15 November 2009

Big Springs Loop

Date: 13 November 2009
Who Hiked: Me
Route: Big Springs Loop
Time: 1015 to 1255
Estimated Distance: 5 miles
Weather: cool, breezy, and sunny

I've been so delinquent in my hiking, that today I went out even though I wasn't sure I'd have time to finish the route I'd planned. But I printed off my images from Google Earth and commenced on my hike anyway -- even part of the route would be better than none at all.

I left the house and drove to the trailhead, about a mile from the buffalo gate above Two Harbors. It was a beautiful day and I was excited to get started walking. The day was cool (maybe in the low 70s) and breezy. But the sun was out and I knew that I would warm up nicely once I got going.

The trailhead is just before the buffalo corral on Little Harbor Road. The trail is flat for about 0.5 mile until is climbs for about another 0.5 mile to an overlook of the San Pedro Channel and Empire Landing. An old mining community, a few families live at Empire Landing.

Between the top of the hill and the overlook of Empire Landing, I found a grove of oaks. Their low gray trunks twist out of the ground to sprawl just above the surface of the grass. Even though I'd only been hiking a short time, it was too good to pass up, so I sat for a while and ate a mini-bagel with cream cheese. Louv is right ("Last Child in the Woods") when he describes how nature soothes us, allows our minds to quiet so that we can think more clearly.

At about 1.5 miles, I began to walk downhill from the ridge overlooking the Channel and Empire. This part of the trail is steep in places, with rocks that rise on either side of the road. I found a lovely nearly clear chunk of quartz, which joined a piece of diatomaceous rock already in my backpack. I can't wait to look at the diatomaceous rock under a microscope to see the fossil animals immortalized in stone. Soon I reached a fork in the road, with one road heading precipitously downhill to Empire Landing. THAT must be quite a ride during the rainy season. Drivers must say a hasty prayer, click their vehicle into 4WD, teeter on the edge, then drop off the ridge, relying on their experience with the permanence of objects that the road is still there, because once you head over the edge, you probably can't see much until the nose of your vehicle is pointed all the way down. And by then you've committed to the trip, for good or ill.

The second road at this junction heads off uphill, but Big Springs Road, which is my route, heads south into a valley. The next 0.5 mile of Big Springs Road is a lovely stretch, with shrubs and oaks that reach over one's head. The bushes were full of spotted towhees, which I don't see often on the island. I pished up two and heard at least four or five more. The yellow-rumped warblers also liked this stretch, with its bushes to flit around. They vary from being very brightly colored, with vivid yellow throats, to being fairly dull (more like their East Coast counterparts). The habitat opens up more, but there are still clumps of vegetation along the road and I see and hear a number of birds.

It is the season of white-crowned sparrows on Catalina. The bushes have been rife with sparrows, though they are all fairly dull with their brown and tan heads and their beaks, half-way between orange and pink. I've seen many of them around Two Harbors and on the road out to Ballast Point, at the mouth of Catalina Harbor. Today was no exception, as it seemed that all along the road I saw white-crowned sparrows.

At about 2.5 miles into the hike, I came upon the Big Spring Reservoir, which at this time of year is dry. A short while later (about 0.25 mile), the road paralleled a wetland area, that must be spring-fed -- perhaps the "Big Spring"? Anyway, there were cat tails and other green vegetation in and along the rim of the stream from this spring for about the next quarter of a mile. At an incredibly huge tree [species?], the road angled sharply west and uphill.

After a short, but steep, uphill trudge, I reached the Little Harbor Road again. Near the junction of Big Springs and Little Harbor Roads, I found a pitfall trap array. Designed to sample small animals, a pitfall trap array is a Y-shaped series of barriers, often erosion control fencing, punctuated by pits, which can be opened and closed. Small animals encounter the barrier, travel along it, and fall into a pit. The pits, in this case, five-gallon buckets, are deep enough that the small animals cannot escape. Pitfall traps are opened for short periods of time (e.g. overnight, 24 hours) and checked regularly during that time. Some organisms are identified and released (like small mammals, lizards) while animals that are harder to identify might be preserved so that specialists can identify them later. Given that I'm hoping to do some diversity monitoring using the pitfall trap arrays that are established on Catalina, it was interesting to find one.

I was not thrilled to walk along Little Harbor Road, inhaling dust every time a vehicle passed. So I headed straight uphill along a secondary road that forked off at this intersection. It was steep for nearly 0.5 mile, then ran along the edge of the crest for about a quarter of a mile. To my right I could see the valley, with the Big Springs Reservoir and the wetland along Big Springs Road. To my left, I could see the Buffalo Corral along Little Harbor Road. The trail headed downhill to the Corral, which I walked around to reach Little Harbor Road.

