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Ms. Alexander's California Blog

From January 16-23, 2016, Ms. Alexander traveled to California on a program through the organization Monarch Teacher Network.  We visited California's monarch sanctuaries and observed other wildlife along the rugged seacoast between San Francisco and Monterey.  We learned firsthand about the migration of monarchs, birds, and mammals (elephant seals, sea lions, gray whales) while exploring the ecology, geology, and history of the west coast.  Follow our journey below!

Thursday, January 21

Dear Kindergartners,

How amazing was that sea lion??  I can’t believe it was so close to me, and I’m so glad that you got to see it too.  I actually got to see sea lions twice today.  I woke up really early this morning so I could walk down to a marina near where we were staying.  My friend and I heard that there were lots of sea lions there so we wanted to check them out.  It was dark when we got there and we heard a few quiet barks.  As the sun started to come up, they barked more and more.  They were waking up with the sun!  We watched them stretch their bodies as they woke up.  By the time the sun was up, they were all up and about. 

In both places with sea lions today, we also saw a lot of sea otters swimming around.  Sea otters like to swim or float on their backs and they often have food in their hands.  Sometimes they spin around from back to front.  They are really cute and always look like they’re having fun playing around.

We also went to a redwood forest today.  We saw coastal redwoods, which are the tallest living things on the planet!  They live for thousands of years and do not lose their leaves in the winter.  They can only grow near the ocean because they need the moisture.  The redwood forests are beautiful and really peaceful to walk in.  I felt so tiny next to the huge trees.  There was one tree that was hollow inside and its trunk was so wide that a lot of us could go inside it at the same time!  About 10 people from our group decided to all go in at once, but the record for the number of people that have squeezed inside it is 86! We also saw some cool looking banana slugs, which are named for their bright yellow color, and a group of deer!

Later in the day we went to Año Nuevo State Park, where we saw one elephant seal resting on the beach and spent a lot of time looking for interesting rocks and shells.  I have a bunch to bring back and show you!

You are asking such great questions!  Here are some answers for you:

·      Quinlan, that sea urchin is called a purple sea urchin, and that is just the color they are!  They only live in the Pacific Ocean, not in the Atlantic Ocean near us.  Mason, I did touch them!  The one we found at the tidepool wasn’t alive anymore, but I got to touch live ones at the aquarium.  Their spikes are hard and they have soft hairs in between the spikes.  When you touch live sea urchins, they move their spikes and hairs around a little bit as they try to figure out whether your fingers are good to eat.

·      Katherine, since it was sunny when we were looking at the monarchs, I wore sunglasses when I looked up at the sky.  I could see the monarchs as long as I wasn’t looking right at the sun.

·      Ryder, the falcon was grey, brown, and white.  The tip of its beak was dark and looked bluish in our telescope.  I wish I had been able to take a picture of it, but it was way too far away.

·      Isabelle, welcome back to school!  I’m glad you’re feeling better.  The jellyfish were really cool to watch, especially with the relaxing music the aquarium had playing in the background.  They were mesmerizing, which means that it was hard to look away from them!

·      Thomas, California misses you!

I am sure that I will have another great day tomorrow.  I can’t wait to tell you all about it!

Ms. Alexander



Thursday, January 21
...seriously, we are not in California!

Dear Ms. Alexander,

Thank you for the information, and thank you so much for the really stunning pictures.  Those animals in the pictures were amazing, and the monarch pictures were so cool.  We like how the sea creatures looked.

And the questions!
Quinlan: How is a sea urchin purple?
Katherine: How did you see the monarchs with the sun in your eyes?
Thomas: I like California!
Ryder: What colors were the falcon?
Mason: Did you touch the urchins?
Isabelle: Were the jellyfish cool to watch?

Have a good dinner!  Have a good night!  We wonder if you will have a good day tomorrow?!



Wednesday, January 20

Dear Kindergartners,

This morning we visited another monarch colony, and this time it was sunny so the butterflies were out!  They spend a lot of time clinging to the trees in clusters during the winter, but when it’s sunny they do fly around the colony to stretch their wings.  We saw tons of butterflies flying all around us and many more hanging from the trees.  Some of us decided to lie down on the ground and stare up at the sky as we watched them fly over our heads.  I even got to release one from my hand!  I could have spent all day in this magical spot.

We learned more about how monarchs choose the spots for their winter colonies.  The climate is the most important thing to them.  They need protection from wind and storms, so they often look for places where there are circles of trees in rings.  The monarchs stay in the middle of the rings and are protected by the many layers of trees around them.  They need trees that have thin leaves so they can hang from them without sliding off.  Most of the trees we saw in today’s colony were Monterey Cypress trees.

In the afternoon, we hiked around a place called Point Lobos with amazing views of the ocean and the rocky coastline.  We could see so far around us that it made the land and ocean feel enormous and it made us feel like very tiny parts of this big earth.

