Jasper Ridge!

After nearly a year, I finally got onto a docent-led hike at Stanford’s Jasper Ridge Preserve in the eastern foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Stanford has several studies going on at Jasper Ridge. In fact, the place has been used for scientific studies since the inception of  the university. The preserve is the site of discoveries that are important to both the scientific community and to society. Professor Paul Ehrlich’s discoveries about Bay checkerspot butterflies, for example, demonstrated the unique value of long-term research in ecology, and led to federal programs to fund such studies.

Dirca and Indian Warrior
Indian Warrior
Indian Warrior
indian warrior -closeup
close-up of Indian Warrior

It was a nice sunny day when I visited the preserve. Many flowers and trees were in bloom. The woods echoed with bird calls. The loudest of them all was the blue and white California scrub jay. It and the ravens were out in full force as were the hummingbirds.

The ubiquitous Indian Warrior plant filled in the spaces beneath the oak trees, doing what it does, living off its host. This hemiparasiste survives in areas with hot dry summers probably because it knows to stay in the shade of trees like manzanitas and oaks. Our guide told us that a name change is afoot as Indian Warrior is a politically incorrect name. What will this plant end up being called, I wonder?

A definite treasure at Jasper Ridge is the dirca plant, several of which can be found along the edges of the chaparral. Dirca or western leatherwood are known to grow only in the Bay Area. They are rare and endangered California natives that do extremely well at Jasper Ridge. Their lemon yellow flowers are practically iridescent in the sunlight. It is more than likely that butterflies, bees and hummingbirds are drawn to this plant.

Searsville Lake and Dam

lake -hillside viewOne of the most picturesque spots at Jasper Ridge is Searsville Lake which owes its genesis to the creation of the 120-year old Searsville Dam. The dam, built by the Spring Valley Water Company 1n 1892, was eventually acquired by Stanford University. Today it is part of the Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve.

Like the Hetch Hetchy Dam, Searsville has been a source of contention: environmentalists want both dams removed and the land restored to its original state. Unlike the water source(s) of the Hetch Hetchy, that of the Searsville Dam is not potable, and so, is severely limited in its use. Stanford is now trying to figure out what to do with the dam and consequently, the lake.

dam 1
Searsville dam
dam -lower view
Dam, lower view

There is no disputing that Jasper Ridge is a special place for wildlife, flora and fauna alike. While there I was treated to the spectacle of hole-ridden trees where acorn woodpeckers had hidden their loot. I came across an emerald green hummingbird with a flash of red, an Anna’s Hummingbird. There was no point looking for the orange and black Bay Checkerspot butterfly that once made this place its home. Endemic to the Bay Area, the Bay Checkerspot was last spotted at Jasper Ridge in 1998.

To learn more about Jasper Ridge and also about the Bay Area’s voracious appetite for water, visit:

To learn about the green, sustainable field station at Jasper Ridge, visit: http://jrbp.stanford.edu/fieldstation.php. If you ever visit Jasper Ridge Preserve, remember to look for the hole-ridden tree that is adjacent to the the field station. It is but one of many such caches on the preserve.

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.

A Bay Area Year

Ode to the Seasons

From the East Bay, to the peninsula, to the foothills and into the Santa Cruz Mountains, it has been a glorious year. Winter is now just around the corner. Let’s hope there will be lots of rain from now on in.

The Bay Area had its first significant end of year rains, a small storm, in October. This ended our normal six-month dry spell. Fire season, typically over by October, November, is but a distant memory, or at least so one hopes.

The second set of rains came along this weekend, causing M. to cancel our hike across the Monte Bello ridge. I guess she knows best. She, after all, looks into a foggy mountainside while I enjoy a sunny, no-fog drip in my corner of the Bay Area. A walk in the mist and fog would have been muddy but fun. Oh well, soap-making and a walk around the farm were equally fun and muddy.

The above photograph of a persimmon tree laden with fruit was taken today at Hidden Villa. The tree stands like a lone sentinel across from an outdoor kitchen. It is now mid-November, and it is a misty, alternately sunny and cloudy, slightly chilly, wonderfully wet day here in the Los Altos Hills. Little squirrels, why so lazy? The persimmons are beginning to rot on the tree. Why don’t you get to work and eat them up or is it that you are waiting for the interns to harvest and feed the fruits to the farm animals? Hmmm, I wonder if persimmon would be a good addition to the next batch of soap?

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A Painting for Each Season

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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