Monday, June 13, 2022

Rock Spring Loop

Summer Hills

We started our hike from Rock Spring at about 7:30 this morning and had to hold onto our hats as we leaned into a chilly wind to climb our first hill to the Old Mine Trail. We hiked down to pick up the Matt Davis Trail near Pantoll, then walked through the forest and out onto the sinuous slopes of Bolinas Ridge, then cut off at the Coastal Trail where the Matt Davis heads down to Stinson Beach. We got all the way to the vista point shown above -- just shy of the Willow Camp Fire Road -- before we encountered another human soul.

We encountered other souls before then, from a fat-bellied fence lizard with a cockeyed tail, to a young velvet-antlered buck in the company of a much smaller (possible) sibling. The buck craned its head up into some branches and fed briefly on bay laurel leaves, and we later saw a gray squirrel scurry up a tree with a bay laurel nut in its mouth. We also saw a couple of large mushrooms, an Agaricus sp. and a grisette, and heard numerous warblers: yellow, yellow-rumped, and wilson's, plus warbling vireo. Also hermit warbler and hermit thrush, as well as trilling Pacific wren and gobbling wild turkey.

On the last leg of our loop we encountered a group of young people on the Cataract Trail who might have been part of some kind of biology class. They were all gathered around someone who had just found a forest scorpion under a rock.

Fence Hugging Lizard

Blacktail in Velvet

Farallon View

Make Me Dizzy

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Friday, June 10, 2022

Traveling Light

Fence Lizard Shows Off His Blue Belly

I couldn't have asked for a nicer day to ride my ebike up to Mt. Tam to try out the Panasonic FZ-80 point-and-shoot camera I just bought. Thursday was sunny but not too hot, and I headed north around 9 a.m. with a light tail wind, which thankfully hadn't turned into a raging headwind by the time I left the mountain a little after noon. I spent about an hour hiking a short distance to set up my trail camera, then poked around with the FZ-80.

The first digital camera I ever got was a Panasonic FZ-5 which I eventually lost at Carrizo Plain. It was so small it must have fallen out of the car or something without my noticing. The FZ-80 is bigger, but still quite small, and the electronic viewfinder is probably bigger and better, but it's still a major concession compared to a DSLR. I found it difficult to see small lepidopterans like blues and skippers in the viewfinder, and I hoped in vain that the camera was focusing on those subjects, but alas it focused on the backgrounds. I'm somewhat confident that I'll be able to sort that out with a little practice. Unfortunately I find the rear display too unwieldy for any kind of telephoto work.

The highlight was spotting a couple of juvenile California Giant Salamanders (Dicamptodon ensatus) lounging in a creek. I once stumbled on a huge adult down at Potrero Meadow without even knowing we had such monsters on Mt. Tam, but it escaped so fast I had no chance to photograph it. 

As always, you can click on the photos to see them larger.

Juvenile California Giant Salamander with Water Strider Shadow

Grappletail Dragonfly

High Noon at Rock Spring Meadow

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Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Morning Walk

San Francisco Sunrise

Once again I was thinking about the morning light from time gone by when I ventured out to photograph the sunrise this morning. A few weeks ago I was on my morning walk when the sun was coming up farther south, and its rays lit that haze over the bay with a fiery orange glow. Foggy mornings ensued, precluding any chance to see it again, but when I saw a clear deck with just a few clouds in the sky this morning I excused myself from my usual exercise regime and hiked my camera gear over to Grandview Park in the hope of a pleasant surprise.

Gazing out over the city skyline it was immediately obvious that the sun was coming up too far north to create the blaze of glory I recalled. The sunrise changes so quickly, coming a little earlier each day, and a little more from the north. Soon it will reach its northern zenith and head back the other way, so I'll keep an eye out for the next big sunrise flare event.

I was disappointed that the SkyStar Wheel in Golden Gate Park wasn't lit up as it sometimes is, but I photographed it anyway with Angel Island in the background and a little bit of orange swirl in the sky. It made me think of a song by Journey.

As the sun climbed above the bank of clouds it brushed the landscape with its light, from the lupines and monkey flowers at the park, to the ridges of Mt. Tamalpais.

Wheel & The Sky

View Toward Mt. Tamalpais

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Tuesday, June 7, 2022

East Side

View of East Peak with Flowering Toyon

When you exit the 101 freeway onto Highway 1 to go up to Mt. Tam, there's a brilliant California buckeye next to the road just past the Holiday Inn Express, on the Coyote Creek side of the road. Just a couple of weeks ago, that tree was at its showiest peak, its crown completely covered with pristine panicles of white flowers. I still had that vision of loveliness in mind when I decided to revisit a trail on the east side of Mt. Tam that I last hiked in May of 2014, where I photographed a ravine with a river of buckeyes that were flowering but had yet to reach their peak.

I was pretty sure the peak was going to be over by now, but I decided to go up there anyway yesterday morning. The approach took me past Phoenix Lake, and I tried to discern anything unusual out there due to either the drought or the surprise rain we got over the weekend. Some dead trees along the edge of the lake seemed unusual, but had probably been there a long time, maybe having been drowned by higher lake levels. I couldn't detect many noticeable effects from the rain. The trail wasn't dusty anymore, but the ravines that crossed it were dry.

