Some Thoughts on the Western Toad.

It rained today, long but not hard, and that rain brought out the toads.

It doesn’t often rain significantly in August, and I had never wandered down the trail to Mono in a rainstorm before. I’ve never seen toads there before. But today they were all over that river bed.

The western toad Bufo boreas halophilus

The western toad
Bufo boreas halophilus

After a couple of hours of running in the rain my glasses tend to fog over, so at first all I saw was something small moving away from me. I stopped, removed my glasses and peered closely at the whatever-it-was as it moved away.

Toad2It was a toad. The first toad I have seen here after living in Santa Barbara for 20+ years. I soon realized it was not the only toad, there were lots of them — once I knew what to look for. They would sit quietly, until I approached, and then would hop off. Once they moved they were easy to see and follow.

This is not the breeding season, and the toads were not breeding. Normally, at this time of year here, these toads would be nocturnal. Today they appeared to be out enjoying the unusual rain, as I was.

I do not mean to imply that the only way to enjoy the rain is to watch toads. I was not intending to watch toads today, that was pure happenstance. MariposaI intended to find out if there were any Late-Blooming Mariposas still blooming (yes), if Biglow’s Monkeyflowers were blooming (monkeyfloweryes) and if the Scalebroom were blooming here or only in the White Fire area (only in the White Fire area).

But it is often the things I do not expect that are the most interesting. When I take to the trail I try to see what is there, rather than only what I expect.

The rain itself was what fascinated me at first. After twenty minutes of running (and maybe half an hour of raining) I realized that the ground was still not wet. Oh, I could see where the raindrops had fallen — but that was just it, I could see the wet splotches in the trail; surely by now the dirt should be completely damp? Well maybe:

  1. There really had not been enough rain to cover the ground
  2. The rain evaporated almost as fast as it hit.
  3. The rain was somehow absorbed into the lower dirt while redrying the superficial layer.

A little higher up I found some rocks scattered in the dirt, and the rocks were all slick with rain. So there had been enough rain to coat the surface. And, assuming the rocks and dirt were the same temperature, the water was not evaporating…

Eventually the soil became completely wet.
CloudsAndForbushCanyon

I walked my transects in the Cold Fire. Two weeks ago there were 13 species blooming, now there are 10; most of them represented by a single plant. Two months ago the whole area was covered with blooming morning glories, now there is one.

On the other hand the Tall Stephanomeria is enjoying the rain. Even though it only blooms during the driest time of the year, today it is putting out more blooms than usual. The Elegant Madia that covers Forbush is also producing more flowers today than it did two weeks ago.

A Whiptail Lizard lies in the trail. It is not enjoying the cool rain and its movements are more more sluggish than I expect.

The little Lobelia (I used to think Tolkien had made that name up, but it really is a type of flower) that covers the creek down by the Grotto is happy.

Today was an uncommon day which I was lucky enough to seize. Yet a grey, rainy day does not leap out as one that might be fascinating.

Cold Spring Trail is here, every day; as is the national forest through which it runs.

Every day has its sunset or sunrise. The Pelicans soar over the waves, every day. Dolphins leap, every day. Whales breach. Grunions run. Egrets search for food in Atascadero Creek, every day. On Coal Oil Point a rare fiddleneck blooms. The wonders of nature are always there.

I like to look at them.

WSolstice2006PelicansBeforeSunrise

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