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

Point Lobos: Sea Lion Point and Cypress Grove Trails

Sea Lions on Rocks Below (bottom right)

Sea Lions on Rocks Below (bottom right)

Wildflower Meadow on Bluff Overlooking Ocean

Wildflower Meadow on Bluff Overlooking Ocean

Natural Stone Staircase to Sea Lion Point

Natural Stone Staircase to Sea Lion Point

Lizard-Tail Wildflowers along Trail

Lizard-Tail Wildflowers along Trail

Sedimentary Rock Pair among Wildflowers

Sedimentary Rock Pair among Wildflowers

Round Sedimentary Rock along Trail

Round Sedimentary Rock along Trail

Powdery Live-Forever or Bluff Lettuce

Powdery Live-Forever or Bluff Lettuce

Solid Rock "Beach" at End of Sea Lion Point Trail

Solid Rock “Beach” at End of Sea Lion Point Trail

Cypress Point Trail in Fog

Cypress Point Trail in Fog

Black-Tailed Mule Deer among Monterey Pine

Black-Tailed Mule Deer among Monterey Pine

Sea Lion Point Trail is one of the most popular places to walk at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve near Monterey, California.  The trail follows a natural stone staircase down to the Pacific Ocean.  Sea lions can often be heard barking on the rocks offshore.  And if it’s not too foggy, you might even see them too!  Sedimentary rocks along the trail are part of the Carmelo Formation and are over 60 million years old.  Details about the rocks are at:  http://www.pointlobos.org/sites/default/files/The_Rocks.pdf 

Cypress Grove Trail heads north from the Sea Lion Point parking area.  This trail is famous for its extremely rare Monterey cypress trees.  Their striking appearance is the result of constant buffeting by the wind and salt spray.  These trees grow naturally along Monterey Bay at Point Lobos and 17-Mile Drive’s Cypress Point.  A beautiful and interesting quarterly magazine about Point Lobos is at:  http://www.pointlobos.org/general-info/magazine

Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola)

Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola) at Monterey Bay Aquarium

Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola) at Monterey Bay Aquarium

Closeup of Ocean Sunfish

Closeup of Ocean Sunfish

Monterey Bay Aquarium occasionally has an ocean sunfish (Mola mola) on display in the Open Sea Exhibit.  These fantastic fish have fins at the top and bottom, and a flattened tail at the back.  They can get up to 10 feet long and weigh over 5,000 pounds.  They increase their weight by 60 million times over their lifetime!  Fast growth means that each ocean sunfish at the aquarium is only on display for about a year.  At that point the fish must be airlifted out of the tank by helicopter to its freedom in Monterey Bay. 

Ocean sunfish are related to pufferfish, and feast on jellyfish in the deep ocean.  After diving they like to float sideways at the surface, basking in the warmth of the sun. They are famous for being very curious and approaching divers, and are found in temperate and tropical waters worldwide.  More info is at: http://www.oceansunfish.org/index.php

Monterey Bay Aquarium: An All-Time Favorite!

Monterey Bay Aquarium Entrance

Monterey Bay Aquarium Entrance

Open Seas Exhibit

Open Seas Exhibit

Sardines in Kelp Forest

Sardines in Kelp Forest

Grass Rockfish

Grass Rockfish

Pacific Marine Life

Pacific Marine Life

Strawberry Anemone

Strawberry Anemone

Pacific Seahorse

Pacific Seahorse

Leafy Sea Dragon

Leafy Sea Dragon

Blue Spotted Jelly

Blue Spotted Jelly

Sea Nettles

Sea Nettles

Back Deck Overlooking Pacific

Back Deck Overlooking Pacific

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of the best aquariums in the world!  It is a place that we return to again and again.  It is mesmerizing watching the sea creatures on display.  A wonderful quote at the aquarium says “The sea is as near as we come to another world”.  I highly recommend a visit – it never fails to impress.  More info about the aquarium is at:  http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/  More of our posts and pictures on the Monterey Bay Aquarium are at:  http://winegarpics.com/category/california/northern-california/monterey-bay-area/monterey-bay-aquarium/

California Sea Glass – History in Your Hands

Overall Ceramic and Pottery Shards

Overall Ceramic and Pottery Shards

Overall Colorful Sea Glass Pieces

Overall Colorful Sea Glass Pieces

This ceramic piece says 1945 – the year World War II ended.

