Our Penultimate Hike, Deer Island with Michael – 10 December 2012

TWTHTW, Best, Lew
Deer Island on a sunny Monday toward the cusp of Winter, it’s a fine day for a hike and a fine day for shaking off the mulligrubs.

The Marin County Open Space District which manages Deer Island came into being with the passage of a measure in 1972 championed by the Marin Conservation League. The League is a powerful advocate and protector of the parks & open space in Marin County that we enjoy today. “In the mid 1930s four Marin women in lives of comfortable circumstance, who did not have to take on the task of saving Marin’s natural resources, did so. Sepha Evans, Caroline Livermore, Portia Forbes and Helen Van Pelt, environmentalists before the term was coined, shook the powers that be to start a movement that eventually saved many of Marin’s open space treasures – and founded an organization that still carries on their activist tradition” cf. http://www.conservationleague.org/about-us/history.html

Deer Island was acquired by the MCOSD in 1978 and 1983. http://www.marincounty.org/Depts/PK/Divisions/Open-Space/Deer-Island

Deer Island was once an island in the greater Bay around the turn of the 19th century. “The house owned by Antonio DeBorba was surrounded by water and could be reached only by rowboat. When Mr. DeBorba couldn’t get the state or county to build a dike, he did it himself, paying a dredger $100 a day to deepen the creek. Mr. DeBorba spent thousands of dollars for a pump to take water out of the marsh. He also donated the land for the wagon road which later became Highway 37.” Novato Township Land Grant to World War II by May Rodgers Ungemach, p. 113. This continued the process begun after the hydraulic mining of the Gold Rush in the Sierra Nevada poured millions of tons of sediment into the Bay, a lot of it in San Pablo Bay. Michael pointed out that our hike on Treasure Island (7 Nov 2011) was also “courtesy” of this Gold Rush sediment.

The Gold Rush had some echoes in Marin County when in 1863 eight mining claims were recorded in the Novato area in just two days, June 19 and 20, 1863. Peter Smith partnered with the Novato’s first postmaster, Henry Jones, in this mining bubble. Smith was credited as the discoverer of the “Smith ledge” on Deer Island which was claimed by the Smith Gold and Silver Mining Company. Another venturer, Ernest Schweisau discovered a ledge of quartz (as Michael pointed out gold, silver and quartz are often found together) on Deer Island invested in by Adolphus Scown and others in the Schweisau Gold and Silver Mining Company. In addition there were a Novato Gold and Silver Mining Company and a Deer Island Gold and Silver Mining Company. Speculators appeared in Sausalito, Bolinas, on Mt. Tamalpais and in San Rafael in 1863. The Marin County Journal commented, “May not the capital of our obscure and unpretending little county yet become famed among her gorgeously gold and silver bespangled sister counties who flout their wealth and fame to the four corners of the earth.” Another writer observed the next development, “The whole matter, in our opinion, was the scheme of sharpers, which has resulted in a “grand fizzle”. The mineral does exist in our county, there is no question, but not in sufficient quantities to pay for the expense of obtaining it.”
cf. The Novato Historian, April-June 2008, vol. 32, number 2, F 1 & 2)

After these efforts to strike it rich, Deer Island and Black Point became an area of dairy ranches. Deer Island had a large dairy and a cheese factory, the California Creamery Company whose cheeses were shipped to San Francisco. “Manuel Branco and his family had been living and working at the Deer Island Ranch since the California Creamery began the new operation. In 1893, Branco took advantage of an opportunity to go into partnership with Antonio DeBorba as proprietors of the creamery now renamed the Black Point Creamery. Within a short time, they were reported to be “in full operation and turning out a fine grade of butter and cheese.” cf. Novato Township pp. 163-6 Both DeBorba and Branco were immigrants from the Azores bringing with them their experience as dairymen. For all of the initial glitter of earlier gold seekers it was the agriculture and commerce of California that produced the real wealth.

Michael is sharing some succulent information from Mushrooms Demystified by David Arora. He read from the beginning about the fear and trembling of many people to the presence of wild mushrooms called FUNGOPHOBIA. “For there are few things that strike as much fear in your average American as the mere mention of wild mushrooms or “toadstools.” Like snakes, slugs, worms and spiders, they’re regarded as unearthly and unworthy, despicable and inexplicable – the vermin of the vegetable world. And yet, consider this: out of several thousand different kinds of wild mushrooms in North America, only five or six are deadly poisonous!”

http://baynature.org/issue/oct-dec-2012/ Here’s the link to latest issue of BAY NATURE, a terrific magazine with a neat story currently – “Into the Kingdom of Mushrooms”. A great gift for someone or even yourself and additional at no extra cost, a column each issue called “Ask the Naturalist” by Michael Ellis. What a deal!

