Monday, March 31, 2014

Tide-Pooling at Montaña De Oro State Park

Date: 8/31/2013
Place: Montaña de Oro State Park, Los Osos, California
Length: about 2 miles
Coordinates: 35.272858-120.888755
Difficulty: easy

We had just returned from a busy road trip to Southern California and Grandma Quail was due to go home a day after Labor Day. It was the first Labor Day weekend in a long while that we didn't have any travel plans for.
So we traveled without making any plans :-)

Going to Morro Bay on Labor Day weekend without a plan means getting the last available hotel room for the most outrageous rate. Camp sites were not available at all. We nevertheless, we went there and had a wonderful time.

On this visit to Morro Bay, we dedicated a full day to hike in Montaña de Oro State Park, just south of Morro Bay. We arrived there by late morning, and had some time for the low tide so we hung around the visit center and appreciated the wind-swept cypresses,  

and their dwellers.
Turkey Vulture stretching out
The visitor center overlooks a nice sandy beach. It looked very inviting but be were interested in tide-pooling so we headed along the road to the trailhead of Bluff Trail, about 50 yards away from the visitor center.
Montaña de Oro beach
The entire Bluff Trail leads to the south end of the park's coast. We didn't hike all of it. Just wanted to do the tide pools and loop back.
Bluff Trail - the loop we did labeled yellow. Map segment scanned from MdO SP brochure.

The trail meanders along the cliff line and through a thick coastal scrub. The bushes were coated with spider webs off which hung their webbed lairs, decorated with plant debris and hulled insects.

The coastline of California is considered one of the most beautiful in the world. I admit I didn't see too many world coastlines to be able to compare but even so, I agree all heartedly with that statement.
Montaña de Oro coastline
The Bluff Trail provides ample viewpoints on this gorgeous coast, with all of its coves and inlets.

Every now and then I had the opportunity to step down below the cliff and get closer to the water for a different point of view.

The sound of waves lapping at the shore is one of my favorite sounds of Nature. I truly regretted not having camped there on this trip. Perhaps next time.

On top of the cliffs, decorating the gray scrub, some yellow late summer bloom.
Seaside Wooly Sunflower (Eriophyllum staechadifolium)
Eventually we got to the area of the tide pools. Before going down I looked longingly at Morro Rock, way across the bay.
Morro Rock
The tidal zone is a complex and very interesting habitat. A narrow strip of shore that is overrun by the ocean and then gets exposed again in a regular cycle according the cycle of the moon.
When the sun adds its gravity pull to the moon's there is a King Tide and the flooded area is maximal.
Pacific Brown Pelicans in formation over the ocean, across from the tide pools
Life at the tidal zone has evolved to withstand this circadian rhythm of flooding and exposure. Different creatures inhabit different layers of the tidal zone, perfectly adapted to a certain level of flooding  which is now optimal for them. When the tide is lowest, more gets exposed.
Algae in the air
 I've been to the ocean many times, but I honestly can't recall ever seeing so many algae species before.
How many algae can you see?
Some marine animals simply shut themselves off until the water returns.
Mussels shut themselves against dryness
For others, low tide is the perfect time to go exploring.
Hermit Crab 
When the ocean recedes there are pools left behind in the rock depressions. These tide pools host a rich plethora of marine wildlife.
A tide pool
Whoever is left behind is trapped in those pools until the tide comes back in.
Tide-pooling, or observing the wildlife in the tide pools is one of the best activities I can think of for nature-loving children.
The skeleton of a sea urchin
Tide pooling isn't just children. Me, Papa Quail and Grandma Quail too were having a great time wandering about the pools and looking for marine treasures.
Aggregating Anemone
I always love watching the stars. Even the underwater ones.
Starfish (Pisaster ochraceus)
So beautiful.
Starfish Starfish (Pisaster ochraceus)
Occasionally I lifted my head from the pools and looked about me. The ocean, as always, carries its own beauty to the shore.
In the more protected area floated this western gull. As we sat down for lunch it approached us and became very insistent about being fed.
Western Gull
Feeding wild animals can be tempting, but it is a bad idea. They become dependent on human food, which isn't necessarily good for them and often not even good for us). They lose their natural fear of humans and can get hurt by or even hurt people in their quest for more food. This gull might have been fed by people before. We didn't give it any.
Cormorants on a rock near the tide pools area
Soon, we ourselves became subjects of interest for some very annoying flies that lurked on the sand and took every chance they had to roost on our bodies.
Luckily, they didn't bite. But they did make us finish our lunch in a hurry. Not yet ready to leave the tide pools we left our packs on the beach and continued exploring.
Rock Crab peeking from its hiding place
Rock crabs were all over the place. I find these shy creatures fascinating. I cannot understand how their genus name ever became synonymous for one of the most horrific illnesses there are.
I'm a cancer too. Whatever that means.
Just above the strandline, the rock is dry and bare. Layer upon layer of perfectly sedimented rock, like leaves of a billion years old book.
Time doesn't stand still and the tide reversed itself. By the time we started thinking about going on with our hike most of the pools were already reclaimed by the ocean.

We went back to the Bluff Trail and continued our loop, in view of the hills.

