Words from our Naturalist – june

Ranger Winter Bonnin IMG 7561 r[1]



Early on Mother’s Day I got up and went for a walk on the beach.  My family was still sleeping and the crowds had yet to descend on Laguna Beach.  I was reveling in the pure joy of strolling along the seashore, when I observed a gull flying above me with a pink flower in it’s mouth.  The flower had been plucked from a nearby Bougainvillea plant and I figured the gull was possibly building a nest.  But, on a day as sacred as Mother’s Day, I fantasized that this was a hegull who was bringing flowers to a shegull.  I know that gulls don’t celebrate Mother’s Day, but I also know that they are monogamous and mate for life! In fact it is estimated that 90 percent of all bird species are monogamous, meaning one male mating with one female and forming a “pair bond.” The terms may change however, as some birds are exclusive for only a single nesting season whereas for others their commitment lasts an entire breeding season or even several successive breeding seasons.  But for some birds, including swans, eagles, parrots, and gulls, monogamy means “for life.” According to The Birder’s Handbook, male gulls epitomize true fidelity by also providing food for the chicks, sharing in incubation, and because they are ground nesters, vigorously defending both the nest and the young from predators.  I do recall many years ago while walking along the trail on Anacapa Island during the nesting season, that I was dive bombed, more than once, by an adult Western Gull as they make their nests out in the open along the trail where humans walk.  It was kind of disturbing and even surreal to be flapped on the head by an angry gull.   Nonetheless, I appreciate their “mama bear” instinct and soften at the knowledge that they are truly a faithful species.

 Unlike gulls, and with the exception of a few tropical species who share hunting and family duties, bats, of which there are more than 1,200 species worldwide, are not monogamous and the males do not help rear the young (rather females congregate to bear and raise the young in maternity colonies.)  On the contrary, a single male bat may mate with 30 or more females and some species even have a wily way of infiltrating a “hibernacula” and mating with hibernating females. It will be months however, before the female becomes pregnant and will actually host the males’ live sperm inside the uterus throughout the winter months before ovulating and becoming pregnant in the spring. This unusual fertilization method is rare amongst mammals, while delayed implantation, in which an egg is produced and fertilized, but not implanted in the uterus until a suitable time, is a much more common method.  Bats most often give birth in late spring or summer when there is an abundant food supply for the nursing mothers.  They give birth to just one tiny pup who she nurses for 4-6 weeks, until the baby can catch insects and survive without maternal nutrition.  More than two-thirds of the world’s bat species primarily feed on nocturnal insects and fortunately for us, have healthy appetites. In fact, a single little brown bat can eat up to 1,000 mosquito-sized insects in a single hour, and a pregnant or lactating female bat typically eats the equivalent of her entire body weight in insects each night.

 A few weeks ago, just before the second heat wave rocked our southern Californian life style, I had nestled into my sheets and turned off my light, but before I could drift away into sleep I heard the whiny, annoying buzzing of a mosquito.  Mosquitoes in May in Laguna Beach??  I waved my arms wildly to warn it away, but knew that once I fell asleep it would attack by finding a spot on my skin, inserting it’s proboscis and drawing out my blood.  I knew I had no chance against this vector and sure enough, in the morning discovered multiple itchy mosquito bites.  There are more than 3,000 species of mosquitoes and as a mom I should be somewhat understanding of their need to nourish their developing offspring.  In fact, it is only female mosquitoes that have the mouth parts necessary for sucking blood, which they crave not for their own nourishment but as a source of protein for their eggs.  When a mosquito bites, they stab two tubes into our skin: one injects an enzyme that inhibits blood clotting whereas the other allows them to suck blood into their bodies.  The blood thinning substance contains a single-celled fungi that irritates the surrounding tissue of the skin, draws blood to the area and ultimately causes the itchy reaction.  Richard Conniff wrote in Body Beasts, an article for National Geographic:  “We swat ploddingly—and are likely to kill only the slowest feeders. Thus we do our bit for natural selection, helping ensure that future generations come only from mosquitoes that are quick enough to get away with our blood in a minute or less.”  Mosquitos do actually mate for life, but only because after mating, the male flies off, most likely to die while the female settles down to lay her eggs in still water, the necessary environment for the baby mosquitos to survive.

