Monday, May 24, 2010

Hike on the Hazelnut Trail

We had a little difficulty finding San Pedro Valley County Park, which contains the Hazelnut Trail, but only because we got off on the wrong exit in Pacifica and had a tour of the homes on Reina del Mar before making our way to Linda Mar and San Pedro. The Hazelnut Trail zigzags up the side of Montara Mountain through thickets of ceanothus, manzanita, California huckleberry, and other more exotic shrubs, and under old coast live oaks, bay trees and, of course, California hazelnut. Occasionally you can peer over the brush at the ocean or the other side of the valley, but much of the hike is through an overgrown green tunnel (and watch out for the poison oak.) My husband picked the hike, since it was about the right distance for a hike under two hours, and also because it has a ridiculous diversity of plant life. This partial list he found online by a botanist at Stanford of 68 plant species seen on this trail helped me narrow down some of the unfamiliar plants I took photos of on the hike. And there are many more that I just didn't have time to snap since we were trying to finish within 2 hours. We saw many lovely Douglas iris, sticky monkey flower, paintbrush, ferns and manroot (also known as wild cucumber).
Here are some of the plants that were new to me:
Pitcher Sage (Lepechinia calycina)
Berries of False Solomon's Seal (Smilacine racemosa var amplexicaulis) turning from green to red. Love those stripes!
Fringe cups (Tellima grandiflora), named because those little bells are fringed like eyelashes.
Pacific starflower (Trientalis latifolia), which grow in a starry carpet in shady bowers.
Yerba santa (Eriodictyon californicum), a shrubby plant up to 4 or 5 feet tall that seems to be well-loved by hummingbirds. We noticed the sooty older leaves covered by a fungus that apparently does not harm the plant.
Along with the plant list, I relied heavily on the Native Plants of Montara Mountain website, that is organized by flower and berry color, as well as by common and Latin names. Now I want to go do the hike again and find all the plants I missed, like the rare golden chinquapin and fetid adder's tongue. Speaking of adders, we saw three garter snakes (harmless).

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Mockingbird Tale

This is papa mockingbird, our very visible neighbor. He has been chasing other mockingbirds (all except his timid partner), starlings, blue jays and robins away from our ivy wall and backyard for months. We believe he regards our house and garden as his, but he tolerates us when we come out to tend our garden or feed the compost. He likes to find the highest perch around--the top of our satellite dish, the fencepost on our back wall, the top of the telephone pole in front--and cycle through his vast repertoire of songs. But his behavior changed about a month ago, when he began valiantly protecting his nest in our neighbor Henry's magnolia tree. He started hanging around the tree all the time, or within about 20 feet of it, swooping from the roof, to the back wall, to the neighbor's fence, and issuing sharp chirps, either as a warning not to get too close or a warning to his partner that potential danger was near. This tree is right up against our fence, so we were intimately aware of the mockingbird's comings and goings while building the nest, but the foliage is thick enough that we have never seen it and have not wanted to poke around too closely for fear of disturbing it. About a week ago we realized that we were hearing faint peeps from the nest, and papa's stern chirps grew more frequent. A couple of times we saw him chasing off other mockingbirds and once a crow. This was a vulnerable time for the baby bird. Then yesterday, papa's chirping and swooping raised to a fever pitch, and I heard plaintive peeps throughout the day. Even I was getting a little tired of his protective fussing and helicopter parenting. How long could this go on? But today, he's gone. There are no harsh chirps nor little peeps coming from the tree. This afternoon I went over and peered up into the tree and saw the nest, but there no signs of life. We think maybe one of those predator birds got the baby bird. Why else would they all disappear overnight? It's sad. I guess if we were so aware of the nest, others were, too.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Ready to Celebrate With...Papayas?

We've been buying a lot of these Marabol papayas. The ones we've been getting are from Mexico. They look like this on the outside:
They are a different variety than the Hawaiian ones, that look like this:
The difference is, the Marabol ones are less flavorful and sweet, but much cheaper, maybe $3 each. I used to only buy the Hawaiian ones because of that--when the Hawaiian ones (the variety is Solo) are best they are bright red-pink inside and incredibly sweet and juicy and floral--but they can be $5 each and are much smaller. My husband started buying the Marabols because he liked them, but I tend to want to put them in things rather than eat them straight.
Like papaya salsa:
Or how about a smoothie?
In Latin America they make papaya smoothies with lots of milk and sugar. We add strawberries, bananas, orange juice, yogurt, or whatever else is in the fridge.
And so, what's to celebrate, beside springtime?
I took my last final today, in syntax! This was a class that took up lots and lots of notepaper drawing trees (not oaks, but sentences). Here's an example from my studying for the final, for which I used 28 notebok pages:
The final was hard, and there were no other assignments. One final, one grade. Here is a sample sentence: "It is certain to be demolished." Here's another one: "Whom will he be persuaded to visit?" Analyze those, will you?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Still Spring on Mt. Tam

We went for another great hike last weekend, to Bolinas Ridge, where it's still green and flowery. While San Francisco was smothered in a blanket of fog, from the ridge we looked down on the cottony blanket. We could even see the tip of Sutro Tower poking up from the fog (not quite visible in this photo). There were lots of California poppies and blue lupine and clover (maybe owl's clover, I'm not sure which one), none of which I took a photo of because I take them for granted.
I did take a photo of two flowers I couldn't identify. I've been looking in my field guides and online at Calflora, but still have not found these. The first one was growing right alongside the trail on the sunny exposed slopes:
The other one was in a shady bower below some oak trees, near where a creek runs down the hill, although it was dry now.
Any ideas?

Note: I found out that the top flower is Bellardia trixago, a native wildflower from the Mediterranean that has naturalized here, thanks to a reply from a kind staff person from the Marin Chapter of the California Native Plant Society. They have a great website with a log of citings of different species in specific places.