13 May 2010

Goat Whiskers Trail

View from the top of Goat Whiskers

Date: 7 May 2010
Who Hiked: Me
Route: West End Road and Goat Whiskers Trail
Time: 1130 - 1445
Estimated Distance: 7 miles
Weather: sunny, low 70s

So I have been remiss in my hiking lately and had intended to hike all last week. By Friday, I was feeling very frustrated with life, so around 11:30 I threw caution to the wind and headed out on a hike. I planned to hike out the West End Road, turn up the Goat Whiskers Trail, intersect the Water Tank Road, and take that over to the Trans-Catalina Trail (Silver Peak Trail) which would bring me down to the road that goes out to Wells Beach at Cat Harbor. My main concern was that the Things get out of school at 2:20, and I wanted to be home around that time. I knew that they would be fine at home for a short while, but they don't really like it if they get home and I'm not there. Not that they want to see me or talk to me, mind you, they just want to know that I'm available...

So I loaded up my daypack with water and snacks, my binoculars, a camera, and started out the West End Road. The island has been lovely this winter -- we've gotten more rain than normal and the vegetation has been lush and beautiful. Most of the flowers are fading now, but we've had a banner year with lupines, lilies, shooting stars, Indian paintbrush, and wild cucumber. The cucumber vines are now bearing spiky fruits (see left) which are not sharp, but leathery. The fruits are eaten by wildlife; I find rinds along the road all the time. Some plants are still blooming: live-forever, shrubs, lilies, monkeyflowers, Mariposa lilies, and Opuntia.

Hiking the West End Road is OK -- sometimes you have no traffic and meet no people, but other days you meet trucks and hikers. The dust is starting to fly again (it has been several weeks since we've had any rain), so meeting vehicles is unpleasant. As much as I dislike meeting vehicles when I am walking, it is not as hair-raising as when you are in your own vehicle. See my description of that from our Parsons Landing hike. Today I met a couple of trucks and several large groups of schoolkids hiking to Two Harbors from the Catalina Island Marine Institute (CIMI) at Cherry Valley. Most of the pre-teens were absorbed in their own conversations, but a few greeted me with "Hello hiker!".

I heard orange-crowned warblers, chipping sparrows, Bewick's wrens, and Catalina quail as I walked. One ground squirrel actually walked past me in the opposite direction. He appeared a bit tentative about the maneuver, which I thought was fairly bold, and he seemed to tiptoe past me while hugging the edge of the road.

The West End Road is also an interesting place to encounter some of the human history of the island. There are several abandoned silver mines along the road (see right). Prospectors worked the islands from the 1860s to the 1920s, when it was given up as a lost cause. But remnants of mining operations are still visible on the island.

About 2.5 miles later, I was at the trailhead for the Goat Whisker Trail, which heads up a ridge from Lions Head, the point just past Cherry Valley. The trail goes up (no switchbacks -- this is Catalina!), but the ridge is not as steep as some. So while it is most definitely a climb, one does not feel as if one is climbing a rock face.

The grasses are drying and their seeds get caught in socks, shoes, and other items and then poke you mercilessly. One of our friends had to take her dog to the vet to have one surgically removed from its cheek! They are decidedly unpleasant.
Periodically I would have to stop and pull them out of my socks. Worse that removing actual seeds are the phantom seeds that you could swear are there -- you can feel them -- but that you cannot find! Even though most vegetation is crisping up right now, there are still mariposa lilies blooming along the trail. These are lilac mariposa lilies (I think). There are also Catalina mariposa lilies, which have white petals with dark burgundy markings at their bases. Both are in the genus Calochortus.

I did not have too much trouble with the climb, though I did have to stop a few times to catch my breath and rest my legs. Lizards (Uta stansburiana) were often skittering out of my way as I disturbed their mid-day siesta in the sun. One was so discombobulated by my approach that it actually ran around in circles for about four revolutions before it dashed off under a lemonadeberry bush.

