Gettin’ outside

On a misty, cool Friday I took my Ecology students up the coast a bit to Rancho del Oso, the nature center at the ocean end of Big Basin Redwoods State Park, which was the first state park in California. It was our first field trip of the semester, and goal was to get outdoors and start observing patterns in nature. The weather forecast called for a 50% chance of rain, but we lucked out and got the other 50% and had only light drizzle to contend with.

We spent the morning wandering through the woods. Even though visibility wasn't great there was a lot to see close at hand. For example, I've always loved how a lowly spider web looks when the silk has collected beads of dew:

Orb web in the morning mist, Rancho del Oso. 29 January 2016 © Allison J. Gong
Orb web in the morning mist, Rancho del Oso.
29 January 2016
© Allison J. Gong
Orb web at Rancho del Oso. 29 January 2016 © Allison J. Gong
Orb web at Rancho del Oso.
29 January 2016
© Allison J. Gong

Am I the only person who has a favorite tree? I don't mean a favorite species or type of tree, but a favorite individual tree. Mine is an oak, and it isn't at all difficult to find, just a few meters up the trail leading from the nature center to Waddell Creek. Oak trees in general are my favorite trees in California, and this one is a magnificent specimen. One of the things I love about these coastal live oaks (Quercus agrifolia) is the way that the mature tree's branches grow all gnarled and reach along the ground. They have such character and seem so wise.

Coastal live oak (Quercus agrifolia) at Rancho del Oso. 29 January 2016 © Allison J. Gong
Coastal live oak (Quercus agrifolia) at Rancho del Oso.
29 January 2016
© Allison J. Gong

If you climb up to the tree and look through it over the ridge there's a fantastic view into Big Basin Redwoods State Park. Today the view was obscured by fog, but even so it was pretty spectacular, almost eerie.

Rancho del Oso is at the bottom of the Skyline-to-the-Sea trail, which starts up in the redwoods at the top of the park. Waddell Creek flows through the park, under Highway 1, and empties into the Pacific Ocean. Strong afternoon winds in the spring and summer make Waddell Beach is a very popular spot for kitesurfers.

Fog has a way of turning a technicolor world into black and white:

View of Pacific Ocean from Rancho del Oso. 29 January 2016 © Allison J. Gong
View of Pacific Ocean from Rancho del Oso.
29 January 2016
© Allison J. Gong

Fog also makes for difficult bird watching; on the other hand it brings certain other wildlife out of hiding:

Banana slug (Ariolimax sp.) at Rancho del Oso. 29 January 2016 © Allison J. Gong
Banana slug (Ariolimax sp.) at Rancho del Oso.
29 January 2016
© Caitlin Sorkhabi, used with permission

and:

California newt (Taricha torosa) at Rancho del Oso. 29 January 2016 © Allison J. Gong
California newt (Taricha torosa) at Rancho del Oso.
29 January 2016
© Caitlin Sorkhabi, used with permission

Can't you see the determination of this little newt in its posture? They are single-minded when it comes to getting from here to there. The nature center has put up "Newt Crossing" signs to slow down the motorists. Driving slowly won't keep a newt from getting squished if it is run over, of course, but it does help drivers see the newts so they DON'T get run over.


After lunch we crossed the highway and went down to the beach. The National Weather Service had put out a high surf advisory, and the waves were big. I'd guess that they were about 3x my height. There was also a lot of foam blowing over the beach.

Some of the foam made very interesting iridescent bubbles on the sand and various bits of flotsam washed up on the beach:

Sea foam at Waddell Beach. 29 January 2016 © Allison J. Gong
Sea foam at Waddell Beach.
29 January 2016
© Allison J. Gong
Sea foam at Waddell Beach. 29 January 2016 © Allison J. Gong
Sea foam at Waddell Beach.
29 January 2016
© Allison J. Gong
Sea foam at Waddell Beach. 29 January 2016 © Allison J. Gong
Sea foam on driftwood at Waddell Beach.
29 January 2016
© Allison J. Gong

There were some really fascinating patterns in the sand. I wasn't the only person who noticed and appreciated them.

Sand at Waddell Beach. 29 January 2016 © Allison J. Gong
Sand at Waddell Beach.
29 January 2016
© Allison J. Gong
Sand and rocks at Waddell Beach. 29 January 2016 © Allison J. Gong
Sand and rocks at Waddell Beach.
29 January 2016
© Allison J. Gong

And lastly, we found a Strange Object. It was a white, oblong Object high on the beach, and it squeaked a bit, much like a dog's chew toy does, when I stepped lightly on it--obviously it was hollow.

The Strange Object we found at Waddell Beach. 29 January 2016 © Allison J. Gong
The Strange Object we found at Waddell Beach.
29 January 2016
© Caitlin Sorkhabi, used with permission

Curiosity piqued, I borrowed a knife from a student and cut it open. The Object had the texture of a marshmallow, but was considerably tougher. It was about 4 mm thick. And on the inside there were remnants of what looked like formerly living animal tissue:

Interior of the Strange Object we found at Waddell Beach. 29 January 2016 © Allison J. Gong
Interior of the Strange Object we found at Waddell Beach.
29 January 2016
© Caitlin Sorkhabi, used with permission

What was this Strange Object? Well, I don't know. My first thought was that it might be the empty shell of an animal that had hatched out of it. However I can't think of what local creature might hatch out of an egg this size and of this consistency. Birds have calcified egg shells . . . this Object wasn't calcified. Some reptiles have leathery eggs . . . but what local species of reptile, marine or otherwise, would hatch out of an egg this size? And the "shell" of this thing was thick, much thicker than an egg shell would be, as egg shells need to allows respiratory gases pass between the embryo and the external environment.

So, call me flummoxed. Do you have any idea what this Object could be? If you do, let me know in the comments.

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