Friday, September 9, 2022


Smoky View From Mt. Tam

I could tell that wildfire smoke had drifted in overnight by the blood-orange color of the rising sun, and I debated with myself for about two seconds as to whether I should ride up to Mt. Tam despite the poor air quality. On the way out of the city I couldn't tell what was smoke and what was fog. 

I stopped at the Good Earth grocery store in Tam Junction to pick up a bite to eat and noticed the temperature was a pleasant 70 degrees. Heading up the mountain, the smell of smoke finally broke through after I gained enough altitude to really be in the thick of it. By the time I reached Rock Spring and unwrapped my breakfast burrito at a picnic table there, the temperature was 89 degrees. It would be 91.2 by the time I left an hour or so later.

The first thing I noticed when I hiked out to the trail camera was a large blue dragonfly zipping back and forth directly in front of the camera. Sure enough, the camera had recorded two or three gazillion captures of blue streaks. I considered moving the camera to a new pool, but when I checked the card I saw that a bobcat had come by to drink that very morning, so I left the camera in place. While I was fiddling with the set-up I heard a red-breasted nuthatch whistling right behind me. The cute little fella gingerly made its way down for a drink just a few feet away, showing off its bravado to other nearby nuthatches that cheered from the branches far above.

Smoky San Francisco Skyline

Lines of Hills and Smoke

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Flicker Feather & Bay Leaves

Time, Temperature & Turkey Feather

Early Morning Bobcat

Coming In For A Drink

Tam Cam Clips in Chron Order
(Late Aug. to Early Sep.)

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Thursday, September 8, 2022

Sweet Fog


Sun & Fog at Point Reyes

Back in high school I'd go over to a friend's house and we'd listen to his George Carlin records, and one of Carlin's bits was about phrases that no one has ever said before, like, "Hand me that piano." I think of Carlin's joke from time to time, like when I'm thinking about how much I'm looking forward to having the fog blow in. 

In my neighborhood, a sunny day is an almost magical thing. Who could want that nasty bone-chilling fog to blow in?! But there does come a point where enough is enough, and for me, so accustomed to San Francisco's narrow temperature range, that point comes well before the mercury reaches triple digits.

After my morning walk and bike ride yesterday I still felt frisky enough, despite sweating profusely, to plan a bike ride up to Mt. Tam today. It seemed like it might be interesting to test myself in the heat for five hours of biking and hiking. But later in the day I read a couple of news stories about people dying in the heat and figured I should show the heat more respect and wait until the fog returns, hopefully tomorrow. 

Half a lifetime ago I would do a twenty-mile bike ride after work on the flat, country roads around Davis, and when the temperature shot up to 115 degrees one day I decided to ride anyway, just for the adventure of it. I soaked a t-shirt in water and wrapped it around my head and took off with two full water bottles. The ride usually took about an hour, but even in that short time I got so hot that I stopped to re-soak my headband t-shirt in farm ditch-water, twice. And when I got back to Davis I went to the pool to cool off and recover.

I've had other experiences of learning respect for excessive heat, so even though I still feel that adventurous spirit, I'm worried about my mind writing checks my body can't cash. I'll tell myself that discretion is the better part of valor, even if it feels like I chickened out. 

When I began my walk today at around 8 a.m. I had second thoughts. It wasn't all that hot after all. But by the time I was climbing back up the hill about ninety minutes later I felt like I'd made the right decision. Maybe tomorrow San Francisco will experience the sweet spot of fog and sun like I found one September morning out at Pt. Reyes.

Pierce Ranch

Facing the Sun with Back to the Fog

Fog Jewelry

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Monday, September 5, 2022

Like Flies On Stink


Fly Feasting on Fungal Fruiting

Looks like I picked the wrong week to give up Klondike Bars. As Duran Duran sang last night at Chase Center, "Darken the city, night is a wire; Steam in the subway, earth is afire." Yes, indeed, the heat wave is on. Although, thankfully there was no steam in the subway, since we took the N-Judah home at about midnight. Which is why I almost didn't feel like riding down to Sunset Boulevard this morning to look for flies on the Latticed Stinkhorn. But I'm glad I did. I could smell the fruiting from ten feet away, and the scent was not coming from juices like wine. If I tell you that the flies, three species by my guess, were hungry like the wolf for that stinkhorn juice, I promise to make no further Duran Duran references.

Just to throw in a little hodgepodge, my wife and I took an educational plant walk on Mt. Davidson on Saturday with biodiversity champions Jake Sigg and Ruth Gravanis. I hadn't been to Mt. D in a very long time despite the fact that it takes less than ten minutes to drive over there. I learned of the hike through Jake's newsletter, a short and interesting read that he cranks out two or three times a week, for free, via email. Jake is my neighbor on the east side, and I often enjoy watching birds working through a large coast live oak in his back yard, which he planted as an acorn in the late 1960s.

As for my neighbor on the north side, ordinarily you wouldn't think there was any space at all between our two duplexes, but there are certain times of the year when the sun shines through the space between the buildings. It creates a really cool side-light on the side of the building, and my wife discovered yesterday an even cooler effect by putting your hand on the wall.

