Category Archives: Fall 2013

Fall Footloose Farewell with Michael – 16 December 2013

It was an ambitious last hike starting in Southern Africa, trekking Asia, making a dash through South America, lingering in Eastern North America and finishing in the New World Desert all courtesy of the UC Botanical Garden in Berkeley. No need for passports and no jet lag. Michael was on deck throughout sharing his sage comments and observations. Warm enough for shorts, Michael intrigues us with a t-shirt of the day – this one in festive Christmas red with a Voodoo Doughnut logo.

Heading down from the parking lot to the entry kiosk. We passed by an amazing and mesmerizing Australian just as we entered the garden.

The garden is well marked but at this time of year many plants in dormancy are not “available” or very obvious, come back in the spring or summer.

We consider the possibilities and decide to avoid the Carnivorous Plant House.

Michael spoke to us about convergent evolution where plants seem similar in form and design yet have evolved separately with no reference to each other following an “independent evolution”. Here he was comparing plants of the New World Desert with those of Southern Africa.

The accordion pleats expand with adequate available water but can contract and tighten when it is scarce, think an accordion or concertina.

The deciduous redwood.

Michael was talking about an expedition to China by Ralph Works Chaney (1890-1971) in 1947 accompanied by Martin Silverman, a science write for the SF Chronicle. They were the first westerners to see a living Metasequoia, a Dawn Redwood. Here a worker from the garden joined us for a moment to relate that Chaney was a remarkable UC professor and part of the botanical garden’s history.

Quarryhill newsletter talks of the discovery:

Here is Chaney’s account of this expedition and the discovery:–as-remarkable-as-discovering-a-living-dinosaur-redwoods-in-china-1948.pdf

And a fine biographical sketch of his life: done in May 1958.

A moment of inspiration, wonder, curiosity? We’d just seen a Fox Sparrow but there was something else as well.

UC Botanical Garden shares the greater hill with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory:

In between, the Mather Redwood Grove, part of the garden, provides a buffer.

Monkey Puzzle Tree, Araucaria araucana:


Bromeliaceae, CHAGUAL PUYA CHILENSIS – Sheep-eating plant (Valparaiso Province, Chile) It is a Bromeliad with roots.

Down past the Research and Propagation buildings

Marigold bloom:

Arugula in “Crops of the World Garden” with tenny.

Losing the balance and other dangers of monoculture

Asteracae MUGWORT Artemisia Vulgaris (Europe, Asia) Michael mentioned that Mugwort is a component of Absinthe, a drink with a storied history.

Bench promenade

Scott and Barbara

Michael’s monocot:

Heading back through the New World Desert

Cactaceae, BEAVERTAIL CACTUS, Opuntia Sp., (Sinaloa State, Mexico)

Cactaceae OPUNTIA MICRODASYS – Polka Dot or Bunny Ears Cactus (San Luis Potosi State, Mexico)

Hamish guarding the door of our wonderful potluck at Nancy Falk’s home.

The cups await some great soup but in the meanwhile some Afghan spinach bolani will do just fine.

Salads and dessert in the other room

“The naming of cats is a difficult matter, It isn’t just one of your holiday games,
You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter, When I tell you a cat must have three different names” T.S. Elliot

Chris Jones, Blue on blue

Adding to the bravo moment, Armando had a meeting nearby and joined us later on. Here’s one from the archives on our Miller Knox Hike with him, was it 2009?

What’s all that green?

Hillary’s hat was a hit adding some svelte style to the day.

Three cheers for our hostess!!!

Until next time.

Getting our ducks in a row with Michael – 9th December 2013

Any day you can see a Golden Eagle soaring, some Tundra Swans on promenade and the the flash of a passing Snipe can’t be all bad. Shollenberger Park or Marsh was named after a park’s chief, Richard Shollenberger. It was established in 1995 and described in the Wiki entry as “one of the last wetlands of its kind in the country . . . a bird watching paradise”.
Michael refreshed some of our bird watching memories as we walked along the trails, could we have forgotten so much? The weather was chilly so the sunshine felt good on our faces, the rest being amply covered. Michael mentioned that r-e-a-l-l-y this wasn’t that cold compared to so many places on earth (like -135.8 in East Antarctica) but it was our cold.

