Tuesday, Remi, my wife and I returned to the Palos Verdes Peninsula, south of Los Angles to hike in the 399-acre, Portuguese Bend Reserve. The early morning weather was sunny with a temperature of 52 degrees and still air. Leaving the car, we briefly followed a muddy trail north before it turned slightly west where I spotted a small poisonous Castor bean plant. Ascending a steep grade, I noticed a few small Australian Blackwood trees with their clusters of twisted, brown seedpods. Given the name, its not surprising that this tree is considered invasive. Reaching the top of a hill, I spotted a Pepper tree with its fern-like leaves. Approaching the tree, I could see a Wild Cucumber vine with its distinctive leaves and white blossoms clinging to its branches. This vine, also called California Manroot or “Old man in the ground” is native to this area. These names derive from the massive root-like tubers from which the vines emerge. A tuber dug up during construction at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden was several feet in diameter and weighed 467 pounds. Nearby in a grassy area, I spotted the yellow blossoms of Wild Mustard, another invasive species to this area. As the trail turned east, I paused to gaze afar south at the scenic Pacific coastline. On our descent, I stopped to observe a Honeybee feeding on the blossoms of Lemonade Berry. Also, I noticed the trail had a newly-formed 2-foot trench dug out from recent heavy rain runoff down the steep grade. Finally, we got back to the car and headed to our winter rental house.
Tuesday, Remi, my wife and I returned to the Palos Verdes Peninsula, south of Los Angles to hike the Bluff Cove trail. The early morning weather was overcast with a temperature of 54 degrees and a moderate breeze from the Pacific Ocean. Shortly after leaving the car, we followed a muddy trail north as it descended gradually along the bluff where I gazed down on the rocky shore and spotted some perching, adult Double-crested Cormorants along with a few lighter-colored juveniles. The population of this fish-eating species has grown rapidly in the past 20 years, invading the Great Lakes and consuming lots of their game fish. Also, I noticed a solitary California Gull on nearby rocks. Continuing our descent, I spotted the yellow blossoms of a Bladderpod Bush with its pungent smelling leaves. After flowering, this bush will produce bladder-like fruit resembling paper lanterns. As the path continued down toward Bluff Cove, I looked up at the eroded bluff wall that revealed a distinct interface between two different rock formations. Approaching sea level, I paused to look at and listen to waves crashing onto the rocky shore. Turning around, we began our ascent where I could barely make out a juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk perched on a rock ledge high above us. Continuing our ascent, I took notice of a small-scale rockslide on the path facilitated by heavy winter rains. Next, we returned to the top of the bluff and paused to scan the scenic shoreline to the north. Finally, we returned to the car and headed back to Redondo Beach.
Tuesday, for our first “wandering” of the new year, Remi, my wife and I hiked on the Blufftop Trail in the Palos Verdes Shoreline Preserve, 30 miles southwest of Los Angeles, CA. The early morning weather was party cloudy with a temperature of 52 degrees and no wind. We left the parking lot and followed a muddy trail north on a steep bluff above the Pacific Ocean where seaward, I noticed a Lodgepole pine tree near the precipice while inland, a Raven stood in a grassy field, greened up by winter rains. Far below offshore, I watched a few Pelicans and Cormorants searching the water for food. After stopping to watch a well-camouflaged Western Gray Squirrel, I continued north where I was surprised to participate in a stare down with a magnificent, perching Red-tailed Hawk. Other than a few pine trees, most of the woody vegetation along the trail consisted of a hardy shrub called Lemonade Berry while most of the groundcover was Pennywort. Near the terminus, I paused to observe a perching Say's Phoebe. Turning around, I retraced my steps south where I took notice of the beige colored outcrop that turned out to be a sedimentary rock called Valmonte Diatomite. This rock is composed mainly of silicate skeletons of a very common type of marine plankton called diatoms which are tiny plants that float near the ocean surface. The Palos Verdes Peninsula is part of an extensive submarine terrace of the inner California Continental Borderland where Middle Miocene and younger strata rest uncomfortably on a tectonically disrupted basement of Mesozoic Catalina Schist. Finally, I paused once more to scan the western vista before finding the car and heading back to our winter rental in Redondo Beach.
Out over the ocean, and it’s waves it lay,
A magnificent orange sphere, as it drops to the sea,
With spears descending from within the fire,
The magnificent beauty of the sunset each day,
An immanent display, for the world to share,
As it seeps below horizons, to end the day,
Only to share light, so that others may see,
The beauty of the sunset for all who care,
Up above the clouds, that shadow the light,
The rain, the snow, and the elements that blind,
That magnificent glow, that Brightens our world,
Another sunset awaits, just to share its light.
Last Sunday, Remi and I stayed close to home as we traveled 3 miles to hike in Alma’s Conservation Park. The Christmas morning weather was cloudy with a temperature of 34 degrees and a steady breeze from the north. Leaving the parking area, we followed a snow-covered path west along the bank of the Pine River whose channel was totally iced over. Along the way, I noticed a steady wind rustling through a small American Beech tree whose leaves were yet to drop. Yesterday’s 3-inch snowfall provided a good surface for me to spot lots of tracks of both man (boot and snowshoe) and beast (deer and dog). Following the path as it curved back to the east, I stopped at the Eyer bird observation area to see if any birds were coming to the feeders. On the one feeder, I watched a White-breasted Nuthatch land, snatch a seed and take off. On the other, I observed a few Black-Capped Chickadees come and go. As you could see, both of these bird species do not stay on the feeders very long. After landing, they grab a seed and quickly fly to a perch in a nearby tree to either crack open and eat the seed for stash it in a crevice to eat later. Finally, we left the feeders, returned to the car and headed home.
Wednesday, Remi and I traveled 25 miles north to hike again in Deerfield Nature Park, a 591-acre preserve west of Mt. Pleasant. The early morning weather was mostly cloudy with a temperature of 21 degrees and no wind. Leaving the car, we followed a few cross-country skiers along the snow-covered Lewis Pontiac trail southwest near the edge of the Chippewa River where I spooked up a Cottontail rabbit and noticed some of its scat. Remi took the lead as we continued south and came upon the drab remnants of a once colorful Goldenrod plant. By contrast, I looked nearby and spotted the colorful fruit of American Bittersweet. This woody vine has orange fruit that splits open in the fall to reveal scarlet fleshy berry-like seeds called arils. All parts of the plant are poisonous to humans but songbirds, ruffed grouse, pheasant and fox squirrel eat the fruit. North American Indians have used the inner bark as an emergency food. Up ahead, I turned east across a bridge where I paused to look at and listen to part of the fast-moving river that was still free of ice. Once on the other side, I proceeded east where I spotted fresh beaver tracks at a newly gnawed stump. Also, hanging from a nearby tree, I noticed the abandoned, sac-like nest of a Baltimore oriole. Turning north, I came to a 60-ft long cable suspension bridge that I was about to use to cross the river when I discovered it was closed. However, I was able to take a close look at its design since it’s a type of bridge I’m thinking about building as part of a nature trail in Gratiot County’s Lumberjack Park. Making my way back toward the car, I paused briefly and turned east to face the morning sun in recognition of its position as a few hours earlier it had reached its solstice to usher in the winter season. Finally, I got to the car, turned on the heat and headed home.