A Great Day at Point Reyes

I had the pure joy of spending the day at Point Reyes last week. It is a National Seashore park on a peninsula that juts out into the Pacific Ocean in Northern California. One of my favorite spots in the whole world.

Even though we only covered a small part of this vast park, we were greeted by an exciting cast of characters.

The first friend we met was a coyote. Canis latrans was far back in a field at first, just a dot on the horizon. It seems more often than not, when we see a wild mammal they are heading away from us. But for a refreshing change, this coyote was coming closer.

S/he was moving quickly, a steady gait with occasional sniffing stops.

We used the car as a blind and the coyote came relatively close, didn’t even notice us.

We watched appreciatively for about ten minutes. The coyote cocked its head to the side, keenly listening to the rustle of underground rodents.

Then it pounced on something, and instantly came up with prey–bigger than a mouse, and dark. Probably a mole. With a few jerks of the head, the coyote ate the mole and continued on its way.

Usually there is long grass in this field, and a large herd of cattle; not much going on. But this fine day we hit it lucky with the mown grass and hunting wildlife easily visible. The field had been recently mowed, stirring up insects and rodents, drawing in predators.

A great blue heron was busy in the grassy field, and ravens landed frequently. California quail were scurrying about, white-crowned sparrows were in abundance.

Down by the pond, a black-tailed deer quietly chewed.

A Wilson’s snipe even made an appearance. They spend the winter here.

Further down the road we came upon this bobcat. Just like the coyote, its grass-colored coat blended into the terrain, but didn’t slip our notice.

Point Reyes has a tule elk reserve, it’s the only national park unit where tule elk can be found. The population is currently thought to be averaging about 420 individuals.

We had seen the tule elk here dozens and dozens of times, and knew it was rather late in the day to see them. Usually they move far back into the hills by late afternoon.

But again we hit it lucky, and saw about a dozen individuals. We knew where to look. They were distant at first, about the size of a grain of rice.

A group of females, a harem, were on a ridge grazing. They were molting, growing their winter coats.

Just behind the elk harem, a male Northern Harrier was kiting, i.e., flying in place, hovering. Hunting.

Out in the distance, the Pacific Ocean reached to the horizon. A long stretch of sea, a separate world of its own rhythms.

The briny scent, the incoming fog, the gathering storm clouds and the glory of safe, fresh air calmed our frayed nerves.

Despite the election tension, the Covid surges, and the park’s recent 5,000 burned acres, there was nothing really different here. Turns out, that was just what we were looking for.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

Courtesy Wikipedia

107 thoughts on “A Great Day at Point Reyes

    • Yes, the coyote and bobcat do blend in so well with the landscape. I always find this curious, because they have brown, white, black colors and on the bobcat lots of markings, and yet they blend right in. Thank you for your visit and comment, Meg.

  1. Wow. I am amazed that you were able to see both a coyote and a bobcat as well as some really cool birds. I think that we all need time in nature, Jet, to calm “our frayed nerves,” as you so aptly put it.

    • Yes, I was amazed, too, Mike. Coyote and bobcat in the same day. I was so excited I was making a mammal species count…not something we do much in the U.S. The elk were fun, too, and I didn’t “count” the dairy cows, but they were pretty cool. I agree with you, nature is a great calming element. Frankly, I cannot live without nature, and I am guessing you can’t either. Thanks Mike, always a pleasure.

    • Yes, I agree, as you say, Mike, nature continues regardless of whatever else is going on. I’m off now to see what you’ve been up to in the Alps, always a joy. Many thanks.

    • Ahh, a pleasure to share the beauties of Pt. Reyes with you, Jane, something you know well. BTW, the Woodward Fire that occurred after the Aug. 17 lightning fires was south of Limantour and near parts of Bear Valley. We did not see any damage in Inverness or Tomales, which was a relief. Thanks so much for your visit, Jane.

