Monday, February 24, 2014

Don't Plant These at Home!


In my last post I identified some of the common weeds and plants that I keep my eye on come spring each year. But I didn't mention the vast array of invasive exotic species that I also watch for. I try very hard to keep them out of our yard, but it takes constant vigilance. Because they are so successful and are without natural pests, they pop up all the time. Unchecked, they can quickly take hold in any landscape. National Invasive Species Awareness Week began yesterday, and in the spirit of environmental education, I dug out an article I wrote for our neighborhood newsletter last summer. The seasons may have changed, but the issues remain the same.

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This July is shaping up to be one of the wettest on record, and we can all see the results of abundant rain in our green and lush yards. What a relief it is to have plenty of water after all these years! I know the plants in our yard are enjoying the rain, but I’ll let you in on a little secret. The drought we’ve had for the past few years has not been much of a problem for us because we have a Florida Friendly Yard. This means that we are using landscape plants that are mostly native to North Central Florida, and that don’t require a lot of water or fertilizer, and provide habitat for animals. I’d like to take this chance to speak up in favor of using native plants in your landscape.
Florida Friendly Yard
Unlike the generic landscape plants usually found at gardening centers, native plants are adapted to local water, nutrient and temperature requirements. Native plants don’t need extra watering after they are established. They don’t need to be protected in cold weather. And they don’t need extra fertilizing. In addition, native plants are important sources of food for native animals and insects that have evolved along with the plants. Imagine a yard that not only accents your house with beautiful flowers, grasses, trees and shrubs, but also provides habitat for native butterflies, bees, mammals and birds and helps the environment. You can see why I’m sold on native plant gardening.
Great Habitat for Butterflies, Bees and other Wildlife
Of course, there are many gorgeous plants that are not native, and being able to grow them is one of the fun advantages to gardening in Florida. It’s perfectly fine to grow non-native plants in your yard. Azaleas, Camellias and Japanese Magnolias are some good examples of great, non-native plants. I’m also very fond of Red Pentas, Gingers and African Irises in a butterfly garden. The trick is to choose plants that are good players within the local environment, and to put the right plant in the right place! Plants that need a lot of water should be planted around a wet area. If your yard is dry, wetland plants may not be right for you. Many parts of Gainesville have sandy, dry soil. Use drought tolerant plants in those kinds of yards. And pay close attention to sun and shade requirements. As water becomes a bigger issue in Florida, it is important to use garden plants that can survive and thrive in our climate. Irrigation doesn’t make much sense because it’s so wasteful. Water quality is also important for our future, so we must be careful how we use fertilizers so that they do not get into the waterways and pollute our streams, lakes and springs. Here in the Duckpond Neighborhood, for example, the water from the Sweetwater branch eventually drains into Paynes Prairie. We all want to protect the natural environment of the Prairie.
Elephant Ear (Xanthosoma sagittifolium) is an invasive exotic plant that thrives in our Semi-Tropical climate, as you can see from this photo of the Sweetwater Branch Creek in Downtown Gainesville. Follow this creek downstream into Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park and you will find canals clogged with Elephant Ear.
Another point to consider with non-native plants is if they are Invasive Exotic species. Exotic plants are just plants that are not native to your particular region. Invasive Exotic plants are the non-native ones that do so well in any particular climate that they outcompete the native species, to the detriment of the local ecosystems. They have no local natural pests or diseases that control them and they crowd out the native plants. Then the animals that depend on those native plants lose important food and shelter resources. Well known examples of Invasive Exotic species are Kudzu, Melaleuca (mainly in South Florida), Water Hyacinth and Air Potatoes.
Air Potato Vines (Diascoria bulbifera). These vines spread by little bulbuls (the "potatoes"). There are no native pests to control this plant, although an Asian insect, the Air Potato Leaf Beetle has been released in Florida as a control with some success. 
Invasive Exotic plants can be very attractive, which is one reason that they are brought to Florida in the first place. But just like the Burmese Python, these species in the wrong place can cause real harm to the environment. Environmental agencies are doing their best to eradicate harmful invasive exotic species, but it is a huge problem and they need help from citizens like you.

Peruvian Water Primrose (Ludwigia peruviana). Pretty, yes. But wrong plant, wrong place. They are now established in streams and creeks all over Florida.

