Thursday, January 28, 2010

Meet the Elephant Seals at Año Nuevo State Reserve -

Going to the Año Nuevo State Reserve was absolutely the highlight of my trip last week to the Bay Area- so totally unexpected! On Wednesday when I went to visit the Marine Mammal Center in the Marin Headlands, I met an interesting gal in the gift shop who told me about the annual elephant seal event at Año Nuevo State Park. I had no idea how fascinating these creatures were until I was able to actually see them up close and personal - I wasn't even sure what an elephant seal was, except that they are HUGE!

So on Thursday, I hopped in the car with my brown-bag lunch (pb and j + fuji apple), and headed south down Hwy 1 towards Santa Cruz. The reserve is south of Half Moon Bay on Hwy 1, but before Santa Cruz. 

This is one of my favorite drives - doesn't matter if it's rain or shine, I always find something to stop and look at. Pigeon Point Lighthouse was my first stop; a vintage, tumbling down lighthouse perched on a cliff surrounded by pounding waves. There's a cat-walk the runs in front of the lighthouse out across the rocks, a little rickety, be very careful if you decide to walk out to the edge. Priceless view of surf pouring in-between the rocks and pelicans dodging waves, playing in the wind!

Not too much father down the road is the State Reserve at Ano Nuevo. This reserve is set up to protect marine mammals and marine plants on the California Coast - and is possibly the largest breeding colony for elephant seals. The breeding season begins in December and goes through March; we were told that at the height of the season there can be as many as 4000-6000 elephant seals on the beaches at the Reserve!

The only way to see the elephant seals is by guided volunteer tours down to the beach. If you do plan on visiting, I would recommend calling ahead of time to schedule your free tour - sometimes booked up for months in advance! (I just got lucky!) As the walk is over 3 miles round-trip, I would also recommend that you dress in layers, bring binoculars,a good camera, and wear good shoes. The walk is not difficult, you just might have to walk in mud puddles and sand.

Male elephant seals can weigh as much a 4000 pounds - females around 1400 pounds, babies begin their life at 75 pounds, but will grow up to 600 pounds just in the first few months! The day that I was at the Reserve there were 1400 + females, 600 males and countless babies - more being born every minute. We actually got to see a few babies being born!

Fascinating to learn about these incredible animals - although they are mammals, they can stay underwater for up to an hour, and migrate approximately 8000 miles per year!

Breeding season is really the only time that they come ashore for any length of time, spending most of the year at sea . Elephant seals do not eat during this period of time, resulting in a weight loss for the males of up to 50% of their total body weight.

Females group in "harems" with one large bull male protecting and impregnating them... wild to watch! Bull males fight over the females, most of the time the leader is able to scare off other males by simply making a lot of noise. Amazed at how fast they could move on the sand when they were challenged - also a good reminder that they really are wild animals, and can be dangerous.

In December when the females begin arriving, they start having their pups almost as soon as they arrive on the beach, feeding them until March. Then the moms return to sea leaving the pups to fend for themselves. Nature seems sort of cruel, but the babies are weaned by that time, they somehow figure out how to start swimming and finding food for themselves. The males are the last to leave - hoping to impregnate every last female that they can. Isn't nature grand?

This big male was enjoying a bit of sunshine and a nap! Our guide told us that these males that were laying back in the dunes were the "losers", the girl seals weren't interested... I thought he was kinda cute!

This mom found herself with 3 pups - 2 that were not hers,
they were just greedy!

Weaner pups back in the dunes - way too cute for words!

I am not the greatest video person on the planet, but at least you can get an idea of how many elephant seals were on the beach and how noisy they are!

I really hope that you get a chance to experience this opportunity to walk among the elephant seals at Ano Nuevo. This is an incredible reminder of how precious the life in our seas is, and how little we really know about our oceans.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Poplar Beach/Bluff Top Coastal Park

Last spring on one my first adventures by myself in the Bay Area, I discovered Poplar Beach, a jewel of a city park in Half Moon Bay. This has now become a favorite escape to the beach for me. Lots of FREE parking and during the week, it's easy to find a parking space, although on the weekends it is a bit more difficult - especially during the summer months.

I love going here to just sit and enjoy the roar of the surf, the seabirds playing in the wind, pelicans diving in and out of the Pacific - doesn't matter to me if the sun shines or not. Lucky for me that there is a path that runs all along the bluff with benches scattered along the trail. On weekends you might not get lucky enough to find an empty bench, but this past Tuesday with high surf and roaring wind it was no challenge.

For me, there is something about a day on the coast that is NOT sunny, it is infinitely more interesting. This was one of those days, pounding seas, roaring up the beach, tangling up kelp and tumbling shells and sea glass with almost a violent power. I wanted to laugh out loud with pure joy!

If pelicans and seagulls could talk, I really do believe that they would exclaim their joy, as these must be favorite "play days" for them too.

Days like this are not great shell collecting days, as it could be very dangerous to turn your back on the surf. For me, this is so difficult as I always want to stuff shells, tumbled beach glass and bits of flotsam in my pockets! Still managed to come home with just a small handful; am always fascinated by the different kinds of shells that I find in California. Look at how the sand and the power of the water have flattened out this oyster shell so that all that is left is the smooth gorgeous mother-of-pearl color, almost transparent in its' delicacy.