Ducks in “tuck” mode still mostly with both feet on the ground. Why do they stand on one leg?

Michael can be heard on KQED FM’s Perspective series. This one describes his arrival in California on Oct. 7, 1977.

Memorial benches were along the path, this one with a whimsical outhouse theme distracted us.

Along our trail is the Pt. Reyes Bird Observatory which changed its name to Point Blue last June. They retain their original bird monitoring and banding site on the Bolinas Mesa – perhaps a future hike.

The Petaluma Wetlands on our left as we headed out to Ellis Creek Water Recycling Facility. A docent for Shollenberger passed by and recommended the Ellis Creek Trail and we were not disappointed. “Docent Bob” pointed out that the treatment ponds were in the shape of the endangered Salt Marsh Harvest Mouse.

Great Egret, Ardea alba, on the hunt was not perturbed as we walked by on the path. It is the symbol of the National Audubon Society founded in 1905 with roots going back to 1886 to save from extinction these splendid birds and the many others hunted for their plumes. Viewed full size you can see that the market for hats and plumes was enormous.

Michael mentioned that as the prey is swallowed the meal is obvious going down the long neck. Martin Griffin Preserve of Audubon Canyon Ranch near Bolinas and Stinson Beach has a classic heron and egret heronry.

In flight the long neck is tucked in and the legs are extended.

Some ice on the rocks. Meanwhile back in New Hampshire:

Bundled up and keeping our heads down while the Monolithic Black Obelisk from 2001 looms from the rear.

Going up to one of the treatment ponds that was so rich with water birds. Definitely getting to be Husky weather.

Michael and Karen Stern brought spotting scopes which greatly enhanced the viewing detail.

Pied-billed Grebe making his solitary path across the pond (Podilymbus podiceps)

Two stately Wall Streeters, Gadwalls – Anas strepera with the female in front and the male in breeding plumage on top.

We saw some birds skitter through this remnant of a thicket undeterred by the ice. Was one a Yellow Warbler? There was a wren (Winter wren?, Marsh Wren? and near here we had our flash in the pan sighting of the Wilson’s (Common) Snipe. Michael said that one of his friends called him one night to ask if the snipe was fictional, did it actually exist?

Approaching a hawk sitting in the sun, resting on a bench like the hikers. This is the moment that you hope he’ll rest a bit more. He watched our approach with interest but continued to give us a splendid sighting.

Perhaps a Light juvenile (1st year) but compare your Sibley and see what you think.
Michael said that the Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) has tremendous variations of light and color. Experienced birders are not so quick now to make the identification. The dark bar on the front/leading edge of the underside of the wing is visible in flight and diagnostic.

Our picnic spot out of the wind and catching a bit of sunshine.

Looks to be a Juvenile White-crowned sparrow amid the blooming (female) Coyote Bush. Our first lesson of the day had to do with the conical beaks of sparrows.
There was a Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus) resting on the ground at a distance. We’d some in flight earlier making their low level hunting runs and then enjoyed a pair of female Northern Harriers overhead.
Here is an impressive study of the Northern Harrier on the PRBO/Point Blue website:

Black-necked Stilt casting her shadow, what remarkable long red legs.

As we were finishing our hike, we’d heard that a Great Horned Owl was making a rare appearance in some willows on the Loop Trail. He was absolutely still but his profile was quite clear in the scope. I took half a dozen shots and got some great willow leaves.

It’s a wrap as we check out the map for future walks.

