California Hummingbirds

Male Anna’s Hummingbird’s Spectacular Pink Gorget Feathers

Female Anna’s Hummingbird on Nest

Two Tiny Eggs in Nest

Anna’s Hummingbird at Grevillea Flower

Costa’s Hummingbird’s Purple Gorget

On a recent trip to California we got lucky and saw some spectacular hummingbirds.  They are a favorite!  Hummingbirds are incredibly beautiful and full of personality.  In flight their wings beat at least 50 times per second, which sounds like a buzz when they zoom past you in the garden.  Forward flight speed reaches 30 mph, and dive speeds reach 60 mph! 

Hummingbird nests are constructed of plant material bound together with sticky, stretchy spider webs.  Lichens are attached to the outside of the nest for camouflage.  Mother hummingbirds lay two eggs.  Although each egg is less than ½ inch long and smaller than a jellybean, they represent as much as 10% of her body weight.  These little flying jewels are precious!  More fun facts about hummingbirds are at:  https://www.thespruce.com/fun-facts-about-hummingbirds-387106   A live cam on Bella’s current active hummingbird nest is at: http://explore.org/live-cams/player/bella-hummingbird-nest

Catalina Island: Wrigley Botanic Garden – Amazing Cactus!

Photographing the Garden

Photographing the Garden

Photographing 80 year old Barrel Cactus

Photographing 80 year old Barrel Cactus

Trail Past Cacti and Succulents

Trail Past Cacti and Succulents

Cactus Garden

Cactus Garden

Tropical Aloe (Quiver Tree)

Tropical Aloe (Quiver Tree)

Stone Aloe

Stone Aloe

Blooming Pachypodium

Blooming Pachypodium

Barrel Cactus "Face"

Barrel Cactus “Face”

Heart Shaped Opuntia Cactus Pad

Heart Shaped Opuntia Cactus Pad

Wrigley Memorial

Wrigley Memorial

View Down Canyon to Pacific from Wrigley Memorial

View Down Canyon to Pacific from Wrigley Memorial

Tile Arch of Memorial

Tile Arch of Memorial

Close-up of Tile Arch

Close-up of Tile Arch

Beautiful Catalina Tile on Memorial Walls

Beautiful Catalina Tile on Memorial Walls

Catalina Mule Deer

Catalina Mule Deer

One of our favorite activities at Catalina Island was visiting the Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Garden. The idea for the 37-acre garden came from chewing gum magnate William Wrigley’s wife Ada in 1935. She wanted to showcase a Desert Plant Collection. Many of the original cacti and succulents still thrive in the garden today. New plantings are focused on those unique to the Channel Islands – many are extremely rare or endangered.

The Wrigley Memorial contains beautiful examples of locally made Catalina tile. The memorial sits on a hill overlooking the Pacific.   Wrigley’s greatest legacy was his vision to protect most of Catalina Island in its natural state for future generations to enjoy. Over 88% of the island remains undeveloped and is under management by the Catalina Island Conservancy. More info is at: www.catalinaconservancy.org/index.php?s=visit&p=Wrigley_memorial_and_botanic_garden

Catalina Island: Flying Fish!

Historic Catalina Flying Fish Tour Boat Blanche W

Historic Catalina Flying Fish Tour Boat Blanche W

Vintage Spotlights

Vintage Spotlights

Vintage Flying Fish Spotting Postcard

Vintage Flying Fish Spotting Postcard

Vintage Catalina Flying Fish Postcard

Vintage Catalina Flying Fish Postcard

Summer Flying Fish Festival Logo

Summer Flying Fish Festival Logo

1915 Postcard Featuring Child Feeding Old Ben the Sea Lion at Dock

1915 Postcard Featuring Child Feeding Old Ben the Sea Lion at Dock

The waters offshore Catalina Island deliver a special treat to visitors in summer – the chance to view flying fish at night. We went out on the historic wooden boat Blanche W. built in 1924. The boat was named after chewing gum magnate William Wrigley’s first granddaughter, and features open air mahogany benches in the back. Spotlights (vintage World War One, 40-million candle-power) mounted on the front of the boat were used to scan the water for fish. At one point we watched a pelican join in the fun by diving for fish when they jumped out of the water. What a memorable night! A wonderful TV show about Catalina’s flying fish by Huell Howser of “California’s Gold” is at:  https://blogs.chapman.edu/huell-howser-archives/1999/08/01/flying-fish-californias-gold-1009/

