Friday, February 15, 2013

Point Reyes - Feb 11 & 12 2013

Instead of gallivanting off to the rain forest in February which is our usual yearly escape, we decided to stay in the area and see some local sites.  One of our favorite Northern California destinations is Point Reyes.  So, after seeing a good extended weather forecast, we booked a cottage on short notice and took off.

On the way to the coast, we decided to stop in Tennessee Valley to look for bobcat.  We didn't end up seeing any but the hike down to the ocean and back was very nice.


Bewick's Wren:
Bewick's Wren

We also saw some Mule Deer and a Coyote that was hanging out around the horse barns.  Maybe it was looking to catch a ride?

Coyote Waiting at the Barns

After a nice visit with family, we headed off early the next day to see Muir Woods.  I don't think I had been there since an elementary school field trip back in the "old days".  We found Muir Woods very cool due to both the huge redwoods and the frigid early morning temperatures.  It's a good thing we had gloves, lots of layers and knit hats.  The woods were super quiet.  In fact, we found them TOO quiet.  We saw almost no wildlife there at all and heard very few birds.  But, hiking around in utter silence was very soothing.

Muir Woods

As a matter of fact, this Banana Slug was the only moving thing that I was able to get a good photo of the entire time that we were there although we did see a few Varied Thrush, Fox Sparrow, and Steller's Jay.

Banana Slug

After a long hike and good lunch at the cafe in the park we headed to Point Reyes where we knew we would find some critters.  We started off by cruising all the way to Pierce Point Ranch.  We saw lots of Tule Elk at the refuge and quail as well but nothing too exciting.  So, we decided to head out of the park to grab some food.  As we were leaving we were commenting on the lack of wildlife seen during the day and Karen made the comment that "was it too much to ask to see a bobcat?".  Not 2 minutes later a bobcat crossed the road and stopped long enough for a quick picture:


Ask, and ye shall receive...fantastic!

After dinner, we did a night drive and walk around the visitor center area.  We had received a tip that this was a good place to see fox so we decided to check it out.  It was a bit chilly (to say the least) and all we had to show for our cold extremities was lots of deer sightings and some Brush Rabbits as well.  But, at least we didn't strike out.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Point Reyes - Feb 13, 2013

With our first full day of exploring ahead of us, we had no problem getting up early and we were out before 6:30AM.   We had been serenaded by a pair of Great-horned Owls the night before which was really nice.

According to our car, the temp outside was a balmy 38 degrees.  We had decided to drive all the way out to the lighthouse today since it was closed on Wednesdays and we thought that would give us a better chance of finding a weasel in that area. As we drove past Inverness and up the hill to the park we saw lots of low lying fog.  Hoping that it would lift enough to see things along the road we continued on towards the lighthouse but the fog got thicker and thicker.

We decided to take a detour up to the Estero trail head.  We have always felt that the road leading to the trail parking lot would be a great way to see critters in the surrounding hills but we never have seen anything of interest here...yet we keep trying.  Unfortunately, the fog stayed thick and the only things we saw were cows.

The road to the parking lot goes right through an open pasture and the cows have no problem getting in the way.  Since we were driving slow anyway, I pulled up next to one of the cows and rolled down Karen's window getting ready to say something witty (I can't remember what, but I am sure it was good).  Before I could say anything, Karen nonchalantly asked the cow "Do you know the way to the lighthouse"?  The cow showed its disdain for that question by signaling some buddies who then proceeded to saunter into the middle of the road and stop...butts pointed right at us.  That will teach us to ask for directions.  With some gentle nudging of my bumper (just kidding) the cows eventually dispersed and we had a new tag line for the trip.

On the way out we decided to abandon the journey to the lighthouse due to the fog and instead headed out to Pierce Point with hopes that there was no fog there.  This turned out to be a great choice.  There was some fog but it was great photography fog:

Pierce Point Ranch

Pierce Point Ranch in the Fog

And the Tule Elk were once again close to the road.
Tule Elk

We had hit Pierce Point at a perfect time.  There was no wind out there and no one in the parking lot.   So, we decided to head out on the Pierce Point trail to look for weasel and anything else that might cross our path (but mainly weasel).

The start of the trail was basked in a combination of morning sun and fog:

Pierce Point Trail head

Further along the trail, the fog had just about disappeared except for one large strip that was quickly flowing over the hill like a waterfall.  It was a "fogfall".