Tocaloming with Michael – 2 December 2013

Michael has tapped into Louise Teather’s book, PLACE NAMES OF MARIN, many times on our hikes giving us some excellent context. Her entry on Tocaloma is a delight. She writes that
the name is “believed to be of Indian origin. According to Kroeber, the ending suggests -yome (lume) meaning “place”; an Indian village may have been located here. The nearby stream was formerly called the Arroyo Tokelalume. Kroeber also says that in the Central Sierra Miwok language the word tokoloma means “land salamander.” (P. 82)

Remembering the quiet, “time forgot” quality of our parking spot, the rest of Teather’s entry is just great, “Tocaloma became a ranching community with its own railroad stop, telegraph office, post office (1891-1919), and a big hotel that was a favorite with sportsmen. When the hotel burned down in 1917, it was replaced by a tavern built by former opera singer Caesar Ronchi, and was a well known stopping place for motorists to and from West Martin, throughout the 1930’s. The site is a mile and a half north of Samuel P. Taylor State Park.”

We made a quick carpool to the top of the hill to begin our hike at the Bolinas Ridge parking area. You’ll recall that this area was cordoned off when the government shut down and the National Parks were closed. The memory seems utterly surreal.

Through the stile, Hillary is back with her formerly broken foot healed and healthy.

Heading up to Bolinas Ridge the sign has a cautionary note that some mother cows could be aggressive with their calves about. This is also a great mountain biking trail that eventually arrives at the Bolinas-Fairfax Road 11.1 miles away.

Michael reminded us that we were on the North American Plate and just above the San Andreas Fault – able to look over to the Pacific Plate in the background. We are just up the hill from Olema which sustained dramatic damage in 1906 still viewable on the Earthquake Trail at Point Reyes National Seashore. NPR at its best. Worth it alone to see the photo of geologist Andrew Lawson’s mustache along with a rooster crowing in the audio portion. Lawson’s shake scale was a breakthrough in describing the degree of earthquake impact. Mary Lou Zoback was the other geologist whom we heard in the previous audio. Her account is well and clearly written with lots of fascinating detail. This account is earthquake-lite but is great because of the many associations it makes i.e. Site of the Earthquake Refugee Camps at the bottom. We talked about this on our hike through Golden Gate Park with Don McLaurin.

We are looking over towards Black Mountain which is a West Marin landmark. Michael has tried to arrange a hike up the mountain but so far the only access is on the annual hike of the Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT).

Black Angus and Black Anguses in the distance with Black Mountain (1280 ft.) behind it all – but not taken on Black Friday. It was named after rancher and landowner James Black of Nicasio who was the father-in-law of Galen Burdell (of Mt. Burdell). Black arrived in 1846 and became prominent in Marin government and owning thousands of acres of land extending from his home in Nicasio to Tomales Bay. His property included the land surrounding Black Mountain which is also called Elephant Mountain or Seven Sisters. (Teather, P. 8)
cf. The Youngbloods:

Michael asked us about the difference between antlers and horns in animals. “Antlers are a pair of only, branched structures that protrude from the frontals of the skull of animals and are shed annually; horns are also paired and protrude from the frontals, but they are permanent, unbranched and made up of a bony core and a keratinized sheath.”
Michael pointed out that in the case of Reindeer that most males lose their antlers by December which means that probably all of Santa’s team are female!

A meditative moment with everyone waiting for the answer. In the background is Tomales Bay. Michael shared the meaning of tomales as in Tomales Bay and not from a menu. “According to one theory Tomales has its roots in Tamal, the Coast Miwok name for “bay,” used to identify local Indians.” Again from the great little book by Louise Teather, PLACE NAMES OF MARIN, 1986. Names with the Tamal prefix were used for local (Marin) Indians: Tamales, Tamallos, Tamallonos. Our signature mountain’s name probably came from this, Tamal Pais with Tamal meaning bay and Pais mountain. Michael pointed out then that Tomales Bay means . . . bay bay.

Serious Stile the second. Sorry, my hat is just obstructing Nancy’s classic, colorful tennies.

Some big old Eucalyptus were planted in these uplands along the Jewel Trail. Now mature, they presented a stately profile along our way. In Australia they have grown to great heights. Centurian in Tasmania is the tallest hardwood tree in the world standing at 326 feet. Some astonishing records from the 19th Century speak of 470 and 492 ft.

