A Midsummer’s Night

On Friday 7/10, KG, PB, JO and I led 17 people on five mile hike. Some people hadn’t been to this preserve, and some had not been on a night hike. The weather was mild enough to do without my sweatshirt most of the time.

From the lot, I could hear Red-breasted Nuthatch in the trees along Skyline. Two Western Fence Lizards were tangling on the fence. There were a couple of Red-tailed Hawks flying near there.

The voles and mice were very active in that area. There was a dead vole that was intact and appeared not to be injured. It seemed like the rodents were right at the edge of the trail, where a thin strip of wild oats was left. When the front of the group came close, they’d scurry to a hole, of which there were many. If they hadn’t moved, we wouldn’t have known they were even there, blending in with the color of the burned grass. One of the rodents went into a hole, then turned around to look at us. It popped out a few times–it had the look of one of those pet hamsters, big ears and cute. To me it acted like a gopher, but didn’t look like one. I didn’t see buck teeth.
There was a mouse that ran to a hole, but there was some invisible problem because it had trouble getting in. Eventually just its hind end was sticking out, and then just its tail!

On our scouting hike, there were a lot of pillbugs in the first stretch, but there were none this time (although there was one in the bathroom). Some of the ants carried pieces of their bodies and also a small grasshopper, so maybe they got toasted. There were many small grasshoppers. When we returned, the crickets were calling in this area.

A Coyote patrolled the burned area ahead of us, and stopped to dig out a rodent. Darkling beetles, small spiders, and a Velvet Ant crossed the trails. Lesser Goldfinch called.

Further on Ridge Trail, a pair of Ravens poked around in the ground, and we saw both California Quail and Wild Turkey tracks in the trail dust, along with smaller bird tracks of various sizes, beetle tracks, coyote and deer tracks. There were several active Harvester Ant nests, including one where they were carrying larvae to another location. That one was on the edge of the burned area by the trail. There were also a few winged reproductives.

There were quite a few clarkia out, and a Western Meadowlark called while perched on a shrub.

After we crossed the trail leading in from the Caltrans vista point, a Brush Rabbit was spotted, swallows were flying around on the west side, and two deer were also in that area. A Savannah Sparrow called from the top of a shrub close to the trail. Another Red-tailed Hawk was perched on a snag.

Heading up to dinner, burned area behind

Heading up to dinner, burned area behind

At the intersection of Hawk Ridge Trail where we stopped for dinner around 8:00, Grasshopper Sparrows sang. The closest one was not singing the typical insect-buzz, but sang a song similar to Winter Wren, only shorter. PB and JO talked about the burn.

Looking west from Ridge Trail

Looking west from Ridge Trail

After the sun set, a bat or two flew overhead.

Around 9:15, we stopped to view the ISS pass and an Iridium flare a couple of minutes later, and at the same moment a large owl emerged from the trees in front of us. A Western Screech Owl also was heard by some.

We stopped for a minute of quiet listening under the Ancient Oaks. Emerging from the trees, the blackened landscape at night was like walking on a different planet (except we picked up a fair amount of trash). The odor of burned grass was more apparent to me after dark.

When we arrived back at the Ridge Trail, we stopped for a few minutes of stargazing. The moon didn’t rise until after 10:30, so we just had ambient light.

Another vole crossed in front of me on the way back.

As we were getting ready to lock up, we were treated to a stereo coyote serenade, with the moon recently risen behind clouds, but still bright. One was yipping from the hill above the first part of the trail, and others were calling from the other side of Skyline.

See photos here.

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