Sunday, 31 May 2015

Moss Landing State Beach

Hike 15 was Moss Landing State Beach - more beach, less hike. Since we were heading out after the 5 y.o.'s t-ball class, we didn't want to take on a big walk. Moss Landing State Beach had long been on the list due to the presence of sea otters and harbor seals. When we got there, the temperature was 61F and cloudy. The portable loo near the first parking spot was really smelly, and when we clambered over the dunes and reached the beach - well, it looked like any other beach. Beautiful, but no wildlife in sight. Between the hunger and the clouds, I have to admit that our initial reaction was one of disappointment. 

But we plonked ourselves down and started on lunch - and as we were sitting there, we started spotting the residents. A bunch of waders were running up and down with the incoming waves, and right in front of us, just a few feet from the shore, was our first sea otter. We soon got the hang of spotting them, and realized that there were many sea otters in the sea. Lunch over, and after the 5 y.o. had finished digging holes and tunnels in the sand, we walked over to the jetty. The walk to the jetty was interesting too, all sorts of stuff gets washed ashore. We saw plenty of crab shells, some vellela vellela and quite a few sand dollars. 

When we reached the jetty, there was a harbor seal pup sitting forlornly near the rocks. We wondered what the problem was, when a guy standing by said he had just called the Marine Mammal Center to rescue the pup. They arrived shortly, and though two of the volunteers tried to spot the parents, they ended up taking the pup along with them. This was the first time we saw a creature rescue, and it felt good! 

From the jetty, we saw plenty of sea otters - and pretty close up too! We spent some time sitting on the jetty and watching the otters play (or sleep, in the case of one who had drifted close to the jetty), then headed back to the car walking along the road. 

In the slough along the road we also saw a lot of harbor seals resting, so this turned out to be a very wildlife oriented outing!

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Año Nuevo State Park

Hike 14 of the year was to Año Nuevo State Park in San Mateo County - to see elephant seals! The day started off on a promising note after a week of gloomy, cold weather - and then went downhill as soon as we crossed over into Half Moon Bay. We persevered though, and as we passed Pescadero the rain stopped, and the temperature started going up again. We reached Año Nuevo State Park at 12 pm, just in time for lunch. Note that since this a California State Park, there is a $10 parking fee. There are restrooms in the parking lot, and before you head out to the trails you need to go to the white barn visible from the parking lot and get a free visitor's permit.

The ranger at the barn was helpful, and told us that today, the most seals were at Bight Beach - about 1.5 miles from the barn. Getting there was a pleasant walk through scrub land - lots of wildflowers lining the trail.

Bight Beach is on the other side of a sand dune, so be prepared to walk through lots of sand. As we got closer to the beach, we started hearing the seals, but the sounds didn't quite prepare us for what we got to see - at least a hundred elephant seals just a few feet from the path! Note that most of these huge creatures in the photo below are juveniles, since we went after the birthing season.

As you can see, there were many of them - hard to believe these creatures were nearly extinct. Quite a  conservation success story.

From Bight beach, we walked on to the North Point - fewer seals there, and farther away from the lookout point, but we went there primarily for the wildflowers - as the ranger had mentioned, there were plenty along the trail.

Along the way, we also saw interesting lizards, and in a ditch off the path, some tadpoles, tadpoles with legs and young frogs - all very interesting stuff for a young Wild Kratts kid.

In all, we ended up spending 5 hours at the park, and from the faces we saw when we reached, and the faces we saw as we left, we weren't the only ones :)

Thursday, 21 May 2015

El Corte de Madera Open Space Preserve

Following an article in SFGate, we decided to hike in El Corte de Madera Open Space Preserve. Our goal was to reach the "Tafoni" - a sandstone monolith, but we didn't make it that far. In spite of that, the hike was really good, albeit cold. Some notes where our experience differed from the SFGate article:
1. There was no parking lot at 16040 Skyline Blvd., Woodside. This address is a private residence. If you are coming from the South, drive just a little further north and you will see signs for a parking lot.
2. From this parking lot to the Tafoni is not a 1.5 mile hike as mentioned in the article - it is 1.5 miles if you park at an entrance further north (this entrance doesn't have a proper parking lot, nor does it have restroom facilities). From the parking lot to the Tafoni is a 2.5 mile hike one way.

So we didn't make it to the Tafoni - it was cold, and getting late. But the trails are excellent, if a little mucky. Another thing the SFGate article forgot to mention - there is a lot of water on the trails. Wear warm boots! The moss on this big rock should give an indication of how wet it is here:

Oh - and watch out for cyclists. All the cyclists we met on the trail were very careful and also made it a point to tell us how many cyclists were following - hadn't seen that trick before, most helpful!

And for the 5 y.o. this was a very exciting trip - we saw loads of banana slugs, some birds that I couldn't identify, and four deer just a few feet from the trail!

We'll probably go back to this one - we really want to reach the Tafoni, and I discovered a parking spot (between Kings Mountain road and the parking lot) which is about 1.5 miles from the Tafoni.

Update: We did go back here, and hiked all the way to the Tafoni