Category Archives: photography|quirky

If It Looks Like a Hummingbird and Flies Like a Hummingbird…

hummingbird moth feeding on spreading larkspur

I was on the way back from Mugu Peak and about four hours into my run. I’d stopped at an exposure of Miocene age shale along the Upper Sycamore Trail. The gray-brown rubble is home to an intensely blue-purple wildflower called spreading larkspur (Delphinium patens ssp. hepaticoideum).


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I’d just snapped a series of bracketed exposures of one patch of the flowers when suddenly there was the bumblebee-on-steroids buzzing of a hummingbird in front of me.

At least I thought it was a hummingbird. It sounded like a hummingbird and was about the right size. Its blurred wings were shaped like a hummingbird’s. It flew with the precision of a hummingbird, darting from flower to flower, deftly feeding on each blossom’s nectar using its oddly shaped beak.


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But it wasn’t a hummingbird — it was a hummingbird moth — a white-lined sphinx (Hyles lineata). I’d read about hummingbird moths, but to have one suddenly appear and start feeding on a larkspur plant I happened to be photographing was extraordinary.

Apparently the problem of feeding on the high-energy nectar in certain types of flowers is sufficiently definitive as to have produced a very similar evolutionary solution in wildly different organisms.

The sphinx moth is described as flying like a hummingbird, but which lineage produced this elegant solution first? It may have been the moth! A trace fossil of a sphinx moth found in Early Eocene Asencio Formation of Uruguay appears to predate the earliest known Oligocene fossils of hummingbird-like birds! In any case it appears that both hovering moths and birds co-evolved with the flowering plants on which they feed and pollinate.

Related post: Hummingbird Stories

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When It Used to Rain in Southern California

Remember when it used to rain in Southern California? This is from a run at Ahmanson Ranch on January 6, 2005.

The 15 days from December 27, 2004 through January 10, 2005 were the wettest 15 consecutive days in downtown Los Angeles since record keeping began in 1877. Los Angeles would go on to have the second wettest water year on record, with 37.25 inches of rain for the period July 1, 2004 through June 30, 2005.

So far this water year — since July 1, 2013 — Downtown Los Angeles (USC) has recorded only 0.97 inch of rain!

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Bigcone ENSO Prediction, Poodle-dog Bush Blues, and a Surprise on Kenyon Devore

Morning sun on the dome of the Mt. Wilson Observatory

I’d paused to rinse my arms and legs, hoping to wash away at least a little of the poison oak and Poodle-dog bush I’d been unable to avoid. I was at a small spring part way up the Kenyon Devore Trail, doing a variation of a loop that my son and I had done a year before.

Today’s run had started on the top of Mt. Wilson, descended the Rim Trail to Newcomb Pass then followed the Gabrielino Trail down to the Rincon – Red Box Road. This year instead of taking the forest road down to West Fork, I stayed on the Gabrielino Trail and descended to Devore Camp, and then worked back upstream on the Gabrielino Trail past West Fork to the Kenyon Devore Trail.



Driving up the Mt. Wilson Road I’d noticed that many of the bigcone Douglas-firs were heavily laden with cones. According to the Forest Service’s Silvics Manual bigcone Douglas-firs don’t often have bumper crops. Why now, following two subpar rain seasons, the most recent of which was unusually dry? Was the tree’s evolutionary knowledge playing the odds that a wet period of Southern California’s wet/dry ENSO cycle is a Winter or two away? At the moment La Nina or Neutral conditions look more likely this coming Winter, but the odds for El Nino could increase for the Winter of 2014-15.



Like last year there was plenty of poison oak and Poodle-dog bush along the Rim and Gabrielino Trails. The poison oak was about the same as last year — mostly but not entirely avoidable — but the Poodle-dog seemed worse. I’d hoped that this year’s much lower than average rainfall would suppress the growth of Poodle-dog bush, but if anything it seemed more robust. Poodle-dog had overgrown the trail in several spots, its long stalks and sticky leaves overlapping the trail like a gauntlet of pikes. Contact was unavoidable.



