Jun 5, 2009

Glen Canyon!

In the past week I've spent most of my days in Glen Canyon, sampling areas where Cape ivy (Delairea odorata), seen here attempting to devour a willow (Salix lasiolepis), has affected habitat. The willow scrub along the riparian corridor is a completely different habitat than the grasslands of Bayview Hill. Delving into this canyon offers an experience quite separate from the hiking of San Francisco's undeveloped hilltops. Rather than summiting a slope to gaze over our pretty city, bay, and/or ocean, getting lost in this recessed park is like pretending you're not in the city at all for a second. Sometimes the birds even drown out speeding cars on O'Shaughnessy.

Glen Canyon has meant new plants, new animals, and new challenges in my project. Sometimes the new animals are the new challenges. I thought a pugnacious hummingbird was going to poke me with it's needle beak on Monday. As weirdly intimidating as that was, the real challenge has been not freaking out about the snakes. I've seen 8 snakes in as many days (7 garters, 1 ring neck). One morning I saw 4 in about 90 minutes.

In the past I have been known to bolt as a result of ophidiophobia (fear of snakes), even once in Glen Canyon. I'm pretty sure that if I ever saw that movie, Snakes on a Plane, that I'd have a heart attack as it would combine my two great fears. However, I've been ridiculously chill about my serpent friends in Glen Canyon. I'm thinking that I've learned to dig 'em because I've had to crawl on my belly to get through the willows a time or two. They also tend to piss off pretty quickly, enabling me to suppress the shudders and squeals with a bit of dignity. I did manage to catch some pictures of number 8, who I saw yesterday on the edge of the willows to the northwest of the canyon.

Besides snakes and hummingbirds, I've seen red tailed hawks, a woodpecker, robins, about 10 other birds that I'll never know the names of, two species of lizard (alligator and maybe a fence lizard), and about a zillion mosquitos, spiders, beetles, bees, yellow jackets, dragon fly like creatures, and other equally important, though largely innocuous, bugs.

In addition to all of these critters, I've met new plants and become re-aquainted with some old ones. Getting into my sample sites has proven quite difficult. It's just dandy to ask GIS to demarcate random plots for sampling, but finding them in willow cover with the GPS is devilish. If I manage to find my spot, or can line myself up on a parallel or meridian and estimate how far into the willows to delve, I inevitably find myself tunneling through vicious Himalayan blackberry (Rubus discolor) or my dear friend, poison oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum). It often feels like I'm playing Twister with plants and getting my less-than-agile ass kicked. Ah, poison oak, such a chameleon! It acts like a vine in the willows, climbing well over my head as in the picture below. It's hanging over me, to my left, to my right, under my shoe, right where I just stuck my hand! The day I took this picture I almost washed my nostrils with technu.

In addition to noxious and intimidating plants, I've fallen in love with a few pretty or clever species. Scarlet monkey flower is not only beautiful, but it has a delightful, minty smell and a furry, sticky texture. I love it's tightly stacked, opposite leaves and the pronounced teeth on their margins. Long petioles (flower stalks) shoot elegantly out of the oddest places with absolutely no subtlety but all sorts of grace. I was losing the game of Twister trying to get a nice picture of the actual flower, but here's an overhead shot of the equally entrancing leaves of Mimulus cardinalis growing along Islais Creek.
Getting into wetter areas has provided an opportunity to work with larger specimens than the prostrate plants of grasslands. I still have to stare for about 5 minutes before cataloguing percent cover of each species. In grasslands I stare at waving, brownish graminoids, trying to actually see variety. In Glen Canyon's wetlands I mostly stare at green vines, though I also spend a lot of time surveying the different height layers of each plot, hoping to suss out different species at each level.

Trees have brought welcomed shade and vertical diversity to the sampling process. Sometimes I can use them to cross the creek without causing turbidity. Trees often allow me to hang my bag or GPS out of the reach of poison oak. When backlit by the sun, I can quickly begin to sort willow species based on the presence or absence of tiny teeth on the leaf margins. This elderberry, Sambucus racemosa L. var. racemosa has become a definite favorite, not in least because it has proven so easy to identify!

Besides trees and flowers, Glen Canyon supports weird life like moss, lichen, fungus, ferns, and fern allies. These evolutionarily old organisms reveal varying levels of complexity in structure and strategy. They're also just freaky looking, enhancing the mystique of each shady, squishy patch. Willows may host several lichens and mosses, none of which can I identify. I tend to call them things like "lichen spp. eerie green", "lichen spp. wispy", or "lichen spp. orange puke". I don't have to identify the lichens, mosses, and fungi because they are not plants! Hallelujah.

However I must reckon with ferns and fern allies. Ferns trip me out. I swear they all look alike. It takes me forever to figure out what pattern I'm seeing. Staring at a lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina var. cyclosorum) the other day I wondered if I'd accidentally eaten something hallucinogenic (I safely sample a lot of plant matter in the field) 'cause the darn plant seemed to change every time I glanced from my floral key back to the specimen. I bring them home and have the same problems with ferns. They're very repetitive in structure, such that I can't figure out where the patterns start and end. But one of their allies, known as giant horsetail or Equisetum telmateia, is native, abundant, and very easy to identify. These things make me ridiculously happy. It's weird too. Check it here in a juvenile form.

Glen Canyon, where I first participated in habitat restoration, often feels like my favorite San Francisco park. Getting into it's deep recesses, exploring areas I'd never seen previously, has definitely renewed my love for the linear gem below Twin Peaks. Speaking of those hills, I mapped areas of French broom (Genista monspessulana) importance up there today. I'll be moving into said grasslands tomorrow as the drying graminoids demand my attention lest I miss their miniscule flowers.

If you're going nuts with the Latin names, be tolerant. I'm trying to get comfortable with them in preparation for writing a ridiculously long research paper in July and August. Plus the more I see the names, the faster I can find them on my 10 page data sheets!

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