Finally, as I stepped out onto the stairway landing to our back yard this morning, I heard a chewing sound that I feared meant that the gophers had returned. I stealthily descended the stairs and picked up my gopher-poking stick at the bottom, only to see that the culprit was a squirrel. Now I knew who has recently been chewing on an antler in our garden, enjoying its fine mineral nutrition.

Another of the three species of flies partaking of nature's bounty.

The Fruiting This Morning, Sept. 5, 2022
(More fruiting has begun in the wood chips beneath the nearby strawberry madrone.)

Urban Biodiversity Hike on Mt. Davidson,
With San Francisco Skyline & Mt. Diablo in Background

Touching the Light

Antler-Munching Squirrel

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Saturday, September 3, 2022

Drake's Birds & Stinkhorn Check


Drake's Beach, Sept. 3, 2018

The shot above shows the bird life I encountered on this date back in 2018. When I was there a couple of days ago there was none of that green seaweed on the beach, no pelicans resting on the sand, and far fewer gulls. Four years ago, stepping onto Drake's Beach was like walking into a cacophonous party. I wonder if the ocean and wind conditions that brought all that seaweed onto the beach also created an upwelling that led to a boon for sea life.

Also around this time of year, but farther back in time, I encountered numerous young elegant terns resting at Drake's Beach while their parents did most of the foraging for them.

I was thinking about biking up to Mt. Tam yesterday to check the camera trap, but the enthusiasm wasn't there for such an endeavor. Instead I did my usual morning walk followed by my usual local bike ride. My home camera trap, meanwhile, has become "all Coco, all the time." It has become rare to capture the raccoons, skunks, squirrels, rats, other neighborhood cats, and various birds, that used to appear so often. Back when I used to leave the cat food outside, that is.... Even the mating pair of dark-eyed juncos, the ones who bathed daily in a bowl of water I set out back and who recently fledged their baby, have gone.

My morning walk either takes me out-and-back to the beach, or in a loop that takes me along Sunset Boulevard. I chose the latter route so I could check up on the latticed stinkhorn. At first glance it appeared to have been stepped on, but noticing that the grass had been cut made me wonder if the wheels of a mower hadn't crushed part of the fruiting. Most of it was intact and still developing. I'd brought along my Nikon and 105/Micro rig because I realized I hadn't thought to photograph a close-up of a fly on the stinkhorn on my last visit. Unfortunately, it was so cold and foggy that there were no flies. There also wasn't any brown liquid goop exuded by the stinkhorns to attract them. I wondered if the fungus required a higher temperature to begin exuding its lure to exothermic flies that wouldn't be active in the cold anyway.

Although most of my walk looks like typical Sunset District, I took a few phone-snap "nature photos" in the heavy fog, starting with some of the interesting architecture a block or so away from the nondescript duplex I live in. Tomorrow I'll enter the wilds once again, as my wife has roped me into the Duran Duran concert on Sunday....

Drake's Beach, Sept. 7, 2014

Young Elegant Terns & Ring-Billed Gull Resting at Drake's Beach

Coco Caught Two Hours Apart (Shade & Sun)

Latticed Stinkhorn Progress as of Sept. 2, 2022


Chert Cliffs

Cypress Woodland

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Thursday, September 1, 2022

Clearing the Fog


Black Mountain with Clearing Fog

I'm pretty sure the last time I drove out to Pt. Reyes, there was no vineyard going right up to the fence along Lucas Valley Road at Skywalker Ranch. I was also surprised to see how lush and green the vineyard's leaves were. When I was ready to head home later on I hoped to find more surprises by taking Sir Francis Drake since I hadn't been that way in a long time either, but the harsh light in the redwoods along Lagunitas Creek, plus the vehicle traffic and road construction, put a damper on the anticipated magic. Had there been a little less hustle and bustle I'd like to have pulled over at the Farm Stand at Forest Knolls since that was the one new thing of interest I noticed along the route.

I'd initially been hoping to find some shorebirds to photograph, so my first stop of the morning was Drake's Beach. The fog was thick and the wind was blowing stiff and cold. I'd worn shorts, figuring I'd soon be enjoying the heat wave, but I'd at least had enough sense to bring a longjohn top, a windbreaker and a knit watch cap. 

I needed them all as I started walking east up the beach. There was no pool of water on the beach in front of the parking lot, and the rocky reefs were still covered with sand. I guess the new lagoon (so new it doesn't show up yet on the Google Maps satellite view) impounds all the fresh water draining from the hills. The shorebird action looked pretty sparse, so I let myself be drawn in by a few cheerful patches of purple sand verbena dancing in the wind. 

After snapping a few frames of the wildflowers I turned to the west and ambled over toward a mixed group of gulls, but there just wasn't enough interest in the scene to take any pictures. It was peaceful out there with small waves breaking on the nearly deserted beach, the bluffs rolling off into the fog-shrouded distance, and a wide expanse of Drake's Bay to ease the soul. It was a lovely morning for a walk (the bluffs blocked most of the wind), but I decided to leave and try for some photographic inspiration over at Abbott's Lagoon.

