Saturday, January 22, 2011


I find photographing sunsets to be unusually difficult. One problem is that the dynamic range of the view far surpasses what any camera can capture. As anyone who has taken a photo of a sunset knows, the preview image shown on your camera's LCD never lives up to what you see before you (I can't help think how film photographers without immediate feedback were more blissfully ignorant of this fact).

Another problem is that the sunset is constantly changing, so I always have the urge to keep snapping, never sure at which moment it has truly met its peek. Well, at least I have a solution to this last problem, which is to shoot video of a sunset and then speed it up, giving you 408 sunset snapshots in this 17 second HD video. Another benefit to this approach is that rather than think about taking picture after picture of a sunset, I can relax and take it all in while the camera does the work.


Monday, January 17, 2011

More Neighborhood Mushrooms

I spotted some more of these mushrooms in my neighborhood, this time in the Panhandle at Ashbury & Oak St. I love how these Honey Mushrooms come up in such huge clusters.
Interestingly, these mushrooms are appearing where just last year a tree died. Could this parasitic fungus have been the cause?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Muir Woods Sunday

Muir Woods is another place that supplies a pretty consistent supply of fungus. As we approached it on the Dispea trail, plenty of the previously-seen Candy Cap mushrooms and fields of coral fungus were spotted. One pleasant surprise was to come across this scaly Panther mushroom (Amanita pantherita), as well as a baby button form of the same.

More Fluted Black Helvella, this one in a heart shape! This makes it more obvious why this type of cap is often described as saddle-shaped.
Muir Woods was pretty busy, as you'd expect on a weekend. The fog had not yet lifted, which made for the often-seen crepuscular rays.
Right on time, the Fetid Adder's Tongue flowers are just starting to appear. As the name implies, this is quite a foul-smelling flower, which pleases the flies and other bugs that it seeks to attract. These flowers will only be around for a month or so.
After hiking out of the shadows of Muir Woods, back into the sunlight, we stopped by the Tourist Club to admire the view.
And then, wouldn't you know it, the sun was nearly setting, so we drove up to Sunset Point. Most of the ocean was covered by a low-lying blanket of fog, obscuring the horizon.
Which made it all the more remarkable what happened a few moments after this photo was taken: we saw a green flash! I have seen more sunsets than most people and have looked for a green flash in a great many of them, but never once seen it. According to green flash science (such as it is), we should have had no chance at seeing one if we couldn't see the horizon, and yet we did, just for a few seconds. We had to verify with the other sunset onlookers just to make sure our eyes weren't playing tricks on us. Sorry I didn't manage to get a photo!

We sat for a little while longer, admiring the view. I am pretty certain that I was able to glimpse the planet Mercury just after the sun had gone down. Mercury is so close to the sun, that just before sunrise or after sunset is pretty much your only opportunity to see it, and that's only if it is in a favorable position in its orbit. Quite a day!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

TCC Trail Treasures

There is a fungus riot going on at Mt. Tam these days, at the nowhere shows it better than the TCC Trail, which starts at Pan Toll. Of course I saw plenty of Candy Caps along with these Russula mushrooms that I saw last week.
Not to mention all manor of unidentified white mushrooms pushing up from the roots of trees, shelf fungus growing off of old logs, and more. At times I thought I could smell all the fungus surrounding me.

I also saw some more Fluted Black Helvella and then came upon a new one for me, this Helvella with a tan cap. I'm pretty sure it's not a black one with an inordinately light cap (I have seen grey ones before). Will have to do some more research to see if I can get the exact species. All told I saw about a dozen of them.
The slugs are now out, and it's always good to see a field of coral fungus in the trail.

Eventually the TCC trail took me out to the ocean, and from there down the Dipsea and up Steep Ravine to complete the loop. Neither of those trails had the fungal jackpot of TCC, but Steep Ravine did have one unsettling sight: the old fallen tree with a doorway carved in it has been knocked down by another fallen tree. Nature has moved on. Below see before and after (look closely and you can make out the notch where the door was):

As usual I did my best to finish just in time for a gorgeous Tam sunset, this time with the sky turning a lovely red color.
This sunset featured one piece of interesting optical phenomen: a sun pillar. As is so often the case with sunsets, photos don't reveal all that the eye does, so my pictures of the sun pillar are too faint to be of much use. Instead I'll link to this photo from Wikipedia:

Friday, January 14, 2011

Sidewalk Mushrooms

You really don't have to go far to find nature. The other day I was at Phoenix Lake and only found a few smatterings of fungus, and then back here in my own neighborhood I see these impressive clusters of brown mushrooms growing from the roots of a sidewalk tree (at Waller and Belvedere, if you're a local).

The irony about identifying plants and fungi is that the most common varieties are often the hardest to identify. There is no end to the number of brown mushrooms with crowded white gills. I guess they're some kind of Honey Mushroom, anyone think differently?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Phoenix Lake

Another break in the weather and it's time to head outdoors. The North side of Mt. Tam can be positively unappealing in the winter because the low sun may never get above the Mountain from most vantages, leaving you in shade all day. Not helpful when the temperature is already low. The Phoenix Lake area, however, is an exception to this rule, where the Yolanda Trail is open and sunny year round.
In fact, this area had already gotten enough sun that some Milk Maid flowers had been tricked into blooming already. That's what life is like in California: the seasons are hardly set in stone, so any guidebook has to give months worth of leeway when predicting what will be blooming.
Saw a few more mushrooms in the lower, damper regions. Including some good clumps of Sulfur Tuft Mushrooms and a Golden Waxy Cap.

But probably the neatest thing I saw this afternoon was some mushrooms growing out of a moss, itself holding aloft its spore capsules. I guess what I find poetic about this pairing is that both the plant (which has chlorophyl and breathes carbon dioxide) and the fungus (lacking chlorophyl and breathing oxygen) reproduce in such similar ways: by shedding billions of invisible spores. The moss sinks it roots into the tree bark, while the fungus' mycelium is likely inside the moss.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Golden Gate Park Helvella

As I've pointed out before, you don't have to go all the way to Mt. Tam to find the wonders of nature. While talking through Golden Gate Park I stumbled upon a field of Fluted Black Helvella mushrooms. These oddly shaped fungi (at first I thought they were dirt clods) have what is often called a saddle-shaped cap (although it usually looks more crumpled) and a stalk that looks like pulled taffy. They are distant relatives of the prized Morel mushrooms.

I have seen these mushrooms in the park before and on Mt. Tamalpais, but I had never seen 50 of them in a group like this, most likely all part of one large set of mycelium, exchanging nutrients with a nearby tree.

The standard Helvella has a cap about the size of a quarter, but some of these were unusually large, including a couple that were a good four to five times the usual size.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Happy New Year

After getting almost continuous rain since the middle of December, it finally let up and I suspected Tam would be alive with mushrooms. Starting from Rock Spring, I saw an abundance of them, mostly these rust-colored Candy Cap mushrooms (Lactarius rubidus). They seemed to be everywhere.
To be honest, the variety was a little disappointing, although not completely lacking. I did manage to spot a Gem-studded Puffball, a Bolete, some neat lichen, and trunks full of fresh oyster mushrooms.

This wound up being a very ambitious hike, as I took the Kent Trail all the way down to Alpine Lake, a descent of about 1,600 feet. But in hiking, what goes down must climb up, and these being the short days of winter, I really had to press hard to get back to the start before the sun set. By the time I arrived, the waning light of dusk had started to fade.
Alpine Lake

As always, it was a beautiful sight looking out over the Pacific Ocean from Mt. Tam. The moon was in its very first fingernail phase, the earthshine impossible to miss.