Saturday, March 31, 2012

Better Photos Than Mine

I made an excuse for low-quality photos in my last post,  but, I lead a charmed life.  My friend Spencer Dykstra, who accompanied me on that hike, just sent me these photos that he took with his trusty Canon.  He brought his good camera, a tripod, and a lot of skill, so it's my pleasure to share his work with you.  Top photo is the Milkmaids, a member of the mustard family, formerly called Cruciferae, but now known as Brassicaceae.  Not only did he provide a better quality photo, but he chose a more photogenic cluster from among the big patch of Milkmaids we came across.  And, he got a sharper photo of the California Toad than we could get with an iPod Touch.  I've found adults of this toad in camp during the summer that were at least four inches long.  Then the long, skinny centipede I've featured on this blog before.  Not the same individual, but the same type:-)  This one exceeded four inches in length, but was reluctant to stretch out for a pose.  Fun to watch how they explore for food with their antennae.  We saw some very tiny, soft-bodied insects under the same piece of bark that were likely potential prey for the centipede.  A mere 24 hours later, all is now under snow.  I hope it melts quickly as yesterday's hike really whetted my appetite for exploring the Oakland Camp area.  Thanks for the photos, Spencer.

March Went Out Like a Lion

Today in Quincy March is going "out like a lion."  Today's snow storm is reminding me of many things.  First, that song from Carousel, "June is Busting Out All Over," was my 8th-grade graduation song  It was exciting to graduate from 8th grade because a.) we were about to enter high school and b.) a brand new high school was under construction and would be ready when we entered 9th grade, and c.) in concert with getting a brand new school, we also got new school colors and mascot.  I remember that whole process being a source of great consternation among different factions in the community.  Social Darwinism might have been operating, but I don't remember.  Every now and then I imagine writing a natural history of my home town, but I'd probably be prone to error and exaggeration.  I think I'll pass. Another thing this storm reminds me of is what a lucky day we had yesterday.  A couple of naturalist friends drove u p from the valley and we went on a natural history hike during a great break in the weather, a partly sunny day before the storm.  I didn't bring my camera, so I got a couple of blurry photos with an iPod Touch.  I hate to post bad photos, but these are essential to y story.
On our short hike near Oakland Camp, we saw the first flowers to bloom in that area, a few Filaree and a few large patches of Milkmaids.  Milkmaids are of the same genus as Toothwort, Cardamine, so one has to remember the types of leaves for quick field identification.  The top photo here is of Toothwort, Cardamine pachystigma, taken last spring near Keddie Cascades.  The second photo is of Milkmaids, Cardamine californica, taken yesterday by Oakland Camp.  A bit blurry, similar flowers, but a significantly different type of leaves.  The most delightful surprise on yesterday's hike was the young California Toad, Bufo boreas.  I found it under a piece of shale in our path.  We took a few blurry pictures then placed him back under his protective rock.  I can imagine him out there now peering out at snow about 10 times as deep as his height.  I hope he makes it through the spring.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Penultimate Report from Table Mountain, 3/23/12

Here are nine odds 'n ends from last Friday's trip to Table Mountain.  It's raining in Quincy as I type, and I'm expecting my attention to shift back to my home town when it lets up.  But, I have a few more items of interest to share from Table Mountain.  As I've said before, this "mountain" is an amazing place to visit whether or not there is a record display of blooming wildflowers.  To travelers who enjoy getting "off the beaten path" this place is interesting year 'round.
So, from the top, here's what I saw: First, in the canyon below Phantom Falls, about a quarter mile to the West, there's a great little meadow with a patch of Manroot, a member of the gourd family.  Next is a piece of basal containing a plant fossil. [Correction: A fellow naturalist friend noticed that this is not a fossil, but a dendrite, a kind of crystal formation.] Third, one of my favorite members of the Saxifrage family, Woodland Starflower.  Fourth is Volcanic Onion.  There were quite a few of these blooming wherever we walked.  It's one of those items that I can't seem to photograph often enough.  I keep thinking I'm going to get my best shot ever.  Next, a white member of the Forget-Me-Not family, Boraginaceae, locally known as Popcorn Flower.  Similar species in other places are often known as Stickseed.  Then we have a Puffball, an intriguing fungus, that my friends say is edible.  I didn't try it. (That was my disclaimer.)  Next, a cairn built by one of my hiking companions.  I've been fascinated by these ever since I first discovered them above the tree line in New Hampshire's White Mountains.  There they were for navigation during dense fog or snowstorms.  The harsh weather, especially on Mt. Washington, can reduce visibility to near zero.  In places, the large cairns are only 10 to 12 feet apart, yet sometimes one cannot see from one to the next.  My brother and I used to have one of us stay by a cairn while the other searched for the next one, staying in voice contact all the while.  Even with that precaution, we sometimes got rather frightened.  The howling wind could make voice contact impossible beyond 10 feet or so.  Next to last photo - a Buttercup, Ranunculaceae.  And last, a Buckeye Seed.  These always remind me of the Horse Chestnuts I used to gather at the road sides on my way to school.  They'd fall out of my pockets in class, and I'd be made to throw them away.  I'd just collect more on the way home.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Further Thoughts on Slime; Table Mountain, 3/23/12

Here's the California Slender Salamander, Batrachoceps attenuatus, that I mentioned on yesterday's post.  I found it under a small piece of basalt nestled in a bed of Star Moss.  In a matter of weeks, as the soil on Table Mountain dries up, this fellow will have done his breeding and will head down the deep cracks where he will spend the summer 20 feet or more below the surface.  The second photo is of a branch of wild grape covered with slime mold.  I approached from the backside and grabbed the branch without seeing the slime.  A discomforting feeling, for a few seconds, but I quickly washed it off in the creek and was no worse for the wear.  Dried my hands and got a couple of photos.  It was actually kind of pretty with streaks of different colors like the stalactites in Carlsbad Caverns.  I wonder if the colors represent different species.  I also wondered if many hikers carry hand sanitizer.  I don't believe in the stuff; just curious.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Good Slime and Bad Slime, Table Mountain 3/23/12

The "pink slime" recently approved for school lunches is giving slime a bad name.  These two slime-covered beauties from our recent Table Mountain excursion are very well adapted to a place that is hot and dry for much of the year.  The top photo is of a banana slug and the bottom one is a newt.  Both were found in a shady canyon below one of Table Mountain's major waterfalls.  Nearby I also found a Slender Salamander under a rock in damp soil.  These are known on the surface for a very brief time in spring then crawl down cracks in the basalt where they might spend most of the year 20 feet or more below the surface. 

Sunday, March 25, 2012

More about Table Mountain: 3/23/12

I'll continue with my Table Mountain saga in the morning after a good night's sleep.  Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy this image from the canyon below Phantom Falls.  I'll return to the colorful flowers and save the bugs for later.
Monday afternoon: I'm back with additional photos of the colorful Table Mountain flora and some notes about names.  Starting at the top, we have the Foothill Poppy, Eschscholzia caespitosa.   When hiking around in the Nature Preserve on Table Mountain, it's apparent that there are two kinds of poppies, this one and the smaller-blossomed Frying Pan Poppy.  Along the paved road and in many people's yards there is also the California Poppy, E. californica. It seems inevitable that there will be or has been some mixing.  In fact, we believe we saw some California Poppies in the Preserve.
The second photo is White-tipped Clover, Trifolium variegatum. It's easy to confuse these true clovers with Owl Clover, which is not a clover but a variety of Paintbrush. 
The third photo is Delphinium nudicaule, known locally on Table Mountain as Canyon Delphinium but over most of the Sierra is better known as Red Larkspur. 
Next, we have Table Mountain Meadow Foam, Limnanthes douglasii, known elsewhere as Douglas's Meadow Foam. 
Next is the Mountain Jewel Flower, Streptanthus tortuosus.  These off-white blossoms are easy to miss when one is surrounded by brighter-colored flowers of many kinds.  They are quite beautiful, however, and deserving of a closer-up look. 
Next is Kellogg's Monkey Flower, Mimulus kelloggii.  This flower is so bright that it usually confuses both digital sensors and film.  I did my best, but you can still see a bit of what we digital photographers call "noise."
Next, Phantom Falls again.  A friend and I have been discussing what is the optimum shutter speed for photographing waterfalls.  It's an interesting dilemma because is we're trying to preserve the best memory of what we saw, it can't really be done with a still photograph.  So, we're stuck with deciding just what degree of blurriness best suggests the amount of motion we remember seeing.  Opinions will vary.  Then again, if we're trying for a particular aesthetic response, the jury is out.  Some prefer the extremely blurry effect, that is, slow shutter speed.  Others prefer a very fast shutter speed that can freeze the waterfall down to the individual drops. 
Next, we have the tremendous Valley Oak, Quercus lobata, that tells you you're in the right place to enter the Preserve, namely, the public parking lot, usually equipped with portable potties, and surrounded by lots of wildflowers within a short walk.
Last, a photo of one of the butterflies in a group known as Blues feeding on a Phacelia bush. I'm guessing this one is Rock Phacelia, P. egena, as that is the most common species on the mountain.


If I hadn't hiked all over Table Mountain last Friday, I could have walked through the woods this morning and dismissed these greens as so much "spring mix."  However, I recognized most of these as the early leaves of wildflowers that would soon be bursting forth with red, yellow, blue, and white blossoms and it's hard to wait for that to happen.  I've titled this post "Potential" because I know what's ahead.  I include the Roly Poly in that category because it had the potential to open in my hand.  But it didn't.  I waited at least two minutes then ran out of patience and returned it to its hiding place under a rock.  It opened immediately when I put it down.  The morning was made a little more exciting as I walked along the base of the cliffs at the side of Highway 89 just north of the Greenville Y.  It was a bit cold and dreary and i couldn't help but imagine a mountain lion above me redy to pounce if I struck a vulnerable pose.  I found myself talking really loud to nobody and walking quickly back to the car while swinging my arms.  Must have had a premonition because later in the day my wife and I came across the mountain lion prints pictured in my previous post.

Oh, the Distractions!

I've managed to post two parts of my story about last Friday's hike on Table Mountain.  There will be at least five parts as I organize my photos and memories into chapters.  This morning, sensing a little sun before the next storm, I decided I needed to explore a couple of my Quincy area hot spots.  I briefly visited the beginning of the Keddie Cascades Trail and the rocky areas just north of the bridge at the Greenville Y.  After being immersed in colorful wildflowers on Friday, it was hard to adjust to the greens and browns and lack of blooming flowers.  I found myself trying to will them into blooming.  Tentatively thought of a title uniting the photos I took this morning: "Table Mountain as a Gateway Drug."  Thought better of it and decided on "Potential."  When I complete that post later today, I think you'll find both titles make some sense.
Before I could get started on sifting through the photos and writing my text, my wife coaxed me into taking another drive in search of things to draw.  We went up to Williams Loop, 11 miles east of Quincy.  Still pretty brown around that area except for the very colorful graffiti in the underpass.  Also saw some dippers frolicking in Greenhorn Creek.  We planned to hike around for a longer while, but were stopped in our tracks, so to speak, by the footprints shown in the two photos above.  We've read a lot recently about human encounters with mountain lions in our county, and decided we didn't want to be written about.  So, I took a couple of photos while imagining something large sneaking up on me from behind, then headed home.  Now I'm going to get back to writing about "potential."

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Some Table Mountain Geology: TM, 3/23/12

This is the second of what looks like will be around 6 reports on our hike on Table Mountain yesterday.  This time I'm focusing on the geology.  Our "many waterfalls" hike did not disappoint.  The rock formations here are so amazing that I think they'll be intriguing even after the water stops flowing and the wildflowers dry out in summer.  I've consulted several maps and several people familiar with the area, and I still can't get the names fo the waterfalls straight.  According to the map in front of me at the moment, the top three photos here are of Ravine Falls, and it's described as 76 feet tall.  The next three are called Phantom Falls on one map and Coal Canyon Falls on another.  At 164 feet tall, and shooting over a huge cave, they are truly impressive.  We had to scramble down a narrow crack full of buckeye and vines to get to the bottom of the falls.  The bottom two photos were taken near the base of the falls. Some of these chunks of basalt are more than 10 feet long, but from the top of the falls they look very small, more or less like coal.  I wonder....  Besides the impressive rock walls, there's a great variety of colorful lichens.  I'll feature some closeups of them in my next post.  I think the peak of wildflower blooming is still two or three weeks away.  You should schedule a visit.

First, a Bit of Color; TM, 3/23/12

Table Mountain is in some ways like an island.  Its relative separation from adjacent environments might not be as obvious as in the case of oceanic islands or islands in lakes, but is still sufficient that one finds a unique flora and fauna and usually at least a few endemic species.  Table Mountain brings to mind images of incredible wildflower displays during spring.  I took an all day hike on the mountain yesterday with some friends, and I'm posting here some photos of the more colorful wildflowers.  What made a very strong impression on me, however, is that this would have been an incredible experience even if no flowers had been blooming.  As one of my hiking companions said, Table Mountain is a year-round experience, fascinating in every season.  I have yet to put that to a thorough test, but I intend to.  When it's very hot in July and August, and the thin soil on the plateau has turned to cement, and the slender salamanders are hiding out in little pockets of moisture 20 feet below the surface, I am going to visit the mountain again.  I'll bring lots of water and bananas and a wide-brimmed hat and sunscreen, and hike around the dried-up plants and see what I can see.  In my next several posts, I'll share a few more images of blooming flowers but also some of animals and rocks.  In fact, the geology of this mountain is one of its most fascinating aspects.  I'm a relative beginner at geology, but visits to Table Mountain always make me want to take up the study of geology more seriously.  Yesterday we were guided by a map prepared by the Chico Hiking Association titled "Many Waterfalls Cross Country Loop."  Very good title.  The waterfalls were amazing.  We burned a lot of calories in seeking out and viewing several major waterfalls from vantage points above them but also scrambled down steep notches in the cliffs to visit pools and caves at their bottoms.  Stay tuned for more pictures of this incredible place.