Catalina Island: Underwater Tour

Semi-Submersible Tour

Semi-Submersible Tour

Underwater Viewing

Underwater Viewing

Abundant Fish by Windows

Abundant Fish by Windows

Kelp Bass

Kelp Bass

Bright Orange Garibaldi

Bright Orange Garibaldi

Santa Catalina Island Kelp Forest Creatures Identification Guide

Santa Catalina Island Kelp Forest Creatures Identification Guide

When we visited Catalina Island, we went on an underwater semi-submersible tour (other ways to view sea life include snorkeling, diving, and glass bottom kayaking). Numerous marine preserves surround the island and protect vast numbers of fish. Our favorite fish was the orange garibaldi – they are very feisty and often approach divers (learn more at http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/animal-guide/fishes/garibaldi). The fun part of the tour was never knowing what we’d see next!

Monterey Bay Aquarium: Wild Baby Sea Otter Born in Outdoor Tidepool

Holiday e-Card by Monterey Bay Aquarium

Holiday e-Card by Monterey Bay Aquarium

A wild baby sea otter was born in the outdoor tidepool at Monterey Bay Aquarium, California, on December 20, 2015.  The cutest present to the Aquarium ever!  The mother and pup have direct access to the ocean and are free to come and go as they please.  Links and adorable pictures are at:

http://montereybayaquarium.tumblr.com/post/135606363553/the-squee-heard-round-the-world

http://montereybayaquarium.tumblr.com/post/135726438723/wild-otter-mom-and-pup-update

The picture above was posted online by the Aquarium on Christmas Day:  http://montereybayaquarium.tumblr.com/post/135916080178/may-your-holiday-season-be-warm-and-bright-thank

UPDATE March 5, 2016:  Another wild mother sea otter gave birth in the Monterey Bay Aquarium tidepool!  Read about it and watch video at:  https://montereybayaquarium.tumblr.com/post/140578637168/welcome-to-the-world-little-otter

California: Blue Whales!

Blue Whale Surfacing (click any pictures to enlarge)

Blue Whale Surfacing (click any pictures to enlarge)

Notice Two Small Dark Remora Fish Hanging On Near Blue Whale's Small Dorsal Fin

Notice Two Small Dark Remora Fish Hanging On Near Blue Whale’s Small Dorsal Fin

Blue Whale Blowhole and Back

Blue Whale Blowhole and Back

Close-up of Blue Whale Blowhole for Breathing

Close-up of Blue Whale Blowhole for Breathing

"Footprint" of Smooth Water Left Behind When Blue Whale Dives

“Footprint” of Smooth Water Left Behind When Blue Whale Dives

Hammerhead Shark Fins

Hammerhead Shark Fins

Sea Lions on Dana Point Marina Buoy

Sea Lions on Dana Point Marina Buoy

Red Breasted Merganser

Red Breasted Merganser

Double Crested Cormorant

Double Crested Cormorant

Our Welcome Back Sign

Our Welcome Back Sign

Recently we visited southern California.  We wanted to see blue whales – the largest creature to ever live on Earth!  Blue whales are bigger than the largest dinosaur.  They can reach up to 100 feet long and weigh up to 200 tons.  Their heart is the size of a small car, and their largest blood vessel (the aorta) is large enough for a person to crawl through.  Blue whales eat 2-4 tons of tiny shrimp-like krill per day during feeding season.  They are the loudest animal on the planet – their songs can be heard over 1,000 miles away!  Baby blue whales weigh 2-3 tons at birth, and gain 200 pounds per day for the first year.  Their life span is 80-110 years.  

Blue whales are endangered – only 10,000-25,000 remain.  The California coast in summer has the highest concentration of blue whales in the world.  Best places to see them are the Channel Islands, Monterey Bay, and the Farallon Islands off San Francisco.  We went on a whale watching tour with Captain Dave at Dana Point (his Dolphin Safari whale watching tours are the best, and he is a leader in whale rescues).  We were thrilled to see two blue whales!  Awesome!    Included below is a 28-second timelapse video of the Dana Point Marina at Dusk.  A previous post about Captain Dave’s Whale Watching Tours is at:  https://naturetime.wordpress.com/2014/05/13/southern-california-best-whale-and-dolphin-watching-at-dana-point/

Southern California: Best Whale and Dolphin Watching at Dana Point!