    • I’m not surprised you’ve never heard of tule elk before, Diana; they are not well known. There are four subspecies of elk in No. America, and the tule are only found in California. They are named after a type of sedge, tule, that is common around the freshwater ponds they inhabit. Thanks so much for your visit.

      • 😀 It’s been a few years since I was last there, but I love going in the fall to see the Tule Elk, and Spring for the Wildflowers. Once I found a rare for that area Butterfly. I sent off my image to a Butterfly group and it took them months to get back to me. It seems they too had a hard time ID’ing it, but they did! Made my day. 😀

      • You name two of my favorite times to visit Pt. Reyes, Deborah. And I LOVE the story about the rare butterfly. I would’ve thought every single species in Pt. Reyes would be fully documented by now, so what a total thrill that must’ve been. Thanks so very much for sharing this story.

      • I went back to my archives and found that butterfly image. It was back in 2016 on a trail out to one of the beaches- we were heading to the ranch to hike out to see the Tule Elk and decided to take a little side trip hike. It was a Purplish Copper Lycaena. It was nearly a year before someone from Butterflies and Moths replied back to me with an ID. It was a good day. 😀

      • Oh did I ever enjoy learning about the purplish copper butterfly, Deborah. After you identified the mystery butterfly just now, I googled it along with the words Point Reyes, and lo and behold your post from 2016 appeared! How fun is that!?! Butterflies are so difficult to identify (and photograph), and I love this story of how you found this rare beauty, and then were able to get it identified. Thanks so much for the full-circle Pt. Reyes adventure.

    • Dear Eddie, if you are ever in the Bay Area, I hope you let me know. Athena and I will take you on an adventure with us. What a fun time that would be. Until then, thanks so much for your sweet and warm friendship.

    • It was indeed a nice array of critters, Tim. You know how that is, some days you just hit it right with the creatures. I’m glad I could share it with you. Thanks very much.

  2. Wonderful day. It’s not common to see a bobcat, let alone that kind of view. It and the coyote look like they’re in wonderful coat, but the elk have a ways to go. Most people aren’t aware there are several kinds of elk, and the tule is quite rare.

    • Yes, we were happy to see both the coyote and the bobcat had such luxuriant coats. We had about a minute with the bobcat, watched and photographed from our car, before it vanished over the edge of the hill. Appreciated, chuckled and agree, yes, the elk have a ways to go with their coats. Fortunately the temps don’t go much below the 40s yet. Always a joy to “see” you, Craig, thank you.

    • It was a wonderful day and v e r y good luck. You know how that goes, Anneli, some days you don’t see a lot of wildlife, but there’s always many interesting things like plants and insects and clouds. Other days it’s a wildlife bonanza, and that’s really fun. I’m happy I could share it with you, thank you.

  3. This is fantastic Jet! When I first read your post I was amazed – it didn’t seem like it could be real, seeing all those creatures as you did. It was as if I were seeing a Walt Disney nature film where you know all these creatures exist but the only way you see them together is such a short space of time is in a film or TV documentary. I am awed by the spaces you have in the US. Thank you for presenting them so well.

    • There are many reasons I have chosen to live in the western U.S., but two of the big ones are the immense beauty and open spaces. So it was with pleasure that I could share some of that with you here, Alastair. I always enjoy your visits and comments, my friend, and thank you. I’m heading over to see what you’ve been up to. Thanks so much

  4. All I can think is that you and Athena are wildlife whisperers. To see a bobcat and a coyote, not to mention the other assorted bird and animal followers you have, that is phenomenal! Nothing like nature to give us a break from the non stop bad news cycle.
    On another note we had the good fortune of watching a coyote at our son and daughter in law’s acreage this week. We were inside and able to see quite closely as he hunted for mice in the grassland nearby. Within five minutes he had two and gobbled them down as we might a chocolate treat. Not so great from the mouse point of view but fascinating to see nature in action.

    • I really liked hearing about your coyote adventure this week, Sue. They have such a good sense of smell, it is great that you could watch from inside and therefore be close. And what a successful hunter you found to observe, two mice in five minutes. I’m happy I could share the wildlife adventures with you, thanks for sharing yours. My best to you and Dave.

