Category Archives: nature|wildlife

Black-hooded Parakeets in Big Sycamore Canyon

Black-hooded Parakeets (Nandayus nenday) in Big Sycamore Canyon

Indigenous to Southeastern Bolivia, southwestern Brazil, Paraguay and northern Argentina, much of the information on the web about the Black-hooded Parakeet appears to originate from these papers by Kimball L. Garrett:

POPULATION STATUS AND DISTRIBUTION OF NATURALIZED PARROTS IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

POPULATION TRENDS AND ECOLOGICAL ATTRIBUTES OF INTRODUCED PARROTS, DOVES AND FINCHES IN CALIFORNIA

The raucous calls of these parrots can be heard throughout Big Sycamore Canyon. This pair was near the Danielson Multi Use Area.

From yesterday’s run from Wendy Drive to the Chamberlain Trail.

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Big Bird, Little Bird

Red-tailed hawk and flycatcher in Blue Canyon, Pt. Mugu State Park

Running along the recently repaired Blue Canyon Trail, I stopped to photograph a hillside of poppies. The shrieking, piercing cry sounded like it was just a few feet above me, and reflexively I ducked and looked upward. A large red-tailed hawk flew from the top of a sycamore tree to another tree. Just as I started to relax, there was another shriek, and another red-tail flew from the same tree.

These were loud, aggressive calls and reminded me of an unusual encounter some years ago with a red-shouldered hawk and a bobcat. Noting the nest at the top of the tree I assumed the birds were upset that I stopped by their tree. I snapped a quick picture of one of the red-tails and headed on down the trail.

As with the encounter with the red-shouldered hawk, there was an edge to calls of the red-tails that seemed urgent, and it wasn’t until I examined the photos later I saw their ire might have been directed at something else.

The silhouette of the smaller bird looks like it might be a flycatcher — maybe a western kingbird. Red-tails are the star cruisers of the local bird world and it’s not unusual to see smaller birds harass them relentlessly like so many X-wing fighters.

According to Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds, “Western Kingbirds are aggressive and will scold and chase intruders (including Red-tailed Hawks and American Kestrels) with a snapping bill and flared crimson feathers they normally keep hidden under their gray crowns.” A search online found numerous reports of kingbirds harassing red-tail hawks.

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Winter Colony of Crows in Cheeseboro Canyon

Winter colony of crows in Cheeseboro Canyon

With a storm approaching and rain only an hour or two away, I’d been debating where to turn around. I’d just climbed the steep hill between Upper Las Virgenes Canyon and Cheeseboro Ridge and decided to continue down to Cheeseboro Canyon. As I drew closer to the trail’s junction with Cheeseboro Canyon, I began to hear a cacophony of cawing crows.

At the junction crows literally filled the sky (video). It seemed the call was out and crows were coming from all directions to join the flock.

Though I’d never seen such a large aggregation in Cheeseboro Canyon, it is common for the American crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos) to form large foraging and roosting flocks in winter. Winter is tough on animals and isn’t surprising that the social and intelligent crow would cope with Winter in this cooperative fashion.

Leaving the crows behind I started the trip back to the Victory trailhead. It would take about an hour and I hoped the rain didn’t get there before I did!

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Strawberry Peak, Switzer’s and the Old Colby Trail

Strawberry Peak and Colby Canyon
Strawberry Peak and Colby Canyon

The Colby Canyon Trail is one of the historic trails of the San Gabriel Mountains. When Switzer Camp was established in 1884, Colby Canyon was an irresistible gateway leading deeper into the wilderness. The compelling and sometimes snow-covered peak at its head was one of Switzer’s many attractions.

Jason and Owen Brown (1884). Photo: Los Angeles Public LIbrary
Jason and Owen Brown (1884). Photo: Los Angeles Public LIbrary

In the History of Pasadena Hiram A. Reid recounts the story of how the peak was named in 1886 “by some wags at Switzer’s camp” because of its resemblance to a strawberry. He goes on to describe how one of them irreverently added, “We called it Strawberry peak because there weren‘t any strawberries on it.”

