Sunday, May 18, 2014

A Precious Peninsula Jem: Edgewood County Park

Dates: April 2 and 12
Place: Edgewood County Park, Redwood City, California
Coordinates of Sunset trailhead: 37.461815, -122.275538
Length: 2.8 miles
Difficulty: easy

At some point last year I realized that while the majority of my blog's posts are on Bay Area hikes, the Peninsula is shamefully misrepresented here.
Determined to put some peninsula hikes in my blog I went to hike Edgewood County Park. I had a lovely hike, which I didn't post about here because in my hurry to get there I forgot my camera by the door.

Didn't make that mistake this year :-)
Trail view from Sunset Trailhead
Edgewood County Park is one of the best places to see the spring bloom spectacle. It was great even in this drought year.
This spring I had the great pleasure of introducing this wonderful park to quite a few people on several occasions, and that gave me the opportunity to observe the change of colors throughout the bloom season. Some of the photographs posted here were taken by Papa Quail who joined me with the chikas on a couple of these hikes.
I also had the opportunity to explore most of the park's trails. The hike I describe here is a loop combining sections of several trails, going through the main plant communities and animal habitats in this park. It begins at the Sunset entrance, which is a side entrance to the park, with no designated parking (one has to park in the neighborhood, with attention to the posted signs) and no bathrooms.
Map downloaded from park's brochure. The trail I hiked is labeled yellow.
It starts in a chaparral area where I found the California Thrasher atop one of the bushes, singing out loud.
California Thrasher
I took the first right turn onto Serpentine Loop. There are rails along part of the trail and signs warning people from stepping off the trail. This is to protect the wildflowers in this park, some of them are endangered and all of them beautiful.
The rail, though, is the perfect perch for the Western Bluebird. 
Western Bluebird, male. Photo taken by Papa Quail
I passed the turn to Live oak trail and turned left onto Sylvan/Serpentine. This segment starts in the open but soon plunges into the woods.

That hillside is particularly rich in magnificent wildflowers. One of the most conspicuous species there is the intensely blue Coastal Larkspur:
Coastal Larkspur (Delphinium decorum)

 and the bright yellow patches of the very fittingly named California Goldfields.
California Goldfields (Lasthenia californica)
There's a lot of poison oak in this park. While the trails are well maintained and there;s no problems walking them without coming in contact with the poison oak, it is always a good idea to recognize it wherever it grows.

Poison Oak (Toxidendron diversilobum) fresh spring growth
Spiders are very common there too. I love their intricate webs, whether hanged on plants or spread on the ground.

The wood at Edgewood is mostly oak, peppered with laurel and madrone trees. The undergrowth is mainly poison oak and a variety of ferns.

Under many of the trees there are these stick piles. No one is preparing a bone fire :-) these are the nests of wood rats. They can be decades old, maintained by generations of rats.
The partly shaded forest floor is also a home for the Indian Warrior that blooms there during early spring.
Indian Warrior (Pedicularis densiflora)
Another early spring bloomer of the undergrowth is the Western Houndstongue.
Western Houndstongue (Cynoglossum grande)
The trail opens up into a tall poison oak/blackberry boulevard. People may be bothered by poison oak but not the birds. Certainly not this spotted towhee that was jumping between the twigs, not caring about being photographed.
Spotted Towhee
There is a somewhat confusing 4-way trail intersection there. Turning sharply left onto Franciscan will take you up hill to the Ridgeview Trail.
Eastward view from upper Franciscan Trail
The northeast part of the Ridgeview loop is in the woods.
Scrub Jay. Photo taken by Papa Quail
But going back north on the southwest part is in the open, offering a great view of the shrub-covered hillside and the grassland below (and of the ever-noisy I-280).
Silver Bush Lupine (Lupinus albifrons)
In bloom, the lupine bushes on the grass looked like  pretty, puffy purple pillows :-)
Silver Bush Lupine (Lupinus albifrons)
Lomatium plants are common in Edgewood's open areas. They make perfect roost for the iridescent Green Hairstreak butterfly.
Green Hairstreak Butterfly on Bigseed biscuitroot (Lomatium macrocarpum) Photo taken by Papa Quail
And for other butterflies too.
Brown Elfin butterfly on Bigseed Biscuitroot (Lomatium macrocarpum) Photo taken by Papa Quail
The Ridgeview trail connects back to the large Serpentine loop where is turned left and headed back in the direction of the Sunset Entrance. In season, the open grassland there is patched with the intense orange of our State flower: the California Poppy.

