Posts Tagged ‘tarantulas’

Arachnids rule!

September 18, 2016

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Five of us cleared three areas of Fremont Older open space preserve of stinkwort, all of it that we could find. The day was bright and sunny, but started out cool and gray, with wonderful condensation patterns on the cobwebs and indeed, on their proprietors.

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Garden spider season, and no mistake.

Sunday, 18 September

Speaking of which, it’s also getting on into the time of year when the tarantulas come out. Do you suppose, if I go trail patrolling in the open grasslands, I’ll find one? So I drove up Page Mill road and hiked a loop through Montebello, Coal Creek, Russian Ridge and Skyline Ridge open space preserves.

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No tarantuli, but I did find two gopher snakes and a garter snake. That’s three-up from the usual count.

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Only recently did I learn that the forked tongue is actually a stereo sensor, able to differentiate the taste of the air left to right and help the snake locate smelly things such as, well, me.

A spare the air day here, not much breeze, highs estimated at 90 in San Jose, 100 in Livermore. Maybe a bit cooler on the ridge over the ocean, but still a hot day. Glad I have water.

A week ago, Ellen, Tom and I scoured Mindego Hill for purple star thistle. It was part of my hiking plan anyway, so I took along a trash bag and scoured it a second time. If we got 90% of it last week, and I got 90% of what was left today, we’re down to 1% remainders. Hard to estimate these numbers, of course, but I think they’re not too far off.

This left me with a trash bag to carry out. I tied it to the back of my backpack, where it probably looked silly, but didn’t get in my way. Dropped it off at the Midpen Skyline Field Office (always known, confusingly, as SFO), where I talked with Ranger Frances for a few minutes.

I used up all of my water before I got there, but I was able to tank up again at Alpine Pond. A life-saver, and no mistake. Too bad there are so few sources of drinking water up there, but that’s how it is.

As to big spiders, the season is yet young, and I’ll be out there looking for them next week, and the next and the next.

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Tarantulas at Grant Ranch

October 10, 2015

Saturday, 10 October 2015

I found no tarantulas on the peninsula last weekend, so I went to Grant Ranch today. It would be a shame to go through a season and not find any at all.

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I started off from my usual pull-out near the old barn, hiked Washburn Road trail, best known for a dozen false summits as it gains 1500 feet in a mile and a half. Seriously hard work, and I begin to think I’m not at 100% today. Down the other side to the site of the old Pala Seca Cabin, which, after having been burned down by arsonists a couple years ago, at least now has a plaque.

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And on the ridge trail, yes, there was a big beautiful tarantula. My favorite thing in the fall season — well, except for a few other favorite things.

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As with all other males, these guys have but one idea in their tiny brains, and it isn’t fighting or eating. Babes!

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In times past, I have picked up tarantulas bare-handed, but sometimes they are a little feisty. My volunteer work means that I have a pair of leather gloves in my backpack, and I’m a lot less hesitant to pick one up with gloves on. True, the fangs could probably penetrate the glove, but the risk is a lot lower. In any event, this one was very docile. Thanks, little guy.

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After a few pictures, I put him down, and he went on his way. I had laid down my hiking sticks when I first saw him; he just climbed over them, no big deal. By the time he was a foot into the tall grass, he was completely invisible, even though I knew where he was.

Rather than a killer hike, I decided to cut it shorter, took one of the alternate trails back down. Another tarantula! It’s hot in the sun, and this one was attracted to my shade, snuggled right up to my boot, happy as a clam.

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The view from the trail down. The old barn is about midway vertically, two thirds to the right, and the road where I parked is to the left. I’ve been parking there forever, but today I got a citation: emergency parking only (and no, there is no sign). Foof! Not likely to do that hike again!

Mission Peak, Sunol Flag hill

November 3, 2012

First, a note on yesterday’s blog. Our redwood deck has a significant amount of space under the floor. For a while, raccoons thought it would be a good place to live, until I put chicken wire around the periphery. For the last year or so, it has been home to an alligator lizard (below, photo from last May).

