In my head, I planned on a challenging hike but as the day wore thin, I settled on the familiar territory of the North Shore of Lake Hodges choosing to focus more on exercise than on photography. Nevertheless, I follow the first rule of photography, always have your camera ready, even though your expectations are low.
As I start the hike, a man passes by asking me if I am “Gitten any?” My camera is strapped over my shoulder, and I know what he means, but the immediate in-my-head response is, “not in a long time.” I actually respond with the truth from all perspectives. “Trying.”
I have a couple of hours before sunset, so I decide to walk the upper rim of the Lake Hodges Canyon to see if it meets up with the trail to the summit of Bernardo Mountain, which I know would take me back to the main trail, preferring a loop trail to an out-n-back anytime. I tried once before but ran out of daylight and had to head back the same way I came.
The problem with the overlook trail is that it is marked obsessively with “No Trespassing” signs. According to the signs, the truck trail is for access to sewage lines by the water authority people only. The tire tracks of a hundred mountain bikes say otherwise. So do other signs that say we grant you passage as long as you don’t sue the pants off us for your issues. So I pin my water authority badge to my chest and march on.
A turkey vulture circles overhead playing tag with the sun, at least from my ground perspective, as he rides the thermals. A small two-foot gopher snake, with its spotted backside, almost matching the dimpled patterns of the bike tread stretches across the truck trail. It doesn’t seem too perturbed by my presence, which is a little bit worrisome, because if it stays stretched across the road for any length of time, the patterns on its back will become an exact match to the treads of an unwary mountain bike. I try to get a picture of it forking its tongue at me but the critter is uncooperative. I held the camera in place for a hundred count a couple of times. Of course, as soon as I gave in, the uncooperative creature forked its tongue at me. I finally gave up and moved on, the day not growing any longer on my account.
A little way down the trail, the sparkling sunlight off the lake catches my eye, inspiring me to try to capture a blurred bokeh with the glint of the snaking lake in the background. Lake Hodges is a dam lake that follows the curvature of the San Dieguito River canyon.
On a previous outing, near this spot, I came upon a roadrunner being harassed by a mocking bird. Instead, I find a tree full of lesser golden finches. Lesser than what and by whose standards, I don’t know and they are not telling.
I push on. As I round a corner, I see a mule deer on the road. It surprises me to see one so out in the open. His antlers are just starting to come in. This is the second sighting of mule deer I’ve seen in two weeks. I’ve been hiking in San Diego County for forty years and I’ve seen at most twenty-five in all that time. I’ve never seen any in this area before. He lets me get a little closer before diving into the bush. He gives me one last look over the shoulder to see what my intentions are. My intentions are to take advantage of the photo op.
The sewage access road turns into a driveway but a single track trail dives into the riparian woods surrounding a small creek that feeds into the lake. I take the trail and I’m pleasantly surprised when I end up on the flank of Bernardo Mountain, not quite as far into the mountain access as I envisioned but happy when the trail emerges onto the Bernardo Mountain trail. I don’t have to do an out-and-back. I snap a few thistle remains, still photogenic in my mind, even without their brilliant neon blue day-glow flowers.
I rejoin the main trail that traverses the length of the North Shore interrupted only by a couple of crayfish, or do you say crawdaddies, at the creek re-crossing on the main trail. I didn’t expect much on the way back other than a lot of bike traffic. I stopped to take a failed photo of a very Suessian orange and white buckwheat flower shaped like a soccer ball or a flavorful dangling lollipop.
As I walked under the I-15 expressway, I checked under the bridge to see if any swifts were out and about from their mud nests that hang under the eaves. Instead, I had an encounter with a praying mantis hanging out on the top of a post of a chain-link fence. He thrust and parried a few times to chase me off but then went back to his praying.
With a snake, a deer, a praying mantis, some landscape, and some previously undiscovered trail, I remembered the guy I met when I started the hike. Yeah, I got me some!
I was standing under an oak tree trying to take pics of a Blue Heron near the shore when I heard the unmistakable sound of a bird taking a crap from overhead. Fortunately, I wasn’t right under it. I looked up and saw a Black-Crowned Night Heron perched deep in the branches near the trunk. It was getting dark out and the inside of the crown of a tree is a tough shot. I was close but not really close enough to think the flash would work. I was pleasantly surprised while examining the pictures at home when I saw the radioactive glow from his eyes.
I stepped back and still checking around in the tree, I noticed another. And then another and another and another. I found their hangout! I went back again on another day with a bit more sunlight left in the evening to see if I could get some better pictures. Sure enough, I found at least a dozen birds hanging out in a row of oak trees facing the lake.
The younger birds are easily identifiable by their mottled brown plumage with white spots. I don’t think the hangout operates as a rookery, though, as all the birds are of adult size. The metamorphosis into an adult is quite a dramatic change in appearance. Check out the differences in the pics as the plumage changes from spotted to tannish to black-capped. I also read that the bill of the adult birds is all black. Most of the ones I saw had yellow, green, and black coloration on their bills. So I think this is a pretty hipster young crowd.
Some hang out on the outer branches of the oak trees surveying Lake Hodges looking like they are ready to get about the business of the evening; others are buried deep in the trees and eye me suspiciously as I try to find an unobstructed view for a shot to permanently record their visage. They don’t seem so skittish in the protection of the trees. The ones hanging out on the shore or on the dock don’t let me get too close before flying off with an angry squawk.
I went to Lake Hodges North Shore, an area that I’ve hiked numerous times before so I am pretty familiar with the trails. After hiking the road for about a mile to the boat ramp parking from the east side, I decided on a new trail at the southeast corner of the lot. I figure it would parallel the main trail and probably join back in so I could do a loop returning on the main trail. I started hiking the trail and then it unexpectedly turned south and headed up the hill instead of staying east. Normally, I would think a spur trail would lead to a street or something but there are no streets in that direction, only lake. It looked like the trail led to an overlook and view of Hodges I have never seen before.
I had my turnback timer set for half an hour so I could keep my end of the day hike to an hour or so to finished before sunset. My turnback timer expired, but I was only a few minutes from the top so I continued. When I summited, I stopped there for some pics but the trail led on. I got the thought that maybe the trail doubles back around the hill and along the shoreline, but it could just as easily have dead-ended. I saw plenty of tire tracks and footprints, too many I think for an obscure out and back trail, but I hadn’t seen another person from the time I set foot on the trail. The sun was already dipping behind clouds over the hills to the west but I took the gamble and the gamble paid off. The trail looped back around the hilltop following the shoreline. I found the trail exit at the southeast corner of the parking lot just beyond the large boat ramp. I started the hike with expectations of dullness and ended up with a little adventure. It’s an unexpected pleasure to find something different in each outing.
Note: Pictures from the particular hike described look rather blue including the feature image. I did not use a blue filter, rather I took indoor pictures the night before and set the white balance to neon lighting. I forgot to turn it back, so in a few of the exposures, you are viewing a neon lit world.