Even though it had been eight years since I last hiked out that way, the trail seemed familiar, and I immediately recognized the ravine of buckeyes that I was looking for. Unfortunately, the sweet-scented flowers were well past prime. I made a mental note to remember this hike next year, and I'm thinking that a photograph at sunset could be great if there were some interesting clouds to catch the color. Getting a nice sunset in the second half of May could be a tall order, though.

Wiry Snapdragon
(Antirrhinum vexillocalyculatum)

East Peak from Buckeye Ravine

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Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Nada Branchs

Click Images to View Larger

I was nestled like a sea anemone among soft fronds of kelp and seaweed, sitting in my car in the parking lot at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve. It was still dark out, and I was waiting for the pre-dawn sunrise to cast a purple earth shadow on the western horizon. When the beautiful morning unfolded, I planned to be set up behind a tidepool to capture the sky's reflection in colorful splendor.

Unfortunately, the fog, which has been absent the last several mornings, had other plans. Eventually, despite the dismal light, it became bright enough to head out onto the reef in advance of the 7 a.m. minus tide. And it also became bright enough to read the sign saying the Reserve does not open until 8 a.m. I guess I forgot to check when I was at home making plans, but I was amazed to discover when I got back home and checked my photo files, that my last visit to Fitzgerald was ten years ago! It seemed funny that the Marine Reserve, famous for its tidepools, wouldn't open until an hour past low tide.

I walked back to the car and drove a little farther south, down to Pillar Point. I scoured that  magnificent reef hither and yon for interesting critters, but I could hardly believe the complete absence of nudibranchs (which I ear-worm as "noodle branchs"). Zip, zilch, nada, as they say. I wondered if I was looking on the wrong part of the reef, or if my eyesight wasn't acute enough, or if I'd simply lost my branch-o-vision. If King Neptune would just let me see one, I knew my brain could refresh its search image and suddenly reveal the tidepools to be teeming with 'branchs.

By and by, I had covered the reef pretty well and finally gave up and returned to the car, then drove back to Fitzgerald just for the heck of it since it was a little past 8 o'clock by then. This time I got past the gate, only to find out the whole entrance was closed to protect the harbor seals (none of which I could see) from being disturbed by tidepoolers. Signs said the reef could still be accessed at the Seal Cove entrance, so I trundled off in that direction and found a park ranger and a few other folks among the remaining tidepools. Just a bunch of nada-branchs again, but the find of the day was a flowery orange tubeworm with its tentacles extended.

Sea Sacs (a.k.a. dead-man's fingers) carpet the reef at Pillar Point.

Tetraclita rubescens, the red-thatched or pink volcano barnacle.

Sunburst Sea Anemone (Anthopleura sola) in Bed of Coralline Algae

Gull Feather & Seaweed

Mossy Chiton

Serpula columbiana, the red-trumpet tube worm (guessing).

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Sunday, May 29, 2022

50mm or Bust

I thought I'd try something a little different on our usual hike on Saturday. Instead of snapping a few phone pix, I'd lug my trusty old Nikon D800E with a 50mm lens. 

Shortly after spooking up a jackrabbit near the beginning of our hike down the Old Mine Trail, we spotted a couple of deer lying in the grass. We kept waiting for them to get up and bound away, but they watched us pass with little sign of alarm.

Having the Nikon didn't really slow me down much, which is a shame in a way. Being out and about to do photography is one thing, and going for a hike is another. I don't see making a habit out of bringing the Nikon, but there might be a point-and-shoot in my future, a compromise between the DSLR and my phone camera.

One of these days I'm going to take a closer look at the possibilities for photographing this oak tree to better show off its beautiful shape. It's rare on Mt. Tam to see a single oak with so much space to itself.

The grassy hillsides are drying out, but the forest along the Matt Davis Trail is still getting a fair amount of moisture from fog drip. Whenever I pass this vine of poison oak on the Douglas fir next to my wife, I'm reminded of Tom Killion's woodblock print called Above Stinson Beach.

I don't know if it was because we were hiking so early in the morning, or if it's just that people are going elsewhere for the holiday, but we encountered very few other hikers and only a couple of trail-runners. 

After the Matt Davis Trail heads down to Stinson beach, the Coast Trail angles gently up along Bolinas Ridge where it plays cat-and-mouse with the rising and sinking fog. There was enough moisture in the forest to support a couple of helleborine orchids sprouting along the trail.

I wished I had a wide angle lens for the fog-bows. My wife's iPhone camera did a great job with them. Despite the very steep hillside, the sun was a little too high in the sky to make Brocken specters.

Saturday's hike was a first for me -- the first time I ever hiked as a retired person! Woohoo!

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Friday, May 20, 2022

Cat Nap

(Click on pix to view larger.)

When I stepped out back I saw that the cat was sleeping. She looked too cute to pass up, so I went back upstairs to get my camera. Of course, when I returned she was awake and looked up at me the moment I set foot on the stairs. 