Even before I got out of my car at Abbott's Lagoon I caught sight of a small, dark critter bounding across the field off in the distance. I grabbed my binoculars, but I believe the critter ducked into a burrow (whose dirt mound I could see) before I could get a good look at it. What that critter was, I have no idea. It looked more like an otter than anything else I could think of, but it made no sense to see one so far from water. 

A car pulled into the spot next to me, and as the guy got out he said to his wife, "It doesn't look like the fog's going to burn off, does it?" "Nope." They went for a walk. I got out of the car and photographed a California quail on a lichen-crusted fence post, partly in the hope that I might spot a bobcat if I just kept my eyes peeled for a little while. The quail eventually peeled off his perch to join the rest of his gang gleaning seeds and clickety-clacking in the dry grass and brush at his feet, and that was my cue to peel off and check out Limantour Beach. I made a brief stop at White House Pool on the way, photographing Black Mountain as the morning's fog burned off.

Although it was sunny all the way out Limantour Road, the beach itself was still in fog, so I pulled over at the Limantour Estero vista point which, for a long time now, has not had a vista of Limantour Estero. The viewshed has been overtaken by forest. Nevertheless, hearing elk bugling in the distance made the stop worthwhile.

I parked at the east lot at Limantour and walked down to the beach. The same few gulls were massed off to the right and the left, at least until dog-walkers chased off the group on the right. The dog, Bruno, was an inquisitive and friendly, four-month-old, gangly-legged hound whose owner hoped it would be good for hunting turkey and deer. I watched a few pelicans fly by, as well as a tern or two, then decided to head back to the car and have a leisurely drive home.

Sand Verbena Meadow

Verbena Close-up

Quail on the Fence

View from Lagunitas Creek

View of Limantour Estero, Sort Of

Limantour Beach

Brown Pelican Fly-by

View Over Drake's Bay Toward Chimney Rock

Bluffs Southeast of Coast Camp

Doe and Fawn Emerging from Marsh

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Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Latticed Stinkhorn

Latticed Stinkhorn (Clathrus ruber)

On a recent morning walk in which I had debated whether to even bring my smartphone, I was glad I had chosen to bring it when I spotted some Clathrus ruber growing in the landscaping along Sunset Boulevard near Kirkham Street (on the 36th Avenue side). As you can see from the photos below, this is a pretty large fruiting, with many "eggs" ready to unleash a lovely orange stink-basket of fungus. 

On subsequent days I returned on my e-bike to check out the progress. On the second day, the first basket had petered out, and I wondered if the whole thing would just dry up. But on the third day it looked like the fruiting was still on. I missed the fourth day because I was at Duxbury Reef, but returned this morning to find things coming along nicely. 

This morning was also the first time I'd actually seen flies enjoying the stink. I got an unpleasant whiff of the sewer-like odor myself when I took some close-up shots with my Nikon. It was definitely the kind of unpleasant smell only a fly could love, but thankfully it didn't carry very far. I couldn't smell it at all until I got right down there with it. Despite its olfactory hideousness, the fruitbodies have a really interesting color and texture. I'm curious to see if the fruiting continues this week as the weather turns warmer and drier (it was even sunny at the beach this morning), but I'm not sure I'll have time to check up on it again.

Progression of Fruiting

A Fly's Delight

Artsy Fartsy Fungus

Egg Basket

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Monday, August 29, 2022

Predatory Snails


Snails Sharing a Meal
(click images to view larger)

I couldn't tell what those two snails (dogwinkles?) were up to, even with my glasses on. I figured they were either mating or fighting. But as soon as I got the image up on my computer screen I could tell that the "weird appendages" I'd seen through my lens were not parts of the snails, but were actually crab legs. Earlier I'd watched a crab escape from my prying eyes by burying itself in pebbly sand. It seems a little amazing that a snail can catch a crab. Although it also seems amazing that even sea anemones catch crabs. I would  soon find one such kelp crab being devoured by anemones and possibly a turban snail, which is supposed to be an algae-eater.

With low tide arriving before sunrise over the weekend, and not being terribly low at that, I was unable to roust myself out of bed so early for the hourlong drive out to Duxbury Reef. I wasn't even sure it would be worth the drive this morning despite a post-sunrise low tide of +0.46. Although there wasn't a whole lot of reef to explore by the time I got there, I was reluctant to leave even when the reef had mostly returned to its underwater realm. If I'd been in Hawaii I'd probably have gone snorkeling. I didn't want to stop to exploring. 

Pair of Snails Feasting on a Crab

Limpet Covered with Tiny Animals
(the white things with black dots)

Close Crop of Limpet Shell

Hermit Crab Hanging Out

Deadly Elegance

Captured Kelp Crab

Camouflaged Kelp Crab Playing It Cool

Small Mossy Chiton

Another Strange Unknown Creature Similar to This One
(Note brown cylindrical waste pellets around it.)

Band-Tailed Pigeons Feeding on the Bluffs at Agate Beach

Wider View of the Group
(feeding on dirt?)

Very Shaky Video of the Band-Tailed Pigeons

On The Edge (Bolinas Ridge)

Fog Beams on the Edge of the Woods (Mt. Tam)

Silhouette With Cool Clouds Above Mt. Tam

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