Here is a wild, windy, foggy side of California. The lighthouse at Point Reyes is closed when it gets too windy. This part of California is said to be the windiest, foggiest area in all of the Pacific. It is also a great place to whale watch. When I visited several days ago, I saw grey whales (in the waters below the lighthouse), elephant seals (at Drake’s Beach and Chimney Rock), birds (everywhere!), native wildflowers (along the Chimney Rock Trail) and tule elk (down by Drake’s Beach and out by Tomales Bay). What a trip!
An old name from my Jamaican history books surfaced here; it is that of the old English buccaneer (pirate), Francis Drake. Drakes’ Beach, where I saw elephant seals, and Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, the main thoroughfare leading into Point Reyes, are named for him. I wonder, do they know here in California, that he was an old pirate and slave trader and not simply, “the English explorer who landed off the Point Reyes coast and claimed California for the Queen?”
EARLY COAST GUARD HISTORY
Check out the Chimney Rock section of Point Reyes Seashore to learn about America’s early Coast Guard program. You can also see elephant seals here. If it is a nice enough day and the fog lifts, you can see the Farallon Islands from the tip of the Chimney Rock Trail. (You will also see a lot of birds and wildflowers here.)
I saw several tule elk down near Drake’s Beach and an entire herd crossing over the hills by Tomales Bay near sunset. (This sunset crossing may end up being translated into a painting!) You can learn about tule elk by watching this short video. Something I learned is that the tule elks’ mating behavior is very much like that of the elephant seals’. Who knew?
The things you see when the tide is at minus one is simply amazing: life in tide pools; life, shells and fossils on rocks and in caves; a fossilized whale vertebrae atop a rocky promontory; and huge rocks and logs pushed up against the back of walls inside of caves (that you know will some day undermine the foundation of the cave and then the whole thing will come crashing down!). Simply amazing.
The first four photographs are mine. The slideshow set is courtesy of fellow docent, Cindy Rocha. She uses a professional camera; my photos are from my trusty iPod 4. Enjoy!
Life in a tide pool -yup! that green stuff’s alive
Across the street an old army jeep idled at the stop light. My son sees it and says, “Oh wow! A jeep from the Vietnam War! Must be a Vietnam Vet.” Then he continues, “But the metal looks too thin…” And I’m thinking, “It’s an actual WWII jeep and there is a real WWII Vet behind the wheel! That cap, that uniform? They are real!” Old guy with the proud smile on this foggy Bay Area Memorial Day, you survived that madness, that war. If you had been in combat, what must you have seen. What sad memories do you hold? Oh, old guy, you are alive and you rock!
I am no fan of war or aggression, but as you drove by and I got a full view of your WWII regalia, that lovely smile on your face that said, “I done good in this world,” your little flags flying on either side of your jeep, I wondered, “How old are you?” “You must be the last of your group. How many of you are left? Are there any left beside you?” “You fought the last war we had any business fighting.” So old guy, I salute you. I hope you make it to next Memorial Day.
What are Elephant Seals? We are deep sea divers and long distance travelers. We fast for long periods of time while on land. Our food sources, skates and squids, small sharks and other seafood are so far away – thousands upon thousands of miles – that once we arrive on land, we have to wait a very long time before eating again.
Northern and Southern Elephant Seals
There are two types of elephant seals: the northern (found along the Pacific islands and coasts of Mexico and California); and the southern (found along the Atlantic islands and coasts of Patagonia, Chile, Tierra del Fuego, et al). This article is only about the Northern elephant seal.
Northern Elephant Seals
Northern elephant seals spend most of their time in the ocean, coming ashore twice each year, once to mate, breed and give birth, and the other time to molt (shed and grow new skin/fur). Between the molting and breeding seasons, the northern elephant seal is at sea for six to eight months, swimming, diving and feeding. Incredibly, they remain submerged for nearly ninety percent of their time in the ocean, surfacing a mere two to four minutes during dives.
Season Change at Ano Nuevo
Now that the breeding/mating/birthing season is over, so too are the guided hikes at Ano Nuevo. That means pretty soon we will be entering the roving season. This is when the public can access areas that up to two weeks ago, were only accessible by guided hikes (led by volunteer naturalists like me). The roving season will be less hectic, more laid back and so, I am hoping to do some sketching and painting while volunteering out by the coast.
During the breeding season (December to March), many of the adult males (the alphas, for sure) are on the beach for about 100 days without food. The mature females are on land for about five weeks. The females who are coming in pregnant during the breeding season give birth within 4-5 days of arrival. They nurse their pup for about 24-28 days, mate during the last 3-5 days of nursing and then head back into the ocean to find food to eat.