I found several acorn woodpeckers in a tree across the road from the Corral. It is a tree that has been used for nesting, as evidenced by the large holes excavated in the trunk. I don't know if island populations of acorn woodpeckers are exactly like mainland populations, but acorn woodpeckers elsewhere in California breed communally. Communal breeding occurs when multiple females contribute eggs to a single nest. Not all birds are equal: dominant birds are more successful at raising young than are more subordinate females. Acorn woodpeckers eat acorns, which are available only at certain times of year. So, like squirrels and chipmunks, birds store acorns for future consumption. But they don't bury them in the dirt -- they carve an acorn-sized hole in wood, and pop a single acorn in each. Storage locations are usually clumped, with a single granary tree containing thousands of holes. On Catalina, I've seen granaries in buildings (Eagle Nest Lodge, barns at Rancho Escondido) and in fence posts. Granaries are valuable because they represent years of labor; thus, groups of acorn woodpeckers defend their granaries against other groups of acorn woodpeckers.

I walked along the road for a bit until there was a gap in the Opuntia so that I could walk along truck tracks in the wash adjacent to the road. The bushes here were also full of birds, and I saw my first blue-gray gnatcatcher (on Catalina). A short bit later, I was at my truck again and ready to head home!

I expected to see snakes or lizards today -- the temperatures were cool, but the sun was warm and I thought that they might be out basking on the road. But no luck!

Species seen today: California quail, Western gull, Mourning dove, Allen's hummingbird, Acorn woodpecker, Say's phoebe, Common raven, Blue-gray gnatcatcher, Northern mockingbird, Hutton's vireo, Spotted towhee, Yellow-rumped warbler, White-crowned sparrow, Western meadowlark, House finch

All the distances that I reference in my blog post are estimated from Google Earth. In fact, I had no idea how far apart things were. In fact, I was surprised when I hit Little Harbor Road -- I thought I was way on the other side of the loop. Goes to show how good I am at estimating distances as I walk!

08 September 2009


Date: 7 September 2009
Who hiked: Me, Hubby, Things 1 and 2
HIke route: across the dam at the Lower Buffalo Reservoir, including part of the Trans-Catalina Trail and Little Harbor Road
Time: 1:20 PM to 3:45 PM
Estimated distance: about 3 miles
Weather: Warm and sunny, probably in the upper 70s

This hike was something.

We had looked at the route on Google Earth and had decided on a plan. However, cloud cover on the maps made it difficult to see ground-level details throughout our planned route. So, naturally, our plan was relatively useless once we were on the trail.

We started by parking the truck on the pull off on Little Harbor Road above the Lower Buffalo Reservoir. Walking along the road, Thing 2 was estimating the age of the bison tracks we found in the soft dirt at the edge of the road.

We took the trail that leads down to the dam and stopped for a while there to watch dragonflies, damselflies, mallards, and to look for bullfrogs. We didn't see any bullfrogs. There were several flocks of mallards, one on the pond itself and two that flew over (or the same flock twice, I'm not sure since each contained the same number of ducks!). There were a number of odonates (dragonflies and damselflies), including common green darners (Anax junius), flame skimmers (Libelulla saturata), and bluets (Enallagma sp.). I also saw and heard Western meadowlarks and killdeer. As we walked along the dam we startled a covey of Catalina quail (about 30 of them) from the willow thicket that grew on the side of the reservoir.

So far, so good.

We decided to take a "road" that consisted of a track from trucks who have gone this way. Occasionally. At some time in the past. Thing 2 began complaining that the dry vegetation itched on his legs. I'm sure that it did, but we couldn't really do anything about it, so we all ignored him. Poor guy -- no sympathy at all from his parents.

Five minutes later, the road ended abruptly at a dried-up creek bed. We saw ahead that there was a fence that would likely intersect our path, forcing us to either climb over or turn around. So Hubby suggested that we travel up the creek bed, which was cut relatively deep into the valley and would likely take us under the fence. We thought we were sooooo clever!

We successfully negotiated the underpass for the fence, and continued along our dry creek bed. The banks of the creek were probably about 3-4 feet higher than the center, where we were walking. Now the whole time we're navigating this creek bed, I'm thinking, "snakes". And I'm thinking "snakes at eye-level on the creek bank". I half-expected all the time to turn my head to see the nice loreal pits of a rattlesnake staring at me from the side of the creek... Yikes. Thankfully, no snakes.

