Thursday, June 30, 2011

Marin Hike - Lake Lagunitas Loop - 6-30-11

          I headed out after work to Lake Lagunitas for a relaxing stroll around the lake.
          From the parking lot I made my way up the short but steep fire road to the east side of the dam. The sun was shining and I spent several minutes observing the dragonflies along the shoreline.

Eight Spotted Skimmer

Cardinal Meadowhawk or Flame Skimmer

          As usual several turtles were sunning themselves on the wake logs. I was glad to see the native Pond Turtles outnumbering the Red Sliders.

Western Pond Turtle

          I proceeded up the short set of stairs and continued walking clockwise around the lake. Although this trail can be quite popular, I was lucky enough to have the place pretty much to myself save for several mountain bikers.
          I took several different spur trails each leading down to the shoreline where I enjoyed the views out over the lake. Each time I approached the shore I could hear bullfrogs croak before plummeting into the water for safety.
I stalked slowly over to the edge of a small creek and scanned the area for frogs trying to spot one before it leapt out of sight. The frogs are very skittish; however, I did manage to find one that was brave enough to stick around long enough for me to fire off a few frames.

Non-Native Bullfrog


          Bullfrogs are not native to the area and are actually a threat to some of the native frogs.
          I kept my eyes open for Rein Orchids which occasionally bloom around Lake Lagunitas but did not come across any. Perhaps it is still too early.
          The trail climbs away from the lake a bit as you approach the west shore offering views of Pilot Knob.
          As dusk approached the mosquitoes came out in full force. Each time I stopped along the shoreline I was getting eaten. I continued onward stopping at a couple of benches with views along the way. Again Pilot Knob dominated the landscape beyond the lake.

Pilot Knob Reflected in Lake Lagunitas

          Once I reached the other end of the dam I descended along the spillway and was back at my car.
          As I was driving back towards Sky Oaks Ranger Station I spotted several Turkeys which often occupy the grassy meadow. Upon closer observation I noticed a coyote watching keenly from about 15 feet beyond the Turkeys. I pulled over at a nearby pullout and left the car running and used my car as a blind so as not to startle the coyote.

Coyote Watches Wild Turkey

          I thought I might get to see some action but the coyote just seemed to be watching carefully. I waited about ten minutes or so before the coyote lost interest and trotted further down the trail. I followed it with my eyes and soon realized it was heading for another coyote waiting on a nearby hillside.

Second Coyote

          I have seen this pair of coyotes once before in this same area and have assumed they are a mating pair? I was hoping to get a shot with both coyotes but the chance never did arise. Once the two coyotes united they darted out of sight.
          It was a great ending to a very mellow hike.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Summer Solstice at Laurel Dell and Bolinas Ridge - 6-21-11

          It was summer solstice, the longest day of the year, and Sarah and I wanted to catch sunset from Bolinas Ridge. We planned on meeting on the ridge after she got off of work at around 7:30PM.
          I arrived at the Laurel Dell parking lot with a couple of hours before it was time to meet Sarah so I went for a stroll down to Cataract Creek and Laurel Dell. While descending the fire road I noticed several Foxgloves of various colors. I continued past the connector to Cataract Trail and once I reached Cataract Creek I was greeted by many more Foxgloves hugging the creek side.

Foxglove(Digitalis purpurea L.)Poisonous

          I really like Foxgloves as they can grow to be taller than I am and come in an array of colors. All parts of the plant are poisonous.
          I hung around the creek for a while just meditating before continuing on to Laurel Dell. The Laurel Dell meadow was gorgeous with its tall grasses and patches of wildflowers.

Laurel Dell Meadow

Beauty and the Beast

          The mosquitoes started buzzing me so I started to walk back, this time taking the Cataract Trail. I kept my eyes open for anything particularly interesting but soon arrived at the footbridge where I would connect back with the Laurel Dell Fire Rd. I slowly hiked my way back to the car and drove around looking for wildlife while waiting for Sarah to arrive.
          She showed up right on time and we tried to decide where we wanted to watch sunset from. The problem was that it was Summer Solstice and there were more people on the ridge than I have ever seen. We were in the mood to be away from people so we kept searching for a place. We ended up settling for a secluded spot on the ridge where we couldn’t even see the sunset. GO FIGURE! Regardless, it was nice to enjoy the golden colors on the swaying grasses without staring at a blinding orb.

Last Light Summer Solstice

          We hung out until we heard the Park Ranger on the loud speaker announce it was time to go. The colorful sky to the west blended from pink to blue and I couldn’t resist stopping for one last picture.

Westward Sky

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Mt. Tamalpais Sunset & Moonrise - 6-14-11

          After work I drove up Mt. Tamalpais to West Ridgecrest Boulevard and BoFax Ridge. With plans to meet Sarah at the Laurel Dell parking lot at 7:15PM after she got off work, it left me with a couple of hours to explore.
          I parked along Ridgecrest Blvd. and set off toward a secluded serpentine outcropping in search of some snakes. The sun was high in the sky and beating down on me, reminding me to stop and apply some sunscreen.
          I scoured the rocks and although I did not come across any snakes, I did come across an abundance of Mt. Tamalpais Jewel Flowers.