    • I so enjoyed your visit today, Amy, thank you. Glad you liked the Northern Harrier. It was great that he stayed long enough for Athena to capture a nice series of him. My warmest wishes to you.

  5. You’ve been lucky to see most of the wildlife in the open air meadows. Which is very nice for photography. Very nice post, my friend. 🙂

  6. Wow, what an incredible day! I’ve never seen deer like those nor Tule elk except in photos. I’m so happy for you, both for getting out and for seeing some many wonderful animals. I’m actually in Pasadena right now so I’ll wave north. 😊👋

    janet

    • I enjoyed the northern wave, Janet, gave me a little chuckle. You even did a little waving hand emoji. Thanks, too, for virtually visiting Pt. Reyes with us today, fun to share the wildlife with you.

    • I’m delighted you enjoyed the day at Pt. Reyes with us, Sylvia. Glad you liked the ocean photo too. The views from that area are breathtaking and its a pleasure to share them. Thanks so much.

  7. Wonderful sightings and photos! I think my favorite is the black-tailed deer, what a beauty! I just searched it, as I’ve never seen one my way east, finding it’s a west coast mule deer. Nice! It is understandable your draw to Pt. Reyes, it is lovely raw nature, with no outside world worries. I am happy to hear you both got out last week to enjoy this adventure!

    • It is, as you say Donna, “lovely raw nature” at Pt. Reyes, and I’m happy I could share this lovely day with you. The black-tailed deer was a special moment. It blended in so well you could hardly see the deer, and Athena was quick with the camera. Thanks so much.

  8. We have white-tailed deer, of course, but I’d never heard of the black-tailed. It’s quite attractive; I’m glad you got to see them, and share them with us. I was surprised and quite taken by the Wilson’s snipe, too. I’ve been processing photos of the first and only one I’ve seen here in Texas for posting on my blog. I had no idea what it was; my guess was an immature bittern, but a friend set me straight!

    • Yes, the snipe is such a great joy to find. They are so secretive and just really hard to find. They’re also not easy to photograph because they often blend into their surroundings which are usually beside bogs and lakes. I’m glad you have seen one and figured out what it was, and really glad you enjoyed the black-tailed deer and the visit to Pt. Reyes. Thanks so much, Linda.

  9. What a collection of wildlife. I never knew that there was a black tailed deer or a tule elk. So I learned a lot. Great to see those quail. They used to be numerous but not so much any more. Enjoyed your post.

    • Of course I’m delighted to have introduced you to the black-tailed deer and tule elk, Bill. They are specialties of Pt. Reyes, and so beautiful. We’ve taken N to Pt. Reyes several times, and next time you visit out here we’ll take you too. It’s a joy every time. Thank you, dear Bill, always a pleasure to “see” you here.

    • Oh how nice to “see” you today, Simone. I’m sorry the pandemic prevented you from visiting the U.S., but am glad I could provide you with some of the beauty we experienced last week in Northern California. My warmest thanks.

    • There isn’t a day when I’m not outside, but our trips to the coast (and the rest of the world) have been curtailed by the pandemic. But that day we figured out a way to go to the coast, bringing all our day’s food and drinks and not stopping at any indoor places. So much micro-planning in this Covid time. But all of it was worth it for our day at Pt. Reyes. I’m really glad to have shared it with you, Sherry, thanks for your visit.

  10. The picture of the bobcat blew me away AND you saw a coyote! Unreal! What a prize Mother gave you that day! The bird pictures ….. awesome and loved every single one of them! Fantastic post, Jet. Those of us who know how to connect with Mother and the simple things in life, are able to keep our sanity in these incredibly stressful times. Have a great weekend!! xo

    • As always, I so enjoyed your comment and visit, Amy, thank you. I am happy I have Athena’s lovely photos to share with you expressing some of the beauty we experienced that day. Like you said, we were thrilled to see a bobcat and a coyote in the same day. And I agree, it is so incredibly fortunate that we have the opportunity to relax and absorb the peace of nature during these stressful times. I’m so glad you can too. Dear Amy, thanks so much.

