Nature Notebook, January 19, 2017


The Chinese New Year—the Year of the Rooster—follows the new moon of Jan. 28. Morning high tides have brought up tremendous amounts of debris, along with northern elephant seals, at Drakes Beach. The seals nap and linger before moving toward the larger colonies at the Headlands. Let them rest after their long swims in icy water, and only observe them from a distance.

As storms poured water into local watersheds, fast-moving flows affected seal and fish populations. The seven-foot tides and storm waves washed away some newborn elephant seal pups that were not able to swim. Fish nests, or redds, may also have been disrupted by the unexpected high waters. This year was the first year of a major release of hatchery-raised adult coho salmon (through the Redwood Creek Captive Rearing Project) in Muir Woods in December. As of mid-December, one of the female hatchery fish was seen building a redd, with two males in attendance. As soil and debris settles, biologists will be able to see what happened to fish and redds.

The rains created ideal conditions for orange-bellied newts, delicate salamander-like aquatic creatures I have seen along the edges of Olema marsh. Their brightly colored bellies are a defense mechanism; if they are attacked, they show their belly so predators knows they can be poisonous. If you do handle one, wash your hands thoroughly to avoid toxic secretions.

The Bay Area Mycological Society’s annual Fungus Fair that was washed out was rescheduled for Feb. 11 and 12. On Saturday there will be (unguided) collection forays and on Sunday, a display of identified mushrooms at Bear Valley Visitor Center, along with talks.