This ceramic piece says 1945 – the year World War II ended.

This ceramic piece says Japan and includes a rising sun and Japanese characters, which dates it to the late 1940s. One of the characters on the bottom line refers to water, and it may be part of the name of the manufacturer.

This ceramic piece says Japan and includes a rising sun and Japanese characters, which dates it to the late 1940s. One of the characters on the bottom line refers to water, and it may be part of the name of the manufacturer.

This ceramic piece has a beautiful blue willow pattern – the most popular pattern in the history of dinnerware.

This ceramic piece has a beautiful blue willow pattern – the most popular pattern in the history of dinnerware.

The writing on this piece ends in “erey” – perhaps it is part of the word “Monterey”.

The writing on this piece ends in “erey” – perhaps it is part of the word “Monterey”.

This unique piece is chicken wire embedded in textured striated glass (used for reinforcement and safety glass in cabinets, plus windows at schools and fire stations). This is a hot new vintage glass being recreated for current products. A piece of sea glass half this size was recently posted for sale on eBay with a starting bid of $69.99.

This unique piece is chicken wire embedded in textured striated glass (used for reinforcement and safety glass in cabinets, plus windows at schools and fire stations). This is a hot new vintage glass being recreated for current products. A piece of sea glass half this size was recently posted for sale on eBay with a starting bid of $69.99.

This must-have piece of glass is Jadite – opaque green glassware dating to the 1930s. It was so favored by Martha Stewart that she reintroduced this glass to modern times.

This must-have piece of glass is Jadite – opaque green glassware dating to the 1930s. It was so favored by Martha Stewart that she reintroduced this glass to modern times.

This ceramic piece is decorated with a beautiful pink pattern - perhaps flowers.

This ceramic piece is decorated with a beautiful pink pattern – perhaps flowers.

This ceramic piece is a bright green chartreuse color – perhaps Fiestaware from the 1950s.

This ceramic piece is a bright green chartreuse color – perhaps Fiestaware from the 1950s.

This clear glass piece is a bottle top ring. It was so highly prized by Calvin Klein that he dressed his best models in sea glass rings.

This clear glass piece is a bottle top ring. It was so highly prized by Calvin Klein that he dressed his best models in sea glass rings.

This piece is part of a striped ceramic plate.

This piece is part of a striped ceramic plate.

Recently we found amazing sea glass at Seaside Beach, California (near Monterey). We found some of the pieces on the beach, but Richard noticed that the best pieces were out at the surf line. After I saw a piece I just HAD to have, I took off my shoes and socks and went into the 50 degree ocean water – brrrrrrrr! Although I got soaked, it was worth it. Each piece of glass tells a story – it is like holding a piece of history in your hand. All of the sea glass is worn smooth and pitted by ocean weathering, so it is at least 50 years old. If you recognize or know more about any of these pieces of glass, please let me know.

Point Lobos: Nesting Brandt’s Cormorants

Brandt's Cormorants Nesting on Clifftop

Brandt’s Cormorants Nesting on Clifftop

Male Brandt's Cormorant Carrying Flowers as Nesting Material

Male Brandt’s Cormorant Carrying Flowers as Nesting Material

Brandt's Cormorants Sitting on Seaweed Nests

Brandt’s Cormorants Sitting on Seaweed Nests

Brandt's Cormorant Mating Display

Brandt’s Cormorant Mating Display

Pair of Brandt's Cormorants Showing Blue Throat Pouches

Pair of Brandt’s Cormorants Showing Blue Throat Pouches

Brandt's Cormorant and Western Gull

Brandt’s Cormorant and Western Gull

Brandt's Cormorant Nesting Colony on Bird Island

Brandt’s Cormorant Nesting Colony on Bird Island

View of Bird Island (background left) from China Cove Trail

View of Bird Island (background left) from China Cove Trail

Brandt’s cormorants are nesting now along the China Cove Trail at Point Lobos State Park near Monterey, California. These sea birds have spectacular blue throat pouches and turquoise eyes during breeding season. The nesting material consists of seaweed and plants collected by the males. This year some of the birds decided to nest right beside the trail, so it is a real treat for photographers!