We have always had a lot of small spiders in, on, under and around the deck. Until the alligator lizard came along. Then there were no spiders (burp!).

But I haven’t seen the lizard since last spring, probably about the time I took this picture. And the spiders are back!

Lizards have to eat, too, but it’s nice to have spiders.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

If I go to the Stanford avenue entrance to Mission Peak well before sunrise, maybe I will even be able to park in the lot, rather than down on the street below. So I thought. Wrong! The sky was only just beginning to show a bit of light in the east, and I had to park as far away from the trailhead as I ever have before. People like to do this in the dark!

And indeed, I saw a number of lights from flashlights carried by hikers on the way up. I guess they like to be at the top when the sun comes up.

As for me, I relied on the fact that the first part of the route is fire road, so I don’t need to see anything in detail. After half an hour, there was enough light to see color — we had our first rain of the season last week, and the grass is already green! — and take off my padded vest, having climbed several hundred feet and warmed up.

I was almost at the top when the sun finally rose. A pretty view over the Sunol valley to the north and east; I believe I have never before seen it fogged in. Mt Diablo to the right.

As I crossed the shoulder and started down the other side, I saw a coyote. We looked each other over and went our separate ways. Thirty seconds later, another coyote. Mom and pop? And then yet another. I hope they’re well fed on rabbit and wild turkey — dealing with three at once — oop! make that four! — would be quite a challenge.

These coyotes probably don’t have direct experience, but maybe they bring in guest speaker coyotes from Nevada or Wyoming, speakers who tell them tales about rifles.

Lots of dew in the early morning. It promises to be a wonderful day.

I noticed a rock made of fragmented seashells and had a minor epiphany: I bet shell and shale are derived from the same root word!

Well, the hike to Sunol is an industrial grade trek, but it’s not a killer hike. 15 miles or thereabouts. But I was early, it was a nice day, and well, why not! So I went on up to the top of Flag Hill (below). It adds a few miles and a thousand feet of climb (total: 19 miles, 4900 vertical feet).

At their request, I had photographed a group of half a dozen other hikers here. They enjoyed the hilltop while I went on down.

And what should I discover on the trail, but possibly the last tarantula of the season! Great!

Sunol park was celebrating its 50th birthday, and the visitor center area was full of rangers, docents, pavilions and exhibits. Not that many participants: maybe the real events happen this afternoon. I wandered around, refilled the water bottle, soaked up a few calories and went on.

As I neared the bottom on the Mission Peak side, I was behind Mom and four-year-old daughter, and Dad and six-year-old son were behind me. I stepped carefully across the rails of the cattle gate, and the son remarked, “You know, you can walk at the edge.”

I turned and said, “Sometimes we choose not to do things the easiest way. It’s more of a challenge.” So the boy came up and walked with me. Quite a conversation, about running on the downhills, about my GPS receiver, and then on into skiing, skateboards, snowboards and that was only the limit because we reached the parking lot and had to say our good-byes.

What a terrific day!

Rose peak

October 7, 2012

We start with two pictures of the garden spider outside the kitchen window. Very colorful, but as we see in the second picture, he (definitely a he!) is a shameless exhibitionist!

We’re shocked! shocked! or well, I suppose we ought to be.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

I spent most of today buying a Kia Soul+. How long does it take to buy a car? Longer than you would think… I did get a loaner from the dealer and disappeared for a few hours to get a new battery for my watch, and get a computer for my new bicycle. But if I had intended to do anything else today, well, it didn’t happen.

Nice car. The first automatic transmission I have ever owned. Six speeds, better gas mileage than the manual, which is not available on this particular model.

Sunday, 7 October

No exercise yesterday, so I’ll do the Rose Peak killer hike that I deferred last weekend because of hundred-degree temperatures in the east bay. I haven’t been here since May, and I had remembered that the gates didn’t open at a reasonable hour. So I got there a few minutes after 7, and the gates only open at 8.