Elephant Seal Pups
Elephant seal pups weigh about 70 pounds at birth. They quadruple their birth weight while nursing, but lose about 1/3 of that weight during the weaning period. The common belief is that the mom weans her pup, leaves it all alone and it then has to figure out how to survive. The mom in me thinks this cannot be! Momma elephant seal, while nursing her baby is saying things, teaching him/her how to survive and us dumb humans don’t even realize it. That is what I think. I watch mom and pup bonding during those 28 days before weaning occurs and I imagine mom passing on the following tidbits: “Baby, you see that far side of the island over there? Don’t stray there, my love. There are these pretty white sharks who are just waiting to greet and eat my plump little baby. Steer clear my love. Swim in the open. Swim toward the deep my love. Head in that direction over there. If you pay attention to what I’m saying, you’ll be just fine. Good luck my baby. I love you.” That is what I think the mom is telling her baby all the while that she is nursing him or her.
Incredible Divers and Swimmers
Elephant seals dive as deep as 2,000 t o 5,000 feet for food. The average dive lasts about 20 minutes, but they can dive for an hour or more. They resurface for 2-4 minutes and continue this diving pattern 24 hours a day! The females eat mostly squid; the males eat small sharks, rays and bottom-dwelling fish.
The male elephant seals from Ano Nuevo typically travel 5,000 miles round trip, towards the Aleutians where they feed along the Continental Shelf. They make this trip twice per year. The female elephant seal travels a shorter distance, about 3,000 miles along the Northeast Pacific, in the direction of Hawaii. She too, makes this trip twice per year.
The northern elephant seal was hunted to near extinction for their blubber. By the early 19o0s, only a small group of between 20-100 managed to survive the hunts. Protected first by Mexico (where this small group was found) and later by the United States (as they multiplied and expanded their range), the elephant seals have managed to multiply and increase their population. Today’s population is estimated to be around 175,000 to 185,000 seals. All of them are from the bottleneck, the same gene pool, that was discovered on Guadalupe Island, Mexico, a little over 100 years ago. Researchers at the nearby University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC), are tracking and building a database on the movement and habits of the Ano Nuevo population of elephant seals. With each year comes new revelations. For a brief overview of the work being done on elephant seals by the UCSC, visit their site at http://news.ucsc.edu/2012/05/elephant-seals.html.
The adult females can weigh up to around 1,700 pounds and the males, up to around 5,000 pounds. The mature male has a bulbous appendage for a nose. It is called a proboscis. He uses it to honk and to assert dominance. For more interesting facts about the northern elephant seal, visit the National Marine Mammal Laboratory’s site at:
Photo credit for the male juvenile elephant seal at the top of the post belongs to The Marine Mammal Center. You can see his proboscis is just barely starting to form. Only the males of the specie grow this nose and it seems to serve no other purpose except for asserting dominance, which is crucial in the breeding season. (Not all males get a chance to mate.)
I took the second photograph of a colony of what is mostly young pups, at Ano Nuevo State Park, two weeks ago. The seals in this photograph will be heading out to the ocean soon. They will have many challenges along the way, including figuring out where to go, what to eat, and how to avoid predators like the great white sharks that lay in wait not too far from where they are now. The mortality rate for young elephant seals is extremely high. Only about twenty six percent of them make it to age two. Some of the young die at the rookery but the majority of deaths occur at sea. For more details on elephant seals’ mortality rate, see the UCS”s 1971-78 Ano Nuevo study at:
Since I got here/I’ve been chasing/the elusive/some say unattainable/bacon and egg/on a roll./Saturday morning at Davenport’s Cash Store/breakfast burritos/but no bacon and egg sandwiches/none whatsoever.
Bay Area, I love you, but why can’t you just do this one thing for me? Why can’t you serve me a simple bacon egg (and cheese) on a roll? I’m willing to take any old roll. I will forgo the ubiquitous sesame seed rolls of my New York years. I will. Davenport Cash Store, your house coffee is excellent but why couldn’t you make me a bacon and egg sandwich? You offered me breakfast burritos instead. If breakfast is over, how come you are still serving breakfast burritos, huh? HUH?
This Friday at Ano Nuevo was amazing. There were some great big elephant seal bulls along the paths. Oh they were corpulent, rotund, big. Such fat blubbery beauties! There were also many newborns nursing down by the beach. As of Friday (1/18/13), the count of elephant seals at Ano Nuevo was 1,086 females, plus 575 pups and 258 males. Oh what squeals and yips and bellowing took place. It was a veritable wildlife adventure.