After the entry, we had the choice of going to the left, right or straight up the hill, Up the hill it was on the DeBorba Trail. You can see the long shadows cast by the sun just after 10 AM as it approaches its lowest altitude above the horizon moving toward the Southern Solstice, the time at which the Sun is at its southernmost point in the sky. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winter_solstice

Michael is talking about the whole shebang (or perhaps the Big Bang) here tracing back the sediment in the Bay to the gold in the Sierra to the course of earth’s geological history – the gold, silver and quartz showing up together sometimes in the cooling magma to the upheavals and the wearings away of the mountains to the really early origins when the earth came to be. Take a breath. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Placer_mining http://baykeeper.org/articles/reducing-mercury-bay

This is a pond that was especially formed for wildlife adjacent to the Novato Sanitary Tertiary Treatment Ponds. There is a bloom of duck weed that is as the name implies food for the ducks, others and shows promise for many uses. https://www.lakelawnandpond.com/DuckweedAbout.aspx

As last, a recognizable avian ambassador, with the distinctive tuft of the Cedar Waxwing almost showing. We saw flocks of Cedar Waxwings both up on the DeBorba Trail and here on the Deer Island Loop Trail. They perched obligingly in the tops of trees on leafless branches so that Michael was able to get them in his scope for all the group to see. http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Cedar_Waxwing/id
Prior to the Waxwings we saw a pair of White Tailed Kites in a mating display with the male lowering his legs and extending his talons at times in flight. They swooped about each other in a series of swirls. A third Kite seemed to join the roundelay perhaps another reason for the flight display. Later on the far side of the island, we were able to see one of them catch his prey and enjoy lunch on a fencepost. It wasn’t our Waxwing. http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/White-tailed_Kite/id Like so many areas of science, this bird has undergone an identity change from White-Tailed Kite to Black-Shouldered Kite and back to White-Tailed Kite. The Black-Shouldered Kite is found in Australia and the African and European expressions are called the Black-winged Kite. http://bird.net.au/bird/index.php?title=Black-shouldered_Kite http://www.arkive.org/black-winged-kite/elanus-caeruleus/

Some excitement as a Sharp-shinned Hawk flies by and perches on a distant branch. Michael explained that he/she specialized in small birds for much of its diet. It follows a flap, flap, flap and then glide pattern. The Sharp-Shinned is named for the thin ridge which runs along the bird’s long legs, or tarsus, giving the appearance of a “sharp shin”. http://www.themodernapprentice.com/sharpshin.htm http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Sharp-shinned_Hawk/lifehistory And a rich site from Pennsylvania:

Rounding the bend where Western fence lizards love to play on the ties in the summertime by this seasonal watercourse.

Lunch in the sunshine at a nice overlook of the wetlands. Red-tailed hawks glide overhead while we eat: http://www.fcps.edu/islandcreekes/ecology/red-tailed_hawk.htm

Some of us wearing festive red.

Charlotte gets a nice close up of an Agaricus mushroom: http://www.mushroomexpert.com/agaricus.html

Thanks for the photo Charlotte! Michael showed us how to detach the stem and invert the cap on a piece of paper & cover overnight – the spore print shows up in the morning and is a part of identification. But be careful not to blow the spores. The linear pattern is quite striking.

This was a wide-open view of the wetland, mudflats and Costco. We were able to see the successful White-tailed Kite on a fence post as we were cheering for a low flying Northern Harrier to be successful in his quest as well. We saw the Harrier a number of times on the walk, its distinctive white rump patch clear as he went by. On one occasion, a group of short necked Canadian geese were surprised by his fly-by and took off in alarm even though they are much too large a prey item for him.
http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Northern_Harrier/id http://www.peregrinefund.org/subsites/explore-raptors-2001/hawks/nharrier.html

Enjoying a solitary Buckeye forming a perfect profile against the sky http://plants.usda.gov/plantguide/pdf/cs_aeca.pdf

Returning to Go having enjoyed Park Place, Boardwalk and all the rest

P.S. A few historic photos from NOVATO TOWNSHIP Land Grant to World War II by May Rodgers Ungemach (Novato Historical Guild, 1989) 3rd Edition 1997

“The Brancos’ only child, Maria, was born in their Deer Island home which still remains on the property.” P.213

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