Sign Hill Park (1/18/2023)

Today I ventured outside city limits! I had an itching to visit San Bruno Mountain and see if that dry creek might actually be FULL right now. But as I was reading the San Bruno Mountain Watch newsletter email, I saw something about Sign Hill Park. I had no idea there was an actual park on that hill! There’s even one curated trail on AllTrails there. So I thought I’d go take a look-see, and if it was nothing special then I’d head over to San Bruno Mountain Ecological Reserve and see about that creek.

The thing I read about was a meeting point for volunteering at Sign Hill Park. I was curious to start there and try to find the restoration efforts going on right now.

But, OMG OMG OMG. I spent a good hour or more within a hundred feet of the West entrance of the Ridge Trailhead. Ok, so I’ve been seeing the observations on iNat for the adorable Fly Agaric fungi. Those are the most iconic fungi. Red caps, white stems, and white dots on the cap. They have been popping up in my daily iNat emails around the city, as I have an alert set for just that thing. And, while I’ve seen them before in the city (McLaren Park, to be exact), it’s not something I feel is a destination fungi since I’ve already seen them. HOWEVER, I was kind of hoping they’d somehow pop up for me somewhere.


After quickly noting some Scurfy Twiglet-like mushrooms along the stone path leading out of the small parking lot, I SPOTTED ONE IN THE DISTANCE. And I had NO IDEA I’d be seeing them AT ALL here. OR in the VAST QUANTITIES that were right there!!

So, yeah. I spent a good deal of time looking at pretty much EACH AND EVERY ONE I encountered and could get to. If I had to guess, I think I saw more than twenty of them. And most were HUGE. Like as big as my face. No, BIGGER. And I don’t have a small face!

They were in all sorts of sizes and phases. My favorite thing I discovered is how they look when they are still bursting out from under a bunch of soil and whatnots. Like they look SO STRONG that they can come out from underneath SO MUCH.

Alongside the TONS OF AMERICAN FLY AGARICS were A TON OF OTHER KINDS OF FUNGI! I mean, I am no fungi expert (yet), but I don’t think I’ve ever seen that many different kinds of fungi in such a small area. Yeah, nowhere else have I seen that much fungi diversity. True, I don’t live anywhere near a real forest where all kinds of amazing things go on. But, from my limited experience, this is a real special fungi spot. And it was clear that other Fungi Fairies know this spot well.

I also spotted Scaly Rustgills (I think), Shaggy Parasol (I think?), Pine Spikes, Black Witches’ Butter, Pungent Slippery Jacks (in a variety of phases of life), Cowboy’s Handkerchief (maybe?), Hygrophorus boyeri*, Oyster Rollrim*, Gymnopilus aurantiophyllus*, Redhead Russulas, False Chanterelles*, Yellow-gilled Gymnopilus*, Western Panther*, Cups*, Blewits*, and Funnels*. The ones with asterisks are ones that Alan on iNat confirmed or IDed. Keeping him busy tonight!

This was all within about .2 of a mile. No, less. This was all in the somewhat forested area North of the paved road path, for the most part. Also heard but never found a Northern Flicker somewhere in there. In general, I didn’t see many birds around. Though, watching the Common Ravens swooping and gliding that high up was a treat.

What was interesting to me is that I’ve been to a place that had similar Pine trees. Bishop Pines? In Sea Ranch. Where Fly Agarics and Pine Spikes also were. What is it about these two places that have these exact two fungi? Is it just the Bishop Pines? I can’t believe I didn’t stop to get photos of the Pines there. Rookie mistake. Next time.

I had seen the small sign at the trailhead that Sign Hill Park was closed (due to inclement weather), so I thought I’d steer clear of any tallish trees and be fine. One large Monterey Cypress tree near the top had indeed come down onto the trail there.

Past the FUNGI PARADISE were areas they are working on. Looks like a fire was up there. I’m ashamed that I don’t remember what fire affected that area. Was it a long time ago? Need to look that up. The area around it had some work done but was mostly a mess of sorts. The Loop trail ventured alongside it, but it looked quite steep. And I wasn’t going to have the time to consider exploring as I had already spent so much time admiring all the fungi on the way.

