A visit with the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seals

We just returned from a brief trip up the beautiful California Central Coast for our yearly family reunion. I would have told you about it in advance, but it’s generally not a good idea to publicly announce that somewhere around fifty of my family members have all vacated their homes for a long weekend.

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I’ve shared this beautiful rock before. We gather in the city of Morro Bay, a beautiful seaside village with the central feature being this marvelous 576 foot high volcanic plug.

I had only one other “must see” for the weekend.  It was important to me to go just a few miles north of Morro Bay and to stop along Highway 1 at the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery.  More than 17,000 elephant seals call the rookery home. When we caught up with them last September during their mating season, they were gathering by the thousands.

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We had hoped to make another trip in late January to see the pups, but it just didn’t happen. Maybe next year. The elephant seals migrate thousands of miles to this secluded sandy beach twice a year for breeding, birthing and molting.

We found the population quite a bit smaller this visit, but we could witness some of the molt.

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Elephant Seals shed their skin as they grow, much like a snake, molting after the breeding season. During this time they cannot enter the ocean as  they are missing necessary insulation.

Judging by the small beached population, we were definitely late to witness the molting season.

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Do you see the kelp beds out beyond the rocks? According to one of the volunteers,  the kelp beds help protect these majestic mammals from their enemy, the Great White shark. The elephant seal can dive to 5,000 feet and stay as long as an hour, providing a good defense, but the kelp helps provide a natural barrier.

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Sophia and Karina were genuinely interested in these noisy and oddly moving creatures, and I hope we can make a return trip later this fall to visit with them when once again they number in the thousands.

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Care to take a look at them through an EsealCam? The non-profit organization, Friends of the Elephant Seal, provides the live camera and depending on the time of year, you could get quite a show.

Click HERE if you’re interested in seeing what they’re up to–just remember to coordinate your visit with California’s Pacific Standard Time! I just checked on them and presumably they were sleeping. I’ll see them again in the morning.

Nature has provided us with some amusing–really quite funny looking creatures, don’t you agree?

 

Neil Diamond, Periscope and Changing the Concert Experience

From the comments I hear from others I’m certainly not the only person ambivalent in my feelings about social media and the advancing charge of technology. I have bought into it with full commitment, yet fairly often look back with a bit of longing for the ‘good old days’ less than a decade ago when I didn’t even have a Facebook account.

I am not as connected as I could be. In most areas I think I’m primarily a dabbler, but more and more I’m realizing that many of the news outlets and local radio personalities I enjoy are teasing and throwing out incentives to connect by apps that seem to be proliferating at a rate that far exceeds my learning curve.

I’ve been thinking more about this since Jay and I enjoyed a May evening with Neil Diamond at the Hollywood Bowl.

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I am sorry I didn’t write down the names of these two very enthusiastic fans. This was NOT their first Neil Diamond concert.

At one point Jay did comment, “Where are the young people?” His sincerity in the question did strike me funny, so what did I do? I immediately posted his comment to Facebook, which then started a conversation with friends all over the country. I don’t post that often, but I must admit I enjoy the potential for immediate connection.

As we found our seats and settled in for the evening the large video screens invited the audience to participate in tweeting messages at #tweetcaroline.

Some of the messages were hilarious. “The guy in front of me has a big head,” or “Older crowd tonight. Forever in Mom Jeans, ” and “Wait!…This isn’t the Slayer concert?”

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Then 74 year-old Neil Diamond took control of the stage, and backed by his incredibly strong (they’ve been together a long time) 12-piece band, delivered an almost 2 1/2 hour non-stop, intermission-free show.

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The only “senior moment” appeared when Neil stumbled upon announcing the Bowl concert was LIVE on #Periscope, the very new video streaming app purchased by Twitter in March of this year. Even a septuagenarian performer recognizes the value of social media in replenishing an aging fan base.

This aging fan temporarily downloaded Periscope, but I wasn’t sure what to do with it once I had it!

I guess even the telephone was once eyed with suspicion–and now look at us! I’ll keep sharpening my skills and try to keep up!

 

{a weekend with a bird, bees and butterfly buffet}

This week I was reminded that it’s possible to create a friendly and hospitable habitat for all sorts of visitors–the invited and the party crashers.

Last year, at just this time, Karina and I sat in our back yard and witnessed a Black-Crowned Night-Heron swooping into our backyard pond. 

 

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This week he showed up again, presumably on a fishing expedition. I had nothing to feed him, so off he went!

I have thought about restocking the pond  many times, but  I’m ambivalent. The poor fish!

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I probably should have considered the possibility that he might return.

I recently read that wild Black-Crowned Night-Herons have been invading the Smithsonian National Zoo each summer for over 100 years. It’s the only known rookery for black-crowned night-herons in the region, and each spring the birds stop by to gobble up the zoo’s fish.

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But where do the migratory herons go in the autumn?

Peter Marra, head of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center tells how they started putting transmitters on the herons in an effort to monitor the birds’ habits. Over the past three years they’ve tracked birds as far south as the Florida Everglades, and it’s suspected they return to the Zoo because it sits on a high point, offering the birds a good view from which to forage.

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My oak tree offers a high point above the pond. If I offer him the incentive of a meal will he be back?

I recently learned the black-crowned night-heron was almost extinct at the turn of the 20th century. The long feather on its head, known as a filoplume, adorned women’s hats during the Edwardian Era and Jazz Age–makes me cringe to think of it!

They may now be plentiful in number overall, but they’re not typical inhabitants in suburban Southern California, and perhaps I have a responsibility to add to its survivability. Maybe just a few fish?

I do think that every little bit of effort to support urban wildlife potential increases my own well-being.

This weekend my focus is increasing my bee and butterfly garden potential. The bees are all over the lavender and rosemary. And I’ve had a Monarch butterfly spending a lot of time close by! This afternoon I found her on one of the new milkweed plants, but by the time I grabbed the camera she was gone.

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Despite the presence of pests and watering issues (you can see the pests in the slideshow photos) I’m  hopeful that seeing the Monarch land on the milkweed today promises eggs.  I am hoping to witness the complete lifecycle.

Butterfly chasing! The perfect level of activity after a busy week. What are your plans for a weekend “exhale?”

Whatever you do, I hope you breathe a little lighter–maybe just sit and watch for butterflies!

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