Nature Notebook, January 28, 2021

01/27/2021

Lunar conjunctions—when the moon and planets fall into a line—continue during the week of Feb. 8 to 14. The new moon rising on Thursday, Feb. 11 has been joined all week by four planets. Look for this group of sparkles—Saturn, Jupiter and Venus—in the evenings, with maximum viewing on Wednesday, Feb. 10. Mercury is also visible a little farther out.

Pacific newts, with orange bellies and reddish-brown backs, are crossing rain-soaked trails in search of food and mates. If they raise their head and tail, showing their bright bellies, they are presenting their defense against predators. Bright colors on many species say “don’t eat me.” 

The reopening of Sir Francis Drake Boulevard to the Headlands has allowed access to whale watching and viewing of the larger northern elephant seal colonies. At Chimney Rock, females and pups are best seen from the overlook, while males dominate the Drakes Beach area. For Covid-safe seal watching, search www.nps.gov/articles for current videos, information and interviews with local volunteers.

The clear spring-like weather this past week made whale watching easier, with numerous local reports of the southern Pacific gray whale migration passing the Headlands. Past patterns usually have the sightings slow down in February and peak again during the March northern migration. Recently, the southern migration appears to be later due to less Arctic ice and more available food. If you don’t get a chance to go out this winter, they’ll be returning north in spring.