Nature at Alcatraz Island National Park

Fog Bank Flowing Over Alcatraz

Alcatraz Island - "The Rock" Front Side

Alcatraz Island – “The Rock” Front Side

Alcatraz Island - "The Rock" Back Side

Alcatraz Island – “The Rock” Back Side

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    Another link with a drop-down box to sounds in the sea is at:  http://www.dosits.org/audio/marineinvertebrates/snappingshrimp/?CFID=4294156&CFTOKEN=80301649\

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 Back of Lighthouse with Flowers by 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

Fogbow Nearby

Fogbow Nearby

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/whatwedo/improving/pigeon-point/

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

Pebbles and Sea Glass

Pebbles and Sea Glass

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:   https://www.kqed.org/quest/19198/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.”

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