Date: November 25, 2014
Place: Russian Gulch State Park, Fort Bragg, California
Coordinates: 39.330419, -123.801966
Length: 1.8 miles
Difficulty: easy to moderate
Most of our South Cliffs hike, as captured by Papa Quail's GPS, labeled green. Everyone but Papa Quail continued to the Point's point and made it back only to the first road.
The trail begins at sea level right by the beach and goes immediately up the cliff south of the gulch. Then it meanders along the cliff edge about a mile and a half to the south.
We didn't have to go very far to find mushrooms. They were everywhere. A fungi splendor worthy of NorCal coastal area.
But even the simpler-looking mushrooms look great at peak season. I liked the creamy look of this one below and the contrast with the dark earth and pine needles:
|Gemmed Amanita (Amanita gemmata)|
Looking at these fabulous caps it is easy to forget that these are merely the fungi's fruiting bodies. The fungus itself exists away from view, underground or inside wood, decomposing dead tissue and other organic matter, releasing the precious nutrients locked inside dead wood and and returning them to the ground to be taken up and reused by living plants.
Soon after, our eyes where back on the ground, looking for more mushrooms. I was amazed at the variety of the mushrooms we saw and even more so by the great variance in appearance between individual mushrooms of the same species. The stage of development adds a great deal to this variability.
Of course, not all fungi look like mushrooms. They have, nonetheless, the same function: to produce and release spores.
Here's a close up on one of the branches. A fungus, already feasting on the dead wood, is blooming under the limb in white blotches. On top of the limb is a green carpet made of the light-requiring moss. Anchored in the moss in vivid green, like surrogate leaves, were sprigs of fern.
I was standing too far below but I am positive that a closer look would have revealed some invertebrate life in that living balcony supported by the tree which died standing up.
We saw variations of this kind of community all over the place. It is the mark of a wet forest.
Through the thick carpet of pine needles poked a large mushroom that was already past its peak. It was the first of numerous of its kind that I've seen and my heart skipped a bit - the boletus is one of my favorite wild mushrooms to eat!
|Bay Bolete (Boletus badius)|
Meanwhile, Papa Quail had captured his first bird on camera: a gracefully gliding Pacific brown pelican.
|Pacific Brown Pelican|
Either way, we were now walking on the edge of the cliff and the view was absolutely stunning. The Pacific was indeed peaceful that day, but also very playful. An ever-changing pattern of white lace danced on the surface as the mild waves lapped at the rocks, probing every hole within reach.
The receding California coastline leaves behind numerous rocks ind islets that protrude through the water, some all the times and some pop into view only at low tide. These rocks are a safe haven for a myriad of ocean life, from the invertebrates clinging to the rock face to the seals and birds that find these rocks the best resting and toasting place that can be.
The conifer woods continued to provide semi-shade and many beautiful sights. Like this varied thrush that Papa Quail photographed before turning back to bring the car.
And lichen, blooming everywhere, like tiny trumpets blown by the moist humus:
I didn't expect to see any flowers either. The latter half of November isn't the time for wildflowers. Nevertheless, I did see some late bloomers.
|Seaside Fleabane (Erigeron glaucus)|
|Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja affinis)|
|Common Cowparsnip (Heacleum maximum)|
I admit that I too wouldn't have minded staying there a bit longer. But there were other places we wanted to see that day and Papa Quail may have already be back at the parking lot. With some effort and some help from Grandma Quail I managed to herd the chikas back on the trail.
|A view south on Mendocino coastline.|
It was much dryer in that pine grove, but there were still quite a few impressive mushrooms to appreciate.
Papa Quail hasn't yet arrived when we got back to the small parking lot where he was to meet us so we waited there, sitting on a fallen log next to a thicket of blackberry and listened to the bird chirping all around us.
And I found a spider right behind me, busy hunting:
|Spider gotta eat, too.|
Pygmy Forest there.