So we head up the creek, which is generally the right direction for us to pick up the actual trail, which we are fairly certain is above us on the adjacent ridge. We climb over trees. We find a beautiful rock that Hubby refused to carry back home in his backpack. Wimp -- it couldn't have weighed more than 10 pounds. We climb under branches. We almost walk right through an awesome spider web. I take pictures of the spider, and then the Things carefully dismantle her web so that we can pass without hurting her. We negotiate around prickly pear plants. We climb up at least three steep rock falls. Thing 1 is worried that his mother is too frail for this sort of thing. "Are you all right, Mom?" (I was fine, although a bit peeved at Hubby because I had to be mad at someone and it sure wasn't going to be me!)

Eventually, we are close enough to the top of the ridge to abandon our creek and strike out for the top. The hill is treacherous -- steep with lots of loose stones and prickly pear. Thing 2 slips and gets poked in the eye with a stick and gets a large chunk of plant material in his eye. Mom to the rescue. But then, about an hour after turning off of the old truck trail and into our creek bed, we come upon the trail on the ridge... and were rewarded with a glorious view of the "back side" of Catalina. It was a bit cloudy, but the view of Cat Head at the entrance to Catalina Harbor was marvelous.

We are now on a proper trail, the Trans-Catalina trail, which takes hikers between Little Harbor and the Banning House Road and we head toward the microwave tower that marks the junction of these two trails. The trail is straight and marches along the ridge. One really steep downhill portion made us very glad that we were traveling away from Little Harbor rather than to Little Harbor! We don't want to go all the way to the Banning House Road (see my hike on the Old Coach Road), because that will really increase our travel time and now it's about 3 PM and there is a PTA cookout at Isthmus beach that starts in one hour! We know that there is a fire break/animal trail down the crest of an adjacent ridge, so we keep our eyes out for that turn...

Now, Thing 1 is a great hiker. He just chugs along, talking about what we're doing, pretending to be a Tongva guide, or commenting on anything that pops into his head. Thing 2, on the other hand, is not quite old enough to be a good hiker yet. Still feeling negative from the stick-in-the-eye incident, he began complaining bitterly as soon as we hit the Trans-Catalina Trail. He was tired. His backpack irritated his neck. His legs were sore. His backpack was heavy (it contained one apple, one granola bar, and about two cups of water at this point).

Hubby and I knew that Thing 2's real problem was hunger, but we couldn't convince, cajole, or force him to get food out of his pack. Eventually, I took his granola bar out of the pack, opened it, and stuffed a chunk in his mouth while he stood there, glaring at me. He did chew; I didn't have to move his jaw for him. And as soon as a little bit of glucose entered his system, he was better... I kept handing him pieces of granola bar and he kept eating it. This offered us a brief reprieve from Thing 2's dismay at the length of our hike.

We hoofed it down the hill to Little Harbor Road, which was a fairly long downhill. My and Hubby's knees felt nearly every step. We got to the bottom and Thing 2 was just spent. The two boys and I decided to let Hubby go get the truck and pick us up, as we were on the way back to Two Harbors.

It was an adventurous hike, to say the least. I think that both Things really liked the climb up the dry creek bed. I would have enjoyed that bit more if I hadn't been concerned about (1) snakes and (2) eventually finding a real trail that would take us back to our truck! So I'm going to chalk this one up as a success and a learning experience!

Other species: Northern ravens

05 September 2009

A Few of my Favorite Things

Date: 5 September 2009
Who hiked: me
Hike route: Intertidal area of Isthmus Cove
Time: about 2:30 PM to 4:00 PM
Estimated distance: hardly any at all!
Weather: sunny and warm (low 80s)

Today I didn't really hike, but I did do a nature walk that I wanted to write up. I had been itching to do some poking about in the rocky intertidal areas of the local beach for some time. Low tide was at 4:30 and by 2:30 I had had enough of the Things and needed a break. Hubby was home from his SCUBA class, so I took off with our new camera, which just arrived on Friday.

I really like to explore the intertidal. It has a lot in common with one of my other favorite biological activities: looking for salamanders. Now those of you who know me will say, "But you have many 'favorite' biology activities." And you are correct -- I do! But one thing that I really like is the turning over of rocks. To find salamanders, you turn over rocks. It's like a grand treasure hunt... Sometimes there's nothing there. Sometimes it's a common species of salamander -- say a red-backed salamander -- which is always fun. But sometimes it's something really exciting, like a red salamander or a ring-neck snake.

The intertidal is a lot the same way. You don't know what you're going to see. Sometimes you lift up a rock or move aside a piece of algae and you find an anemone or a crab. They're great to look at or poke, no matter how many times that happens. But sometimes, you lift up the piece of algae and you get a sea hare!

So about today. The rocky area of Isthmus Cove is at its west end. The tide was not going to be particularly low -- only 1.0 ft above mean low tide height. But that is pretty good for the daytime low tides during the summer and we are on the full moon. I walked to the west end of the beach and began to climb out onto the rocks. The tide was already low enough to expose most of the aggregating and green anemones.