Chinese Tallow Tree Leaves (Triadica sebifera). Also known as "Popcorn Trees", the abundant fluffy seeds from this tree help them spread through the stream systems where they end up in areas such as Paynes Prairie. They grow and crowd out native species. They were planted originally as ornamentals because of the pretty leaves and seeds but are now banned for purchase in Florida nurseries because they are considered to be noxious weeds.
So take a look around your yard and see if you have Invasive Exotic plants that should be removed. You can see examples all around our neighborhood and along the ditches of the Sweetwater Branch, crowding out the beautiful native plantings. Elephant Ear, Air Potato and Mexican Petunia nearly cover the banks in some places. By fall, trees and bushes will be enveloped in the invasive Air Potato vines and covered with the hanging “potatoes”. Colorful Lantana and Coral Ardesia may seem pretty in your home landscape, but they’re insidious. You might think it is ok to grow these plants in your own yard and keep them under control. But here’s the problem--just a tiny piece of Mexican Petunia will grow a whole new plant, and the berries from Lantana and Ardesia are carried off and deposited by birds and squirrels. Plant fragments, seeds and berries wash down into the storm drains where they gather in the ditches (like the one just below the Thelma Bolton Center), just a heavy rain away from being washed down to the Prairie. These plants are spreading along Florida’s waterways and through the woods like wildfire.
Mexican Petunia (Ruellia simplex). You can find these all through the Loblolly Woods.

Coral Ardesia (Ardesia crenata)

Heavenly Bamboo (Nandina domestica). The pretty red berries on Nandina and Coral Ardesia are irresistible to birds and wildlife which helps them spread through natural areas. Both plants are classified as Category 1 invasive exotic plants because of their harmful environmental effects. Plant native berries such as Yaupon Holly or Simpson's Stopper instead.

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Consider planting a Florida Friendly landscape in your yard. You’ll appreciate the diversity of wildlife and you’ll be doing your part to help protect our environment. One great source for Florida native plants is the Native Plant Sale at Morningside Nature Center that takes place in the Fall and Spring each year. Many knowledgeable vendors and experts will help you pick the right plants for your yard. So Happy Summer and Happy Gardening!

You can get more information at these web sites:

Florida Friendly Landscapes: http://www.floridayards.org

Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants: http://plants.ifas.ufl.edu

Florida Exotic Pest Council: http://www.fleppc.org

Florida Native Plant Society: http://www.fnps.org



Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Spring Fever

Azaleas blooms switching to high gear
It's been a weird winter here in Florida. Freezing temperatures from the Polar Vortex one week followed by sweltering 80 degrees the next, dry and rain, early bloomers and late arriving visitors--it's been hard to know what to expect next. But it appears that spring is arriving, more or less on schedule. The robins and cedar waxwings showed up in large numbers about two weeks ago and are now leaving berry filled droppings on car windshields from one end of the city to the other. The Sandhill Cranes looked like they may be heading North again, but some have stuck around. A few days ago there was still a small crowd at the Beef Unit at the University of Florida where they have been feeding this winter, and a bigger group arrived at Paynes Prairie last week (with a Whooping Crane tagging along!), possibly biding their time while freezing weather passed through the area. The azaleas are almost ready to begin their big show after some false starts as early as December (they were just kidding before). The dogwoods and redbuds won't be far behind. And I saw my first monarch butterfly of the season in our front yard, drying its wings in the sun.

First Monarch of the season
It's warm and sunny and approaching perfect, and we of the gardener persuasion really want to get out in the yard again! I want to tidy up and cut back old growth and pull out all the dead annuals to get ready for a beautiful garden. But while it may be tempting to try to get a jump on the big growth spurts that will happen as soon as it gets hot and rainy, I have learned that it is much better to wait just a bit longer. This does not apply so much to vegetable gardening, which you can do year round in Florida. I don't do much vegetable gardening. I'm talking about sprucing up butterfly and wildlife gardens and landscape plants that may have died back in the cold weather.

