Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Marin Day Hike - Bon Tempe Lake Loop - 4-27-11

          North of Mt. Tamalpais just beyond Fairfax is several reservoirs that are part of the MMWD. These blue gems stud the landscape and offer excellent habitat for wildlife as well as a plethora of great hiking trails. The parking Fee to enter the Sky Oaks area which offers access to Lake Lagunitas, Bon Tempe, and Alpine Lake is currently $8. There is also an annual pass available for $60 which I broke down and bought. So expect to follow me on many future adventures through these wild lands.
          Parking in the dirt lot near Bon Tempe Dam I set off on the Bon Tempe Sunnyside Trail. Immediately I noticed that many of the oak trees were infested with tent caterpillars.

Caterpillar Infestation

          These caterpillars could be seen crawling all over the trail. The trail skirts the shoreline offering ample opportunity to observe Osprey dive bombing into the water in hopes of catching a fish. A few killdeer scrambled around the shore but were chased away by a dog off leash.
          With little to no elevation gain the hiking is easy going. About a mile from the trailhead the route lets out onto Sky Oaks Road where I continued right along the road for a few minutes before reaching the next segment of trail leading around Pine Point. There is a trail that shortcuts Pine Point but what would be the point in that? The path around Pine Point is mostly shaded and is just over a mile long. I encountered a family of ducks traveling the shoreline in search of food.

Family of Ducks

          The trail lets out near the Lake Lagunitas picnic and parking area. I decided to trek the short distance up to Lake Lagunitas to see if any turtles were hanging out. I made my way up the steep staircase along the wooden spillway to the top of Lagunitas Dam and to my liking there were several turtles basking in the sun.

Native Western Pond Turtles

          Turtles are often times seen posted up on the wave logs near the dam. In the center was a single Red Ear Slider, more colorful and larger than the others. On the right side among the reeds were several Western Pond Turtles playing around. They would climb on each others back and push each other into the water. At one point there were three turtles stacked on top of one another like a tower until the top two tumbled into the lake.
          There are different types of turtles living in the local reservoirs and it has become quite the dilemma. The only turtle native to the area is the Western Pond Turtle. Unfortunately the Red Ear Slider (a common pet) has been introduced to the environment. The Red Eared Sliders grow bigger and are stronger than the native Pond Turtle, therefore diminishing the amount of available food and nesting sites. MMWD has a program in place where volunteers count and observe turtles so as to help form a plan of action to remedy the problem. I have read that they have even started to remove some of the Red Ear Sliders and relocate them. Last years turtle count revealed that the largest numbers of Red Ear Sliders reside in Lake Phoenix. It is thought that because of the lake’s close proximity with civilization (Lake Phoenix being the closest of all the lakes) the result is a greater number of non natives.
          If you’re thinking of getting a turtle as a pet… THINK TWICE! Can you care for it for the entirety of its life? You’ll need a pretty damn big tank. Sure those turtles are cute when they are little but you probably won’t want to care for it when it gets bigger. Why not take a hike and watch a native turtle in its natural environment. What a concept.
          There is a popular trail that circumnavigates Lake Lagunitas, although not on my day’s agenda. During and shortly after the rainy season it is a good place to observe newts as they make there quest to reproduce.
          Continuing on my Bon Tempe Lake loop I retreated back down to the picnic area where I crossed the creek and picked up the Shadyside Trail. One of the great aspects of the Bon Tempe Loop is the varied environs in which it passes. I started off along the shady side which leads up and away from the shoreline at times. Undulating through redwood forests then mixed conifer and Douglas Fir. Irises bloomed in abundance as did the Pacific Starflower. The real gems are the Spotted and Striped Coral Root Orchids the latter being less abundant and harder to spot.

Striped Coral Root Orchid (Corallorhiza striata)

Striped Coral Root Orchid

Spotted Coral Root Orchid (Corallorhiza maculata)

          Many people walk right by these inconspicuous beauties without ever knowing it. I myself prefer the striped or striated variety.

Another Striped Coral Root Orchid

          As I walk in a forest I am observant of things such as scat and bird droppings. When I come across large deposits of bird droppings I look upward often revealing a preferred perching branch or maybe even a nest.
          About halfway along the shady side I took a side path to a sunny section along the shore. This particular cove offered relief from the pounding winds that had been a gale for most the hike. In the water just off shore was a crawfish. I slowly snuck my hand up behind it and gently snatched it out of the water.

Crawfish or Crawdad

          It had one claw and did not seem to be doing well. I imagined a raccoon might get to it in the night.Upon closer inspection I noticed a bulging sac of eggs beneath it. I quickly placed it back into the water where it will face a certain struggle for survival.
          I made my way back to the main trail and continued onward. Before reaching the terminus of the Shadyside Trail I managed to spot one healthy set of Checker Lilies.

Checker Lily aka Mission Bells (Fritillaria affinis)

          The trail lets out onto Bon Tempe Dam. I proceeded across the dam which offers views of Alpine Lake below. Along the wake bars in Bon Tempe is a popular place for birds like Herons, Gulls and Cormorants to perch.
          At the end of the dam I crossed the spillway via a bridge where I looked downward to a pond and saw a giant trout leap out of the water. No wonder Osprey thrive in this watershed.
          Once down at the lot I decided take a stroll down Bull Frog Road which travels north along a narrow arm of Alpine. This section of lake is often dried up later in the season, but when it is full, it is teaming with wildlife.
          As Osprey fished the waters, so did a Great White Egret. The binoculars revealed a turtle perched not but a foot away from the hunting egret. I watched a cormorant come up from a dive just in time to see the fish it had caught. Further along were three Red Eared Sliders leaning on one another in a line.

Non Native Red Eared Sliders

          Unfortunately I was not able to get a clean shot of all three.
Dragonflies and Damselflies flew frantically about, hunting and laying eggs.

Blue Darner Dragonfly

Pacific Spiketail Dragonfly

          If you look closely you can see that this Pacific Spiketail appears to be eating a smaller damselfly.
          Just as I was going to turn back I came upon a Gopher Snake stretched out across the fire road enjoying the sun.

Gopher Snake

Gopher Snake

As I photographed the snake from different angles a huge gust of wind came, kicking up some dust and scaring away the snake. All the while my auditory senses alerted me to what other wildlife might be around. The distinct repeated shrieks of Red Shouldered Hawks called from the distance as did a solitary call of a Red Tailed Hawk. Just as I was taking mental note of the call a Red Shouldered Hawk flew directly above me then landed in a tree out of sight.
          At this point I was completely satisfied with my outing and decided to head back to the car. As I drove out along Sky Oaks Road a coyote popped up onto the road, slowly crossed and continued up a hill. As I contemplated pulling out the camera another coyote followed in the first ones footsteps. Another car was approaching so I simply enjoyed the sighting and moved on.
          I had set out with the objective of seeing some Coral Root Orchids, Turtles and Checker Lilies but as my blog theme and John Muir states “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”

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