It had been interesting to visit Devore Camp. The last time I’d been there was in March 2003 when Gary Gunder and I paddled from the West Fork San Gabriel River from West Fork to Hwy 39. We had been fortunate to be able to paddle the reach with few portages. With all the downed trees from the Station Fire it may be many years before big storms flush the river channel to point it can be paddled without logs being a constant problem.



In addition to the expanses of Poodle-dog bush blossoms, a number of other wildflowers were in bloom, including Grinnell’s beardtongue, rose snapdragon, blackberry, pink, paintbrush, bush poppy, buckwheat, gilia, Keckiella and others. Along the West Fork the blossoms of spotted Humboldt’s lilies had beamed like yellow-orange paper lanterns scattered throughout an immense garden.

I cannot ascend the Kenyon Devore Trail without thinking about the Mt. Disappointment 50K/50M. During those races the little spring I was at now had always been a welcome source of “extra” water on the final climb to Mt. Wilson. The 2013 races have been cancelled, but are expected to return in 2014. We all know how tough R.D. Gary Hilliard is and look forward to next year’s race!

“Hey, are you on a trail?”

The voice seemed to come from nowhere. I looked to my left and right, but the trail was empty.

“Hey, up here!”



What the… I scanned the STEEP slopes above the creek, but still had a hard time locating the voice. After a moment of rustling, a helmeted figure emerged from the trees, carrying an orange mountain bike.

If you’ve done the Kenyon Devore Trail as part of the Mt. Disappointment races or at another time you probably recall the slippery stream crossing with the chain. The MTBer had apparently missed a switchback about a mile up the trail and descended directly down a ridge to the spring.

Update Friday, June 21, 2013. Lucked out with the Poodle-dog bush* and poison oak! Just one small spot of irritation on the top of an ankle, and it’s already almost gone.

*The taxonomic name for Turricula parryi (Poodle-dog bush) has changed to Eriodictyon parryi. The Jepson Manual: Vascular Plants of California, Second Edition (2012) has returned Turricula to the genus Eriodictyon, as originally described by Gray. According to the Wikipedia entry for Turricula (April 11, 2012), “… molecular phylogenetic analysis carried out by Ferguson (1998) confirms that Turricula should be treated as a separate genus within a clade (Ferguson does not use the term “subfamily”) that includes Eriodictyon, and also the genera Nama and Wigandia; Eriodictyon is the genus to which Turricula is closest in molecular terms, and is its sister taxon.” I use “Turricula” and “Poodle-dog bush” interchangeably as a common name.

Some related posts: Mt. Wilson Rim Trail – Kenyon Devore Trail Loop, GSU Mt. Wilson CHARA Telescope Array, Why Won’t My Smart Key Work?

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Giant Coreopsis Along the La Jolla Canyon Trail

Giant Coreopsis Along the La Jolla Canyon Trail

If a sunflower could be crossed with a Joshua tree the result might look like Giant Coreopsis (Leptosyne gigantea).



As tall as six feet, this peculiar plant looks as if it belongs in some distant place, if not some distant time.

It is a member of the Sunflower family and its bright yellow flowers and feathery green leaves create impressive displays on Southern California coastal slopes following Winter rains. It is well-adapted to our Mediterranean climate, its leaves withering and the plant becoming dormant in the dry months.

These are along the La Jolla Canyon Trail in Pt. Mugu State Park and were photographed on Saturday’s run to Mugu Peak from Wendy Drive.

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Comet PanSTARRS and the Crescent Moon

Comet PanSTARRS and the crescent moon from the Simi Hills, near Los Angeles

Did a night training run this evening in the Simi Hills, west of the San Fernando Valley, and combined it with photographing Comet PanSTARRS and the crescent moon with my normal running camera — a Panasonic Lumix LX7.

Since the comet is low on the western horizon and not very bright, it is a difficult object to photograph, and even more difficult to see with the naked eye.

