San Bruno Mountain (3/20/2022)

Today I took Brian to see the East side of San Bruno Mountain, via Firth Canyon. And, the most exciting bits were things I don’t have photos for!

The place was still in full on CHECKER LILY NIRVANA mode. And, thank gawd. Because I so wanted Brian to have the same awe at just how many of them are there as I had. And, he did.

On the way to where the Checker Lilies start, I spotted new things that weren’t there last week! Milkmaids and blooming Annual Honesty. Amazing what a week can do. And, maybe a tiny bit of rain?

After we came out from the shade of the forest, we started seeing very intriguing creatures…

First, we saw a small brown butterfly. So small, I thought it had to be a moth. But, got decent photos. And, we thought it was the endangered San Bruno Elfin. But, after getting home, it appears not to be the the subspecies but the species Brown Elfin. Ah, well! Newtome butterfly! And, so cute! It posed ohsopolitely for me. Very accommodating tiny butterfly. Turned out, it was also a good omen…

We kept heading up, and we saw a small entirely blue butterfly flitting about in front of us. MISSION BLUE BUTTERFLY, OMG OMG OMG!!! I honestly wasn’t sure I’d ever see them. Like, ever. Yeah, I’ve been looking for them. But, being endangered, I didn’t have high hopes of ever actually seeing one. And, there were TWO. It was so hard to see them well, but they were absolutely the blue from the photos. It was THRILLING. I felt like crying from happiness.

We kept heading up, and we turned onto one of the side paths. TWO MORE MISSION BLUE BUTTERFLIES flitting about and NEVER LANDING. Super possible it was the same two. But, it was nuts to see them again so soon.

We kept heading up, and we went out to the rocky cliffside that goes up to the road. Pipevine Swallowtail was up there! THAT’s the big black butterfly I saw last time! Saw a medium sized black/orange butterfly but lost sight of it. Saw another one and got a good look at it. Variable Checkerspot! Likely what I saw before? That area is a good one for butterflies. Just like last time.

Oh, and around there, I saw what looked like swallows, but these seemed newtome. They looked black, with a white long patch on their chest. They also didn’t flap their wings as often as regular swallows?

This time, we walked up the road and past the water tank. A trail was up ahead. Looked steeper without switchbacks like the other trail I knew. Brian headed up a bit, and it was still steep further up. So, I had to pass. I can do switchbacks for A WHILE. But, plain steep is not my thang.

So, we headed down to continue on the trail I knew. And, we saw Violet-green Swallows! They looked like entirely different swallows from what I saw before. And, I’m sticking to it.

We got past the dry creek bed, and TWO MORE MISSION BLUE BUTTERFLIES were flitting about. Along with a Pipevine Swallowtail. And, an Anise Swallowtail? We stood and watched the butterfly activity before our eyes. At one point, AND ONLY ONE DANGIT, the Mission Blue Butterfly landed on a California Buckeye leaf. I knew I’d definitely get a good look through my binocs faster than I’d be able to get my camera out, turned out, and zoomed in on it. So, I opted for the binocs. And, there it was. The most beautiful blue. It’s my favorite color. I think I saw it for maybe 3 seconds. But, it was exhilarating.

It flitted furiously away. And, we watched it and another one continue to make the same rounds around us. Part of the route was just above my head! I have no idea how long we stood and watched this. Hoping one would just land so we could get another look. Brian was able to actually follow one with his binocs for a while. And, I’m still impressed he didn’t throw up as a result.

They made this same route a number of times, and it seemed like it was time to give up. They’d never land again. We had a couple seconds, and that was IT. But, it gave me confidence that we had actually seen the endangered Mission Blue Butterfly. More than once. And, we think, several pairs. Just amazing.

We got up to about the spot I made it to last time. We stopped to pack some things into Brian’s backpack when I noticed a dog shape trotting on a trail along the mountainside. COYOTE or FOX?? Brian got his binocs on it, and I couldn’t help but just watch it trot along. I said something like, “OMG, Coyote!” and it stopped and turned to look RIGHT AT US. It was not that close to us. WOW! It looked at us for a couple seconds, then it trotted off to where it was headed. Behind the water tank.

Brian thought it was a fox. It had a small rodent in its mouth! Wish I’d not been such a zombie and grabbed my binocs to see it better!! I think, based on size, that it was a coyote. But, he got way better looks. It might remain a mystery. But, WOW! First time seeing a coyote or fox on San Bruno Mountain.

We started venturing up to new territory. And, I didn’t get far before I started feeling nervous. It was pretty steep at that point. There were still some of those great footholds, but I don’t know. I felt my heart racing. Telling me not to go further. So, I didn’t. Brian did, to check it out, and it didn’t get better. Guess that’s what happens when you’re climbing a mountain?

He supportively started heading back down with me. It was not for me. I mean, I’m half Dutch. My genes are quite happy at sea level. Also, I think having a panic attack while near the top of a mountain is just not a good idea. For me. Thankfully, I had borrowed walking poles from Dan Ng for this exact occasion. And, it was SO GREAT having them for the walk back down! Can’t imagine not having a walking stick or pole for another walk down like that.

On our way back down, we ONCE AGAIN saw two Mission Blue Butterflies flitting about. Okokok, so it’s ENTIRELY POSSIBLE we just saw the same two the entire afternoon. But, I really don’t think so! Guess I’d need to hear from San Bruno Mountain Watch folks how many they think are there at any given time.

ALSO, after doing a litte more research. It could be that we were seeing Echo Azure butterflies. And, without photo proof, we can’t be certain. But, for now. For today. It could’ve been Mission Blue Butterflies. Right?

We got near the start, and I spotted an interesting flower I hadn’t seen there before. Perhaps Larkspur? Hadn’t flowered yet. So, maybe there’s a bunch more of them just waiting to come out? Neat! Also, a Red Admiral butterfly graciously flew in front of us and landed in front of us and stayed put for a bit. See? Not THAT HARD, Mission Blue Butterflies!!

So, I took Brian to see my favorite and seemingly secret part of San Bruno Mountain. It was a sunny day. It was a Sunday. And, still, we saw no other person on the trail. Just TONS of Checker Lilies and BUTTERFLIES and a Coyote. Super secret, I’m telling you! If you’re interested in learning more, I’ll share my secret with you.

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