Nature Notebook, March 23, 2017

03/23/2017

A new moon sets on March 27, and the days grow longer by about a minute each day as the vernal equinox slides behind us. Spring sightings include a family of great blue herons stalking gophers in the pastures around the Bear Valley Visitor Center. One of the most colorful local shrubs—twinberry—has begun to flower between the Green Bridge and the creek crossing as you enter Point Reyes, and along the north end of the Estero Trail. The twinberry, a honeysuckle, has two (twin) tubular flowers in sunset colors: rose pink and gold. The flowers will become two glossy, round, black berries with a scarlet frill (the bract of the plant).  

Another abundant shrub flowering along Sir Francis Drake Boulevard is red elderberry, which has light-yellow, upright cones. The flowers give way to clusters of bright red, inedible berries later in the year. Its cousin, the blue elderberry, will flower later in the year with a cup-shaped spray of yellow flowers followed by edible, and medicinal, blue berry clusters.

The menu of blooms grows longer each day: poppies along Highway 1, spikes of blue-purple lupine on Point Reyes-Petaluma Road, and in the cooler redwood forests, five-petalled, bright-blue houndstongue is flowering along with its exotic cousin, the paler blue, smaller-flowered forget-me-nots.

Elephant seals continue to return to sea as breeding season winds down; mostly males and weaned pups may be seen from Chimney Rock. Harbor seals are returning to quiet beaches in Drakes Estero and along Tomales Bay to deliver their pups in peace. The national seashore has its annual closures in place for seal protection until June 30; a full map is at nps.gov/pore.