While Strawberry may have been climbed previously, the establishment of Switzer’s made it possible to climb the peak recreationally. In Early Mountain Ascents in the San Gabriels (100 PEAKS Lookout, Jul-Aug 1971) John Robinson notes an 1887 ascent of Strawberry Peak by Owen and Jason Brown — sons of abolitionist John Brown. Robinson describes the “Brown Boys” as the first local “peak baggers.”

Colby Canyon and Arroyo Seco from high on Strawberry Peak.
Colby Canyon and Arroyo Seco from Strawberry Peak.

Climbing Strawberry via Colby Canyon has been a long-time favorite. Last Saturday I’d done Strawberry via Colby Canyon as part of loop — ascending the Colby Canyon Trail to Josephine Saddle, climbing over Strawberry Peak, running down to Red Box and then down the Gabrieleno Trail to Switzer’s. A 0.3 mile connection along Angeles Crest Highway completed the route.

Today I did a variation of the same loop, this time bypassing Josephine Saddle and following (more or less) the route of the old Colby Trail up the ridge at the head of Colby Canyon to Strawberry’s main west ridge.

Overview of the route of the old Colby Trail from Strawberry Peak
Overview of the route of the old Colby Trail

As shown on this USGS Tujunga topo map from 1900, a century ago the Colby Trail was much more direct. It linked Switzer’s Camp in upper Arroyo Seco to the Colby Ranch and other ranches and holdings in Big Tujunga Canyon. It was a much shorter alternative to the roundabout route that ascended to the head of Arroyo Seco (then Long Canyon), and then continued past present day Red Box to Barley Flats and down to Wickiup Canyon. More on the history of Colby Ranch and Big Tujunga Canyon can be found in the Winter 1938 edition of Trails Magazine (12.6 MB PDF).

Ridge that was the route of the old Colby Trail.
Ridge that was the route of the old Colby Trail.

A well-used game trail wanders up “Colby” ridge, but the path is far from ideal and not always distinct. Our four-legged friends don’t necessarily follow one path, especially where the route is steep and loose. Deer are well-suited to this kind of terrain, their long, skinny legs being perfect for following an overgrown path lined with thorny buck brush. In a couple of places there were short segments of trail that look like they might be remnants of the trail indicated on the 1900 topo.

Bear tracks on the west side of Strawberry Peak.
Bear tracks on the west side of Strawberry Peak.

It’s easy to understand why the old route on the ridge was abandoned; the route to Josephine Saddle is far better and MUCH faster!

These sections of the 1934 Mt. Lowe Quadrangle advance sheet and 1939 Mt. Lowe Quadrangle shows the dramatic changes in the area with the construction of Angeles Crest Highway (LRN 61) between La Canada and Colby Canyon. The 1934 sheet shows the reroute of the Colby Canyon Trail to Josephine Saddle and then contouring around Strawberry, as well as the trails along the west and east ridges of Strawberry and connecting from Lawlor Saddle to Colby Ranch. The updated 1939 sheet includes the Josephine Fire Lookout and the Josephine Fire Road.

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Deer Encounters

Mule deer near Trippet Ranch in the Santa Monica Mountains

Mule deer are common in the Santa Monica Mountains. I see them most frequently in Topanga State Park, near Trippet Ranch, and in Malibu Creek State Park.

This video snapshot is of a recent encounter with three mule deer while running down East Topanga Fire Road to Trippet Ranch.

My intent was to try and walk past without scaring them. One doe did not run, but the youngster and its companion were more skittish and didn’t quite know how to react.

In some situations a bolting deer can be a real problem. Two friends running in Topanga State Park rounded a corner and were suddenly confronted with a spooked buck running toward them. There was a steep hill on one side and a cliff on the other. In the narrow confines the buck collided with one of the runners, hitting his shoulder and knocking him to the ground. All things considered he was very lucky. The bucks head was up, so the collision only resulted in a sore shoulder and some trail rash.

Some related posts: Trippet Ranch Mule Deer, Musch Trail Mule Deer

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Crissy Field – Fort Point – Land’s End – Golden Gate Park Loop

Monterey pines in Land's End Park

What do a hilly marathon, a pair of cygnets, and a herd of bison have in common?

Why, of course, a run in San Francisco.

