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March 20, 2017 - Spring Cleaning

False turkey tail (Stereum hirsutum). Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve, Antioch, Contra Costa County, California, USA. Stock Photo ID=FUN0206
Photographically speaking, fall and winter are generally pretty slow seasons for me. I might make a couple trips to the coast in search of mushrooms, but it's usually a time for me to catch up on the things that get pushed to the back burner during the warmer months. I planned to use this dormancy period for photo editing, web development, marketing, and writing blog articles about the adventures I was too busy to document last summer. However, seeing as this is my first blog entry in well over four months, I obviously didn't stick to the plan. But neither did the weather.

As everyone in the Golden State must surely be aware of, California received an extraordinary amount of precipitation this winter. And while this came with its share of flooding, landslides, road closures, and dam failures, it also ended our five-year drought and provided more ideal conditions for mushrooms than we might see for many years to come. In light of that, I simply had to leave most of those aforementioned items on the back burners while I explored our soaking wet natural world to see what colorful and intriguing fungi would emerge. Of course, these explorations left me with a plethora of photos to edit and additional adventures to write about, so now I have even more cooking. Pretty soon I'm going to need a bigger stove.

Well, now that winter is officially over, I think it's time to do some spring cleaning and finally clear some of these thoughts out of my head before we get too far into wildflower season. A detailed account of every single trip would be overwhelming, so I offer the following highlights from my fall and winter adventures instead:

Slimy webcap (Cortinarius vanduzerensis).I kicked off mushroom season with a drive to Kruse Rhododendron State Natural Reserve, just north of Salt Point State Park. Salt Point really is great, but Kruse offers a similar forested habitat with free parking and much fewer visitors. South of the parking area is the Phillips Gulch Trail, which is where I found these slimy webcap mushrooms. Beautiful and disgusting, all at once! I also noticed the evergreen leaves of rattlesnake plantain in several locations along the trail, but the flowers of this orchid won't be in bloom until summer. The trail north of the parking lot leads to a small creek, which is a great area to look for California slender salamanders.
California slender salamander (Batrachoseps attenuatus).
After another good rain, I made a trip to Big Basin Redwoods State Park, whose towering trees are nothing short of majestic. Still, I found myself predominately looking for nature's smaller wonders along the forest floor. My favorite find that day in California's oldest state park was a group of honey mushrooms emerging from a fallen redwood tree. Also, no trip to Santa Cruz County would be complete without a banana slug sighting.
Honey mushroom (Armillaria mellea). Banana slug.

Once December rolled around, I went for a hike at Indian Grinding Rock State Historic Park. I saw a number of mushrooms that I have yet to identify, but carbon antlers and apricot jelly are both pretty distinct. As I was searching for one last mushroom before the day ended, I came across this beautifully backlit collection of manzanita bark suspended by spider web. I don't know if there's much market value to a purely artsy picture such as this, but I still like the way it looks.
Carbon antlers (Xylaria hypoxylon). Apricot jelly (Guepinia helvelloides). Manzanita bark suspended by spider web.
Unique geological formations within the Calico Hills at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.Lost Creek Waterfall at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.In January, my wife took the kids and me on a surprise birthday trip to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area in Las Vegas (thanks, Ana!). All those vibrant colors and fantastic geological features provided a huge change of pace from the heavily shaded forest floors I'd been exploring. The most memorable part of the trip for me was hiking back to the car from Lost Creek Waterfall. It was a bit of a winter wonderland, and one stretch of the trail was particularly icy. One by one, all four of us slipped and fell on our behinds, fortunately injuring nothing but our egos.

Though it was fun to visit all these "exotic" locations, there's something to be said for staying close to home. That's why I hiked at Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve more than any other single place this fall and winter. In addition to saving gas, I was able to explore during the time I would have otherwise spent driving, and it proved to be very productive. In addition to the false turkey tail featured at the top of this article, I also found tons of "true" turkey tail, gilled polypore, and split gill.
Turkey tail (Trametes versicolor). Gilled polypore (Lenzites betulina).
Split gill (Schizophyllum commune).
I found more than just mushrooms at Black Diamond Mines though; February marked the beginning of wildflower season in the park, with Indian warrior, Henderson's shooting star, Padre's shooting star, and manzanita all coming into bloom. In addition to common manzanita, the rare and endangered Mount Diablo manzanita also makes an appearance (ironically, it actually seemed to be more common than common manzanita, especially along the ridge trail). Indian warrior and Henderson's shooting star were abundant and widespread in the park, but Padre's shooting star was a different story; it was a new find for me that I only saw on the hillside by the Eureka coal mine.
Indian warrior (Pedicularis densiflora). Padre's shooting star (Primula clevelandii var. patula). Mount Diablo manzanita (Arctostaphylos auriculata).
With wildflowers popping up all over the place, March has also been a busy month for me. But even though most of it was technically still winter, those adventures just don't seem to be in the same spirit as the rest of this post, and will therefore have to wait on the back burner for another day. At least now I cleared off some space for them, though.

Next Entry: Rattlesnake Plantain Now in Bloom - 3/9/17

Previous Entry: My Vote's for Spiders - 11/6/16

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