The rainy season is of course also the season of fungus, which thrives on damp conditions. The rains we have experienced the last few months has only spurred these interesting organisms to new bursts of growth. Just the other day, I was delighted to come upon a large patch of bright orange and yellow fungi (see picture of only two of dozens in one area) that had recently pushed up past the detritus of dead leaves and decomposed vegetation that comprise the forest duff.
The two kinds pictured above are of course just a couple of many, many different kinds of fungi found in Northern California. And since positive identification can be difficult if you aren’t an expert, you won’t find me climbing out on that particular limb. But that doesn’t meant that I can’t appreciate their diversity, color, and sheer exuberance in pushing up through a sometime thick layer of compost toward sunlight.
All of the pictures included in this post were taken on either the Overlook Trail or the Montini Preserve, so be on the lookout to see these and others now and in the coming days.
Now that it’s winter and we spend more time indoors, it is SO-o-o-o-o enjoyable to start the day with a hike on the Overlook Trail. Maybe a tad of cabin fever is being experienced here in Sonoma, because we had a BIG group of Happy Hikers show up today for our Wednesday morning hike. . . .Come join us any Wednesday at 8:30 for a Cabin Fever Cure.
PS. . . A HUGE thank you to Stewards Roy, Lynn, and Bill for getting the fallen tree on the trail removed PRONTO so that our hike was safe and unobstructed.
Since western poison oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum) typically loses its leaves in the Fall and doesn’t start leafing out again until after the first of the year, you might be surprised to know that it is coming out now, as I was (see photo taken today). Chalk it up to global warming, I suppose, but the result is that poison oak season is elongating — it’s starting earlier and likely ending later, although I don’t have evidence of it.
This is bad news for hikers, and the stewards who try to keep it cut back off the trail. But since I haven’t yet had a chance to get out there with clippers (perhaps tomorrow), be careful. I’ve seen a few sprouts right at the edge of the trail.
Part of what makes poison oak tough to spot is that it presents differently at different times of year and in different growing conditions. To see some of this variability, see this web site, which has a number of pictures of poison oak in various stages of its life and in different growing conditions. Also, poison oak will often vine up into bushes and small trees, blending in with the other vegetation, which makes it even harder to spot. I’ve often missed noticing poison oak in such situations, even when actively looking for it.
Our program of control is limited to keeping it about 3 feet off the trail, as since it is a native species we aren’t interested in eradicating it like we are invasive species such as Italian and Yellow Star thistle. So if you stay on the trail you should be safe, at least after I get out with the clippers, but it doesn’t hurt to be vigilant.
Seasonal rogue runoff crossing the Rattlesnake Cutoff trail.
Whether it is related to global warming or not, California seems to go from one extreme to another. Years of punishing drought have given way to one of the wettest winters we’ve seen in a long time. The drought is officially over for northern California, but in so doing it is making amphibians of us all. The average annual rainfall for Sonoma is 31.49 inches. As of today we are at 37.71 inches with more on the way.
The trails take a beating from this much wet. Water often courses down sections of trail, eroding soil needed to make a smooth trail. Puddles create mud that hikers walk through which can also tear up the trail. This year on the Rattlesnake Cutoff trail on the Montini Preserve a new seasonal runoff channel has cut directly across the trail with pools beside it (see picture). Clearly we will need to address this next summer.
Having said all that, we needed to have a year that well and truly broke our multi-year drought, and we certainly got it. It would just be nice if it didn’t also mean mudslides, road closures, and un-hikable sections of trail.
Our recent and ongoing rains have had their desired effect in at least one significant way — the mushrooms are out! Wikipedia describes mushrooms as:
“…the fleshy, spore-bearing fruiting body of a fungus, typically produced above ground on soil or on its food source.”
That clinical description belies the charm of these organisms that pop up from the forest floor when the right conditions (dampness being key) are present. The varieties are endless, and some are edible, but identifying them properly is a sticky business best left to experts. If you eat the wrong one, you can get sick or even die.
Of course mushrooms are but on type of fungus. Another type that is easily spotted on the trails is a bracket fungus (see picture). These grow on trees, like this one which is growing on a dead and downed tree alongside the trail on the Overlook side of Rattlesnake cutoff. Look for it in what I call “Fern Glen” which is where the seasonal creek is now running across the trail.
This specimen I found near the 4th Street entrance to the Montini Preserve, and I love it’s delicate stem. I had to get quite close to get this shot of what is one of the smaller varieties. On the same day I found nearly the opposite, one with a six-inch cap that had only recently popped up above the dead leaves of the forest floor.
For help in identifying a particular variety, there are a number of strategies:
Whether you are trying to identify a particular variety or simply enjoying seeing them pop up in the season of the fungi, it’s yet another reason to get out on the trails and enjoy what they have to offer. See you on the trail!
A high pressure ridge is staving off the clouds leading to clear, cold nights. Recently overnight temperatures have dipped into the 20s, which leads to our damp trails turning icy. This can of course mean danger to those not paying attention or moving too fast. Runners in particular need to be cautious where the trail is icy or muddy.
Or, if you want to avoid the ice altogether walk in the afternoon, after the warmer daytime temperatures (typically in the 40s-50s) have a chance to melt the ice. You will still have mud to contend with, but it is generally less slick than ice.
Bottom line: stay safe out there while enjoying all the great things our trails have to offer.
Seasonal creeks are by definition creeks that only have water during the rainy season. In California, the rainy season can potentially stretch from early Fall into late Spring, although variations in weather patterns can of course add nuance to that schedule. However, for truly seasonal creeks it usually takes a fair bit of rain to form the runoff required to start them up.
So although we’ve had rain just about every week for the last month or so, it was only with the latest storm that we began to see the seasonal creeks on the Overlook Trail and the Montini Preserve begin to run. Specifically, the creek that runs through what I call “Fern Glen” and across the Overlook part of the Rattlesnake Cutoff trail, has begun to run (see pic).
This is good news, as it means that our storage reservoirs will also begin to fill. And having been in a multi-year drought, this is definitely good news. However, runoff by itself isn’t necessarily good. We should trap as much of that as we can into the aquifer, where those who draw from water wells can take advantage of it. To a large degree, this means slowing down the runoff and making it soak into the ground instead of running directly to the bay.
Personally, I think we have a ways to go before we can say that we are doing the best we can at water capture in this valley. Until we figure out how best to harness our seasonal creeks to maximize underground water storage, we perhaps deserve the droughts that we will likely increasingly get.