Año Nuevo: Elephants to Weasels (Shallow Thoughts)

Akkana's Musings on Open Source, Science, and Nature.

Sun, 05 Sep 2004

Año Nuevo: Elephants to Weasels

Dave took me to Año Nuevo for my birthday (and to escape the September heat). It's up the coast from Santa Cruz, really not that far from home, but somehow I'd never been there.

The park is famous for elephant seals, and during the breeding season it's necessary to make a reservation and go on a guided tour, so the tourists don't disturb the seals -- and vice versa (the male seals can get very aggressive and territorial during mating season). But during the off season, things are much lower key, the seals are moulting (which means they spend most of their time lying around on the beach) and you can get fairly close to them.

Volunteers man the observing stations at the ends of the trail spurs, and provide information on the elephant seals and other marine mammals.

Most of the seals were so inert that one might wonder if they were actually alive. One big bull, flopped in a nest of seaweed on a beach away from the others, looked particularly lifeless, though occasionally his sides would move as he breathed. Apparently the birds were fooled: one gull, poking through the nearby seaweed, hopped up onto the bull's side, perhaps thinking it was a rock, and the bull exploded into life, snapping at the gull as it hastily made its escape.

Harbor seals, California sea lions and Stellar's sea lions live on the island and make a huge and constant racket with their barking; and a couple of sea otters have been spotted nearby, but nobody had seen them today, unfortunately. Birds are plentiful: I bagged (photographically) several new birds, including Heermann's Gulls and sanderlings, and also got some decent shots of pelicans and gulls in flight.

But the highlight was neither bird nor marine. Dave spotted it first, and pointed. It looked like a squirrel -- a rather tall, skinny squirrel with a white belly -- but we don't have squirrels colored like red foxes here in California. Then the animal came down off its haunches and bounded across the trail and into some tall grass, waving its long, thin, and distinctly non-squirrelish black tipped tail. A long-tailed weasel! The first I'd ever seen. It was a nice birthday present.

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[ 22:14 Sep 05, 2004    More nature | permalink to this entry ]