Rain, Rain, Please Stay AND Come Again Another Day!

Waterfall on Holstein Hill Trail, Montini Preserve

Today, the second day of an “atmospheric river” storm, I hiked the Montini and Overlook properties to check out how well the water was getting off the trails. More water was running off than I recall ever seeing before, although I had missed the October storm which by all accounts was a gangbuster.

You know it’s a major storm when the waterfall on the Holstein Hill trail on the Montini Preserve is running as it was today (see photo).

Most of the trail structures put in place to get water off the trail were working as intended, although a few need to be cleaned out or enhanced. The properties are so rocky, however, that in places water seeps from the hill above and sheets over the trail. In other words, there’s just no getting around having water on the trail, so be careful.

And So it Begins…

IMG-1011Today I realized that the invasive species removal season had started — earlier than it ever has during my tenure. The earliest I had started removing Italian thistle from the Sonoma Overlook and Montini Preserve properties had been in December. But now, with our early rains this season, the thistle has already started coming in (see pic).  This essentially cuts my “down time” from four months to three, meaning the thistle removal season is going to be nine months long this year. Ouch!

One nice thing, though, is that I will have a three-week “vacation” in May, when I put in on the Colorado River rowing an 18-foot raft for 17 days. Since I just recently got off a 19-day trip doing the same thing, call me one lucky guy!

But mostly I’ll be out there, day in and day out, pulling these plants so that we can eventually eradicate them, as we almost have with the Yellow starthistle.

Building an Armored Swale

Today Jessica M. and I (both volunteer stewards) tackled a Montini trail project that I had long planned. There was a place on the Rattlesnake Cutoff Trail where water, during heavy storms, would flow across the trail. Since the initial construction of the trail didn’t take this into account, the water would pool on the trail, leading to a long trail segment that would essentially turn into a tiny lake (see photo).

The Montini Preserve was heavily mined in the early 1900s (this property and adjoining Schocken Hill, now the Sonoma Overlook Trail, essentially paved the streets of San Francisco at the time), and there is a quarry “divot” in the hill above that collects rainwater and funnels it out to the trail. Being essentially bedrock, the water has nowhere to go but out and down. 

The finished armored swale.

What the trail needed is what’s called an “armored swale,” which is essentially a channel cut into the trail that is protected by a floor of rocks to prevent erosion. I had been waiting for rain to soften the soil, as we would first need to excavate the existing rocks and in summer the ground is like concrete. It rained yesterday, so the soil was going to be about as soft as it was going to get. Also, since I knew that an “atmospheric river” was set to dump several inches of rain in a matter of a few days, now was the time to act.

So Jessica and I went out today and built it. We first needed to excavate a channel across the trail, then place stones to protect from erosion, and fill in gravel and soil around the stones. Do your worst, atmospheric river, we’re ready for you!

Tick Season is Here!

This week I found the first tick of the season crawling up my pants. In my experience, ticks are more prevalent in the wet period of winter and spring than they are in summer. Therefore, you will need to be vigilant for ticks for the next several months at least.

And being vigilant can be hard, as they can be quite small (see picture). When you’re inspecting yourself, look for any small dark dot. It’s good to look over yourself and your companions once you’ve left the trail. Even better, take a shower after your hike, so you can do a thorough body check. Try not to brush against trail vegetation, as they like to sit on the ends of grasses to get on you as you brush by.

Finally, if you do get bitten, extract the tick carefully with tweezers, put it in a small ziploc bag with a moistened cotton ball and send it in to have it tested for Lyme disease. I did this twice last year and thankfully neither tick had the disease. However, I tend to have a serious reaction to the tick bite if it has been in me for longer than an hour or so, which includes pain, itching, swelling, and a temporary scar at the bite site (which can last for months).

So by far, the best strategy is to prevent yourself from getting bitten in the first place. Stay safe out there!

The War Begins Anew

A young Italian thistle, which can grow to be over 6 feet tall.

Today I spotted the first Italian thistle plants (see picture) of the 2020 invasive species removal season — or what I simply call “thistle season,” as the species we’re most focused on at the moment are the Italian and Yellow star thistle. These species are fully capable of taking over entire ecosystems and driving out native species and even wildlife. Thus we fight.

Thistle season has grown to last from the end of December, with the early onset of Italian thistle (slightly later this year), to well into August with the Yellow star. That makes thistle season nearly 8 months long, with only 4 months off. It doesn’t mean that we’re out there every day, mostly hand-pulling the weeds, but it means that every day we can starts to add up to a real difference. As it is, we’re witnessing a decrease in the volume and extent of Yellow star thistle, since we’ve attacked it for close to a decade. It’s even gone from some areas. But Italian thistle has essentially overrun the Montini Preserve and it is threatening to do the same on the Overlook Trail property. Thus, our recent efforts on Italian thistle have tended to focus on the Overlook Trail — first to eradicate it from the trail verge, where traffic on the trail can spread it, and then to fight it back from the trail into the surrounding areas.

Last year we were successful in clearing it back from the trail, but much beyond that was mostly untouched except for a few select areas. This year we’re hoping to have the time to take the fight further out from the trail, and especially hit some meadows where it hasn’t yet become widely established, such as the Upper Meadow on the Overlook. But the season has just begun, so we shall have to see what we can accomplish this season.

Meanwhile, if volunteering to help us pull these weeds is something that might interest you, I recommend you first read this post: “‘Don’t Look Up’ and Other Lessons from Invasive Species Removal.” We’re not trying to scare you off, really we aren’t, but it’s best to approach this work with your eyes open. Trust me on that. If you’re still game, let me know.

If you don’t wish to volunteer, but see us doing the work when you hike, throw us a wave. Feelings of pity and “there, but for the grace of God…” are also appropriate.

August seems like a long, long way off from here.