Pierce Point Trail

There was a huge group of male elk hanging out quite near the trail.  It's not often I am able to use the following line without getting slapped...."Nice rack!".

Tule Elk

The entire hike was very scenic and enjoyable.  But the only wildlife to speak of was lots of birds and a coyote:


The rest of the day consisted of more cruising along the roads and a hike at Abbott's Lagoon once again looking for weasel.  But, we didn't see much of interest except a few coyotes in bad light and lots of birds.  We did finally make it out to the lighthouse where we saw three gray whales, but once again no luck on the weasel.

That night we drove around again and had much better luck.  First, the deer and rabbits were out again at the visitor center.  But, tonight they were joined by a Gray Fox that trotted across the parking lot through our headlights.  It was off into the night before we could get any good looks but it was neat to see anyway.  On the way back to the cottage, I saw some eye-shine along the road by a house.  Due to its location I was thinking house cat.  As we drove up to where the eye-shine was I had my flashlight at the ready which was a good thing since it perfectly illuminated another Gray Fox not five feet from us.  The fox turned and looked at us for a few seconds and then ducked through a fence.  It was a fantastic look but I am kicking myself for not having the camera more ready since I might have been able to get a shot.  Oh well, the memory is intact.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Point Reyes - Feb 14 & 15, 2013

Our second, and last, full day once again had perfect weather and was a bit warmer than yesterday.  We were out at 6:30AM again intent on heading out Limantour Road to the beach before any wind came up.  As we left the cottage driveway a Gray Fox ran across it and along Highway 1.  We turned to follow but it must have headed off-road so we didn't get another look. But, we did see a Barn Owl as it flew to the top of a nearby telephone pole.  Hopefully, both sightings would be a good omen for the day.

So, off we went to Limantour Road.  The drive to the beach was uneventful so we decided to stretch our legs a bit by taking a short walk to see what was around.  The answer was...not much.

Limantour Spit

Towards the end of the hike we heard some coyotes yelping but we couldn't see any at all so we headed back towards the car.  From there, we saw one of the coyotes as it trotted up the road and out of sight barely even giving us a glance.

I really wanted to photograph some Steller's Jays so I had previously earmarked a hike along the Muddy Hollow trail this morning hoping that it would take us into their habitat.  The trail head is only a mile or so back along Limantour road so it wasn't long until we were out again and hiking away.  Unfortunately, it became obvious after a mile or so that this trail wouldn't take us into the habitat that I wanted.  It was through scrub brush with few trees and wasn't going to lead us to any jays.  So, we cut the hike short since we really hadn't seen much besides some cool looking dead trees:

Muddy Hollow Trail

Back in the car we decided to head out to Pierce Point and scan for bobcat along the way.  We stopped at Abbott's Lagoon for another "wild weasel chase" and to eat some sandwiches that we picked up.  There were the typical birds around the lagoon and a lone otter on the far shore.  After lunch we headed out to the ranch.  Besides a few elk, there was not much happening at Pierce Point Ranch except for a cooperative quail overseeing the safety of his bevy.

California Quail (male)

Just as we were about to leave, we heard a weird bird call from the trees above the parking lot.  It wasn't one that we had heard before and was rather exotic.  I tried to capture the call on video but it really didn't come out well and we never could find the source.  (Back at the cottage later, we played some bird calls from our Peterson app and we decided with almost 100% certainty that it was a Barred Owl.  While becoming more common, this still would have been a rare sighting.)

On the way back along Pierce Point Road just before the small pond at the intersection with Sir Francis Drake, we spotted a coyote.  A split second later I saw the outlines of a feline through the trees.  Once past the trees, we got a good look at a sunbathing bobcat.  It was probably about 50 yards away and didn't seem bothered by us at all.   It did keep looking in the direction of the coyote however.



We probably spent around 20 minutes watching the cat until it walked up the hill and sat under a tree.  During this time, another coyote showed up but didn't go check out the cat.  So, we had two coyotes and one bobcat all within a par 5 of each other.  Not too shabby.

We decided to leave the cat alone and venture out to the light house again.  Back on Sir Francis Drake we had just about gotten to the turn off for the Estero trail head when another bobcat leaped out of the bushes near a farmhouse and bounded across the road into a thicket in maybe two leaps.  If you blinked you might have missed it.  Wow!  That was awesome!

