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2017 Harbor Seal Pupping Season Winding Down


A harbor seal mother nurses her pup on the beach.
A harbor seal mother nurses her pup on the beach at Point Reyes National Seashore. Photo by Judy Bourke.

The peak of the 2017 harbor seal (Phoca vitulina) pupping season occurred around the end of April, with approximately 745 pups recorded, which is similar to the 17-year average for Marin County monitoring sites. Because safety concerns prevented surveys at Double Point, previous year's counts from that site were removed when making comparisons to this year.

Drakes Estero (317 pups) and Bolinas Lagoon (254 pups) had the largest numbers of pups. Counts at Bolinas Lagoon continued to increase, with this year’s total being the highest ever recorded at this site. On the flip side, the 68 pups counted at Tomales Point was the lowest number ever recorded there, and about 50% less than average. It is not known why this site experienced such a large decrease.

There will be another peak of harbor seals at Marin County sites at the end of June into early July when they haul out in high numbers to molt. Contact for more information.

Blue Whale Washes Up Near Park Beaches


A dead blue whale carcass on the beach as a person looks on and waves crash around it.
A dead blue whale that recently washed up on a Bolinas beach was likely killed after being hit by a ship. Photo by Sarah Allen/NPS.

The body of an endangered blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus) washed up on Agate Beach in Bolinas (between Point Reyes National Seashore and Golden Gate National Recreation Area) late last month.

Twenty-five researchers from The Marine Mammal Center and the California Academy of Sciences conducted the necropsy. They concluded that the 79-foot-long sub-adult female’s injuries indicated that it had been killed in a collision with a ship.

In addition to helping scientists understand how the whale died, tissue samples taken during the necropsy will add to a larger set of baseline data on this species. The dead whale was identified as an individual that was first seen in 1999 based on a photo database of blue whale tail markings. The rocky nature of the beach and sensitivity of the adjacent reef make burying the whale or towing it out to sea impossible, so it will be left to decompose on the beach. Read more in this recent Marin IJ article.

New Pollinators of Endangered Plant Identified


Fly pollinating a bright yellow flower
This syphid fly is one of the recently identified pollinators of the endangered Hickman's potentilla. Photo by Susie Bennett/NPS.

Golden Gate National Recreation Area biologists have been opportunistically documenting the species of insects that pollinate the almost 7,000 endangered Hickman's potentilla (Potentilla hickmanii) plants at Rancho Corral de Tierra. They do this, in part, to help inform the management and protection of the only other tiny population of this species (fewer than 20 individuals) in Monterrey, which is seeing low recruitment and few pollinators. So far, thanks to support from Bruce Badzik and a UC Davis entomologist, they have identified a carpenter ant and a syphid fly (Toxomerus marginatus). This information is shared with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the land manager of the Monterrey site so they can consider increasing habitat for these pollinators. Contact for additional details.

Early Detection News


Dense patch of narrow leaved clover

Narrow leaved clover along the Alta Trail. Photo by Eric Wrubel/NPS.

A new edition of Early Detection News, covering the beginning of the 2017 field season, is now available. Brought to you by the Invasive Species Early Detection Program and Weed Watchers, this newsletter has the latest on invasive plants in the Bay Area. Highlights in this issue include:

  • Narrow leaved clover populations expanding in Golden Gate and Point Reyes
  •  Andean tussockgrass patches discovered and removed in the Marin Headlands
  • Ongoing mapping and survey efforts for Japanese knotweed in Lagunitas Creek
  • Over 10 miles of roads, trails and other use areas surveyed in Pinnacles National Park

Can Marine Reserves Help Mitigate the Effects of Climate Change?


Map of different kinds of protected marine areas up and down the California coast
Marine reserves such as those along the California coast may be able to help buffer and mitigate the effects of climate change. CA Department of Fish and Game Image.

Protected marine areas, such as those that dot the length of the California coast, protect a wide range of marine life and habitats. The recent article, “Marine reserves can mitigate and promote adaptation to climate change” looks at how well-managed reserves may help marine ecosystems and human populations adapt to the effects of climate change, including ocean acidification, sea-level rise, more intense storms, species distribution changes, and decreased marine productivity. Read the abstract and find the link to the full PNAS article (for purchase for non-members), or learn more about California’s marine reserves and other marine protected areas on the Department of Fish and Wildlife website.

Events & Announcements


New Pacific West Region Science Strategy Now Available

Released just this month, the report provides a framework to integrate Inventory & Monitoring Programs, Research Learning Centers, and Cooperative Ecosystem Study Units; looks at the scientific needs of various NPS operations; and proposes actions through which those needs may be most effectively met. It identifies specific actions to make science accessible to staff at all levels and within all program areas (including the regional directorate, park managers, interpreters, and educators), as well as to partner organizations and to the public. Lastly, it considers ways to encourage the next generation of scientists to conduct research in parks and to explore careers with NPS. The report will be posted online later this summer, but is currently available from park superintendents or by contacting

Sharon Farrell Receives Lifetime Environmental Stewardship Award

Sharon Farrell receiving the Peter Behr Award
Sharon Farrell receives the Peter Behr Award from EAC of West Marin Executive Director Morgan Patton. Photo by EAC of West Marin.

The Environmental Action Committee (EAC) of West Marin gave Sharon the Peter Behr Steward of the Land Award at their Annual Membership Meeting on June 9, 2017. The award recognizes individuals who have significantly contributed to the long-term environmental well-being of Marin County. Previous winners include Dr. Marty Griffin, Nona Dennis, Phyllis Faber, and the Wayburn family, including forest policy activist Laurie Wayburn, and her father Golden Gate National Recreation Area co-founder Dr. Ed Wayburn.

