Thursday, October 13, 2011

Richmond Bridge Sunrise - 10-13-11

Richmond Bridge at Dawn

          Several weeks out of the year I have the privilege of watching sunrise on my way to work. When I wake up in the morning and there are clouds in the sky with potential to illuminate I’ll sometimes leave a little bit early and try and watch sunrise along the way.
          Having to cross the Richmond Bridge on my way to Berkeley I pulled over near the Marin Rod and Gun club where there is a scenic overlook of the Bridge and San Pablo Bay.
          The clouds lit up with what I call pre-illumination which is where the clouds pick up a red hue, occurring several minutes before the sun is high enough to fully ignite the fiery sky.

Richmond Bridge Long Exposure

Richmond Bridge Sunrise

          Unfortunately, in order to avoid being late for work I had to leave before the real colors began. Driving the rest of the way to work I was fixated on the vibrant shades and had to remind myself to keep my eyes on the road.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Marin Headlands Wise Owl - 10-11-11

          Sarah and I often like to take walks in Gerbode Valley as it is often peaceful and provides ample opportunity for wildlife sightings.
          We started off by walking up the bobcat trail, scanning the hillsides for any furred or feathered creatures. We came to a large group of Eucalyptus trees where a crow was making quite a ruckus. We realized it was scolding a Great Horned Owl that was roosting nearby. The Crow and Owl went back and forth fluttering from branch to branch, occasionally sharing the same perch.

Great Horned Owl

          We walked further up trail to lookout over the meadow but soon returned to watch the owl and crow behaving mischievously.

Great Horned Owl

          As the sun sank and dusk approached several coyotes began to howl and yelp. At first we could here the howling coming from a hillside nearby, and then we’d hear the reply from other song dogs echoing throughout the valley. I always love listening to the powerful voices of the coyotes.
          With the light fading we headed down to Rodeo Beach to catch the sun set beyond the clear horizon.
          It never fails, that a simple walk in nature seems to erase the day’s trials and tribulations.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Point Reyes Safari - 10-9-11

          I had the day to myself so I decided to drive out to Point Reyes in search of Wildlife. I started off by heading out to Pierce Point to check up on the Tule Elk. I stopped briefly at the parking lot at Abbotts Lagoon where I observed about a dozen Killdeer standing in the field across the street. As usual, Vultures and Hawks took up real estate on the many power poles and fence posts.

Perched Vulture

          Just after entering the Tule Elk Reserve I spotted a couple of Bulls in the distance to the west. I parked the car and crept over a small hill where I could see the herd grazing lazily on the tall grasses. Although the rest of the park was sunny, Tomales Point was thickly cloaked with fog which made taking photos of the Elk rather difficult. I sat quietly for a while observing the herd and studying the dynamic between the Bulls and Cows. I was lucky enough to hear one bugle, the powerful tone emanating outward, cutting through the fog until the sound wave shifted out of my capable range of frequency, leaving me awestruck.

Tule Elk

          Saturated with fog I headed for sunnier skies. I drove back Pierce Point Road and turned up Marshall Beach Rd. which turns to dirt after a short but steep incline. A few hundred yards later I spotted a bobcat sitting on the hillside a good distance away. I pulled over and watched from my car for a while until he got up and started to mosey uphill.

Point Reyes Bobcat

          I stalked slowly up the hill in pursuit, focused intensely on not letting my own movements be tracked by the cat. In fact, I ended up breaking one of the cardinal rules in nature observation which is to never stay focused on one thing without constantly taking in the entire scene; a technique known as splatter vision. I was focused so intently on the bobcat that I didn't notice the Great Horned Owl just several feet away on a Monterey Pine branch until it took off and nearly flicked my brow with its tail feathers as it swooped overhead. I continued stalking the bobcat through a tall section of grasses beneath the pine trees and could tell that it was a frequent use trail of the cat by the way the grasses were bent over and creased. I then came to an open area where I saw the owl flying low over the meadow and then alighting on a tree in the distance. By then the cat must have caught my scent or took warning from the owl, because it was nowhere in sight.
          I crouched amongst the grasses and waited patiently for any action. The Great Horned Owl made another swoop over the meadow in search of prey before landing in a different tree. It did this several times prior to disappearing in the approaching fog bank. Mystified and satisfied, I descended the hillside and checked for ticks. I was greatly surprised that I evaded the little blood suckers completely.
          I then headed out to Drakes Beach stopping to watch a coyote on the bluffs along the way.

Coyote on the Hunt

Following Scents

          At one point it made a kill and then took but a few jerky maneuvers to swallow it entirely.

Choking Down a Rodent

Point Reyes Coyote

          I arrived at Drakes Beach and scouted the trees around the parking lot for any perched hawks or owls as can sometimes be found. I had no luck and as I was pulling out from the lot I noticed another woman scouting the trees just as I had. I wonder if she'd find anything I missed?
          My next destination was North Beach just a few minutes away where the sun was shining and the waves were crashing. I took a walk on the beach and it got warm enough to take my shirt off and enjoy the sunshine. I found a nice cove to relax at and absorb some vitamin D!

Colorful Ice Plant at North Beach

          On my way out of Point Reyes I pulled over to photograph a good looking Red Tailed Hawk perched in a tree.

Red Tailed Hawk

          I left Point Reyes behind me and was just past Olema with my mind already starting to shift back into "urban mindset" mode when I saw another bobcat on the hill not far from the Bolinas Ridge trailhead. I pulled over and started in the vague direction of where the cat was, but from a vantage where I was not visible from due to a small incline in the hillside. I crouched and approached slowly until I could see the cat on the horizon.

