Monday, April 4, 2022

Looking for Compromise

Lying in the dark during the pre-dawn hours of Sunday morning I contemplated driving up to Mt. Tam to find a patch of lupines to photograph with the sunrise. I'd just been up there last week, though, and I couldn't recall seeing a patch that would give me a good vantage point. That meant I'd have to try to find one on the fly, hurrying along after the 7 a.m. gate opening, looking for something that may well not exist. I concluded that such a quest would be futile and require an unnecessary trip in the car, and soon fell back to sleep.

When I finally woke up for good I decided to ride my e-bike up to Mt. Tam. I wanted to update my recent "Then & Now" post with another photo that required the use of my DSLR and 16-35mm lens, so I also had an opportunity to try out something else I've been thinking about. 

I've been wondering if I could continue to pursue my interest in nature photography within an area bounded by the limit of my e-bike range. My carbon footprint would be reduced compared with driving my car, and I'd get some great exercise. I'd compromise speed and range for physical and environmental health.

The result of my little test with the DSLR on Sunday was that it's possible, but I'm not quite prepared equipment-wise. I could easily add a 105mm Micro to my bike kit, but I would still really miss having a tripod. My current tripod is too long and heavy for the bike, so I'd have to find something smaller. 

On the way home I was excited to find this gas station with prices exceeding the $6.00 mark. The last time I bought gas it was $4.65/gal., which I thought was outrageous. We don't drive much, so we've missed the big run-up since Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Judging by the traffic I see in the city, especially along 19th Avenue, it doesn't appear that high prices are making much of a dent in people's need or desire to drive. 

The news media and the president focus their hand-wringing on the high prices, but I never hear them suggest that people try to drive less. I suspect to most people the idea of not using their car every day just boggles the mind, like going vegetarian. It makes me think of Dr. Strangelove: how I stopped worrying and learned to love climate change.

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Saturday, April 2, 2022

Backyard Beauties


The Miner's Lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata) out back has the advantage over its wild kin of having been watered more than nature provided this season.

The basal rosette of this plant, like the many neighbors in its patch, was about as big around as the palm of my hand.

Although it's a very good edible plant, this one ended up in a small vase on the window ledge over our kitchen sink.

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Saturday, March 26, 2022

Then & Now


West Ridgecrest Road on March 27, 2016

West Ridgecrest Road on March 26, 2022

I went back up on April 3 to see if the little bit of rain we had during the week had made any difference, and I wouldn't say that it did, except that maybe the grass is a little taller, and the poppies bloomed. Another difference between 2016 and 2022 is that the embankment itself seems to be less steep. Even with the 2016 picture in my hand, I was unable to reproduce the same vantage point.

The little bit of rain we've had seems to have pushed the spring season along a little bit, though certainly nothing like we had in 2016. Nevertheless, the hillsides were a more cheerful green than the greenish-yellow we found on our last visit, and there were nice patches of sky lupine here and there. 

Although it was still very dry in the woods, there was lots of birdsong. We heard the easily identified birds such as flicker, acorn woodpecker, robin, red-breasted nuthatch, steller's jay, junco, quail, turkey, chickadee, and western bluebird. And if my Merlin app is to be believed, we also heard warbling vireo, black-throated gray warbler, townsend's warbler, purple finch, violet-green swallow, hermit warbler, and brown creeper.

Beautiful day from the Coastal Trail along Bolinas Ridge, looking out over Stinson Beach and Bolinas. This hike starts at Rock Spring, goes up and over the Old Mine Trail and down to the Matt Davis Trail, then takes the fork up onto the Coastal Trail as far as the Willow Camp Fire Road. From there it goes up and over West Ridgecrest and descends Laurel Dell Road to pick up the Cataract Trail where it swings upstream to close the loop.

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Monday, March 14, 2022

Time of March

There's a saying about "the march of time," and I can see how some people might like their time to be cadenced, orderly, and on the move. But in my own experience it feels like time flows through me like wind through the trees. I shot the photo above in March of 2012, and it's amazing to me that ten years have passed since then. 

Records for San Francisco indicate that rainfall was 70 percent of normal in 2012, directly on the heels of a 66 percent year in 2011. This shot of Lower Cataract Falls was made almost twenty years ago, in March of 2003, a year that saw rainfall at 107 percent of normal.

The 2020 and 2021 rainfall years were both below 50 percent of normal.

And I suspect this year will be similar.

