Thursday, June 19, 2014

California Farthest Country: Modoc National Wildlife Refuge

South Warner Mountains, a view from Dorris Reservoir

Date: April 23, 2014
Place: Modoc National Wildlife Refuge, Alturas, California
Coordinates: 41.461836, -120.508371
Length:About 1 mile
Difficulty: easy

Spring break gave us a long enough vacation time to explore a bit of  Modoc County. Specifically - the Alturas and the South Warner Wilderness area, at the northeastern end of California. After a great bloom time by Oroville be headed north,stopping once for a lovely hike at Burney Falls (of which I'll post later this summer), ending that day in Alturas. At that point we learned that a weather system that wasn't predicted at the time we left home was also making its way to Alturas. But we still had a couple of nice days ahead of the weather and we made the best of them. I think.
The first place we wanted to see was the Modoc National Wildlife Area, just south of Alturas. We missed a turn and went south on 395 a few miles and while we stopped to figure out where we were we spotted a pronghorn roaming the fields west of the road.
So we drove back to Alturas, found the road leading east towards the Warner Mountains and once again missed the turn to the main NWR area ... and so we found ourselves by Dorris Reservoir, which we did plan to check out afterwords.
A primrose field at Dorris Reservoir
The water level was really low. The Modoc to has suffered the state-wide drought. The area yielded by the water was overtaken with a gorgeous field of tansy evening primrose flowers.
Tansy Leaf Evening Primrose (Taraxia tanacetifolia)
We didn't hike by the Dorris Reservoir, just wandered along the shore a bit and drove the little dirt road there.
A few other ephemerals splashed some lively color on the otherwise drab lakeside.
 Tufted Phlox (Phlox caespitosa)
Papa Quail did the driving. I made him stop for this one :-)
Common Starlily (Leucocrinum montanum)
But then, he had a good reasons to stop also.
Western Kingbird
There were a few birds floating lazily on the water but they were few and far. The birds in the scrub were considerably more cooperative.
Tree Swallow
Eventually we found our way to the main area of Modoc NWR.  We did the car tour and stopped for a little hike (trailhead coordinates at the top of the post) by the ponds.
The water was low and most of the vegetation still brown and drab. Sandhill cranes were everywhere, in small groups or couples.

Sandhill Cranes
They really are amazing birds. With a life span that matches human and their courting and marriage practices, they really are very much like us. Not to mention their very cool dancing moves :-)
Sandhill Crane
The Modoc is about the southmost point where these cranes stay year-round and even breed. A ranger we met along the trail had pointed us to where a crane's nest was, built on dry tule in the pond.
A nesting Sandhill Crane
The larger pond was populated with ducks and grebes. We hiked slowly along the shore, pointing out the different species, enjoying the temporary sunshine and looking warily at the approaching clouds.
Modoc NWR, a view west
Suddenly, Papa Quail exclaimed with excitement: he spotted a horned grebe. A common bird in the Bay Area, but it was the first time we got to see it in full breeding colors. Fancy!
Horned Grebe, breeding adult
Shortly after, we were treated again: this time with an eared grebe, wearing matrimonial. Isn't spring great?
Eared Grebe, breeding adult
By the time we finished our hike we had made up our minds to go up to Warner Mountains wilderness and do a little hike there, and, if weather was still agreeable, to camp there overnight. After lunch and after consulting a birding brochure we picked up at the BLM office in Alturas, augmented by a nice discussion with the diner's owners, we decided to go instead hike and camp by Cedar Pass, a choice that was well worth it.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Lily Times at Edgewood County Park

Dates: May 2,3,16,and 17, 2014
Place: Edgewood County Park, 6 Old Stage Coach Road, Redwood City, California
Length: 2.7 miles
Difficulty: moderate

