Thursday, December 27, 2018

Round the Ring of Flowers: A Spring Hike of the Bailey Cove Loop

Date: May 14 and June 16, 2018
Place: Bailey Cove
Coordinates: 40.799609, -122.315810
Length: 3.1 miles
Level: Easy+

When I visited the Lake Shasta Caverns with my family last April I got a glimpse of Bailey Cove from across the lake. I didn't know at the time that I'll be back there for twice later that spring to hike around the cove. And that this loop hike will be one of the highlights of my spring hiking this year.
It started with a cancellation of a family group camping trip I had planned for April in the Mendocino Coast area because of a surprise storm that caused severe flooding there. It was too late to find an alternative place for that time but I did find an alternative campsite for June on the southeastern shore of Lake Shasta. I needed to do some preparation for the planned June trip and so when my friend came to visit me in May and we went on a week long California discovery road trip I included a day in the area of Lake Shasta in our itinerary. Trusting me to take her where there was nice spring bloom, my friend followed my plan without questioning.
After peering long at the maps I chose the Bailey Cove, which appeared to be an easy loop trail. After a restful night in the town of Lake Shasta my friend and I arrived at the trailhead, located at the Bailey Cove Recreation Area and started the loop clockwise.
Bailey Cove Trailhead
Just beyond the trailhead sign was a magnificent ceanothus bush in full bloom. As we hovered over it to inhale its intoxicating fragrance I realized that this hike is going to be a very slow one.
Ceanothus lemonii
And indeed it was. I promised my friend flowers, and flowers there were. Many. Many many.
Stipulate Lotus, Hosackia stipularis
In the beginning we stopped every step or two. Every plant was new, and every flower a new wonder.
Campanulate Campion, Silene campanulata
But when we first spotted the irises we had the cause for our first celebration, one f numerous we had on that hike.
We gave much attention to the first cluster of irises we saw. As we found out, these elegant flowers were quite common along that trail. With unquenched enthusiasm we kept admiring and photographing man of them during the hike. It always seems that each individual was prettier than the previous we've seen, or that a better photo could be taken in better angle and better illumination.
I think I got about 50 photos just of irises on that hike.
Slender Iris, Iris tenuissima
The first part of our hike was along the north facing slope of the cove, which was fully forested with a mixture of conifers and wide-leaved trees. The narrow trail undulated mildly up and down, and was mostly clear of vegetation which was a good thing, because much of the side vegetation was poison oak.

Soft sunlight sifted through the canopy and illuminate the forest floor to look like a shimmering patchwork. Forest lighting makes it difficult to photograph but it's does wonders to illuminate the soul.
Broad-leaved shrubs and herbs covered the forest floor, and nearly all of them were blooming. As we walked along I saw a familiar one just up ahead and called my friend to see - a beautiful crimson columbine.
Crimson Columbine, Aquilegia formosa
The columbine, one of the earlier bloomers, shared the red flower spot with the wavy leaf Indian paintbrush.
Wavyleaf Indian Paintbrush, Catilleja applegatei
The columbine and the indian paintbrush excited my friend a lot, as did a single cardinal catchfly that we spotted far away in the depth of the forest. The most exciting red flower of this hike, however, was et to come. Meanwhile, we kept our slow stroll, stopping for smaller and paler , more modest flowers.
Small-flowered Nemophila, Nemophila Paviflora

Small and delicate, the little white stars without which the forest isn't complete. 
Pacific Starfower, Trientalis latifolia

In some areas of the forest nearly all the ground cover was poison oak. My friend, who arrived from overseas, knew this plant but had not yet developed the instinctive avoidance motions that characterize the California hiker. Every now and then a pretty flower poked through the mat of poison oak and we had to take care to photograph it without touching the shiny lobed, innocent looking leaves that surrounded it.  
Twincrest Onion, Allium bisceptrum
Yellow asters are not very high on the list of flowers that my friend looks for but this modest arnica did attract her, and therefore my attention. It is a very elegant looking 
Rayless Arnica, Arnica discoidea
There were so many pretty flowers there that it was easy to overlook other pretty sights near the trail. But it worked well that we were hiking so slowly, because I could give more attention to other sights along the way.

