Marin Headlands (5/9/2022)

Today was my monthly day trip day.

First of all, for those reading via my blog, there just might be TOO MANY PHOTOS. But, I honestly couldn’t help it. I saw SIMPLY TOO MUCH.

Ok, so I’d heard from that Lepidopterist I met during my Capstone Project work that Mission Blue butterflies might be seen in Tennessee Valley right now. The other groups in SF/San Bruno had become adults early this year. But, in the oak woodlands above the Marin Headlands another group is expected to become adults starting nowish. I didn’t find where that was with a quick check online, so I checked out some Tennessee Valley area trails anyway. Found one I liked, though the elevation climb wasn’t enchanting to me… But, I just WENT FOR IT.

Never been to the area! So, this was exciting from the start! Ok, I’ve been to Rodeo Lagoon. And Muir Beach. But, the area inbetween, never! I’m not one to wanna walk a long ways just to get to a beach. OR up a mountain. But, today I was interested in seeing it all. Started at the Tennessee Valley Trailhead, took the Fox Trail up and the Coastal Trail down and the Tennessee Valley Trail back.

I didn’t have a lot of Mission Blue expectations, truly. But, I saw a number of Lupine observations on iNat along these trails. It was sunny. Who knows!

Once I turned onto the Fox Trail, IT BEGAN. I first stopped to notice the willows / riparian habitat on my right and heard so many birds allofasudden! American Robin, Common Yellowthroat, California Quail, Song Sparrow, Purple Finch, per Merlin’s Sound ID. That was from just listening for like 20 seconds or so. It was a very delightful start.

HOWEVER, the magic started happening as soon as I started walking along the Fox Trail. I saw SO MANY FLIPPIN’ BUTTERFLIES RIGHT THERE! No Mission Blues, but check this out: Gray Buckeye, Common Ringlet, Acmon Blue, another (more beaten-up) Gray Buckeye, random whiteish butterflies I think were all Common Ringlets, Lorquin’s Admiral, Field Crescent, and a whiteish one I couldn’t see well enough to ID. Saw all that within something like thirty feet, maybe? IT WAS NUTSO. I was so dang satisfied that I felt like I could just go home right then and be happy.

But, after admiring some Varied Lupine, Broad-leaved Sweet Pea, and Twinberry Honeysuckle, a Hummingbird (I think Anna’s, but iNat leans Costa’s, but I think that’s wrong) caught my ear then eye. And, I ended up watching it for a bit. Kept on going, where the trail starts its forever-climb.

That’s when a Pallid-winged Grasshopper jumped in front of me and laid still on the trail for me to document! So kind!

Another Field Crescent came right into view for me on the trail, as I moved along to enjoy seeing the Coast Paintbrush and Rough Hedgenettle and Western Blue-Eyed Grass and Orange Bush Monkeyflower and Sky Lupine. That kept me a bit distracted from The Climb.

Started getting some views here and there. Of the mountain folds down into the valley. Peeks of the ocean. Narrowleaf Mule-Ears and Ithuriel’s Spear colored the hillsides so nicely. Again, that orange and purple combo I will now always think of as California’s Spring Colors.

Saw a raptor cruising overhead. Northern Harrier! Female! Entirely SHOCKED I got a somewhat discernable photo of it IN FLIGHT!!

Noticed some incredibly pale Douglas Irises and Coyote scat on the trail and Pink Honeysuckle when I realized I was really high up. Turned around to look East, and I could see tips of Downtown SF! About then was the supersteepclimb. Like, DANG STEEP. If it had been much more of that, I might’ve just turned back. And, yet. I was pretty surprised I made it up relatively easily and was going to make it to that dang top! WHO AM I??

At the top was when I left the Fox Trail and turned onto the Coastal Trail to start my descent. Soon after starting that, a Common Checkered-Skipper (perhaps my most favorite butterfly?) flew into view and nestled into Coyote Brush or something. I managed to get ONE PHOTO of it in focus! Amazing. I kind of got lucky all afternoon like that. FOR INSTANCE, soon after that I heard then saw a Spotted Towhee. Whipped out my digital camera, got ONE SHOT, then it flew away. And, when I got home I found out it was a pretty good shot! In focus and everything!!

I rounded a corner and immediately saw a Wrentit super close to me (like, four feet from me?) in a Coyote Brush. I stopped. It looked at me for a second, then it flew off. I’ve never seen one before! I guessed that’s what it was as I’d heard it calling as I approached. And, I actually know its call! So, that was super neato.

More Common Ringlets would come and go at this point. So many!

THEN, a medium-sized dark-brown butterfly flew into view. It landed, but I had a tough time finding it in my digital camera’s viewfinder. I couldn’t find it, figured it moved, and looked around for it. Took one step toward it, and it flew up and into better view! Common Wood-Nymph! SO GORGEOUS. I can’t believe that thing is common. Newtome butterfly, WOO!

Another Field Crescent let me take its photo before I investigated some Lupine. Casually looking for any signs of the Mission Blue, and I saw what looked like a pupa. Neither Seek nor iNat leaned toward butterfly, so. But, Google Photos thinks it is! Will see what iNat folks say. And, I’m going to send this to my new Lepidopterist contact!

MORE Field Crescents. They are so pretty that it was a treat each and every time to see them flirting with me.

I took a look out at the ocean, and there were the Farallones! Faint, but very much there. Those shadowy silhouettes are so haunting. I love that I know what they look like up close.

An American Lady butterfly landed right in front of me on the trail. And, it was then that I felt so lucky for all the butterflies that let me see them / take their picture. I do a little Thank You Nod to them when they let me take their photo. I think they appreciate that.

A Mottled Pyrausta Moth, Seaside Buckwheat, Coyote Mint, and Skunkweed all kept me enjoying the scenery. Then, I heard a Wrentit. And, it sounded like it was out in the open. And, it was! And, I got some photos!! To get good photos of an elusive bird is quite satisfying, I must say.

I was getting nearish the end, when I took a side trail along what looked like a creek or stream or something. And, soon after I walked in, a couple of Bewick’s Wrens made their noises. A whole family it seemed like! I wanted to keep going, but I knew I had to start heading back.

Stopped to marvel at A TON of newtome Blue Dock Beetles (!) and appreciate a California Quail and listen to a Northern Flicker in the eucs before I made my way to the parking lot. And, that was it.

No Mission Blues. But, MY GAWD did I see A LOT today. Climbed up a mountain. Saw TONS of butterflies. Got some fun photos of birds. FULL DAY. And, once I got home I did another quick search for the “oak woodlands” in the Marin Headlands, and I found the dang trail. Oakwood Valley Trail. GAWD. So, yeah. I’ll just have to go back.
: )

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