And another bright-yellow one can be seen there, sporting smooth and tidy white tips :-)
Smooth Tidytips (Layia chysanthemoides)
The Serpentine trail leads directly to the Sunset entrance. I chose, however, to take a detour through the parallel Clarkia Trail that took me through the chaparral.

Where the Yerba Santa bush was blooming:
California Yerba Santa (Eriodictyon californicum)
A most common animal in the park is the western fence lizard. They warm themselves on the exposed rocks and bare trail ground, wait patiently until I switch on my camera and aim it, and quickly scoot away into the vegetation.
But sometimes I am quicker.
Western Fence Lizard, Photo taken by Papa Quail
Edgewood County Park is small, but Nature-rich. The locals are very passionate about it: I could hear their pride when I talked with fellow hikers there. I could see it in their eyes. It is a well-loved park, and it shows. I love it too. What better reason is there to cross the bridge?

Later into spring I explored the eastern slopes of Edgewood Park. But this would come on a separate post. Now go out there and catch the tail of this gorgeous spring bloom before summer dries it up!

Many thanks to members of the California Wildlife Appreciators page for their help in identifying the brown elfin butterfly!

Monday, May 12, 2014

A Drought Reality Check at Potter Ravine

Place: Lake Oroville SRA, Oroville, California
Coordinates: 39.548435, -121.495301
Difficulty: easy

The expected rain hasn't arrived yet, so after our morning exploration of North Table Mountain Ecological Preserve we decided to go on another hike. Taking the suggestion we got at the Lake Oroville SRA visitor center, we crossed the Oroville Dam, parked at the Spillway entrance and went hiking on the Potter Ravine trail.
Map section scanned from the park's brochure. Our trail is labeled yellow (and no, we did not walk on the water). 
We didn't have a lot of time on our hands so we only went out for less than a mile and then looped right back to the parking lot through the lake ... that is through where the lake would have been hadn't it been the third draught year in a row.
Painfully low water level at Lake Oroville
The trail segment we hiked is very convenient, wide and easy to walk. Both trail sides were spring-themed with beautiful wildflowers, the most common of which was the lupine.
Coloring the grass
Beautiful up close too:
Sky Lupine (Lupinus nanus)
Another common flower there was the non-native three-cornered leek, many of which were busy with pollinators.
Three-cornered Leek (Allium triquetrum), entertaining a beetle
Lupines weren't the only blues out there. Every now and then I spotted a beautiful larkspur erecting from between the green grass blades.
Slim Larkspur (Delphinium depauperatum) 
We kept to the right and crossed this creek, already dry, then curved ti the right again to keep with the lake's shoreline.

Between the rocks along the creek I spotted a group of blooming canyon dudleya. If the draught continues, there might be more of them in the future.
Canyon Dudleya (Dudleya cymosa)
We went on for a while and then the chikas wanted a rest stop. I suggested that we go down to the water. Papa Quail was a bit apprehensive, but after seeing the potential for a short-cut, he agreed. We stepped off the trail and moved towards the lake, which was considerably further down than I suspected.
Sky lupine paining the sad walls of the drying lake Oroville
Lake Oroville is in a sad state of record-low water level. After all the morning's green we got our reality check. Save water, folks!  There's not much left!
Newly formed habitats, such as volcanic devastation areas or the exposed sides of a receding lake are first colonized by pioneer plants. Lupine is such a pioneer.
So is the lotus.
Spanish Lotus (Acmispon americanus)
The lupine and the lotus both belong to the Fabaceae family - the legumes. Nitrogen-fixing bacteria live symbiotically in root nodules of these plants. This gives them competitive advantage over other plant species when colonizing nutrient-poor soils. In turn, they enrich these soils, thus paving the way for other plants to settle.
Wrangel's Lotus, (Acmispon wrangelianus)
If this draught continues (let's hope not), we might see the forest take back its former ground from the time before the dam was built.
Another pioneer: Bolander's Lilanthus (Leptosiphon bolanderi)
After a long, calm rest by the water (time well spent teaching the chikas to skip rocks and to observe mallards), we made our way back to the boat launch area, walking on ground that not that long ago was completely submerged.