Monterey: Scenic Lover’s Point

Scenic Lover's Point

Scenic Lover’s Point

Field of Pink Trailing Carpet Ice Plants

Field of Pink Trailing Carpet Ice Plants

Brewer's Blackbird and Ice Plants

Brewer’s Blackbird and Ice Plants

Heart on Rock Wall at Lover's Point

Heart on Rock Wall at Lover’s Point

We’ve just returned from a trip celebrating our anniversary along the California coast. One of the most scenic places we visited was Lover’s Point at Monterey, California. The pink ice plants are particularly stunning this time of year!

California: Piedras Blancas Lighthouse

Piedras Blancas Light Station

Piedras Blancas Light Station

Piedras Blancas Lighthouse Tower with Beacon

Piedras Blancas Lighthouse Tower with Beacon

The Piedras Blancas Lighthouse was built in 1875. The top of the tower was sheared off during a fierce storm in 1949. Afterward an automated beacon was placed on top of the shortened tower and it was returned to service. Currently the lighthouse is undergoing restoration. Visitors can only access the lighthouse grounds by guided tour. Especially popular is the “Sunset and Whale Watching Tour” every March.

Elephant Seals are Fun to Watch!

Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery

Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery

Alpha Male Elephant Seal

Alpha Male Elephant Seal

Mock Battles among Young Male Elephant Seals

Mock Battles among Young Male Elephant Seals

Scuffle among Young Male Elephant Seals

Scuffle among Young Male Elephant Seals

Female Elephant Seal Face

Female Elephant Seal Face

Elephant Seal Family

Elephant Seal Family

Mother and Baby Elephant Seals

Mother and Baby Elephant Seals

Very Young "Weaner" Elephant Seals Playing

Very Young “Weaner” Elephant Seals Playing

Elephant Seal's Big Eyes

Elephant Seal’s Big Eyes

Trio of Sleeping Elephant Seals

Trio of Sleeping Elephant Seals

Backs of Sleeping Elephant Seals

Backs of Sleeping Elephant Seals

Elephant Seal Flipping Sand to Cool Down

Elephant Seal Flipping Sand to Cool Down

Elephant Seal Watching an Oystercatcher

Elephant Seal Watching an Oystercatcher

Silhouette of Young Male Elephant Seals

Silhouette of Young Male Elephant Seals

Piedras Blancas is Named after White Rocks Offshore

Piedras Blancas is Named after White Rocks Offshore

Beautiful Piedras Blancas Coastline

Beautiful Piedras Blancas Coastline

Elephant seals are fun to watch! They are one of our favorite animals. Ano Nuevo and Piedras Blancas in California are the only two places in the world where elephant seals come onto the mainland to have pups (elsewhere they breed on islands). The pupping season runs from December until March. The Piedras Blancas colony began in November 1990 when a dozen northern elephant seals came ashore near San Simeon (at the south end of Big Sur near the Hearst Castle). Now the Piedras Blancas elephant seal colony has over 16,000 adults and 2,500 pups!

Elephant seals can grow up to 16 feet long and weigh up to 2 tons each. Males have trunk-like noses that grow up to 2 feet long. Their vocalization sounds like an outboard motor trying to start. Alpha males battle for dominance and gather up harems of females on the beach.

The babies are born with black wrinkled coats of fur. The black fur allows them to absorb warmth from the sun, and the wrinkled coat gives them room to gain weight quickly. Mother elephant seals lose one-third of their body weight while nursing. Their rich milk is as thick as mayonnaise! Babies grow from 80 pounds at birth to 300 pounds in 3 weeks. When the babies are 4 weeks old, mother elephant seals return to the sea to feed. Meanwhile the young “weaners” are left on the beach to play and swim. At 6 weeks of age the babies’ black fur is replaced by a silver coat.

Elephant seals have big round eyes that help them search for prey in the deep ocean. Dives for squid and fish last from 30-60 minutes, with only a 2-3 minute break at the surface. These mile-deep feeding trips go on continuously for months. Elephant seals return to the beach twice a year to either molt or breed. While on land they do not eat, and they often sleep to conserve energy.

Elephant seals maintain a body temperature of 100 degrees, which is quite a feat in the chilly Pacific Ocean. Their blubber keeps them so warm that they quickly overheat in the sun. They flip sand over themselves to cool down.

Elephant seals have one of the longest animal migrations in the world. Tracking devices have revealed that California elephant seals travel in a big loop that extends far west into the Pacific, north to Alaska, and then south back to the beaches they were born on.

