Exploring: Docent walk with Duffy Burns

As part of my year-long residency on the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve, I'm joining docents on their walks through the land. Each walk is led by a different docent, putting their own spin on the topic and sharing their unique experiences in nature. The groups are kept small, by reservation only. 

Duffy's walk along the coastal bluff trail

We met Duffy Burns at the start of the Bluff Trail on a chilly spring day. A mix of locals and visitors, we formed a huddled group – most of us wrapped in sweatshirts jackets against the wind.

and Before heading us out along the trail, Duffy gave a short overview. He encouraged walkers to be observers and let our curiosity guide us into asking questions on his walks.

And there was plenty to question. Among the big surprises on this walk was a mass of what we learned were sea creatures commonly referred to as "by-the-wind sailors." Thousands were clustered along the sea's edge and shoreline. They are Velella velella, and are a flashy blue in color, with taillike fins that catch the wind and allow them to travel over long distances. 



This spring was a phenomena – with colonies of the creatures turning up along California shores in huge numbers. They float along the surface of the water, and the only way they get from place to place is via the wind and currents.

When blue, they are still alive. However, once stranded on the shore, the little sailors dry out quickly, die and lose their blue color.

Photo below shows a colony clustered along the shoreline. These groupings could be seen all along the bluff trail. 

Another interesting creature Duffy pointed out was the gumboot chiton. It travels like a slug or snail, foraging on rocks for seaweed and algae.

Photo shows the top of a gumboot chiton. This leathery hard mantle hides the chiton's eight shell plates and muscular foot which allows it to grip the rocks. This one was dislodged by weather or tide from rocks and washed ashore.

IMPORTANT NOTE: If you see one on the rocks, please just look, not touch. As long as it stays safe, it can live 20 years or more!