Sunday, February 10, 2013

Late Winter Roaming

Coyote Ridge Trail
 I thought it was about time I did a new blog post even if for no other reason than to dispel any notion that I had somehow dropped off the planet, or perhaps had achieved true nirvana, which would naturally make things like blogging seem like a total waste of time. I suppose the former seems more likely but the latter makes a better excuse than being lazy. I am after all still earthbound, still out on the trails whenever the opportunity presents itself, and still warding off nature deficit disorder by taking sanctuary in the natural world. Without being able to get away very much I’ve been hiking in mostly very familiar places all winter, so I feel like a bit of a shut-in, even though that’s not really true either. Without being really inspired to blog about any one particular hike I’ve done in the past few months, there are still those subjectively interesting moments of personal encounter with nature that are the essence of the hiking experience. It is those interludes of communion; those touch points with nature; that keep me rambling.

Berry Creek Fall
The falls at Big Basin were epic this year following the ample December rains in 2012. On New Year’s Eve day the falls were at their best that I remember since 2004, and have not really tailed off since. At first the water was hazy and full of silt, but quickly cleared in the following days. The ground in the redwood areas is retaining lots of water. This can be evidenced when you spot a fresh tree-fall where the roots have been torn up. The craters left by the root system are filling up into virtual ponds by seepage. The Santa Cruz Mountain forests have plenty of seasonal beauty in winter if you know what to look for. Brilliant lichens and fungi are adding lots of color and character, and I love the effect of having the morning mist illuminated by the sunbeams, and of course the water course sounds are a great embellishment. Hiking the redwoods is never out of season, least of all now (photoset link).

Hiking in Sanborn a few weeks ago we were treated to a winter feeding party as masses of wild doves were singing with delight while darting around devouring madrone berries. Their songs could be heard from half a mile away as you approach a thick stand of tall madrones bearing their avian fruit. The debris left from the foraging doves was littered all over the trail. I used my Cannon point-n-shoot to get a video even though the lighting was not good enough to see very much. The reason I posted it was to share the sound recording of the bird calls. (The video is posted at the bottom of the post). I could not make an exact ID, but I think they are Mourning Doves (Zenaida macroura). They also have the peculiar behavior of bursting into flight as a flock when one gets a little startled. A large flock can beat the air into a palpable air wave. I remember one time winter hiking in Henry Coe when I inadvertently startled a large flock of doves near Mazanita Point, and the intensity of their sudden mass wing flapping really startled me for a moment. I did not realize it then, but they were also probably there to feed on the winter madrone and manzanita berries.Check out the video at the bottom to hear the bird calls.

Fetid Adder's Tongue (Scoliopus bigelovii)
Last year about this time I remember reading this post from Katie on the Nature ID blog about finding fetid adder’s tongue blooming in late winter. I had wanted to follow up with my own sighting, but I have only seen this unusual wild lily sporadically in deep forested regions over the years. I had tried without success to spot some more to get photos of. Later on in the year I had remembered sighting the distinctive leaves that had long shed their blooms along several trail sections in PescaderoCreek. I went back there this year searching in both Portola and Pescadero Creek, and have spotted lots of them for the last couple of weeks. I have also seen on-line reports of fetid adder’s tongue blooming at Henry Cowell. I had not realized how brief their bloom season is. I have found that the best way to spot them is to look for the distinctive blochy looking blade-like leaves. The flowers are brown colored and camouflage extremely well on the forest floor making them nearly impossible to spot. They are also not easy to photograph in the low light of the winter canopy (photoset link). In any case; now is the time to get out and see them. They will not be around long and the displays change from week to week. The best areas seem to be deep redwood canopy where you see lush understory. Hiking in Pescadero Creek also gave me the opportunity to pay another visit to one of my favorite old growth trees with my good camera along. Simply called “the Big Tree” on the map, it is an amazing example of ancient coast redwood. I wrote about this tree in my post called “Point Lost” dated September 30, 2011 (photoset link).

For one last note, I would like to share the article recently posted in the Monterey County Hearld as forwarded by Sempervirens Club on Facebook. It describes the new plans for some long awaited improvements to Castle Rock State Park. It is really exciting to learn of these plans after not so long ago being worried that Castle Rock was on the infamous closure list. Sempervirens Fund was instrumental in removing the park from closure by their donations. The private land trust has actually been in possession a great deal of property around the greater Castle Rock area that is still closed to the public. A large portion of this land is former water district land that was purchased by Sempervirens for preservation, with the addition of another 33 acres of private land, but these tracts have never been fully realized in terms of public recreation. That situation looks about to change in the years to come if this plan becomes a reality. There is potential for some great new hiking trails to go along with some well thought out public amenities. This is the best news for south bay hikers for some time. Won't it be great in the coming years when Mt Umunhum opens up with new trails, new connections, and new vistas, along with a bunch of new trails at Castle Rock providing access to many new acres of prime mountain habitat to be preserved going into the future generations. I created a new Winter Roaming photoset on Flickr.