Winter Beach Walk

I take a lot more pictures than I can ever use on my blog.  I also tend to have long periods of time between posts.  A remedy for those issues?  Maybe shorter articles with lots of pictures..?  And since we’re all stuck at home sheltering in place, I figure I’ll revisit a walk from last February…

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One of my favorite aspects of Los Angeles is the wild lands that surround it – rugged mountains and vast deserts.  Of course, Los Angeles also lays next to the largest wilderness in the world – the Pacific Ocean.

In summer, it is easy to forget that with the thousands of fellow beach goers.  But a winter stroll provides a chance to get a sense of place where this vast wet wilderness meets the land.

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Wildflowers and sandy beaches are not often pictured together.  But that is just an human artifice.  Where Santa Monica is doing some habitat restoration along the shore, the California native beach evening-primrose (Camissoniopsis cheiranthifolia) can be found blooming.

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It must be a pain living on a sandy beach.  Wind and waves are constantly trying to bury the plants.  Where each plant grows, a small sand dune forms.  The plant appears to be in danger of getting buried, but is actually helping stablize the beach.

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Santa Monica has several patches where they are experimenting with beach restoration.  The goal is to recreate the low sand dunes that originally lined these shores, not only to create space for these native plants, but also to help protect the coast from erosion and rising sea levels.

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Another native plant growing in the restoration areas is red sand-verbena (Abronia maritima).

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Like beach evening-primrose, the red sand-verbena also helps stablize the sand and create sand dunes.  The plant has thick, almost succelent leaves, except for one dark purple flower; it hasn’t bloomed yet.  The little flowers seen in the above verbena are from an invasive plant, sea rocket (Cakile maritima).

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The restoration will hopefully provide a much needed nesting habitat for this little guy, the snowy plover (Charadrius alexandrinus). Scattered throughout the world, the snowy plover’s population numbers are declining. Along the American Pacific Coast it is listed as a threaten species. Grooming our sandy beaches for recreation, removing the dunes and vegetation, is one of the main factors for this bird’s decline.

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Needless to say, this snowy plover is quite annoyed with the whole situation.

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Another shorebird with a declining population is the Willet (Tringa semipalmata, seen in the foreground). This bird winters on the coast, but migrates inland for the summer where they breed. Their winter feathers are a soft brownish-gray, becoming more speckled during the summer breeding seasons.

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When I stand on one leg, I’m a wobbly mess.  How can one rest standing on one leg?  Yet here’s the willet resting on one leg.  The bird looks like it should flop over to it side.  I know I would, but, of course, I can’t fly either…

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A distant cousin to the willet, the Marbled Godwit (Limosa fedoa) prowls along the California shores.  By summer, most of them are living on the Canadian Great Plains along the edges of ponds, streams, and marshes.  But just like the retirees in Calgary and Edmonton come winter, they flock south for the warm sunshine.

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When in California they do as Californians… like yoga on the beach.

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They walk along the waterline, occasionally probing into the sand with their long bills for various invertabrates.

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I like how this fellow closes its eyes as a small wave passes by.

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A piece of driftwood washed up onto the beach.  Without the summer crowds, winter is an ideal time for beach combing.

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A mussel shell becomes an objet d’art as receding water leaves lines of darker sand grains curving away from it.

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Elsewhere, a bright colored rocket has safely landed on the beach, but, alas, no owner is around to claim it.

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When I was a kid at the beach there were thousand of tiny clam shells of all hues ands colors mixed in the sand .  We never collected them because the were so tiny and too numerous to be valuable.  Today though I’ve come upon hundreds of them.  Not the discarded shells I found in the sand, but colonies of them exposed by the low tide.

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Still glistening with water, they looked like polished bits of stone.  But they were very much alive.  Looking at them carefully, I became aware that some were moving.

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Poking out between the two halves a little muscular foot worked to pull the clam more into the sand.

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These clams are bean clams (Donax gouldii), which is an unflattering names for this tiny, but colorful, clam.  How about gemstone clams?

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Summer or winter, crowds or no crowds, one can always depend on there being seagulls around.

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Of course, the tricky thing with seagulls is telling them apart.  Two very similar seagulls I found hanging out at the beach.  Only carefully consulting my bird fieldguide was I able to figure out who they were.  One clue is on their bills.  The California gull (Larus californicus) above has a black spoltch and an orange spot on its bill.

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The ring-billed gull (Larus delawarensis) has a, well, black ring around its bill.  The gray wings are a shade lighter than the California gull’s, but if you didn’t have the two to compare, how would you know?

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Most gulls are omnivores.  This ring-billed has found a carrot top for a balance diet.

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Wandering along, I look at the patterns left by the waves.  The sandy shore is nature’s sketch book.  Here ridges and puddles mimic the waves that created them.

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The retreating sea water offers a quick lesson in erosion as it carves a mini riverbed in the sand.

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Another winter visitor is the tern.  My best ID is that they’re royal terns (Sterna maxima).  But they could be another tern that visits Southern California, the elegant tern (Sterna elegans).  Both species have this lovely frizzy hair style.

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The terns have a stocky build.  Some of them have what appears to be a receding hairline with the remaining hair unkempt.  With a smart alec expression on their faces, I’ve named them the Danny DeVitos.

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Those with the full set of hair are more punk rock.  They’re the Johnny Rottens.

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So though our beaches have been transformed for our pleasure, when the crowds disappear we can remember that we sit on an edge of a vast wilderness.

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Written and photographed by Alan Starbuck

 

7 responses to “Winter Beach Walk

  1. That is cool to see sand verbena there. I remember it from Morro Bay while I was in school. I rarely see it here, but when I do, it reminds me of college. There is another species here that looks very similar, except the bloom is yellow. I suspect that experts could distinguish the two without bloom, but I can not. Both species have sticky leaves that sand clings to. Supposedly, the clinging sand inhibits desiccation during windy weather. When the weather is not so windy and drying, the foliage becomes less sticky to let the sand fall off.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s an interesting bit about sticky leaves. Growing in loose sand I sure is full of challenges. Having grown up in Coastal SoCal actually seeing plants growing on the beach is surprising. I’m use to those endless flat expanses of sand.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Did sand verbena migrate there only recently? I do not remember ever seeing it, but I was not looking for it. My colleague never mentioned it either, but he is not into natives.

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      • Restoration typically involves replenishment of what had already been there, perhaps after it was damaged by something unnatural. They must be accommodating for decades of beach traffic.

        Like

  2. That is cool to see sand verbena there. I remember it from Morro Bay while I was in school. I rarely see it here, but when I do, it reminds me of college. There is another species here that looks very similar, except the bloom is yellow. I suspect that experts could distinguish the two without bloom, but I can not. Both species have sticky leaves that sand clings to. Supposedly, the clinging sand inhibits desiccation during windy weather. When the weather is not so windy and drying, the foliage becomes less sticky to let the sand fall off.

    Like

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