The Piedras Blancas and Ano Nuevo elephant seal rookeries are well worth a visit. The animals are entertaining, and the scenery is fantastic! An excellent website by Friends of the Elephant Seal (including a calendar of activity) is at: http://elephantseal.org/
A live cam of the Piedras Blancas rookery is at: http://www.elephantseal.org/livecam.htm

California: Scenic Pigeon Point Lighthouse

Scenic Pigeon Point Lighthouse

Scenic Pigeon Point Lighthouse

Pigeon Point Lighthouse with Yellow Buttercup Oxalis Flowers in Spring

Pigeon Point Lighthouse with Yellow Buttercup Oxalis Flowers in Spring

Pigeon Point Lighthouse Coastline

Pigeon Point Lighthouse Coastline

Pigeon Point's Perilous Rocky Coast

Pigeon Point’s Perilous Rocky Coast

Pigeon Point Lighthouse Welcome Sign

Pigeon Point Lighthouse Welcome Sign

Pigeon Point Lighthouse Tower and Flag

Pigeon Point Lighthouse Tower and Flag

Pigeon Point Lighthouse Tower Front with Starburst

Pigeon Point Lighthouse Tower Front with Starburst

Pigeon Point Lighthouse Tower Back with Fence

Pigeon Point Lighthouse Tower Back with Fence

Pigeon Point Lighthouse Fresnel Lens

Pigeon Point Lighthouse Fresnel Lens

Pigeon Point's Ocean View

Pigeon Point’s Ocean View

Harbor Seal on Rocks below Pigeon Point

Harbor Seal on Rocks below Pigeon Point

Pigeon Point Lighthouse Tower in Fog with Sun Halo

Pigeon Point Lighthouse Tower in Fog with Sun Halo

Pigeon Point Lighthouse Tower Top with Fog Shadow and Rainbow Prism

Pigeon Point Lighthouse Tower Top with Fog Shadow and Rainbow Prism

Pigeon Point Lighthouse in Infrared

Pigeon Point Lighthouse in Infrared

Pigeon Point Lighthouse is located along the scenic San Mateo coast south of San Francisco.  The lighthouse was built in 1872, and is named after the clipper ship “Carrier Pigeon” that went down off the point. The ship even had a gilded pigeon as its figurehead.  Pigeon Point’s original name was Whale Point, because whales are frequently seen offshore.

Pigeon Point Lighthouse is one of the tallest active lighthouses on the west coast (150 feet above sea level).  Its Fresnel lens flashes a rotating beam of light once every 10 seconds.  The lens has 1,008 glass prisms, and weighs over 4 tons! 

Sometimes light stations use fog horns in addition to light signals to warn ships away from the coast.  Early settlers around Pigeon Point Lighthouse described the fog horn as sounding like “an asthmatic old bovine” or “stuck hog”.  The light station’s dock was used by rumrunners and bootleggers during Prohibition in the 1920’s.  Tens of millions of dollars in whiskey were brought ashore during that period. 

The lighthouse is currently undergoing an $11 million restoration.  The first step (completed) was to remove the Fresnel lens from the tower and put it on temporary display in the Fog Signal Building.  The second step (underway) is to stabilize the tower.  The future third step will be complete restoration of the tower, which will begin once funding is secured.  Progress updates are available at:  http://www.calparks.org/programs/improving/pigeon-point-lighthouse.html

California: Pebble Beach/Bean Hollow State Beach

Pebble Beach Overlook

Pebble Beach Overlook

Pebble Beach - Long Exposure

Pebble Beach – Long Exposure

Rainbow Seaweed on Pebble Beach

Rainbow Seaweed on Pebble Beach

Colorful Pebbles on Beach

Colorful Pebbles on Beach

Tafoni Rock Layers

Tafoni Rock Layers

Tafoni Rock with Mushroom Shape

Tafoni Rock with Mushroom Shape

Tafoni Rock Honeycomb Pattern

Tafoni Rock Honeycomb Pattern

Tafoni Rock Filled with Pebbles

Tafoni Rock Filled with Pebbles

Close-Up of Colorful Pebbles

Close-Up of Colorful Pebbles

Pebble Beach/Bean Hollow State Beach (south of San Francisco) is famous for its tafoni rock and pebble-covered beach.  The lacework tafoni rock is soft sandstone that has been eroded by the wind and waves.  The colorful pebbles are composed of various rocks including green jade, red chert, white agate, jasper, moonstones, and petrified wood.  The rocks are washed in from an offshore Pleistocene-era gravel bed.  Many geological field trips come to this unique location.  More info is at:  http://science.kqed.org/quest/2011/03/03/geological-outings-around-the-bay-pebble-beach/

