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Ladybugs are Now Converging on the Reopened Bootjack Trail

An aggregation of Convergent Lady Beetles
An aggregation of Convergent Lady Beetles
While much of the country shivers through one polar vortex after another, here in California we are experiencing a mild although dangerously dry winter. Our fellow citizens to the east of the Sierra Nevada could take a lesson in dealing with the cold from the ladybugs that are currently converging along the Bootjack Trail on Mount Tamalpais.

The Convergent Lady Beetle (Hippodamia convergens), more commonly known as the Ladybug, is widespread throughout North America. This visually appealing and beneficial insect is a friend of gardeners throughout the country. Both the adult beetles and larvae are famous for their voracious appetite for aphids. They feed on aphids all summer long and into the fall, but when temperatures begin to drop, they come together in mass aggregations that can number into the hundreds or even thousands of beetles. While it appears that the Convergent Lady Beetles are converging along the Bootjack Trail, the name actually comes from the two white convergent dashes on the prothorax , part of the insect’s exoskeleton.

The aggregations of ladybugs can be seen alongside the Bootjack Trail, on fallen logs, within the fronds of ferns, or on the leaves of small trees.  They huddle together to protect each other against the cold and go into a state of hibernation. When the warmer weather of spring returns, they become more active again, mating and eventually dispersing to the winds.

The historic Bootjack Trail, which runs from Muir Woods up to the Mountain Theater on the slopes of Mount Tamalpais, is open again after being closed intermittently for more than two years. The trail was first closed in June 2011 between Muir Woods and the Bootjack Picnic Area, for repairs on bridges, retaining walls, and steps, in addition to general trail maintenance. Originally forecast to be a six-month project, the work was thrown off schedule when the winter storms of 2012 washed out a wooden footbridge on the trail about a mile above Muir Woods.

Much of the work was carried out by the California Conservation Corp, the Sonoma County Probation Camp’s Supervised Adult Crew Program, and State Park Trail Crews, who faced a number of challenges throughout the project. Winter storms, collapsing embankments, and fallen trees were only a few of the problems. Construction was delayed during summer months while the northern spotted owl was nesting in redwoods in the area.

The reopened Bootjack Trail offers glorious hiking, climbing up the steep slopes of Mount Tamalpais, alongside Redwood Creek for much of the way. The creek is normally a rushing torrent at this time of year, but alas, the drought has reduced it to a sad trickle of water. The redwoods of Muir Woods gradually give way to Douglas-fir, bay laurel, and tanoak as the trail works its way upward. A number of rustic wooden footbridges cross the creek, including the new one that replaces the bridge that was washed away in the storm.

The ongoing drought will probably diminish the show of wildflowers this spring, but a few early bloomers are already popping up along the trail. Look carefully at the moss and fern-covered slopes above the creek for fetid adder’s tongue (Scoliopus bigelovii), which blends into the deep greens of the forest with a stealthy camouflage. A few timid milkmaids (Cardamine californica) can be seen, along with some of the earliest blossoms of redwood sorrel (Oxalis oregana).

After a mile and a half of hiking through the forest alongside the creek, the sublime natural eloquence of Van Wyck Meadow opens up. Just off the center of the meadow is a large flat-topped boulder, which makes a serene place to stop and rest, to breathe in the rich aroma of the surrounding forest, and to contemplate the vivid scene that dazzles the senses. On the edge of the meadow, a small sign states the whimsical truth: “Van Wyck Meadow - Pop. 3 Steller’s Jays.”

Van Wyck Meadow, originally known as Lower Rattlesnake Camp, was renamed in honor of Sydney M. Van Wyck, Jr. who was instrumental in the establishment of Mount Tamalpais State Park back in 1928. He was a lawyer who worked for the Tamalpais Conservation Club, which was fighting speculators over plans to develop a 500-acre parcel on the mountain. Van Wyck was able to prevail in condemnation proceedings, allowing the land to be purchased by the state in 1927 for $52,000.  This became the original 531-acre core of the state park.

Beyond Van Wyck Meadow, the Bootjack Trail continues up the mountain, crossing the Panoramic Highway at the Bootjack Campground. This historic campground served solely as a picnic area for many years, but has recently reopened as a campground, offering scenic campsites on a first-come, first-served basis. An official opening and ribbon cutting ceremony will take place this year in April. Above the Bootjack Campground, the trail continues ever upward to the Mountain Theater, providing a vigorous way to reach the annual Mountain Play.

A hike along the Bootjack Trail is a blissful experience at any time of year, whether with a group of friends or in peaceful solitude.  If you’re looking for a guided hike on Mount Tamalpais, the Friends of Mt Tam can provide a variety of options, from leisurely history walks to strenuous treks across the mountain. Detailed descriptions of hiking routes can be found on the of Friends of Mt Tam website, along with schedules for guided hikes.

Friends of Mt Tam is a nonprofit organization and the official cooperating association for Mount Tamalpais State Park. In addition to guided hikes, they offer an Astronomy Program, staff a Visitor Center at East Peak, and tell the story of the old Mount Tamalpais Railway at the Gravity Car Barn. They welcome new members and volunteers, especially those who love the mountain.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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