Nature

Nest, Sweet Nest

The mission: Construct a home for soon-to-be-born offspring.

The rules: Use only scavenged materials.  Carry them to the site in your mouth. Employ nothing but your appendages as tools.  Ensure shelter from wind, water, and roving bandits.

The seabirds in love introduced in a previous post set to work. As monitors for the Seabird Protection Network on the Northern California coast, we watch and wonder: Where can these parents-to-be, who spend much of the year over open water, find safe haven on our rugged shore?

read more

A Very Big Fish Story

A mile offshore from Bodega Head in 120 feet of water, the captain cuts the engine. The 65-foot chartered research vessel pitches from side to side in steep swells. Ten men, one young woman, and I take our stations at the railing.

“Lines down!” a voice booms.

Not until this moment do I realize that I probably should have considered my gender, age, size, and complete lack of fishing experience before volunteering as an angler for the California Collaborative Fisheries Research Program. My life goals immediately winnow down to three:  Do not fall off the lurching boat.  Do not join the miserable retchers chumming the waves with their breakfasts.  And prove to be of some scientific value by catching at least one fish.

read more

Seabirds in Love

Love is in the air—literally. Song birds chorus. Doves coo. Along the northern California coast, ocean-going birds court and breed.  Our mission as volunteers for the Seabird Protection Network is to monitor their numbers, nests, eggs, and chicks. But when visitors ask what I’m looking at through my binoculars, I simply say “seabirds in love.” 

read more

The Indomitable Purple Sea Urchin

The purple sea urchin I’m holding doesn’t look like an environmental terrorist—more like a domed pincushion bristling with needle-sharp spikes. I can’t look this echinoderm (pronounced ee-KINE-o-derm), a cousin of sea stars and sea cucumbers,  in the eye. It doesn’t have any.  Nor does it have a brain, heart, backbone, or blood.  Yet urchins, among the most ancient animals, date back 450 million years and inhabit every ocean on earth.

read more

The Tao of Tracking

To me, Jim Sullivan seems a combination of Davy Crockett and David Attenborough: A scientist by training. A landscape designer, newspaper columnist, and college instructor by various career twists. An environmental activist, pleine-aire painter, philosopher, author, and drummer by personal passion.  A living legend among the hundreds of tracking students he’s trained. 

read more

Sailing by the Wind

Years ago I learned to sail by the wind on a 26-foot sloop in San Francisco Bay. After the initial terror, I came to relish the exhilaration of skimming across the water, rocketed by gusts and tugged by currents. At times I’d imagine endlessly drifting on the open sea with the sun and the stars as my only companions.

Velella velella (from the Latin for “veil”), commonly known as “by-the-wind sailors,”  live this fantasy. Ancient mariners found in oceans around the world, they have no need for seaworthy vessels. They are shaped like exquisite toy sailboats.

read more

The Wantonness of Wildflowers

On a wildflowers hike at the Jenner Headlands Preserve in Northern California, Ranger Jill Adams of the Wildlands Conservancy asks what we expect to find.

“Sex,” a voice calls out. Giggling like school kids, we turn to a small woman in a tan bucket hat and sensible boots. “My father was a botanist,” she explains. “He taught us that when you go into the woods to look for wildflowers in Spring, you’re going to see lots and lots of sex.”

read more

Superpowers of the Tide Pool

Twice a day the Pacific draws back its surf-fringed curtain to reveal a secret world brimming with fantastical creatures that John Steinbeck described as “ferocious with life.”   They have to be. Only the fierce can survive in the harsh borderland between the tide’s highest splash and deepest pools.  In this kingdom claimed by both sea and land, waters rise, waves pummel, predators pursue, and real estate wars rage.

read more

Seasons of the Sea

During my Pennsylvania childhood, the seasons paraded through the years in lockstep formation: Spring’s promises and petals. Summer’s lush ripeness. Autumn’s harlequin leaves. Winter’s icy grip. Here on the Northern California coast, the indomitable wind and waves have created seasons of their own: Upwelling (March through July), Relaxation (late summer through October), and Storm (November through February).

read more