Sometimes the behavior of wildlife is difficult to explain.
I’d just finished my run at Ahmanson (Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve) and was walking back to my car. I was about halfway between the dirt parking lot and entrance gate when suddenly, a large hawk swooped directly in front of me.
Incredibly, I was looking down on the bird! Banked to the left, it was below waist-level and turned around me like I was a pylon at an air race. It was so close I felt I could have reached out and touched its wing.
Time slowed as the bird flew past. I was awed by its size and studied the pattern of highlight-tinged brown feathers across its wings and back.
It landed on a wall to my left, about 15 feet away. I slowly removed my camera from my pack and, holding my breath, took a few photos.
Update August 14, 2020. I’ve replayed this encounter a number of times, and think I have a plausible explanation. As events unfolded there was a bit of commotion behind me, and after the hawk landed, some cawing off to my right. I suspect the hawk was being chased by a crow, and I was a convenient shield that could be used to break up the chase.
You know what they say about making assumptions. Did the Three Points loop around Mt. Waterman today (July 25), and assumed that water would be available at Buckhorn Campground. In a normal summer that would be a reasonable assumption, but this has been anything but a normal summer.
Running down through the campground, I thought it was strange that many of the spaces were empty. Following the signs that said, “Day Use Parking,” and then “Burkhart Trail,” I stopped at a spigot across from some restrooms.
Later, I talked to a ranger and learned that the campground had just reopened on Friday! He said routine tests on the water system had to be completed before the water could be deemed potable.
So I had a choice to make. I was doing the loop counterclockwise, which put Buckhorn at about mile 9 of a 20-mile loop. The second half of the loop — on the PCT — can bake on a hot day, with the climb out of Cooper Canyon being especially blistering.
So far, the run had gone well. The Mt. Waterman Trail between Three Points and the turn off to Twin Peaks had been in excellent shape. No trees had blocked the trail, and the wildflowers and ferns at Waterman Meadow had been extraordinary. Like last year, a rejuvenated spring about 0.5 mile west of the Twin Peaks junction had water. (Not aware of the situation at Buckhorn, I didn’t top off my water.)
As usual, the run down the Mt. Waterman Trail to Highway 2 was excellent. A lot of people were enjoying the hike to the peak, but no more than is typical for that trail in the summertime.
Which brings me back to Buckhorn and my water problem. I could have shortcut the loop by skipping Cooper Canyon and running directly to Cloudburst Summit on Highway 2. That would have shortened the loop by 5 miles. But the day wasn’t super-hot, and there were several places where water could be used for cooling — even if I couldn’t drink it.
Reconfirming how much water I had left, I squeezed the Camelbak(TM) in my pack, and then started running down the Burkhart Trail into Cooper Canyon.
By maintaining a comfortable pace, and using seeps for cooling, my water lasted until I was within sight of the Three Points parking lot. This probably wouldn’t have been the case on a hot day.
While doing the Bulldog Loop earlier this year, I encountered an enthusiastic hiker who commented, “Aren’t the wildflowers amazing?”
He added, “There are so many, uh… What’s it called? You know, the one that smells like maple syrup.”
“Do you mean Everlasting?” I asked.
“Yea, that’s it! California Everlasting,” he exclaimed.
That’s what people remember about California Everlasting — the leaves smell like maple syrup.
The somewhat nondescript plant is especially abundant this year.
As suggested by its name, California Everlasting (Pseudognaphalium californicum) can be found along trails in Southern California chaparral and coastal sage-scrub just about any month of the year.
The plant looks like it is blooming in the title photo, but each “petal” is a botanical structure called a phyllary. The phyllaries form a protective covering around a disc of tiny flowers as they develop. Here is a closer view.
My weekday runs at Ahmanson Ranch will frequently include a dirt road on the east side of Lasky Mesa that is part of the Mary Wiesbrock Loop. There is a fence line along the road, and almost without fail, I’ll see a bird or two on the fence.
The most common fence-sitting birds on this stretch of road have been the Say’s phoebe, western kingbird, mourning dove, and lark sparrow. Occasionally, I’ve also seen a kestrel or northern harrier taking in the view.
While phoebes and kingbirds sometimes play bird games, hop-scotching from fence post to fence post, raptors are exceptionally wary and fly away at the slightest provocation.
Today, I was running down the road and spotted a dove-sized bird sitting on a fence post. As I approached, I could see that it was a kestrel and expected it to make a quick exit.
Slowing to a walk, I stopped directly across the road from the small falcon. It was about 20′ away, and didn’t take flight.
The only camera I had was my iPhone, so it had to do. I slowly took the phone out of my pack and tapped a camera app. The bird cooperated, and I took a few photos. But I wasn’t close enough.
Had the kestrel flown? I selected the 2X view. Still there. I took a couple more photos.
Finally, the falcon became impatient, and in a characteristic motion, jumped into flight.
This year I’ve seen kestrels on Lasky Mesa frequently, and suspect the mesa is about the right size for a mated pair’s territory.
Update August 5, 2020. The kestrels have been very wary lately, flying away just when I get within camera range. Here’s a photo of the male kestrel from this afternoon’s run.
Update July 30, 2020. I’ve seen at least one of the Kestrels just about every time I run on Lasky Mesa, but have been unable to approach anywhere near as close as described above. Here’s a photo of one of them perched on a fence post on the south side of Lasky Mesa. It was taken with the equivalent of a 230 mm telephoto lens. Based on its coloration in flight, it appeared to be a female.