Elkhorn Slough Wildlife Refuge (State of California)

Another digression, between Monterey (we actually stayed in Marina, but more on that in another post) and Santa Cruz, we visited the Elkhorn Slough State Wildlife Refuge. It’s a great place for birds, in November through early spring, but less so in summer. Still we counted about 15 species, including a couple of new ones for the life list, so I’m not complaining. Rather I’m thinking of an excuse to visit at a better time.

The Center building itself. It wasn’t this nice when I visited about 8 years ago.

The refuge, an old farm, is maintained by the state and in great shape. They will lend you excellent binocculars (Eagle optics), and the rangers are friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable.

A view of the slough from the South Marsh loop

There are about 5 miles of looped trails over a range of habitat. However, it’s mostly slough, mudflat, and open fields with some oak woods mixed in.

A copy of the trail map that they hand out at the center.

Speaking of oaks, California is in the midst of a slow crisis of sudden death oak fungus, so it’s important to clean your shoes when traipsing about.  They also had us brush off any possible seeds from invasive species. Poison oak isn’t an invasive species, and it is present in the refuge (the birds love the berries). One interesting difference between the western variety and its relatives in Georgia is that the California poison oak was already turning red and losing leaves. Still you should be careful about it – unless you like itchy patches of blisters. (Using soap and water within an hour or so of exposure is usually enough to remove the oils.)

Burning off Eucalyptis

However at this time of the year, the non-avian wildlife is worth a serious look. In addition to lizards (mostly fence lizards) and a gopher snake that stayed put for an intimate photograph, there were rabbits, seals, and sea otters. Sea otters!

A curious Gopher Snake.

I repeat sea otters. At least two of them (both surfaced at the same time) and possibly three of them. There is a power line that crosses over the Parson’s Slough overlook. An Egret rookery is at the far side of the slough where it crosses. The sea otters were playing in the incoming tide more or less directly under the wire. There was also a curious seal, who would poke his nose up, now and then.  I have to admit I didn’t believe that sea otters came in the sloughs, but I was wrong and the ranger was right.

Our day started out sunny, but then the fog and chill (54F, 12C) rolled in, hence the fairly grey photos.

For what it’s worth, I’m selling photos at Shutterstock and Alamy.

Tule Elk on Point Reyes.

Something of a digression, but we just walked the Tomales point trail at Point Reyes National Seashore through the Tule Elk preserve. This species of elk was nearly hunted to extinction and reintroduced to park about 40 years ago.

Fine, neat, but so what.

Most of the hikers on the trail, and there were more than we’ve seen on any other trail in the park, missed the elk completely. We saw at least 21 and possibly as many as 26 (there was a large herd that was hard to count, my best estimate was 20). There’s a trick to it, well two tricks actually:

  1. Skill and knowledge
  2. Patience

The first step is to find the elk. Being prey animals, even though they’re the size of small cows, they tend to hide away. We  saw three heads on the top of a ridge in the distance. Were they elk? Well, out with the binoculars. Yup, elk.

Further on, to get out of the wind (Tulome trail is very windy. The Park Service quietly understates ‘even experienced hikers may find it difficult’.) we took a diversion to hide behind a pile of rocks. There was a small cluster of similar little dots in the distance. Again, out with the binoculars and quelle surprise, a herd of elk, not 100 meters from the path.

Elk as little dots in the distance.

So then it was just a matter of walking to the closest point on the path and waiting. While a fair number of people walked past, chatting about this and that, we watched the elk.

Elk backs with the Pacific Ocean behind them.

At first, they were blobs in the distance.

They walked closer and soon our patience was rewarded.  People kept walking past without noticing the animals. Shame.

Two elk

 

 

These pictures were made with a 200mm lens, which isn’t a particularly powerful telephoto lens.

For what it’s worth, I’m selling photos at Shutterstock and Alamy.