Nature Notebook, February 23, 2017


The longer, warmer days seem to tease us that spring is coming. Willows are budding with what are commonly called pussy willows; the male trees grow the bud as an upright catkin of yellow flowers that appear dusted with yellow powder (their pollen). The female willows have upright catkins that are more greenish in color and have a small feathery ending that catches the pollen. Eventually, the catkins look fluffy as the newly made seeds, like puffs of cotton, are blown about by the wind.

Another plant is sending up shoots with small curlicues: manroot. It has an enormous human-shaped root and will eventually produce spiky green seed pods. For now, the shoots are growing steadily, hoping to find a nearby shrub to support them. The curlicue tendrils help them bind themselves to the shrub.

Whale sightings from the outer beaches of Point Reyes remain low as rainy weather and wind conditions obscure the spouts. As March arrives, hopefully there will be some calmer days to watch for the northern return migration. A rare albino gray whale calf was filmed in Baja California recently; I’ll be watching for this unusual animal from the lighthouse. Meanwhile, the northern elephant seal colonies from Gus Cove to north Drakes Beach are active; park rangers noted a male seal that had traveled all the way from the fish docks to the Chimney Rock parking lot, all uphill!

The Point Reyes National Seashore is accepting applications for its summer Youth Conservation Corps program. Full information is at Samuel P. Taylor State Park also has a posting for summer employment on Facebook. Finally, this week is the anniversary of the first book printed in Europe from a press with movable type, pushing literature toward mass circulation, the roots of this paper.