Finally had to find the cliff trail back up to the top of the bluff, as my poor ears were freezing cold, and my fingers were like ice..

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Oregon Coast Therapy Animals - My friend Susie!

 Guest Post from Patti Frazier - Newport, Oregon Coast
Oregon Coast Therapy Animals

Susie is a Smooth Collie and owns two humans...Michael and Patti Frazier.  One of her humans' saw a piece in the local paper, last spring about the Oregon Coast Therapy Animal program.  All that was required was a little written test, a performance review and Susie could be registered as an official Pet Partner with the Delta Society and OCTA (Oregon Coast Therapy Animals).  Then, she and her humans would be welcome visitors to many places that need that special understanding that only animals can provide. 

     The written test was a breeze but Patti messed up on the performance evaluation.  Susie and the humans had to take the tests again last summer and luckily, they all passed, that time.

     Susie likes all people; big, tall, short and small, all animals; feathered, tailed, clawed and beaked and seems to know when they are; scared, sad, mad or freaked.  Susie knows who needs a satin glove and she finds a way to show them love.  Her gentle patience is what makes her special and she has touched many since she became a Therapy Dog.  Susie has visited a homeless shelter and a couple of assisted living homes.  She enjoys the people and the attention they give her.  The OCTA Society helps many in our coastal community, including the hospital, the jail, they are requested at times for Grand Jury help with children, the library, schools, nursing and assisted living homes, along with homeless shelters and women's shelters.

     Now, since Susie is so loving, and loves all living things, this can be an issue for her humans.  One day, Patti was calling for her to come in the house from the front yard.  Susie, stood still as a statue, nose almost to the ground and ignored Patti.  Patti called her again, this time taking a couple steps from the front door to see what Susie was doing.  Just as Patti stepped toward Susie, the mole that was to become Susie's new best friend, ran away into the shrubs.  

   Susie was not happy about the loss of her new friend.  Susie has many stories like this one, so Michael wrote and sang a song about her.  Hope you enjoy it!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Rodeo Lagoon at Marin Headlands

Today was not a great day for photography.  Too windy, too gray, the sky was too flat, but such an awesome day to actually experience being out at the Marin Headlands!  Rodeo Beach was closed due to high surf and very dangerous coastal conditions, but I could still walk around Rodeo Lagoon.

The Lagoon was filled to the brim with seawater from the Pacific Ocean, and these shore birds did not seem to mind one bit!  Actually, I was rather shocked that they let me get so close.  Usually when I try to catch a grey heron, they are off and running as soon as I get the camera out.

Hope you enjoy these sea birds from the Marin Headlands in Sausalito!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Choosing Sustainabilty for Enjoying your Favorite Seafood

One very important component to beach living, is also realizing that we have to become better stewards of our coasts, and of all the incredible life that lives in our oceans. We also need to understand that the sea, and its' gifts are essential to our lives on the shore.

Making smarter choices about sustainable seafood at the grocery store is such a small step towards helping that effort. Ask questions, and educate yourself before deciding what to buy.  Here's just one example:

I love Salmon  - like its' versatility, like its' flavor and texture -you really can't go wrong when deciding to serve Salmon to guests.   (See Melissa's Recipe, June 2009 - )

©B. Guild Gillespie/
Best Choice: These fish are abundant, well managed and fished or farmed in environmentally friendly ways.
Coho, Sockeye, King, Pink, Red, Sake
Best Choice: These fish are abundant, well managed and fished or farmed in environmentally friendly ways.
Coho, Silver Salmon
Farmed in Tank Systems
Good Alternative: These are good alternatives to the best choices column. There are some concerns with how they are fished or farmed – or with the health of their habitats due to other human impacts.
Coho, Sockeye, King, Pink, Red, Sake
Avoid: Avoid these products for now. These fish come from sources that are overfished or fished or farmed in ways that harm the environment.
Farmed Salmon, Atlantic Salmon, Sake
Salmon Roe
Best Choice: These fish are abundant, well managed and fished or farmed in environmentally friendly ways.
Ikura, Roe

(Thank you Monterey Bay Aquarium for the above chart)

Seafood Watch - developed by the Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of my favorite tools to educate the consumer about what the best seafood choices might be. Simply put your seafood choice in their handy search engine and it will return the best choices for what to buy and why.

Here's the link!
*** Please take note that there is also downloadable-printable pocket guide developed specifically for every major seafood region.
***If you have an Iphone - there is also handy FREE application to use.  I highly recommend this easy app, and do use it all of the time, both at the grocery store and when we are dining ou.

Just some more food for thought, and yet such an easy choice to make.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sea Glass Collecting at Half Moon Bay

For now, my little collection is resting inside a sea grass etched martini glass.  Might see if I can find some fabulous bowl this week - time to go haunting some antique or vintage stores in the Bay Area for just the right thing! I like the juxtaposition of using a beautiful, perfect display piece filled with my bits of sea glass and shells worn smooth by the tide. Easy way to show off  your precious finds in any kind of setting - formal or casual, who can deny that sea glass is almost like finding buried treasure?  Mix up the colors - or use one color to fit your personal decorating scheme. Only limited by your imagination!