Preposterous!

Drove up Welch Creek road, which I also remember as suboptimal. Yes, well, it’s one lane (if you like narrow lanes) and mostly blind. Not a good choice. But I parked at the lower Eagle View trailhead, and was on the trail by about 7:40.

The commercials always feature their car in some exotic adventure locale. Well, why not? Here’s the clean and shiny new Kia, looking better than it ever will again, high above Sunol.

An hour later, along Cerro Este road:

She was out of her den, sunning herself. “Please god, send me a horny male,” she thought. And the next thing she knew, there was Dave, taking pictures and being a general nuisance.

She retreated into her burrow. “Clarification: please god, send me a horny male tarantula.”

A sexy rear-view shot. Tarantulas rub hairs off their abdomens in defence. The little clouds of hairs cause distress in the nasal passages or eyes of predators. She has a fairly bare rump. I wonder if this is how she fights off horny males of the wrong species.

Today’s only other interesting small animal was a beautiful gopher snake.

Dry grass, not a whole lot of animal life. When I was last in the east bay, in early or mid September, there were only one or two early calves among the free-range cattle. Today, almost every cow has a calf, and the calves are old enough that the cows are beginning to lose their agressive protectiveness.

When I came over a little rise, three turkey vultures flew up and started circling. Circling me! Ha! Optimists.

But after a while, I saw a dead cow, and it was upwind. Fortunately the trail turned off a hundred meters away, so it was only mildly unpleasant, instead of revolting.

The scream!

There is a section of trail that runs along the clifftop, and it slopes outward. Nothing below the trail but low bush, probably enough to catch a hiker who slipped, but I can certainly imagine a horse sliding on over the edge, and maybe a bike, too. Part of this trail is loose, steep and narrow, and is bordered with poison oak. Not really the best place to hike.

This is the first time I have done Rose Peak from the top of Welch Creek road. I had originally thought it would be substantially less work than the usual route from Sunol park headquarters. When I got back to the car, I was dragging my butt, and thought I was more out of shape than usual. But the GPS tells me it was 19.7 miles, while the normal route is only a shade more than 19 miles, and both routes include 5 000 feet of vertical gain.

A good day. Home for a shower, after which Jacky and I drove the new car to Menlo Park and wandered around looking for a restaurant. Found a Polish place on a side street, pretty good.

Some of us are seriously spoiled!

Rose peak killer hike

October 17, 2011

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Today is for my first killer hike with the new pair of shoes. Nineteen miles, five thousand vertical feet.

Up early, on the trail before 7, in time to see alpenglow, both east and west, as the sun rose on a partly cloudy, cool, perfect day. Horizontal sunlight is one of the secrets of the photographer, and today was a good opportunity to take full advantage of it.

The first tarantula of the day was dead. That doesn’t count, not at all. Shortly after, I saw one that was hunkered up, possibly semi-dormant from cold or darkness. A little surprising, because I thought they were primarily nocturnal, and it really isn’t very cold this morning. Whatever…

Over the course of the day, I found four more, including a final tarantula crossing the road as I was leaving in the late afternoon. Here we have a good look at his fangs, which you will notice are retracted, even though he is admittedly under extreme provocation.

And here we get a reasonably good look at a minimum of six and possibly eight eyes. In this picture, it is also obvious that the eyes are lensed, not compound.

It’s the season for the full glory of poison oak, here shown in an Italian flag motif.

Open country that goes on forever. I wouldn’t want this to be the only choice, but it’s quite attractive as one alternative.

As well as a personal record of five tarantulas, I saw four gopher snakes, out sunning themselves. And I don’t know what kind of snake this one is; what we need here is a serious taxonomist! I took about a dozen shots, got the tongue in only this one.

It has only been two weeks since we had several days of rain, but the grass has started growing green again with great enthusiasm, some of it perhaps as high as ten cm. Where there is no tall dead grass from last spring, even the ground shows green. It will be about March before the new growth completely overwhelms the dead grass and turns the entire world beautifully green.

