Field Journal: 21 September 2018

Fall in Northern California is a season of anticipation. This is a look-at-the-bright-side way of saying that there's not much going on (yet.) September and October are our warmest months, and even the newest leaves sport a thick coat of dust; it hasn't rained since early May. Daylight hours are shortening, the acorns aren't ripe yet, and blackberry canes still bear green fruit. The black-tailed bucks are sniffing after does still caring for spotted fawns, but the does are tucking tail, not quite ready to welcome the next season's courting. Salamanders await the winter rains underground, or tucked into hollow logs.
In other words, it's a great time to sit and get a sense of the place.  This week, I spent a good amount of time staring at trees in the redwood forest.

Coast Redwood Forest Community

Roy's Redwoods

21 September 2018, 10:00 - 11:10

55°F (12.8°C,) sunny and clear. Occasional light breeze.

Route: From trailhead at Nicasio Valley Road, east and then north on social trails to the Rock Fort at Spotted Owl Tree. Return to trailhead via social trails.

Habitat: Coast redwood forest in the alluvial flat and on north-facing (cooler, wetter) slopes; adjacent to mixed evergreen forest on the south-facing (warmer, drier) slopes.

Camera: Sony a6000 and 16mm lens

Focus: Coast redwood forest

Here are some photos along the social trails from the trailhead to (what I call) the Rock Pile at Spotted Owl Tree:

Coast redwood forest on the alluvial flat in Roy's Redwoods. The trees here are coast redwood and peppernut. Note the dry creekbed. 21 September 2018.
Social trail on the alluvial flat in Roy's Redwoods. Understory plants are scant, and soil is compacted by foot traffic here. An area of loosened soil cutting horizontally across the path is faintly visible; thanks to the labor of gophers or moles? 21 September 2018.
Redwood forest community on the alluvial flat in Roy's Redwoods; west-facing slope in the background. 21 September 2018. 
Social trail in a canyon in Roy's Redwoods. South-facing slope rises on the left, hosting mixed evergreen forest; north-facing slope on the right is dominated by coast redwood trees. 21 September 2018.
Spotted Owl Tree (right) and Rock Fort (left) in Roy's Redwoods. A good place to sit. 21 September 2018.
Stump adjacent to Spotted Owl Tree. I'm rooting for this peppernut sprout! 21 September 2018.

Today I am sitting on a boulder in the coast redwood forest on the alluvial flat in Roy's Redwoods Open Space Preserve.

Sounds: A few croaks from a frog in the canyon up the hill behind me (not a bullfrog;) low hum of bees all around; a woman (not me) coughing, once; traffic on Nicasio Valley Road to the west; a dark-eyed junco, alarmed; wind in the treetops; pencil on paper; a Pacific wren, alarmed; a chipmunk, alarmed; a hawk; a pileated woodpecker.

Smells: Dry dust; pu-erh tea; Australian shepherd dog (Holly.)

To my left: a north-facing slope, steep and undulating under a deep blanket of redwood boughs & peppernut leaves. Beaked hazelnut, tanoak, western sword fern, and barehip rose dominate the understory.

To my right: mixed evergreen forest on a steep, south-facing slope, with a shallower dusting of Douglas-fir boughs and coast live oak & peppernut leaves. Not much grows between the trees on this hillside, other than some scraggly poison oak.

Behind me: the narrowing cut of the canyon, rising on a west-facing slope. A social trail continues east, parallel to the dry stream bed, before it rises through a grassy hillside to join Roy's Redwoods Loop Trail. Two living peppernut trees lie across the trail east of here (low enough to require stooping,) and the trail through the grass is steep, narrow, and popular with ticks. Beyond the ridge to the east lies San Pablo Bay.

Before me: the canyon widening into the alluvial flat, with the creek winding through.

View from my perch on the Rock Pile at Spotted Owl Tree, facing west. 21 September 2018.

The largest of the coast redwoods dominate the alluvial flat to the west; they are joined by peppernut and bigleaf maple trees.

Early fall is the warmest time of year here in Northern California, and we are still a couple of months away from the rainy winter months. Today the creek bed is bone dry, but it still traces a serpentine path west to Larsen Creek, near the trailhead on Nicasio Valley Road. Larsen Creek cuts a line south across Drake Boulevard to join with Lagunitas Creek (Tokelalume in the language of the Coast Miwok People; lúme, willow,)* which continues north and west until it spills into Tomales Bay. In this way, the forest is joined with the sea.

Above me: evergreen boughs of peppernut and coast redwood, and the great blue sky beyond. The staccato call of a pileated woodpecker, unanswered; the passing shadow of a turkey vulture.

Below me: a cool, moss-covered boulder; earth, roots, fungi, bones; Franciscan Complex bedrock.



Coast Redwood - Sequoia sempervirens

Peppernut (California Bay Laurel) - Umbellularia californica

Bigleaf Maple - Acer macrophyllum

Tanoak - Notholithocarpus densiflorus

Beaked Hazelnut - Corylus cornuta

Douglas-fir - Pseudotsuga menziesii

Coast Live Oak - Quercus agrifolia

Barehip Rose - Rosa gymnocarpa

Western Sword Fern - Polystichum munitum

Pacific Poison Oak - Toxicodendron diversilobum

Dark-eyed Junco - Junco hyemalis

Pileated Woodpecker - Hylatomus pileatus

Pacific Wren - Troglodytes pacificus

Turkey Vulture - Cathartes aura

Chipmunk - Tamias sp.

* Gudde, Erwin G. 2010. California Place Names: The Origin and Etymology of Current Geographical Names. Berkeley: University of California.

Next week: A closer look at some members of the plant community.

Previously: 12 September 2018

Next: 23 September 2018

See also: