Auklet, Murre and Guillemot

We’re all wondering about the rainy season. The last few haven’t been all that rainy, and we look for signs that portend a pattern change. The Old Farmers Almanac has been the standard for unreliable long-range weather forecasts, although Punxsutawney Phil is a close second. Here’s the Almanac forecast for last winter.

“Winter will be much rainier and cooler than normal, with mountain snowfall much greater than normal. Most of the rain, snow, and storminess will come in January and February, when storm damage will be a concern.”

Happily, storm damage was averted due to the near-total absence of rain and mountain snowfall last winter. We are left to wonder what the OFA uses as a forecasting guide. We know that Punx’s shadow is an important, albeit totally random, factor in his weather prediction, but the Almanac is strangely silent on its methodology. Is there a Second Groundhog?

Now, I’ve been wrong a time or two myself (see: all preceding blog posts), but I don’t put myself forward as the oracle of weather forecasting, or a groundhog, or both. We must look for more authoritative sources. The plant and animal kingdoms surely must know what’s going to happen, right? You’re always hearing about a tree that does something unusual right before a storm, or a rodent that excavates a deeper burrow to signal a coming freeze. If only they would share their native awareness.

I read the WeatherWest blog a lot, and somebody in the comments section mentioned some animal or plant behavior change that was deemed to be a harbinger of stormy weather. WeatherWest cooly responded, “animals and plants respond to things that have already happened.”. Great. They were our last hope! For some reason, we desperately need to know if it will rain or not, even though the advance knowledge will make no difference in the outcome, or influence our future behavior!

So forget the Almanac. Ignore the groundhog. We are on our own with this one, and we’ll just have to wait to see what happens.

Except we saw this weird thing today. On a bird walk at Pillar Point Harbor, we saw a Cassin’s Auklet paddling along the shoreline.

Cassin's Auklet

This is a pelagic bird, one that spends pretty much its whole life at sea. If you see it on land, it would be a rocky island off the coast, not here. People are throwing tennis balls to their Golden Retrievers here. Our guide on the walk said it was a once-in-a-lifetime sighting. Maybe more like a “once” sighting. Very, very strange. And this Auklet was paddling furiously, making her (his?) way to the beach, like some kind of ornithological D-Day re-enactment.

Then we see a Common Murre, another pelagic, moving towards the shore. You can see the Murre in the thousands out on the Farallones, but it is rarely seen here. But nevertheless, he (she?) appears quite adamant about joining us here on the mainland.

Common Murre

Our guide then told us that yesterday a Pigeon Guillemot, another open ocean bird, was seen here. This just doesn’t happen. What gives?

If you told me it was just the Auklet, I’d say, “Hmm.”. If you then told me about the Murre, I’d say, “well, how about that!”. And if you then told me about the Guillemot, I would ask for Punxsutawney Phil’s phone number. I don’t know what’s going on here, but whatever it is, it has already happened.

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