adventures in nature

equinox, shifting patterns of autumn … and blog #200!

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 Sunset by Mount Tam over San Pablo Bay, as viewed from Wildcat Canyon Regional Park CA

What an amazing time of year this is – the shift from the summer cycles to autumn is in full effect. I love this time of year. The buckeye trees have long ago lost their leaves, the first harbingers of the impending autumn here – and the days are growing shorter as the light turns to a beautiful golden red. Here in the Bay Area, it means we actually have some summer weather! Infrequent wind, less fog, and some beautiful sunshine and warm weather … and warm nights. The long winter of summer is over, and all of life is shifting, moving … while still waiting for some rain. The bird migration is flowing south, the trickle of birds flowing in the updrafts of the coastal mountains now turning into more of a flood. The Accipiters were the predominant raptor today at Hawk Hill at the Marin Headlands, and in my backyard, and all around, I hear new birds adding their voices to the choir as they move through or come here to spend the winter moons.

juvenile Sharp-Shinned Hawk / Hawk Hill Marin Headlands, CA

juvenile Sharp-Shinned Hawk / Hawk Hill Marin Headlands, CA

The black-tailed mule deer bucks are chasing does, and more than a few willow trees are marred with the fresh marking of the bucks’ antlers. The smell of the new scarring on the trees is delicious. Ripe acorns are falling, and the acorn woodpeckers, squirrels and jays are busy adding to their own little collections. The poison oak is a beautiful red color (and hey, an extra warning to the careless one who treads without heed!), and the unusually still air in the evening makes space for the sound of crickets and all sorts of insect life.

You can hear life moving all around you in the hours after sunset in the absence of the wind.

As I walk, the smell of dry bay leaves follows my footfalls under the canopy of trees, while in the fields of introduced grasses that predominate the Bay Area, the sweet smell of tar weed dominates. They are two of the first smells I remember from when I moved to the area at this time of year nine years ago, and both bring with them nice memories.

deer rub on willow tree / Wildcat Canyon Regional Park CA

deer rub on willow tree / Wildcat Canyon Regional Park CA

Last night, the equinox, I had a great wander in Wildcat Canyon. Because of the lack of wind and extremely dry conditions, anything that is moving makes noise. Listen carefully enough, and you can start to discern the different animals by their footfalls and movements. I still am amazed at how quiet a deer can be even in these conditions though – an animal that big can be so silent. Sometimes I feel something watching me, and adjusting my eyes in the dark, I see one of them nearby staring at me. But sometimes it’s the other way around too! After many months of seeing mostly just bucks in the drier areas, I’m now seeing females make their way back after spending the dry months more in the human habitation areas (more food, more water, protection for their fawns aka less mountain lions!). During the rut they are less shy, and almost every night that I wander I see bucks and does interacting – and not as concerned about my presence.

As I was finishing my hike last night, I heard a very slight rustling in the oak trees to my left. I paused, and listened. The sound stopped. Hmmmm. Usually a skunk or raccoon will continue on their business, not too concerned with my passing. I flashed a small LED light over in the direction, and about 20 feet away sat a grey fox. Watching me. With one eye! I turned my light off and just stood there, feeling its gaze. Two great-horned owls were hooting to each other in some trees about 200 yards away, and the only other sound was from the crickets in the still night air. Many moments went by, and I flashed my light over towards it again. Still there! We watched each other for a little while longer, until finally it made its way quietly into the night, and I could here it foraging around for what I presumed to be “first” breakfast.


great-horned owl / Wildcat Canyon Regional Park CA

great-horned owl / Wildcat Canyon Regional Park CA


One response

  1. Tom Dautrich

    Thanks Zach. Lots of great posts. You were busy last night!

    Sent from my iPad


    September 24, 2014 at 10:55 am

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