I found a convenient pipe to use as a monopod and took some image sequences using the self-timer. This particular photo is from a single RAW format image shot at f/2.3 for 1 sec at ISO800 at the 35mm equivalent of 90mm.

Here’s a larger version of the image. The soft light on the face of the Moon above the crescent is earthsine — diffuse sunlight reflected from Earth.

The run was also fun. Saw and heard more poorwills and also encountered a mule deer. Didn’t see any coyotes, but certainly heard them.

Related post: Comet Holmes 17/P

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Mushrooms and Mud on the Backbone Trail

Santa Monica Mountains near Circle X

The temp was in the 40s and the chaparral wet with rain when we started the run. We were doing a two part trail run. The first part would be the 15 mile segment of the Backbone Trail from Kanan Rd. to the Mishe Mokwa trailhead on Yerba Buena Rd. The second would be the 6 mile Mishe Mokwa – Sandstone Peak loop.

The weak front that produced the overnight rain had marched on, and now skies were clear and it was a little breezy. As has been the case with many weather systems this year, there hadn’t been a lot of rain. Though muddy in spots, the Backbone Trail was in surprisingly good shape, and the running excellent.

In addition to the greening of the hills and the sprouting of many annuals, the frequent, light rains had also created perfect conditions for the growth of a  variety of mushrooms and other fungi. Fortunately I was running with a sharp-eyed mushroom collector from the PNW that could pick out partially buried earth stars and other mushrooms among the leaves, twigs and other debris in the deep shade along the trail.

Here are three of the more peculiar fungi. Click the image for more info and a larger image.





Orange Jelly




Comb Tooth




Earth Star

Some related posts: Circle X Crags and the Channel Islands, Mishe Mokwa – Sandstone Peak – Grotto Trail Run

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Confused Coot

Usually found around marshes, ponds, lakes and reservoirs — often in large flocks — this solitary coot was in a conifer forest at 7300′ on Twin Peaks in the San Gabriel Mountains, near Los Angeles.

It was only a few feet in front of me when it flushed. Far too large to be a quail, at first I assumed it was a grouse, and was surprised it allowed me to approach so close.

Its wings beating furiously the bird managed to scurry downhill a few yards — perhaps briefly becoming airborne — and stop. Preening this feather and that, the bird seemed annoyed to have made such an effort, and more concerned about its feathers than me. 

Its wing beats were symmetric and strong and the bird appeared to be healthy, but it was my impression its primaries were not fully formed. American coots (Fulica americana) molt in late summer and it takes about a month for them to return to flight. Maybe this bird was nearing the end of a molt and not quite ready to fly.

But why should the coot be so far from water? I think the closest lake to Twin Peaks is Cogswell Reservoir — about 5000′ lower in elevation and 5.5 miles away.

From last Sunday’s trail run to Twin Peaks.

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SpotTheShuttle Trail Run – A Long (3 mile) Shot with a Short (90mm) Lens

Space Shuttle Endeavour on NASA's 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft over the Pacific near Malibu

I’d run up from Cold Creek on the Stunt High Trail and Backbone Trail and hadn’t seen a soul until on the service road that connects Saddle Peak’s twin summits. Usually you’d only see telecommunication workers, hikers and trail runners on the peak. Not this morning!

Cars where I’d never seen cars before — parked on the eastern summit of Saddle Peak, parked on the western summit of Saddle Peak. Parked in every turnout on the roads below the peak. People were perched on every rock outcrop and vantage point from which they could see the Malibu coastline. Everyone was waiting for the Shuttle Endeavour flyover of Malibu!

I’d debated other vantage points including Sandstone Peak,  Mugu Peak, and Will Rogers near the bridge. I’d finally opted for Saddle Peak, hoping that the flyover of Malibu would be over Malibu and not off the coast.

As it turned out the Shuttle transport’s flight path was well offshore. This combined with Saddle Peak’s 2.5 mile distance to the coast made for an impossible shot with the 90mm max focal length of my Lumix LX7.

No matter; it was still fun to do the run, spot the Shuttle, and try to get a shot with my normal running camera!

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