Category Archives: Southern California

Brown Pelican Pesticide Ban Success Story and Why This is Relevant to Gloucester Lobstermen and Our Community

California Brown Pelican taking flight El Matador Beach ©Kim Smith 2015Brown Pelican Taking Flight

When I was a young girl my family lived in Southern California for several years. I recall seeing few, if any, brown pelicans at our local beaches. Due to the widespread use of DDT in agriculture, brown pelicans on both the east and west coasts, along with other species of birds, were made nearly extinct. Pelicans incubate their eggs with the skin of their feet, essentially standing on the eggs to keep them warm. DDT caused thinning of the eggshells and when the pelican parents stood on the eggshells, the shells fractured and broke.

California Brown Pelican preening ©Kim Smith 2015Preening Pelicans ~ You can tell that these two are young pelicans because their eyes, usually brown, turn blue during courtship.

During the 1960s brown pelican colonies along the Southern California coast had shrunk by more than 90 percent. For decades, a chemical plant had been discharging thousands of pounds of DDT into Los Angeles sewers. The toxic chemical was ingested by anchovies and other fish consumed by pelicans. The chemical altered the pelican’s calcium metabolism, which caused them to lay eggs with thinner shells. DDT-caused shell thinning also exterminated peregrine falcons in the east, and took a terrible toll on bald eagles and ospreys.

El Matador Beach Brown Pelican habitat ©Kim Smith 2015. JPGInsulation: After deep diving for fish, pelicans perch on rocks and preen. Pelicans feather’s keep them warm and dry; they do not actually get wet thanks to the oil in their preening gland. The glands secrete oily waxes and fats that they work into their feathers making them wind- and weatherproof, as well as providing insulation from the cold.

As a direct result of Rachel Carson’s seminal book Silent Spring, in 1972 DDT was banned nationwide. The brown pelican has recovered ground and was delisted from the federally endangered species in 2009. Unfortunately, after DDT was banned, two years later Monsanto brought to market their glyphosate herbicide Round Up.

El Matador Beach commorants ©kim Smith 2015 Brown Pelican Habitat ~ El Matador State Beach

While visiting Liv and Matt, we spotted pelicans everywhere and it was absolutely wonderful to see. They are magnificent birds with an extraordinary life story. Here are several links to learn more about the California brown pelican:

About Pelicans, California Brown Pelicans

El Matador  Beach Pelican ©Kim Smith 2015Today the lobster industry faces several major threats. Not only are the lobsters stressed from warming ocean waters and a protozoan parasite, but several pesticides used in massive mosquito spraying, including methoprene, malathion, and remethrin are linked to contributing to the collapse of the lobster fishery in the waters off Connecticut and New York. Lobsters are arthropods, which places them in the same phylum classification as mosquitoes and may help explain why they are affected. Lobster landings on Long Island Sound are of particular concern as they have declined from 3.7 million pounds in 1999 to 142,000 pounds in 2011.

Bearing in mind that worse chemicals are often used after specific chemicals are banned, the Maine Lobsterman’s Association is somewhat reluctant at this point to endorse banning specific pesticides until more comprehensive testing is done.

Gloucester lobsterman follow strict conservation guidelines. It would be very interesting to learn what they consider are the reason(s) for the declining population of lobsters in fisheries further south.

El Matador Beach ©Kim Smith 2015El Matador Beach

Overkill: Why Pesticide Spraying for West Nile Virus May Cause More Harm Than Good

Silent Spring

Bananas Are A Berry!

Banana Flowers ©Kim Smith 2015Although not native to the Americas, we came upon a banana tree, bearing both blooms and bananas, growing at an abandoned ruin in Solstice Canyon, which is located in the Santa Monica Mountains. The brilliant red high up in the treetops caught our attention and we were amazed to see the cluster of bananas along the stem of the inflorescence. The red bracts are not petals; new flowers emerging are the yellow curly blooms peaking between the opening bracts.

Did you know that bananas are technically speaking a berry? Botanists define a berry as a fleshy fruit produced from a single ovary. The berry is the most common type of fleshy fruit, where the entire ovary wall ripens into an edible pericarp and the seeds become embedded in the flesh of the ovary. One banana inflorescence produces 50 to 150 bananas! Blueberries and cranberries are also examples of a true berry.tomatfr1

The tomato graphic above illustrates the pericarp, the fleshy edible part surrounding the seeds. You will most likely not see any seeds in a commercially grown banana because they are cloned from a single cultivar, the ‘Cavendish,’ which also makes them highly susceptible to disease and a potential mass die-off.

Inside_a_wild-type_bananaWild banana seeds

Every morning while visiting Liv and Matt, Liv made deliciously healthy smoothies combining bananas, spinach, avocado, and whatever other fruit and veggie were on hand. That’s how we began our Solstice Canyon day hike and I was glad to have had the power-packed breakfast. As you can see, we encountered beautiful and enchanting wildlife along the trail.

Pocket Gopher Southern California ©Kim Smith 2015Pocket Gopher

California Sister Butterfly Santa Monica Solstice Canyon ©Kim Smith 2015California Sister Butterfly

Acorn Woodpecker Solstice Canyon Southern California ©Kim Smith 2015Male Acorn Woodpecker Stashing His Acorns

Acorn Woodpecker Solstice Canyon Southern California -2 ©Kim Smith 2015If I were still designing clothes, the Acorn Woodpecker would definitely inspire an outfit, or two! 