Crissy Field and the Golden Gate Promenade
Crissy Field and the Golden Gate Promenade

Brett wanted to check out some of the hills on the San Francisco Marathon course and show me more San Francisco sights. The result was a 14 mile loop that began in the Marina District and visited Crissy Field, the Golden Gate Bridge at Fort Point, Land’s End Park, Sutro Heights Park and Golden Gate Park.

The Palace of Fine Art swanskeep a close eye on their brood. June 4, 2016.
Blanche, Blue Boy and their cygnets

The run started with a visit to the Palace of Fine Arts to check on Blanche’s and Blue Boy’s new brood. Nature isn’t always nice, so it was good to see the remaining two cygnets are doing well.

One of two lion statues at the entrance to Sutro Heights Park.
Sutro Heights Park Lion

Most of the run between the Golden Gate Bridge and Golden Gate Park was on the California Coastal Trail. Near Sea Cliff we left the marathon course and continued on the Coastal Trail to Land’s End Park and Sutro Heights Park, eventually entering Golden Gate Park on its northwest corner at 47th Avenue.

Bison in Golden Gate Park
Bison in Golden Gate Park

Larger than New York’s Central Park, Golden Gate Park’s many attractions draw millions of visitors each year. That one of those attractions is a golf course isn’t particularly surprising. And you might expect a major city park to have a botanical garden, aquarium and a museum. But would you expect a park in San Francisco to host a herd of bison? I know when I put on my running shoes this morning I wasn’t thinking, “Hope we see some buffalo!”

Bison have been present in Golden Gate Park since the 1890s. According to this Huffington Post article by Fiona Ma the herd was repopulated in 2011 and, “The City and County of San Francisco would excitedly welcome 6 more urban bison members.”

The title photo is a black and white image of Monterey pines along the Land’s End Trail.

Some related posts: San Francisco Sights Trail Run, Golden Gate Bridge Run, Miwok Wanderings

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It’s Raining Mountain Lion Tracks!

Mountain lion tracks on Temescal Ridge Fire Road #30, north of the Hub. March 12, 2016.

Like dust reveals a sunbeam, rain reveals the presence of our elusive Santa Monica Mountains mountain lions.

I first noticed the tracks on Temescal Ridge Fire Road #30 more than a half-mile below the Hub (running from the end of Reseda) and then followed them past the Hub on Fire Road #30 to it’s junction with the Backbone Trail. After a short detour up Temescal Peak (no tracks), I returned to Fire Road #30 and followed the lion’s tracks back to the Hub, then down Eagle Springs Fire Road to Eagle Springs and past the fire road’s junction with the Musch Trail.

It looked like the tracks were made sometime between yesterday evening, after the rain, and early this morning.

The total distance I was able to follow the tracks was around three miles. Although I had to turn around a little past the Musch Trail, I’d guess the lion was headed down to Trippet Ranch.

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Kingsnake Along the Garapito Trail

California mountain kingsnake along the Garapito Trail in the Santa Monica Mountains

The patterned colors of a mountain kingsnake are hard to miss. The snake’s white-black-red-black-white triads attract attention in just about any habitat. (The amount of red can vary in an individual as well as subgroup.)

San Diego mountain kingsnake along the Garapito Trail
San Diego mountain kingsnake

Traditionally California mountain kingsnakes (Lampropeltis zonata) have been grouped into several subspecies according to subtle and variable pattern characteristics.

The kingsnake in the title photograph appears to belong to the San Diego mountain kingsnake pattern class (Lampropeltis zonata pulchra). The broken white ring on the head is common in this subgroup in the Santa Monica Mountains.

San Bernardino mountain kingsnake on Pleasant View Ridge in the San Gabriel Mountains
San Bernardino mountain kingsnake

This mountain kingsnake, photographed on Pleasant View Ridge in the San Gabriel Mountains, likely belongs to the San Bernardino mountain kingsnake pattern class, Lampropeltis zonata parvirubra.

Study of California mountain kingsnakes’ mitochondrial DNA (E. A. Myers, et. al., 2013) conservatively supports separate northern and southern species and potentially two lineages within the southern group.