But I did look around, found more fungi, and I even heard then spotted two Hairy Woodpeckers going to town on small trees past the trail. A couple American Robins seemed to sound the alarm that I was getting close as I tried and pretty much failed at getting any good photos of the Woodpeckers.

I did continue on the Ridge Trail just to see what was at the top, since it wasn’t too much more of an incline to get there. An abandoned wood water tank (?), a water tank, some satellite things, the xmas tree light display, and a bench. Many of the AllTrails reviews pointed out the view. If looking down on a bunch of buildings is your thing, then it’s a view. I found looking North at San Bruno Mountain to be far more interesting. It was neat to figure out where I’d reached the top from the other side that one time and looked down onto this hill. Not realizing that’s what it was!

Along the ridge were lots of Hummingbird Sage, with just a handful of blooms out. But they seemed to dominate the ridge there. Along with many baby California Poppy plants. With just a couple in bloom and about to bloom. Coyote Brush was also there. And scattered baby Lupine bushes. Oh, and a sign that read, “Friends of Liberty Park.” Is that what Sign Hill Park used to be called? Gotta look that up.

I got to the end of the ridge and started my walk back since sunset was approaching. Stopping here and there to look at San Bruno Mountain with my binocs. And wonder what trails on that side might be worth looking into. I don’t know why, but I think I just assumed there weren’t trails on that side.

I was nearing the entrance (somewhat) and marveled at the additional American Fly Agarics I was spotting. I remember thinking, “How FANTASTIC to have wanted to see them, and here they ALL ARE!” when I heard A HOOT.

Okokok, I confess that I had wondered if any Great Horned Owls were in the area. From what I’ve seen, and forgive me if I’ve already said this, there seems to be at least one pair of GHOs in every park of decent size I’ve been to. So, this was a decent size park. And I absolutely thought, “Maybe some are here?”

Turns out there was A PAIR, duet hooting, not far from me. I figured out what tree they were in, but there was no way I’d be able to see them behind all those leaves. I got closer, figuring I’d at least get a recording to submit to iNat.

AND THEN one of them flew out and landed in a dead tree in front of me. Completely unobstructed and surprisingly well-lit given the hour! I couldn’t believe my luck. It was the male, and he hooted a couple times. Looked at me for two seconds. And generally just hung out there for a bit. He hopped onto the other side of the tree. Then soon flew off but not too far.

I followed where he went and amazingly found him. He wasn’t hooting. And his back was to me. He was facing San Bruno Mountain. I waited a while, watching him preen. Just once. And I hoped that the female would come out so I could at least see her before needing to leave. And, whaddya know. The minute I had to leave, she flew out and landed on a branch near him. Facing San Bruno Mountain, too. Just in time for me to try to get decent photos for my iNat observation. More owl photos below for the owl fans.

The small parking lot was super close, and I could hear them both hooting when I got to my car. Talk about convenient! As I pulled out, I spotted a Black Rat (I think) scurrying under the trailhead sign display. It looked like it was eating something. And I couldn’t believe how it didn’t mind me stopped in my car, trying to get photos of it. I thought how lucky all the people that live right near there are to have the GHOs around!

Ok, two things.

ONE. Today I wore the Fly Agaric socks that Yvonne gave me some time ago. Because she’s just awesome. In no way was I hoping they’d bring me Fly Agaric luck. I just thought, “I’ll wear my fungi socks since it’s FUNGI SEASON.” So, yeah. Maybe you’ll get lucky, and Yvonne will gift you with a pair of socks with a million dollars on it or something!

TWO. I was mighty ecstatic at seeing a Great Horned Owl at CCSF last night after my class (Plants and Animals of California, woo!) let out. I mean, I take five steps outside the building and hear A HOOT high above me. In a place I never expected to see a GHO! So, seeing a newtome pair of them today at Sign Hill Park was kind of like the cherry on top of the cherry of my recent owl sighting sundae, folks.


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