When your life involves publishing a periodical, you find yourself falling under the influence of cycles. The flow of work on an issue of Bay Nature follows a somewhat predictable pattern: We get first drafts, start assembling the images, choose a cover photo, approve the proofs, etc., all leading up to a magazine in your mailbox. Then repeat, four times a year, year after year, nine years and counting.
Because we’re a nature magazine, we’re also subject–willingly so–to the cycles of the natural world. The seasons here in the Bay Area don’t follow the classical pattern, yet each has undeniable distinguishing characteristics. While winter here may see the world turning green instead of white, it’s still appropriate to think of this January-March issue as the “winter” issue, April-June as the “spring,” and so on.
But while magazines have fixed deadlines, seasons do not, as one shades into the next. And yet when the rains fall, and mushrooms appear in the woods, and the hills green up again, we can say that winter has arrived in the Bay Area. These seasonal features and cycles are something we try to attend to, understand, and reflect in the magazine.
One compelling sign of winter for me is the appearance of huge rafts of sea ducks on Tomales and San Francisco bays. The sound produced by the whole group taking off is one of the most haunting in local nature: the accelerating high-pitched whoosh produced by the beating of wings against the air combined with the rhythmic slapping of hundreds of webbed feet on the surface of the water as the ducks get up to speed for takeoff.
But in this issue’s article on rafting ducks, Joe Eaton notes that surf scoter numbers are way down, for reasons not yet understood. So it’s possible that when I go out kayaking this winter, or next, I’ll miss this mesmerizing seasonal chorus of their massed wingbeats.
Though scoter numbers are down, some unexpected aquatic wildlife is showing up in San Francisco Bay. Pods of harbor porpoises have been observed throughout the fall in the crisscrossing currents off Sausalito’s Yellow Bluff, inside the Golden Gate. This species, while relatively common, is usually seen outside the Gate. Then we received a photo showing the first minke whale ever documented in the Bay. And as Glen Martin reports in “Beyond Jaws,” great white sharks have now been documented swimming into the Bay as well.
What’s going on? Natural variation? Changes in prey species? Global warming? We don’t know. But what we do know is that it’s important to track these appearances and disappearances, to figure out what’s happening around us–something we can do better if we’re attuned to changes in seasonal cycles.
With this “winter” issue, Bay Nature is starting this annual cycle of being attuned to the seasons for the tenth time. I’m not particularly tuned in to decadal cycles, but it feels somehow worth noting. Certainly when we started, we didn’t know we’d have a decade’s worth of local nature stories to tell, yet here we are nine years later, with a list of stories to cover that just gets longer rather than shorter.
So I hope you’ll stick around as this tenth year unfolds, and be alert to the surprises that nature–and Bay Nature–are likely to throw your way, in print, online, and in the field.
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Veteran environmental activist, writer, editor, publisher, educator, and coastal wetlands scientist Phyllis Faber has made countless contributions to the Bay Area environmental movement.