I was determined to catch her napping, though, so I went for a 10-minute neighborhood walk and tried again. This time she was awake and watching a junco who was taking a bath in the water bowl (a drinking source for this and one other cat, and the occasional raccoon) maybe six feet away. She showed zero interest in stalking the bird.

I soon gave up trying to catch the cat napping and went down to hang out with her for a minute. The juncos were chirping an alarm the whole time, as they have recently been doing all day, including while bathing. There are two birds, and I'm as sure as I can be, without actually having found the nest, that they are nesting somewhere nearby. They took turns scolding the cat from a few feet away in a hazelnut bush that I planted years ago, when it was little more than a seedling I bought at Bay Natives Nursery.

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Friday, May 13, 2022

Layers of Time

The point of this post is to share the next three images, but I didn't want any of those to be in the top spot, so I'm including a shot taken from Mt. Tam last week. 


A few years ago I found this 1928 picture of the block I live on. It was pretty amazing to see what everything was built on. Who'd have thought by looking at all that dune scrubland that by 2022 a vacant lot (and one still exists) would cost more than a million bucks.

Back in 2015 I pulled a screen shot of the same area from Google Maps. I just stumbled on these pictures the other day, and one change since 2015 that I noticed right away is how much the hedge on the right has developed.

As you can see from a phone snap I shot just minutes ago, the Red Trumpet Vine has gone crazy during the last seven years. Hardly any of the original supporting hedge still shows.

Those big pine trees might be marked for death, which would be a shame. Just walking under them and smelling the fresh pine scent moments ago took me out of the city and up to the Sierra. Yesterday I watched a couple of crows chase a squirrel out of its top branches. Sometimes the crown fills with cherry-headed conures, which presumably feed on the pine nuts. I'm often amazed to see such big trees anchored in sand dune, and all the gopher tunnels around the roots can't help.

Speaking of layers of time, I joined the Navy on Friday the 13th of May -- 45 years ago!

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Saturday, May 7, 2022

Fading Glume

Click Images to Enlarge

The mountain was bathed in gloom when I arrived shortly after 7 a.m. I'd worn shorts but was glad I'd brought a long-john top as well as a wind-breaker. And gloves. It was only a week after my last visit, but as I took shelter from the drizzle beneath a rocky overhang along the Old Mine Trail, spring seemed to have reversed its direction to head back toward winter. Finally, a flash of sun painted the landscape and I tripped the shutter three or four times before the flash was over.

The wind was coming up, so I took cover behind a grove of trees surrounding Forbes Bench and photographed some cobwebby thistle. Red-breasted nuthatches called from the nearby woods.

I'd been shooting with a 50mm lens, but was glad I'd brought a long lens, 300mm, as well, when the hills south of the mountain started to pick up some interesting light.

Soon enough, the rising wind swept away the clouds and fog.

The sun was too high for my purposes by then, unfortunately, so I roamed around and was intrigued by more cobwebby thistle, here sporting a cup of crystal dewdrops.

I created a dreamy version of cobwebby thistle by overlaying an out-of-focus frame with a sharp-focused frame, then played with the opacity of the latter until the blended images appealed to me.

I'd been hearing the gobbling of turkeys nearby, but I was still surprised when a pair of toms suddenly emerged from the forest close behind me. The colors of these birds are just incredible. What if we could always appreciate beauty as much as, say, money? It's easy to get rich on beauty. All you have to do is let go of all your troubles, and beauty you hadn't even noticed before will magically flare up all around you.

As I followed the turkeys strutting their stuff with cobwebby thistle in the background, I noticed that last week really was "Peak Green." The glumes and florets of tall grasses bowing under the weight of seeds, dew, and wind, were already fading toward brown.

I got back in the car to check out another location after the gate out to West Ridgecrest opened. Three bucks were resting and feeding near a tall oak tree where many years ago I found a recently placed grave for someone's pet. 

The biggest surprise of the morning was finding this fruiting of Gomphidius glutinosus mushrooms. I photographed them in a bed of lichen with a couple of flax flowers and a blue-eyed grass.

Just a few feet away, this lone spotted coral root orchid, a non-photosynthesizing plant that relies on mycorrhizal fungi, rather than sunlight, to survive, bloomed from the douglas fir duff on the forest floor. 

As I packed up my camera gear for the last time I noticed all the birdsong in the air, and my Merlin app recorded chestnut-backed chickadee, acorn woodpecker, black-throated gray warbler, and hermit warbler. My feet were cold and wet from walking through all the dew-laden grasses, but the sun was shining. I gratefully hiked back to my car with no ticks crawling up my legs. 

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Friday, May 6, 2022

Street Scenes

On my morning walk today I noticed this nice little world between the cracks that illustrates a crack between the worlds of weed and garden. When it came time for my afternoon walk I decided to bring along my DSLR and 50mm lens to snap it up.

A very short distance beyond the street bouquet I admired the almost animal-like patterns of vine remnants clinging to a retaining wall.

Mother Nature's graffiti.

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