Posts tagged ‘Point Reyes’

Elephant seals

California Winter Wildlife Are Here

Anyone who’s traveled to Point Reyes more than once realizes that the weather is completely unpredictable. This is my fourth year as a docent, and still can’t predict how the weather will play out during the day. I always bring four layers of clothing, including long underwear, fleece, my Gore-Tex jacket and some mittens.

Sign at the Pt. Reyes Lighthouse

Sign at the Pt. Reyes Lighthouse

But January 4, my first day of being a docent, was incredibly clear and warm. We saw 28 whales in the morning shift at the lighthouse. Seeing whales is kind of an exaggeration, as anyone who has been up to the lighthouse knows.

Mostly what we see is a faint view of a dark back and maybe a fluke (tail). We often see a light blow of air every once in a while.

kingtides-oceanBut even that slight indication that there’s a forty-ton mammal beneath the surface excites visitors from around the world.  Some complain that they don’t see more. “That’s it?” they exclaim, imagining that they’d see a whole body coming out of the water instead.

Peregrine Falcon on his rock.

Peregrine Falcon on his rock.

The local Peregrine Falcon has a rock that he stations himself on, scanning the landscape for intruders into his territory. We watched him attack a juvenile Red-tailed hawk. He was vocalizing loudly and then swooped the bird, which was sitting on a cliff about 200 feet from the Peregrine.

He circled around and swooped the Red-tail again, vocalizing loudly the whole time. A scene better than any National Geo special I’ve seen online. The crowd was transfixed by the beauty of the Peregrine. The ranger later told me that this conflict had been happening for at least three weeks, and that they had seen the Peregrine tackle the Red-tail on the ground. They rolled over together. But that hawk keeps returning to the Peregrine’s territory, where they have a nest.

Meanwhile, a sea lion in the ocean below had a large fish or shark that it was trying to break apart by bashing it against the top of the water. Bash, bash. Parts of the fish flew around him and the gulls and pelicans dove for those pieces. Bash, bash. Eight or nine gulls hovered over him to grab the scraps. This went on for about ten minutes. (More drama for the visitors.)

Visitors walking down to the Pt. Reyes Lighthouse.

Visitors walking down to the Pt. Reyes Lighthouse.

That’s just some of the morning excitement. I missed the long-eared owls that another docent saw on her way over to our next station.

We moved over the Chimney Rock overlook, where we found the Northern Elephant seals, primarily males with some females and newborn pups. It was slow and quiet among the crowd of mammals on the beach, though we knew in a few weeks that the beach would be noisy with new-born pups, vocalizing females and bellowing males.

Elephant seals

Elephant seals

On our ride home we witnessed a full radiant moon, reflecting on the reservoir as it rose into the darkened sky.


Panoramic view of Drake's Bay.

The Sadness of Spring

The only sadness that spring brings for me is the end of my Winter Wildlife Docent days up at Point Reyes. Today was the last day that I spent talking to visitors about whales and elephant seals and whatever other topics came up (i.e., hunting white-tailed deer, smart birds, the appearance of orca whales, the anger of those left behind to endure winter in Minnesota, the grace of being relocated to California from Cleveland, Ohio).

And what a day it was at Point Reyes. Not only were the whales passing by the Lighthouse (we saw eleven in the morning), but this year’s Elephant Seal weaners were playing in the surf, fighting and making their way out into the ocean that they will soon call home.

On top of those usual findings were an abundance of wild flowers, visits from many birds (Surf Scoters, Brown Pelicans, Common Murres, Caspian Terns, Peregrine Falcons), and brilliant vistas all around. Some unidentified fishes were splashing in Drake’s Bay. No one was able to identify exactly who they were since it was the first time anyone had seen them before.

One of the best aspects of being a docent up there is that visitors from around the world see California wildlife for the first time. Locals come, too, and marvel that they don’t go out to Point Reyes enough, perhaps spending too many Saturdays at home relaxing with their NetFlix movies.

On damp, windy days visitors may ask us docents why we volunteer to come up in this weather and stand around for hours talking to strangers. I tell them about the beauty and perfection of what we see before us. How the commitment to do this volunteer work makes us all come out here to watch the bounty of nature unfold. Many still don’t get it. Perhaps they prefer the warmth and comfort to the raw qualities before us here in Point Reyes.


I walked by another Elephant Seal at the North End of Drake's Beach. He had a bloodied nose, meaning that he had probable been fighting just days earlier. Depleted, he was resting to shore up energy to go back again to fight and mate.

Beached Elephant Seals and Other Tales of Winter Featured

As much of the country was shivering from arctic air mass, a group of volunteers was out on January 5 in the Point Reyes sun promoting our wildlife visitors.

We will spend the next four months at Chimney Rock, the Lighthouse and Drake’s Beach telling stories about Gray Whales, Elephant Seals, land and sea birds, snakes and wild flowers. Here’s an album of my first docent day, much of it spent trying to make sure that unsuspecting visitors didn’t approach the 6,000 pound Elephant Seal who was taking a break on Drake’s beach after many days of fighting.

Photograph of sea kelp at the Great Beach in Point Reyes Beach with sea kelp

Beachwatch: Point Reyes

Our walk from North Beach to Abbott’s Lagoon on Sunday was a quiet day, with no complaints about the mix of sun, wind and beach action, though we were a bit slow on the birding. Were are the birds? was our main question. The Snowy Plovers starting to nest; some Dunlins with black bellies, which made us believe they were Black-bellied Plovers at first glance. Sanderlings in their breeding plumage and a handful of other birds. Nothing flying out at sea. No whale spouts. Few Ravens and Turkey Vultures. So quiet. Migration’s finale perhaps.

The day began at around 10am with the discovery of a freshly dead large sea lion. Clearly a male from the large sagittal crest on his head. He was a large male (96 inches in length from nose to tail), and seemingly healthy. No clear cause of death (such as gun shot wounds in his face). We called the Academy of Sciences hot line and dispatch at Point Reyes. They’ll send someone out to check on him and try to figure out how he died. Here are some shots from the day, hoping the images of a dead sea lion don’t unnerve you.