This was our picnic spot which we shared with some, you guessed it, Black Angus. They originated in Scotland (along with James Black). The ancestors of the breed had such wonderful names: Old Jock, Grey-Breasted Jock, Black Meg 43 and Old Granny “considered by some to be the founder of the breed.” (from the Wiki entry) “Old Granny was born in 1824 and said to have lived 35 years and to have produced 29 calves.”

We might call this “Waiting for a Chinook” with hats off to Charles M. Russell.
On the bridge in Samuel P. Taylor Park looking for salmon to no avail. Perhaps with all of our scanning we left a vacuum to be filled since the next day the Marin Independent Journal had this headline: “Chinook salmon return to Marin”.

We did enjoy some beautiful reflections and flow patterns in Lagunitas Creek.

We met Joe Woods who is a stream maintenance volunteer at the beginning of our hike. He was marking and yanking out invasive Japanese Knotweed, a scourge world wide:

This bicyclist passed us a couple of times along the Cross Marin Trail his radio playing music quietly and his dog happily aboard, a mellow moment. I think Andrew Wyeth would have liked to paint this.

The Cross Marin Trail provided a neat contrast to our upcountry hiking panoramas with its quiet Redwood groves and Big Leaf Maples splashing spots of color. Here some BLM leaves adorn our way back with Michael heading our way. Autumn in Marin

Pacheco Valle with Michael of the South Seas – 25 November 2013

Not every naturalist leader has just returned from Palau and Yap so we were the lucky ones to have Michael back on board with us for our hike just before Thanksgiving. He described a remarkable time there of spectacular skin diving off coral reefs, meeting native peoples, facing a flu epidemic and dodging the Typhoon Haiyan.

Pretty impressive after just arriving the day before – going though how many time zones on his 14 hour flight?

The trailhead is just across the freeway overpass bridge at the Nave Drive exit north.

Hamilton Field area has been developed into a large southern suburban extension of Novato. It was named for 1st Lt. Lloyd Andrews Hamilton who was a WW1 flying hero who died in action near Lagnicourt, France on August 13, 1918. The huge old airstrip is being reclaimed by the bay now and has a long walking path overlooking the area. You can see the former hangers to the left of the tall orange tank. The museum Facebook page gives some flavor of the base when it was active. The B-17’s that were flying into Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941 were flying from Hamilton Field. In an early episode of Cold War intrigue on May 16, 1946, a B-17 bomber with probable nuclear material for the Bikini tests crashed into White’s Hill while on its way to Hamilton Field.,_California_B-17_Crash

Landon is a 4th grader from Portland, Oregon who was visiting his grandfather, Tom King who lives in Danville. They went on Michael’s Lakes Trip. Landon co-stars in this edition.

Was this the discussion of true noon? True grit we know but true noon intrigued.

Landon has a firm hold on the sun while Michael’s earth revolves around him. Here’s a very cool video that includes some of the material that Michael was describing and perhaps, a few more details.

Michael on the prow of his ship definitely has our attention.

The quick quiz, what was he talking about? Was this the time he mentioned tropisms?

Madrone berries attracting “cedar waxwings, band tailed pigeons, hermit thrushes, American Robins” and fourth graders.

Madrone berries close up. The Wiki entry mentions that when they dry up, they have “hooked barbs that latch onto larger animals for migration.” Wiki goes on to say that the Native Americans chewed the astringent berries (they have high tannin content) or made them into cider. Michael had Landon feel the cool bark of the tree earlier on.

An up part of the up and down Pacheco Valle Trail.

Cresting and heading for lunch

It’s a very dry moment in the year and we were likewise dry and hungry. Michael had a terrific lunch discussion at our picnic spot about the stone money of Yap. He spoke of the remarkable nautical traditions of Yap and how Yap sailors would get the stones on Palau. This was a trip across the open ocean of 240 nautical miles in an outrigger canoe and then came the trip back with the stone. Michael said that the value of the stone was proportionate to the sacrifice of voyage, of injury, of important people involved, of lives lost all adding to it’s intrinsic value. Remarkably in one instance the stone didn’t make it back to Yap but still had great value for them at the bottom of the ocean. It enjoyed the protection of a kind of marine Ft. Knox.