One good reason that I wait to trim is that the weather has been, and is always, unpredictable. Here in North Florida, even though we have pretty mild winters, there is actually a possibility of a freeze throughout the winter and well into Spring. Just last week one of my Facebook friends remarked that it was colder in Gainesville than it was at the Olympics at Sochi. Today it will be in the 80's. Next week, maybe cold again. Plants that have been trimmed back are more susceptible to freeze damage, especially when the temperatures are swinging back and forth. Also, trimming the plants may stimulate new growth, which could be damaged by frost. I've read that here in Gainesville it's better to wait until March to cut back dead vegetation. We rarely have frost after March. And by that time new growth will be coming up from the roots and you will be able to determine which branches are actually dead, vs. dormant (scratch the bark with your fingernail and if you see green underneath, it's still alive). In the meantime, the upper dead vegetation provides some buffer to the rest of the plant from the cold. So I tell myself to just wait. It is hard to hold back on those February days when the weather seems so perfect, but killing my plants is not a preferred outcome.

Chipping Sparrow hanging out on a dried flower branch in the yard
Another reason that I wait to trim is that the dead branches and dried seeds provide important shelter and food for wildlife. When the winter temperatures freeze back plants and insects, it can leave a food source vacuum for wildlife at this time of year. Seeds and berries on dead flowers and grasses (as well as filled bird feeders) give birds and other wildlife enough calories to keep warm and prepare for breeding season. And when trees, shrubs and plants have shed their leaves there is less shelter for them. Cutting back foliage before there are new leaves in the trees gives the animals fewer safe places to hide. Spiders, such as Green Lynx, lay their egg sacks on the tops of tall wildflowers. And there could be overwintering cocoons and chrysalids hanging in the safety of a low hanging limb. Trimming those plants kills all those helpful garden arthropods. And even later in the spring, birds will make their nests in the safety of thick azalea bushes. So I think of the wildlife and wait to cut.

Spider Nest on spent Wood Sage
So if I don't trim in February, what can I do in the garden when it's so nice out? Personally, I use this time of year to pull sprouts of weeds, or thin plants that I have too many of, or move things that I don't want growing where they've popped up. In a native plant garden, there are a lot of seeds to sprout. And, believe it or not, there is actually such a thing as too many Blue Curls, Salvia and Coreopsis. Over the years, I've gotten to know the seedlings of my least and most favorite plants. I find that it's easier to pull them while they're small, although there are a lot that like to grow and spread during the cold weather months and by the time I finally get outside to weed, they have already started to take over. If you drive by my yard in February, you'll probably see me with a bucket and a butter knife, my preferred tool for digging up the dreaded Pink Woodsorrel, Oxalis debilis. As pretty as these flowers may be, I won't let them stay. They are exotic pests and if you give them an inch, they spread and take over everything. So I dig them up. But you have to be very careful to get the root as well as the little bulbettes that are attached to the root. Any one of them left behind will grow a new plant. I've found that by using a butter knife, I can loosen the soil around the root and pull it the whole root unit out intact.

Oxalis debilis cluster with sprigs of Spiderwort popping through

Don't let the pretty pink trick you!
-Note Bidens leaves in upper left and lower right-

Oxalis Root with clusters of little bulbettes just below the stems
Another plant that has to go is Globe Sedge (or any sedge grass, really). If I don't catch them early, they mature and make lots of seeds and then I'm in trouble. They are very prolific. I've learned to recognize in the tiniest sprig the shine of the leaves that sets them apart from other grassy clumps. Also, the leaf has a wedge shape, with the two sides coming to a "V". "Sedges have wedges" is the helpful mnemonic. I also always pull Spanish Needles, or Bidens. It's a pretty white flower that attracts all sorts of wildlife (read my blog about it), but it also produces millions of seeds (the "Needles") and if I let it stay in the yard, it takes over. So out it goes. Bidens lives happily at my neighbors' houses, so there is plenty in the area. I pull Smilax from my flower garden, even though it is a native vine with berries that the birds like (which is probably the reason it grows in my yard), because it grows into a monster with sharp thorns that is hard (and painful) to pull. It's ok with me if it stays in the back yard, in the bushes and bamboo, where I do not believe there is any danger of it being eradicated. I also pull Virginia Creeper when it comes up in the garden, but I'll let it grow along a fence or up a tree in the back yard because the berries have excellent wildlife value. And I'll pull Scarlet Morning Glory, because even though it is pretty, it is impossible. I have never let it grow in my yard, and yet after 9 years of living in this house, I'm still pulling sprouts from the extensive seed bank left by previous owners.

Unmistakable, shiny Sedge plants

Spanish Needles/Bidens alba--No, No, No!

