Archive for January, 2009

One of These Things Is Not Like The Others

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

I noticed something a little odd about one of the harbor seals at the overlook last Sunday, but it wasn’t until I got home and took a closer look at the photos that I realized what I’d seen.

Check out this image:


Can you spot the harbor seal that isn’t actually a harbor seal? I think this might be a California sea lion. Here’s a close-up:


I scanned across that group with binoculars, looked right at that animal, noted that there was something different about it, but didn’t think anything more. I was looking for baby harbor seals, and it clearly wasn’t one of those, so I just kept going.

My brain cracks me up sometimes.

A Dead Pelican

Sunday, January 25th, 2009

After yesterday’s rain, today (Sunday) was clear and windy. Linda, William, and I took a walk at the Carpinteria bluffs, parking at Viola Fields and taking the trail down to the harbor seal viewing area and back.

The tide was lower, and the number of seals greater, than when we were there yesterday; it looks to me like there were close to 200 seals hauled out.


On our way back, Linda noticed a dead pelican on a ledge below the top of the bluffs. You can see it slightly left of center in this view towards Rincon:


Here’s a closer view, where you can see that this was an adult brown pelican, with the pretty cream plumage on the head and neck. It hadn’t molted into the chestnut breeding plumage it would have had soon if it had survived:


Apparently there have been a lot of brown pelicans dying in southern California since early January, some of them after acting disoriented and flying to unusual inland locations. Scientific American’s blog summarized news coverage of the story: Did bad weather kill, sicken California brown pelicans? As the title indicates, current suspicion focuses on a sudden winter storm the birds faced in the Pacific Northwest, which caused a large number of them to make an emergency trip south, leaving them exhausted and vulnerable. Could this bird have been one of those affected?

I also took some photos of plants along the trail, starting with that same Salvia species (I assume) that I’ve been trying to identify:


I also took this shot of what I believe is California saltbush:


And this shot of what I think is lemonade berry, currently in bloom with a lot of small, pink flowers:


Here’s a shot of the area behind the seal viewing overlook where Venoco has proposed a new oil drilling project. The Paredon project, as it’s called, is currently working its way through the environmental-review process.


You can read more — much, much more — about Paredon at the city’s community development project information page. The latest I’ve heard is that more work is being done on the EIR based on input from the city’s environmental review committee, and that the project might come before the planning commission sometime this summer, with the city council getting it sometime after that. There’s a good chance that whichever side loses the decision before the city council will then pursue some kind of public referendum.

A Rainy-day Walk at Tar Pits

Saturday, January 24th, 2009


It was still raining a little this morning, but Linda and I wanted to get out of the house, and we forced William to come along. We parked at the end of Calle Ocho, by Al and Kathleen’s house (boy, do I envy them their location), and crossed the tracks to Tar Pits Park.

I remember when I’d first moved here, and I was talking to Laura Fraley, a Carp native, describing how we’d been at “that neat little beach between the campground and the Venoco pier.”

Laura rolled her eyes at me. “Tar pits, John. It’s called tar pits.”

It’s true; I can’t even surf. Sigh.

Anyway, we met Dick (my brother-in-law) while we were there today. It was pretty muddy near the harbor seal rookery, which made walking an exercise in caution, but there was a nice group of seals, and a number of people watching them from the overlook.


I want to figure out what this plant in the foreground is. There’s a lot of it in the coastal sage scrub around here, and I really like the purple flowers. Linda thinks it’s some kind of Salvia. Update: Maybe Purple Sage (Salvia leucophylla) or Cleveland Sage (Salvia clevelandii)?


There’s an excavation going on at the State Beach. According to the link-hostile Coastal View, there’s an early-20th-century trash dump there, which is problematic because erosion occasionally exposes things like broken bottles. So the State Park people are digging a trench to figure out how much trash is there, and what they should do with it, and as part of that they’re also checking for Chumash artifacts.


Linda and Dick: solving the problems of the world.

Weeding the Land Trust Parcel at the Marsh

Thursday, January 22nd, 2009

When I heard last Sunday that then-president-elect Obama was calling for the Martin Luther King holiday to be a national day of service, I suddenly remembered an email that Pat Blakeslee had forwarded to the Carpinteria Salt Marsh friends list:

From: William Abbott
Sent: Wednesday, January 14, 2009 5:04 PM
Subject: Salt Marsh restoration party: Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Hello all Salt Marsh Friends,

We have good news for Martin Luther King Jr. Day! Patagonia and the Land Trust are facilitating a restoration work party, starting at 9AM on Monday. Patagonia is sending 6 volunteers from 9 to NOON; any local Salt Marsh lovers are welcome to join in and stay for as long as they like! Bring waders, if you have any!

By William Abbot’s count, 21 volunteers showed up for the event (counting me); here’s a shot he took of us doing our weeding (that’s me in the middle):


Here are some of us at the end of the event (again, that’s me in the middle):


The best part for me was that I got to pester Andrea Adams-Morden (second from the right in that second picture) with all manner of questions about the plants we were pulling up, and the ones we were putting in. Andrea is the volunteer coordinator for the marsh docents, and knows an awful lot about the plants in the marsh.

Monday’s event was in the part of the marsh that is owned by the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County. That’s the part beyond (that is, west of) the new footbridge spanning Franklin Creek. It’s interesting to compare it to the city-owned section near Ash Avenue, where a lot of restoration work was done in the late 1990s, and where volunteers have been doing monthly weeding sessions ever since. The Land Trust parcel is weedier (in the sense of having more non-native plants), and also has some bare spots where mud gets dumped during flood-control dredging. In both ecological and aesthetic terms it’s arguably more degraded than the area along Ash Avenue. On the other hand, it’s also farther away from day-to-day human activity. It’s quieter, and wilder. It’s the part of the marsh where the (non-native, I realize, but still very cool) red foxes hang out.

On one of my first trips across the footbridge after it was opened last summer, I sat on one of the big, rounded boulders near its western end. There’s a small channel there, with a pool where egrets and herons like to fish. I sat there for a while, enjoying the solitude, and then I noticed an odd sound. It was a sort of whispering, a very low-volume series of pops and clicks, coming from the muddy margin that the low tide had exposed. It took me a second to realize what it was: The sound of hundreds of horn snails crawling through the mud.


The Land Trust parcel at the marsh is a work in progress. But I really like it, and it felt good to be able to help it out with some weeding.