Nature Notebook, October 5, 2017


The harvest moon lights the sky this week, making the Draconid meteor shower more difficult to see.  This shower of about 10 meteors an hour radiates from the constellation of Draco, the dragon west of the Little Dipper. Close upon the heels of the Draconids are the Orionid showers, which fall throughout the month of October, peaking around Oct. 21.

It has been a special year to see humpback whales throughout the summer. Typically, these whales, the longest of all the whale species, are seen in the fall off the Point Reyes peninsula. This species is one the best known to scientists due to unique markings and colors that easily identify them to observers. Their scientific name, Megaptera novaengliae, means “big wing of New England,” where the species was first noted (the wing refers to their flippers). Sightings in the San Francisco Bay near the Golden Gate and off the Marin coast have been unusual, but there has been plenty of their preferred foods: krill, herring and other small fish. Humpbacks have a special feeding technique—blowing clouds of bubbles that trap their prey.

Red alder trees along the Earthquake Trail and north end of Coast Trail are developing their miniature brown cones, about an inch long. These trees are often seen in damp habitats along creeks. Their light-colored bark often reminds one of their eastern relations—birch trees.