Sea Lion Survey Project News – April 25, 2018

MMM Survey lead Charon Vilnai, with dedicated volunteers Jane Straight and Dr. Joe Mortenson Photos by Song Hunter

During our last monthly sea lion survey of the Fort Ross Sea Lion Rocks, FRC’s Director of Programs, Song Hunter, spotted the first tagged animal we’ve seen during one of our surveys! The animal was a California sea lion, and from the yellow tag we can tell this sea lion was tagged at San Miguel Island (the westernmost of California’s Channel Islands).

A massive Steller Sea Lion {Eumetopias jubatus} bull


Luckily, Song was able to get a good photograph of the tagged animal, so that we could send the image to the Marine Mammal Laboratory (MML — a division of NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center). MML collects resighting photographs of California and Steller sea lions, which happens to be the two resident sea lion species at Fort Ross. See here the original photograph:

Original photograph of Sea Lion Rocks (East Otino Rock Haulout) by Song Hunter on 4/25/2018.

Below is a cropped and enlarged image of the original photograph. We’ve encircled the tagged sea lion, but you can see that these tags can be very easy to miss.

Sea lion tagging and branding is done by (NOAA Fisheries) authorized research organizations and agencies, so that individual animals can be tracked throughout their lifetime, providing scientists with valuable information concerning migratory patterns, habitat use, reproductive success and much more. Click here for more information about sea lion branding in the Pacific Northwest.


The more resightings the better! If you are ever out observing the sea lions at Fort Ross and get a photograph of a branded and/or tagged animal, please send to Charon Vilnai at

  • Charon Vilnai, FRC Programs Instructor & Sea Lion Survey Project Lead

Beach Watch Survey – April 9, 2018

Last Monday’s Beach Watch Survey was an especially active one, with many new species (to us – Charon and myself) and a few very unusual sightings!

Each time we go out we feel giddy with excitement, like kids on a treasure hunt.  ‘What do you think we’ll see today?!’

Each survey we try to beat our previous record of species observed.


-Article & Photos by Song Hunter

The spring wildflowers were in full bloom, blossoms of every color everywhere we walked. Douglas Iris {Iris douglasiana} above.

Scarlet Pimpernel {Anagallis arvensis}

This survey we observed 66 Caspian Terns {Hydroprogne caspia} – which was the first time we’d seen them along our beach – Fort Ross Clam Beach – 855.

Grey Fox {Urocyon cinereoargenteus} relieving itself in the Call Picnic area 😀

When we first saw this, we thought we were witnessing a plane crash!  Later, looking through the pictures it looks as though it may be a fueling situation?  Still, pretty amazing to witness.

Cream Cups {Platystemon californicus}

After confirming with the Cal Academy team – Sue Pemberton – this is a dead male California Sea Lion {Zalophus californianus}


Our first official (photographed) Bald Eagle! {Haliaeetus leucocephalus}

Common Ravens {Corvus corax}


SURF 2018

All photos by Paul C. Miller

The Stanford-US Russia forum brings together Americans and Russians for a week-long conference at Stanford and in Washington, DC, where they share their collaborative research projects. But before the academics begin SURF kicks off at Fort Ross, where the students do community service, learn about their shared history at Fort Ross, and just soak up the glorious Sonoma Coast. It’s one of our favorite exchange programs and we are proud to contribute to this project. Thanks to Renova Fort Ross Foundation for underwriting SURF, and to all the FRC volunteers and board members who came out to lend a hand.


MEP Number Three!

Tidepooling in beautiful Fort Ross Cove. Photo by Charon Vilnai


On Monday, March 26th, FRC Instructors Charon Vilnai and Hank Birnbaum completed our 3rd Marine Ecology Program of the year! A great return group from Point Arena Elementary with the wonderful teacher, Cristin Allen. We loved our time spent with this group of sweet and inquisitive parents and kids. The harbor seal watching is always a big hit, as well as getting hands on with all the small, yet abundant, life in the Rocky Intertidal Zone. Interested in learning more about our Marine Ecology Program? Contact Director of Programs, Song Hunter at

Kedry Spring Celebration 2018

Article and Photos by Melissa McCarthy

There are certain plants, some unique to Sonoma County and some found throughout the world, that will tell you when spring has arrived. The willow trees that grow with such vigor near our waterways grow buds that swell and burst with bright yellow fuzzy catkins to mark the first day of spring.

Last Saturday Fort Ross welcomed the return of the season with our Kedry volunteers for their annual Spring Celebration. Kedry families came from around the Bay Area to re-create the festive “Verbnoye Voskresenie” (Pussy Willow, not Palm, Sunday) where holding hands and branches of willow catkins they walked from corner to corner of the compound touching every wall, tree, and person in their path with the fuzzy flowers as a symbolic way of reconnecting to spring, nature, and the traditions held by their ancestors long ago.

The walk was accompanied by traditional Russian/Slavic songs which filled the compound and took you back in time. Games and dances followed with more songs and traditional activities and crafts. The pechka, a brick oven located in the officers barracks, was lit and filled with delicious breads hand rolled by Kedry families. The ladies finished the afternoon with songs and textile crafts that included knitting and weaving demonstrations. It was a beautiful day to honor the connection between culture and nature and all that spring provides!

Spring Equinox

March 17, 2018

While traveling North from Bodega bay after a training with Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods, we (Song Hunter and Charon Vilnai) witnessed a concentration of migrating whales like we had never seen before! Dozens must have been traveling along with us as we drive up beautiful Highway One.

All photos are from Fort Ross, looking west toward Sea Lion Rocks. Photos by Song Hunter

Read more about Spring Equinox

Learning to Prune in the Historic Fort Ross Orchard

Photos and Article by Melissa McCarthy

On March 10, 2018 I arrived at the historic Fort Ross Orchard on a foggy late-winter day, there was a chill in the air but the winds were calm. I heard cheerful sounds coming from the trees and as I followed the sounds I saw a group of friendly faces under a giant pear tree with branches stretching high into the air. Our dedicated orchard volunteers, led by Susy Rudy, greeted me and introduced me to Keith Park. Keith is a National Park Service horticulturalist, pruner, and arborist. He works at the John Muir National Historic Site in Martinez California, maintaining the orchard and other trees on the parks grounds. He was at Fort Ross to guide us in a pruning workshop. 

Read More

Grey Whales, Stellers, and Mergansers, Oh My!

Can you guess what made these holes?

During our last Beach Watch survey of Fort Ross State Historic Park, Charon Vilnai and I (Song Hunter) were lucky to see a few less common/seasonal species (to FRSHP) and a few very common species up close and personal!

All photos were taken February 9, 2018 by Song Hunter

Read More