California kingsnake in Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve
California kingsnake

Mountain kingsnakes aren’t the only kingsnake found in the Los Angeles area. This California kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula californiae) was photographed at Ahmanson Ranch a couple of weeks ago. When I approached the snake, it immediately became defensive and started rapidly vibrating its tail. This behavior is often described as mimicking a rattlesnake, but could also predate the development of rattles in rattlesnakes.

For more info on the reptiles and amphibians of California see the californiaherps.com web site.

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The Rattlesnakes Are Blooming

Rattlesnake on the PCT east of San Francisquito Canyon.

Although we are still experiencing a record-breaking drought, this rain season did provide a little short term relief to plants and wildlife. Compared to last year rainfall is up 27% at Los Angeles, 39% at Santa Barbara, 57% at LAX and 63% at Camarillo/Oxnard according to NWS data.

The increase in rainy season precipitation dramatically increased plant growth, the abundance of wildflowers, and temporarily increased the availability of key resources to wildlife.

Another thing it seems to have increased is the number of rattlesnakes. Over the past two years I have seen maybe two rattlesnakes total on my runs in the Santa Monica Mountains, San Gabriel Mountains, and in the Big Bear area and on San Gorgonio Mountain. In the Ahmanson Ranch – Cheeseboro area I’ve seen none.

With the increase in rainfall this season that has changed. The title photo was taken on the Leona Divide 50/50 course March 28. That day I encountered two rattlesnakes and talked to a runner that had seen three on the course the previous weekend. From March 26 to April 2 I encountered rattlesnakes on three out of four runs. Two of those were at Ahmanson and it seemed everyone I talked to on the trail was seeing rattlesnakes.

Hard to see rattlesnake on the PCT a few miles west of Bouquet Canyon.
See the rattlesnake? Click for larger view.

There has also been an increase in the number of encounters with non-venomous snakes as well. I’ve seen a number of gopher snakes and a California striped racer. Friends have mentioned seeing a ring-necked snake and California kingsnake.

Since the weather has cooled I haven’t encountered any rattlesnakes, but have seen their tracks. When I run, especially on single-track trails, my snake radar is on and I’m definitely on the lookout for the hard-to-see beasts.

Some related posts: Southern Pacific Rattlesnake on the Burkhart Trail, Southern Pacific Rattlesnake, Big Southern Pacific Rattlesnake at Ahmanson Ranch

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Tamalpais Trail Run

Running ahead of me at a brisk pace, Brett suddenly stopped and turned, gesturing for me to slow and be quiet. On the shaded trail ahead I could see something large and brown hunched over on the trail. It took a moment to realize that it was a big male turkey in full regalia.

We were on Mt. Tamalpais, and about a half-mile into an afternoon run from the Bootjack parking area in Mt. Tamalpais State Park. This scenic loop was the first of several runs over a too-short Bay area weekend visit. One of the innumerable loops and variations in and near the Park, our route included segments of the Old Mine, Rock Spring and Matt Davis Trails.

According to this November 2012 article in the Marin Independent Journal the turkeys were introduced into Marin County in 1988 by Fish & Game to provide hunting opportunities on private land. They have since become a nuisance and usurp resources from native species. During the birds’ mating season they have reportedly frightened hikers and bikers. (I might have scoffed at that statement before seeing the size of this tom.)

It was a warm in the sun, cool in the shade afternoon with the temperature in the mid-70s. Earlier in the week an offshore flow had pushed temperatures in the Bay area well into the 90s. The heatwave produced numerous record highs, with the temperature at San Francisco Airport reaching over 90 degrees on Tuesday and Wednesday. The remote automated weather station (RAWS) on Middle Peak can be used to get an idea of the weather on Mt. Tam.

Today the winds were onshore, but the visibility was still very good. The twin summits of Mt. Diablo could be clearly seen across the bay, about 40 miles away. Mt. Diablo would be the site of one of tomorrow’s runs. Rumor had it the rare Mt. Diablo fairy lantern was blooming, and Brett had planned a run on Diablo that included North Peak, Bald Ridge and Eagle Peak.

Here are a few photos from today’s run on Mt. Tam. More info can be found on the Mt. Tamalpais State Park and the Friends of Mt. Tam web sites. This State Park brochure includes a trail map.

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