Mt. Tam Jewel Flower (Streptanthus batrachopus)

          The high pitched shriek of an Osprey drew my attention upward to the top of a Douglas Fir tree where it was perched.
          I wandered about for a few minutes before heading back to the car to explore elsewhere.
          I then drove along the Ridge to the start of Bolinas Fairfax Fire Road where I checked up on the blooming Red Clintonia near the entrance gate. The blooms were at the tail end of their display, but I did notice some spikes starting on the Rattlesnake Plantain Orchids.
          I hiked a short distance along The Bo-Fax Fire road before returning to the car and pushing onward.
          I drove back to the Laurel Dell trailhead and thought I’d wait for Sarah, when I spotted a pair of Western Bluebirds perched on nearby posts. I’ve seen these same birds here several times in the past. It’s a great spot and I don’t blame them.

Western Bluebird

          I got restless waiting so I decided to drive back along the ridge toward the Rock Springs Parking lot. I parked at a pullout just before the Rock Springs lot and walked the short distance up the hillside to an area known as Serpentine Power Point.

Serpentine Power Point

          I continued uphill a short distance to a grove of granary trees. Many of you might have come across a granary tree and not even realized it. A granary tree is basically a food storage locker for Acorn Woodpeckers. The woodpeckers peck out different size holes throughout the trunk of the tree and then place tightly fitted acorns in the holes for storage and protection. They will even move the acorns from hole to hole as they shrink and warp so that they always remain safe and secure. You can see how well their technique works if you try to get one of the acorns out of the holes yourself. It can prove to be quite difficult!

Mottled Bark of a Granary Tree

          There are many granary trees on the western flanks of Mt. Tamalpais and when you find one you are almost surely going to find some acorn woodpeckers as well.
          I knew Sarah would be arriving on the ridge soon enough so I retreated back down the hillside and just as I was passing Serpentine Power Point I flagged her down as she drove by.
          We got in one car and drove back out along West Ridgerest Blvd. to hangsite #3 where we ate dinner and awaited sunset. The weather could not have been better with just enough warmth and little to no wind.

Lovely Lichen

          Because it was such a clear day I didn’t expect much as far as a colorful sunset but as the sun began to set I was pleasantly surprised with the crimson glows put off near the horizon line. The sun began to dip below the horizon and I noticed the nearly full moon rising above the trees to the East.

Moonrise over the Western Flanks of Mt. Tamalpais

          One of the great things about the day before a full moon is that the moon rises as the sun sets.
          I did my best to capture both moments but was torn between which of natures wonders to focus on.
          It was truly a magical experience as a colorful sunset gave way to a moonlit dusk. The skies above the moon glowed faintly with a hint of pink reflected from the setting sun.

Moonrise on West Ridgecrest

          The sun cast its final rays for the day and the ever changing display of colors continued.

Sunset from Western Flanks of Mt. Tamalpais

Friday, June 10, 2011

Lagunitas Creek - Stream Orchids - 6/10/11

Lagunitas Creek a.k.a. Papermill Creek

          After work I drove out Sir Francis Drake Blvd. to Samuel P Taylor State Park in search of some Stream Orchids. Lagunitas Creek also known as Papermill Creek, besides being prime habitat for spawning Coho Salmon and Steelhead Trout, is also home to the native Stream Orchid which normally bloom in June.
          I parked my car in the dirt lot across form Devil’s Gulch and set off on the North Creek Trail which parallels Lagunitas Creek between the creek itself and busy Sir Francis Drake Blvd.. For this reason the trail is subject to some traffic noise, but I managed to find some reprieve.

Lagunitas Creek a.k.a. Papermill Creek

          The Norh Creek Trail started off completely overgrown with brambles and giant Cow Parsnips. I had to bushwhack my way through for a distance before it cleared up a bit. I kept my eyes on the creek looking for signs of the orchids. Eventually I left the trail and made my way along the creek to a beautiful rocky area. As I sat down for a moment to observe the scenery I noticed several small patches of Stream Orchids each with just a few flowers in bloom.

Stream Orchid (Epipactis gigantea)

Native Stream Orchid

          Of all the native orchids in Marin, the Stream Orchid has some of the most diverse and vivid coloring. In another week or so the remaining buds should open up for quite a display.
          I retraced my steps along the creek and back through the thickets stopping briefly to observe some blooming Buckeye Trees.
          Back at the parking lot I decided to take a brief walk up Devil’s Gulch Road. Only a short distance up the road the traffic noise disappeared and I was in another world. Hedge Nettle, Pacific Starflower and Crimson Columbine bloomed along the roadside.

Crimson Columbine

          Although I was tempted to keep hiking up Devil’s Gulch I decided to head home for dinner.