Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Marin Day Hike - Bon Tempe Lake Loop - 4-27-11

          North of Mt. Tamalpais just beyond Fairfax is several reservoirs that are part of the MMWD. These blue gems stud the landscape and offer excellent habitat for wildlife as well as a plethora of great hiking trails. The parking Fee to enter the Sky Oaks area which offers access to Lake Lagunitas, Bon Tempe, and Alpine Lake is currently $8. There is also an annual pass available for $60 which I broke down and bought. So expect to follow me on many future adventures through these wild lands.
          Parking in the dirt lot near Bon Tempe Dam I set off on the Bon Tempe Sunnyside Trail. Immediately I noticed that many of the oak trees were infested with tent caterpillars.

Caterpillar Infestation

          These caterpillars could be seen crawling all over the trail. The trail skirts the shoreline offering ample opportunity to observe Osprey dive bombing into the water in hopes of catching a fish. A few killdeer scrambled around the shore but were chased away by a dog off leash.
          With little to no elevation gain the hiking is easy going. About a mile from the trailhead the route lets out onto Sky Oaks Road where I continued right along the road for a few minutes before reaching the next segment of trail leading around Pine Point. There is a trail that shortcuts Pine Point but what would be the point in that? The path around Pine Point is mostly shaded and is just over a mile long. I encountered a family of ducks traveling the shoreline in search of food.

Family of Ducks

          The trail lets out near the Lake Lagunitas picnic and parking area. I decided to trek the short distance up to Lake Lagunitas to see if any turtles were hanging out. I made my way up the steep staircase along the wooden spillway to the top of Lagunitas Dam and to my liking there were several turtles basking in the sun.

Native Western Pond Turtles

          Turtles are often times seen posted up on the wave logs near the dam. In the center was a single Red Ear Slider, more colorful and larger than the others. On the right side among the reeds were several Western Pond Turtles playing around. They would climb on each others back and push each other into the water. At one point there were three turtles stacked on top of one another like a tower until the top two tumbled into the lake.
          There are different types of turtles living in the local reservoirs and it has become quite the dilemma. The only turtle native to the area is the Western Pond Turtle. Unfortunately the Red Ear Slider (a common pet) has been introduced to the environment. The Red Eared Sliders grow bigger and are stronger than the native Pond Turtle, therefore diminishing the amount of available food and nesting sites. MMWD has a program in place where volunteers count and observe turtles so as to help form a plan of action to remedy the problem. I have read that they have even started to remove some of the Red Ear Sliders and relocate them. Last years turtle count revealed that the largest numbers of Red Ear Sliders reside in Lake Phoenix. It is thought that because of the lake’s close proximity with civilization (Lake Phoenix being the closest of all the lakes) the result is a greater number of non natives.
          If you’re thinking of getting a turtle as a pet… THINK TWICE! Can you care for it for the entirety of its life? You’ll need a pretty damn big tank. Sure those turtles are cute when they are little but you probably won’t want to care for it when it gets bigger. Why not take a hike and watch a native turtle in its natural environment. What a concept.
          There is a popular trail that circumnavigates Lake Lagunitas, although not on my day’s agenda. During and shortly after the rainy season it is a good place to observe newts as they make there quest to reproduce.
          Continuing on my Bon Tempe Lake loop I retreated back down to the picnic area where I crossed the creek and picked up the Shadyside Trail. One of the great aspects of the Bon Tempe Loop is the varied environs in which it passes. I started off along the shady side which leads up and away from the shoreline at times. Undulating through redwood forests then mixed conifer and Douglas Fir. Irises bloomed in abundance as did the Pacific Starflower. The real gems are the Spotted and Striped Coral Root Orchids the latter being less abundant and harder to spot.

Striped Coral Root Orchid (Corallorhiza striata)

Striped Coral Root Orchid

Spotted Coral Root Orchid (Corallorhiza maculata)

          Many people walk right by these inconspicuous beauties without ever knowing it. I myself prefer the striped or striated variety.

Another Striped Coral Root Orchid

          As I walk in a forest I am observant of things such as scat and bird droppings. When I come across large deposits of bird droppings I look upward often revealing a preferred perching branch or maybe even a nest.
          About halfway along the shady side I took a side path to a sunny section along the shore. This particular cove offered relief from the pounding winds that had been a gale for most the hike. In the water just off shore was a crawfish. I slowly snuck my hand up behind it and gently snatched it out of the water.