Papa Quail, as always, was after the birds. There were plenty of them in the scrub, but none too yielding. Still, he got some.
California Towhee
We didn't continue the entire length of the Bluff Trail. After about 1/2 a mile from the tide pool we looped back towards the trailhead.
Loggerhead Shrike
I was satisfied with photographing flowers,
California poppy entertaining a visitor
but when opportunity presented itself, I was happy to take advantage of it.
By the time we made it back to the visitor center the sun had vaporized all of the morning clouds. We took a short break and headed uphill on our land hike on the hills of Montaña De Oro State Park.

Man thanks to members of the California Wildlife Appreciators for their help in identifying the animals!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

El Condor Pasa: The Pinnacles, East

Date: August 24, 2013
Place: Pinnacles National Park (east), Hollister, California
Coordinates: 36.4785, -121.1839
Length: 1.4 miles
Difficulty: Moderate

Papa Quail was disappointed for not having seen the condors on our visit of The Pinnacles west side on our way to the Channel Islands NP, so he was easily convinced to visit the east side of the park on our way back from Los Angeles.
We drove up I-5 and exited at Coalinga: a small town west of the freeway. The land northwest of Coalinga is all farmland. We were alone on the road and were counting the minutes until we get to the park. When we were approximately 30 minutes from our destination, I noticed vultures circling the sky and stopped at the roadside. Papa Quail got out of the car with his big zoom lens and after a minute motioned us to get out as well.
For a good long while we sat there, craning our neck and staring at the birds through binoculars. there were a bunch of turkey vultures there, a couple of red-tailed hawks too, and among all of them - two California Condors. Bingo!
California Condor, adult
Mission accomplished. But no one suggested that we go home, so we went on into the park and hiked a nice loop trail there.

A bit less staggering but no less pretty, the pinnacle rocks of the east side. After checking in at the ranger stating we continued up the road and parked at the very last lot which is usually full but apparently not in August.

The first part of the trail is, in fact, shaded. Between all the oaks and pines out stood the bright-red madrone, its bark curling away in the heat.
Pacific Madrone (Arbutus menziesii)
After a bit of a climb (mostly shaded, thankfully), we entered a curved tunnel. Unlike the west side caves, the tunnel is leveled and convenient to walk through. There's no need for lights there either.

August, yes, but there was water trickling down the tunnel, alongside the trail.

And in that water - a surprise!

Got to look closely, though. The elder chika found it, and had to point it out to us grown-ups before we could see it too.
Red-legged Frog (Rana draytorii)
Emerging from the tunnel, we were facing a narrow staircase carved in the rock and leading up to the main trail. In past visits, we had to wait for descending hikers before going up ourselves. This time, there were hardly any people there (it WAS August, after all) and we had a clear way up to a little dammed lake: the Bear Gulch Reservoir.
Bear Gulch Reservoir
We managed to fined a shady spot by the water, out of the blazing sun.

The chikas didn't stay put for too long. The elder one quickly found the cousin of the tunnel frog:

And Papa Quail soon got active too - taking a series of photos of this lovely canyon wren who was busy dragonfly hunting very close to us:
Canyon Wren
And our common acquaintance, the scrub jay: 
Scrub Jay, foraging
Eventually I too got up and looked for good things to photographed. I didn't have to look for long. Everything there is as pretty as a magazine picture. Particularly the pines.
Cone-laden Gray Pine (Pinus Sabiniata) 
Standing alone or in small groups, these pines grow in some really impossible places, their roots buried in the volcanic rock with hardly any top soil to nourish of. 

Gray Pine (Pinus Sabiniata) 
All around there too, there are those pretty rock formations with the funny names.
I would have named it The Backpacker. 
Tougher than their  surrounding, these last to erode rocks give this park its unique personality and evidently, its name.
This one I would name The Mama and Her Quadruplets ...
Looking closer about me I noticed s srub, still blooming. 
Vinegarweed (Trichostema lanceolatum)
Not much else was in bloom. Intense color, though, was everywhere. 
Our solitude was broken when two backpacks, a father and son, came up the trail. We chatted briefly and then they went on their way up the Chalone Peak. We too, got up and started looping our way back on the Rim Trail. I think I'll get my family backpacking this summer. I feel the chikas are up to it now.
Gray Pine (Pinus Sabiniata) 
The vegetation along the Rim Trail is mostly chaparral. Dense enough to deter any off-trail excursions. The post-blossom of the chamise, a common chaparral shrub, added to the reddish hues that are so prevalent there, this time of year.
Chamise (Adenostroma fasciculatum)
And in between the bushes the bright red flashes of the manzanita bark, a relative of the madrone tree.
Done peeling. Mexican Manzanita (Arctostaphylos pungens)
It is so pretty, I couldn't have enough of it.
Definitely not a shy tree. Pacific Madrone (Arbutus menziesii)
As we descended, the vegetation got thicker and thicker, until we found ourselves once more in the blessed shade.
We arrived back at the parking lot, thus finishing the last hike of our 2013 SoCal tour with Grandma Quail.
Lesser Goldfinch, male
We drove out very slowly, not eager to part from this beautiful park after such a short visit. There were quite a few animals hanging about the ranger station, giving us a good excuse to stop for a while longer.
Condor's little brothers: Turkey Vultures having siesta
It was really hot there. You don't have to believe me. Just look at the deer.