Category Archives: Bay-Area

Beautiful San Francisco Bay Sunset from Berkeley’s Cyclotron Road

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Watching the sun set over the San Francisco Bay is one of the great pleasures of climbing in the Berkeley Hills near sundown.  Some evenings, when the cloud are just right and not too dense or thick, the sunset can take your breath away.

This sunset, in March, was one such sunset.  When I saw the the combination of altocumulus and cirrocumulus clouds moving in during the day, I suspected I was in for a treat that evening. So, as the sun began to set, I  headed up Hearst Ave from the North Gate  to the lovely hills just above Cyclotron Road—one of my favorite spots to watch sunsets.  As you can see, I wasn’t disappointed!

The changing sky and cloud colors were just magical!

I’ve put the images in sequential order to show how the colors shifted and changed, minute to minute.

About halfway through the image gallery, there is a nice sequence of the sun disappearing over San Francisco.

The gallery ends with some lovely images of silhouettes of Eucalyptus trees and the famous Berkeley Campanile (Sather Tower).

For your viewing enjoyment, the images in the gallery are all 1600×1200.  Feel free to download them for  your personal use.

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A Sunset to Remember from the top of Strawberry Canyon

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Hello friends of Berkeley, Naturally!  I hope everyone here in the U.S. had a great Thanksgiving holiday! For some time I’ve been intending to post some images of an incredible sunset I saw from the top of one of the Berkeley Hills, but I didn’t get around to it.  I can’t believe that it’s been a little over a year since I saw this wonderful atmospheric display over the San Francisco Bay.

So, here is a visual record of what I saw. The date was November 19th of 2009.  Late in the afternoon,  I had made may way up a fire trail to one of the tallest hills that look down the length of Strawberry Canyon.   If you know some of the secrets of the Canyon, this is the hill with the beautiful and mysterious rock patterns at the top.  (More on this at a later post!)

[Note:  you can click on any of the images below to see and download full-sized 1600 x 1200 images!]

The Mysterious Stone Spirals of Strawberry Canyon

The view, as  always, was spectacular!

Looking across the Bay at the low bank cirrus and cirrostratus clouds, I had a pretty good idea I was in for something special.  The clouds weren’t too dense, and the location of the clouds was perfect.  The sunset quickly went from this:

to this:

to this:

With each passing minute, the intensity of the reds and oranges kept increasing, and the Sun became a fiery ball above just to the north of downtown San Francisco:

The Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge looked so beautiful in the deepening reds and oranges:

As the colors continued to intensify, I took shot after shot, wishing I had a camera that could better handle the amazing hues and contrasts.  Soon, the disc of the Sun began to dip below the horizon:

In these next two images, notice how atmospheric refraction has caused the top of the sun’s image to separate.  For a brief instant, the top of the Sun’s image was completely separated, but I didn’t click the shutter in time to catch it:

Just before separation:

Smaller…

…and smaller still…

…and finally…just a fiery dot of light….which in blink was gone!

The final vestige of the Sun slipped below the horizon.  Actually, as we all learned in school, the Sun had physically set well before its image dropped below the horizon.  This is due to refraction, the bending of the Sun’s image by the Earth’s atmosphere.  The Sun’s disc is actually about one diameter below the horizon when we see its image disappear.

It’s interesting to realize that not one of us—indeed, no human being in Earth’s history—has ever actually seen a sunset, just the image of one!  Sunset (and sunrise) are actually a kind of optical illusion. The first humans to see sunsets and sunrises in “real time” were the cosmonauts and astronauts in space.