Smilax--When I worked at the nature center we taught kids to remember the name by saying "I SMILE when I AXE it out of the garden". The Timucua (ancient native people of the region) used the roots as a starchy thickener for stews.
-Note Betony leaves with round ridges, growing around the Smilax-

Virginia Creeper. No, it's not poison ivy. But it still can't grow in the front yard

Out, Damned Spurge!
I also pull these plants--Spotted Spurge. They are covered with seeds and they spread like crazy, crowding out things that I want to grow, and they ooze white, milky sap when you break the stem. I can see a tiny sprout from 10 feet away.  However, I had an epiphany last week when I was trying to take photos of a pair of Painted Buntings. I realized as I watched them that they were eating seeds off of a plant that I've always considered an annoying weed--Chickweed. I would definitely let it stay in my yard if it meant I could get Painted Buntings. My neighbors might not like it, but I would be in Bunting Heaven. So it just goes to show that you have to walk a fine line when growing plants to attract wildlife. I'll have to keep watching to see if anything eats spurge seeds (besides ants).

Painted Buntings enjoying a meal of Chickweed seeds
February is a good time to thin a lot of plants I actually want, but need to control, like Spiderwort. I love this plant with it's pretty blue flowers, but a little goes a long way. As the plant matures it makes a big clump, and the flowers all have seeds, and before you know it, you can have a whole yard of Spiderwort. I need a little room for other things! In the winter, the first sprouts are abundant, but they are much easier to pull than the big clump. I thin Coreopsis and Blue Eyed Grass, Lyre Leaf Sage, Blue Curls, Carolina Wild Petunia and  Goldenrod because, like the Spiderwort, although I love them, there can be too many of them.

Spiderwort sprouts--best to catch them when they're small

But Spiderwort is definitely worth having in the garden. The flowers look like fireworks!

One of many Coreopsis sprouts

Coreopsis is our State Wildflower--Absolutely gorgeous!
Some plants, like Skull Cap, Venus's Looking Glass and Toadflax, I will dig up and replant if I don't like where they're starting out. They're a little less abundant than the Coreopsis and friends, and the Venus's Looking Glass and Toadflax are very seasonal. They bloom in the early spring and then they die back. They seem to like to grow in the cracks of the sidewalk, and while it is cute and whimsical, people step on them and they don't thrive. So I move them.

Lyre-leaf Sage sprout on left, Venus's Looking Glass sprouts on right. I Keep Both.

Venus's Looking Glass--One of my favorite flowers

Lyre-leaf Sage

Toadflax sprigs in the center, surrounded by Powderpuff Mimosa vines

Some Spring, I hope to have a Toadflax meadow like this one at Paynes Prairie
I purposely cultivate some plants that might seem more like weeds (although you could probably say that about a lot of things I grow in my garden!) I grow Sida, because it's a host plant for Checkered Skipper butterflies and it's a good nectar flower. Bees love it and it has a pretty yellow flower. I also keep some Pennsylvania Cudweed because, although it is not native, it's not invasive either, and it is a host plant for the American Lady Butterfly Caterpillar. It has a pretty and strange flower. I've also come to embrace Carolina Ponysfoot. It is a ground cover that I used to try to pull, but finally decided that it was kind of pretty. It has an interesting, tiny green flower. I do control this plant, though, when it tries to cover stepping stones or the sidewalk, or if it completely overtakes an area.  I grow some Canadian Horseweed because of its tiny daisy-like composite flowers, but I have to watch it. And I let the Betony grow, because the flowers are so pretty, but only in controlled places. Also, if I'm lucky, when I dig them up, I'll be able to harvest the tasty roots! (See my post about Betony.)

Sida can be very pretty in a garden and it's a good host and nectar plant!

Pennsylvania Cudweed sprouts amidst Ponysfoot and Turkey Tangle Fogfruit
Pretty, tiny green flower of Ponysfoot

Ponysfoot works as an interesting ground cover

Really, there is plenty to do in the yard already without adding pruning to the list. So put down the clippers and start pulling those sprouts! March will be here soon enough. And if you have a seedling shortage, you know who you can turn to.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Coast to Coast

We flew from coast to coast recently, from Jacksonville, Florida to Santa Cruz, California. And what a difference a continent makes! But it's not an "in your face" difference. It's gradual. Whether you drive or fly, you have time to get used to the blending of one area to the next, and then there you are. Other than on maps and at official borders there is no real indication that you've suddenly crossed into new territory. It's all relative. If you look at things on the microscopic level, the change from one square foot to the next can be startling. Or from city to city or state to state, or continent to continent. But if you look from a distance, say outer space, you can see how small and similar everything is. The oceans are all connected when it comes down to it. But you get off the plane in California and you know that you're not in Florida anymore.

