Nature Notebook, December 6, 2018

12/06/2018

More winter meteor showers drop late at night this week, as the Geminids fall in the eastern skies. With 120 multicolored stars per hour, it is considered one of the most prolific showers of the winter. This week’s new moon, on Thursday evening, brings extreme high tides of over six feet in the mornings.

Most of the observations in this column are typically about California natives, but a couple of Asian migrants add beautiful colors to the scenery at this time of year: golden-leafed gingko and tangerine-fruited persimmon trees. The gingko, or maidenhair, tree is native to two small areas in China; like local horsetail fern, it has prehistoric roots over 200 million years old. A stunning gingko that I pass each day is located next to the Point Reyes Livery Stable. A carpet of golden leaves just pops against the green grass, or against the blue skies through the branches. Persimmon trees, like local buckeyes, drop all their leaves, revealing their distinctive orange fruit. There are native North American persimmons in the southeastern states but, in California, most species are Japanese varieties. I have noticed them appearing on Mesa Road and as snacks and giveaways—like zucchini, they’re very prolific plants!

Planning ahead for winter visitors? It will be more challenging to catch the southern gray whale migration this year, as the lighthouse area remains closed through April. When the annual shuttle bus service begins on Saturday, Dec. 29, busses will only circle to Chimney Rock and back to Drakes Beach without stopping at the lighthouse. The hike out to Chimney Rock may provide some glimpses of southbound whales, or head north to Bodega head. The return northbound migration in March, when whales seek the shallower coastal waters, is easier to catch from park beaches.