Purisima Creek Redwoods — All the World’s a Stage!

In the opposite direction from Half Moon Bay, off Highway One, is the Higgins/Purisima Road entrance to the Purisima Creek Redwoods Preserve. Hike through this peaceful canyon with its magnificent stands of old redwoods and enjoy an unspoiled Northern California gem. By the bridge to your left, not too far from the entrance, is a stately pair of red alders standing guard by the creek. These wind pollinated beauties have both male and female parts. Red alder trees are usually found at elevations below 2,400 feet and within 125 miles of the ocean. The beautiful silvery-white patches that you see all over the trunks are lichens. The barks of these trees are actually a deep tan color but you wouldn’t know it by looking at their mottled, distinctive silvery-white lichen laced trunks.

Many natural delights reside in this canyon in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The red alders with their attendant lichens are but a few. The redwoods for which the preserve is named are the real stars here but beauty abounds elsewhere, like for example, in the red elderberries (toxic), stinging nettle (with its heart shaped leaves) and the California bee plant (part of the Snapdragon family).

coast pretty face
California Bee Plant (watercolor sketch)

I didn’t come across any bees during my recent hike but l think I recognized the leaves of the bee plant close down to the ground. You should definitely start seeing them a little after New Year’s. For soon, very soon, after the first good rains — and we have already had a few of those — the bee plant will come alive. By March it begins to bloom and will continue doing so way into July. Hummingbirds, bees and deer love this plant with its reddish-brown stems and eye-catching red flowers. Look for it while you hike in Purisima. You can also find many of these plants in Montara Mountain just outside of Half Moon Bay.

Bugs in the Sun and Other Creatures

A little up the trail, along the creek, I encountered a burst of sunlight, a sun hole, that managed to pierce through an opening in the dense redwood canopy. Many flies, all male and of the same specie, danced about in their territory in the air. These were probably dance flies doing a lek/breeding display.Similarly, you can see this lekking behavior in the Monarch Butterfly when it over-winters further down the coast in Pacific Grove and Monterey Bay.

Down on the forest floor were two clown millipedes, easily identified by the yellow markings down each side of their otherwise all- black bodies. Millipedes don’t really have one-thousand legs. The clown millipede, for example, has about twenty body segments with two pairs of legs on each segment. That is far less than a thousand legs. Yellow lines with black is generally a warning in the insect/bug world. Think, for example, of the lines and colors of bees and wasps. Sometimes this pattern is merely a camouflage but in millipedes, it is not. Centipedes are different; they are harmless. But millipedes are poisonous. The clown millipede, for example, produces a cyanide gas when threatened. As always, do not disturb the creatures in any of the preserves. They are protected by law.

The funniest bug I encountered on my walk was a spittle bug, a baby frog hopper. Overall, it is pretty harmless. It drills a hole into the phloem of a plant and sucks out the liquid, bubbles it out of its back part and forms a bubble house around itself to protect it from birds and other bugs.

Ode to a Spittle Bug

You! Frog face spittle bug

Sitting on that sage

What do you think you are doing?

Oh, you think you are so clever

hiding there in plain view

I want you to know spittle bug

I am on to you.

Waiting for Elephant Seals and Other Delights

Day Hike

Oh, the Bay Area! From the mid-peninsula region up over Skyline Ridge, to lower Purisima Creek, across to Ano Nuevo where the elephant seals roam and back across to the East Bay, you will see such colors, such creatures, such beauty! Here is a lovely golden yellow banana slug! When this hermaphrodite has sex it fertilizes its partner and is itself simultaneously fertilized! You will find this brightly colored slug creeping about the floor of the Pacific redwood forests. I photographed this one earlier in the summer at lower Purisima Creek Redwoods which is close to Half Moon Bay and Pescadero, on the central California coast. Today (7/14/12) was a lovely day for a hike in the Santa Cruz Mountains. At 10:00 a.m. the fog was low and the air cool. By 3:00 p.m., around the time that these pictures were taken, the day had heated up considerably. These three photographs were taken along the Skyline Ridge section of the Mid Peninsula Open Space Preserves.

View from Skyline Ridge
Amidst the native grass, Skyline Ridge

This is Grace sitting in a field of native grass that I helped to plant two years ago during a habitat restoration project.

Black Oak tree (in the background)

California black oaks can grow as high as about 60 to 80 feet. They are excellent shade trees and are the habitats of many forest animals including squirrels and birds. At one time their inner barks were used for their tannin (to treat animal hide) and to make a yellow dye. This beach below is empty of elephant seals right now but come mating season, it will be full of male seals battling one another for mates.

Ano Nuevo, Central Caifornia coastline (7/7/12)
Waiting for the Elephant Seals? (Ano Nuevo 7/7/12)
Driftwood and river rocks, Ano Nuevo
Shadow ghirl, Ano Nuevo

And finally, back home in the East Bay, just in time for the sunset.

Last night as I walked the dog
East Bay sunset

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