Usually the difference when we travel is that we're going from subtropics to everywhere else. We're usually coming from a warm and humid place. But this time, when we left Florida, it was just starting to warm up from the Polar Vortex. The rest of the country was still freezing, but not California. As we flew across the middle of the country, the ground was covered with snow and every body of water was frozen into shining ice, glistening in the muted winter sun. After a few hours the terrain turned rougher and whiter as we approached and crossed the Rockies. And then as we eased over Nevada and the Sierras, there was less snow, brown earth, and the mountains were more rounded as they eased towards the ocean. We could definitely see the result of the severe drought in the West. In California, the January weather was reaching into the balmy 70s and 80s by afternoon, in contrast to the frozen middle and east.
Sunrise
The first morning, I woke up at 3:30, as one tends to do when jet lag hits. I tossed and turned, trying to sleep until sunrise, but finally couldn't stand it any more. Even though it was 7am and dark still, my brain said it was 10am and I had to get outside. So I watched the sunrise and went exploring at a Water Reclamation Park (Neary Lagoon) that was a few blocks from where we were staying. It was quite nice, with a couple of miles of paths and boardwalks winding through wetlands. Most of what I saw walking around felt very familiar, with the usual freshwater marsh and pond denizens. Some animals and plants are more ubiquitous. Ducks and coots, grebes and blackbirds were happily enjoying the sunrise as they would in Florida. California flora and fauna, I saw, is in many ways very similar to Florida. Yes, they have Redwoods and Eucalyptus, but both coasts have palm trees and pine trees, citrus and flowering shrubs. But then the little birds showed up and confounded me. They looked vaguely familiar, but to identify them I had to look in my field guild--Dark Eyed Juncos, California Towhees, Black Phoebes, Anna's Hummingbirds. Close to what I know, but so different!
Good Old Familiar Coot

Townsend's Warbler

Dark Eyed Junco

Black Phoebe

California Towhee
The next day we walked along the coastal cliffs, and here is one of the biggest differences between N. California and Florida. The peninsula of Florida is essentially a big sandbar, rising up out of the ocean. Millions of years ago when seas were higher, Florida was ancient sea bed. People can find great fossilized shark's teeth in creeks and river beds all over the state because of this. During the ice age, thousands of years ago, sea levels were lower and Florida was twice as big because more land was exposed. Seashores slope gradually into the sea. Florida is flat! Northern California is high and mountainous with coastal ranges that drop off right into the ocean, the cliffs jutting out over the sea. Parts of the coast are on the edge of the San Andreas Fault. When the plates shift and adjust, earthquakes result and the edges push up just a little higher. Wave action further erodes the cliffs. The shores are rocky, and the water is cold and rough. One website I consulted described the Florida coastline as "a coastline of submergence" and the N. California coast as "a coastline of emergence". The cliffs seem to pop right out of the sea.
The Coast at Big Sur
Looking out over the cliffs you can see the huge waves that attract surfers and dolphins. The height gives you a vantage point from which to see whales, sea lions and seals. We happened to be there during the Gray Whale migration and saw many spouts and tails. That was a thrill of a lifetime! These mammals are so immense, and yet they look so tiny out there on the vast ocean. The cold deep water of the Monterey Bay is home to the great kelp forests. The ocean in California smells different than the ocean in Florida. It's the smell of the kelp. You can see the tops of the kelp beds from the cliffs, and in them you're likely to see Sea Otters floating on their backs, anchored to the kelp with one foot, cracking clams and crabs on their bellies with rocks. Opportunistic Seagulls wait and steal from the otters when they can. Egrets appear to be walking on water when they stand on the kelp and hunt.
Gray Whale Spouts and Fluke

