Wildlife Viewing at Point Reyes

bobcat-Tomales-1
Bobcat hunting in coastal prairie at Golden Gate National Recreation Area adjacent to Point Reyes National Seashore.

These are some of my natural history observations over the years from my field notebooks in the coastal prairie at Point Reyes National Seashore. The Pacific edge grasslands are full of biodiversity, from salmon to salamanders and frogs, reptiles, birds, and mammals. Wildlife watching in this habitat can be quite rewarding, and Point Reyes is one of the best places to catch a glimpse of what early California was like before European contact.

From my Field Notebooks:

April 4, 1997 – A clear, cool, windy day at Tomales Point in Point Reyes National Seashore. I came to observe the tule elk here, while I was researching my book, trying to imagine California grasslands filled with herds of this endemic California elk subspecies (Cervus elaphus nannodes).

I found the 21 young bulls at 8:30 AM grazing in the bottom of a ravine in grassy areas. Others lay on open ridge-tops. Their antlers were growing, some mere nubbins, others larger and round in velvet. Groups of cow elk were lying about in the morning sun or grazing peacefully. All the elk were still shedding their winter coats.

Tomales-velvet-bulls

A coyote (Canis latrans) walked along the grassy slope near a group of elk. It saw me and trotted off away.

My bird list this day at Tomales Point:

  • Turkey vulture
  • Great blue heron
  • Northern harrier
  • Surf scoter – seen from the coastal prairie out on the sea.
  • Herring gulls
  • Mourning dove
  • California quail
  • Barn swallow
  • Western bluebird
  • American crow
  • Common raven
  • California scrub jay
  • Wrentit
  • Wilson’s warbler
  • Yellowthroat
  • Red-winged blackbird
  • Song sparrow
  • House finch

On the drive out, two black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus columbianus)–a pregnant doe accompanied by her yearling from the previous year, fed in the grassy field near Bear Valley.

For some reason, this area is one of the best places to view bobcats. at 2 PM I found a bobcat hunting gophers in grassy hills in Golden Gate National Recreation Area (adjacent to Point Reyes National Seashore).

bobcat-Tomales-2

June 25, 1997 – Tomales Point at 8:15 AM, Point Reyes National Seashore. I came for tule elk watching. I found a herd of 16 large bull elk with antlers well-grown and in velvet. I noticed their antlers were relatively smaller than those of tule elk at San Luis National Wildlife Refuge in the San Joaquin Valley. Is the range behind the tall fence on Tomales Point poorer nutritionally than the rich riverine grasslands of the Central Valley?

A cow elk herd was lying in the sun on a grassy hill, their fur color still a pale winter light brown, just growing in their redder summer coats. A few growing elk calves grazed among the cow elk, some still with their baby spots.

Tom-cow-and-calf

California poppies grew in elk beds in the grass.

A brush rabbit (Sylvilagus bachmani) hopped into a north coastal scrub patch from the grass edge.

My bird list:

  • Red-tailed hawk
  • Northern harrier
  • American crow
  • Anna’s hummingbird
  • Barn swallow
  • Western bluebird
  • Yellowthroat
  • Swainson’s thrush – singing in a brushy canyon.
  • Brewer’s blackbird
  • Song sparrow
  • Savannah sparrow
  • White-crowned sparrow
  • American goldfinch
  • House finch

September 24, 1997 – A warm, clear day at 7 AM on Tomales Point, Point Reyes National Seashore. A wave of fog blew in off the ocean as I watched with binoculars in the morning. The tule elk rut was in full swing now, the bulls bugling their high trumpeting squeal to each other. At 7:15 AM a stirring chorus of bugling occurred–almost continuously and simultaneously from several bulls together. Harem bulls herded their cow groups about, while younger bulls practiced fighting and clacking their new antlers together. Larger bulls faced off and clashed. The day proved to be rewarding for field sketching and watching elk behavior.

Tom-rut-2.jpg

Meanwhile a pair of ravens walked through the grass near the elk commotion, oblivious and possibly hunting grasshoppers–one ran down the hill after something, ignoring the fighting bull elk.

At one point a doe Axis deer, or Chital (Axis axis) walked by near the elk–these introduced game species from India have since been removed from the park.

My bird list out on the coastal prairie and north coastal scrub patches that day:

  • Red-tailed hawk
  • American kestrel
  • Northern harrier
  • White-tailed kite
  • Killdeer
  • California quail
  • Long-eared owl – in a willow copse.
  • Black phoebe
  • Say’s phoebe
  • Western bluebird
  • American pipit
  • Wrentit
  • Blue-gray gnatcatcher
  • Western meadowlark
  • Red-winged blackbird
  • Brewer’s blackbird
  • Song sparrow
  • Savannah sparrow
  • White-crowned sparrow
  • Golden-crowned sparrow
  • House finch
  • Lesser goldfinch
  • American goldfinch
  • Lawrence’s goldfinch – a rare siting!

September 27, 1997 – a clear day at 1 PM, Kehoe Beach, a freshwater marsh behind the beach in the coastal prairie in Point Reyes National Seashore. I saw an Aquatic  Western garter snake (Thamnophis couchi).

(Check out this helpful illustrated plant list of the Kehoe trail at Calflora by Marin California Native Plant Society.)

I was lucky enough on Tomales Point, while listening to the tule elk harem bulls bugling, to view a white-tailed kite out on the coastal prairie.

elk-kite

 

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