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art: Owl Painting

San Francisco MOMA Owl Painting

San Francisco MOMA Owl Painting

When we visited the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, I fell in love with one piece of art in particular by Joseph Cornell from 1957. The painting features an owl and is called “For Sale”.  The delightful text reads:
“FOR SALE. Sequestered bower – numerous compartments, look-outs, guest rooms, cozy nooks (feather-lined), pine-scented lounge, ivy-covered observatory for early dawn views and romantic sunsets, cheese cellar, moss-lined alcoves with dripping water and large variety of snails, cool storage, chalet-view of valley, bird’s eye view of old chateau inhabited by storks, aquarium in base of trunk with rare deep forest specimens, salamander’s crannies, violet-banked approaches, musical waterfalls, natural mineral specimens, and easy walking distance to enchanted lake.”

Hawk Migration Hotspot near San Francisco

Red-Shouldered Hawk

American Kestrel

Turkey Vulture

Juvenile Red-Tailed Hawk

The Marin Headlands (north of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge) are a hotspot for Pacific coast migration in Fall.  Hawks and other raptors funnel through the Headlands on their way south to wintering grounds in California, or even further destinations in Baja or Argentina.  Even Monarch butterflies funnel through the Headlands on their way south to wintering roosts along the California coast.  Yesterday’s raptor count by the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory was 459, and the 2012 season total so far is over 20,000 birds.  Visitors are welcome to participate at Hawk Hill.  Daily totals and more info are at:   http://www.ggro.org/events/hawkwatchToday.aspx

California: Half Moon Bay Pumpkin Farms

Halloween-Theme Painted Horse at Lemos Farm

Arata Pumpkin Farm

Mini Pumpkins

Pumpkin Path at Bob’s Pumpkin Farm

Half Moon Bay is known as the “Pumpkin Capital of the World”.  The area produces more than 3,000 tons of pumpkins every year and ships them worldwide. Every October, Half Moon Bay hosts a popular Art and Pumpkin Festival that includes a pumpkin weigh-off contest.  This year’s winning pumpkin topped the scales at 1,775 pounds!  The Halloween-theme painted horse stands in front of the Lemos Farm in Half Moon Bay.  It is repainted regularly to reflect the seasons.  Pictures of past designs are at:  http://www.lemosfarm.com/painted-horse.html

Our Past Earthquake Experiences

Real-Time Earthquake Map of California and Nevada on October 17, 2012

Offset Fence along San Andreas Fault

Cracks in Earth Formed by 1964 Alaska Earthquake

Book on Stories from the 1964 Alaska Earthquake

Since today is the anniversary of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake in the San Francisco Bay Area, it seems like a perfect time to discuss earthquakes and our past experiences with them.  A real-time map of earthquakes is at:  http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/map/  AND http://earthquaketrack.com/recent

In California, strain builds up on the San Andreas fault because the Pacific Plate is moving faster than the North American Plate.  Eventually stress fractures the crust and an earthquake occurs. In general, earthquakes that are Richter Magnitude 3 and smaller are not felt unless the epicenter is beneath you.  Magnitude 4 is a little shake.  Magnitude 5 is a noticeable shake, and is 10 times stronger than  4.  Magnitude 6 is a significant shake, and is 100 times stronger than 4.  Magnitude 7 is widespread damage, and is 1,000 times stronger than  4.  Magnitude 8 is catastrophic, and is at least 10,000 times stronger than 4.0.  Magnitude 9 is extremely destructive, and can have worldwide reverberations.   

Richard was a young child when the great Alaska earthquake occurred on Good Friday, March 27, 1964, at 5:36 pm local time.  The USGS lists the 1964 earthquake as Magnitude 9.2.  Most earthquakes last less than 30 seconds, but this one lasted 3-5 minutes!  Try counting out 3 minutes – it is a very long time for catastrophic shaking.  Loss of life was minimized since it was a holiday and most schools and businesses were closed.  It was the largest earthquake ever recorded in North America, and the 2nd largest in the western hemisphere (after the Magnitude 9.5 earthquake in Chile in 1960). 

