Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Sierra Buttes


Morning View of Sierra Buttes

Somehow I had never been to Sierra Buttes before, or anywhere on Hwy. 49 north of Tahoe for that matter. (Another first: being stuck in 102-degree heat during a traffic jam caused by an accident near Nevada City). I had to cut short my photographic exploration of California back around 2012-13, in part because I was spending too much money on gas, especially since I had been driving a Jeep Cherokee. I recall being horrified to be charged more than $4/gallon back then. On my return from Sierra Buttes on Monday (in a much more fuel-efficient Mazda 3) I felt lucky to get gas for under $6/gallon ($5.89 at a Pilot Flying J near Sacramento).

The trip to Sierra City was more of a much-needed R&R for my wife and I than a photo safari, but I did get a chance to do some photography while my wife enjoyed plein air painting in the relative cool of the mornings. We stayed at a place called the Sierra Pines Resort on the North Fork Yuba River. I was a little taken aback by how rustic the cabin was at first, dark and cave-like, but it had a kitchen and was in earshot of the river and close to the Buttes. 

Alas, we endured two days of PG&E power cutoffs that lasted several hours each time. When the power died, the soothing wind- and bird-song of the forest was immediately replaced by the noisy growling of a diesel generator which, to add insult to injury, only powered the restaurant, not the cabins. On our last morning I blew a circuit breaker when I ran the coffee pot, microwave, and toaster all at the same time. The front office was closed, but Pam found the breaker box hidden behind a framed picture on the wall near the front door, and breakfast was soon served. Hey, it was still more comfy than camping, especially given the afternoon heat all week.

We didn't do a lot of hiking despite being very close to the Pacific Crest Trail, but the one main hike we did was outstanding -- a short two-hour cardio workout to the Sierra Buttes Fire Lookout. The return trip, all downhill, only took an hour. Another time we took a very short walk on the PCT to reach a small waterfall in a lovely canyon close to the highway. As we left Monday morning, the Sierra Pines restaurant was doing a brisk business feeding PCT hikers who were loading up on pancakes and such before heading back out on the trail.

I was going to break up all these shots into multiple posts over several days, but I don't want to have to return to the computer so much this week, so I'm spilling 'em all at once. Click to view 'em larger.

Afternoon View of Sierra Buttes

Enjoying the Lakeside Breezes

Mule Ears & Larkspur Along Gold Lake Highway

Down by the River #1

Down by the River #2

Down by the River #3

Sierra Garter Snake Resting By The River

Exhibit at Kentucky Mine Museum

Lake Trout

Paddling Her Own Canoe

Painting by the Pond

California Camas

Trail to the Fire Lookout

Stairway to Sierra Buttes Fire Lookout

PCT Hiker Boxes

Google Maps Must Have Thought I Still Had The Jeep

What The Sign On The Right Said

Mountain Pride Penstemon

Near the Fire Lookout Trailhead

Paintbrush & Buttes

Paintbrush With Mariposa Lily

Paintbrush in the Mule Ears

Lorquin's Admiral Butterfly on Bitter Cherry Flowers

Three Wallflowers

Mariposa Lily with Jeffrey Pine Cones

Close View of Mariposa Lily

Three Mule Ears

Close View of Mule Ears

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Friday, June 17, 2022

Return to the Reef

Seal Cove Reef

I hadn't really planned to visit tidepools again so soon, but who can resist a minus 1.8-foot tide that's timed to let you sleep until it's light out? My plan was to head north this time, to either Duxbury or the reef below the Palomarin trailhead, but I ended up choosing the far shorter drive to Fitzgerald to save on gas.

The harbor seals once again did not realize which part of the beach has been closed for them, and a park ranger had to herd a bunch of us a hundred yards away from each of the groups on the reef in the aptly named Seal Cove. One of the groups appears on the left side of the image above (as usual, click images to view larger).

The most striking feature of the reef this morning was the wide swath of seaweed that covered quite a bit of the beach to a depth of maybe half a foot. It was interesting to walk through the slippery sea of weed with no idea what lay below -- whether smooth sand, jumbles of rocks, pools of water, or nests of sea serpents.

There was so much beautiful algae on the beach that I had to prod myself to get out on the reef. I roamed around for quite a while without finding any nudibranchs (always among my favorite prizes) and had to remind myself not to let the lack of slugs detract from the fascinating beauty of the tidepools. I know we're supposed to hate purple sea urchins, except in sushi, because they gobble up kelp forests, but they are so gorgeous in a tidepool, especially when the sun comes out. I couldn't remember the last time I went tidepooling on a sunny day. 

I mentioned to the park ranger that it seemed like sea star wasting disease was still a thing despite what I've heard about a comeback, but he said he's counted thirty in a day. I'm not sure that actually constitutes much of a counterpoint to my observation of seeing so few. Fitzgerald used to be crawling with several kinds of sea stars, including bat stars, leather stars, spiny stars, and the brilliant sun star, but now I feel lucky to find one or two ochre sea stars that haven't begun turning to gelatin.

Colors & Textures in the Wrack

Glassy Pool

Snail with Hat

Waning Gibbous Moon

Giant Green Anemone

The Naked and the Cloaked

Red & Purple Sea Urchins

White Spotted Sea Goddess (?)

Possibly Doriopsilla albopunctata

Basking in the Sun

Rough Around the Edges

Sculpin in the Pebbles

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Thursday, June 16, 2022

FZ80 Biking

Pollen on the Chin

Pneuma is the Greek word for wind, breath, spirit. I like how the word zooms in from the world at large (wind) to the personal (breath) to the metaphysical (spirit). The wind was a force to be reckoned with while I was pulling mustard weeds on Twin Peaks yesterday with good folks from the California Native Plant Society, Habitat Potential, and the parks department. The work was good for my spirits, but the wind gods wanted my hat (and finally got it in the end). The forecast was for more of the same today, so I headed out to Mt. Tam on my ebike in the morning before the pneumatics went gymnastic.

I went up to see how my camera trap was doing, and to get a little more practice with the new point-and-shoot camera, a Panasonic FZ-80. All in all, I think it went well. The camera is certainly way more versatile than the one on my phone. Click on the pictures to see them bigger (1300 pixels wide).

Pelicans Riding a Thermal Above Sausalito

Morning on the Sausalito Waterfront

A Red-breasted Nuthatch at Full Zoom

Yellow Mariposa Lily

Copulating Water Striders

Basking Salamander

Hummer in the Leopard Lilies

Stinging Nettle

Gray Fox Frame Grab

Foxes in the Camera Trap

Biking the Bridge

$7+ Supreme

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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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