The main entrance to Edgewood County Park has a proper parking lot, bathrooms, picnic area and a nice education center that's open on the weekends. Some of the nicest trails begin there too, and all of them start with a good workout ascend.
The hiked the Sylvan-Serpentine-Edgewood trail loop (in yellow) several times this spring, altering once for the Franciscan trail connection (in purple).
Map section scanned from park's brochure. My trail is labeled yellow (and purple) 
I started my hikes at the Sylvan Trail that begins just below the picnic area and immediately plunges into the shady Live Oak forest. While poison Oak is prevalent throughout the park it is particularly abundant in the forested areas. The forest bloom is of a patchy nature. Here and there.
Sticky Cinquefoil (Drymocallis glandulosa)
The Hound's Tongue and the Indian Warrior that were blooming there in April had already gone to seeds by May. The wild roses replaced them.
Wild California Rose (Rosa californica)
All too briefly, though. I saw them early in May and by mid-May they too, were done.
Plenty of other flowers have taken there place, though. No lack of color in May!
Woodland Star (Lithophragma heterophyllum)
Every weekend during spring the docents of Edgewood Park lead free wildflower tours. On one of my hikes I came near two of them who pointed out a fern to me. This particular fern can grow in drier conditions than most of its relatives. Its leaves are coated with waxy cuticle that helps it conserve its water.
Coffee Cliffbrake (Pallaea andromedifolia)
Half way up Sylvan Trail the path emerges from the wood shade into the open sun and the forest is replaced by chaparral. There the Clematis silvery-white fruits shine brightly in the blazing sun.
Chaparral Clematis (Clematis lasiantha)
At one of the switch-back corners I saw another chaparral member in bloom:
Yerba Santa (Eriodictyon californicum)

Higher yet, just before the trail leaves the woodland completely, I saw the magnificent bloom of the yellow mariposa lily.
Yellow Mariposa Lily (Calochortus luteus)
These lilies are at the very top of my favorite flowers list. Wherever I see them they make me happy.
Of the same genus, the white globe lily, which was at peak bloom in April and on my May hikes I saw only a few late bloomers.
White Globe Lily (Calochortus albus)
There were many other lilies blooming in Edgewood Park. While not as impressive as the Calochortus, the Ithuriel's Spear makes up for it in great numbers and a long bloom season.
Ithuriel's Spear (Triteleria laxa)
Same goes for the Blue Dicks:
Blue Dicks (Dichelostemma capitatum)

Not so much for the Dwarf Brodiaea. I saw them earlier in May and on my later hikes they were done.
Dwarf Brodiaea (Brodiaea terrestris) 
I was making my way slowly Up Sylvan. It was spring blues all over.
Bluewitch (Solanum umbelliferum)
The blues continued along Serpentine Trail too:
Blue-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium bellum)
I smelled the fragrance of the  Coyote Mint earlier in April, but now it was finally blooming:
Coyote Mint (Monardella villosa)
The open grassland atop the hill is very beautiful, all dressed in spring flowers. But it was in the darkness of the forest floor, right by the Serpentine trail side, that I found this royal surprise: a Spotted Coralroot orchid!
Spotted Coralroot (Coralorhiza maculata)

It was there too, that I surprised this lovely couple at whatever they were doing ... courting? fighting? I didn't see how it started, only how it ended. They split and went into separate ways when they saw me, even though I tried very hard to be quiet and inconspicuous.
Western fence lizards in action. 
Emerging from the forest, Serpentine Trail goes in between high bushes of poison oak and blackberry.
On the trail
This trail segment I hiked also in April and at that time the blackberries had just begun their bloom. In May I was treated to the sight of bright-red berries.
California Blackberry (Rubus ursinus)
Nothing to eat, though. If any of the berries had ripened it was already picked before I came by.
I searched a little and then walked on.
There is a somewhat confusing 4-way trail intersection there. On one of my May hikes I turned onto Franciscan Trail (purple on the map) that tok me through open grassland patched with multitudes of brilliant little stars.
A patch of Small-flowred Leptosiphon (Leptosiphon parviflorus)
There I also met the familiar, yet always enjoyable, fruiting head of the Blow-wives (who gives these names anyway?)
Blow Wives (Achgyrachaena mollis)
By that trail there is a conspicuous rock formation with a beautiful view to the east. To bad the visibility was so poor. I could barely make the outline of Mission Peak across the bay.
Bay view from the Franciscan Trail (purple trail on the map)
Much more visible was the blooming California Buckeye tree below, like a festive chandelier:
California Buckeye (Aesculus californica)
Bearing a similar name, a butterfly that landed on the trail:
Common Buckeye
That beautiful segment of Franciscan Trail eventually connects with Edgewood Trail. On the rest of my May Edgewood hikes, however, I continued straight onto Serpentine Trail that goes on northward and remains out in the open grassland.