One couple said that the 1964 Alaska earthquake shook for so long that they sat on the couch to ride it out.  Sandy soil liquefied and rolled like 3-foot-high ocean waves.  Richard’s Dad saw his neighbor working beneath a car.  As the Earth rolled in waves, the car bounced up on a crest.  His friend rolled away before the car crashed back down.  Many people had just finished eating their evening meal.  Pots fell off the stoves and refrigerators toppled over.  Richard’s brother was yanked away from a falling television set.  Cracks split the ground open and then closed back up again.  Trees whipped back and forth.  Boats hit mud bottom as the ocean drained out, and then were pushed inland when the water came back.  A tsunami roared across the Pacific and hit Hawaii and California.  Ocean levels changed around the world, and led to minor flooding in Texas and Louisiana.  Interesting Alaska earthquake stories and pictures are at:  http://www.vibrationdata.com/earthquakes/alaska.htm   A vintage 4 1/2 minute earthquake video from a television show Richard watched as a child is at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wGhYMM2xeEo

In comparison, the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake was Magnitude 7.0.  It struck at 5:04 pm on October 17th during the middle of the World Series in San Francisco.  The shaking lasted 10-15 seconds.   Loss of life was greater than Alaska because of the dense population and collapse of the Bay Bridge.  We were just getting ready to leave work at the University of California, San Francisco, when it hit.  We felt the building pitch up and down, and grabbed the railing for support.  Security alarms went off all around the city.  Smoke billowed in the distance and meant the damage was significant.  Everything at home had fallen down in the same direction (east).  Vigorous shaking had spilled all of our toilet’s water onto the floor.  Our balcony was deemed unsafe.   It took many weeks before normalcy returned.  For a long time afterward, people were always thinking about where they would run if the shaking returned.  Now millions of people participate in mock earthquake drills every year:  http://www.shakeout.org/

Rain Lilies

Pink Rain Lily

White Rain Lilies

Rain Lilies bloom in Fall in the San Francisco Bay Area.  They are also known as Pink Fairy Lilies, Surprise Lilies, or Naked Ladies (because of their bare stems).  These fragrant flowers in the Amaryllis family are very beautiful!

San Francisco: Lombard Street

Lombard Street Looking Down

Lombard Street Looking Up

Cars Driving Down Lombard Street’s Tight Curves

San Francisco’s Lombard Street has been called the “Crookedest Street in the World”.  One of the homes was filmed as Jimmy Stewart’s residence in the movie Vertigo.  The block’s extremely tight eight curves were designed to slow down traffic on the steep slope.  Tourists love to come and drive or walk down this famous hill!

San Francisco Cable Car Museum

Cable Car Ride to Museum from Fisherman’s Wharf

Cable Car Museum Entrance Sign

Cable Pulley Winding Machinery (Sheaves)

Illustration of Cable Car Barn and Powerhouse

Cable Car on Display

Cable Car Bell

Cable Car Grip for Braking

Antique Penny Arcade Machine

Vintage Cable Car Souvenirs

Cable Car Logo on Rice-A-Roni

The San Francisco Cable Car Museum is a fun place to visit.  On display are antique cable cars and equipment, along with a viewing platform overlooking active machinery running the cable car lines.  Cable cars are a symbol for San Francisco, and are famous around the world.  They are so popular that they are featured on boxes of Rice-A-Roni, “The San Francisco Treat”!  Cable cars are our nation’s only mobile national monuments.  Every summer a bell-ringing contest is held for the incredibly strong gripmen who operate the cable cars by hand.  More info is at:  http://www.cablecarmuseum.org/index.html

Spectacular Hearst Castle

Hearst Castle Main Entrance

Tower Closeup

Patio near Outdoor Neptune Pool

Neptune Pool Modeled after Roman Coliseum

Indoor Pool with Lapis Lazuli Tile and Real Gold

Indoor Pool with Marble Statue

Formal Dining Room

Holiday Decorations

Marble Statuary: Woman and Bird

View from Top of “Enchanted Hill”

Zebra Grazing on Grounds of Estate

The spectacular Hearst Castle is located at the south end of Big Sur.  This palace on the “Enchanted Hill” overlooks 14 miles of undeveloped California coastline.  Construction started on the estate in 1919 after William Randolph Hearst told his architect that he was “tired of sleeping in tents, and would like to build a little something”.  That “little something” took 25 years to build and turned into one of the world’s most expensive homes! 

