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Saturday, March 21, 2009

17-Mile Drive and Today's Bird-Watching

After whale-watching yesterday we drove 17-mile Drive, a well-known route that takes you along a beautiful section of the California coastline, near many huge mansions, and around the famous Pebble Beach golf courses.

It was very cold and windy, but I still got out of the car at many of the viewpoints, including Bird Rock, pictured below. In addition to being covered in cormorants and a few brown pelicans, there were many California sea lions resting there as well. What was truly amazing was how high on the rock some of the sea lions had climbed! Unlike harbor seals which are restricted to flopping around on their bellies, sea lions have retained usage of their front flippers like legs, allowing them to walk like quadrupeds on land, and thus to climb up higher on rocks than seals.

The true symbol of the 17-mile Drive is the Monterey cypress, a rare evergreen tree that once faced extinction and is only truly endemic to this small portion of the California coast. They are long-lived, slow growing trees, which are shaped by the strong coastal winds.

By far the most famous cypress tree, The Lone Cypress is the an oft-featured icon of the area. As a result, the Pebble Beach community has officially trademarked the likeness of the tree, so that no photographers or even artists can use any rendering of the tree for any commercial purposes. I am, however, free to share it with you on my blog:

I found one of the most interesting features of the trees to be their odd "cones", if you can even call them that:

Today we went to San Jose to watch the NHL's Sharks take on and handily defeat the Dallas Stars, but before and after we had time to bird watch around Santa Cruz. Tomorrow, I'm very excited about heading to Point Reyes National Seashore for some more birding, which I'm sure will include some great photo ops, but for now here is today's 47 specie bird list, which featured some great species like a white-tailed kite and many marbled godwits:

Common loon
Pied-billed grebe
Western grebe
Brown pelican
Double-crested cormorant
Brandt's cormorant
Great blue heron
Great egret
Canada goose
Cinnamon teal
American wigeon
White-tailed kite
Red-tailed hawk
American coot
Long-billed curlew
Marbled godwit
Black turnstone
Western sandpiper
Ring-billed gull
California gull
Western gull
Rock dove
Mourning dove
Anna's hummingbird
Downy woodpecker
Black phoebe
Western scrub jay
American crow
Tree swallow
Barn swallow
Marsh wren
American robin
European starling
Yellow-rumped warbler
California towhee
Song sparrow
White-crowned sparrow
Red-winged blackbird
Brewer's blackbird
House finch
American goldfinch
House sparrow


Warren Baker said...

Quite a species list today Monika.
Do you think sea lions are evolving, to get the use of their legs. or are they evolving to lose the use!

Monika said...

Warren, it's a good question. They are probably headed in the evolutionary direction of losing land mobility, but their current quadruped state may be maintained for some time, especially for sea lions like those in the southern hemisphere that still do some hunting on land (I'm thinking of a scene in the Planet Earth series where sea lions are running down penguins on a beach).

Cetaceans are obviously considered the most adapted to aquatic life as they no longer return to land at all. Using local species for an example, next comes species like harbor seals, who have very limited terrestrial mobility; then sea lions, who can still walk on land; and finally river otters, who still run around and burrow on land and have a pretty significant terrestrial component to their life.

The evolutionary biologist in me really comes out when I start pondering these sorts of questions! It's so fun to think about.

Warren Baker said...

Thanks Monika. You answered my question more eloquently than I asked it! Very interesting. Thanks

Ingrid said...

A beautiful capture from [close to] my home turf of the Bay Area. I had no idea about the trademark on the cypress! Great info. My husband and I are in the Northwest for a few years, and will be taking the Marine Naturalist training later this summer -- taking advantage of our current immersion with Northwest wildlife.