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If you haven't been out to photograph on the reef in a while, as is true in my case, the reality of doing so takes very little time to catch up with the fantasy. The fantasy is that the reef is going to be teeming with interesting plants and critters. The reality is that one's poor eyesight is going to make a trial out of seeing any of it. If only there were more critters like the Hopkin's Rose nudibranch to bring fantasy and reality a little closer together. Despite its small size (~ 2 cm) even I could see this guy from twenty meters away.
Other than a raccoon, whose tracks I could just make out, and a possible bobcat, whose freshly twirled scat in the center of the thin trail marked its passing, I was the first large mammal to make it to the beach this morning. Sometimes you can tell you're the first to pass because you get a face full of fresh spider webs, but I could tell this morning because I was collecting all the dew as I hiked along the overgrown path. By the time I made it down to the beach I was completely soaked from the hips on down. For the last hundred yards, I could barely see the trail at my feet. Poison oak wasn't a problem, but watch out for the stinging nettles.
In looking for a new direction to occupy myself on weekends, I thought it might be fun to really learn about the reef -- get to know all the usual suspects, both plant and animal. I know that this will not be easy, and I wonder if I can stick with it. I thought it might help to think about how best to photograph the variety of species, and I sort of punted the idea down the road, thinking that I really need an aquarium for staging my images. Otherwise, how do you tease out the identifying characteristics of a mat of algae into a pleasing image? After this morning, I am certain only that more thought will be required.
This was one of two bat stars I saw on the reef. Both were on the small side, definitely not full-grown. I also saw several Pisaster sea stars, all of which were blandly ochre-colored, and one of which looked like it was in the process of succumbing to wasting disease.
In the Introduction to The Intertidal Wilderness, Anne Wertheim Rosenfeld writes, "In their natural habitat many sea anemones are calculated to be at least five hundred years old." She gives no reference for that statement, and I can't find anything online to back it up, but at least some cnidarians (a group that includes sea anemones) are said to be immortal, showing no sign of senescence even after many years.
In order to make things easier, I brought my camera and only one lens, a 105mm macro. Nevertheless, it is never truly easy to photograph on the reef. I bloodied my knees as I pressed closer to the nudibranch while a hermit crab scuttled by (they seemed to ignore each other as best they could, like a Muni passenger squeezing by to get off at the Civic Center). Tripod legs don't anchor as easily as they do on dry land either, what with the uneven and slippery surfaces, and not to mention the little aggregating anemones who don't appreciate getting a tripod foot planted in their gullets.
This nudibranch was in the same tidepool as the Hopkin's Rose. I'm sure I'd never have noticed it if I hadn't already been drawn close by the bubblegum 'branch. There was a second specimen at the bottom of the pool, but it stayed put, well out of range. A critter this small needs to be very close to the surface to be photographed well. If it's more than an inch deep, especially on a windy day (there were small craft warnings in effect today) the distortion will be awful. This 'branch is known from Duxbury Reef south (Palomarin Beach is north of, but basically contiguous, with Duxbury Reef).
One novelty of the morning was having direct sunlight on the reef. Not only did I drive all the way to the beach after sunrise -- a novelty in itself -- but I had abundant natural light and no fog. Nevertheless, it was breezy and cool, and sometimes I couldn't see well enough to compose an image because of watering eyes and a sniffling nose.
Brilliant camoflage. Like sparrows gleaning seeds along the trail, you don't even notice them unless they move.
Although I wandered around quite a bit, I ended up returning the way I'd come and chanced to find the very same Hopkin's Rose I'd photographed earlier. It was now completely exposed to the air, the water level several inches below. It had taken up residence in a shallow hole in the rock and looked like some kind of anemone.
Low tide didn't last long. It was a minus tide with a minimal swell, but the reef was only well-exposed for about an hour on either side of the low.
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