Even here, we see that the areas that collect the most rain first are the first and most vigorous in the process of greening up.

I suppose it’s beyond hope to imagine getting back without sore feet, but I think these shoes will turn out to be okay.

A great tarantula season!

October 9, 2011

Saturday: I hiked Mission peak to Sunol and back (16 miles, 4300 vetical feet); as the weather cools off, it’s good to get out into the open country – which just happens to be where the tarantulas live.

I walked through a loose collection of maybe forty cows, almost all with newly born calves. A coyote loped along the trail a hundred meters ahead of me. The cows moved off the trail, but weren’t overly concerned. Both the coyote and the cows know full well that, whatever the coyote’s fantasies about veal for lunch, they just aren’t going to happen, full stop.

I saw the first tarantula of the day, crossing Calaveras road, not far from the Sunol headquarters. I helped him get across the road safely, my good deed for the day. After going on to Sunol, having some calories, chatting with the ranger at the visitor center – who hadn’t had many tarantula reports yet this season – I returned; saw the same tarantula (I think) in the same vicinity. Ten minutes later, I saw the second of the day. Two in one day – that’s pretty good!

But the most interesting spider of the day was the little orange one. I really like spiders’ eyes! In this picture, we see four on the left (and there may well be more that don’t show in the photo); they are lensed eyes, not insect-like compound eyes, and spiders are estimated to see about as well as we can, with the advantage that they can see in all directions at once. Hard to sneak up behind a spider.

Not a bit of fear in this guy. He’s the size to stand on my thumbnail, but if I’m a threat, he’s ready and willing to tear me limb from limb, chew me up and spit me out! Argh! Come and get it! And good for him!

Sore feet again, blisters. I think my shoes are sending me a message. Happily enough, REI is having a sale: 20% off one full-priced item. So I stopped on the way home and bought a new pair of shoes.

Saturday evening we visited Alex and Sigrid for their annual Oktoberfest. Yes, we all know that Oktoberfest is in September, but it was delayed this year because Sigrid was at the real one in Muenchen.

Sunday: I should go out and see whether these new shoes are going to be good friends. In case I need to take them back, I’ll stay on pavement today, or at least grass or duff. Stanford? Why not! Six or seven miles, a few hundred vertical feet.

Yes, the shoes are fine. I ran up the steeper parts of the dish trail and also some of the not-so-steep parts.

And I found four tarantulas! Outstanding: I have gone entire seasons without seeing that many. I wanted to see if I could get one to climb up into my hand.

Hmmm… on second thought, no thanks!

Tarantula season again!

October 2, 2011

I have done a fair amount of walking in my recent world travels, but walking on flat pavement mostly just guarantees sore feet. Nice to be home, nice to be able to get out and get in some vertical gain on one of my favorite killer hikes, Grant ranch (21 miles, 4400 vertical feet).

Besides, it’s tarantula season again. And indeed, I found a tarantula only fifteen minutes into the hike, but it was dead on the trail. Score: zero. I found a number of small gopher snakes, too, and several of them were also dead. That’s depressing; I wonder whether there’s an epidemic amongst the small animal population.

But then I came upon two more very small gopher snakes, both of whom were healthy and active. That cheered me up considerably.

Along with a coyote, all of this wildlife was north of the twin gates road crossing. No idea why the separation in habitat, maybe because the forestation changes subtly on the south side. The next wildlife sighting was the little pond in the back country, populated by more frogs than I think I have ever seen in one place!

No tarantulas, and the day is wending along, getting toward mid-afternoon. There’s a stretch of open forest two or three miles from the finish point that I always like, and today is even better, with the newly fallen red leaves, and the hard bright colors of the poison oak.

Forty-five minutes before I reached the car, I entered the stretch west of Quimby road, tall dry grass, straw really. And out of the grass came a big beautiful tarantula! Yes! Callooh! Callay! I chortled in my joy.

A good day: tired, sore, tarantula score = 1.