Gray Whale Close to Beach

Gray Whale Close to Beach

Gray Whale Spout

Gray Whale Spout

 

Back Bumps (knuckles) of Gray Whale

Back Bumps (knuckles) of Gray Whale

Group of Mother, Baby, and Adult Escort Whales

Group of Mother, Baby, and Adult Escort Whales

Dolphin (left) and Gray Whale (right) Playing Together

Dolphin (left) and Gray Whale (right) Playing Together

Sea Lions on Buoy

Sea Lions on Buoy

Common Dolphin Jumping

Common Dolphin Jumping

Dolphins Swimming

Dolphins Swimming

We recently returned from a trip to Southern California. Our favorite day was spent whale watching off Dana Point (between Los Angeles and San Diego).  We went out on Captain Dave’s special catamaran named Manute’a that has 2 glassed-in underwater viewing pods.  I can’t say enough about his whale and dolphin watching tours – they are the BEST!

The weather on April 21 was perfect – sunny, warm, and the seas were calm. Dana Point is a landmark for the gray whales during their annual migration between Alaska in summer and Mexico in winter (where mother whales give birth in Baja’s calm lagoons). In spring mother whales hug the coast with their new babies as they travel north, thus making them easy to spot. As a bonus during the trip, Captain Dave released a drone to film unique behavior he had never seen before – mother whales were teaching their babies how to sift mud off the bottom for food.  We ended up seeing 7 gray whales, 1 fin whale, and over 200 common dolphins.  It was especially sweet watching the dolphins playing with the whales!

More info about Captain Dave’s Dolphin and Whale Watching Safari is at:  http://www.dolphinsafari.com/    His beautiful 5 minute viral video is at:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bo_f8mV5khg&feature=youtu.be&hd=1  (you can skid the ad).  Not only is Captain Dave an award-winning filmmaker, he is also licensed to rescue whales that are in trouble. This trip was so amazing that we hope to return again sometime in summer to see the blue whales – the largest living creatures on Earth.  Life in the ocean is incredible!  Below is our one minute cell phone video of dolphins – footage was taken both above deck and below (in the underwater viewing pod).

 

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!

California: Beautiful Yosemite National Park

Yosemite's Granite Mountains

Yosemite’s Granite Mountains

Granite Boulders on Mountaintop

Granite Boulders on Mountaintop

Tree Growing in Crack of Rock (Half Dome in Background)

Tree Growing in Crack of Rock (Half Dome in Background)

Ancient Stunted Juniper Tree

Ancient Stunted Juniper Tree

Deer at Tuolumne Meadows

Deer at Tuolumne Meadows

Golden Mantled Ground Squirrel

Golden Mantled Ground Squirrel

Yosemite Fall Color

Yosemite Fall Color

Vintage Firefall Postcards

Vintage Firefall Postcards

Yosemite National Park is one of our country’s oldest and most beautiful parks.  Its 1,200 square mile wilderness is famous for soaring granite mountains, spectacular waterfalls, and giant sequoias.  Glaciers shaped and polished the granite rocks long ago.  This park is a real treasure – it is one of our nation’s best! 

Summer visitors at Yosemite between 1872-1968 watched the dramatic Firefall Show at Camp Curry every evening.  A fiery “waterfall” was created by slowly and continuously pushing glowing wood embers off Glacier Point to the valley below.  The experience of watching that flowing river of fire while listening to the Indian Love Call song was unforgettable!  Even President Kennedy came by to watch.  Visitor remembrances of the Firefall are at:  http://firefall.info/readers.html.   A fun show about the Firefall by Huell Howser on “California’s Gold” is at:  http://blogs.chapman.edu/huell-howser-archives/1996/01/08/firewall-californias-gold-706/  Info about visiting Yosemite is at:   http://www.nps.gov/yose/index.htm

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

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/   

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.  

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.  Adult females can produce over one million eggs per spawning season!

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/   

Info on a surreal and fascinating jellyfish new to science found in 2016 near the Mariana Trench (the deepest part of the ocean) is at:  http://www.australiangeographic.com.au/news/2016/05/video-surreal-deep-sea-jellyfish-near-mariana-trench

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!

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

Advice from an Elephant Seal

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).  As of 2018 the Piedras Blancas elephant seal colony had grown to over 25,000 seals!

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/view.htm

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

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.