The The best surprise for my friend was waiting just around the curve. I was hoping we'd see it and when I did my heart skipped a bit and I called my friend over with much excitement - a firecracker! 
It was near Crystal Falls, at Whiskeytown, not very far from Lake Shasta, where I've seen the firecracker for the first time, and there was a single flower there. I've seen them later on other hikes in the Shasta area but never in so many numbers as were blooming last spring along the Bailey Cove trail. My friend, needless to say, was very impressed indeed by this red beauty.
Dichlostemma ida-maia,  Firecracker flower
Just as I thought there would be no topping off the firecracker discovery I spotted the little hairy mariposa lilies. These I didn't expect to see at all because I've seen them blooming a month earlier along the Klamath and by the road to Lake Shasta Caverns and I was sure their bloom season would have been over. Yet here they were - blooming happily between the much more conspicuous irises and firecrackers.
My friend, who one of her trip aims was to see as many mariposa lilies as possible, was beside herself with excitement. This hike was to be the most bountiful of our trip together, wildflower-wise.
Hairy Mariposa Lily
More than an hour had passed since we begun our hike, yet we were less than a third of the way in. Slowed down by the exuberant bloom and not having any particular deadline to meet, we took it easy and walked slowly along the trail. The day was turning from warm to hot and we were thankful for the shady forest but as we slowly made our way around the peninsula we were also turning to face the east, getting more and more sunlight and heat as we progressed.

Seeing so many special and magnificent flowers had put us in a euphoric state of mind. Still, we did not neglect the smaller, less conspicuous bloom. Though I must admit that we spent much less time looking at them. 
Violet Draperia, Draperia systyla
Lake Shasta is a home to four floating communities. As we curved our way around the peninsula we could see the one of them through the trees. It looked very tranquil and I wondered how nice it would be to live in such a place for some time. When I hiked this trail again one month later this community seemed to have doubled in size - the summer tenants had moved in.
Holiday Harbor
While wildflowers were both plentiful and diverse, animals remained mostly out of our sight. Mammals we didn't see at all, and the birds chirped at us hidden well within the trees. We did see insects, however. The colorful butterflies were a happy sight.
California Sister
I noticed also the empty molts of cicadas clinging to the trees. I didn't hear the adults around us, they must have been busy somewhere else.  
Cicade molt 
Walking on the east-facing slope  we came upon more openings in the trees and more view points on the lake itself. 

Across the lake we could see a tall rocky peak. A large scree slope, bare of vegetation was visible like an ugly scar. At the top of the rock slide was a shiny dot. I raised my binoculars and immediately identified the place. 

It was the bus stop at the entrance to the Lake Shasta Caverns, where I was with my family a month earlier.
Entrance to Lake Shasta Caverns
I pointed it out to my friend but since we had not planned to visit the cave on our trip we didn't linger over it and moved on with our hike.
We ere walking faster now, moving southward. That part of the trail was considerably more exposed, and the plants were different - less forest and more chaparral. The were different wildflowers there too.
Acmispon grandiflorus
Other than insects and birds we also seen some lizards, too quick for me to photograph.  But our most exciting reptile encounter was a rattlesnake that crossed our path and vanished quickly into the bushes below. After that I kept a much closer watch on the trail and the side vegetation, but we didn't see any other snakes ratters or other, for the rest of the hike. 
We did see more butterflies. 
Pipevine Swallowtail on Many-flowered Brodiaea,  Dichelostemma multiflorum
At that time we were walking along the south-facing and the most exposed part of the trail. Still, the trail would curve inward at times and we enjoyed some respite from the heat in more shaded forest areas.