The dry lake bed and the creek that we originally crossed higher up: a view point down below. The brown 'bushes' are dead christmas trees that were brought there to provide shelter for nesting birds.

In the two days we spent at the Lake Oroville area we did mostly sampling, which left us hungry for more. There's a lot to see there and I'm already planning a return trip with more time to explore. But at the end of the Potter Ravine hike we were going back to the campground for our last night there. Tomorrow we would be on our way to explore another part of California altogether.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

A Festive Spread at North Table Mountain Ecological Preserve

Date: April 21, 2014
Place: North Table Mountain Ecological Preserve, Oroville, California
Coordinates: 39.59555, -121.54164
Length: about 1.5 miles to Hollow Falls and back.
Difficulty: easy

Our original plan for spring break was to go south and see the bloom spectacle at the Carrizo Plain National Monument, but a sad phone call to the BLM field office in Bakersfield, just a few days before our trip, had informed us that there is no bloom there this spring. "We got less than 2 inches of rain," came the sad voice on the other side. "It didn't even green up."
I remembered that not long before someone had posted on the California Native Plants Society page a photo of a magnificent poppy field, taken at North Table Mountain Ecological Preserve. After a short discussion with Papa Quail we altered our plans and headed northeast to Oroville.
This is South Table Mountain, photographed from Table Mountain Rd. on our way north.
After a nice, quiet night at the Loafer Creek campground we set out to visit North Table Mountain Ecological Preserve.
The place is managed by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. There are no officially marked trails there, just trails trodden by previous hikers. There are no proper trail maps available. The directions to the official parking area (with port-potties at hand) are online, but there's very little information beyond that.
Equipped with outdated USGS topo maps, a few sets of coordinates provided online by a fellow hiker from Davis, CA (Thank you, brthomas!), a few words of guidance from the rangers at the Lake Oroville SRA, and a newly purchased book about the Wildflowers of Table Mountain, we went exploring.

No poppy fields welcomed us. Perhaps they were already done for the season. I was hardly disappointed, though, because gorgeous carpets of blue patched with yellow and white checkered the green tablecloth that covered Table Mountain.

Grazing in a field of lupines
A large oak tree and an inconspicuous sign mark the trailhead. After so many people had trodden there before us, it was pretty obvious where we aught to go.

Table Mountain is so called because of its flat top. There used to be a plateau there, but water had curved and weathered the surrounding area and only the hard-rock covered mesa remains today. The top rock is volcanic: a lava flow that cooled on top of sedimentary rock. Spots of exposed basalt add to the colorful display.

The dark volcanic earth by the large oak was very muddy. At that point I didn't pay much attention to that. After a few steps on the trail, though, we were walking along a little stream that collected the water seeping out of the mud.
Table Mountain Meadowfoam, Limnanthes douglasii ssp. nivea
Right at the water source were flowers. Many flowers. White flowers.
Valley Tassels (Castilleja attenuata)
Yellow flowers.
Seep Monkeyflower (Mimulus guttatus)
And Purple flowers. A colorful spring celebration.
White-tipped Clover (Trifolium variegatum)
 Some were very small, but patches of them added a truly lively color to the green surroundings.
Kellogg's Monkeyflower (Mimulus kelloggii)
I took my time paying attention to each and everyone of them. Every now and then I raised my head and noticed that Papa Quail and the chikas were way ahead of me.