It was then that I noticed a beautiful new crescent moon in the sky—as if the sunset itself wasn’t amazing enough! When you click on the next image to see it full-sized, notice the lovely crescent in the upper left hand corner:

In this image, I turned south toward Oakland, because the southern sky was such an incredible blue and the thin cirrus clouds made such a beautiful contrast.  Notice, again, the crescent moon is just above the clouds on the right two-thirds of the image:

As the dusk deepened, the western sky then went into a very dramatic and rapid intensification of the reds and golds:

In this next image you can see the crescent moon again in the left top third of the image.  The crescent is even more dramatic because of the darkening sky:

Here’s a wider angle view, looking more north:

Every time I thought the display of brilliant colors would surely start to diminish, it seemed`like the whole sky would suddenly intensify in color and take on new hues:

After a final burst of gold, the sunset went into its final, darker red phase:

I loved the appearance of a brilliant gold jet contrail streak that suddenly began to stand out as the lower clouds deepened into darker reds:

Here’s another peak at the crescent moon on the left part of the sky:

And there’s that contrail streak again:

As it got darker, and the lower clouds got redder, the jet contrail got even brighter:

At this point, twilight was ending and it was starting to get really dark in the Canyon, but it was so hard to leave the hill top with so much beauty left to see.

With regret, I started down the small trail from the mysterious rocks hilltop to the main fire trail below.  Before leaving, though, I took one last picture of the Bay:

As one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen continue to fade in the west,  I realized how fortunate I was to have been at the top of that hill in Strawberry Canyon when this particular sunset began.   Heading home on the fire trail in the thickening dusk, I once again felt so blessed to live in such an amazingly beautiful area!

As I neared the end of the upper fire trail near access to Panorama Way, I looked out to see the lights of my beloved Berkeley below and the final reds of a sunset I’ll never forget.

I hope you got to see something of this magnificent display last November.  We’ve certainly had many beautiful sunsets since.  I urge you to make plans to take a trek up with family or friends into the Berkeley Hills in the late afternoon when the clouds and western sky look promising.  Many a twilight, you will be rewarded with a sunset you will never forget!

♥♥♥

Ladybugs Swarm Again in Strawberry Canyon!

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Welcome, friends of the Berkeley Hills and nature lovers!

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Just like last year, we had some powerful October rains, though nothing like record breaker on October 14th of 2009, as the San Francisco Chronicle reported:

The Great October Rainstorm of 2009

“It was the worst October storm the Bay Area has experienced since 1962, when terrible weather famously disrupted the World Series between the Giants and the New York Yankees.

San Francisco, Santa Cruz and Livermore all set rainfall records for a single day in October. Nearly 4 inches fell in downtown Oakland, almost 20 percent of what the city usually gets during an entire year.

And just like last year, after the record storm, I found a number of very large ladybug masses in Strawberry Canyon along the fire trail:  (Note, you can click on any of the images below to see a desktop-sized image.)

Compared to last year’s massing, however, this was a rather modest gathering, maybe several thousand. But in October of 2009, the gathering was monumental!   The swarm thickly covered  plants for at least 20 yards, compared to about 4 feet this time. As I wrote in that post:

I read that a gallon jar will hold from 72,000 to 80,000 ladybugs. If that’s the case, then the number alongside the fire trail had to be way, way over a hundred thousand, maybe two or three hundred thousand! It was astonishing, and somehow touching, to see so many little creatures in a brief moment of community.

This was just one small portion of the huge 2009 swarm, which covered blackberry bushes for over 20 yards!

Perhaps this gathering will grow in the days ahead. I’m very curious to see if the numbers build, and I still wonder, as with the 2009 storm, if the big rains had anything to do with the gathering, or whether the ladybugs always head up into the canyons in late October.

By the way, last year’s post includes a ton of fascinating information and folklore on ladybugs that I think you’ll really enjoy if you haven’t read it yet:

See:  They Are the Ladybugs of the Canyon

One of the best things about the rain, especially the first big rain after nearly half a year of typical summer drought, is how wonderful it smells in the Hills and how vibrant the colors are!  The mosses and lichen, especially, almost seem to glow in deep greens and yellows:

Looking at the moss and lichen, I also found discovered I was being eye-balled by one of the many Fox Squirrels in the Canyon:

“You lookin’ at me?”

This orb spider web was especially beautiful in the sun:

Another beastie you will usually see after a good rain are the beautiful—and often, huge!—banana slugs:

A lot of people go, “Ugh, slimy slugs!” and I know that banana slugs can be a pest, but I you get down on the slugs level, and watch it move, it’s an incredibly graceful animal. It’s very responsive to its environment and is far from stupid, a term I’m reluctant to use looking at any marvel of nature, no matter how humble.