As I moved my way along the intertidal, I looked both high and low, but especially just above and below the water line. Diversity tends to decreases as one moves up from the water, because the terrestrial zones of the intertidal are so stressful to live in. It's a rough gig, trying to live in a habitat that experiences such variation in temperature, solar radiation, humidity, salinity, and tops that off with wave action!

I like to take my time and pick through areas in the intertidal. For example, it's fun to turn over a rock and try to count the hermit crabs, each no larger than a baby's fingernail, before they scurry away for safer harbors. I like to lift up the algae that is exposed at low tide. Organisms like to crawl under the algae, where it is cooler and wetter. Even if the top layers of the algae almost completely dry out, there are still usually critters underneath to find. Algae is remarkable in and of itself -- many intertidal species can lose extensive amounts of water, until they are dry and crispy, and then re-hydrate when the tide comes back in.

Today the rockweed that covers many of the rocks in this location was hiding a number of good organisms, including three sea hares. None were large -- the biggest was about the size of my pinky finger and the smallest probably about half that big. I got photos of one. These are herbivores that eat algae, especially a red alga (Plocamium). Their integument is velvety, touching one feels like stroking an over-stuffed suede sock.

Another species that I was excited to find was the ghost anemone, an introduced species from the East Coast. There is a small population of these anemones at Isthmus Cove. The largest individuals were the diameter of an eraser on a pencil!

Species observed today: California sea hare (Aplysia californica), Aggregating anemone (Anthopleura elegantissima), Green anemone (Anthopleura sola), Ghost anemone (Diadumene leucolena), owl limpets (Lottia gigantea), pink barnacles (Megabalanus californicus), acorn barnacles (Chthamalus/Semibalanus), other limpets, chiton, wavy top snails (Lithopoma undosum), Norris's top snail (Norrisia norrisi), hermit crabs (mostly Pagurus samuelis), unicorn whelks, scaled worm snails (Sepulorbis squamigerous), California mussel (Mytilus californicus), California cone (Conus californicus), Kelp lace bryozoan (Membranipora membranacea) -- on rockweed, rockweeds (multiple species), elephant snot (Colpomenia, red coralline algae, sea lettuce (Ulva)

04 August 2009


With the exception of the Ben Weston hike on 26 July, all of the hikes that I've described in this blog were completed before I began "A Hiking Diary of Catalina". Every hike is labeled with a date of for the hike and you'll notice that some of them date back to March... well, the backlog of hikes is gone and I won't post any new items until I've completed a few more hikes!

Look for an update soon from a short hike Hubby and I took at the Wrigley Marine Science Center! Thanks for reading!

03 August 2009

Airport Loop Trail

Date: 5 June 2009

Who hiked:  me

Hike route:  Loop beginning and ending at the Airport in the Sky

Time:  about 11:20 AM to 1:00 PM

Estimated distance: about 2.1 miles

Weather:  overcast and cool 

I decided to do this hike on my way to Avalon for a grocery-buying trip.  Catalina's Airport in the Sky is on top of a mountain, flattened for just this purpose (see photo of flat-topped mountain?  that's the Airport!).  I parked at the Airport and walked across the road to the trailhead. There is a sign near the start of the trail indicating that there is an old soapstone quarry only a short walk (about 0.2 miles) down the trail.   It's a short walk down the slope to a T-junction, but there was no sign indicating which way to the quarry.  I thought that it would be interesting to see the quarry earlier in my hike rather than later, so I guessed that the quarry was to the right.

I was wrong about the quarry.  The trail took me to the west of the Airport, then crossed the Rancho Escondido Road and turned north.  There is some nice geology here -- interesting crystal formations in rocks, volcanic rocks containing vesicles where gasses escaped during their formation.  Good lichens too.  And a fair number of Uta stansburiana, a common ground lizard on the island.  In the bushes, there were chipping sparrows singing away.  The trail generally hugs the contours of the mountain on which the Airport is located, so it's a nice flat walk.  

I passed a pond shortly after the trail turned east.  It was at the bottom of the slope; using my binoculars, I spied several bullfrogs (Rana catesbeiana) in the pond, so I went down to get a closer look.  These were the first bullfrogs I've seen on the island.  An introduced species, little is known about their effect on native animals.  I was keen to see some frogs, even if they were "bad".

