Friday, January 29, 2010

Oddities at Año Nuevo - Part 2, The Beach

All the rocks on the beach were framed by black halos and parentheses.

Last time, I talked about the freaky poison oak shrubs at Año Nuevo State Park on the lovely San Mateo coast of central California. On the beach end of the park, there are interesting sights to catch your eye besides the monstrous elephant seals fighting, mating and raising young.

Recent storms washed fine black material out of this dark vein in the coastal bluff and dragged it out to sea. Some grains were caught in eddies around the rocks and settled onto the beach. The dark material is probably peat deposited hundreds to thousands of years ago which keeps getting resorted by coastal uplifting, wave erosion and shifted by the many faults in the area including the Frijoles Fault.

When I visited earlier this month, a freshwater reservoir near the beach end of the Año Nuevo Point Trail was full of gulls rinsing off saltwater. While lounging on the beach, we noticed some peculiar behavior of the gulls leaving the pond after their daily bath.

They would fly off the pond's surface, then bank up over the coastal bluffs and stall in the air to vigorously shake their feathers. For a split in-air second, they would shake their wing and tail feathers so hard, they were ruffled, flying balls. As they soared over the beach, their feathers would fall back into place.

Gull after ocean-going gull would momentarily spasm. Once you notice, it's quite hilarious.

While the tourists plodded up and down the beach (some wore pointed heels in the sand) to gape at the enormous elephant seal bulls, we botanists snickered at the butt-wiggling gulls.

An associate, who used to catch, measure and tag gulls for research on San Francisco Bay, told me that the gulls would do the same shake dance whenever the scientists released them. Per Año's other oddity, my co-hikers reported seeing crested poison oak bushes at various other natural spots. So why was Año Nuevo the first place I have seen these two oddities after 20 years of hiking California's wildlands?

Possibly, the unique light reflecting off the ocean surface and gleaming through the coastal fog reveals features that are otherwise not noticeable. Or, it could be that nature is so incredibly complex and detailed that at any time and any outdoor place, you are likely to make new discoveries. I think Año Nuevo is one of those magical places where the quality of the air and pleasant laughter of your companions stimulates the mind to divine the unusual in familiar surroundings.

Go outside, play, tell me a story.

See Also:
Geology of Point Año Nuevo State Park, Gerald E. Weber.

1 comment:

  1. A book called "The Natural History of Año Nuevo" has details of owners prior to the State owning the land.


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