Footloose at Five Brooks with Michael – 17 March 2014

The Stellar’s Jays were calling insistently as we headed out on the Stewart Trail, “Pay attention, listen.” In that we were amply rewarded as we continued now climbing to hear the piercing cries of the osprey, the drumming of a pileated woodpecker, and the gentler calls of winter wrens. These were magical moments listening to the calls of these birds reminding how much there is to hear as well as to see. You’ll recall that Bernie Krause has made a career of recording the sounds and music of nature around the world. He’s written about his quest “of one of our most overlooked natural resources – the music of the wild” in his book, THE GREAT ANIMAL ORCHESTRA.

A far sign speaks of looking out for fawns, only fawning from a distance.

Michael found some dark water at the bottom of this stock tank that has provided planaria in the past but this time they went missing. He worked with planaria for some of his own 8th grade science experiments and recounted his amazement at seeing one cut in half regenerate itself into two complete creatures. With many variations on this theme, they continued to replicate themselves even from the tiniest bits. They provide a fascinating avenue for stem cell research.

The first feature on our hike was a millpond that the Sweet Lumber Company built and used from 1956 until Point Reyes National Seashore was established in 1962. Michael shared that we’d driven by a number of natural sag ponds on our way to Five Brooks trailhead which were the result of earth movements and probably the 1906 earthquake . We were right on the edge of the slip-sliding San Andreas Fault where the Pacific Plate jerked north against the North American Plate.

Jules Evans talks about these ponds in his BAY NATURE walk description: “The San Andreas Fault is not perfectly straight nor is it a single fault line . . . it is made up of blocks of rocks that move up and down relative to each other depending on how the fault shifts on either side of the blocks. The fault’s trace in the Olema Trough is evident in a series of sag ponds, small depressions in the terrain that form between two fault strands that have moved apart causing the land between them to sink or sag. Water collects in the lowest parts of the depression that forms between the two blocks to create the ponds.” (Page 3, “Walking the Rift Zone Trail at Pt. Reyes” Feb. 22, 2012) Ducks, not fussy, enjoy water both in the natural and manmade

Evans writes poetically, “Today, American wigeons are the common ones here whistling quietly as they siphon duckweed from the water’s surface; a few gadwall are mixed in with several very smartly dressed ring-necked ducks, and a pair of wood ducks scuttle beneath some overhanging willows.”

Lilian McHoul writes of the FAIRY LANTERN Disporium Smithii (Lily Family) comes from the Greek word, dis, meaning double, and spora, seed. Named after and English botanist, Sir J.E. Smith, the plant can grow to 2 or 3 feet with ovate, heart-shaped leaves at the base and heavily veined. The greenish-white flowers are cylindrical opening out at the rim. A bit confusing with Calochortus albus which is also called a Fairy Lantern:

Elk clover hangs on to the edge of a cut along our road,

Horsetail fruiting body shedding spores

Forgot this one, I like calling it the Velcro plant, V. stickimus. Worked well for wearing some green on St. Patrick’s Day.

Hedge nettle in his right hand and nettle in his left. He went the extra mile showing us how the nettle can enflame the back of the hand.

Star-Flower, trentalis latifolia, Primrose Family, irregular leaves vary in size unlike the equality of leaves in many plants. The flower stem is very delicate so the pink flower with pointed petals seems to float.

We’ve been listening to the drumming of a Pileated woodpecker:

A CONVERSATION along the trail:

And some background that Michael shared about our Stellar’s Jays and their namesakes.

He took us on a historical pathway describing the trips of the great naturalist for whom the Stellar’s Jay is named. Georg Wilhelm Steller born in 1709 near Nuremberg had many hats in his life’s 37 years as botanist, zoologist, physician and explorer. He volunteered to join the Second Kamchatka expedition captained by Vitus Jonassen Bering (1681-1741), a Danish explorer and officer in the Russian Navy. Traveling from St. Petersburg in January of 1738 with his wife, widow of another naturalist – Daniel Gottlieb Messerschmidt, she decided to stay in Moscow while he continued across Russia and Siberia. Finally he arrived at the port of Okhotsk in March of 1740 where the construction of Bering’s ships, the St. Peter & St. Paul was almost complete. Sailing in September of 1740 they proceeded to explore Kamchatka and then proceeded on the voyage in search of North America. A storm separated Bering from the St. Paul and he in the St. Peter continued to sail east. Stellar observing the currents insisted that they should be heading northeast and eventually proved correct when they changed course and make landfall in Alaska on Kayak Island on July 20, 1741. Bering wanted only to take on freshwater but Stellar argued for more time for exploration of the land and was granted all of 10 hours to observe, collect and document the flora and fauna of North America. There was considerable tension on the voyage between the two. During the course of the voyage Stellar discovered the Stellar’s Sea Cow and Spectacled Sea Cormorant both of which are now extinct, the Sea Cow (a manatee type creature) being good tasting lasted only 30 years. The Stellar’s Sea Lion, Steller’s Eider and Stellar’s Sea Eagle are all endangered. The Stellar’s Jay remains the one species named for him that is alive and well.

Stellar tried to convince the ship’s officers that eating berries and leaves would help the crew in the midst of a scurvy epidemic on board. They looked askance at this idea and continued to suffer while Stellar and his assistant were some of the few who did not come down with this scourge. With the crew devastated by scurvy and the heavy storms at sea, they were ship wrecked on the way back on what would become Bering Island. Vitus Bering and 28 of his crew died on the island. The remaining crew was able to construct a ship from the wreck’s remains and finally return to Avacha Bay on Kamchatka by August of 1842 under Stellar’s lead. Stellar all through this time was carefully observing the flora and fauna of the island writing in his Latin and German notebooks. In fact, he wanted to bring back a preserved Sea Cow but there was no room for the large specimen on board the “new” ship. On his return Stellar spent the next two years exploring the Kamchatka peninsula. Sadly, because of his sympathy for the native peoples he “was accused of fomenting rebellion and was recalled to St. Petersburg.” He was arrested and compelled to return to Irkutsk for a hearing, freed and while en route to St. Petersburg came down with a fever dying in Tyumen, 1100 miles east of Moscow.

The two Wikipedia accounts that I’ve used on Bering and Stellar were indeed quite well done if not stellar:

An intriguing additional namesake for Stellar was the STELLAR SEA APE, observed only by him in the course of the voyage. Perhaps this is a window into Stellar’s sense of humor, what are you going to do on a long voyage with an insecure, overbearing captain? What are you going to do if you may be a little arrogant and opinionated yourself?

Note this different ending to Stellar’s life in this last link, I prefer the first one, what do you think?

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