Cattails lined one part of the pond but the edges were mostly open.  There was evidence that bison and deer use it -- water is a precious commodity on the island for everyone.  I saw hummingbirds -- probably Allen's hummingbirds, since that's the most common species on the island -- hovering over the water trying to catch insects to feed their young.  At least one pair of killdeer were also at the pond and they would fly, then land a short distance away from me, as I walked around the pond.  I looked around a bit for a nest, but had no luck.  No surprise there -- killdeer nests are hard to find and the movements of the parents do nothing to help the seeker!  Also at this pond I saw and heard a common yellowthroat.  At first listen I always mistake the witchety-witchety of yellowthroats for songs of Carolina wrens -- at least a Carolina wren with a sore throat.  Which is silly for me to do on Catalina -- there aren't any Carolina wrens on the island!   Yellowthroats are one of my favorite warblers... ever since my first glimpse of one in the reeds that surround Lake Mattamuskeet, a fabulous birding spot on the coastal plain of North Carolina.  I was just learning to watch birds and this was one of the first species I had identified on my own.  Not that a bird with a bright yellow throat and a black mask is so hard to ID!

I headed back up the hill to the trail after satisfying my curiosity about the pond.  It's tough to keep to the proper trail on this hike because there are so many animal tracks in this area.  The animal tracks and the cloud cover on the image made it hard to trace my route in Google Earth too, so the map I've included with this hike is my best guess.

The trail continued east and soon I reached a second pond.  There was a female mallard and five chicks on this pond.  The mother quickly led her brood to the safer end of the pond, away from me.  More killdeer were beside this pond and a black phoebe perched on some emergent vegetation.  It was fun also to watch barn swallows swooping over the pond, catching insects and taking drinks.

Here the trail is particularly hard to follow-- there are a lot of animal tracks, especially past the pond where there is a water tank.  It was empty today, but is probably used to supply water to bison later in the dry season when water becomes scarce at ponds.  I walked up a slight slope, then to the Old Airport Road, which wraps around the northeast end of the airport. From the road I saw some great island bush poppies and watched an airplane zoom in low overhead for a landing on the airport's only runway.  

In a short distance, the Old Airport Road meets up with the new Airport Road.  I crossed here and headed south.  Again here the trail can be a bit tough to follow, though it is lined with rocks for much of its distance.  I crossed a small creek at the bottom of a hill, then headed up a bit to the quarry.  Only about 2 miles later than I expected, but find it I did!  The quarry is small, with several unfinished bowls (or ollas) sticking half in and half out of the rock face.  I walked up the hill, which is steep but short, and back to the T-junction.  I headed back to the Airport in the Sky and ate lunch.  I highly recommend their bison burgers, which one can eat on the patio overlooking Black Jack Peak and Mount Orizaba .  Today it was a bit chilly, so I ate inside facing the picture window of the cafe, then I continued on my way to Avalon and the Von's!

Other birds seen:  House finches, Northern ravens, Catalina quail (and babies! -- it's that time of year), Mourning doves, European starlings, Northern mockingbirds

Mammals seen:  Beechey's ground squirrel, mule deer

01 August 2009

Following the Old Coach Road

Sunday, 14 March 2009

Who hiked:  me

Hike route: Trailhead across road from West End Bison Corral on Little Harbor Road, ends in Two Harbors

Time:  approximately 2.5 hours

Estimated distance: ~4 miles, according to the Catalina Island Conservancy map

Temp:  low 70s, overcast

I did this hike before I started thinking about my hiking blog, so I don't have as much information from the hike as I normally would. 

I began this hike right after we had finished with our aid station for the Catalina Island Marathon.  Boy, the walkers and runners in that race have some guts... that is one tough race!

I started the hike at around 9:00 AM. Hubby and the Things drove me to the trailhead, which is directly across from the Bison Corral.  The trail heads up from here, past the microwave tower, through a gate, then down the other side into Two Harbors.  I also hiked the 0.9 mi spur trail (Cat Harbor Overlook) that goes out to an -- yes, you guessed it -- overlook at the mouth of Cat Harbor.

The Bison Corral is a good place to see shrikes, though I did not see any on this day.  About one-third of the way up the trail I did see a Catalina Island fox, which would turn to look at me, then run a bit further up the trail, then turn to look at me again.  It did this a few times, then crept off into the underbrush.  The trip up was a bit tough, but not too bad.  I stopped a couple of times for breathers...  The trail that goes up and over the ridge (excluding the spur trail to the Point) is an old road.  A hundred years ago, tourists would travel from Little Harbor to Two Harbors in stagecoaches along the Little Harbor Road.  At that time, the road then turned up this mountain and then down the other side into Two Harbors.  It must have been really exciting to be in a stagecoach drawn by six horses, careening down the Old Coach Road into town!

