Sugarloaf Ridge State Park (12/4/2021)

Today we Natured with friends Carol + Dan! We visited Sugarloaf and saw neither sugar nor loaf, but once again we marveled at our native oak woodlands surroundings.

They went along with my pick for a walk, Pony Gate Trail Loop. When AllTrails says a trail is “Easy,” be wary. Not hard, but certainly not EASY, gawd.
We started at a different trailhead to admire a very pretty wood bridge over Sonoma Creek, which we ended up walking alongside on our way back. Then we took the Pony Gate Trail (and saw no ponies), veered off to Stern Trail til it reached the Visitor Center, headed back through the canyon, took a quick look at the “waterfall,” then done.

I first spotted Manzanitas (Common Manzanita?) and a newtome mushroom (Layered Cup, WOW! They look like undersea creatures!!) to start the uphill climb. We noticed a group of doves that we couldn’t ID due to the overcast skies, and that ended up being a lot of our birding situation as our Naturing went on. But, we were able to see a Ruby-crowned Kinglet and a Dark-eyed Junco and a Downy Woodpecker, and Brian saw Hermit Thrushes. We heard and saw Acorn Woodpeckers. We saw a group of Cedar Waxwings. I got a decent view of a Western Gray Squirrel, hunched on a branch facing us with food in its paws. And, a nice variety of mushrooms throughout.

Once we went off course onto Stern Trail, we came out of the oak woodlands and into open space at the top of the ridge. The fog had become more intense, which lowered wildlife sightings but increased the mystical beauty of the place. Western Bluebirds were hanging out on Coyote Brush. We heard, but of course didn’t see, Sierran Tree Frogs in the grasses. I briefly saw a Northern Flicker’s silhouette high up in a tree. And, a raptor came out of a distant dark tree then vanished into the mist.

By the time we reached the Visitor Center, we didn’t have much time to waste. But, a park employee shared with us night cam footage of a Black Bear sometime in October not far from where we’d come! It dragged a deer off the path and hopped with it into the darkness. A Black Bear!

We had an hour of daylight (not sunlight) left, so we headed deep into the canyon. And, we spotted a small group of deer soon after starting. We walked so far down that I was a bit worried we’d have a major climb back up to where we parked. But, it was no big whoop in the end, thankfully. Sonoma Creek was rushing, and redwoods were along it, more mushrooms were spotted, and the “waterfall” was more of a trickle, but I could imagine it being quite lovely with recent rains.

I spend so much time Naturing on my own and have unique experiences because of it for certain, but I continue to be reminded how nice it is to share my Naturing time with good friends.

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