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}


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

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

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

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Spring Has Sprung!

Fields of Sour Grass {Oxalis pes-caprae}

Well, it seems to be Spring all of a sudden here at Fort Ross, never mind it's just the beginning of February!  Regardless, it's been simply stunning here all week. Balmy, near 70 degrees without our typical Spring winds.  The ocean is still and calm, without a whitecap in sight. The Harbor Seals are hauled out in Fort Ross Cove, warming up in the sun and all the bugs and birds are out in full force.  In a word, it's perfect. 

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Photo by Song Hunter

Welcome to the Fort Ross Conservancy Blog!  We hope you enjoy this collection of observations made the dedicated and enthusiastic staff.  Each one of us is a passionate naturalist, finding joy, beauty and importance in every moment we get to spend outdoors here at the park and the surrounding Sonoma County.