The stone money was for large value transactions like obtaining property. The Yapese used pearl shells, turmeric, banana fiber mats in more everyday transactions. Michael added that in our own cultural context a 19th century a deerskin had a certain value, a buckskin from which comes our word for a dollar. You recall the sign on Harry Truman’s desk.

Landon helps Louise give the dogs a drink after their snacks.

Holding steady

At the end of our hike Michael continued to share, this time the big picture of the earth’s oceans:

Until next week, oh, that’s this week. Lew

Tam Hike with Jim – 18 Nov. 2013

Mt. Tamalpais is always a welcoming sight – signature profile as we drive by on 101 and rich with intersecting trails the closer you look. Jim led his second hike of the fall season with his usual distinction. His information was insightful and presented with his upwelling enthusiasm. Who would have thought that we would be introduced to a new animal (at least one I hadn’t recalled)? We weren’t trekking through the forests of Indonesia after all. But here we were on the trail checking out a possible squirrel nest and tree cavities when Jim mentioned that this was the southern edge of territory for the RED TREE VOLE, Arborimus longicaudus. It’s a delightful creature that likes old growth forests and that lives high in the trees so they are difficult to observe. They may eat 2,400 needles each day nibbling on the tender terminal twigs. The males live in burrows in the ground and the females in a nest high in the trees during non-mating times. But when breeding begins from February to September, the males will climb the tree and build a small temporary nest during the mating season in a carnal camp-out.

We gathered at Boot Jack and made a short car pool down to the Mountain Home Inn parking area.

Jeannie had assisted Jim in checking out the trail by herself the previous Monday actually hiking up to West Point Inn and returning as it got galloping dark using her penlight to guide her way – definitely going the second mile for us. Let’s pause for an accolade for them both.

Poles out and ready, note that Armand had his new virtual poles, the latest edition – 2.7. The profile of the mountain from here has a neat tri-pyramidal appearance. The sky wasn’t exactly azure but neither was it lowering. We enjoyed sunlight going up to West Point Inn taking the Matt Davis and the Nora Trails. The trail began across the road where you see the yellow sign.

Heidi fills her bottle with some genuine MMWD water at the start of the hike. Note the beautiful serpentine in the fountain base. I think that’s a plaque on the side but didn’t notice it until now.

Jim shares the map with the group. The group has been adding some brighter colors as an antidote to the grays of late autumn.

Throckmorton Ridge Fire Station, Marin County Fire Department:

Remembrance of things past, last week’s hike on Mt. Burdell with dogs along.

Like the emphasis on responsibility and the easy pick-up of watershed map & rules

Jim stops by a Canyon Live Oak to share with us:

Karen K lends a hand.

Following in the steps of Matt Davis: l

Silk Tassel Bush:

It was a pleasure to hear water flowing in some stream beds even before Tuesday’s rain, atypical of many seasonal streams in our area.

High Rise mushrooms: googling mostly gets fungus problems in high rise buildings.

Jim commented that one strategy for bushes and trees in having smooth bark is making it difficult for other invader’s attachment. Here a lichen has found a niche.

A big contrast in the bark of the Redwood as walked into a young grove along the trail.

Strawberry Peninsula, Tiburon Peninsula and Angel Island furthest on the right, Raccoon Straits look like a lake.

Our lunch destination: Great history and great views (and restrooms) are free.

Poster from the centennial

Internet was available too.

Gearing up or gathering up after our picnic

We took the Old Stage Road to Bootjack. Passengers from the Mt. Tamalpais Scenic Railway in 1904 could connect with a stagecoach that would take them down the westside of the mountain to Willow Creek (Stinson Beach) and Bolinas.

Looking for the ghosts of stagecoaches past

Jim checks out some of the Serpentine along the route:

And Jeannie reprises Armando’s lesson from an earlier hike about the stickiness of Serpentine.