Crawfish or Crawdad

          It had one claw and did not seem to be doing well. I imagined a raccoon might get to it in the night.Upon closer inspection I noticed a bulging sac of eggs beneath it. I quickly placed it back into the water where it will face a certain struggle for survival.
          I made my way back to the main trail and continued onward. Before reaching the terminus of the Shadyside Trail I managed to spot one healthy set of Checker Lilies.

Checker Lily aka Mission Bells (Fritillaria affinis)

          The trail lets out onto Bon Tempe Dam. I proceeded across the dam which offers views of Alpine Lake below. Along the wake bars in Bon Tempe is a popular place for birds like Herons, Gulls and Cormorants to perch.
          At the end of the dam I crossed the spillway via a bridge where I looked downward to a pond and saw a giant trout leap out of the water. No wonder Osprey thrive in this watershed.
          Once down at the lot I decided take a stroll down Bull Frog Road which travels north along a narrow arm of Alpine. This section of lake is often dried up later in the season, but when it is full, it is teaming with wildlife.
          As Osprey fished the waters, so did a Great White Egret. The binoculars revealed a turtle perched not but a foot away from the hunting egret. I watched a cormorant come up from a dive just in time to see the fish it had caught. Further along were three Red Eared Sliders leaning on one another in a line.

Non Native Red Eared Sliders

          Unfortunately I was not able to get a clean shot of all three.
Dragonflies and Damselflies flew frantically about, hunting and laying eggs.

Blue Darner Dragonfly

Pacific Spiketail Dragonfly

          If you look closely you can see that this Pacific Spiketail appears to be eating a smaller damselfly.
          Just as I was going to turn back I came upon a Gopher Snake stretched out across the fire road enjoying the sun.

Gopher Snake

Gopher Snake

As I photographed the snake from different angles a huge gust of wind came, kicking up some dust and scaring away the snake. All the while my auditory senses alerted me to what other wildlife might be around. The distinct repeated shrieks of Red Shouldered Hawks called from the distance as did a solitary call of a Red Tailed Hawk. Just as I was taking mental note of the call a Red Shouldered Hawk flew directly above me then landed in a tree out of sight.
          At this point I was completely satisfied with my outing and decided to head back to the car. As I drove out along Sky Oaks Road a coyote popped up onto the road, slowly crossed and continued up a hill. As I contemplated pulling out the camera another coyote followed in the first ones footsteps. Another car was approaching so I simply enjoyed the sighting and moved on.
          I had set out with the objective of seeing some Coral Root Orchids, Turtles and Checker Lilies but as my blog theme and John Muir states “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”

Friday, April 22, 2011

Marin Waterfall Hike - Tucker Falls - 4-22-11

          High above Phoenix Lake on a tributary leading into Williams Creek is a hidden waterfall called Tucker Falls. A good place to start the hike would be Phoenix Lake, however, parking is always a nightmare there so I always opt to park at the top of windy ridge on Crown Road. To get there drive down Woodland Ave. near Kent Woodlands in Kentfield. Take your first right on Goodhill Rd and follow it to toward the top of the ridge until you reach Crown Rd. Take a left on Crown road and follow it to its terminus where there is plenty of street parking. The Tucker trail is located just over the guard rail off of Crown Road.
          I started down the trail which starts off on an open grassy hillside with an abundance of Buckeye trees. There are great views across Bill Williams Gulch and of the adjacent ridgeline.
I soon entered a young redwood forest which brought a different variety of flora. Irises bloomed along the trailside as did the occasional Red Larkspur. I came to a signed trail junction with the right fork leading down Williams Creek to Phoenix Lake, and the left fork leading up towards Tucker Falls and Eldridge Grade. I veered left as the trail follows the contour of the hillside and then heads gently downhill to a footbridge that crosses Bill Williams Creek. I attempted to travel a short distance up the creek bed which proved to be a poor decision. As I took my third step my foot slipped out from underneath me and in slow motion I saw myself falling toward the creek. Inevitably, I knew I was going to get a little wet, but I was unpleasantly surprised when I sank up to my chest in a deep pocket of the creek. Not but ten minutes into my hike and I was soaked to the core in a shaded canyon. I was not yet ready to call it quits so I stripped off my upper layers and stashed them under the footbridge to be retrieved on the return hike.
          The Tucker Trail begins to ascend rather steeply and each step was uncomfortable with my waterlogged pants. Nonetheless I greatly enjoyed my solitude in the quiet canyon. I passed by blankets of fetid adders tongue leaves and some pacific starflowers were just starting to bloom. The trail crosses a couple inlet streams by way of footbridge then climbs several switchbacks before reaching “Tuckers Camp”.
          Tuckers Camp derives its name from a man named Tucker and Eckert who used to have a camp there. Rumor has it that there was a falling out between the two and it is said that Eckert moved his camp uphill a ways closer to Eldridge Grade. Not much remains of the camp today save for a flat area ideal for a small settlement.
          From the trail at Tucker’s Camp the falls are barely visible through the dense forest foliage. A small use trail leads one closer for a more intimate view.

Tucker Falls

          As I suspected, the falls did not have significant water flow and the aesthetics suffered greatly. **
          I relaxed a while before tromping back down Tucker Trail to Williams Creek and exploring some cascades.

Cascades on Streamlet

          In the creek bed I stumbled upon some deer bones.

Deer Jaw Bone

          Near a footbridge was a beautiful scene with a giant Alder Tree protruding out of the creek with its leaves glowing in the faint afternoon sunlight.

Feel Good Spot

          Soaking wet and the cold starting to set in, I retrieved my sopped shirts from beneath the bridge and hiked back to my car.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Day Hike - Ring Mountain Wildflower Wonderland - 4/9/11

Buddha Rock atop Ring Mountain

          Ring Mountain exists as open space today because of an environmental victory fought by a few local conservationists led by a local named Phyllis Ellman. The land was set for development, however, great efforts were put forth to protect the land. The landscape boasts ancient serpentine rocks with rare lichens as well as several rare wildflowers including the Tiburon Mariposa Lily which is exclusive only to the preserve itself.
          It was a sunny Sunday afternoon when I pulled up to the Phyllis Ellman Trailhead along Paradise Drive. Many cars filled the shoulder which told me I wouldn’t be alone on my hike.
          I loaded my pack and headed off up the trail. The north side of Ring Mountain is great because it remains largely wind protected as opposed to the ridge tops which are often quite gusty. I de-layered and continued onward and upward observing many species of wildflowers along the way. Among some of the usual suspects were False Lupine, Blue Dicks, Yarrow, Buttercups, Goldfields,Blue Eyed Grass and Iris’s. Poison Oak crowds the trails and the leaves in this area can take on an entirely different shape so BEWARE. A bad bout with it several years ago contracted from this same location led me to a hospital visit. A little further up the trail brought me to my first rare wildflower of the day the Oakland Mariposa Lily also known as the Oakland Star Tulip.

Oakland Mariposa Lily aka Oakland Star Tulip (Calochortus Umbellatus)

Blue Eyed Grass

          The small whitish pink flowers are somewhat difficult to locate as they are tucked in the grass and low to the ground. As the grasses quickly grow taller in weeks to come, the flowers will become increasingly more difficult to find, not to mention their blooms won’t last long.
          The Oakland Mariposa Lily is sometimes mistaken for the rarer Tiburon Mariposa Lily which normally doesn’t bloom until late May or early June.
The trail levels out a bit and comes to a signed junction with the Loop Trail. I continued on the Phyllis Ellman Trail which heads steeply up hill. Encountering more Star Tulips along the way, I stopped to observe.

Oakland Mariposa Lilies

          In winter and in early spring this trail can be very muddy but today it was in dry condition. The landscape was strewn with colorful lichen blanketed boulders, or exotic blocks; several Western Bluebirds perched on top of the rocks but were quite skittish upon my approach.
          I exited the Phyllis Ellman trail onto a defined use path heading toward the top of the ridge.
          Once at the top, I made my way to Turtle Rock, a fine example of earths metamorphic magic. More boulders known as exotic blocks were prevalent on the ridge and southern flanks. Fence Lizards perched at the top of several rocks taking in the last of the days sun.

Turtle Rock

"Touch of Blue" - Western Fence Lizard

          I veered northwest to a somewhat secluded ridge that I call Butterfly Knoll. The usual gale that is present on the ridge was absent and I enjoyed the warm sun beating down on my skin. Sure enough, several species of butterflies fluttered about. I managed to capture a few in their brief stillness.