At the ridge, there is an intersection with the Trans-Catalina Trail.  It is a bit confusing here about where one should go, and I walked a bit toward Little Harbor along this new trail.  I figured out my mistake quickly, however, and reoriented myself toward Two Harbors without much time lost.  I walked back toward the microwave tower, turned on the left fork (northwest) instead of heading up toward the tower, and proceeded along the ridgetop.  I passed through a gate for the fence that transects the island here, then walked toward Ballast Point.  To go straight to Two Harbors, one merely turns right at the next fork and walks down, down, down the mountain and into town.  I decided to walk out to the Point, so I headed up the small rise along the Cat Harbor Overlook trail.  I've hiked this part of the trail several times; it is a ridge of small rolling crests.  None of them would be particularly challenging but for the fact that one has just hiked straight up to reach this point!  But I walked out to the Point and sat down to take in the view for a while.  

I don't see the point in hiking if one is not going to stop and look at things, regardless of if those things are birds, insects, plants, or views.  Sometimes I don't make very good time because of my penchant for stopping, as Hubby has reminded me on more than one occasion, but I do enjoy myself much more than I would if hiking was merely how I got from here to there.  Besides, thinking about what kind of time I'm making on the trail makes if feel competitive, and I don't need that!

I retraced my steps along the ridge to resume the trail down into Two Harbors.  It is more or less straight down, past a settling pond for sewage treatment and a perennially green patch of eucalyptus and shrubs that are watered with the sewage effluent.  This is a great place for hummers, though one can mostly only hear them as they squeak and whirr about scolding and chasing each other through the grove.  About the time my knees were threatening to give out from the relentless downward slope, I was at the Banning House.  I then walked past the Little Red Schoolhouse, the playground, and up the small hill (which felt much bigger now) and to my home for lunch.

Not a bad way to spend a morning.

26 July 2009

Ben Weston Beach and back again

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Who hiked:  me, Bill, Thing1, Thing2

Hike route: Trailhead on Middle Ranch Road to Ben Weston Beach and back

Time:  2-5:20, with time to play on the beach

Estimated distance: 3.6 miles round-trip

Temp:  mid 70s, mostly cloudy, light wind

So Thing2's birthday is coming up and he has been requesting a trip to Ben Weston Beach.  Today we decided to make this wish come true...

This hike is a great one for folks who like flat routes -- and not many of these exist on Catalina!  The trailhead is at a pull-out on the road to Middle Ranch; there is a sign for the trail.  It is 1.8 miles to the beach (according to the sign) and the trail follows a dry streambed for much of its distance.  You descend very briefly from the road to the floor of Ben Weston Canyon and hike along the valley floor until you reach the beach.  You cross two or three intermittent streams and one permanent stream in the first half-mile and all are easy to cross.  I've hiked this trail several times in both wet and dry seasons and the permanent stream has always held water.  There were Pacific treefrog tadpoles (Pseudacris regilla) in the water and interesting plants alongside the streams -- horsetails (aka scouring rushes, genus Equisetum -- see the photo), monkey flower (Mimulus sp.), cottonwoods...  I think that Equisetum is one of the coolest plants ever.  They are an ancient group, arising in the Paleozoic, and are common in coal deposits from the Carboniferous -- only 350 million years ago!  Any group of organisms that survived the Permian extinction and the extinction of the dinosaurs must be doing something right.  We saw a spotted towhee here too.  There were a lot of lizards (Uta stansburiana) along the trail, including small ones about an inch long.

We were probably about  75% of the way to the beach when suddenly we came upon a bison.  It was dust-bathing along the trail.  The bison really like Ben Weston Canyon as evidenced by the number of dust-bathing sites along the trail and the amount of bison dung strewn along the path.  Check under dried bison patties for organisms -- we found an endemic Catalina Jerusalem cricket under one earlier this year.  But back to the bison at hand...  All four of us stepped off the trail about 10 feet onto a game trail that led to the dry streambed adjacent to the trail.  The hubby walked down the creek bed (no mean feat, given the brush overgrowing it) a bit until he was behind the bison where he made lots of noise in the bushes.  The bison proceeded to walk up the trail (toward us), stopped to look at us through the brush, then meandered further up the trail away from our location.  Thing2 nearly had a cow he was so scared.  But while bison are really freakin' huge, they generally want to get on with the business of eating, pooping, and making baby bison.  As we weren't stopping the big guy from doing any of these three things, he just moseyed on by us.  Actually he wasn't a particularly large bison, so he probably was a young male who wasn't getting much action in the making baby bison department.

