Nature Notebook, June 6, 2019


Early summer is the best time of year to identify one of the easiest constellations: the Big Dipper, which is almost directly overhead each night. It goes by many names—the Drinking Gourd, as the constellation helped guide escaped slaves along the Underground Railroad; the Plough and the Wagon, honoring the Greek farmer Bootes, who is believed to have introduced these farming tools; and the proper astronomical name, Ursa Major, the Great Bear.

Northern elephant seals have been restive. As this year’s class of weaned pups molts and grows new fur, they have moved onto and off of Drake Beach within a matter of days. Most of the year, the best place to view them is from the Chimney Rock overlook, where in February one can see the bulls fighting and the cows pupping.

Newborns in the neighborhood are black-tailed deer fawns and tule elk calves. A fawn refers to a deer younger than a year old, while a calf can be the offspring of just about any kind of mammal: elk, cows, and marine mammals such as whales. Elk and black-tails leave their young resting while they snack nearby, so seeing a calf or seal pup on its own is typically not cause for alarm.

Clusters of pinkish-brown California buckeyes are flowering, while woody, herbaceous plants such as coyote brush are covered with spit bugs. These tiny green nymphs are rarely seen, covered in a protective layer of white goo. The nymphs feed on the plants and eventually become flying insects.