Friday, January 1, 2010

Return of the Russian Ridge Coyotes

This past week I went for a year end trek around Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve in the Santa Cruz Mountains. I almost always see interesting flora & fauna there, and this visit started with a good omen as I was greeted upon entry by a relaxed northern harrier, Circus cyaneus, enjoying the morning sun (or just finishing a morning snack):

harrier enjoying morning sun
White rump and owlish face are good ways to ID northern harriers

I love it when wildlife cooperates!

Along with the abundance of raptors (hawks, kites, harriers & kestrels are common), another top reason I like Russian Ridge: it's my goto spot for coyotes. I see them there often. Sometimes I even get close encounters. They patrol the paths & fields, hunting the numerous ground squirrels, voles & gophers (and when uncertain "volephers") that live on the grassy slopes.

And, no sooner had I crested the first hill, when I saw 2 coyotes duck behind it. They had obviously seen me first. I moved to cut one off, but only got a going away shot:

here boy!
"here boy!" - darn coyotes never heel when you call

So, I high-stepped around the other hill, hoping to meet his gray sidekick as she circled to reunite. I thought I had a bead on her, but it turned out to be a bonus beauty bobcat instead:

you're not a coyote
A bobcat in the brush

And since I spied the Lynx rufus before it eyed me, I got a decent pic as it sauntered off.

Shazam. Dang right it was a good day.

I continued down the recently rain-soaked trails, enjoying the coastal scenery:

classic california trail
Oaks, snags, grassy hills and coastal scrub - classic California

rocky face
Sandstone jumbles decorate this piece of the Bay Area ridge trail

Turning a few sandstone rocks, I found this crazy big silvery spider:

big silvery spider
Calisoga Silver Spider, Calisoga longitarsus, also called the False Tarantula

big silvery spider
> 3 inches in diameter, with a mandible-to-spinner length of ~ 1-1/2 inches

I'm glad the hairy beast was cold and cooperative. I like spiders, but they can give me the serious heebie-jeebies if they're fast or jumpy. Societal conditioning I guess.

Also under the rock was this interesting egg case:

some kind of egg case
Egg case of California Praying Mantis - about 1-1/2 inches long

I saw one under another rock too. They've got a Star Trek look to them. Like Warf's forehead, or some critter that crawls in your ear. I thought at first that maybe they were the kids of the calisoga silver spider, but the cases were hard, and not spider's silk-like. After a pointer from a flickr friend, it turns out they're egg cases of the California Mantis, Stagmomantis californica!

Beneath a chunk of rotting oak trunk, I found this photo-friendly slender salamander:

dark slender sally
Slender salamander, Batrachoseps sp. - food for False Tarantulas?

Then, moving on down the trail, I spotted another Canis latrans hunting volephers. This one seemed much more interested in the redtail hawk circling overhead than in me. Made me wonder if hawks help or hurt the coyotes hunting chances, which is why the clever canids keep an eye on them. Do the raptors scare off the rodents? Or is the song dog looking to try and steal a meal? Unfortunately, the coyote ducked down the gully before revealing his secret.

coyote watching hawk
Coyote stops hunting volephers to watch redtail hawk (and ignore me)

coyote watching hawk

coyote watching hawk
Do hawks help or hurt coyote hunts? Or is he just a bird dog?

And so I rambled on.

In the pockets of oaks, madrones, buckeyes and firs along the trail, the rains had brought out the mosses, mushrooms & lichens. This ancient character oak was almost perfectly covered:

character oak
Massive mossy oak

Here's a closeup of the seasonal salad:

salad on a tree
Moss and Lobaria lung lichen

And, though it was obvious the mushroom thieves had already scoured the area, I did manage to find a few colorful and interesting fungi, such as dabs of witch's butter on fallen branches:

witch's butter
Jelly fungus Tremella mesenterica, called witch's butter and yellow brain fungus

And a blood wine red mushroom that took the fungi prize 'o the week - what a crazy color!:

cortinarius sanguineus?
Blood red fungi growing in a burnt oak trunk

cortinarius sanguineus?

Btw - do you say "it" or "they" when referring to a cluster of fungi caps? The caps are just multiple "flowers" from a single underground fibrous entity. So, it's an "it," but the caps are "they"? Hmmmm....

And finally, I saw this chuckle:

still works!

Acorn woodpeckers are amazing. As is Russian Ridge.




  1. Sure sounds like a great day, and the photos are just super. I love the Santa Cruz Mountains -- it's a chunk of wilderness only a stone's throw from SF.

  2. Beautiful pictures, all. Love the bobcat! I wish I had spent more time exploring the area when I lived there. It was wonderful, except for the poison oak.

  3. Poison oak? What poison oak? Scratch, scratch.

    Hugh - if you ever come back to the Bay Area for a visit, I'll happily show ya some of the parks you missed...

  4. I am so jealous of your encounters with all these amazing animals! I would be so very excited that I probably would forget to click the shutter! (Yes, that has happened to me :-) ) I am just in awe of nature and animals, large and small. Stumbled upon your blog - nice work! Tracy

  5. Milkay/Tracy - I've missed many a shot myself. Wrong settings, bad focus, or just too darn slow on the trigger. It's all part of the fun and makes the shots you get that much better. :)


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