San Bruno Mountain Ecological Reserve (2/15/2023)

Today was days in the making. Ok, so some of you may recall that I was desperately trying to find a way into Buckeye Canyon on San Bruno Mountain to see if the creek was flowing after the Winter storms. I had found the mudslide there and lots of signs indicating you shouldn’t really go there. Tried to find a side trail there, and found one. But it was too narrow and steep. For me.

AND THEN, last night during my class, the professor is talking about Succession, and how he had recently been to San Bruno Mountain and described the mudslide event as an example of Secondary Succession. And I almost flipped out! He’d been there since my last visit and was able to re-find the trail! I cannot even begin to say how flippin’ excited I was at THIS NEWS!!

So that was last night. So, OF COURSE, I ventured out there TODAY.

All the big machinery is gone. Water is still very much flowing, though not visible on the surface where the mudslide meets the road. Started off on the crazy amount of rocks and rubble and debris and eventually found a trail marked with stones. It wasn’t perfect or the length of the mudslide, but you could clearly see the intention. I swear, the folks who love this side of San Bruno Mountain really love this place.

At first, I was just surveying it all. Noting all the missing California Buckeye trees and scrub. Wondering where the Western Fence Lizards were. Hearing a Yellow-rumped Warbler that apparently made a huge chunk of debris its home? And then I started seeing new growth. Handful of new Hedgenettle leaves here and there. And tall Iris-like leaves here and there? A couple of House Finches on a bare tree. And water on the surface coming down from Buckeye Canyon.

And then I saw it. And I kind of couldn’t believe my eyes. Milkmaids. Growing tall (for them) and proud and eating up the sunshine. Coming straight out from under a mess of grass debris. And this was in many spots. Nature is FLIPPIN’ AMAZING.

I started to feel better. It might not take anywhere near as long for this place to recover! I continued to keep seeing new growth in spots. Wow.

AND, it turns out the grassy meadow, where I’ve seen so many butterflies, survived. In fact, a good amount of the ground level area where the trail is is ok. The mudslide came through just next to it, where many trees were. And, there are still many trees left. It’s all going to be OK.

Heard a Northern Flicker. Saw a Spotted Towhee eversobriefly. And a number of tiny moths dotted the corners.

I tried finding the trail after walking on the mudslide, or I should say rockslide? GAH, how I wish I could’ve seen it happen!! Eventually, after some false starts, I decided I’d just walk as far up the canyon as I could and see what happens. The water was getting more significant. I even started seeing a number of small and adorable waterfalls.

And then I started being able to see large rocks under the flowing water. And, they were quite beautiful. Didn’t get good shots of them, but trust me.

Then, I got to a spot that looked familiar. And that’s a weird thing to say in such an obliterated-looking place. But I saw a trail on the right of the creek leading up to the main trail that I knew. THAT WAS IT! That’s the spot where you cross the creekbed and continue up through Buckeye Canyon!! I HAD FOUND IT.

I just stood there taking in the verymuchrevised landscape. Yes, there was water here. Yes, it was barely recognizable. All the Great Horsetail and mossy rocks were GONE. It took a minute to let it all sink in.

And then I continued on. And immediately I could tell that I was at the edge where nothing was impacted. And it was a luscious green-filled delight of ferns and other plants. And I felt home again. I wasn’t far from the creek much when I got to The Spot. The Checker Lily Spot. This was the juncture I thought I could get to from further Southeast. Saw the small trail that went that way and decided to explore it on my way back.

I’ve been seeing Checker Lilies appear on my iNat email updates. So I was keen on seeing if any were blooming in this spot. Saw MANY leaves and just one tiny flower not quite open yet. IT’S COMING! I was getting giddy with glee at the thought of when I’d return when I caught sight of something.

Pacific Hound’s Tongue! There was a ton of it just a couple of feet up! I’ve seen the plant without flowers much higher up before. But I’ve never seen them blooming here and had no idea they were so low in the canyon. Even saw one with both purple AND pink flowers, WHA??

It is one of the plants I was looking forward to seeing in bloom upon my first visit back since the storms. And I could not think of its name. I’m realizing lately that this is happening to me. If I haven’t seen or thought of a flowering plant in about a year, I’m not necessarily going to remember its name. But some I do. Milkmaids. Easy. For some reason. I kept thinking, “It’s got ‘dog’ in the name, right?” In a way, it’s kind of neat to re-learn the names. Like it’s kinda new all over again.