As vice-president of Stewardship and Conservation at the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, Sharon oversees such successful, long-lived community conservation programs as Park Stewardship, the Native Plant Nurseries, and the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory. Among her many accomplishments, Sharon was instrumental in the multi-year restoration of Redwood Creek at Muir Beach, and has also spearheaded the One Tam initiative, which coordinates the Parks Conservancy and the mountain’s four land management agencies to increase restoration, stewardship, education, volunteer, and fundraising activities.

As Golden Gate Park Ranger and Marin Community Liaison Mia Monroe noted in her introductory remarks, "Sharon Farrell inspires us all to see the landscape holistically, involve volunteers in the work of science, see stewardship as a new lifestyle opportunity! She "breathes" collaboration, builds community and the future is in good hands with her youth-at-the core model.”

The award’s namesake, the late Senator Peter Behr, was a 30-year Marin County public servant who rose from Mill Valley council member to Marin County supervisor to California state senator. Behr was a lead player in the establishment of the Point Reyes National Seashore and he later penned the legislation known as the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1972.

New Atlas of Citizen Naturalist Observations Now Online

A UC Berkeley Graduate Informatics course has developed a web tool called NATLAS: an interactive visualization in which park visitors and employees can explore the what, where, who, and when of citizen science observations in the national parks. The current version of the tool allows users to explore both Point Reyes National Seashore and Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Start by exploring the top left pie chart and then sort/query by taxonomic group.

Main components/objects:
Top left: An interactive pie chart to explore species and other taxonomic groupings of life.
Top right: A map visualizing the user's chosen information geographically.
Bottom left: A visualization of citizen naturalist tendencies for the taxonomic grouping of choice.
Blitzers: people who observe a lot of different species one or few times; Dabblers: people who observe one or few species one or few times; Specialists: people who observe one or few species many times; Cosmopolitans: people who observe many species many times.
Bottom right: Exhibits the number of users, species, or observations across time.

In the top panel, users can:

  • Choose their park of interest,
  • decide whether they would like to see information about species, observations, or users, and
  • choose whether they would like to explore species with the interactive pie chart using a simple or Linnaean taxonomic hierarchy.

Upcoming Park Academy Classes

  • One Tam Event: Wildlife Picture Index Workshop - July 13, 1 – 4 pm
  • Basic Flight Identification Series (Wednesday Sessions) - July 19, 2017 – August 2, 2017, 7 – 9:30 pm
  • Basic Flight Identification Series (Thursday Sessions) - July 20, 2017 – August 3, 2017, 7 – 9:30 pm
  • One Tam Event: Wildlife Picture Index Workshop - July 20, 1 – 4 pm
  • Alcatraz Historic Garden Tour - July 21, 8:20 am – Noon
  • One Tam Event: Wildlife Picture Index Workshop - July 25, 1 – 4 pm

Classes are free for NPS and Conservancy staff and volunteers. For more details or to register see their website.

Upcoming Field Institute Classes

The Point Reyes National Seashore Association's Field Institute has many classes coming up, including:

  • Introduction to Bird Language - July 9, 8:30am – 2:30pm
  • Cleaning up Tomales Bay by Kayak - July 13, 2017 – 9 am – 3 pm
  • Point Reyes Fiddle Workshop - July 15, 2017 – 11 am – 4 pm
  • Ecopoetics: A Writing Workshop at the Western Edge - July 21, 2017 – 12 pm to, July 23, 4 pm
  • Geology of Angel Island - July 22, 10:30 am – 3:30 pm

Point Reyes staff can register for a class at no charge, contact the Field Institute at 415-663-1200 x307 for more details.

What's New on


2017 Seeing a Strong Northern Spotted Owl Breeding Season


A Northern Spotted Owl chick peers down from its nest. Photo by Jessica Weinberg/NPS.
A Northern Spotted Owl chick peers down from its nest. Photo by Jessica Weinberg/NPS.

The San Francisco Bay Area Network's Northern Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis caurina) monitoring program has confirmed 21 spotted owl nests at their 39 monitoring sites so far this season. This is the highest number of nesting attempts since 2014, which also saw 21 nests. However, with only one documented nest failure so far, 2017 is shaping up to be much more successful than 2014 when there were nine nest failures. This could be the best year for spotted owl reproduction in Marin County since 2003 when there were 19 nests and 3 nest failures. The nestlings will fledge in late May though early June, and can already be seen peering over the sides of their nests. In the coming weeks, National Park Service biologists will determine the owl’s 2017 reproductive success by counting the number of these young that actually fledge from each nest. Contact Taylor Ellis for additional information.

Western Snowy Plover 2017 Nesting Season Underway


A snowy plover returns to her nest to incubate her eggs.
A snowy plover returns to her nest to incubate her eggs. Photo by Matt Lau/NPS.

The Western Snowy Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus nivosus) breeding season at Point Reyes National Seashore got off to a slow start, likely due to cold and wet March weather. The first nest at Point Reyes was started on April 10th, a month later than in 2016. Despite this, the plovers have made up for lost time with a recent flurry of nests, including 17 in just the last five weeks! Although there aren’t any chicks yet, nine nests are expected to hatch within the next three weeks.

Great Beach between Abbott’s Lagoon and the North Beach parking lot has the highest number of nests (7); however, the 2011 Abbotts Lagoon Restoration Area and Limantour Beach are close seconds with four nests each. The nests on Limantour Beach are especially exciting, as the plovers have rediscovered the site after a 14-year hiatus. Plovers began nesting on Limantour Beach again in 2015 and breeding activity has slowly increased since.

The beach between Abbotts Lagoon and the North Beach parking lot is closed every weekend from Memorial Day until Labor Day to reduce human disturbance to nesting snowy plovers and their chicks. Similar closures in past years have improved chick survival during this crucial time. Contact Dave Press for more details.