Tennessee Valley (5/17/2022)

Today was the soonest I could visit the Oakwood Valley Trail (after hearing that the Lepidopterist I know saw many Mission Blue butterflies there last Friday), when it’d be warm and sunny out. The GGNRA sign at the trailhead says “Tennessee Valley,” but Google Maps shows it as Oakwood Valley. Maybe once my internship starts with the GGNPC I can find out what it all technically is!

This was my last outing to look for Mission Blues. I figure if it’s to happen, it’ll be the third place I’ve looked?

Almost immediately after I started on the Southwest side of the trail, I saw butterflies. Common/California Ringlets and dark orange Skippers. It was A LOT to start off with! The whole entrance area is grass heaven. After trying to see any of them land anywhere visible and giving up, I turned around to see a newtome flower, Sweet-Brier. Thought maybe it was Dog-Rose. Nope!

The trail right from the start is quite lovely. Helps when so many butterflies are around! Saw a medium-sized black and orange butterfly I couldn’t make out. A yellow Swallowtail. Small Crescent-looking things. Nothing would land!

Also, there was a sweet scent in the air. Turned out to be flowering Common Cowparsnip! Who knew that thing smelled like candy? Not me!

Great Horsetail started appearing, so water was close-by. Bugle Hedgenettle (?) and Thimbleberry and pink Douglas Irises all lined the trail nicely. Then I started seeing large dragonflies making the rounds. And, one landed in perfect view for me! Newtome California Darner. That thing is big!

After the grasses were gone, it got shady from all the California Bays that popped up allofasudden. And, I spotted some California Fetid Adderstongue plants! No flowers, of course. But, how nice to know I don’t have to travel far to see them. When they’re out. Also saw a newtome Phoroctenia (vittata?) crane fly. Red and neato!

Fringe Cups and a shrine and Pink Honeysuckle were out to greet me before I got to a small bridge to cross Coyote Creek (?). Beyond that, a Field Crescent landed in the grass in front of me. They are so gorgeous. Blue Dicks and Dusky-footed Woodrat nests and Beaked Hazelnut and more Adderstongue kept me happy. A stunning Gray Buckeye posed for me on the trail. They are never shy! An Umber Skipper (likely what I saw so many of when I first arrived?) nectared from a Vetch flower just ahead.

I saw a Red-tailed Hawk soaring overhead. And, I thought I might as well try to see if my camera could get any decent shots so far away. Recognizable! Identifiable! I’ll try that more often!!

After seeing another Umber Skipper along the trail, I arrived at The Pond.

Ok, I don’t know what its name actually is, but it looks like a pond! And, there was a sign near it for “Sensitive Habitat” for the California Red-legged Frog! I got as close as was safe for the pond and any inhabitants, but I didn’t see or hear frogs. HOWEVER, there were so many dang butterflies right there. A faded Gray Buckeye was standing guard on the trail. I’ve now seen these enough to notice that they all are entirely bad-ass. They just stand out in the open. On trails. And fight everything every chance they get. Bad-asses!

A Mylitta Crescent and some Lorquin’s Admirals and a yellow Swallowtail and Ringlets and more Umber Skippers were all flitting about right there. What a spot! THEN, a light and magical blue fairy floated into my view. I knew it wouldn’t be a Mission Blue, as I hadn’t seen any Lupine yet. But, GAH. I could follow that enchanting blue butterfly for MILES AND MILES.

It landed in a bit of mud. And, it appeared to maybe be stuck in it? It moved out, and it then looked like it was maybe drinking from the mud? Do butterflies do that?? Gotta look that up. I later saw other butterflies do the same thing there, so. Guess it’s a thing! Got home, and both Seek and iNat believe it was an Echo Azure. Wish I could’ve seen its wings opened, but I love the fairy-look of that butterfly so much. It’s got those alien eyes, just like the Coastal Green Hairstreak. Love it.

I stayed there for A WHILE and even took my snack break on the nice wood bench right there. Would be good to be there approaching sunset for any frog noises…

I continued up and started to see Orange Bush Monkeyflower and Hairy Vetch and more butterflies once I got to the next open meadow. SO MANY BUTTERFLIES. Many I couldn’t see well as they never landed, but an American Lady did graciously pose for me. Another yellow Swallowtail. Tons of Skippers. Butterfly Heaven.