This banana slug was almost 10 inches long and twice as thick as my thumb!

When I find slugs in the middle of the fire trail, I always move them to the side of the trial they were heading for, because, sadly, I’ve seen way too many smooshed slugs by runners and walkers who didn’t see these little wonders.

This particular day, after the rains, I noticed hundreds and hundreds of small, fluttering creatures in the air. Clearly, flying was not their forte, and yet, the air was filled with them. On closer examination, I discovered that they were some kind of termite.  My camera doesn’t have a close-up lens, but they looked very much like this:

Termite Alates

At first, I wondered if they might not be flying ants, but I did a little research and was able to confirm from their body shape and wing structure that they were in fact termites:

I also learned that in areas like ours, which have a distinct dry season, the winged (or “alate”) caste members of termite nests leave in large swarms after the first good soaking rain. The alates are the reproductive caste. They fly off to find a new nesting sight, shed their fragile wings, mate, and start a new colony. I noticed alates all through Strawberry Canyon and over into the Claremont Canyon as well. There must have been tens of thousands of them, fluttering precariously in the air.

I was not the only one noticing this mass exodus. When I came to the sunnier parts of the Canyon, I started seeing lots of Western Fence lizards, running from cover to snap up some hapless alate that landed too close:

Western Fence Lizard hunting alates—and watching me!

There must have been a lot of stuffed Western Fence Lizards that evening, because the alates seemed endless in numbers—natures way of making sure that enough termites survived to carry forward the species.

On my way down Claremont Canyon, I came across this lovely, but rather faded and battered butterfly:

I believe this is a Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta), one of the many lovely butterflies you will often see in the Canyons. (Kudos to Kay Loughman’s wonderful Wild Life in the North Hills website, which has some great images and information to help nature lovers identify plants and animals of our area.)

Yes, the fire trails in the Berkeley Hills can be muddy after a big rain, but there are many rewards for braving the mud. As I said, the fresh smell of the wet earth and vegetation is simply wonderful.  The washed and soaked plants and lichen are so vibrant. I’ve also noticed that, for some reason, one tends to see more wild animals out right after a rain than at other times.

I hope enjoyed this post and that you will take find time to explore for yourself the amazing and beautiful ecosystem, that is the Berkely Hills. Hope to see meet you on the trails some day!

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Berkeley Hills-Blackberries, Ladybugs, and Fence Lizards!

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Today’s post features some of my favorite summer things in Strawberry and Claremont Canyons:

Blackberries!

The first blackberries of the season!

Western Fence Lizards!

Western Fence Lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis)

Ladybugs!

Ladybugs on Himalayan Blackberry plants

Now that summer is finally here, after a very rainy winter and cool spring, you’re likely to see lots of these in the canyons and Hills in the months ahead.

The Blackberries of the Berkeley Hills

Blackberries are not hard to find along almost any of the fire trails in either Strawberry or Claremont Canyons.  So far, however, I’ve found the best picking and eating to be along Centennial Road and the fire trail that leads off of it into Strawberry Canyon.

On Centennial Drive, there are blackberries stands all long the pedestrian path up to the fire trail parking lot.

In many places along the trail, and along Centennial Drive the blackberry bushes are really thick.  You have to be careful, though, because most of these plant are growing right on the edge of very steep drop offs.  Trying to reach ripe berries that are tantalizingly out of reach, you can easily step off a cliff.  Be very careful!

Just out of reach! Step off the trail too far, and you’ll tumble into the canyon!

Earlier this spring, you could see hundreds of blackberry flowers, foretelling the bounty to come:

Blackberry flowers are very delicate, with dozens of beautiful golden stamens.

The berries all start out a bright green and then get darker and darker purple as they ripen.  Of course, the darkest colored berries, the ones that look black, are the sweetest and most delectable.  This last hike I had all the berries I could eat, and it’s still early in the season.

Typical cluster of Himalayan blackberries

In researching this post, I discovered, to my surprise, that I’m probably seeing two species of blackberry plants in the canyons:  the California blackberry (Rubus ursinus) and the Himalayan or Armenian blackberry (Rubus armeniacus).  The Himalayan blackberry is actually considered an invasive species.

