Toad in the Hole

June 11, 2004

Mount Diablo

Last Friday we took a quick jaunt to Mount Diablo, hoping for bitterroot. That was long gone, but there were still both yellow and white calochortus blooming in an otherwise dry-grass meadow, and of course monkeyflower, and penstemon, columbine, golden eardrops, a red larkspur, and Clarkia concinna. I bent to sniff one of those and, oddly, got nothing, but a few steps farther got hit with a blast of that nice scent, a little like carnation, from a patch in the sun. There was also a senecio that belongs there, Senecio aronicoides, which I figured was a senecio mostly because of the leaf shape. And an odd little tubular thing Joe keyed out as Collinsia tinctoria, so called because its leaves can stain your hands red. Not much danger of that, as it barely had leaves at all.

We did see a couple of whiptail lizards -- one foraging in the brush, one following us. That was odd; I looked back on the path -- we were on the Fire Interpretive Trail just below the summit -- and saw this figure running after us as if we'd forgotten a hat or change or something it urgently needed to give us. RunrunrunStop. Look around. RunrunrunStop. Repeat. It finally veered off the path about ten-fifteen feet from where we stood, into the brush, never actually appearing startled.

"It" because not necessarily "she" -- this was a California whiptail, Cnemidophorus tigris mundus, one of the whiptail species that have two sexes. We've seen them before on Diablo.

There were blue-gray gnatcatchers at a couple of spots: near the Muir Picnic Area and on a trail we took by mistake below the summit. We also heard thrashers a couple of times, and saw one singing in a treetop just below Muir: score a bit like a half-hearted mockingbird, voice a little more baritone, and liquid. We kept hearing swifts but not seeing them, which I suppose means they were flying sunward of us -- it was a bright and blinding day. Redtails and turkey vultures, cliff and violet-green swallows, Anna's hummers, the usual suspects. I joked about ordering up a prairie falcon after the gnatcatchers and thrasher -- and on the way home, on a big fat expressway running through/past San Ramon, there was a big pale-ish falcon with black wingpits fighting the wind over the median plantings. OK, well, I'll settle for one of those wherever it chooses to turn up.

The bugs were good too -- besides the flowers I mentioned, the chaparral shrubs were blooming, mostly the yerba santa. (The clematis had gone to glossy mopheads.) The posies were alive with bee and fly traffic, and multiple butterfly species: blues, skippers, hairstreaks (maybe hedgerow hairstreak?), California sisters, whites. Also multiple bees, which I won't attempt to ID yet other than that some looked like bumblebees. At the summit, just at the foot of the lookout tower, there's a patch of ground with sparse vegetation. A multispecies mob of butterflies zipped and fluttered around -- pale, western tiger, and anise swallowtails, skippers, and something that looked a lot like a checkerspot but Joe ID'd as a callipe fritillary. The swallowtails and fritillary were doing this odd maneuver in various combinations: a pair would spiral each other up 20 feet or so, bat at each others' wings, swoop down singly to near ground in a dramatic, hawk-style stoop. Pretty damned stylish, actually.

From the lookout, we could dimly see the bit of the Delta where the levee break was flooding Bacon Island.

Posted at June 11, 2004 05:21 AM


thanks. am coming home to central california after 18 months in hawaii. and everyone thinks i'm nuts. but they can't appreciate the sweetness of your ramblings like i can. there is less to hawaii than meets the eye; in california it's the opposite.

Posted by: julie at June 14, 2004 07:40 PM

I was just looking over at the mountain this past weekend, and wishing I had a few hours to spend up there. I think it's been six or eight years.

Posted by: Chris Clarke at June 15, 2004 02:05 PM

Glad you like my ramblings, Julie... or is it California's ramblings? Anyway, I confess I'm a serious Hawai'i-phile -- ask Chris; he gets to look at my aloha shirt collection from April to October. But Joe and I have been there only twice so far.

My idea of a third honeymoon would be two weeks at the Wild Ginger Inn in Hilo.

Chris, as your sometime copyeditor I'm ordering you to play hooky ASAP.

Posted by: Ron at June 17, 2004 04:38 AM