Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Day Hike - Point Reyes National Seashore - McClures Beach , Tomales Point Trail , Tule Elk Preserve , Mt. Vision - 1-3-11

          There were gorgeous blue skies when we awoke Monday morning. We packed our hiking gear and hit the road heading for Point Reyes National Seashore. We took Sir Francis Drake to Point Reyes and then took a right turn onto Pierce Point. Rd. Several minutes down the road I noticed a gigantic Turkey sized bird perched on a fencepost. I could not stop the car soon enough as it got startled and flew away in what seemed like slow motion before I could get my camera out. I don't know what type of bird it was, but it was much larger than any other hawk we would see that day and honestly the biggest bird I have ever seen in my life. We passed Tomales Bay State Park and pullouts for Abbotts Lagoon and Kehoe Beach before coming to the Tule Elk Preserve. Grazing groups of Black Tailed Deer spotted the vast green hills beside the road. Upon entering the Preserve we were immediately greeted by a herd of about forty Tule Elk.

Tule Elk

Tule Elk

Tule Elk

          The car almost acted as a blind as the Elk seemed greatly accustomed to vehicular traffic. This is said to be true in a lot of cases when viewing wildlife. After admiring the Elk we continued to the end of the road and the Trailheads for Tomales Point as well as McClures Beach.             We opted to first check out McClures Beach. The parking lot was empty as we set off down the trail.  The wide sandy path follows a small creek for about .4 miles before letting out on McClures Beach.

Approaching McClures Beach

          We had the whole place to ourselves which is a rarity as it can really fill up on the weekends. We walked south along the beach observing various shore birds scouring for food in the sand.

Sarah on a Rock Outcropping

Dead Hawk

Feel Good Spot

Graceful Birds

In Motion

Gull in Flight


Feeding Frenzy

          The weather could not have been better. The sun was out, it was crystal clear, and it was warm enough for only a T-shirt. We walked to the southern most tip of McClures Beach where a massive rock jolts out into the sea. There is a small notch between the rock and the bluff that allows one to pass through to a beach on the other side. We walked through the notch and found an easy way to climb to the top of the massive rock. The views to the Southeast included Elephant Rock and the beach known as First Beach of the Unknown Coast.

Rock Jetting Out Into Sea

Crevice Connecting Two Beaches

Elephant Rock & First Beach

          To the Northwest was McClures Beach in its entirety. Giant Red Tailed Hawks aviated gracefully through the sky above us as we strolled back along the beach. The amount of predatory birds we would see this day has surpassed any other. I am not yet a well practiced birder by any means, however, I can safely say that we saw American Kestrels and several different species of Hawks including Red Tail, Red Shouldered, Sharp Shinned and many more. I am now greatly inspired to hone in on my bird identification skills.
            Although the weather greatly supported the idea of a day at the beach, our souls were craving more adventure. We walked back up the trail to our car and re-parked about a hundred yards up the hill at the Tomales Point Trailhead.  There were more than ten cars in the lot which is actually not that crowded compared with what it can be like.
           Since we were already lucky enough to see a herd of Tule Elk, we decided not to hike the whole way out to Tomales Bluff, but instead walk a short ways enjoying the coastal views while watching for whales. The trailhead itself is located at the old Pierce Point Ranch Site where a community of old white buildings still stand. There are interpretive signs that tell the history of certain buildings. We skipped the Ranch altogether and continued along the Tomales Point Trail. It's not long before you are granted with views westward over the mighty Pacific.

Old Ranch Building at the Tomales Point Trailhead

Tomales Point Trail

            As we approached what is known as Windy Gap we located another herd of Elk situated on the top of a distant hill. We took the trail uphill to the top of a prominent rocky knoll. Atop it were a pair of Ravens curiously observing the land.

Raven on Rocky Knoll

           We were now looking out over Tomales Bay and the Pacific Ocean. The Herd of Elk lay on a hilltop across from us. With the Binoculars we spotted just one Bull with a large rack.
            With lunch awaiting us in the car we retraced our steps back to the parking lot. From there we drove up the hill a short ways on Pierce Point Rd. to where we saw the first herd of Elk. By this time the herd had migrated a little further away from the road so we pulled over and ate lunch while gazing at the peaceful Tule Elk.

Group of Tule Elk Cows

Tule Elk Cows

Tule Elk

           We eventually left the Tule Elk Preserve and headed back along Pierce Point Road. A couple of young bucks were feeding on the hillside as we passed by. Soon thereafter we noticed several majestic Great Blue Herons feeding in a stream beside the road. Unfortunately it was on a blind turn and there were no pullouts nearby so there are no photos.

Young Bucks Feeding

            It is unfortunate that people drive so fast on these roads as most of the wildlife can be seen from your car if you drive slowly. I might even compare it to a Safari!! A car was riding my tail so I pulled aside at the nearest pullout; as I did I noticed a bobcat in the corner of my eye. So while the other car sped by us unknowingly, we got to stop and observe a bobcat prowl into the bushes.

Bobcat Hiding in the Brush

            We continued south and pulled over at the trailhead for Abbotts Lagoon where several deer rested in the tall green grasses.

Black Tailed Deer

         Just after passing H ranch we slowed down to observe two giant birds of prey perched on fence posts. As I pulled out my camera a speeding vehicle unfortunately scared them both away. One of the birds landed nearby on a hillside where we observed it with binoculars. I cannot as of yet accurately identify it. Meanwhile we noticed a coyote digging for a rodent on the hillside below.


            We got back in our car and drove back and forth a couple of times with false hopes the giant birds would land again. Regretfully, without a photo, we moved on. I did manage to get a few shots of some other birds.

Turkey Vulture


           Continuing on Pierce Point Rd. past Tomales Bay State Park we then took a right onto Sir Francis Drake Hwy. We veered left on Mt. Vision Rd. which winds uphill beneath Spanish moss covered trees toward the peak of Mt. Vision.  There are several pullouts along the way that offer somewhat broken views west of Drakes Estero and the Pacific Ocean. We parked in a big dirt parking lot on Inverness Ridge near the top of Mt. Vision and continued on foot along the paved road until it ended at some radio towers. Bunnies would scamper off in every direction as we approached along the road, all of them much too quick for the camera. From here the Inverness Ridge Trail continues southeast as a singletrack. We instead backtracked about one hundred yards to the Bucklin Trail where we walked out a short ways to a picnic table and bench overlooking it all. It is a perfect place to enjoy a glass of wine and watch sunset.

Bench Overlook on Bucklin Trail

            We eventually retreated to the car as the temperature was dropping rapidly. We drove home and along the way agreed that we need to further take advantage of our proximity to the Great Point Reyes National Seashore.

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