Monday, July 30, 2012

Raccoon Days

Dry 'raccoon days' of July have baked Yosemite. August's 'Dog Days' were named in ancient times when the Dog Star (Sirius, the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major -the big dog) became visible just before sunup. Though we can't see it yet in our deep canyon, this bright star is already rising earlier and earlier before the sun.
Before Canis Major and Sirius rise, the Little Dog, Canis Minor comes up from the east. The bright star in Canis Minor is called Procyon. This is also the genus name of the raccoon. The German taxonomist who gave our raccoon its Latin name in 1780 assigned this animal a ranking slightly preceeding dogs; Procyon means 'before the dog' and this also works with this star rising before Sirius. Therefore, perhaps we can stretch the astronomical story to say that Raccoon Days come before Dog Days. Learn more about the stars in our 10-11 August Tuolumne astronomy program.
As far as terrestrial wildlife, up until recently bears have been relatively well behaved this season; there have been fewer car break-ins than usual.
The Merced River continues to flow about 20% of normal volume. It could keep dropping for two more months but it's already less than half the flow of last year's lowest volume. The photo shows Bridalveil Fall in a wispy state this week.
We have one very modest fire burning in the park. It's near the headwaters of Cascade Creek, just south of Tioga Road and east of Tamarack Flat. Lightning started it in mid-June and it's grown to less than 150 acres over 7 weeks - seems almost as though fire just fits in here...

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Interdependence Day

Sierra summer is at its finest now. Heat and blue skies make up our days, the waterfalls shrink, birds quiet down as they taper off feeding young that are fending for themselves, bears with cubs explore opportunities for their own kinds of Yosemite picnics. A little smoke in the air would complete the feel of the season.

The Merced River flows at just over 100 cfs in the Valley - normal for this date is over 600 cfs; a dry winter makes a dry summer and Yosemite Falls is a dwindling presence.
I was up at Summit Meadow along the Glacier Point Road this morning and had that pretty part of the park to myself for a while. Shooting stars, bistort and Bigelow's sneezeweed (yes, that's a fun name to say) are profuse now. Yellow-rumped warbler, Steller's jay, and a Townsend's solitaire added an aural dimension, but the voice of the hermit thrush coming from the dark fir forest is like nothing else in the Sierra. New fencing between the road and the meadow should help protect this sensitive spot.
From the far side of the world: Yosemite's Chinese sister national park, Juizhaigou, reports finding the first fresh panda scat in the park in over ten years. Giant pandas depend on bamboo which blooms, dies off and becomes unavailable for years at a time on a localized basis. Juizhaigou's bamboo has regrown to make it perfect panda habitat again. Perhaps the Conservancy may be taking another group of Yosemite-philes to hike in our two sister parks in China next fall.
Speaking of excitement, we are delighted that legendary Ranger Dick Ewart is leading two Yosemite Outdoor Adventures for people this summer: a 5-day trek from Tuolumne Meadows for experienced backpackers, and an off-trail dayhike to the top of Tenaya Peak. These are special opportunities to experience some of what makes Yosemite such a great place.