Since its introduction in the 1880’s, the plant has spread widely and become naturalised.  But because of its tasty fruit, it usually isn’t considered a pest.  It seems to be the dominant blackberry in Strawberry Canyon.

There are two easy ways to tell the difference between the two species.

First: the flowers of the California blackberry (left) are much more slender than that of the Himalayan (right):

Left: California blackberry (Rubus ursinus) Right: Himalayan or Armenian blackberry (Rubus armeniacus)

Second, as is explained at Kay Loughman’s most excellent Wild Life in the North Hills website, the Californian has a three leaves and the Himalayan typically has five leaves.  (The stems of the Himalayan are red and very thorny.)

Three Leaves = California blackberry — Five Leaves = Himalayan blackberry

The Summer Ladybugs of the Canyon

As I was walking up the lower Strawberry Canyon fire trail, I soon encountered hundreds and hundreds of flying ladybugs.  They seemed to congregate in the warmest, sunniest parts of the of the trail, like this:

The ladybugs loved the warm, sunny places along the Strawberry Canyon fire trail, like this. There are actually hundreds of ladybugs in the air at this spot, but my camera couldn’t pick them up!.

I found very few ladybugs on the plants along the trail; most seemed to be flying about.  It was such a scene of intense activity, compared to the very quiet but huge swarms I found on the blackberry plants last fall after the record October rainstorm:

If you’re lucky, in the fall or early winter, you’ll come upon huge ladybug swarms in Strawberry Canyon, like this one I saw last year.

I tried to catch the beautiful insects on camera, but they moved too fast and my humble camera just wasn’t up to the task, even though the air was thick with them.  Here’s a close-up image of a ladybug flying that I collected some years ago doing research. Like all beetles, to fly, the ladybug has to lift her beautiful wing covers in order to free her wings for flight:

If you want to learn a lot more about ladybugs and see beautiful images of other species, be sure to check out my earlier post They are the Lady(bugs)of the Canyon.

On my way out of Strawberry Canyon, I took this shot across the Canyon to UC Berkeley’s historic Cyclotron:

The historic Berkeley Cyclotron and the North Bay on a gorgeous summer day.

The Western Fence Lizard

Once summer arrives, you can find the Western Fence lizard most places in the Berkeley Hills, but you rarely find them in the cooler, deeper parts of the canyons.  They love the warmth and sun of the upper canyon, and you will often find them sunning themselves on canyon trails and roads.

The Western fence lizard enjoys a variety of habitats from grassland to broken chaparral to woodland and coniferous forests, although they avoid harsh deserts.  I came across this one on the paved road near the top of Panoramic Way, above Claremont Canyon.

Western Fence lizards are also known as Blue-bellies, but unless you catch one or are in a vantage point where a displaying male shows off his underside, you might not know they have blue bellies.  I’ve never been able to get close enough to a displaying male with my camera to catch his underside, but here’s a fine image from Wikimedia that shows it:

“Don’t I have a beautiful blue belly? I wonder if that cute babe over there notices!”

The Western fence lizard can be a long as 21 cm (8 inches), though I’ve only seen one that big to date.  Here’s a juvenile I saw on my last hike.  He had just squirmed around because an ant had tickled him:

“Hey, where’d you go? That tickled!”

And here is a larger Blue-belly with very unusual head markings.  It looked like it had dipped its head into ink!

“The ladies find my black head cap irresistible!”

Vistas from the Claremont Canyon

I hiked out of Strawberry Canyon and crossed over to the trails of Claremont Canyon.  From there, I usually head down Panoramic Way or Dwight Way and back through the UC Berkeley campus. The vistas from the tops of the Hills are different every hike and always so wonderful:

Nearing the end of the upper fire trail where it joins Panoramic Way. You can see the Bay Bridge and San Francisco City in the distance.

Milk Thistle and downtown Oakland in the distance

Looking at the Bay Bridge and San Francisco

The Golden Gate Bridge with distant fog

Flowering agave plants in Claremont Canyon

Goodbye, beloved Hills! Heading home!

May all beings be happy. May all beings find the supreme joy that is beyond all sorrow. And may we meet as friends, some day, in the Hills of Great Beauty!

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