Bay-to-Beach Life Blog

Artful sand dollars

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADuring low-tide walks this week sand dollars (Dendraster excentricus) have been the dominant life form. Everywhere dotting the exposed sand were white tests (as in dead shells), soft deep-purple disks (the healthy live ones), and shapely sand traces (from under-sand burrowing). The feeding must be good and the living easy on this beach. (I just learned that more than 500 individuals can crowd into a square yard!)
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Sand dollars are often collected as souvenirs and used in art projects. The white tests are beautiful (although several people collecting the purplish shells didn’t realize these were living animals).

To counter the notion of sand dollars as art, I thought I’d post the art created by sand dollars. Don’t you think their living works are lovelier than those adorning our bureaus and walls?

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References & Resources
If you want to learn more about our Pacific coast sand dollar, visit this nicely done San Francisco State biogeography class post from 2005.


HumpbackTail CMP6_30_16On Thursday I went whale watching with FastRaft and friends. I expected to see whales — humpbacks are usually in the Monterey Bay during the summer — and there had been reports of Risso’s and other types of dolphins, too.


It turned out to be a great trip (even with the thick fog and swells). The whales were awesome. We saw humpbacks feeding, fin whales cruising nearby, and orcas (killer whales) hunting. Kate Spencer of FastRaft posted some fine whale shots on Facebook.

BFAlbatrosses CMP6_30_16Fin whales were a new sighting for me and I’ve never seen killer whales while out on Monterey Bay. But what I found even more amazing were the black-footed albatrosses. About 8 miles out, off Marina, the orcas had killed and abandoned a harbor porpoise. (We heard the pod later got a harbor seal, too.) After watching the whales, Kate took us back to the albatrosses. [Thanks, Kate!]

BFAlbatross1 CMP6_30_16Around the dead porpoise were several albatrosses and a few western gulls.  The black-footed albatross (Phoebastria nigripes) is a pelagic (open-water) bird — it spends nearly all of its time gliding on a wingspan of 76 – 85 inches (193 – 216 cm). I have taken photos of them on the wing before, and they’re beautiful fliers, but that’s nothing compared to close-up views. These birds were feeding right next to us. Here are some of my best shots. I’m not including anything too gory (and there was plenty of that with the partially eaten porpoise).

Finally, a reminder. The population of black-footed albatross is supposedly stable, yet it’s classified as “near threatened” due to today’s ocean issues: fishing practices, pollution and plastic, climate change. What you do on land every day can have a positive or negative impact on amazing ocean life that we seldom see. They’re out there trying to make a living, as we all are, and making better use of your reusable water bottle or driving fewer miles can make a difference.

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Beach buzzards

Think of a shorebird. I’m guessing that a godwit, or whimbrel, or sanderling came to mind.  What about a turkey vulture?BeachBuzzard

Certainly not among my list of shorebirds, and yet, I see turkey vultures on my beach walks about as often as I see godwits and whimbrels.

I’ve blogged about them here annually. But they’re not a popular read (jellies and jelly blobs are preferred). So I’ve added Turkey Vultures to my Creature Features to make their story more accessible. I’ll probably keep writing about them because they’re fascinating and should be appreciated for their extremely important role in nature.

If you want to learn about how great and gorgeous turkey vultures are, here’s more detail from me. Other posts that include turkey vultures are Dead on a Beach and my first sighting, Vultures on the Beach.



Point Lobos birding +

Point Lobos (Point Lobos State Natural Reserve) is a great place to visit any time of the year — the views are amazing and the wildlife always plenty. Yet this time of year is truly amazing for watching breeding birds and marine mammals with pups. To celebrate today’s World Oceans Day, I spent the morning at Point Lobos with my birding class led by Brian Weed, and here are some of our sightings.


Black-crowned night heron



Black oystercatcher



Brandt’s cormorants



Pelagic cormorants


California thrasher






Sea otter


I wrote about our local June gloom — thick marine layer (fog) — in a June 2013 post. Since that post explains the why behind the cloudy days, for this post I’ll just show you this year’s gloom. Fortunately, the clouds aren’t lasting all day each day on the coast, but we still wake to gray.

Enjoy the soft, cool, changing light.