It became clear quite quickly that I was not going to be able to complete my planned hike in the time that I had allotted. I was not yet to the junction of the Goat Whisker Trail and Water Tank Road (1.2 miles) and it was already after 1 PM! I was not breaking any land speed records that day! I decided that I would hike up to the junction and make a decision about the rest of the hike from there.

I arrived at Water Tank Road around 1:45 PM. If I decided to continue up Water Tank Road, I still had some serious uphill hiking to do before I got to the highest point of my hike. If I walked down Water Tank Road, I would come out on the West End Road just before Howland's Landing, which is nearly 4 miles from town. In the end, I decided to retrace my steps down the Goat Whisker Trail and hike back into town along the West End Road. The trip down was quick (~20 minutes) and tough on the old knees. As I made my way back into Two Harbors, my phone rang. Thing 1 was calling from our neighbor's house to ask where I was. Apparently Thing 2 had come home first, seen the note I left for them, and promptly tossed it aside. So Thing 1 wasn't sure where I was and was concerned that I wasn't home yet. By 2:45, I was back at my door!

When I came home, I looked at my planned hike on GoogleEarth and discovered that it would have been shorter to continue on my planned loop rather than turn around at the intersection with Water Tank Road. Ah well, live and learn. Next time I will look more closely at the distances before I start my hike!

Other birds seen: barn swallows, ravens, Northern mockingbirds, Western gulls, terns

08 May 2010

A Little Mainland Action

Oops! Here is a blog entry that I had drafted, but not posted!

Before my surgery in mid-January, Hubby and I decided to do a bit of birding on the mainland. I had heard that the Bolsa Chica Wetlands were great for bird watching, so we headed out there the day before my surgery. The wetlands are managed by the Bolsa Chica Conservancy and are some of the last intertidal wetlands in southern California. See the bottom of this post for a Google Earth image of the wetland and of the birdwatching route that we took.

When we arrived, the parking lot was packed because they were installing a new pedestrian bridge over an inlet that led to a marina. We walked around the intertidal wetlands that are near to the visitors' center, where we saw lots of killdeer and some great egrets. We then checked out the visitors' center, which is small but has a number of taxidermy specimens. Of course, seeing birds close up never gives one an accurate idea of what the bird will look like through one's binoculars -- take the ring-necked duck as one example. If you see a specimen, you can see the burgundy colored ring around the neck, but as a field mark, it's useless. But it was still worthwhile and interesting. There were species lists for birds, mammals, amphibians, and reptiles available here too.

Hubby and I crossed the inlet via the road (Warner Avenue) and after skirting the heavy machinery and smiling at the construction workers so they wouldn't yell at us, we picked up the trail that takes one along the waterway. To the left were open fields (Canada geese, turkey vulture, sparrows, meadowlarks). The tide was falling and we saw curlew, willets, whimbrels, sandpipers, and snowy egrets. We continued along this path until we got to the bridge that goes across a flood control gate. We did not cross this bridge, but walked along a narrow dike with a channelized waterway to our right and a wetland to our left. More great birds along here!

Altogether, we saw 40 species (and three new lifers: Western sandpiper, Least sandpiper, and California towhee) in two hours of walking -- not bad, even for two fairly mediocre birders. We might have missed some shorebirds, because that's not my strong suit and we didn't have a spotting scope.

Birds seen:
Pied-billed grebe
Western grebe
Double-crested cormorant
Great blue heron
Great egret
Snowy egret
Canada goose
Green-winged teal
Northern pintail
Northern shoveler
American wigeon
Ring-necked duck
Lesser scaup
Ruddy duck
Turkey vulture
Red-tailed hawk
American kestrel
American coot
American avocet
Greater yellowlegs
Long-billed curlew
Marbled godwit
Western sandpiper*
Least sandpiper*
Ring-billed gull
Western gull
Forster's tern
Rock dove
Anna's hummingbird
House wren
European starling
California towheee*
Chipping sparrow
Savannah sparrow
Song sparrow
White-crowned sparrow
Western meadowlark