The farmhouse here has dozens of chickens wandered around behind a pretty flimsy fence so my guess is that the bobcat was doing a little chicken hunting.  The rest of the drive to the lighthouse was uneventful.

Once again, there were no weasels anywhere around the lighthouse despite our detailed searching but we did see a Peregrine Falcon just sitting in the sun.  Apparently there is at least one nesting pair in that area.  It was getting late now so we headed back to grab some dinner.  We had big plans tonight to drive into the park scanning the roads for eye-shine hoping that they would belong to something cool. 

Back at the cottage, I heard some frogs croaking around the yard.  Since I am never one to pass up an amphibian photo op, I headed out to search for them.  Of course, the second I would get anywhere near them, they would stop calling and ones in the other direction would start. It was like auditory whack-a-mole except that I didn't even get to see any of the darn things.

However, a high pitched chittering kind of sound got my attention near the cottage.  At first I thought it was coming from birds, maybe hummingbirds? but that made no sense.  As I narrowed in on the sound I discovered it was coming from a gap between the chimney and the cottage.  AH HA!  Now I knew what was making the sound:

Mexican Free-tailed Bats

This was a huge colony of Mexican Free-tailed bats (my thanks to Point Reyes biologist Gary Fellers who gave me the ID after viewing the bat video I posted on youtube).  It was great fun watching them pour out of this small gap.  I kept thinking that they would stop but they kept coming.  There were easily a couple hundred bats here.

With that excitement and an excellent burrito from Whale of a Deli behind us, we headed out for a night drive to Abbott's Lagoon and back by way of the visitor center.  There were only deer and rabbits at the visitor center tonight and nothing out in the park until we rounded the bend past H-ranch.  Out of the corner of my eyes I saw something flat and dark scurry out from the pasture edge to cross the road and it was headed right under our car.  Instinctively, I hit the brakes and yelled "Badger!" at the same time.  Or, I yelled first and then hit the brakes.  This happened so fast I forget the order but my primary worry was that I had hit the poor thing.  We stopped and reversed back down the road and thankfully found no casualties.  In fact, our flashlights picked up not one but two pairs of eye-shine in the direction where the badger had been headed.   That was a bit too close of a call for my liking and as it turns out Karen didn't even see it at all.  But we both agreed that the eye-shine was close to the ground and was likely the dare devil badger although we aren't sure what the second set of eye-shine belonged to...maybe one of the numerous house cats that hang out around this ranch?

In any case, that was all the excitement found on that night drive and once again I had no picture to prove the encounter.  But, it was 100% our (well "my") first California badger sighting.

We slept in a bit the next day and weren't out until around 7:30.  It would be a half day for us since we wanted to avoid traffic on the way home (which we didn't, boy Highway 80 gets worse and worse...).  We drove out to PP Ranch again and along the way had a great coyote sighting:

Coyote at Dawn

Then, we happened upon what we thought was a hawk sitting on a fence post along the road.  Upon further inspection of the photo, we now realize that this was our first ever Merlin.  I guess we didn’t identify it in the moment because it wasn’t wearing a pointy wizard hat…


After trading emails the day before with Jim Coda (a great local pro photographer whom we met a few years back in Yellowstone.  Check out his Bald Eagle portfolio...simply amazing), we decided to try a new road out by L-Ranch based on his suggestion.  This road looks to be great for seeing all sorts of wildlife because it is relatively untraveled and winds through great habitat.  We ended up taking the road twice on this last day and did see a coyote but nothing else.


There was one last stop for us at the Estero trail head to hike down to a grove of trees known to house some owls.  It was a great walk even though we struck out with owls.  We did see more quail though.

California Quail (Female)

With that, we headed out of the park the long way via Novato since it's a really pretty drive.  That was a good call since the mustard fields were blooming.

Mustard Field

While it was a shorter trip than we usually take, it was still a really nice trip with lots of great wildlife encounters and a few good pictures and video clips along the way.  Here is a compilation video of the whole trip:

New Birds Photographed:
  • Steller's Jay
  • Fox Sparrow
  • Merlin
 Mammals Spotted:
  • Gray Squirrel
  • Tule Elk
  • Mule Deer
  • Bobcat
  • Coyote
  • Brush Rabbit
  • Gray Fox
  • Gray Whale
  • North American River Otter
  • American Badger
  • Mexican Free-tailed Bats

Reptiles and Amphibians Spotted:
  • Nil
  • None
  • Bupkus
  • Need to try harder next time