Ben Weston Beach is probably my favorite beach on the island.  Usually we are the only people there, the beach is wide, the surf is good, and the area is quiet.  We hung around the beach with the Things playing "Sanderling" -- they run down the beach as a wave recedes, then race back up the beach as a new wave comes in.  Just like a sanderling.  Unlike a sanderling, they often misjudge the wave and end up getting walloped.  Especially at Ben Weston where the waves can be big.  And so they were today.  It was fairly brutal, actually as the waves carried sand with them that scoured your legs and feet as they washed over you.  We also had some fun digging mole crabs out of the sand.  You find them in the swash zone -- the area of the beach that the waves wash over, but up from where waves initially crash against the beach.  Patches of sand with mole crabs are easy to identify by the "V" shapes of their antennae that are visible for a few seconds as the wave recedes.  You have to be quick -- the crabs are exposed by the wave, then furiously dig deeper in the sand so they aren't pulled out to sea.  They feed on particles in the water as the waves pass over them and move up and down the beach in synchronization with the tides.  Pretty cool, eh?

It was not low tide, so no good intertidal organisms to see on the rocks at either end of the beach.  There are offshore rocks at the west end of the beach where I saw about ten sleeping sea lions.  Another rock had at least a dozen brown pelicans perched on it.  While at the beach I saw double-crested cormorants, western gulls, brown pelicans, and house wrens.  

After about 1.5 hours, we headed back to the truck.  I had forgotten, but hubby had not, that the US v. Mexico soccer match (Gold Cup final) was being re-broadcast at 5 PM.  So he wanted to get home for a hot date with Fox Soccer Channel (no reason to hurry -- it was a very frustrating game that the US lost 0-5).  Anyway, we brushed the sand off our feet, put our hiking shoes back on, and headed back up the trail to our vehicle.  

The trip back was uneventful except that Thing2 (hungry, tired, and chafed) complained almost incessantly and Thing1 stopped a number of times to pick lemonadeberry fruits.  They taste like (yes) lemonade.  You suck on them for a few seconds, then spit the fruit out.  They are sour, but tasty!  We were nearly back to the truck when we ran across our bison friend again.  This time he was tougher to budge from the trail.  Encouraging bison to move out of your way is a fairly delicate process but Bill crashed about in the thicket next to the trail while the Things and I waited several yards off the trail.  Soon enough the bison moved far enough away that we could comfortably walk past him.  We sent each Thing in turn with instructions to run until they got to the road as the bison was still looking at us, a touchy situation.

We were on the road to home by 5:20, another successful hike under our belts.  We don't see many birds when on hikes with the Things, but singing hiking songs, discussing bison poop,  and having Thing1 pretend to be an Tongva guide make it worth it!

Hammocks hike to Silver Peak Trail

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Who hiked:  me

Hike route:  Loop up hammock hike from WE Road, cut over to Silver Peak Trail and back down

Time:  9-12

Estimated distance: ? miles

Temp:  mid 70s, sunny, light wind

I headed out from Two Harbors along the West End Road at 0900 -- it's sunny, the sky is blue, and there are almost no clouds in sight and I have to think, "What a great day for a hike."  Along the road, I saw or heard the usual assortment of birds: Northern mockingbirds, western gulls, European starlings, Northern ravens, and orange-crowned warblers.  It's funny how these birds have become part of the background for me.  About five minutes later, I was at the base of the trail that headed up the ridge.  We call this climb "Godhilla".  

I think a word about trails on Catalina is probably appropriate here.  Most trails on the island were not designed for hikers, at least as far as I can tell.  Some are roads (designed for motorized vehicles), some are firebreaks (designed to prevent the spread of wildfires), and the rest are animal tracks ("designed" by deer or bison, mostly).  So "switchback" is not part of the lexicon of any of these trailmakers...  those babies just head UP and don't stop until they get to the top!  While this does make for the shortest distance between the top and the bottom, it is not usually a pleasant situation for the two-legged walker.

Now I've hiked part of this route before (in January -- see the photos on my Facebook page!) and so I knew that the initial uphill part was steep and fairly long.  We don't call it Godhilla for nothing. It was tough for me in January, but I was sure that it would be easier this time.  I was four months farther down the road on my recovery from surgery last October after all.  So I get off the road, and begin to climb.  And climb.  Stop to breathe.  Climb some more.  Pretend I'm looking for interesting rocks while I stop to breathe.  Climb.  At about 0930, I'm almost to the top, but I'm not feeling great.  So much for the sentiment that I'd do better in May than I did in January!  I'm really sweating by this point and decide that I will sit to watch the barge that has come into replenish the goods in the Two Harbors General Store (Food, Souvenirs, Fishing and Boating Supplies, and Booze.  Lots of Booze).  I always assumed that it went to the dock and had the containers taken off with a crane, but apparently they pull up to the beach and offload there.  At least I think so -- there's no activity in the five minutes or so that I sit and watch.  It's hazy today.  I can see the outline of the Palos Verdes Peninsula and the mountains beyond on the mainland, but I can't see much detail.  In the other direction (SW) I can't see San Clemente Island.   Soon I decide that I've rested long enough -- I have a lot of hiking left to do if I'm going to finish my planned route before Thing2 gets out of school.

