Park Wavelengths - February 2005
February 22, 2005
Naturalist Notebook: The full moon is February 23rd at 8:54 pm, the black bear moon for the Tlingit and Kutenai of the north western Pacific coast, when black bears begin stirring out of their winter sleep. A good minus tide tomorrow at 4:52 pm in the afternoon.
Upcoming spring low tides include:
Safe areas for visiting tidepools include Agate Beach County Park at the end of Elm and Overlook Road in Bolinas and Sculptured Beach south of Limantour Beach.
The wildflower season has begun! The poppies are open at the Lighthouse (yes, the coastal poppy appears to be a lemon yellow not as orange as the inland poppies even though they are the same species). Botanist-poet Adelbert von Chamisso classified them in 1817 when he visited the San Francisco area aboard a Russian ship. He named them Escholzia californica after his shipboard companion Johann Frederick Gustav von Escholtz though the 't' has been lost from the name! Poppies open on sunny days and close on cloudy days and also as night falls, apparently to protect their pollen from moisture. The next spell of warm temperatures will bring up new batches of species.
Northern elephant seals have begun leaving the beaches; the males returning to Alaskan waters and the females to Hawaiian waters. Once back in the water they are rarely seen; it is estimated that 80-90% of their time is spent foraging away from the coast and at great depths for the squid and hake which are their main foods. They need to restore their body fat after fasting onshore during the breeding season.
Visitors at the Lighthouse have also been asking about the large amounts of foam on the water surface. Typically, this happens with the winter storms when the water is agitated, dead proteins from creatures such as diatoms are whipped up (just as if you whipped up egg whites into meringue) in a yellowish foam and spun out into long trails by surface wind currents. It's natural, clumps of the stuff blow up on the beaches also. If you touch it, it will feel slimy and leave a sticky film (like an egg white!) - of course wash your hands afterwards!
Weekend wildlife sightings include a coyote along Bear Valley Road (it has been sitting and watching cars go by!) and Anna's hummingbirds along the Olema Marsh!
If you are wondering about the weather at the coast - don't forget to bookmark the park webcam which gives up to date photos and information on the point http://www2.nature.nps.gov/air/WebCams/parks/porecam/porecam.cfm
West Marin School 7th graders just completed constructing erosion control devices to be installed in Olema Creek to protect fish habitat. Inverness School children have been visiting Duxbury Reef as part of their study of tidepool and ocean life and to create art for an upcoming art display at the park. At the Bear Valley Visitor Center, one of the steelhead eggs has hatched - great opportunity to see the fish life cycle up close!
Ranger guided wildflower programs begin in March - Saturday and Sundays at 1:30 pm at the Chimney Rock Trailhead. They are free and open to the public - allow for time to ride the shuttle busses!
February 8, 2005
Today, February 8th is the new moon - marking both the start of the Chinese New Year of the Rooster (technically it starts tomorrow which is today in China!) and the Muslim new year of 1426. A good low tide in the daylight is Wednesday, February 9th -1.3 feet at 5:26 pm!
On the bay - the herring are here with lot's of bird activity, especially cormorants! "The herring industry on Tomales Bay...still one of the major herring shipping points...continued to have thriving years. During the 1930's, herring were smoked in a plant built for this purpose at Nicks Cove, directly south of Hamlet and at a plant at Blake's Landing. It was common practice for local ranchers to collect spoiled herring for chicken feed at Hamlet, Nick's Cove, and Reynolds, although the feed gave the eggs a distinctly fishy taste." (Dewey Livingston) The cormorants have re established nesting areas in the trees of Hog Island!
The warm spell brought the first meadows of flowers at Chimney Rock - the pale yellow wallflowers with a delicate scent, orange Indian Paintbrush, pinkish purple checker bloom or mallow. Tiny whitish pink milkmaids are along Lucas Valley Road also. Thursday, February 17th, Marin County Open Space District leads a walk "Early Flowers of Chimney Rock" from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm. Meet at the Chimney Rock Trailhead at the end of Chimney Rock Road off Sir Francis Drake Highway.
Few gray whales have been seen as we enter the February lull period. Females are in the lagoons in Mexico nursing new born calves with milk the consistency of cottage cheese, over 50% fat (compare to cows milk which is about 3% fat). The northern elephant seals are busy, a first year male seal has been 'hanging around' in front of the visitor center at Drakes Beach. (If you are at Drakes Beach on weekends - check out the baby sea star, about the size of a dime climbing in the kelp).
Crews will be thinning eucalyptus trees along Highway 1 and chipping the debris. It's part of overall fuel reduction, removing the 'dripping' bark and leaves that create a fire hazard. These Australian natives developed this kind of bark to help move fire into the crown of the tree which part of their reproduction strategy, clearing higher branches so light can reach new seedlings underneath them.
The national seashore released the draft of the non-native deer management plan which is available at the park website http://www.nps.gov.pore (Comment period ends April 8th). The exotic deer population began with 28 fallow deer, 8 axis deer, and six goats introduced at the Ottinger hunting ranch in the 1940's. The fallow deer originated in the Mediterranean and have since traveled extensively! Much of the land base in Europe was owned by royalty who had gamekeepers managing deer and fish to provide food and hunting opportunities. Fallow deer herds were often manipulated so that the white and tan colored deer were predominant making the herds easier to spot for hunters - the black, spotted and reddish phases were often harvested by the keepers for the table! They are sometimes called the 'King's deer' because of their presence in royal parks - they are rarely found as 'wild' populations. They generally remained along the Inverness Ridge but following the Vision Fire, the habitat of the ridge changed from the open grasslands they prefer to much more brush and they began to be seen along the Olema Valley - the fire also coincided with the end of park hunting. The goats were seen near Abbots Lagoon but have died out; the axis deer from Sri Lanka are often seen above the elephant seal colony.
The steelhead trout tank is back at Bear Valley Visitor Center! Stop by to see the tiny eggs become alevins and fry! The eggs are supplied the California State Fish and Game from the hatchery at Lake Sonoma.
Construction is ongoing at Drakes Beach. The permanent restrooms are temporarily closed but portables have been set up in the parking lot. The outdoor shower is available. The cafe is open weekends.
Did You Know?
Northern elephant seals (Mirounga angustirostris) began breeding at Point Reyes in 1981 after being absent for over 150 years. The population breeds at terrestrial haul out sites at Point Reyes Headland, one of only eleven mainland breeding areas for northern elephant seals in the world. More...