Nature Notebook, June 21, 2018


The sun will be at its northernmost point on the summer solstice on June 21. It is our longest day of the year, with sunset at 8:36 p.m., and takes its name from the Latin sol for sun and “stice” from sistere, “to stand still.” In the northern hemisphere, the earth has reached its furthest tilt toward the sun and now begins slowly tilting away.

The buffet line started on Limantour Beach recently: an osprey on the beach shredding a fresh surf perch; Western gulls hovering nearby and, last in line, turkey vultures. Lots of crab shells lay in the surf line from red rock crabs, whose shell is reddish-purple colored. Gulls will pull off the legs and then snack on the insides. On Great Beach, between North and South Beaches, the remains of a grey whale calf is onshore showing evidence of orca predation. When orcas attack a calf, a grey whale mother will defend it by lifting it up on her tail or ramming the orcas.

As summer officially begins, a few last splashes of color from apricot-colored sticky monkey flower shrubs and purple bush lupine can be seen along Limantour Road and through Muddy Hollow. In the cool shade along Bear Valley Trail, a large shrub, Aralia Californica, also known as elk clover, is blooming.  The leaves can be one to three feet long and the whole plant up to nine feet high. The clusters of white flowers, like a firework starburst, will become dark blue berries. Other berries along Bear Valley Trail are the scarlet red clusters of inedible red elderberry.