I was browsing through my Mt. Tam images to find out what I've seen and photographed in March in other years. Even though I could probably find images like these again this year, my heart isn't in it.

And come to think of it, I haven't even seen a calypso orchid yet this year. Not that I think there aren't any, but they certainly aren't jumping out at me.

When I biked up to the mountain to check my trail cams I was dismayed by how dry it seemed. It felt like summer, and it was even starting to get a little buggy.

Walking the animal trail through the woods was as noisy as walking on corn flakes. Birds called from the woods. Holding my phone, I waited slightly impatiently for a couple of hikers to pass. "Do you see a hawk?" one of them asked. No, I said, I'm trying to get a recording of that birdsong so my Merlin app can identify it. 

Yellow-rumped warbler. Farther along I thought the app was getting it wrong. Could that really be a dark-eyed junco? But the app was insistent. Still farther along, ruby-crowned kinglet, western bluebird. All birds I can identify by sight, and even by some of their sounds, but nesting season breeds rare songs.

The bobcats and coyotes might be hanging out lower on the mountain. None have passed by the cams in a good while.

I tried another chaparral set-up that I had high hopes for, with this nice little view up an arroyo.

But there was surprisingly little activity there. A fox and a jackrabbit crossed the arroyo, and a few deer browsed their way down through the middle of the frame. One of the deer had a very big, round belly and was probably expecting her fawn very soon.

It was so dry that I decided to pull up stakes and move both cameras.

I'm down to two cams now. One was stolen, another washed away in a flood, and a third one stopped working. 

I haven't decided where to put the cams next, so for the time being I put one of them in our tiny back yard. In the meantime, here's hoping we get some decent rain the rest of the month.

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Monday, March 7, 2022

On the Rocks


My wife wanted to do some painting along Bolinas Ridge, so I brought my camera along to poke around nearby. I was surprised to find this little manzanita blooming like crazy despite being so prostrate on its rocky foothold. I look forward to checking up on its progress over the coming years. I hadn't been in this area much in a long time and didn't recall there being a manzanita here. Nearby there used to be a reliable patch of goldfields, but the bunchgrass seems to have taken over their spot. 

This being our third consecutive year of drought, there might not have been any goldfields anyway. The hillsides were certainly not as green as we'd hoped. My wife has been waiting for months to return to a particular vantage point to paint it in a different season, but the difference this year isn't all that dramatic. I brought a water-mister to put a little touch of spring on the pink manzanita blossoms.

After photographing the manzanita, which I can only guess to be Mt. Tam Manzanita (Arctostaphylos montana) -- one of about eleven manzanita species in Marin County -- I investigated the rocks for interesting semi-abstract macro landscapes.

Although I found little of special interest, it was supremely enjoyable to be out on the mountain to do some photography and mosey around for some slow-paced exploration. I tried to will a bobcat into a nice meadow scene but got no takers. A coyote had crossed the road in front of our car on the way up, so I at least didn't have to go home virtually empty-handed as far as wildlife sightings.

I packed up my camera and returned to the ridge where my wife was still working on her painting and used my binoculars to watch a couple of red-tailed hawks soaring on the wind. A couple talkative ravens passed overhead several times, and a small flock of band-tailed pigeons flapped by, heading toward the woods behind us. With a chilly breeze blowing in off the ocean, it was a beautiful morning to just sit in the sun and take in the long view up and down the coast. Maybe next time we'll bring a picnic.

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Thursday, March 3, 2022



At about 6 a.m. I stepped out the door into a world of fog to begin my morning walk, wondering if the rain was about to start. Only when I climbed the stairs up to Grandview Park did I get above the fog where I could appreciate the awesome display of clouds scudding in from the southwest. I wanted to stay there and take it in, but I'm still on a schedule until I retire in a few months.

Farther along on my walk I got even higher than Grandview Park and was amazed at the view out over the Pacific Ocean. The whole Sunset District was covered by fog, and above the fog was a tattered mass of impressive clouds. The line was sharp between the fog and the cloudy skyscape, and it was one of those incredible scenes you just don't get very often. I wished I'd brought my phone to take a picture, but by the time I got home the sky was getting colorful in the east and I couldn't resist going for the camera bag and snapping a couple of frames through the window before getting in the shower.

The other day I was walking down the back steps where I have some potted primrose plants and found this moth sitting flat and very uncharacteristically uncamouflaged. I believe this is the wonderfully named Omnivorous Looper Moth (Sabulodes aegrotata).

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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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