Beautiful White Pelicans

White Pelican Swimming

White Pelican Swimming

White Pelican Wing Stretch

White Pelican Wing Stretch

White Pelican Pouch and Knob on  Bill

White Pelican Pouch and Knob on Bill

White Pelican Flying

White Pelican Flying

Flock of White Pelicans Soaring

Flock of White Pelicans Soaring

White pelicans are one of North America’s largest birds.  Their 9 foot wingspan is second only to the American Condor.  They are true snow birds – they spend winter along our southern coasts and head inland and north in summer.  During nesting season, they grow temporary knobs on their bills and have bright yellow around their eyes.  They feed by dipping their pouches into the water, and sometimes work together to corral and scoop up fish.  It is always a treat to see these magnificent birds!

Amazing Hummingbirds

Female Allen's Hummingbird

Female Allen’s Hummingbird

Male Allen's Hummingbird

Male Allen’s Hummingbird

Female Anna's Hummingbird

Female Anna’s Hummingbird

Male Anna's Hummingbird

Male Anna’s Hummingbird

Wings of Anna's Hummingbird

Wings of Anna’s Hummingbird

Hummingbirds are known as “flying jewels” because of their beautiful iridescent feathers.  They are the only birds that can rotate their wings in a circle.  They can hover and fly forward, backward, and even briefly upside down.  They are among the smallest of birds, and only live in the Americas.  Their tiny nests are 1.5 inches in diameter – just big enough for two jellybean-size eggs.  Spider silk is used to stick lichens onto the nest for camouflage.  Hummingbirds eat small insects and drink nectar from up to 1,000 flowers per day.  They are a favorite of mine – what sweet little birds!  More fun info is at:  http://www.learner.org/jnorth/tm/humm/funfacts.html

Nature at Alcatraz Island National Park

Unusual Low Fog Covering Alcatraz

Unusual Low Fog Covering Alcatraz

Alcatraz Island  - "The Rock"

Alcatraz Island – “The Rock”

Western Gull

Western Gull

Juvenile Black-Crowned Night Heron

Juvenile Black-Crowned Night Heron

Pigeon Guillemot

Pigeon Guillemot

Beautiful Peach Rose

Beautiful Peach Rose

Gorgeous Calla Lily

Gorgeous Calla Lily

Succulent Garden

Succulent Garden

Alcatraz Island National Park is San Francisco’s number one tourist attraction.  Most people visit “The Rock” to learn about its role as a Federal Penitentiary housing criminals such as Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly (1934-1963).  But some visitors come for a different reason – they come to see its historic gardens and nesting sea bird colonies in spring. 

The gardens were important to everyone living on the island.  Park rangers say the gardens demonstrate the importance of plants to the human spirit.  More info is at:  http://www.alcatrazgardens.org/index.php   A self-guiding brochure of the gardens is at:  http://www.alcatrazgardens.org/pdf/AZ%20Garden_05_12.pdf

Sea birds nest on the island from February – September.  Birds that breed on the island include California and Western Gulls, Pigeon Guillemot, Brandt’s Cormorants, Black-Crowned Night Herons, and Snowy Egrets.  A brochure on the “Waterbirds of Alcatraz” is at:  http://www.nps.gov/alca/naturescience/loader.cfm?csModule=security/getfile&PageID=388749

Sea Lions at San Francisco’s Pier 39

Sea Lion Statue at Pier 39

Sea Lion Statue at Pier 39

Sign Pointing to Sea Lions

Sign Pointing to Sea Lions

Sea Lions on Floating Docks

Sea Lions on Floating Docks

Sea Lions Sleeping

Sea Lions Sleeping

Sea Lion Hello

Sea Lion Hello

Sea lions are quite a tourist attraction at San Francisco’s Pier 39 at Fisherman’s Wharf.  The animals first showed up in 1989, and have made their home there ever since.  Sea lion numbers rise and fall with the seasons and food supply.  Activity is lowest in summer, when most of the sea lions migrate south for breeding season.  The animals are endlessly entertaining.  Visitors always laugh when they watch them!  Imagine yourself there with the cool fog on your face,  the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance, and these raucous sea lions in front of you.  Adding to the ambiance are the deep booms of a fog horn and sea gulls calling overhead – what fun!  A live cam is at:  http://www.pier39.com/home/the-sea-lion-story/sea-lion-webcam/   

Killdeer Nest at Matanzas Creek Winery and Lavender Gardens

Killdeer Distraction Display

Killdeer Distraction Display

Killdeer Eggs in Nest

Killdeer Eggs in Nest

Matanzas Creek Wishing Well

Matanzas Creek Wishing Well

Lavender Flowers

Lavender Flowers

View of Matanzas Creek Lavender Gardens

View of Matanzas Creek Lavender Gardens

Killdeer nests are a simple depression scraped out of the ground with added bits of sticks, grass, rocks, or shells.  If a predator gets too close, killdeer perform a distraction display.  We knew we were near a nest when this mother killdeer pretended to have a broken-wing – the performance was quite convincing!  We didn’t want to upset her, so we quickly walked away in the other direction.  Just like that she “recovered” and ran back to the 4 eggs safely tucked in her nest.  She couldn’t have picked a more scenic place to raise her family – right in the middle of the lavender gardens at the Matanzas Creek Winery in Sonoma County, California.  Info on visiting is at:  http://www.matanzascreek.com/

Noisy Fish

Sausalito Marina

Sausalito Marina

Sausalito (north of San Francisco) is famous for its humming toadfish.  In July and August the fish create quite a din under houseboats in the marina.  Each mating call is droned in perfect A flat for at least an hour at a time.  Toadfish hum, growl, and grunt by vibrating the muscles above their swim bladders at 6,000 times per minute – twice the speed of a hummingbird’s wings!  A funny article about a Humming Toadfish Festival there in 1989 is at:  http://www.nytimes.com/1989/06/26/us/sausalito-journal-voice-of-the-turtle-no-toadfish-love-song.html

Fish have disturbed residents in other places too, such as black drum in Cape Coral, Florida, and cusk eel in Block Island, Rhode Island.  Each time it happens, residents express disbelief that fish could possibly make that much noise!  A delightful article with sound links of various fish is at:  http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/08/science/08fish.html?_r=2&pagewanted=1

Point Lobos: Harbor Seals at China Cove

View of Seals at China Cove from Bird Island Trail

View of Seals at China Cove from Bird Island Trail

Mother and Baby Harbor Seals on Beach

Mother and Baby Harbor Seals on Beach

Harbor Seals Swimming

Harbor Seals Swimming

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve (near Monterey, California) is an excellent place to view wildlife.  Hikers on Bird Island Trail can see mother and baby harbor seals on the beach at China Cove every spring.  The patterns of spots on each seal are unique and do not change over time.  A fun fact is that harbor seals can sleep underwater.  More info (especially for kids) is at:  http://www.sealsitters.org/learning/kid_stuff.html