 On a tidepool walk recently, a student showed me a treasure she found on the beach.  I had to admit that I was shocked because I never see sand dollars washed up along our shoreline.  I then mentioned this to ex-Superintendent and diver Ken Kramer who said that there is a thriving population of sand dollars concentrated off a reef at the southern end of the Historic District in about 20’ depth of water.  Apparently, the sand dollars sit upright and filter feed and are quite obvious and prevalent. It makes me want to dust off my wet and go for a snorkel!  When we do see sand dollars on the shore, we are actually seeing their skeletons which look much different than the living creature which has densely packed, tiny, dark purple spines covering the hard shell.  Sand dollars live communally and are crowded together sometimes with more than as many as 600 of the invertebrates existing in one square yard.  No surprise that with such proximity, sand dollar mating would be a party, of sorts and like many aquatic organisms sand dollars reproduce by a method called “broadcast spawning”. Sand dollars have separate males and females which produce sperm and eggs and when the conditions in the ocean are favorable all of the sand dollars in a local area will release their reproductive cells simultaneously. The eggs and sperm meet in the water, and the eggs are fertilized. The developing sand dollars then float around the ocean, growing for a while, and then, the young sand dollars will settle down on a sandy area, and develop into adults.

  Recently we have been noticing globs of tar on the beach, but Volunteer Tim Arehart was able to find the bright side of this ecological mess:  “I was at Reef Point today for low tide and noticed a lot of globs of oil on the beach between the stairs and the Point.  Many of the larger ones had Pelagic Goose Barnacles all around their edges and the barnacles were trying to feed in the surf run-off water.  I wanted pictures of the feeding barnacles, so I picked up a couple of oil globs and took them to a sandy pool.  While I was taking pics of the barnacles, I noticed a pair of nudibranchs tucked into a fold in the glob.  The underside of the other glob also had a pair of nudibranchs with multiple egg sacs which turned out to be Fiona pinnata (Feather aeolid) with white coils of egg sacs.  Who knew an oil glob could be an ecosystem?  The barnacles filter feed and the aeolids eat the barnacles.  Turns out they also eat surface dwelling jellies and the by-the-wind-sailor.”  Lucky Tim, I have never seen these organisms and would have loved to observe a new intertidal species.

 With Memorial Day weekend before us, the Historic District has received some much needed maintenance attention including new stairs at Cottage #33 (behind the Beachcomber,) and upgraded lights along the pathway to the Historic District with cool bronze fixtures and LED lights.  Additionally, on Wednesday, May 27 volunteers will begin staffing Cottage #13, the Film and Media Center all summer long on both Wednesdays (in conjunction with CCA’s Community Days – see www.crystalcovealliance.org for details) and Saturdays.  State Park Historian and movie buff Jim Newland presented a wonderful training to park staff and volunteers a few weeks ago to enlighten us about the park’s rich film history.  Although there is still some question about how many movies had scenes shot in the park, Jim confirmed twelve movies for certain, with another thirteen rumored to have the stunning vistas of Crystal Cove in the production.  No matter what the actual number, according to Jim, movies have had a significant influence on the historic landscape of Crystal Cove State Park and some of the movies have provided very memorable moments in the Cove’s history (think “Beaches.”)  Some have had big-time stars like Gary Cooper (Half a Bride) and Lionel Barrymore (Sadie Thompson,) but all have added to the park’s legend and lore.  In the early days, the Cove was cast as a tropical paradise (Treasure Island) and post-war took on a film-noir feel (Two of a Kind.) In honor of this, CCA has scheduled two beach movie nights this summer with “Two of a Kind” showing on July 17 and War of the Worlds showing on August 14.

 Summer, summer, can it really be summer?  Almost, anyways.  Docent Fred O’Brien will lead a Summer Solstice hike on June 21 at 7:30, the day with the most hours of sunlight during the whole year.  I don’t know who wrote this following quote, but could only smile at its truth:  Summer:  Hair gets lighter.  Skin gets darker.  Water gets warmer.  Drinks get colder.  Music gets louder.  Nights get longer.  Life gets better.