China Camp State Park (4/26/2023)

Today I made use of my borrowed CA State Parks Pass from the library and added another day trip day to my week! I finished my homework on Tuesday, which was earlier than expected. So I got to play today. If you’re thinking that I’m doing a whole lotta day trips lately, YOU’RE RIGHT.

I’ve been wanting to visit China Camp for a while. I’ve been curious about how it’s been holding up with all the rains and fallen trees. And I learned about a newtome trail that supposedly had wildflowers on it on the other side from the marsh side. It was marked “Easy” by AllTrails, and I love easy ways to see wildflowers!

Turns out the trailhead for the Bay View Trail Loop from Knight Drive is at the end of a residential street. Always feels like you’re trespassing or something… But before I even got to the fence, I spotted a Western Fence Lizard doing push-ups. And that was my kind of welcome. PLUS, TONS of Common Ringlets were flitting about the grasses. So nice to see them again and to see SO MANY.

It was HOT. Didn’t quite anticipate that, which is honestly foolish given that this side faces South. But there looks like there are so many trees on the hills at China Camp! Only helped a little, it turned out. So crazy that when I left SF, the fog had entirely engulfed the Golden Gate Bridge. And here I was in almost 80 degree weather, with not a cloud in sight.

There were clicking insect sounds everywhere. It would portend the many, many flying and jumping bugs I’d see while there.

A couple of familiar faces, like California Buttercup and Western Blue-eyed Grass appeared. Tired of seeing photos of them? Too bad. I love them.

While not a single Ringlet stopped for me, I was about to get two different butterflies to do so. A Mylitta Crescent and a Variable Checkerspot showed up and eventually posed for me. Inbetween patrolling and occasionally fighting a Ringlet, the Mylitta Crescent eventually took a break. While the Variable Checkerspot truly enjoys photo ops, I feel.

The start of my visit was so full of butterflies!

I also spotted some grasshoppers!! Fontana Grasshopper? And/or California Sulphur-winged Grasshopper? And a Gray Buckeye butterfly. And heard a Spotted Towhee. And saw many Western Fence Lizards quickly crossing the trail.

And then I finally entered the forest. Where I saw a newtome Ocean Spray Fairy Moth (?) on a Milkmaids flower. It’s got antennae longer than its body! Oh, and some flowering Hedgenettle! Not sure yet what kind. But so nice to see some blooms after passing by so many of its plants on my recent Naturing outings.

Supposedly heard a Purple Finch and a Wilson’s Warbler and an Orange-crowned Warbler, per Merlin’s Sound ID feature. But I saw none of them, boo.

Douglas Iris started showing up, along with Pacific Pea and more Milkmaids. And then I spotted a Hillside Woodland Star. And then I spotted A TON OF THEM. Easily more than I’ve ever seen in one place. So pretty!

Spotted my first large spider of the year, and I really wished I’d gotten a good photo. Gotta rekindle my spider-photo-taking abilities. Doesn’t help that my camera is meh on taking photos in deep shade…

After passing by ohsosoft leaves of Ocean Spray and noting a patch of practically gone Common Star Lily, I was at an opening where I had a view. Of the marsh side of China Camp! It was neat to see this side of it and have that mystery become clear.

Saw just a couple Warrior’s Plume. Some Blue Dicks, which really seem to be EVERYWHERE I GO. And then more and more Douglas Irises of different color schemes kept popping up. If Douglas Irises are your thing, and you love all the color combos, this trail is for YOU.

I was trying to find the bird above me making a sound I didn’t recognize when a raptor, that was maybe a Red-tailed Hawk, flew in and over the trail and then continued flying on the trail away from me and out of sight. Wished I could’ve seen it land.

Saw a newtome Clicking Beetle! Is THAT what I was hearing this whole time?

Leaves of California Fetid Adderstongue plants started showing up. Nice to know another spot where they are! ONE gorgeous Western Columbine plant that was flowering. More kinds of Douglas Iris, with many about to soon bloom.

And then I got to where the loop was supposed to curve around. And it was a straight-up rock climb. It often bewilders me what some folks on AllTrails call “Easy.” I mean, REALLY??

I opted not to go ROCK CLIMBING, so it turned into an Out & Back situation. On my way back, Merlin’s Sound ID feature believed it was a Pacific-slope Flycatcher that I’d heard previously. Wish I could’ve spotted it. It’s too hard to see birds in the forest!

Got back to near where I started, and a Common Ringlet popped up and actually landed on something for a change. Maybe they were finally tired of all that patrolling in the heat? And I was about twentyish feet or so from the entrance, where a Deer was eating grass. Didn’t want to make it move, but I was hoping to make it to another spot in China Camp before heading home. So I slowly walked toward it, saying softly, “Please move.” And it took a while for it to finally go! Must be pretty used to people right there.

Made one last stop at the marsh side. I just love driving that road and seeing the marsh and the bay and the hills over there. It was much more Orange and Purple flora there, with California Poppies and Blue Dicks coloring the sides of the road. Some Sun Cup flowers were trying to defend their space from the introduced grasses all around them. And a Snowy Egret was in the distance, feeding from the ponds.

Then I noticed a big and lush tree in the marsh. It was IN the marsh. Huge. Gorgeous. It was a flippin’ Valley Oak. Never realized that before. Guess I never bothered to look at one with my binocs? And there are a number of them there, but you can’t walk close to them since they’re in the marsh. I thought they were all further inland from the bay. Nope. Where there’s a valley round here, they like it. Guess it’s just a matter of how many survived cutting? Though, it is a tiny valley right there. How I love them. They’re so handsome and majestic.

Then a small brown butterfly flitted into my view. While trying to track it and get my camera ready, a Western Fence Lizard on the trail competed for my attention. It is too funny to me that so many of my photos of them look like they’re boudoir poses.

I quickly gave it some love, then turned back to this small brown fairy creature. Turned out to be a Brown Elfin! I’ve only ever seen one before, on San Bruno Mountain. And it was a treat to see it in different lights, as it pivoted around in the sunshine on the trail. So cute and magical!

Also spotted another butterfly, one that I didn’t recognize. Miraculously was able to get a photo of it while it was on grass, and it might be a Silvery Blue? Really wish I’d seen it with open wings.

On my way out, I noticed a bird in a tree ahead that looked like it had something in its beak. Though, my photos of it don’t really show that? What was that Ash-throated Flycatcher doing with its mouth open like that?? Fairly certain it wasn’t calling, but can’t be sure, I guess?

Watched the marsh and the bay in the distance for a bit, which is always how I like to end my time at China Camp. It’s such a serene spot near the Turtle Back Trail. So unlike other places I know.

Then I heard a bird calling high above me. An OSPREY was flying North, carrying something in its mouth that looked like a long dead leaf, maybe? AND, ANOTHER OSPREY was following it! I don’t see Osprey often, so it’s always very exciting for me when I do see one. And I’m fairly certain I’ve never seen two flying together? Toward a nest they’re making??

Felt like a perfect way to end my visit to China Camp. Don’t think I’ve been at this particular time of year before. It’s always nice to get to know a place a little better, you know?

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