And it was there, in the open, that I saw other pretty flowers that weren't blooming yet in April. Some of them invasive, but pretty nonetheless:
Pale Flax (Linum bienne) 
One of the most common flowers there, and really anywhere in the Bay Area, is the small, pink, and incredibly prevalent Stork's Bill. There are four species of Stork's Bill in Edgewood, all of them exotic. I hardly ever bother giving them a second look.
The fruit that gave Stork's Bill its name
Things are slightly different when I hike with children. They find the dry Stork's Bill seeds immensely entertaining. Once detached from the mother plant the dry seed begins to curl. It is fun to stick the sharp seed point in the shirt and watch it go around and around as it curls around itself until it looks like a tight little screw. The happens because of perpendicular layers of cells that shrink in opposing directions.
Western Stork's Bill (Erodium cicutarium)
When it absorbs water those cells expand again and the seed straightens, and doing so, it drills itself into the rain-softened ground. Pretty nifty mechanism :-) No wonder this plant is so successful. To bad it comes on the expense of native California species.

Another immigrant plant, small and delicate, that caught my eye:
Garden Burnet (Poterium sanguisorba) non-native
Here's another exotic beauty I saw alongside Serpentine Trail:
Mediterranean Lineseed (Bellardia trixago) non-native, invasive
The native California beauties stand their ground marvelously, dotting the green grass with purple:
Denseflower Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja densiflora) 
Sun Cup (Taraxia ovata)
and blue:
Broadleaf Lupine (Lupinus latifolius)
But the best surprise there came in white: the Clay Mariposa Lily. Not as prevalent as the yellow one, just a flower here and there. I was very excited to see them.
Clay Mariposa Lily (Calochortus argillosus)
Serpentine Trail meets Edgewood trail higher up. I turned right (eastward) on Edgewood. For a few yards the trail continues through open grassland, and that's where I saw this white Lupine that I couldn't identify:
Lupinus sp. (an albino broadleaf?)
Although sticky monkey flower is pretty common throughout the park I was impressed by the bright orange flames of monkey flower shrubs that stood out against all that greenery around.
Sticky Monkeyflower (Mimulus aurantiacus)
before long the Edgewood Trail plunges back into the oak forest and remains under the trees all the way back to the Education Center. Along that trail I finally took the time to photograph the pretty common and very beautiful Rough Hedgenettle:
Rough Hedgenettle (Stachys rigida) 
And also another common one, the small and unassuming Chilean Trefoil:
Chilean Trefoil (Acmispon wrangelianus)
You can imagine how long it took me to get through the trail, stopping at nearly every flower along the way. They were well worth it, though.
Broadleaf Woodland Star (Trientalis latifolia) 
And not just flowers caught my eye: also the evidence for bird's spring activity, dropped at my feet :-)
American Robin egg shell
I like to mull and sniff mugwort plants as I walk by them. This one made me stop and take a closer look. It was bearing an interesting-looking bug.
Carpocoris purpureipennis
It was there, on my way down on Edgewood Trail, that I saw two lily species that I haven't seen before. The delicate Mexicali Onion:
Mexicali Onion (Allium peninsulare)
and the brilliant Golden Brodiaea. So many lilies in such a small park!
Golden Brodiaea (Triteleia ixioides)
The loop isn't long, only about 2.8 miles, and it isn't difficult. Yet, it took me about three hours to hike it. With so many spring flowers to enjoy, why rush it?

Many thanks to the park's educators who put the flower photos on display, thus making it easy for me to match the photo with the plant name!
Also thanks to members of the California Wildlife Appreciators group for their help in identifying the bug on the mugwort :-)