San Bruno Mountain (4/4/2023)

Today I was able to go Naturing before my class! I wanted to go somewhere kinda in that end of the city, and San Bruno Mountain seemed like a good option.

So, even though I’m giving up on the trails on the South side of SBM (steep ain’t for me!), I’m still curious what they look like at their beginnings. So I went to check out the one at the furthest West point. It simply begins at a dead-end street, and there’s a wood stair box to get you up onto the mountain side. To me, it looked like a huge eucalyptus tree had come down on the trail soon after I started on it. Ah, well!

But there happened to be ANOTHER trail to the right. Not on the map! It didn’t end up going very far before I couldn’t avoid the Pacific Poison Oak anymore, but I saw some neat things while there.

It’s mostly eucs and invasive/introduced plants, as it’s up against residential housing. But, there’s a whole patch of blooming Stinging Phacelia, and the Bees and Bumblebees were all over it. And I saw my first of three newthisyear butterflies there! A Common Checkered-Skipper happened to eventually sit still for a photo. Love them!

Also, a newtome lichen, Lipstick Powderhorn! And an Amanita-looking fungi, maybe Western Panther? A jawbone of likely a Deer? And on my way out, my first Variable Checkerspot butterfly of the year! Seems to be a decent patch for butterflies… Though, I don’t think I’d ever recommend anyone check it out. What really looks interesting, flora-wise, is very high up on the mountain side. Nowhere near a trail. Spotted California Poppies and purple Lupine and some white flowers so far away I had no idea what they were. Ah, well.

I then visited San Bruno Mountain State Park, via the Crocker Gate entrance. It was close-by, and I was curious what the Bog Trail might look like right now. And if any of those Checker Lilies near the Saddle Loop East Bench were still blooming.

This part of San Bruno Mountain has never quite enchanted me. And with this visit, I was reminded why. Aside from a few spots off-trail, there is hardly any native flora there. Aside from a Twinberry Honeysuckle shrub, I didn’t see anything native on the way in. True, I was on the paved Guadalupe Trail, but still. It’s how the place generally feels.

There’s a small fenced off area that I don’t recall seeing before that has a handful of native plants from different types of habitat. That I’m assuming is originally on San Bruno Mountain. Including some blooming Seep Monkeyflower, aww. Two California Scrub-Jays greeted me after that. And some Woodland Strawberry was flowering, too.

Things got more interesting on the Bog Trail. But it wasn’t that boggy! After a couple muddy spots, I approached the bridge and caught sight of a small bunny tail hopping into the brush ahead! I didn’t end up seeing what I’m guessing was a small (juvenile?) Brush Rabbit. But, I’ll take any inch of a bunny sighting. Any day. And I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen one in that part of SBM, neat!

Red-berried Elder and Sun Cup and Fringe Cups were out.

Made it to the main entrance, and I tried a way out to The Saddle that I hadn’t taken before. It’s a paved road that ends up getting you to the Youth Camp part in the middle of The Saddle. It’s pretty uneventful, BUT. I got to this spot with a fence and Willows. And I heard and saw MANY Northern Flickers! I think I saw like five, maybe??

They were flying about and making noises I wasn’t familiar with. Very exciting and neat to know they’re there. Also in the Willows was a Wilson’s Warbler, who I was miraculously able to photograph. That spot easily had the most birds. Chestnut-backed Chickadees and Bushtits and California Towhees and Hummingbirds. How they dig Willows!

Got to the open space part, which is just past the Youth Camp spot. And it was a little strange. It was flat. And there were flooded areas where the Willows were. So, I’ve been learning about Fresh Wetlands and Vernal Pools and whatnot lately in my CCSF class. And, right before me were very unexpected wet meadows!

And then I realized how oddly flat that area is. Was it naturally that way? So much of it was littered with non-native plants. But the ground seemed not perfectly flat, like it might be if something major had been done to flatten it? I wondered if that spot would naturally flood, originally. Hm!

So, get this. My CCSF professor worked on SBM for some time, doing habitat restoration. So I asked him during the break at my class tonight about it. And he said that that spot was indeed a natural wet meadow. And that, being at the top of the mountain, water used to flow down from it and would sometimes flood the top.

Some time ago, the water was diverted. And that top part was used for cattle grazing. It seems that the crazy rains we’ve had this Winter have helped recreate a bit of the wet meadow habitat that would naturally be there from time to time. He told me that he got a grant to help bring back ponds up there for native frogs, but it never came to fruition because of push-back from the park head at the time.

He said that even though he wasn’t able to bring ponds there, the result of the fight was that the man in charge at the time was let go. As he apparently didn’t care at all for any additional work on his part. And someone better replaced him. Though, it looks like very little, if anything, has been done up there. Hm.

That’s kind of how I feel about that part of SBM. Such potential, but there’s very little being done. Quite a different story on the West ridge, where the summit is. But how I love learning more and more about that mountain!

I did see some wildflowers, like Western Blue-eyed Grass and Dwarf Checkermallow and California Buttercup and newtome Two-color Rabbit Tobacco (I think) and a good amount of California Golden Violets and one small purply Lupine and a couple Pacific Pea.

AND, the third butterfly of the day, an American Lady! It was near the Dwarf Checkermallow, and it was swirling all around me. Thought it was a Red Admiral at first with all that fighting energy! But it eventually settled down. And flippin’ landed practically at my feet to ensure I got a good photo. LIKE THEY DO.

Turns out it is past time for the Checker Lilies there. Spotted three withering ones in that spot they’re in. Maybe being without shade they wither earlier than others?

On my way back, I spotted a newtome flowering plant. I only saw one of these there. Which made me think maybe it was a native plant? Best guess on iNat is American Yellowrocket, but I’m not convinced. Hoping someone there can illuminate me.

SO GREAT to see butterflies today. And learn more about SBM, both from my time there, my professor, and my class. Super neato to have it all come together like that when it does.

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