Saturday I went exploring around Davenport, a small town near Ano Nuevo. Its Cash Store is a great place for coffee and it has the best pico de gallo I’ve had in the Bay Area. If you are passing through town on a Saturday night, stop in and see one of their shows. Last Saturday night a local group, Esoteric Collective, was the highlight of the evening.
Around the corner from The Cash Store is the Davenport Jail Museum. Although its Web site stated that it was open weekends from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., it was padlocked when I showed up around 1:00 p.m. It never opened that day.
Some things to do in Davenport are:
Hike the beach and cliff trails along Highway One
Check out the art in the Davenport Gallery (address 450 Highway One) which is next door to The Cash Store
Walk around the town (this takes all of ten minutes!) and visit the St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church, at the end of Davenport Avenue. It and the old jail/museum are Spanish/Mexican-styled architecture and are the two oldest structures in the town. The church was built in 1915, the jail, in 1914.
The Davenport Cement Plant (Cemex) sits at the edge of town. Just like the cement factory in Jamaica, it is located near the water; that cannot be good for the environment.
I will be out working with the seals all this weekend so I’m getting this week’s post in early. Sorry to throw you off with my early schedule.
So, back in May I stumbled across those crazy lost and found emails, remember? Thanks to them, I started thinking about my creative side and how that part of my life was being lost or shelved. In those emails I found I had done all this writing and photography and paintings – I created much more than I realized! What’s more, if I could do all that while having fun, how much more could I do if I set goals and got serious about my writing and my art?
So, here then, is the list of goals I set to help me focus on my creative side/work. If you are wondering about the inclusion of trips to national and state parks, don’t! Some (okay, maybe all) of my earlier posts relate in one way or another to nature and the outdoors. They feed my creative side and make me happy too. No wonder I’m so creative here in the Bay Area. It turns out that I have a new old muse. Hello Nature girl.
*Write a short play (done)
Submit said play to x competition (done and done)
*Work on poetry (done)
Submit poems to program xx (done)
Submit poems to program y (still working on it!)
Await outcome (I won’t have the results until April; am crossing my fingers and my toes!)
*Start a blog (done)
Maintain said blog and complete one post each week (done and done!)
Visual Arts: paint, paint paint!
Take a painting class or workshop (done!)
Create at least three pieces I am totally happy with (done!)
Buy a good digital camera (done)
Learn to use and master said camera (still working on it!)
Blend writing and visual arts into creative pieces (done and done!)
Visit and overnight at one state or national park (done and done)
*Sequoia (done and done)
AND in 2013:
*Enter at least one art piece (a painting) into a local and a national competition
*Try to stop destroying writing and artwork that I’m not totally satisfied with (this is a work in progress)
*Enroll in a workshop at the Crucible or take a drawing class (hope I have enough money for this!)
*Visit and overnight at a state or national park outside of California (Yellowstone or Grand Canyon) and/or visit Picasso’s, Guernica, in Madrid museum (hope I have enough money for this too!)
Thank you for hanging with me. Next week I’ll give you my Jamaican Christmas cake recipe. I’ve been busy these past few nights making cakes for family, friends and co-workers. Let the festivities begin!
‘Tis the molting season for elephant seals. We’re not allowed to go on the beach so we watched them from afar. They’re surprisingly whitish in color now. Later on they’ll get dark. They were oh so fantastically loud. No seal pictures to be had just yet. Wait a few more months! Another brilliant Bay Area day. Awesome!
Oh, the Bay Area! From the mid-peninsula region up over Skyline Ridge, to lower Purisima Creek, across to Ano Nuevo where the elephant seals roam and back across to the East Bay, you will see such colors, such creatures, such beauty! Here is a lovely golden yellow banana slug! When this hermaphrodite has sex it fertilizes its partner and is itself simultaneously fertilized! You will find this brightly colored slug creeping about the floor of the Pacific redwood forests. I photographed this one earlier in the summer at lower Purisima Creek Redwoods which is close to Half Moon Bay and Pescadero, on the central California coast. Today (7/14/12) was a lovely day for a hike in the Santa Cruz Mountains. At 10:00 a.m. the fog was low and the air cool. By 3:00 p.m., around the time that these pictures were taken, the day had heated up considerably. These three photographs were taken along the Skyline Ridge section of the Mid Peninsula Open Space Preserves.
This is Grace sitting in a field of native grass that I helped to plant two years ago during a habitat restoration project.
California black oaks can grow as high as about 60 to 80 feet. They are excellent shade trees and are the habitats of many forest animals including squirrels and birds. At one time their inner barks were used for their tannin (to treat animal hide) and to make a yellow dye. This beach below is empty of elephant seals right now but come mating season, it will be full of male seals battling one another for mates.
And finally, back home in the East Bay, just in time for the sunset.