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)