Despite the temperatures reported by a couple of websites, it was chillier in the Russian Ridge parking lot. KG and I scouted a new route for our frog hike. We talked to the ranger for a while, then crossed over to Skyline Ridge at 5:00.
We noticed that much of the cattails seem to have been removed along the east side, leaving a clear view of Alpine Pond. A Wrentit called softly from the top of some remaining cattails. We continued up the hill to Ipiwa Trail. We dawdled a bit by finding spider turrets and tiger beetle larvae burrows. One spider turret was decorated with lichen–not just stuck on the sides, but Usnea along the rim of the turret, clearly purposely arranged.
As we came into the open grassland at 5:30, we heard a Great Horned Owl, and six deer grazed uphill. We weren’t perceived to be a threat, and one deer came down to graze on the trail in front of us. When the breeze was just right, I could hear her chewing. As I listened with my ear cupped, I couldn’t hear anything so I looked up to find the deer alert with ears forward, looking uphill. At the top of the ridge, a coyote intently watched something unseen. It made its way downhill through the oats, finally making its way to the curve of the trail. The deer had moved uphill by then. The coyote looked over its shoulder three times at us while continuing up the trail.
Some scratching caught our attention; the outline of a Spotted Towhee’s kicking revealed duff flying in the air behind it. Two California Towhees joined it nearby.
When we reached the intersection near the overlook, an unexpected newt crossed the trail, heading downhill. Even more surprising was a banana slug in the middle of the trail, and another on the side. A few more steps past the overlook, and another newt had already crossed the trail, also heading downhill. Both newts’ eyes popped out from the outline of the head when viewed from above, and they had bumpy skin, probably making them California Newts.
At 6:15, we reached the big intersection with Sunny Jim Trail. As we approached, a few deer pronked away down into the woods. We wondered if they were the same ones we saw earlier. We turned right down the hill to the lake. It was past sunset by 25 minutes. One or two treefrogs gave land calls as we hiked down.
Arriving at the bridge at 6:40, we decided to sit and eat. My small thermometer said ~40F. I hadn’t put my light gloves on for a while, so my hands were cold. A Northern Saw-whet Owl tooted distantly as we ate. Only one or two Sierran Treefrogs called from the water.
Half an hour later, we started off to check the water level at the footbridge. It seemed more open here as well. I checked the water at a few places along the trail, but didn’t see anything in it. In one spot by one of the benches, a bat flew over the water in the beam of my flashlight. We found a few fluorescent millipedes under UV. The footbridge now has railings, something added since the last time I was there. There was no water below, so we turned around.
As we hiked uphill the way we’d come, a coot grunted, a few more frogs called, and a Barn Owl shrieked. It was far enough away that we couldn’t hear the entire range of the call; it sounded more like one note. Out in the open, Jupiter and Venus were bright in the western sky, and Mars in the east. There was no moon, but the ambient light made it possible to walk without flashlight much of the time. However, we didn’t want to step on anybody crossing the trail, so we had our lights on most of the time.
As we headed toward the chaparral, Great Horned Owls called from the canyon. When we rounded the corner, we heard more, as well as another Saw-whet. A Western Screech-owl joined the chorus. I wanted to record that, but my batteries weren’t cooperating and by the time I got things working, they had stopped. There was a lot of air traffic.
Entering the woods again, a couple of wailing calls came from the trees. It sounded like another Saw-whet, but I wouldn’t have expected one there. It wasn’t that far from where we’d heard the toots in the chaparral though. Here are some toots and wails from an owl at Gazos Creek.
I refound the spot where we’d seen some turrets, including one small undecorated one. A spider perched at the entrance, and two tiger beetle larvae waited at the mouth of their burrows for prey to stumble by. A few more millipedes showed up.
It was pretty quiet at Alpine Pond also; only a couple of treefrogs made themselves known. We didn’t have time to check out the water in other parts of the pond.
When we got back to the car, I noticed the back window was frosted. The paint felt icy, and when I looked at the top of the car, it had a pretty good layer. I had to scrape the front and back windows. When I got home, I checked the Alpine Road Weather Underground station, which said 36F. Some other La Honda temperatures said 46F, but given the icy car, at least some areas were that cold. Perhaps that’s partially why the frogs were relatively quiet.
More photos are here.
Last year’s frog hike at Picchetti Ranch was cold also. You can read about that here.