As we reach the final weeks of 2021, here is a four-season review of a coastal lagoon in one of my favorite parks, Point Reyes, in Northern California.
There are 70,000 acres (300 sq. km.) of protected land on the Point Reyes Peninsula. Abbotts Lagoon is just one small section, located on the northwestern coast of the peninsula.
This year, like many people, we did less out-of-state traveling and stayed closer to home. We enjoyed day trips to Abbotts Lagoon almost every month.
It was enlightening to watch the flora and fauna shift as the seasons changed and gave us an intimacy with the lagoon area as never before.
The brisk months of early spring–February, March and April–brought displaying birds and a profusion of wildflowers.
An easy trail takes the hiker through northern coastal scrub, like this yellow bush lupine, where ground birds flourish. In spring and summer this bush is vibrant with blooms.
The gravel trail leads hikers between rolling fields and the lagoon, until eventually we reach sand dunes and the ocean. The seaside offers bracing coastal winds, frequent fog, and briny sea air. We often escaped inland heat waves here this past summer with the cool marine layer.
We discovered a pocket of land further down the road that almost always had mammals, and in May had the thrill of seeing this new fawn and mother.
By summertime the grass had turned brown, our usual summer look in Northern California. The coastal fog, however, provided moisture for native wildflowers. Hummingbirds could often be seen extracting nectar from this Coastal Hedge-Nettle.
Brush rabbits greeted us on every visit this year. One June day we observed this relaxed brush rabbit stretched out on the trail. At first we thought the rabbit might be injured, but it quickly dashed away as we approached.
Summer also brought the new generation of birds.
A white-crowned sparrow adult discussed the ways of life with his progeny.
Nearly a dozen immature quail chicks were a pleasant surprise; we watched this covey grow up. They were always skittish, with good reason.
Every Abbotts Lagoon visit this year (ten) we saw coyote. They had lustrous coats and full bellies from plenty of prey.
Dragonflies, butterflies, birds and bees punctuated all our summer visits.
A few miles north up the road is a tule elk preserve. By mid-August the tule elk males were bugling their dominance.
And as summer turned to fall, the new young coyotes were out on their own.
Late autumn rains returned the hillsides to verdant splendor, and ground-dwelling gophers and voles multiplied. This attracted more predators and raptors.
Winter birds greeted us, like this Say’s phoebe who is never here in spring or summer.
This molting elk’s coat is not at its finest in the winter, and he only had one antler, having shed the other one already.
There’s something sacred about watching the seasons change–the wildlife, the earth beneath our feet, the light, and temperatures.
Very soon the early spring will be upon us, and a new year of cycles will begin again.
I can hardly wait to get back to Abbotts Lagoon to see who will greet us.
Written by Jet Eliot.
Photos by Athena Alexander.
Taking a short holiday break, dear friends, see you in January.