to figure out if the branch of wood it's growing on was Douglas fir or tanoak (the two most likely suspects for softwoood vs. hardwood), which is another diagnostic characteristic to separate Tremella from its distant cousin Dacrymyces chrysospermus.

Amanita Cleansed of Her Warts

I think this is either Amanita gemmata or something close to it, despite the lack of veil remnant "warts" on its cap. A close examination does show faint white dots on the cap. I figure the warts have been washed off in all the rain. I was interested in the scrape mark on the cap. Was it created by a passing banana slug? Or did it somehow get scraped by bark as the mushroom forced its way up from its thready mycelial origin beneath the forest duff? If I lean toward the slug scrape, I wonder why so little was eaten. I wonder if a slug senses a chemical reaction that warns it off a potentially poisonous meal.

Turkey Tails

I recently found a gorgeous fruiting of turkey tails on a hike with my wife along the side of Bolinas Ridge, and of course I took a picture with my camera phone, but I was hoping to find something just as nice with my DSLR. I didn't see anything as big as that, but this patch growing out the end of a fallen branch was fresh enough and just big enough to entice me. I'm not sure what the reddish tinge on the wood comes from, but it reminds me of a photo I took of a red droplet hanging from a fungus that my botany teacher at Santa Barbara City College also thought was curious, and he simply called it "some kind of metabolic byproduct." Mushroom poop.

Abstract on Madrone

These patterns of bark reminded me of Kandinsky paintings for some reason. I've photographed this same stand of madrones several times. In the summer the bark that's tan in this view sometimes turns green. Moss tries to colonize madrone but can only maintain a foothold until the outer layer of bark peels off. 

Abstract #2

With so many potential compositions, I decided, as I did back at the mossy boulder field, to limit myself to just a few. I was also close to shivering by this time and was eager to get back to the car. I enjoyed getting out to do some photography with my DSLR once again since it's been awhile, and I appreciated having more time than I take while hiking to contemplate the life of the woods—what it means to me spiritually as well as its power to enliven my curiosity about its fascinating intricacies—that is the subject matter for any nature photographer.

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Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Lagunitas Creek Sunrise


I hadn't planned to be anywhere in particular to photograph the sunrise, and in fact had only brought my camera gear on the off-chance I'd want to use it. I just haven't felt fired up to do much more than phone-snaps for quite some time. The workweeks are long, and the weekends short. I've found that I enjoy being out in a different way when I don't have my camera gear with me, when I don't have the same drive to acquire an image. Instead I just enjoy being out and about. This time, though, the scene just kind of fell in my lap.

By the time I passed through Point Reyes Station I realized I needed a bathroom, and I knew there were porta-potties at the turn-out for White House Pool. I almost missed the entrance in the pre-dawn darkness, but once I was there I figured I might as well set up my camera for the coming sunrise.

I was surprised how quickly the blaze of color came and went. You don't get very long to bask in the color this time of year, whereas in December you get so much time you can hardly believe it.

A kingfisher chattered from upstream, then finally flew downstream along the opposite bank. It was cold out there, and I was glad I'd chosen to wear jeans instead of shorts. I even had jacket and gloves on until after the sun broke out. It was beautifully quiet out there, and the reflective surface of Lagunitas Creek lent itself to a contemplative frame of mind. 

I've been reading a couple of those "Best Science and Nature Writing" anthologies, downloading them to my Kindle from the library. With all the amazing science going on, I'm still in awe of the fact that we don't know what the "life force" is. I mean, we know all kinds of things about physics, chemistry, and biology, but we still don't know how the elements that formed in exploding stars found their way to becoming living plants and trees, kingfishers and human beings. As one astrobiologist put it, the theory of evolution should be able to address how supposedly dead matter comes to life in the first place. I hope I'm still alive when (or if) we figure that out.

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Monday, November 8, 2021

First Porcini

Giacomini Wetlands Overlook

Sometimes I wonder why I bring my bulky and heavy Nikon at all since it's often enjoyable to just whip out my smartphone and fire off a few frames. I did bring the Nikon on this trip, but I was a lot more picky about my subjects. It's actually great to have the smartphone for quick snaps, plus the Nikon for when I want to be more contemplative in my photographic work.

The Giacomini Wetlands Overlook was nice, but it's gotten a little overgrown for scenic purposes since I photographed it in 2015. I don't think the shot I made then would be possible now.

Giacomini Marsh in 2015

First Porcini of the Season

I found this porcini in the first two minutes of my mushroom-hunt on Mt. Vision, and it was in great shape. My wife and I ate it that night. I poked around under the bishop pines for another hour-and-a-half or so without finding any others. All I found instead were a few holes in the pine duff where it appeared that someone had beaten me to the goods.

Raggedy Amanita

While I was in the woods I also found this apparently rain-soaked amanita with its raggedy veil remnants hanging off the cap margin. I suspect the top of the cap wouldn't have been quite so white if it hadn't been rained on.

Curlews on the Beach

Along with Mt. Vision being open again, it was great to see that Drake's Beach was too. The parking lot and marsh restoration look nice and new.

Estero Bird Overlook

The Estero Bird Overlook at the edge of Schooner Bay beckoned with its mirror-like reflections. As I made this phone snap I caught some movement in my peripheral vision and was surprised to see a river otter preening nearby.

Resting River Otter

I hung out while it carried on without paying me much mind. The otter really seemed to like using the rolled straw wattle at the base of the riprap as a comfy platform to preen from. A car drove by as I was hanging out, then stopped to turn around and park. I had tried not to bring attention to the otter, but apparently a sharp-eyed photographer had spotted me watching it, and I felt a little bit like I'd betrayed the otter. I walked back toward my car and said hello to the photographer, who said, "We must have seen the same thing, eh?" I must have given him a slightly quizzical look because he added, "The reflections." Oh yeah, I said. He had some kind of Brit or Aussie accent and I liked his demeanor enough to tell him about the otter. Thankfully he just went over to pay his respects from a distance without the otter being bothered in the least.

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