Swath of Serpentine along the trail

Hazelnut bush and leaf as we approached Bootjack. It is very soft and velvety on the underside. Here’s another good site on wild California edibles:

Mt. Tamalpais has a raft of interesting place names. Here’s a pdf that gives some rich and colorful detail:

Many thanks to Jim for filling in so beautifully for Michael along with the inimitable Armando while Michael was away in Palau & Yap. The names begin to fall off the tongue!

Sunlight & Shadows on the Burdell Trail – 11 November 2013

This hike with Jim was the first after gaining that extra hour so ten o’clock seemed just a little different – a bit askew, a new world by just a little. It was also pleasantly different too because some of the Footloose Foray Dogs took time out from their busy schedules to join us on the trail. Luca and Rosella’s MAGIC and Louise’s POGO added a lot to our walk.

That’s Magic securing the perimeter and Pogo checking out the trail information sign.

The mountain did not disappoint with terrific vistas and many opportunities for Jim to share some insights with us on the trail. The shadows of autumn were sharp and quite wonderful whether tree or dog or hiker. Jim checked out some defoliated Coastal Live Oaks and wondered about Sudden Oak Death but then pointed out that many insects feed sometimes voraciously on our oak populations. The California oak worm moth has been active in this area of Marin and while the tree might appear dead or dying, oak moth damage is reversible and the healthy tree will bounce back. The UC Davis site includes frass monitoring (oak worm caterpillar droppings) which Jim also talked about.

Toward the top of the first hill he spotted some tar weed and turkey mullein sustaining the butterflies and other insects in this less opulent time of the year. and UC Davis comes through again with a great Tarweed entry:

What was that third low-growing plant in this group that seemed to be blooming blue?

We took a breather further up the hill by a large, spreading bay tree where Jim pointed out the many nooks and crannies providing shelter to birds, insects, and other passers by. He mentioned the great loss to the environment that occurs when one of these is cut down. It isn’t just a matter of planting another tree since it may take a century or much more to reproduce the size and structure of these heritage trees. Clear cutting of the forest as well as salvage logging take little account of these concepts. Here’s an interesting Native American site that comments on these issues:

A pause or should I say paws, the hands are interesting too.

Treated to a Red-shouldered Hawk up by the Burdell seasonal pond – sol y sombra. I watched one in a live oak in my back yard plummet out of the tree on a Northern Alligator Lizard forming a winged umbrella over his prey and then flying off with the long lizard tail dangling in the breeze. The Range Map shows major habitat in the east, mid-west Mexico and a sliver in California Alta and Baja.

A California buckeye ready for the holidays with its intriguing fruit. Native Americans “used the poisonous nuts to stupefy schools of fish in small streams” N.B. this is from the Wikipedia entry on Aesculus californica ( We are also familiar from our other hikes with Michael and Armando with the use of the root of the Soap Plant for similar stupefaction. Did this technique have a downside with the food quality of the fish harvested?

One other WONDERFUL site goes further afield describing the many other food sources for the Ohlone. I’m presuming the Miwok, Pomo, and Wappo followed a similar pattern. Note that the site has CONTINUED at the bottom of a number of entries, definitely an amazing resource. Susan Labiste who put this together works with Outside Educators in the East Bay.

Jim found some egg casings for the California oak worm moth. He pointed out that there is a whole universe of diseases & insects of California Oaks. It isn’t only about Sudden Oak death. Here’s a meaty site on this from the USDA that is really well done: It’s quite a tour including such names as Orange hobnail canker, Hedgehog fungus,
Hypoxylon thouarsianum, Wetwood and alcoholic flux, Weeping conk, and for the season – Western jack o’lantern fungus to name just a few.
Read up.

Pogo plugged along the entire hike with great energy and style.

Jim talking various invaders in the cracks of oak bark, he compared the dark protuberances to a dog’s nose but no dog was on hand for illustration. The word of the day was, I think, Hypoxylon. Sounded Greek, like a character in the Percy Jackson series.

Autumn in San Marin

The San Marin Fire Road a-winding up the final hill.

Pogo thanks Jim for a snifforiffic hike, Magic had to leave earlier with gratitude as well.

Here’s the hike on Dropbox with some Scott Joplin – his PALM LEAF RAG: