The Lonely Stars

Seeing as I haven’t blogged since January, it seems prime time to write something. This is the first weekend since that last post in which I didn’t feel buried by projects and class. It’s kinda tough finding precisely where to draw that “line in the sand” between personal time and work time when it’s all at home. Especially when you have a really driven husband who says “You just keep working ’til you’re done. That’s when you can stop.”  Gee…thanks! ;)

Anyway, enough about me. There are sea stars feeling LONELY out therein the Pacific!

High and Dry

High and Dry

Joking aside, they are indeed sparsely dispersed. Yesterday, I saw around 7. None of which were touching a neighbor. They were all separated by tens of feet. Maybe they are now avoiding contact with each other for fear of spreading cooties. (Can’t you tell I’ve been inside way too much?! We now return you to your regularly scheduled seriousness. Because, this is actually serious.)

The ochre sea stars (Pisaster ochraceus) are suffering from what has been labeled Sea Star Wasting Syndrome. ‘Syndrome’ because for a long time, scientists couldn’t figure out what was causing the disintegration of living sea stars. For some gruesome photos of the chronology of symptoms, click over to the University of California, Santa Cruz’s page.

Just last summer, they pinned down a likely culprit, a densovirus in the large Parvoviridae family, that has been present since 1942. Now, the elusive details are the variables that allow this virus to run rampant through various sea star and sea urchin populations.

While it’s tempting to shrug and say they are just sea stars, just like us, they are keystone species. They are capable of influencing the population sizes of other animals, of who lives where. Mussels serve as their primary prey. Keeping those numbers in check, other, more squishy-bodied animals, like the colonial anemones present in both the below photos, can have a chance at clinging to prime rocky real estate.

Sea Stars with their Mussel Prey

Ochre Sea Stars with their Mussel Prey

Ochre Stars between Mussels and Anemones

Ochre Stars between Mussels and Anemones

While scientists know the population crash is going to have rippling effects, what is unknown is what’s in store for the future. What else will ride in on the tides of change? Here’s likely a sneak peak of things to come: warm water this winter brought us these wandering beauties.

Lonely Sea Star 1

Lonely Sea Star 1

Lonely Sea Star 2

Lonely Sea Star 2

New Year, New Comet

If you’ve been vaguely catching any astronomy news, you’ve noticed that a comet called ‘Lovejoy’ keeps popping up. While not the same comet as the previous visitor to our solar system, the factor that is the same is the fellow who keeps discovering these comets with his eight inch telescope [read: not an astoundingly sophisticated piece of equipment]!

The current comet is brightening, making it visible to the naked eye in non-light polluted skies and visible with regular binoculars. Its proximity to Orion makes it a little easier to find. The moon is getting later, too, so the skies should be dark enough after sunset.

This comet will return in 8,000 years [the influence of our solar system amended it from 11,000 years], so might want to get a glimpse of it sooner than later!

I don’t have photography equipment fancy enough to catch the tail in any detail, but the photos below give you some idea of what you’d see through binoculars. You can follow this link from Sky and Telescope for more information and great photos.

Comet Lovejoy C2014 Q2 [Green]

Comet Lovejoy C2014 Q2 [Green]

The Belt and Sword of Orion

The Belt and Sword of Orion

The Pleiades

The Pleiades

Puppy: The Cute Productivity Killer

Puppy: The Cute Productivity Killer

They are really cute, but you can’t get anything done with a puppy around. If you somehow manage to DO something, they’ve done something in equivalent effort with their teeth. Or with excrement. Puppies seem to have a knack for passing out at the drop of hat and waking up as soon as you step foot in another room.

This guy is Kepler. He loves to eat snails and chase his tail. He also is a pro at falling asleep at the vet.

Luckily, he’s only ten weeks old, so he’s still sleeping a lot. During the day, of course, not so much at night. Good thing he’s cute.

I promise this won’t turn into a puppy blog, but I just hit 80,000 views a bit ago, so some canine cuteness was appropriate, I thought.

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On Being a Visitor on a Soapbox

I’ve been doing a bit of thinking, stemming from starting a class about conservation and public land history plus having the chance to be on the other side of the Visitor Center desk–in other words, the one with all the questions.

I don’t like the term ‘visitor,’ as in, “You are a visitor to Yosemite National Park,” or “Yosemite National Park has 4 million visitors a year.”

On the one side, using the word ‘visitor’ conveys the brevity that most people experience inside their national parks. At most, a day, maybe a week are spent inside the boundaries. In Yosemite’s case, ‘visitor’ could imply that entering the valley is traversing on land that someone else occupied, a little paradise occupied by a tribe whose home was converted into parkland through an act of force.

While ‘visitor’ might serve the purpose of reminding us that our natural cathedrals were once places many people before us called home, the conditions of present-day conservation ethics might warrant a different term for those that visit THEIR public lands. That’s right, YOU own Yosemite National Park [as much as a monolithic chunk of granite and a valley carved by glaciers can be “owned”]. YOU, with the rest of the nation’s citizens, are responsible for the upkeep, preservation, and integrity of all 401 units of the National Park Service, whether or not you’ve been to them [if that seems like a lot, just think about all the land that’s designated by the BLM, Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service, etc. That’s all YOUR land, as well]. This ownership we have, you see, isn’t conveyed well in the term ‘visitor’. ‘Visitor’ does not say “I’m responsible for keeping this park free of trash,” or “I am tasked with letting others know that feeding the wildlife is detrimental to their health,” or “It’s my responsibility to preserve everything in this park for the people that arrive tomorrow as well as future generations.” All of these tasks can happen in tangible or intangible ways, but they are the duty of every citizen of the United States.

So with that daunting responsibility staring you in the face, what term would YOU use in place of ‘visitor’?
Half Dome

The Black Bear that Came to a Ranger-led Walk

It was one of those days where the cell phone was left at home by accident. No calls and no photos, either. It was also one of those days where you say something and immediately the universe sets out to prove you wrong.

I had just finished saying to the group that joined me for a morning forest walk that we don’t often see larger wild animals on this heavily visited trail when a lady came running off the trail saying there was a bear at stop #2. Surprising, but not totally shocked, as this bear had been down farther on the road for weeks, stripping trees of their bark. See Photo. As she was showing the group photos she had taken on her ipad, someone in my group blurted out, “I think the bear just walked onto the bridge! Unless I am seeing things, but I caught a dark figure out of the corner of my eye.”

This bridge is an odd one. Its walls come up about 4 feet or so, making it impossible to see through it. It also has a 90 degree turn, which at this moment I was cursing. I told the group to remain in the parking lot while I checked. Tip-toeing up the bridge, I peered around the corner to see a small bear peering right back. Uff. 

I commenced hollering and whooping and smacking the side of the bridge [which didn’t make the loud noise I was looking for, just hurt my hand, and apparently served as a visitor call to action, cameras in tow]. The bear didn’t run, just walked calmly off the bridge as if it had read our directions for wildlife encounters [“Don’t panic, make yourself look big and back up slowly. DO NOT RUN.”].

Once the bear was off the bridge, it milled around on the hillside for its photo op and slowly was working its way away. I was trying to think of ideas on how to get the group back together, as well as pondering if it was wise to leave the parking lot folks to their own devices if the bear were to return. The brainstorming session was abruptly halted when some folks next to the parking lot were trying to get a better view of the bear, noisily walking through some vegetation. The bear’s head snapped up, it located the source of the noise, and then went galloping straight towards them!

For Pete’s sake, I thought, am I supposed to smack those visitors or the bear first?? Running back down the bridge, I started the yelling again. I think the sound of me running down the bridge spooked the bear, so he tried halfheartedly to climb a tree, paused, and decided on a stump next to the bridge about 15 feet away from me. I was hoping he would scramble away, but I had him pinned against the bridge and he started to look a little more panicked. Backing up a step or two, I started banging on the metal trailhead sign. Later that day, I would forget all the banging on things I had done and wonder why my hand tingled so much. The bear, still not as terrified as I would have liked him, took a few steps towards me and the parking lot of wildlife point-and-shoot paparazzi. This is it, I thought, I’m going to have to tackle him. I didn’t see what the people were doing behind me, although all the exclamation was enough to indicate a frenzied crowd that likely wouldn’t run fast enough. Luckily, as he reached the edge of the bridge, he decided not to run into the parking lot or back up the bridge, but head for the edge of the hill and flail down it [and probably ran across the road below without looking both ways, too].  

Letting go of my trailhead sign drum, I walked to the edge of the hill. No visual of him, nor any noise. Good. I went to address the parking lot crowd to tell them the proper techniques of encountering a bear. An adrenaline-rushed lady, one of the family that triggered the bear’s gallop into the parking lot, ran over to me, squealing “THAT WAS SO COOL!” Some days, I am glad I don’t have ears like a cat, because at that moment, they would have been flat against my head in annoyance. 

I spent the rest of that hour giving my forest walk, a mundanely insightful look at an old growth forest that was nothing as exciting as a bear…

This happened a few weeks ago, and reports of the bear have kept coming in. A visitor submitted photo to our facebook page shows just how hard this bear is having it: Visitor’s Bear Photo

Someone took misguided pity on him and threw him a whole loaf [plastic bag and all]. With that handout, the chances of his survival have greatly lessened. If he’s not hit by a car first, he could likely either starve or, if adverse conditioning attempts don’t work and he becomes aggressive, be put down.