An afternoon not wasted

At this time of year low tides occur in the afternoon. Later in the spring they will shift to mornings. There are a few reasons that I really prefer morning low tides to those that occur in the afternoon: (1) the time of the low gets about 50 minutes later every day, so as the tide series progresses you start fighting loss of daylight; (2) the wind tends to pick up in the afternoon, making it colder and causing ripples on the surface of pools that make it difficult to see; (3) the intertidal is more crowded with human visitors on the afternoon lows. I had decided to use today's low tide to photograph a particular clump of barnacles at Natural Bridges, and figured that it would be a quick trip because all the extraneous human activity would get on my nerves.

Turns out I found my barnacle clump pretty quickly, but it had been overgrown with tube worms (Phragmatopoma californica) and I wasn't sure I could see the trait that I was looking for.

Gooseneck barnacles (Pollicipes polymerus) hanging down in a tube through the rock, surrounded by tubes of the polychaete worm Phragmatopoma californica. 21 February 2016 © Allison J. Gong
Gooseneck barnacles (Pollicipes polymerus) in a tube through the rock, surrounded by tubes of the polychaete worm Phragmatopoma californica.
21 February 2016
© Allison J. Gong

At least, I'm pretty sure I was in the right spot, looking at the same barnacles I'd seen in January. In any case, this year for whatever reason we have a bumper crop of Phragmatopoma. They are very abundant and appear to be expanding their range within the intertidal. Somebody should be keeping an eye on that. Ahem.

It was a beautiful afternoon, so when I had finished taking photos for "work" I sat around to bask in the sun and watch the surf.

21 February 2016 © Allison J. Gong
21 February 2016
© Allison J. Gong

As I sat quietly, the animals got used to my presence and went about their business as if I weren't there. To me this is one of the best things about being in nature, the opportunity to disappear and watch animals do their thing without being noticed.

Western gull (Larus occidentals) at Natural Bridges. 21 February 2016 © Allison J. Gong
Western gull (Larus occidentalis) at Natural Bridges.
21 February 2016
© Allison J. Gong

After this bird cooperated so nicely, I challenged myself to catch as many different bird species in a single photograph. I got three in a single frame, twice:

Birds at Natural Bridges 21 February 2016 © Allison J. Gong
Western gulls, a snowy egret (Egretta thula), and a Brewer's blackbird (Euphagus cyanocephalus) on the mussel bed at Natural Bridges.
21 February 2016
© Allison J. Gong
Western gull on the mussel bed, and a brown pelican (Occidentalis pelicanus) and cormorant in flight. 21 February 2016 © Allison J. Gong
Western gull on the mussel bed, and a brown pelican and cormorant in flight.
21 February 2016
© Allison J. Gong

Pelicans are so cool. Their populations were hit hard by DDT but have recovered beautifully in recent decades. To watch them skim the waves is one of life's great pleasures. But my favorite photo of all the pelicans I shot today was this one of a pelican against the afternoon sky:

Brown pelican in flight. 21 February 2016 © Allison J. Gong
Brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) in flight.
21 February 2016
© Allison J. Gong

The luck with birds didn't stop when I left the beach, either. As I was walking back I came across a great blue heron (Ardea herodias) standing so still that at first I thought it was a statue even though I knew there wasn't a statue in that spot.

Great blue heron (Ardea herodias) at the DeAnza Mobile Home Park in Santa Cruz. 21 February 2016 © Allison J. Gong
Great blue heron (Ardea herodias) at the DeAnza Mobile Home Park in Santa Cruz.
21 February 2016
© Allison J. Gong

When all was said and done, it ended up being a good afternoon. I got my attitude adjusted, saw some cool stuff, and left the intertidal feeling better than I did when I arrived. Thank you, Mother Nature, for the much-needed trip outside myself and opportunity to get my head straight.

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