Olema Bobcat

          I slowly advanced closer and as it cleared a bush and caught sight of me it gave a look of despair before bolting in the opposite direction. The look on its face was priceless but at the same time I felt horrible for startling it. These cats are wild animals and hunting time is crucial for their health and survival. My interrupting it could have cost it it's last meal of the day.
          On my way back to the car I climbed over the fence at the trail head only to scare away a small Gopher Snake which slithered into the grasses before I could capture an image. As I was scouring the grasses looking for the serpent I came a cross a Praying Mantis hanging on the barbed wire fence. I took a step back and waited for movement to see if I could pick up on the snakes movements and in the meantime a Pocket Gopher started poking its head out of the ground a few feet away. It goes to show there's always a lot going on in nature that doesn't immediately meet the eye.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Gerbode Valley Urban Wilderness 10-7-11

          Taking advantage of the last several days before the time change, I headed out to Rodeo Valley in the Marin Headlands after work for a short walk. I started off by hiking up into Gerbode Valley where I immediately spotted a coyote on the hillside. I observed it patiently for a while as it walked a bit further downhill in my direction before lying down in the grasses for a nap.


Camo Coyote

          During my time watching the coyote I nearly stepped on a tiny Garter Snake at the edge of the fire road. I was also delighted to see a couple of Monarchs fluttering along in the fading sunshine.
          I then walked up the Bobcat trail which climbs the south side of Gerbode Valley. I stopped to inspect some deer tracks in the mud and then followed them off the trail where I lost them in the grasses. I walked as far as the rehabilitating meadows of Gerbode Valley with no further sightings of any mammals. I did come across some broken eggshells at the edge of the path and not but 10 yards away I located a tiny hummingbirds nest. The nest was empty but I doubt that the eggshells were from a hummingbird judging by the amount of crushed eggshell material left behind.
          I paced slowly back down the Bobcat trail where I noticed a Buck standing dead still just a few feet off trail almost completely obscured by tall dried fennel stalks. It stared at me in the eyes for a full minute before I started walking down the trail again. It is then that I looked down and saw the same deer tracks I was inspecting earlier and realized they were the tracks of the buck I had just been standing off with. Had I been more attuned to my environment earlier, I probably would have noticed the Buck far sooner than I had.
          As I came to the junction with the Miwok Trail an extremely low flying Northern Harrier seemed to be using the trail like a mammal with feet. In what seemed like slow motion it soared just above the ground until the trail veered out of sight. It was quite funny actually.
          Amused with my sightings I walked quietly back toward my car when I suddenly locked eyes with a cat lying in the reeds about 4 feet to the left of me. At first I was so shocked I thought it was domestic, but I quickly realized it was a small bobcat. It was the first time I've ever had to take a step backwards just to be able to get the cat in focus.


Waking up from a Cat Nap

Gerbode Valley Bobcat

          Initially it looked me over for a moment and then just lay still for a while. It obviously did not find me threatening in the least. Eventually a bicyclist rode up the trail and within an instant of seeing the biker the cat scrammed into the bushes.
          Now the sun was soon setting and I wanted to go to the beach to catch the show. I was extra pumped from my close encounter with another bobcat so I started to jog toward my car. At that moment I consciously thought to myself that if I run as opposed to walk softly, I might spook some wildlife I might otherwise get to see. Nonetheless I picked up the pace only to spook a Coopers Hawk that was perched in the willows at eye level just off trail. But hey, what can you do?
          It was nearly windless as I set off along Rodeo Beach. A cloudless eve eliminated the possibility of a pastel sky, but the sunset is wonderful to catch regardless of the outcome. In a perfect world I would be able to see the sun rise and set every day of the week, but it’s that little thing called work that tends to get in the way.

Sunset at Rodeo Beach

          The moon was rising above the bluffs which were kissed by the last of the suns light.

Marin Headlands Moonrise

          By my car was a Great White Egret perched in a tree with the bright moon shining behind it.

Great White Egret with Moon

          On my drive out of Rodeo Valley just before the tunnel a Great Horned Owl swooped in front of my windshield and landed on a telephone pole near a residence. The silhouette of the owl contrasting with the fading colors to the west.

Great Horned Owl Silhouette

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Goat Rock Beach - Sonoma Coast - 10-1-11

          Sarah and I were not in the mood for much hiking but still wanted to enjoy some scenery so we decided to take a scenic drive to the Sonoma Coast. We left our home in San Rafael and headed out Sir Francis Drake towards West Marin. We drove through the picturesque town of Nicasio and then past the Nicasio Reservoir on our way to Petaluma. Our reason for stopping in Petaluma was to pick up lunch to-go at Lombardi's BBQ deli. After picking up some scrumptious sandwiches we headed out toward Valley Ford, Two Rock and the coast. Just after the turnoff for Bodega we like to take a scenic bypass on Bay Hill Rd. which leads up a country road into some hills with ranches and beautiful views. Bay Hill Rd. lets out right just north of Bodega Bay on Hwy 1.
          We continued north past the countless beaches along the Sonoma Coast before turning left toward Goat Rock Beach. The terrain around Goat Rock beach seems almost monolithic in nature as there are giant boulders and rock outcroppings in the midst of open bluffs.
          Just off the coast is Arch Rock which tends to draw the attention of most people passing by.

Arch Rock from Goat Rock Rd.

Goat Rock Beach

Sarah and I at Goat Rock Beach

          After taking a stroll on the beach we got back in the car and drove along the Russian River to Monte Rio before looping back on the Bohemian Hwy and heading home.
          The area around Goat Rock Beach offers several hiking trails and I definitely recommend checking them out.