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.