Our hike ended at some tidepools!  Tidepools are formed twice a day when the tide goes out and some ocean creatures are left clinging to rocks or trapped in pools on the shore.  Tidepool animals are used to their world changing between the ocean and the sun.  Some tidepool animals we saw were:  crabs (lined up under rocks looking like a small army!), a purple sea urchin, snails, limpets (another type of snail), sea anemones, mussels, barnacles, and algae.

Tomorrow we are going to go to a redwood forest.  The redwood trees are so enormous that we are going to have two challenges.  First, how many teachers from our group can fit inside a redwood tree?  Second, how many teachers can fit around a redwood tree holding hands?  How many do you think we will fit each way?  Once we find out, I’ll let you know and we can compare it to the number of kindergartners that would fit in that space once I’m back!

Thank you for your great questions today.  Here are some answers:

·      I did have a good time tonight, Cooper!  We went for a walk and learned a lot about the city we’re staying in right now, which is called Monterey.  Then we went out to dinner at a place called the Sardine Factory.  We sat by a fireplace and listened to a piano player while we ate!

·      Heidi, I am coming back on Sunday and I can’t wait to see you on Monday!

·      Katherine, my favorite bird was a peregrine falcon we saw today during our hike.  They are the fastest animal on the planet!  We saw one land in a tree far away and then we looked at it through our group leader’s telescope.

·      Cozette, we think the whales we saw were grey whales, but we’re not entirely sure since they were so far away and we only saw the spray from their blowholes.

·      Zoe, I did not touch those jellyfish!  They were in a tank at the aquarium so I just watched them.  The aquarium had tanks of tons of different types of jellyfish, and it was really peaceful to watch them because they kept that room dark and played calm music.

I hope you have fun celebrating Zoe’s birthday and I hope that Isabelle is feeling better and back at school!


Ms. Alexander



Wednesday, January 20
...still not in California!

Dear Ms. Alexander,

Thank you for sending us the pictures of California.  It looks like there are a lot of animals there.  We have a lot of questions for you again today!

Cooper: Are you going to have a good time tonight?
Heidi: When are you going to come back?
Katherine: What is your favorite type of bird you have seen?
Cozette: What type of whales did you see?
Zoe: Did you touch the jellyfish?

Art ws cool today we made owls with clay.  Tomorrow is Zoe's birthday and we are planning a celebration with both kindergarten classes.  Isabelle will hopefully be back tomorrow. 

We hope you have a nice dinner tonight and a nice rest of your day.  We miss you!



Tuesday, January 19

Dear Kindergartners,

It was so fun to FaceTime with you today!  I wish it had been sunnier so we could have seen more monarchs.  They don’t like the rain so they were trying to stay sheltered.  After I hung up with you, we did end up seeing a cluster of monarchs up in a tree, but it was so windy that it was hard to get good pictures of them.  We found one that had fallen and was hanging out on a fence so I took a picture of that one for you.  We are going to visit another monarch colony in a few days so hopefully we will see more then.

This afternoon, we visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  It is one of the most incredible aquariums I have ever seen.  You all would love it!  It was amazing to visit with all the different animals while also learning about ways to protect them and the ocean.  I have tons of pictures and videos to share with you when I get back.

Some of the animals I saw were:  sea otters (I saw some in the ocean today too), sardines, mackerel, tons of types of jellyfish, dolphinfish, hammerhead sharks, Pacific bluefin tuna, anchovies, loggerhead turtles, puffins and other seabirds, tons of kelp (a type of seaweed), African blackfooted penguins, spiny lobsters, California moray eels, purple sea urchins, gumboot chitons (a type of mollusk), decorator crabs (they decorate their own shells with algae!), sea cucumbers, coralline algae, snails, hermit crabs, red abalone, leopard sharks, giant sea bass, white sturgeons, tons of birds, bat rays, and so much more!

The aquarium has webcams on many of their exhibits so we can check on some of these animals once I’m back at school!

I’m glad to hear that you are having fun and going outside even though it is cold.  Is there a lot of snow already?  To answer your questions:

My plane trip was about 7 hours.  It was on Friday night and I was tired after school, so I slept for most of it.  It wasn’t overnight but I got to California REALLY late at night.  It’s been really fun looking for monarchs.  At the first place we went to a few days ago, they were really high up but there were SO many of them.  They were harder to see in the rain today but I think we’ll have better luck the next time.  All of the people I’m with know a lot about monarchs, so I’m learning a lot of new things.  I have seen some whales through binoculars, but they were really far away so we could only see the spray coming out of their blowholes.  We may see some closer up on another day.  The biggest difference between California and Massachusetts is that it is warmer here!  When the sun is out, it feels like spring here.  There are flowers in bloom all winter long!  It’s a little colder when it’s cloudy or rainy, but not as cold as it is at home right now.