Started seeing California Maidenhair Ferns. And Honeysuckle and California Beeplant and Hummingbird Sage. None of it blooming yet. Saw one of the MANY tiny moths land for like one second. Epirrhoe plebeculata? Spotted a small cluster of Deerweed? And lots of Pacific Poison Oak in various stages.

But Chaparral Currant was blooming! And so lovely is that pale-pink/white color.

Then I spotted what looked like broken-off Cramp Balls at the base of a Coast Live Oak. NOPE! Oak-loving Elfin Saddle! Just two little ones. Made sure to get a good touch of the top of one. SO COLD!

Heard a Ruby-crowned Kinglet somewhere. Spotted two super small Great Horsetails. And a tree stump with very pretty orange Trametes fungi.

Then I arrived at a patch of very happy Pacific Hound’s Tongue. And I even got a photo of a Black-tailed Bumble Bee on one. The PHT would continue to pop up in many spots from here on out. Seems like THE PERFECT TIME to see them there.

After passing by some Peziza fungi and Beaked Hazelnut (perhaps, California Hazelnut, according to one of the IDs on iNat??) and Golden Yarrow and some blooming California Buttercups (another flower name I couldn’t remember), I was at The Spot. The Spot where you can see the rest of the mountain to the Southeast. Where I ventured on that narrow trail some weeks ago but could not go further.

And it was oddly satisfying. Like I had connected the dots. Could see the bigger picture map of things. Had been to both sides, and so I felt like I’d been to it all? It’s hard to describe. But, it felt great.

Decided I’d keep going up til I got to the Pacific Hound’s Tongue up there and the Manzanitas. Spotted a baby Manzanita on the way, more blooming Chaparral Currant, and what I came up to find.

On my way back down, I got to that juncture again. And I took that dang side trail finally! The Coyote Brush and Toyon had filled in the small trail a bit, but allofasudden I was in a clearing. Of moss. And a small and simple wood bench aimed at what most people think of when they think of San Bruno Mountain, the Saddle and the Summit.

Then I noticed tiny bits of white shell. Everywhere. OMG. I had finally found THE SHELLMOUND. Okokok, I had this brief moment some time ago when I was really hoping to find the ones on SBM. I had read about two. And I wasn’t able to find either. I’d seen a photo of one with a small and simple wood bench and thought that was the one over at the very furthest Southeast end.

NOPE! It was here. In a quiet clearing very close to the creek. And there really are tiny shell fragments in every bit of that clearing where moss has covered it – but not entirely. I was dumbfounded how all those shell pieces were still there. How have they not all been washed away from rain? I sat on the bench and looked Northwest and thought about the Yelamu people that lived there.

I wandered to a connected but smaller clearing that was still part of the shellmound, and an Anna’s Hummingbird started calling high up in a tree in front of me. This was special, because I learned that Hummingbirds were special to the Yelamu from a Park Ranger during my internship last summer. Incredible timing, Hummingbird! Also spotted a Northern Flicker flying for a spell in great light, which was a treat as I’ve rarely seen them do that.

Headed back down, got to the creek, and crossed it to the main trail. And then I heard A HOOT. WHA?? It was just after 3pm. BUT, it was starting to get dark in the canyon, where the hoot was coming from. Hooted AGAIN, and I returned to the creek. Walked up a bit and waited for another hoot to find it. But, no. One of those random two-and-a-half-hour-before-sunset hoots. DANG! But, now I know. And it must be that same Great Horned Owl I saw eversobriefly on one of my walks up the canyon many moons ago. Really wished I could have stayed til sunset to find it, but, alas. But now I know to come back and find it sometime. Exciting!

After I exited the canyon, I wandered a bit. Saw a handful of blooming Osoberry and a Green Lacewing fairy and a couple House Finches again. But one last image truly stayed with me. A cracked-open California Buckeye fruit. Lying far from any other Buckeye tree. And it made me think that this is what’s going to happen to this beloved place of mine. Things will move around. And things will grow again. And I have a lot to look forward to in watching it revive itself. Fantastic day.

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