The sunlight, now coming straight from above, played magic in my eyes as it filtered through the broad-leaf canopies.  The photos don't do it any justice.
50 shades of green 
Around the curve - a pretty bush poppy in bloom. I snapped a few photos, and then to my chagrin, the camera battery was exhausted.
Dendromecon rigida
With a third of the hike still to come, my camera was reduced to a useless dead-weight. I thought of using my phone but then my friend offered to share her photos with me. I happily accepted her offer. In the end, I only use one of Anenet's photos- that of the pretty bicolor lupine we've seen as we left the trail for a brief exploration of the lake's waterfront.
Lupinus bicolor
The reason was that one month later I was back on that very same trail with my family camping group and then I had my camera fully charged and ready. What I didn't have on my second hike there was available attention to give to anything other than my group.
One of the things I intended to photograph was a species of St John's wort that grew densely along the south-facing trail segment. When my friend and I were there in May we saw only the immature floral buds. Many of them. Toward the end of our hike we did see one plant that was blooming, but I was hoping to see the big bloom upon my return there in June.
Well, I did see these pretty flowers blooming. It was, however, a non-native species. 
Klamathweed, Hypericum perforatum

I saw many butterflies on my second hike too but didn't bother to photograph them. The children in my group, however, found a caterpillar and insisted that I photograph it.

Shortly after my camera died on my May hike my friend and I took a brief break in the shaded nook of a small creek. I went about exploring a little and found a log with some interesting structures growing from it. I knew it was fungi but didn't know which. I dragged the log over to where my friend was sitting and she was excited to see these - the bird's nest fungus, without the 'eggs'  - they had already dispersed the spores.
A month later the log was still there where I had left it so I showed it also to my group.
Bird's Nest fungus
The sunlit south-facing trail segment cut through high chaparral of mostly manzanita and low oaks. On the May hike my friend and I were already sweating a good deal there. The June hike was even hotter. It was the best place to go down to the lakeshore, to the water.

There are several places along the south-facing trail with access to the shore. The problem was that the water had already receded considerably and near the water there was not a speck of shade. Even closer to the train shade was sparse and not very cool either. Still, we needed a break and so down we went to cool off in the water a little bit.

It was somewhat difficult to tear ourselves from the water and get on with the hiking but we needed to make it back to the campground, and so I gathered my group and we went on to complete the loop.

We didn't stop again, but I did stoop briefly whenever I saw something pretty like the whitehead fruits of the clematis that I've seen blooming there a month earlier.
Pipestem, Clematis lasiantha
With the change in seasons there were flowers blooming there that my friend and I did not see on our May hike, it was too early then.
Coyote Mint, Monardella villosa 
But all and all there was much less bloom in June, and nearly everything I've seen blooming un May was already done and in fruit by our June hike.
Western Thistle, Cirsium occidentale

Near the road to Bailey Cove was a pole with a large osprey nest on top of it. When I was there with my friend in May the nest was empty. When I was back there in June the osprey was standing on its nest. I saw it there on my drive out of the cove's parking lot and stopped to say hello, and goodbye until next time.

Many thanks to my friend Anenet for identifying the wildflowers! Do visit again soon!

Saturday, December 15, 2018

The Hunters' Mercy: Merced National Wildlife Refuge

November 2015, A cloud of Snow Geese

Date: November 24, 2018
Place: Merced National Wildlife Refuge, Merced, California
Address: 7430 W. Sandy Marsh Rd. Merced
Length: all three foot trail loops are under a mile and very easy. The car tour route is about 3 miles long, and is a one way loop.

Once Upon A Time the California Central Valley was a rich wetland teeming with wildlife and a home to countless birds that would darken the sky when taking to the air. It was the winter home of many migrant species that flew over from the North. It was as also the home and hunting grounds of the local Native California people.
Modern settlement changed all that. Seen as useless swamps, the wetlands were eliminated. The rivers flowing down from the mountains were dammed, the let through water was trained into s system of canals, and the rich peat soil drained and made arable. The Native people were removed or killed, and the animals hunted, some extinction. Within a few decades of modern human activity all the  richness and splendor of the California Central Valley was gone forever.
Ironically, the first wildlife refuge areas in the Valley were preserved by the hunters clubs. Now there is more awareness of the need for preservation and the National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) system, as well as the State's preserves are maintaining a life line for wildlife in the Valley and a place for migratory birds to be in winter.
Long-billed Curlew, 2016

Ever since we discovered the NWR system when chance led us to Colusa NWR we never miss an opportunity to explore these nature gems. One of our best finds is the Merced Unit of the San Luis NWR, near the city of Merced. I've been planning to write a post about this refuge ever since our first visit there but only now came around to do it, so this post has now photos from four separate visits.