Pipevine Swallowtail on a Blue Dick

Mournful Duskywing

American Lady

Pipevine Swallowtail

          Not only was this knoll rife with butterflies, but wildflowers literally blanketed large patches of the surrounding grasslands. With a mix of Purple Owls Clover, Goldfields, Poppies, Tidy Tips and more. I felt as if I were in a wildflower wonderland.

Wildflower Wonderland

          Another rare flower known as Tiburon Paintbrush was quite abundant on the ridge as well.

Tiburon Paintbrush (Castilleja affinis ssp. neglecta)

          Expansive views of Mt. Tamalpais, San Francisco and the surrounding bay are truly impressive and the perspectives from the ridge tops of Ring Mountain are like no other.
          The sun sank behind Mt. Tam while a Red Tailed Hawk and White Tailed Kite aviated the sky in pursuit of prey.
          Upon my descent I was absorbed observing a succulent when I nearly stepped on a burrowing owl. Greatly startled it quickly took off, startling me as well, then flew a short distance downhill and disappeared into the taller grass. It is a great reminder that sometimes the more you look the less you see.

Great Colors

          I hiked back to the car successfully avoiding any poison oak along the way. In the end of May or early June I will journey back to Ring Mountain in search of the Tiburon Mariposa Lily.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Mt. Tamalpais Ridgecrest Ramblin' - 4/2/11

          Having a great stay over at the Sandpiper we had a relaxing morning before setting off up the mountain for a small hike. I would recommend the Sandpiper to anyone looking for a cozy place to stay at the beach. Although we're local, just one night had us feeling like we were miles from home. Sarah had mentioned that a large moth had been hanging around for a while outside the office so I decided to check it out before we left.

Ceanothus Silkmoth (Hyalophora euryalus)

          We packed our things and hit the road heading up toward the Rock Springs parking lot. Being Saturday morning the lot was completely full and then some. We bypassed the craziness and parked along Ridgecrest Blvd. I tend to try and avoid people when I’m hiking so we decided to take one of my “ramblin’ routes”. We proceeded down the western flanks of Bolinas Fairfax Ridge. Among others, Shooting Stars, Blue Dicks, and California Poppies decorated the grassy hillsides.
          We passed by the spring fed Rubber Ducky Tub and later came across a large hole in the ground that looked like it could have been a coyote den.

Rubber Ducky Tub

After admiring views of the ocean from a large rock we rambled into the forest where we were greeted by many Calypso Orchids. We made our way through a maze of fallen Douglas Fir branches and out into another open grassland. Several Hounds Tongue were in bloom at the edge of the forest.

Calypso Orchid (Calypso Bulbosa)

Hounds Tongue

          We traveled uphill and crossed back over Ridgecrest Blvd . We then traversed down the east side of the ridge to a rock I call Calypso Crag. The rock offers a great place to relax in the sun and observe nature. Each year a large patch of Calypso Orchids bloom near its base, hence the name Calypso Crag.
          We sat in the sun and rested our legs for bit. We were watching a caterpillar maneuvering briskly across the rock wondering what type of butterfly it might become when a fence lizard made a quick meal of it.

Lunch Time!

Western Fence Lizard

          Sarah then took a nap while I went to check on the Calypso patch and go wandering about.

Calypso Patch

Banana Slug

Camouflage Grasshopper

          With lunch awaiting us in the car we made our way up the hillside to finish our loop. We drove a bit further down Ridgecrest Blvd. and parked the 4runner at a pullout with a view. There’s nothing like a sandwich and a cold one waiting for you when you get done with a hike!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Tamalpais Ridgecrest Wildlife - 4/1/11

          Sarah and I had plans to stay Friday night at the Sandpiper Lodge in Stinson Beach. As I drove over the mountain to meet Sarah at work I decided to deviate and head up on the Ridge to take in some views.
          I spotted a bobcat so I pulled over at the nearest pullout. I managed to catch it just as it crossed the road and disappeared into the brush.

Why did the Bobcat Cross the Road?

          I then walked through a meadow and out to where I had a view of the ocean. Several deer fed along the outskirts of the meadow, eying me as I strolled by. I came across a very loud Stellar’s Jay whom I believe was nesting in the area because it held its ground as I passed.

Steller's Jay

          I backtracked to the car, continuing along Ridgecrest Blvd I kept my eyes peeled. I saw a flock of wild turkeys pecking there way down a hillside and later encountered a coyote relaxing in the sun. I observed from a distance for a while before it moseyed out of view.


          Running late to meet Sarah at Stinson I headed off the ridge.