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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Point Reyes National Seashore

The last full day of our trip didn't go as planned, but it was still full of awesome sights. Our first stop was at Golden Gate Park to take in a view of the Golden Gate Bridge:

We had planned to head straight to Point Reyes National Seashore to have a full day of birding there, but we had to pull over when we spotted some American avocets, a life bird for yours truly. As with many species we've seen this trip, some were in winter plumage and others in summer plumage. Overall, it was an interesting time to be out birding because there were a combination not only of plumages but of birds you'd expect to see in an area just in the winter or just in the summer.

Point Reyes is a unique peninsula that juts out into the Pacific Ocean with a complicated geologic history and a rich anthropological story dating back to the Coast Miwok Indians who first inhabitated the peninsula 5000 years ago. It is a fantastic birding location as 490 species have been seen there, and I was looking forward to a big day of birding. We got the sunshine, but unfortunately our birding was inhibited by the incredibly strong winds. It was so windy that when we took the half mile walk out to see Point Reyes lighthouse, it was impossible to walk in a straight line. We weren't able to descend the 300 stairs to the lighthouse itself, as the stairs were closed due to the heavy winds. Still, it was well worth it to see the scenic lighthouse, and in the photo below you can get a glimpse of the nearshore white caps as well:

We weren't the only determined visitors that braved the windy conditions, either. When a migrating gray whale was spotted near the lighthouse (only the fifth of the day, compared to more than 25 the previous day - it is harder to spot in all those white caps!), tourists seemed to materialize out of nowhere to catch a glimpse. The photo below, especially if you take into consideration the harsh, cold winds that were pummeling everyone, really attests to the simple magnetism of cetaceans:

We really shouldn't have been surprised about the wind. The exposed coastline of Point Reyes has been shaped by the constant winds, as demonstrated in the leaning cypress tree below. Can you guess which way the wind was blowing?

We did see some juvenile elephant seals hauled out on some sandy beaches, and a few California sea lions as well. What really struck me on these beaches was the spray being blown off the top of the cresting waves:

Nothing much smaller than a turkey vulture was visible in the windy conditions, so bird sightings were actually pretty scarce. The coolest bird-related thing we saw was a grove of trees absolutely covered with the holes of acorn woodpeckers. We couldn't find any of the woodpeckers, but there was evidence of them up and down every tree in the area:

Closer inspection revealed the reason for the holes - a place to cache acorns:

After having enough of the winds ourselves, we ended up leaving Point Reyes early which allowed us to enjoy the next part of our drive in the daylight. We were all impressed with the beautiful rolling green hills of this part of the California landscape, as when we've been in the state before the hills have usually faded to a dull brown. The timing was just right to enjoy a beautiful and lush landscape:

The best birding of the day ended up happening at dusk at Sacremento National Wildlife Refuge, which has been designated a globally important bird area, or a habitat essential for birds and considered vital for maintaining global biodiversity. Some highlights included flocks of white-faced ibises and ring-necked pheasants around every corner.

Last night we made it back to San Juan Island after two full days of driving. I'll make one more post about the California trip to include a few sights that didn't quite fit in to the other posts, so check back in a day or two for a few more cool notes, including a group of 20+ sea otters!


Vickie said...

Terrific post. I love the beautiful views from this area and visit it whenever I come to CA. I've never been there at the right time to see whales. Enjoyed your earlier posts as well. Enviable, scenic trip.

Michele Wassell said...

I love the ocean wave crest photo... Beautiful! All the Otters I have seen in California have mostly been grouped. A few years ago, before the population increased, the two Otters living in Morro Bay harbor, at times would be alone (seperate), but at the end of the day, they would be back together for the night it seem like. Now that there is about 8 Otters living there, they all seem to hang out close together; almost like a pod of Orcas. :)

Glad you had a great trip. I never seen the lighthouse in Santa Cruz before. What a lovely one! I will have to check that out next time I am up that way...

It seems to always be windy at Pt Reyes, or at least the times I have been there...

Look forward to your next post.. :) Good luck at the conference this week..