Ten minutes later, I've almost made it to the summit of the first hill, where there is a trail headed off to the left that goes to the hammocks -- a lovely spot to sit and relax with a great view of the Isthmus and Cat Harbor and the mainland.  But today, my plan is to forge ahead into uncharted (for me) territory -- to climb the rest of the ridge and get to the trail that cuts over to the Silver Peak/Trans-Catalina trail which is on an adjacent ridge.  So I head up the rest of the mountain and find a USGS geodetic marker with a lizard (Uta stansburiana) on top.  Now I can find that (a) I don't really see where I need to go -- makes me a bit nervous and (b) this ridge is not very flat.  Five minutes later I've moved along the ridge and can see San Clemente Island now -- its a long, low hump that rises out of the haze, without a clear beginning or end.  I feel really crappy, but I'm proud of myself -- I'm a long way up from where I started!  On the way, I have heard a spotted towhee singing; the song is similar to the Eastern towhee, but with more intro notes and a trill that is buzzier and less musical.  Seen more orange-crowned warblers in the scrub, barn swallows feeding on the wing overhead, and another spotted towhee scratching under the bushes near the trail -- I even get a glimpse of this one. 

I'm a bit torn at this point.  I've been hiking about an hour and I'm not very far along.  And I don't really know how far or how tough the rest of the hike is.  Will I be able to get back by 12:30?  That's when I need to get Thing2 from kindergarten...  Should I turn around and go back on the hammocks route?  I decide to keep moving -- there will still be time to turn around if I need to.  

About a half-hour later, I'm over the third or so peak on the ridge and I can clearly see the trail that cuts across a saddle to the Silver Peak Trail.  I decide to go for it.  Thankfully the trail skirts the summit of the next peak -- small mercies!  The plants along the hike include the usual:  scrubby oaks, Opuntia, lemonadeberry, and other plants I don't know yet.  There are some lovely small purple primrose-looking plants and some small yellow lily-type plants.  They look like yellow Stars of Bethlehem.

There are lots of Uta up here -- small lizards that live on the ground.  The males have very handsome orange sides.  I don't know if it's the weather or the habitat, but they're everywhere!

By 1045, I've reached the trail that cuts over to the Silver Peak trail.  The trail I'm on makes a T-junction with the trail up from Lion Head.  Going right takes you down to the West End road, at Lion Head, past Cherry Valley.  Going left takes you over to the Silver Peak trail, which is also part of the Trans-Catalina Trail.  I went left; it was deceptively flat-looking from a distance, but up close it was rolling up and down and at that point, I was pretty tired of up.  On this part of the hike, there is actually some shade!  And in the oaks along the trail, I see warblers -- Townsend's warblers and a hermit warblers -- new life-listers for me!  I get great looks at them -- they're beautiful.

By about 1100, I've intersected the Silver Peak trail, then I headed down.  Fairly steep down.  Remember -- no switchbacks.  By this time I'm tired and paying less attention to my surroundings, but I still hear and see mockingbirds, ravens, some swallows, and a few lizards.  By 1120 I'm at a flat section of trail above Wells Beach -- almost there!  And it's flat!  Hallelujah!!  The mockingbirds are in full-force here, flying about and scolding everything that moves.  The flat part ends (sigh), but I reach Wells Beach at the base of the trail around 1135.  The walk home from here is a flat road along Catalina Harbor -- good birdwatching for terns, western gulls, and ravens.  I see house finches in the scrub along the road.  I'm home by five minutes to noon! I even have time for a shower!

Eagle Nest Road

Saturday, 3 May 2009

Who hiked:  me, Bill, Thing1 (8), Thing2 (5)

Hike route:  Loop from Eagle Nest

Time:  about 1:30 - 4:30 PM

Estimated distance:  5 miles

Temp:  low 70s, partly cloudy

The hike headed uphill first.  Lots of good rocks here -- many crystals, interesting colors and types.  Found three velvet ants -- looked at them with Thing2's bug sucker.  Birds:  chipping sparrows (singing too), ravens, mockingbirds, quail (heard)  Good views of Little Harbor, Shark Harbor, vineyards at Rancho Escondido.  Get back on road before fence before Ben Weston.  Here road goes up, down, then back up and down.  About 2 miles on the road (measured in truck later).  Best route seems to be to go from Eagle Nest and up, rather than starting down the road first -- the uphills are then broken into smaller, more manageable pieces and the big hill is down into Ben Weston Canyon instead of up from Ben Weston!