Sunday, October 9, 2011

Point Reyes Safari - 10-9-11

          I had the day to myself so I decided to drive out to Point Reyes in search of Wildlife. I started off by heading out to Pierce Point to check up on the Tule Elk. I stopped briefly at the parking lot at Abbotts Lagoon where I observed about a dozen Killdeer standing in the field across the street. As usual, Vultures and Hawks took up real estate on the many power poles and fence posts.

Perched Vulture

          Just after entering the Tule Elk Reserve I spotted a couple of Bulls in the distance to the west. I parked the car and crept over a small hill where I could see the herd grazing lazily on the tall grasses. Although the rest of the park was sunny, Tomales Point was thickly cloaked with fog which made taking photos of the Elk rather difficult. I sat quietly for a while observing the herd and studying the dynamic between the Bulls and Cows. I was lucky enough to hear one bugle, the powerful tone emanating outward, cutting through the fog until the sound wave shifted out of my capable range of frequency, leaving me awestruck.

Tule Elk

          Saturated with fog I headed for sunnier skies. I drove back Pierce Point Road and turned up Marshall Beach Rd. which turns to dirt after a short but steep incline. A few hundred yards later I spotted a bobcat sitting on the hillside a good distance away. I pulled over and watched from my car for a while until he got up and started to mosey uphill.

Point Reyes Bobcat

          I stalked slowly up the hill in pursuit, focused intensely on not letting my own movements be tracked by the cat. In fact, I ended up breaking one of the cardinal rules in nature observation which is to never stay focused on one thing without constantly taking in the entire scene; a technique known as splatter vision. I was focused so intently on the bobcat that I didn't notice the Great Horned Owl just several feet away on a Monterey Pine branch until it took off and nearly flicked my brow with its tail feathers as it swooped overhead. I continued stalking the bobcat through a tall section of grasses beneath the pine trees and could tell that it was a frequent use trail of the cat by the way the grasses were bent over and creased. I then came to an open area where I saw the owl flying low over the meadow and then alighting on a tree in the distance. By then the cat must have caught my scent or took warning from the owl, because it was nowhere in sight.
          I crouched amongst the grasses and waited patiently for any action. The Great Horned Owl made another swoop over the meadow in search of prey before landing in a different tree. It did this several times prior to disappearing in the approaching fog bank. Mystified and satisfied, I descended the hillside and checked for ticks. I was greatly surprised that I evaded the little blood suckers completely.
          I then headed out to Drakes Beach stopping to watch a coyote on the bluffs along the way.

Coyote on the Hunt

Following Scents

          At one point it made a kill and then took but a few jerky maneuvers to swallow it entirely.

Choking Down a Rodent

Point Reyes Coyote

          I arrived at Drakes Beach and scouted the trees around the parking lot for any perched hawks or owls as can sometimes be found. I had no luck and as I was pulling out from the lot I noticed another woman scouting the trees just as I had. I wonder if she'd find anything I missed?
          My next destination was North Beach just a few minutes away where the sun was shining and the waves were crashing. I took a walk on the beach and it got warm enough to take my shirt off and enjoy the sunshine. I found a nice cove to relax at and absorb some vitamin D!

Colorful Ice Plant at North Beach

          On my way out of Point Reyes I pulled over to photograph a good looking Red Tailed Hawk perched in a tree.

Red Tailed Hawk

          I left Point Reyes behind me and was just past Olema with my mind already starting to shift back into "urban mindset" mode when I saw another bobcat on the hill not far from the Bolinas Ridge trailhead. I pulled over and started in the vague direction of where the cat was, but from a vantage where I was not visible from due to a small incline in the hillside. I crouched and approached slowly until I could see the cat on the horizon.

Olema Bobcat

          I slowly advanced closer and as it cleared a bush and caught sight of me it gave a look of despair before bolting in the opposite direction. The look on its face was priceless but at the same time I felt horrible for startling it. These cats are wild animals and hunting time is crucial for their health and survival. My interrupting it could have cost it it's last meal of the day.
          On my way back to the car I climbed over the fence at the trail head only to scare away a small Gopher Snake which slithered into the grasses before I could capture an image. As I was scouring the grasses looking for the serpent I came a cross a Praying Mantis hanging on the barbed wire fence. I took a step back and waited for movement to see if I could pick up on the snakes movements and in the meantime a Pocket Gopher started poking its head out of the ground a few feet away. It goes to show there's always a lot going on in nature that doesn't immediately meet the eye.

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