The sign at the trailhead warns hikers to stay a minimum of 300 feet from the cows. A bit challenging to follow when the cows graze right by the trail. Considering that the only time we've experienced any animal aggression on a hike was from a cow, we took the warning seriously and kept a respectful distance. As much as was possible.
I am the cow in the sky (lupine)
It is interesting how many of the plants grow in patches. In some cases, at least, that may be due to specific conditions, like this strip of little yellow composites that grow right at the border of the naked basalt.

These rock piles held some nice surprises for us:
Goosfoot Violet (Viola purpurea ssp. quercetorum)
I was happy to discover that the poppies weren't all done yet.
Frying Pan ( Eschscholzia lobbii)
The little stream flowed lazily between really shallow hills. Then, all of a sudden, it dropped.
First, only a little:

Then it disappeared altogether. We have reached the falls.

The small sign said Beatson-Hollow Falls.
A few other hikers were looking down the cliff. One of the said in a sure voice that this was Beatson Fall. Considering how long it took us to get there (mainly because I stopped every second to photograph one flower or another), we believed it.
Hollow Falls
We found a narrow, steep and slippery trail that led us down to the base of the waterfall. We sat there for a long while, enjoying lunch, the sound of water, and the flowers that decorated patches of the basalt cliff.
I noticed a newt that came to the surface a couple of times. It was very elusive, though. I had to settle for a photograph of the water bugs that rendered themselves to the camera with ease. 

I also checked the flowers that were blooming at the base of the fall.
Rock Phacelia (Phacelia egena)
And Papa Quail, as always, was looking for the birds.
Western Kingbird
After a while a second group of hikers descended down the cliff and we stretched out and got up back to the trail. After a quick discussion we decided to look for the Ravine Falls that were supposed to be northeast of us (had we been at Beatson Falls).
A patch of yellow Carpet
Very pretty on close up, too:
Yellow Carpet (Blennosperma nanum var. nanum)
We returned a little bit on the same path we came with. After spending all that time on individual flowers, I now looking at the bigger picture.  
A patch of Sky Lupine (Lupinus nanus)
Wherever the grass couldn't conquer the bare rock, this tiny yellow-flowering plant did.
A stonecrop patch
It really is beautiful on a close-up look:
Dwarf Stonecrop (Sedella pumila)
We saw a trail departing to the north and took it, hoping it would lead us to the Ravine Falls. We run into a couple of hikers that told us that the trail disappeared in a meadow, not really leading anywhere, but we continued on.
Kellogg's Clarkia (Clarkia arcuata)
I kept looking for more flowers. Some were very conspicuous, sticking out of the green grass.
Ithuriel's Spear (Triteleia laxa)
And some were small and unassuming.
Red Maids (Calandrinia ciliata)
The chikas were helping me. Here's one that they found:
Whitehead Navarretia ((Navarretia leucocephala)
Soon we found ourselves wandering aimlessly at a wide, mountaintop meadow, with no real idea of where we were. The cloud cover became thicker and the wind picked up. After a long search and a nice rest stop at a tiny creek that didn't really go anywhere, we admitted defeat and decided to head back to the car.
Not to say that we stopped looking for flowers, of course.
Purple Owl's Clover (Castilleja exserta ssp. exserta)
Or other wildlife, as a matter of fact.
Common Buckeye

We returned to the car, cold and with mixed feelings. Our main goal, to observe the spring wildflower spectacle, was definitely met, and overwhelmingly so (and I posted here only a sample: there were many more flowers there!). But it was disappointing not to have reached the Ravine Falls, despite having a map and the coordinates.
As it turned out, we never reached even Beatson Falls. The only fall we've been to was Hollow Fall. Having believed that it was Beatson Falls thew us completely off. A hand-held GPS would have help. But more so would be taking the words of other hikers with a grain of salt, no matter how sure they sounded.
Either way, now we have a good reason to visit there again soon. Although we would probably wait for a rainier year to see the waterfalls flow.
A patch of color: Poppy, Lupine (both sky and bicolor) and Clover
We returned to the car and stopped in Oroville for coffee and pastries (at Coffee Diem, very nice place). We weren't ready to go back to the campground and call it the day, so from there we continued to Potter's Ridge, at the north end of the Lake Oroville dam for another lovely hike. .