Nature Notebook, February 9, 2017


Larger than usual tides accompany the full moon of Feb. 10, ranging from 6 to 6.6 feet. The recent storms and large waves have disrupted the neighborhood, with many elephant seals relocating from the main colonies of Chimney Rock to Drakes Beach. The National Park Service has closed the beach for a quarter-mile from the parking lot to the right as you face the beach. Coyotes have also been spotted in the seal colony; they have been known to prey on seal pups, most recently on sand bars in Drakes Estero.

If you are looking for a long beach walk during the annual seal protection closures, Great Beach-—accessed at North and South Beach parking lots—provides expansive views. Locals are reporting an unusual species on these beaches, a type of swimming snail called sea butterflies. They feed on surface plankton at night and return to lower depths in the mornings. The name comes from their two feet, which emerge from the shell and are used to “fly” through the water. It is these jelly-like parts that are washing up on beaches.

On these cold, clear days, it is sometimes hard to imagine that spring is on the way, but wildflowers are already at work making blooms. Among the first are the milkmaids. I’m always surprised at how early they appear in shaded areas: tiny, white and four-petaled, tinged with pink flowers. Yellow flowers are also emerging on California bay trees and blue California lilac (a kind of Ceanothus) appear to be flowering. Last week the creek was low enough to climb over to the daffodil field, which has begun blooming. An alder fell across the trail, so some fancy footwork is needed!