Nature Notebook, August 29, 2018

08/29/2018

Neptune, the farthest “official” planet in the solar system (since Pluto was downgraded), will be visible as a tiny bluish dot in the eastern sky on Sept. 9. It is a rare sighting due to its great distance. Let’s hope for clear skies.

Tule elk have begun their annual breeding season, or rut, which means lots of activity especially in the reserve at the end of Pierce Point Road. The elk’s name comes from the Spanish “tule,” derived from Aztec “tollin” to describe the cattails and reeds observed by early visitors to the Central Valley, a huge marshland before it was drained for agricultural uses. The species is native to California and, as for other deer, the timing of its rut and gestation period means calves are born into the spring, when plenty of vegetation is available to nurture the parents and young. Look for males bugling and locking antlers, and even a little sparring.

Buckeye trees are forming their fuzzy green seed pods and in some areas are already dropping their leaves. Typically, the younger, smaller trees drop leaves first, while the more mature trees keep theirs. Traveling east along Sir Francis Drake, the first big leaf maples are turning golden, especially toward Fairfax.

Labor Day has been a traditionally busy day, so plan to get out early for nature excursions. The national seashore trails and visitor centers—except for the lighthouse—will be open.