Moving on, I saw more Adderstongue! And Narrowleaf Mule-Ears. And, then I was really high up and could see that I was nearing the top. Some Dwarf Checkermallow and Ithuriel’s Spear and more Sweet-Brier showed up along with an open field of grasses. And more butterflies. Ringlets and Skippers and one dark-colored butterfly that never got close enough to me to make out. Maybe the Lupine would start appearing?

Walked through a maze of Coyote Brush, and then I was at the top! I could see Sausalito and beyond below me. I was 623 feet up. Not quite the 867 feet up at the top of Fox Trail nearby, but I was up there! But, no Lupine… I got to the Fire Road there, and turned left to see some small Lupine bushes!

No butterfly activity, but at least I found Lupine. I was told the Mission Blues would likely be off-trail. But, I thought I’d see more Lupine than this! Ah, well. I had seen many lovely butterflies. And, even some special ones. I turned around to head back down.

Then I saw a small whiteish butterfly fly onto some Common Cowparsnip flowers. Didn’t look like anything I’d seen before. Hm! It took a while to turn around so I could get decent photos of it, but I finally did. It never opened its wings, but the sides were so pretty. So many subtle color variations and so many charming black dots.

When I got home, Seek believed it to be a Greenish Blue butterfly. Newtome! But, “Greenish Blue?” Who named it THAT? COME ON. I saw photos of its opened wings, and it’s got beautiful blue wings like the other Icaricia butterflies (of which, the Mission Blue is one). Exciting! Not the Mission Blue, but same genus!

Soon after uploading to iNat, someone corrected my observation. They believe it to be Boisduval’s Blue! While I’ve submitted an observation of that before, I never got a confirmation. So, first confirmed Boisduval’s Blue! The Mission Blue is a subspecies of the Boisduval’s Blue, so I feel like I got pretty dang close today.

On my way down, I spotted a Turkey Vulture sitting in a tree. Always a treat to see them perched for a change! And, Bewick’s Wrens and Wrentits and a Hutton’s Vireo and Song Sparrows serenaded me as I started my descent. Even a Spotted Towhee sang for me.

When I passed The Pond, I stopped to note the many butterflies that were still there. I sat on the bench watching them all when a large fluffy dog ran from above and splashed deliriously INTO THE POND. It splashed all over, ran out and around, and then it did it AGAIN. The owner, with a dog leash in his hand, sauntered down after it. I was aghast. I had the impression this person often walked this trail. Which means his dog likely often harms that pond. With the sign in front of it. That says to have your dog leashed. Unbelievable. I was so mad.

Alltoooften I see dogs not on leash in areas where they’re supposed to be. It’s quite irritating. People who believe they’re entitled to let their dog run loose where they shouldn’t. I assumed the entire trail must require dogs to be leashed. And, I intended to verify that at the trailhead.

No, it’s not the dog’s fault. Not at all. It is the owner. I was so upset that I vowed not to be friendly to people with dogs not on leash. I had said “Hello” to this person previously. NO MORE! And, believe me. I will be writing to the GGNRA. I will be bringing this up when I’m an intern. Oh, YES, I WILL!

Past all that, I got to see a Band-tailed Pigeon that I was hearing on my approach. A Spotted Towhee was stomping on the ground further on. And, I was about to reach the start of the trail when I saw a small brown bird flying strangely on/off a euc. Turned out to be a Brown Creeper defending that space (?) from a Sonoma Chipmunk! I couldn’t quite tell if it was indeed trying to harm a Brown Creeper nest or what. But, I’ve only ever seen one of them at Muir Woods before. So, CHIPMUNK SIGHTING!

As I took the Southwest side (aka Oakwood Meadow Trail) going in, I took the Northeast side (aka Oakwood Valley Trail) coming back. And, while I do love a good loop trail, the Southwest side is far superior. The Northeast is mostly eucs. Meh.

So, I get to the trailhead and look for signs on dog-leash policies. And, I see a sign with nothing about dogs! WHUT! I get to the other side’s entrance, and its sign had a “Dogs on Leash” symbol. WHUT?? You know I’m really going to get into this when I’m an intern. GAWD!

All in all, my Mission Blue Mission was not perfectly successful. But, I got super close! And saw TONS of butterflies. And know and love the oak woodlands above Tennessee Valley. Plus, I now know quite a number of good butterfly spots. I WIN!

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