Sea Otter and Opportunistic Seagull
You don't get the full effect of the kelp forest unless you see it from below. The best place to do this (without scuba diving) is to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium. They have created a kelp forest in a huge tank in the aquarium where you can see the amazing diversity of the Bay. All of the ocean life that they display is brought in right from the Bay, with occasional exhibits of exotic jellyfish and tropical fish. It's the best aquarium I've visited. I can spend hours watching the kelp forest swaying with the waves, with the Sea turtles, Sharks and schools of Tuna. Their permanent jellyfish exhibit is incredible. And I can never get enough of the Anchovy tank! They're located right on the Bay, so during lunch or after your visit at the Aquarium you can step outside and watch the wildlife right on the water. During our visit we saw Pelagic Cormorants gathering seaweed to build nests on the piers of the Aquarium, Monk Seals and lots of Sea Otters.
Kelp Forest

Nettle Jellies

Swimming Anchovies

Pelagic Cormorant with Nest Materials
Another day we took a trip to Año Nuevo State Park to see the Elephant Seals. This was a really special place, located between Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay on a coastal highway. We took a 2 hour tour on boardwalks over the dunes. Access to the Elephant Seals is restricted, both for their safety and for the safety of visitors. Our docent guide led us to carefully, knowing that the giant Elephant Seals might moved around a lot and could be anywhere on the trail. At one point he walked ahead of us and stopped. Then he told us that he had crossed the San Andreas Fault and if an earthquake happened, he'd drop into the sea and we'd be on our own. Little joke. The Elephant Seals are enormous (14-16 feet long and weighing over 2 tons) and they come to this beach to give birth and to mate. They get their name from the flappy trunk-like proboscis found on the mature males. We were told that the proboscis helps the males project sound to assert their territory. The females give birth in December. They find a good place on a safe, high beach that won't flood with the tide, because the pups won't be able to swim for the first month while they nurse and grow. The mother will need to stay with it to keep it warm, protect and feed it. We didn't actually see any being born, but we saw many, many pups. The pups are born with lots of baggy skin to accommodate the quick growth that will be necessary for them to live independently, swimming great distance and keeping warm in the cold ocean water. They grow from 75 pounds at birth to up to 350 pounds in ONE MONTH! Their mother's milk is 55% fat. After the pups are weaned, they are on their own! The males will mate with the females about a month after they give birth. The males fight among themselves to determine dominance and the right to mate. They are pretty aggressive! After mating, the fertilized egg takes a few months to implant, giving the female a chance to build her strength again at sea before beginning gestation, and to be back onshore again to give birth a year later. Our guide told us that the Elephant Seals don't defecate or urinate while they are onshore because they don't eat while they are there. They only feed at extreme depths (2000-5000 feet) when they are far out to sea. They spend most of their lives in the ocean, coming to land only for short periods to mate and give birth. Strange and amazing animals.

Our Docent Guide

Young Male Elephant Seals Dozing

Mother and Wrinkly Pup--They Grow Fast and Change Color in a Month
She's Not That into Him--There Was Another Dominant Male Nearby and This Guy Didn't Stay Around Long
Mothers and Pups Keeping Cool with Sand in the Hot Sun--Note the Transmitters on this female.


We saw 3 species of pinnipeds in California--Elephant Seals, Monk Seals and Sea Lions. Florida has no seals, as the last Caribbean Monk Seals were hunted to extinction. Florida has manatees, which California does not--too cold. California also does not have alligators, and I have to admit that it was nice to walk through the Neary Lagoon and not wonder if an alligator would be sunning itself on a bank. They have snakes, coyotes, mountain lions and foxes, although I didn't see any. I did find the mummified remains of a raccoon on the cliff rocks.
Mummified Raccoon
A trip out on the Santa Cruz Wharf gave me my first view of Western Grebes, which are stunning birds with long necks, red eyes and sharp bills. I also saw a Murrelet, some Whimbrels, Surf Scoters and a big cluster of hungry Sea Lions.
Western Grebe

Surf Scoters--They All Dive and Reappear in Unison

Whimbrels

Sea Lions at the Wharf

I have no idea what this bird is. It was pretty, though. A kind reader has ID'd this as a Female Brewer's Blackbird!
Our trip was very short, only a couple of days, and one of the things I wanted to do was go visit Natural Bridges State Beach on the Santa Cruz Bay. We were almost there but ran out of time. Monarch Butterflies come there to overwinter, like they do in Mexico, though in much smaller numbers. I saw numerous Monarchs flying around Santa Cruz, enjoying the nice warm weather. Another thing we missed was the tide pools along the rocks. They are a lot of fun and I don't know of a place in Florida that has anything like them. Next visit to California I will have a lot more exploring to do.