UPDATE 2014:  There is a fascinating article in Bay Nature about fire-chasing beetles.  At football games in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1940s when multitudes of fans lit up cigarettes in the stadiums, the beetles came from far and wide to descend on the fans!  Read about these amazing beetles here:  https://baynature.org/article/fire-chasing-beetles-make-appearance/

Mount Lassen: Wild Horse Sanctuary

Wild Horse Foal

Bay Wild Horse

Pinto Wild Horse

Wild Burro

Touching a Wild Horse

Near Mount Lassen is the Wild Horse Sanctuary.   Wild horses live throughout the West.  Sometimes the Government rounds them up for adoption, because the landscape cannot sustain their numbers.  Some of the wild horses and burros that were not adopted come to the Wild Horse Sanctuary to live out their lives in peace and freedom.  The animals have plenty of room to roam on the Sanctuary’s 5,000 acre red-lava-rock landscape.  Horses had a significant role in the history of the American West.  They were highly valued for their service with cattle and the Pony Express.  It was an incredible feeling to walk out among the untamed animals.  Sometimes if you stand quietly, a wild horse might get curious and come over to you – it is pure magic!  Visitors are always welcome at the Wild Horse Sanctuary.  More info is at:  http://www.wildhorsesanctuary.org/

Hummingbird Taking a Bath

Anna’s Hummingbirds at Cherub Fountain

Anna’s Hummingbird With Yellow Pollen on Bill

Anna’s Hummingbird Dipping Head into Fountain

Hummingbirds enjoy baths.  Sometimes they will flit in and out of the spray from a garden hose.  One time we watched an Anna’s hummingbird bathe in a cherub fountain at Filoli Gardens.  She dipped her head in the water to wash off the yellow flower pollen.  How sweet!

Sea Lions and Seals Have Sensitive Whiskers

Sea Lion at San Francisco

Sea Lion at Moss Landing

Harbor Seal at Moss Landing

Harbor Seal at Monterey

Scientists have discovered that sea lions and seals have whiskers that are much more sensitive than previously thought.  They found that the animals can find and track fish from hundreds of feet away!  The whiskers (vibrissae) detect eddies left by the fish as they swim.  Harbor seals are thought to have the most sensitive whiskers all the animal kingdom.  Each whisker has up to 1,600 nerve fibers per single hair!

Marine Mammal Center

Marine Mammal Center Seal Statue

Marine Mammal Center Swimming Pens

Marine Mammal Center Kitchen

Rodeo Beach near Marine Mammal Center

The Marine Mammal Center is located in the Marin Headlands (north of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge).  It is a state-of-the-art animal hospital with research labs, pharmacy, swimming pens, kitchen, and education center.  The patients are mainly seals and sea lions.  The center’s water filtration system runs through an abandoned Nike missile silo.  When we arrived, it was feeding time.  The volunteer kitchen staff were making fish milkshakes.  They brought out frozen blocks of fish, pulled them apart, and then ground up the fish in a blender.  Mmmmmm.  More info is at:  http://www.marinemammalcenter.org/

Cute Western Seagull and Chicks

Western Seagull and Chicks

We saw this cute Western seagull and her spotted chicks at Moss Landing Marina, California.  Western gulls crack open tough shells by dropping them from high in the air onto a hard surface far below.

Seagull with a Mouthful of Starfish!

Seagull Eating a Starfish

I wouldn’t believe it, if I hadn’t seen it myself!  This seagull reached into a tidepool, came up with a starfish, and swallowed it in one giant gulp! 

Long-Billed Curlews Like to Eat Crabs

Long-Billed Curlew with a Crab

Long-Billed Curlew Eating a Crab

Long-Billed Curlew Walking

The long-billed curlew is the largest shorebird in North America.  These sandpipers nest in grasslands of the west in spring, and spend the rest of the year along the coast or water.  The curlew’s extra-long down-curved bill is perfectly suited to catching crabs in their mud burrows.  Our picture of a curlew with a crab in its bill is on a wildlife interpretive sign at San Pablo Park along San Francisco Bay.

Our Favorite Starfish Photo

Pacific Sea Star at Pebble Beach

This picture shows a Pacific Sea Star at Pebble Beach in California.  We took a long exposure to soften the ocean waves in the background.  UPDATE:  This photograph is featured for the month of July in the 2016 Ocean Wildlife Calendar by the Ocean Conservancy.

Colorful Surf Scoters

Surf Scoter

Surf scoters are sea ducks that spend winter along the California coast.  They use their colorful bills to scoop up shellfish from the sea bottom and swallow it whole.

Mammoth Rubbing Rocks

Mammoth Rubbing Rocks, California

Polished Surface of Mammoth Rubbing Rock

Sonoma Coast State Beach Coastline

Pussy Paws Wildflower at Sonoma Coast State Beach

Sonoma Coast State Beach in northern California is famous for its Mammoth Rubbing Rocks.  The rocks were polished smooth by the wooly hair of mammoths over 10,000 years ago.  Mammoths used the rocks as a scratching post, the same way that elephants rub against tree trunks today.  It was incredible to touch the spot that a living mammoth rubbed against so long ago!

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