So far we visited the Merced NWR four times, all during the week of Thanksgiving, late in the month of November. Depending on the start of the rains that year, the place was either brown or green with new growth.
The Merced NWR does not have its own visitor center. There's a parking lot at the refuge's entrance, and an observation deck looking out over a flooded pond of shallow water and wetland vegetation. Naturally, this observation deck is the first place we go to when visiting the refuge.
View from the observation deck at the refuge's entrance. 2015

The most common bird year round in the refuge (and seems everywhere in California) is the American coot. It is so common that Pappa Quail doesn't really bother to photograph them anymore. Still, even now and then he makes an exception.
American Coot, 2015
A bit less noticeable is the common gallinula (formerly moor hen), a relative of the coot. Gallinulas can often be seen where coots are but take a more careful observation to see.
Common Gallinula, 2016

Yet harder to see are the little sore, about half the size of a coot and much less likely to swim out in the open. This shy bird prefers to hide among the tule and cattails. With enough patience, we do see them from that observation deck of the Merced refuge. 
Sora, 2018

Another shy bird that we see in this spot more frequently than anywhere else is the Wilson's snipe. It's unique stripe pattern camouflages it very well in the wetland vegetation. The elder chika, however, has the sight of a hawk and she always finds them.
Wilson's Snipe, 2018

After spending a good amount of time looking down from the observation deck we usually go hiking on one or both the little loop trails that begin across the parking lot from the observation deck.
The weeds were brown or green depending on the rainfall up to the time of our visit, but the trees were all turning leaf or completely bare by them.
The short hikes at the refuge provide an excellent opportunity to stretch the limbs after a long drive, and also to see wildlife. Rabbits are a common sight there.
Cottontail, 2016

The meadowlark Trail is an easy loop along a row of poplars and a flat field, and bordering another field that is flooded seasonally.
Meadowlark Trail, 2016

The trail is of gravel, which makes a perfect background for the killdeer. We spot them by movement and by their calls. When perfectly still they are pretty much invisible.
Killdeer, 2015

In the flooded field we saw mostly the common water fowl: coots, mallards, and an occasional ibis. Pappa Quail hardly bothers to photograph them anymore.
I take in the scenery and sometimes find a plant that is blooming, even so late in fall.

The Kestrel loop trail also starts (and ends) at the entrance parking lot. It is shorter than the Meadowlark Trail, and also flat and easy.
Kestrel Trail, 2016

The trail goes by a small creek which was completely dry on each of our visits. The tall bushes and dry fennel were teeming with little bush birds such as sparrows and warblers. 
Yellow-rumped Warbler, 2016

Fly catchers were overseeing the parking lot area, perched on thin bare branches.
White-crowned Sparrow (left) and Black Phoebe (right). 2018

Another type pf fly catcher, the Say's phoebe, perched on a pole at a respectful distance from its cousin, the Black phoebe.
Say's Phoebe, 2018

After thoroughly exploring the parking lot area with the observation deck and the little loop trails we go on the auto tour. It is a 3-mile one way loop around the flooded areas. Most of the waterfowl and other avian attractions are seen along the auto tour.
White-faced Ibis, 2016
The water isn't the only place to look for for water-loving birds, of course. As we drove slowly along the gravel road we were looking for birds in flight as well.
Belted Kingfisher, 2014

The flooded ponds are emptier in mid-day when many of the birds go to feed in the surrounding fields. The mirror-calm water make a very pretty sight. 

The water in these flooded fields is very shallow. Enough for short-legged shore birds to wade and forage. 
Dowitcher, 2015

But even the larger fowl are attracted to the water. I don't know if these ponds are stocked but apparently there are enough fish there to feed many. 
American White Pelican, 2015
Side road split off the main path, but all of them are off limits to the general public. Keeping watch on one of these signs - a northern mockingbird. Simple to look at but a marvelous singer. 
Northern Mockingbird, 2016
On our first visit there we noticed a siege of sandhill cranes. They were to far. Later on we got to see them more closely, though not in this unit of the refuge. 
As the car turns around the dirt road the Sierra Nevada range comes into view. On 2016 snow was already apparent on the high peaks. 
Sierra Nevada, 2016
Geese are very common in this refuge, and many wintering species fill the ponds. 
White-fronted Geese, 2016
Of the wintering goose species, the most striking in appearance are the snow geese.  Especially when in large gaggles. 