The Hearst Castle has over 90,000 square feet of living area including 165 rooms, a formal dining room, library, movie theater, and indoor and outdoor swimming pools.  The home is decorated with antiques and statuary collected from Europe and Egypt.  The buildings are surrounded by 127 acres of formal gardens and orchards.  In addition, Hearst owned the largest private zoo in the world from 1923-1937.  The zoo has now been dismantled, but descendants of some of those original animals can still be seen grazing on the grounds of the estate.  The home was especially famous for its parties in the 1920s and 1930s, and movie stars flocked there on the weekends.  After Hearst’s death, the estate became a California State Park in 1958.  The home is especially beautiful over the holidays.  Info about visiting the Hearst Castle is at:  http://www.hearstcastle.org/content/facts-and-stats 

Big Sur: World Class Beauty!

Big Sur Coastline

Rocky Creek Bridge

McWay Falls

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

Pink Ice Plants and California Poppies

Fields of Gold and Turquoise Water

Rocky Coast in Mist

Big Sur has been called “The Greatest Meeting of Land and Sea”.  This rugged coastline south of San Francisco is one of the most beautiful in the world.  The scenery is spectacular!

Big Sur: Stunning Pink Sand Beach!

Pfeiffer Beach

Walking North on Pfeiffer Beach

Pfeiffer Beach Rocks and Pink Sand

Closeup of Rocks and Pink Sand

Pfeiffer Beach Sand Patterns

More Colorful Sand Patterns

Pfeiffer Beach Sea Arch

Big Sur’s Pfeiffer Beach (south of Monterey) is famous for its pink and purple sand.  The sand’s gorgeous color comes from manganese garnet particles that wash down the hillside.  The further north you walk, the more colorful the sand.  The photography opportunities are endless and ever-changing.  This unique beach is absolutely stunning!

Point Reyes: Ladybugs at the Beach!

McClure’s Beach

Yellow Bush Lupine

Tule Elk in Fog

Tule Elk at Tomales Point

Isolated Pocket Beach

Ladybugs Covering Driftwood

Hundreds of Ladybugs at Beach

Acorn Weevil Among Ladybugs

Closeup of Ladybug

McClure’s Beach is a wild and remote beach at the northern tip of Point Reyes National Seashore (north of San Francisco).  In spring and early summer the hills are covered with yellow bush lupine flowers.  Tule Elk graze on the bluffs at Tomales Point.  The San Andreas Fault runs through the center of the park.  At the Visitor Center you can see an offset fence that was ripped 20 feet apart by the 1906 earthquake! 

McClure’s Beach is an excellent place for tidepooling.  A narrow trail leads through the rocks at low tide to an isolated pocket beach on the other side.  This pocket beach has a special secret – at times it is swarmed by ladybugs!  In summer ladybugs migrate from California’s hot Central Valley to cooler areas along the coast.  Sometimes they swarm a beach in search of salt and minerals, but there is no predicting where or when.  Many people think that ladybugs bring good luck.  We think it’s true – it was our lucky day at the beach!

Insect Museum and Live Insect Zoo

Beetle Display at Insect Museum

Papua New Guinea Insect Display at Insect Museum

Richard and Giant Lime-Green Walking Stick at Insect Zoo

Giant Lime-Green Walking Stick Closeup

The Insect Museum at the University of California, Davis, is a fun place to visit.  The Bohart Museum of Entomology has the 7th largest insect collection in North America.  On display are cases of colorful insects along with a description of criminal cases solved with “Insect Forensic Evidence”.  Visitors especially enjoy the live Insect Zoo featuring giant millipedes, hissing cockroaches, scorpians, a rose-haired tarantula, and a giant lime-green walking stick from the Lesser Antilles.

Honeybee Research Facility and Bee Garden

Honeybee Research Facility Entrance

Honeybee Research Facility Entrance

Honeybee Statue in Bee Garden

Honeybee Statue in Bee Garden

Vanilla Honey Bee Ice Cream

Vanilla Honey Bee Ice Cream

The Honeybee Research Facility and Bee Garden at the University of California, Davis is an interesting place to visit.  The garden was funded by Häagan-Dazs through their special edition “Vanilla Honey Bee Ice Cream”.  A giant honeybee statue stands at the entrance to the garden.   Visitors are encouraged to stroll through the garden and see honeybees at work.  Bees are very important – they pollinate one-third of all the food that we eat!