I miss you all!

Ms. Alexander



Tuesday, January 19
...not in California

Dear Ms. Alexander,

We had a nice long weekend away from school!  Some of us played in the snow and on the ice, and some of us went to warm places.  We are happy to see each other today and we worked hard on word study.
Here are some questions for you:

Katherine:  Was your plane trip long?
Zoe:  Are you having fun looking for monarchs?
Kyle:  Did it take you overnight to get there?
Cabot:  Have you seen any whales?
Mason:  Is that place different from this place?

It is cold, but we are going out to Recess.  Quinlan is the line leader tomorrow.  Have a good rest of your day!!!!



Monday, January 18

Dear Kindergartners,

Today we saw elephant seals!  They are funny mammals that spend most of their lives at sea and only come on land twice a year.  In the spring, they come to shed their skin in a “catastrophic molt.”  Unlike humans where little bits of our skin and hair fall off all the time, elephant seals shed their entire skin once a year.  It reminds me of how the caterpillars shed their skin several times before becoming chrysalises.  The other time elephant seals come ashore is right now, in the winter, when the females are ready to have their babies.  Each female only gives birth to one pup each year.

The pups are born with black, wrinkly fur.  They weigh at least 75 pounds when they are born, which is about the size of a 10- or 11-year-old!  They spend 24 days nursing and they quadruple in size!  After they are done nursing, they are called “weaners.”  The moms go back to sea and the babies stay behind in “weaner pods” as they practice learning how to swim and live on their own.

Female elephant seals can weigh up to 1,600 pounds.  This is about the same weight as a cow!  Male elephant seals can weigh up to 5,000 pounds.  This is more than a car weighs and about half the weight of a tyrannosaurus rex! 

Male elephant seals have a long nose called a proboscis (different than a butterfly’s proboscis!) and females do not.  The proboscis on a male elephant seal grows longer as it gets older.  They use it to scare other male elephant seals away from their territory by inflating it and making loud noises.

The elephant seals spend most of their time on the beach trying not to move too much.  They need to save their energy because they don’t eat while they’re away from the water.  They also throw sand on themselves!  They do this to cool off.  Their skin also gets itchy when they’re out of the water for a long time, so we saw them scratching themselves with their fins a lot too.

The elephant seal colony we visited is 5 miles long and has more than 15,000 elephant seals!  They have a live video on their website so we can check in on them once I’m back at school!

Some other animals we saw briefly today included sea otters (through binoculars – they were resting on beds of kelp out at sea), grey whales (also through binoculars – we only saw their spray), a tiny sea star, a sea anemone, and a heron!

Ms. Alexander


Sunday, January 17

Dear Kindergartners,

Today we got to visit the largest monarch colony in California – the Monarch Grove at Pismo State Beach.  We learned that there are 200 colonies all over California, and these are where the monarch butterflies from British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and California spend the winter.  About half of these are on private property and half are open to the public.

At the Pismo Beach colony, the monarchs are hanging from eucalyptus trees, which is different than the trees they roost on in Mexico.  It turns out that when monarchs choose where to spend the winter, the type of tree isn’t important.  They look for shelter from storms and wind and a very specific climate.  They need a warm place with high humidity so they don’t dehydrate while they’re staying still on the trees.  The coast of California is perfect because it is often foggy. 

The colony we saw had about 28,000 monarchs!  They were very high up in the trees so we saw them best with binoculars.  Otherwise, the clusters of butterflies just looked like leaves.  They were hanging from leaves and branches in huge clumps.  Every so often a butterfly would leave its clump and fly around, then join a new clump.  They only do this when it’s sunny and above a certain temperature.  It was a spectacular sight.

In early February, these monarch colonies will break up so the butterflies can head to areas with milkweed to lay their eggs.  Then the life cycle begins all over again!

Tomorrow we’re hoping to see elephant seals, sea otters, grey whales, sand dollars, and more!

Ms. Alexander



Saturday, January 16

Dear Kindergartners,

My trip is off to a fantastic start!  I spent a lot of time today visiting the famous California sea lions at Pier 39.  These animals have made the dock their home because there are so many fish to eat and it is a safe environment.  They also migrate up and down the Pacific coast.

California sea lions are known for being smart, playful, and for barking loudly.  I can’t wait to show you videos of these funny animals!

Two of the biggest dangers to sea lions are becoming trapped in fishing equipment or plastic and swallowing plastic pollution.  This is one reason why it’s so important to recycle our plastic so it doesn’t end up in the ocean!

Tonight I met my group for the week and we head out tomorrow on our first adventure.  We are going to visit a museum and then our first butterfly sanctuary.  I am so excited!

Ms. Alexander



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