Went for a sunny walk yesterday at Poplar Beach at Half Moon Bay (Poplar Beach story!), and came home with  my pockets full  with tiny, sand-washed and tumbled pieces of beach glass! The sea glass on Half Moon Bay reminds me of the glass that I find in Port Townsend, but worn almost flat, whereas the glass in Port Townsend is like little round pebbles.  Walking on Poplar Beach can be a little bit of a challenge - the sand is soft, deep, and very grainy, and you don't dare take your eyes off of the surf!  Unlike Washington beaches, this beach sand color is like soft butterscotch or caramel - littered with shells that have been literally pounded into submission by the Pacific Ocean.

Will let the remaining images of a walk on the beach at Half Moon Bay speak for themselves!

Will let the remaining images of a walk on the beach at Half Moon Bay speak for themselves!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Moolack Beach and Oyster Catchers

What a fabulous sunny, clear day on the Oregon Coast – late afternoon sunshine glinting on silver sand! Could not believe that it was December in the Pacific Northwest!  Taking advantage of a low tide, we scrambled down the steep hill trail connected to our hotel to take an afternoon walk on Moolack Beach.  Moolack is just a tiny speck of beach south of Beverly Beach State Park, great for beach strolling with not a lot of shells to pick up,  but you can find some agates and also  driftwood.

Incredibly beautiful!  Doesn’t take a whole lot to make me happy… holding hands with Tom and sharing a microbrew beer, clean salt and sea air, sunshine.   (Don’t worry, we DID NOT litter!) Blue sky stretched in every direction with not a cloud to be seen - sparkling sand, and the constant roar of the Pacific Ocean - for me, this is just about perfection.

After walking about 1/4 of a mile we came upon a really interesting  rock and clay formation, pitted with holes bored by some kind of sea worm, reminded me of black lava rock.  Tidepools galore in this display of rock, full of anemones and tiny little fish. A veritable feast for shorebirds with barnacles and limpets perched precariously everywhere!

Looked up from our perusal of sea life in the tidepools and  what did we see -- black oyster catchers running in and out of the incoming tide! Tom was a great tri-pod, hanging on to me so that I could get these pictures.  (I have a tendency to slip and fall, not exactly graceful)

It might be the way they hop from rock to rock, happily gorging on small sea creatures, calling with their distinctive voices to  each other to come join the party, or maybe it’s just the sight of their long, bright red beaks?  Not really sure what it is about  black oyster catchers, but I fell in love while watching these shorebirds scurry on the Oregon Coast rocks about 12 years ago.  Little black bodies, tall skinny legs, beady rimmed yellow eyes and those characteristic scarlet beaks…..

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Moon Snail Shell

Found this lovely moon snail shell on my beach travails earlier this week; a walk in the rain and the gray to escape writing and the depression of living indoors in January. 

The more I look at it, the more fascinating it is to me... Look closely at its center, swirling in perfection to create a safe haven for a sea creature to call home.  

Measuring approximately 3" x 3", it is only medium sized, and obviously a little battered and bruised by the tossing in the Puget Sound.  The shell is thick, always cool to the touch,and the inside is worn smooth by living in the sea. Completed by shades of  the color white and streaks of variations of sand and of brown, this moon snail shell s now a new favorite shell in my collection.  

Where to put it so that all of my friends can see its' beauty is now the dilemna....

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

January in the Pacific Northwest

Feel a little bad complaining about our gray and wet winters when there is so much of the country buried deep in snow.  After 45 (almost 46) years, I think maybe I am entitled to whine a little.  REALLY hoping that this will be my last January in Washington. For those of you that know me, also know how much I struggle with the rain and gray, and also how hard I have to work at overcoming the annual onset of the blahs...

When I first opened "Caron's" in Poulsbo, that was one of my goals - not only for myself, but for especially for our customers.  It seemed to have worked. Cannot tell you the number of people that would come into our light-filled store, painted in the colors of a summer sea,  filled to the brim with beach and coastal reminders, to simply walk around, smell the candles, listen to some jazz,  and would always leave feeling better.

Now, that I am creating a new kind of business, (online, not brick and mortar) I am using those lessons to help me make it through another January, February, March, April and possibly part of May...   Always making sure that I work in a light filled space,  taking breaks to look out at the sound and the ever changing water-landscape, and talking to friends to help beat the Northwest Blues.  Many days, the water is so quiet, hardly a ripple is reflected, all the easier to see the surprise of a sea lion trolling for salmon, or the darting of a bald eagle in search of prey.

Walking helps tremendously, even if it is raining! Here's some photos from a very gray morning today, there's very little color, but brilliant color when I could catch it in the dripping rain. There's also something very beautiful about nature hiding, waiting patiently, silently sleeping, storing up energy to wake up with the coming of spring.

Relax and Live at the Beach Every Day of the Year!

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