Lizards and Birdies and Wind, Oh My!

May 9, 2017

Birds! After two days of wind, the weather has calmed, and birds are everywhere! Just before lunch I saw a spotted towhee, sitting on a bare branch, giving out both its calls, first the nasal “tweeee”, then the squeaky door hinge “creeee?” While eating lunch we were entertained with the flittings of several goldfinches. This afternoon a bird with a bright blue body and black wings darted from the side of the trail, nearly under my feet, winging its way to hide in a tree. Perhaps a blue grosbeak? With only a second to see it, I couldn’t nail its identity. In the late afternoon, a bird gave me about two minutes of unobstructed observation time, sitting on a bare tree branch, turning back and forth in the slanting sunlight. Gray body and wings, white eye stripes, a single spot on a gray chest, and white tips to each tail feather – even with all that, I’m still not exactly sure of its identity. Perhaps a sparrow?

Most of the morning we hiked through high desert scrub with bushes and junipers. Warm sunshine brought out the horned lizards, so many I lost count. I remember an elementary school friend telling me that lizards squirted blood from their eyes. This sounded so strange, I refused to believe my friend. Much to my amazement, when reading Wikipedia about these ‘horny toads’, it says 8 of the 22 species can squirt blood from the corners of their eyes when threatened! Evidently the blood tastes nasty to canine and feline predators, perhaps due to the lizards’ diet of venomous harvester ants.

The spines on its back are modified reptile scales, while the horns on its head are true horns with bone cores.
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Easy to see that its first defense is camouflage!

We met a total of five PCT hikers headed south today. Pain and Panic had skipped from Tehachapi to Kennedy Meadows to avoid several days of wind, and were thoroughly enjoying being ‘southbounders’. “This way, we aren’t camping with a large group of hikers,” Panic explained. “Most of the northbounders are so focused on getting their miles in, they don’t even have time to say hello! At first we thought y’all were section hikers because you stopped to talk with us. We’ve met so many nice people since we flipped!”

We met Noodles and Long Skirt in the early evening. We talked for a few moments, but lengthening shadows pushed us both on to begin searching for a campsite.

Grady was the final hiker we met, happily covering miles with a ground-eating stride. Once again we stopped to talk, trading information about water sources.

This afternoon, as the vegetation changed from high desert scrub to live oaks and pines, we walked across several hillsides covered in purple lupines. The scent of warm grape cool-aid surrounded us. What an experience, to be enveloped in scent and purple beauty! Jay used a flower app called California Wildflowers to find the name of these aromatic beauties.

Walking through grape soda lupines!

May 10, 2018

The soft sand of decomposed granite on the trail provided a perfect canvas for morning visitor tracks. Quail tracks raced along in wavering lines, scuttling from side to side. Soft furry rabbit footprints crossed the trail. Deer hoofs left exclamation points down the middle of the path. Tiny mouse tracks skittered back and forth several times. Squirrels left deep claw marks on the tips of their footprints as they bounded along. Though we were early, this trail had already seen many morning visitors.

Birds continued to be abundant on this beautiful day. A spotted towhee put its heart and soul into its morning melody. I watched, entranced, as it settled upon a branch and put back its head, throat swelling. What glorious aria was about to grace the air? “Tweeeee!” Harsh and buzzy, the loud nasal trill issued forth. Not exactly melodic, but sung with such enthusiasm, one couldn’t help laughing in delight.

Near lunch time, Jay and I caught up with a PCT hiker from Germany, Chris. Just as the three of us came to a dirt road, a slowly moving vehicle pulled up and stopped.

“Do you need some water?” a man called. Steve got out and offered us cookies, cheese, and water. He and his friend, Larry, were checking out trail heads, preparing to bring a group of young people on a backpack trip in a few days. We talked about trails, enjoying the instant bond of fellow hikers. Before they left, they took our garbage, which was even better than the cookies and cheese, in my estimation! (Chris, however, was most grateful for the cookies!)

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Chris, Steve, and Jay talk while Larry looks on from the car. Thank you so very much!

The wind returned this afternoon, buffeting us a bit as the trail followed an exposed ridge line. At 7:00 p.m., we left the trail, following a faint track onto the lee side of the ridge, seeking shelter from the insistent breeze. Jay finally found a hollow surrounded by pines and sand dunes. We set up our tent with the wind building in the treetops. Much of the night the wind howled across the top of our hollow, occasionally reaching down to shake the tent. I was grateful for the shelter!

May 11, 2018

We woke to birdsong and sunshine. The wind continued above our hollow, but gentler with the new day. Jay and I couldn’t resist taking pictures of more grape soda lupine in the early morning light.

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Here’s a closeup of this lovely flower.

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We also saw a lizard with spots and stripes!

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The wind gained force as the day progressed. It was tough to find shelter when stopping for a rest or meal. Lunch was eaten with my back firmly towards the wind, hood pulled over my head. We passed Gopher, a PCT hiker from London, eating lunch while crouched behind a boulder. “Epic wind,” he shouted cheerfully.

By early evening, forceful gusts were sending me staggering across the trail, buffeting me back and forth. At 5:00 p.m., Jay pointed to a small herd of cows in the grass and bushes on the steep slope below us. “Cows aren’t stupid,” he observed. “If all the cows are gathered here, this is probably the best shelter we’re going to find for a while. Let’s eat dinner.”

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Cows mark the most sheltered spot for dining!

After dinner we continued, searching for a flat, sheltered spot. We headed downhill across a giant bowl below Bird Spring Pass. At 8:00 p.m., we gave up on shelter, spread our tent flat, weighting it with rocks, and rolled out our sleeping bags on top. Alternately today the wind had roused in me anger, fear, and self-pity. By now, I was simply tired of it.

“I just hope the cows stay on their side of the valley,” I mumbled as I flopped onto my bag.

At 11:30 p.m., the wind abated. Jay woke me, wanting to put up the tent. I was so sleep-fogged, I could barely stand upright, and was not much use in pitching the tent. But I gladly crawled inside once it was erect, and knew nothing else until the dawn.

4 thoughts on “Lizards and Birdies and Wind, Oh My!

  1. Great post! Lupine is my favorite wildflower and your descriptions are fantastic. I hope to see you when you come through. Wonderful writing!

    Like

  2. Hi Sarah and Jay!
    I will be in Oregon some…The more I read the more I enjoy!
    I wonder if I might see you somewhere along the way….I will be in Oregon late August through Oct. 1.
    Would be great to see you two somewhere!
    So enjoy your photos, stories of adventure!
    Love,
    Peggy

    Like

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