  11. It was a breath of fresh air just to READ about your trip! And to see one of my favorite places with you, even from afar, was delightful. You really saw a lot in your day there. I appreciated the map at the end, too. With so much water and so many bridges in your area, the land masses are sometimes confusing to me.

    • You know well the magnificence of Point Reyes, Nan, with the times we have spent there with you. Glad you enjoyed the map too. It’s such a prominent peninsula, one that was created, over the millennia, from earthquakes. That peninsula used to be part of the mainland, but lies over a tectonic plate, and was eventually separated. I suppose one day long from now it will be an island. Which means I better go as often as I can before it floats away. lol. Many thanks, dear Nan.

    • I enjoyed your comment, Jan. The coyote eating the mole was one of our favorite parts, it was so quick and astute. But you’re right, that’s nature, perhaps not a thrill for everyone. My warmest thanks for your visit.

    • Thank you, Walt, for joining us. Always a pleasure to have you along on the adventure. I think you would like Pt. Reyes. There’s lot of fishing there. And bioluminescent organisms in one section. Not really rivers there, which seems to be your favorite, but bays and inlets, and lots of open landscapes and beautiful features. Cheers my friend.

    • Loved your comment, Frank, thank you. We have been chasing wildlife our whole life, so we’re getting pretty good at finding the creatures…and we had a lucky day. I’m really glad you enjoyed it. And yes, we were so relieved that much of it was not burned. In 1995 we were hiking up there almost every month, and a fire came through and burned a huge section and we were devastated. But this was not so bad, thankfully. Many thanks and a smile to you….

  12. What a wonderful day, with so many creature sightings! I was especially captivated by the black-tailed deer because we don’t have them here. I’ve been fond of the white-tailed deer seen in our woods since I was a child, since before I even knew there were different kinds of deer. The black-tailed in your picture looks like a petite and gentle spirit. I love the way the sunlight is outlining her features. Just lovely!

    • I enjoyed your visit today, Barbara, thank you. The black-tailed deer experience was beautiful, and you captured the gist of it well from studying the photo. The deer was so mellow. Not skittish. It was on the other side of the water, which was really just a small pond, and just making its way along the edge, nibbling. Usually deer don’t stick around long, but this was for so many minutes that we finally just walked on. A really wonderful connection, and I’m happy I could share it with you. Thanks so much.

    • It was a delight to hear you’ve enjoyed the magnificence of Pt. Reyes, Sheryl, and I’m really glad it brought back great memories for you. Thanks so much for your visit.

  13. With everything going on between the election and pandemic, it was absolutely wonderful to escape to Point Reyes for a few moments and how wonderful you were able to visit for the day. Fabulous selection of photos by Athena and while I love having a chance to see photos of a coyote and bobcat, that shoreline and deer chewing the grass offered an extra dose of peace.

    • It is indeed a swirl of unprecedented and unsettling experiences lately, ACI, so I am particularly pleased that this visit to Pt. Reyes brought us both, you and I, some peace. I enjoyed your comment about the chewing deer offering an “extra dose of peace.” Here’s hoping your week ahead has more peace, my friend. Many thanks.

  14. What a wonderful day! So many exciting sightings, and such variety. The bobcat would be a thrill to spot, and the photograph is lovely. The strutting quail pair made me laugh, so thank you for that. I’m glad you had such a great day, and appreciate you sharing it!

    • I liked hearing that the quail pair gave you a laugh, pc, because it did for me, too. Athena had more quail photos with technically better elements, but I just love the way those two are running across the path. My best to you and Mrs. pc for a few more laughs and good times in the days ahead.

  15. Athena really got some great pics! Great post and very informative. You guys got lucky with the wildlife having them come close without getting rattled!! Thank you for sharing….much appreciated!!

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