Toad in the Hole

May 13, 2005


Joe and I have been flitting around the East Bay parks the last two days: Briones yesterday and Sunol today. Got a later start than would have been ideal both days, but we saw good stuff anyway.

We go to Briones every Spring for lazuli bunting and sure enough, after a longish hike without many birds, we saw a couple of males setting out their territories, disputing boundaries, chasing and singing. Nice bird, great shade of blue, weirdly ethereal compared to its earthy-red breast band. We had ash-throated flycatchers there, too, and lesser goldfinches, black-headed grosbeak, the usual suspects like robin and both towhees, chickadee, oak titmouse, acorn and Nuttall's woodpeckers, black phoebe, redtails, turkey vultures. Couldn't see anyone in the owl hole in the big madrone by the trail, and, weirdly, no swallows at all. But the red-winged blackbirds are back in the poison hemlock swale by the Boy Scout meadow, where they'd been missing last year, and seemed to be foraging for the kids.

Birds at Sunol were pretty good, including red-shouldered hawk with an almost-grown juvenile on the nest, being fed (a snake; ouch); and orioles in a nest that had a scrap of purple ribbon woven into it near the entrance, v. Martha Stewart. Also, a singing male western tanager, very tenacious about his tree; several house wrens (one pair building a nest in the sycamore where we'd seen a screech owl last time we were there); cliff, rough-winged, and violet-green swallows; ash-throated flycatcher, western wood-peewee, western kingbird, and black phoebe; more black-headed grosbeaks; bluebirds, both jays, crows;more acorn and Nuttall's woodpeckers; rufous-crowned sparrow, singing. Herps included a very assertive fence lizard eating a very big bowlegged dark beetle; several more of his kin; and a baby rattlesnake (two little buttons on its tail) that one of several parties of folks-with-screeching-kids had stopped to show everyone. Gotta hand it to the guy: he did it right, lifting the little snake on a stick, delaying and deflecting it only long enough to show everyone on the trail, keeping the kids well back without inciting hysteria, and then letting it go its way down the hill. Lord, it was cute.

Flowers were more spectacular at Sunol. Three calochortus species are blooming: C. luteus, C. venustus, C. albus. The albus has some interesting color variations there, from a sort of pale-peach edging toward tan, to very very pale rose. Some of the color effect comes from a little glow of yellow on the outer points of the "lantern" part, and/or sketchy pink lines on the very top of the top petals. The whole flower looks like very fine polished silk, and does seem to glow from within.

We had looks at several lupines and a white larkspur, too; poppies, some very red-violet vetch all over the place, and that exotic white scrofe that looks like a miniature bear's-breeches blossom. A scatter of blazing-star way up a steep slope; a little blue flax; lots of tritelias also in a range from blue-blue to very pale; blue dicks.

The butterflies were impressive in both parks, too. Today must've been hatching day in Sunol for orange sulphurs, as they were all over the place, quite the cheerful mob. Also lots of common ringlet, variable checkerspot; a good handful of Lorquin's admiral; pale and tiger swallowtails; some slightly dusky little blue; several buckeyes.

Yesterday, ditto for fresh hatch of pipevine swallowtails in Briones -- they were flying at us from some point maybe northeast of the trail, all along that trail toward the archery range. Tiger and pale swallowtails there too, a skipper or two, a few orange sulphurs, a Lorquin's admiral.

And what I first took for a buckeye sat down for a better look, and turned into a very aged, pale, battered painted lady. It looked like something that had flown all the way from Mexico under its own power -- and was evidently a very determined bug in general, as we're seeing very few of them alive now. Its wings were so beat-up that the edges were completely gone -- no scales or structure left on what would have been maybe the outer one-quarter of the wings, just some thin vanes like bare umbrella ribs radiating from the thorax.

And still it flew. I had to doff my hat at such persistence.

Posted at May 13, 2005 03:39 AM