Nature Notebook, March 12, 2020


This leap year, the vernal equinox falls on March 19, the calendar start of spring as the earth tilts toward the sun, lengthening our days. The planet Mercury will be easier to spot on March 23 while at its greatest elongation, or when it appears farthest from the sun. One of my favorite spots to view planets is on the Bolinas Ridge Trail looking west toward the ocean.

It certainly felt spring-like in February, when warm, mild days jumpstarted many wildflowers. New on the scene in shady areas is the perennial herb known as false Solomon’s seal, with tiny sprays of white flowers and long, sword-shaped, low-to-the-ground leaves. The name is drawn from depressions on the roots that are said to resemble a royal seal.

From the national seashore: researchers have been in the process of tagging the hind flippers of this year’s weaned elephant seal pups. The tags are color coded by location, and pink is for Point Reyes. Researchers have noted that 26 of the 44 pups at the very end of South Beach appear to have damaged rear flippers, possibly chewed on by a land animal such as a coyote or in the water by a shark. The injured animals have only been noted on South Beach, so if you notice a seal with a bitten or chewed rear flipper anywhere else, please stop by or call the visitor center and let the rangers know where you saw it.  Coyotes have been seen in years past going after harbor seal pups on mud flats at Drakes Estero, but these injuries to elephant seal pups are new.