Solstice Canyon ©Kim Smith 2015Solstice Canyon Santa Monica ©kim Smith 2015Solstice Canyon, Santa Monica

Wild banana image courtesy wiki; tomato graphic courtesy Wayne’s Word.

 

A Hummingbird’s Glittering Gorget

Allen's Hummingbird Male California ©Kim Smith 2015 Male Allen’s Hummingbird and Aloe Blossoms

While visiting Liv and Matt in southern California we saw what seemed like zillions of hummingbirds. It’s early spring there with many flowering trees coming into bloom and the hummingbirds are on the move. They are drawn to the flower’s nectar and they also eat the small insects that are attracted to the blossoms. Unlike the Northeast, where typically only one species of hummingbird breeds in our region (the Ruby-throated Hummingbird), fourteen different species of hummingbirds have been reported in southern California. The five that are most common, of which we saw three, are Allen’s, Anna’s, Black-chinned, Rufous, and Costa’s Hummingbirds. Looking at the gorget is one way to tell the different species apart however, that can be a bit misleading because unless the light is hitting the brilliant iridescent feathers at just the right angle, the feathers will look dull and dark.

The gorget (pronounced ˈgr-jət) is the patch of feathers found on the throat or chin of an adult (not juvenile) male hummingbird. The word gorget comes from the swath of metal worn by knights-in-armor to protect their throat. The Eastern Ruby-throated Hummingbird takes its name from its gorget. Hummingbirds have possibly the most iridescent feathers known in birds. The beautiful iridescence is found not only on the gorget but the wings, head, neck, and back. Reasons many are speculated as to why hummingbirds have iridescent feathers; perhaps to confuse predators, to attract a female, or to guard its territory.

Allen's Hummingbird Red Gorget Male ©Kim Smith 2015JPGMale Allen’s Hummingbird

As the male Allen’s Hummingbird turns its head from side to side, the light catches the barbed cells of the glittering gorget. The photo above and the photo below perfectly illustrate how, with the tilt of its head, you first see the iridescence in the gorget, and then not at all.

Allen's Hummingbird Male  ©Kim Smith 2015Allen's Hummingbird Female ©Kim Smith 2015Female Allen’s Hummingbird

Allen's Hummingbird Male iridescent wings ©kim Smith 2015Iridescent Wings, Cap, and Back Feathers

Fun hummingbird fact: A group of hummingbirds may be called a bouquet, glittering, a hover, shimmer, or a tune of hummingbirds.allen

The World’s Largest Ocean and the Tiniest of Birds

Black-chinned hummingbird Goleta Santa Barbar Ellwood mesa ©kim Smith 2015We were happily surprised by the sight of the diminutive Black-chinned Hummingbird perched atop a thicket, spotted while hiking down the steep descent to the beach at Goleta, Santa Barbara. I loved the view of the region’s smallest bird juxtaposed against the world’s largest body of water, the Pacific Ocean. In the background you see Santa Cruz, one of the eight Channel Islands that comprise the archipelago off the southern coast of California, along the Santa Barbara Channel.

More photos from beautiful Santa Barbara to come.Black-chinned hummingbird Goleta Santa Barbara ©Kim Smith 2015Black-chinned Hummingbird (Archilochus alexandri)

Goleta Santa Barbara Ellwood Mesa ©Kim Smith 2015

Santa Monica and Day One in Sunny Southern California

Santa monica Pier Ferris Wheel Pacific Park ©Kim Smith 2015Santa Monica Pier and Ferris Wheel

I arrived Tuesday afternoon and was met at LAX by Liv, after which Matt, Liv’s fiancé, took us to a fun seal-frolicking lunch at a marina in Marina del Rey near Matt’s office. We then headed over to their home in Santa Monica. The spacious and light-filled modern apartment is only several blocks from the main boulevard, Ocean Ave, the luxury hotel-lined street that runs along the water.

Everyday we explored the local beaches and hiking trails. When Matt wasn’t working, he joined us, too. We had plans to visit several museums, but it was just too sunny and gorgeous outdoors and neither of us wanted to be cooped up inside. We discovered beautiful vistas and exquisite flora and fauna on every adventure and at every turn. Liv and Matt have done some extensive hiking and climbing in the few short months they have been living there and they were so sweet to show me some of their favorite spots, and we explored new places they had not yet been.

Liv Hauck ©Kim Smith 2015All along Ocean Ave it seemed as though everyone was outdoors walking, running, biking, and surfing in the warm late afternoon sun. I really wanted to see the Santa Monica Pier and where Matt had proposed to Liv.

Santa Monica Pier Pacific Park roller coaster ©Kim Smith 2015The historic 100 year plus Santa Monica Pier is still used by anglers and is home to Pacific Park, with the world’s only solar-powered ferris wheel. The wheel is 85 feet in diameter, displaying a dynamic light show created by 160,000 energy efficient lights.

Tired and hungry, we left at sunset. I hope we can spend more time at the Pier on my next visit.

Santa Monica Pier ©Kim Smith 2015Santa Monica Pier -2 ©Kim Smith 2015SantaMonica-Pier-1877-1Early incarnation of the Santa Monica Pier 1877

After dining at the charming, charming family owned and operated French restaurant, Le Petit Cafe, located only yards away from their front door, we went home to have a look at the Excel spread sheet Liv had organized, prepared to cram as many wonderful adventures as possible during the upcoming week.

young-wolff_2197Image of the Santa Monica Pier courtesy wikimedia; image of Le Petit Cafe courtesy Le Petit Cafe website.