On our second visit at the refuge as we were driving toward the second observation deck, the elder chika gave a sudden cry that made us stop and look in the direction she was pointing at. There we saw a Virgina rail wading just outside the cattail line.  Rails aren't easy to see, and we're always excited whenever they grace us with appearance. The elder chika is particularly fascinated with rails ever since she'd seen her first on at the Humboldt Bay NWR two years before.  Every since then we took for the rai each time we drive past that spot. 
Virginia Rail, 2015

When arriving at the refuge late in the day we get to see the birds prepare to roost for the night. 
Great Egret, 2016

Whether solitary or in groups, the roosting birds are always fascinating to see. 
The saying goes that birds of a feather stick together but in the image below there are actually four different species of birds: starlings, Brewer's blackbirds, red-winged blackbirds, and try-colored blackbirds. This can be seen only after enlarging and manipulating the image's levels, and the result, while recognizable, isn't very pretty.  

Alone on its tree - a red-shouldered hawk looking at us curiously. Its work was done for the day. 
Red-shouldered Hawk, 2018

The most common raptor there is the red-tailed hawk, but I never get tired of seeing and admiring these magnificent birds. 
Red-tailed Hawk, 2015

Our visits to the refuge are focused on birds but every now and then I take a moment to appreciate other nice views in the park. This photo was taken in mid-day when most birds were away, foraging. 


And flying from one field to another - a small flock of Ross' geese, white as the snow geese but smaller and with smaller beaks. 

Ross's Goose, 2016

The geese favorite hangout place is in the shallow pond near the end of the auto tour. There they cover the water like a white, noisy carpet. 


Every now and then they take to the air all together. Perhaps scared by an eagle or because of another reason, either way it is a magnificent sight! 
Around the corner there is a parking lot and another observation deck. There we stop to take another close look at the birds in the pond. 

There is also the Cottonwood trail, another small and easy loop trail. We hiked it twice, not seeing anything particularly special, but still happy to stretch our limbs after the slow drive along the auto path. 

Cottonwood Trail, 2018

Then again, interesting thinks can be seen even on a short side trail. 

A small hunter we saw on that trail on our first visit there - the loggerhead shrike that likes to impale its victims on thorns and barbs. 
Loggerhead Shrike, 2014

We didn't plan to go hiking there on our last visit. Pappa Quail and the elder chika went to the observation deck and I remained near the car to stay close to the younger chika who was too tired to get out. I leaned against the car and watched a few people come out of the hiking trail. Two of them pointed at a faraway tree and said that there was an owl there. I called Pappa Quail and within less than a minute he and the elder chika zoomed past me and hurried down the path to look at the owl. 
The owl looked at them too :-) 
Great-horned Owl, 2018

As the light of day waned the parking lot filled with cars and people carrying binoculars, telescopes, and huge lens cameras, flocked at the observation deck. The sky filled with the loud cackling of cranes - it was the fly-in time.
Cranes feed in the harvested corn fields but they come to the flooded fields of the refuge to roost for the night where, standing in the water they are protected from land predators. We first saw this fly-in at the Sandhill Crane Festival in Lodi, and went back there several times to see it. This was the first time we've seen it in the Merced NWR.
Flock after flock they arrived, calling each other in loud voices. The darkening sky was full of movement and the air was vibrating with the crane calls. I took leave of my younger chika and went up to the observation deck, and I watched this magnificent sight of hundreds of cranes coming down for their night sleep.
Crane Fly-in, 2018

When darkness set in I returned to the car. Pappa Quail and the elder chika returned as well, happy with their owl sighting. Seeing everyone else filing down the observation deck we hurried to drive out before getting stuck in the birders' convoy. It was time now to fine a place for dinner and to head back home.