Lyric Chimney Rock with Michael – 27 April 2015

Many of our visits to Chimney Rock at Pt. Reyes National Seashore have been chilly to down right freezing. But last Monday was a Goldilocks kind of day with that cerulean sky overhead, fog laved green grasses, vivid colors of a host of wildflowers and an afternoon fog kissing the hills. Michael rose to the occasion by first describing the process of pollination and fertilization in the angiosperms using his now famous magically deconstructing flower for a visual aid. It was also amazing to see how many Northern Elephant Seal pups were still on the beaches along with many returning female seals back for their annual molt. Michael commented that he’d never seen these numbers of seals so late in the year and felt is might be an indicator of climate change. The huge male seals were feeding well off in the mid-Pacific at this time as he mentioned, “ . . . halfway to Korea.” The day was wonderfully bookended with a rare sighting of a busy badger on the hillside above the favorite Northern Elephant Seal beach and finaled by spotting a couple of handsome great horned owls in the Monterey Cypress trees that shelter a park service housing area.

Diana had a splendid Facebook entry that captured the day with her wonderful enthusiasm:

I had a pretty extraordinary day today. We saw a pair of enormous and perfectly camouflaged great horned owls, a badger peeking out of his den, a beautiful grey whale and her calf leisurely meandering up the coast, a magnificent caspian tern diving for its lunch alongside a loon and two western grebes and a whole beach packed with elephant seals and their pups. Plus sun, wind, fog and a host of wild flowers. Have I forgotten anything? oh yes – a canada goose, of course, sitting on a large rock in the middle of the ocean. Very well written, beautiful descriptions. A few dated bits – i. e. no oyster farm now. Many intriguing subjects by this remarkable editor-writer who is a retired librarian. A blog that beckons. Engaging brief video with a New Zealand twist.

Where all good Pt. Reyes hikes begin

We get together at the Chimney Rock parking area with the long view of the ‘white cliffs’ of Drake’s Beach which some have said attracted Francis Drake, the pirate.

Sharing the day with us, taking the high ground

Michael describes the Elephant Seal life cycles and is about to discover a rare badger walking about and peeking from her burrow on the hill just above the beach. With patience you can find a number of actual badger sites on the web along with the “dominant” badgers of the University of Wisconsin. But first to the Elephant Seals: This remarkable group monitors the badger populations in Sonoma and Marin Counties. Just scroll down for some terrific badger pictures (as well as many fellow or sister travelers).

A flight of Brown Pelicans with some background cloud language across Drake’s Bay

Location, location. After some earlier resettlement attempts on the outer beaches of Chimney Rock (and other areas) in the 1970’s, the N. Elephant Seals found this sheltered location in Drake’s Bay that was just perfect and they’ve been returning ever since.

Here is a video from earlier in the calendar year that I shot in January of 2014. It shows the mixed beach with massive males, females and pups which are born black and molt to silver gray in about a month. The enormous young male later in the video was quite a performer and seemed to be scouting for a pull out area, some beach front property, a place to call his own.

Elephants in Marin?.m4v

Scouting an oceanside beach shows a mix of molting females and pups enjoying less crowding and in April, not the dangers of winter storms. The pups just born and for the first month are called weeners. Early attempts to use this beach and others facing the ocean waves ended disastrously with the young swept out to sea.

Molting females of April

Molting and many other E. Elephant Seal questions answered:

The loneliness of leadership

The fog begins to soften the landscape bringing some cooling breezes.
Additional at no extra cost: The blog of which this video is a part has many fascinating entries done by interns at the Pacific Coast Science and Learning Center at Point Reyes National Seashore, a place we pass just before going south past Dogtown on the way to Bolinas.

Clockwise around starting with the prickly wild cucumber which we seem to be seeing on all of our hikes:,
Narrow-leaf Mule-ears, Wyethis angustifolia,, Sky lupine, Lupinus nanus, or maybe polyphyllus (that purple color?), and Seaside daisy, Erigeron glaucus,–erigeron-glaucus

Looking south toward San Francisco, “The mesa-like top of Chimney Rock Point is capped by a marine terrace. Granitic cobbles from the Point Reyes Conglomerate are reworked into the marine terrace deposits. The terrace gravel is locally overlain by sand with a thin organic-rich soil horizon on top . . . The cliffs and sea stacks along the coast consist of granitic rocks. Chimney Rock is a prominent sea stack at the south end of the point.” This is from a clearly written and well-done geology tour of Point Reyes by the U.S. Geological Survey, Stop 4: Substantial and informative, maybe want a copy for future reference?

Often traveling in bonded pairs, ravens are frequent in the skies over our hikes – Corvid companions. This one was having a walk about perusing the ground perhaps for lunch. The incandescent Douglas Iris (Iris douglasiana) were much in evidence along our way. But the Hairy Pussy-Ears (Calochortus Tolmiei) of the Lily Family is a less common sighting. The Indian Paintbrush, Sastilleja Wightii, was just ablaze.

Lunch with a view, as Armando suggested one time, there’s nothing like sitting down and letting nature pass you by. We weren’t disappointed because we got to see a mother Gray Whale and her calf chugging along to the point.

Michael said that he hadn’t seen a Canada goose out here before but this one was to muse about. It reminded me of the rare sighting of a male sea otter which we spotted on an earlier hike here with Armando. You’ll recall that he looked lonely and tired out there in Drake’s Bay until he finally joined some elephant seals on a beach for some companionship and relaxation in the sun. Projecting right?


The beginnings of California’s only native thistle, the cobweb ,
Owl’s Clover presages our coming sightings of two Great Horned Owls. The familiar, ubiquitous, exotic and under the radar Scarlet pimpernel which makes the weed gallery at UC Davis: but not so fast: ,
and an old favorite, Cow Parsnips,

Great Horned Owl spotting in the Monterey Cypress surround of this park building.

Checking out the owl scat for the many tiny bones of lunches past.

This hike is a feather in your cap, Michael! (Since you’re off to Turkey, maybe the Turkey Vulture feather is just right.)

P.S. An email from Susan Kirks of the Paula Lane Action Network: Michael mentioned her as we were leaving in the parking lot on Monday. “Susan Kirks is the naturalist with American Badger expertise with our organization, dedicating a significant portion of her life to living among badgers, observing badger behavior, and working to educate and protect the American Badger.” From their 2014 Annual Report info

Hi Lew,
Thanks so much for your message and the photo. As natural harmonies would coincide, I’m just now beginning to devote more time out at Pt. Reyes National Seashore in badger habitat observation, etc., so the timing for your message and the sighting by Michael and you all is most helpful.

I also liked that you described the badger as “she.” During this time of year, female adult badgers are often out during daytime hours hunting, so they can stay with their young at night. This usually occurs April through June before the young disperse. Could have been an adult male badger, though. The sightings out at Pt. Reyes have been more frequent during daytime in the last year and a half.

Again, thanks so much. I was not aware of this location out at Pt. Reyes. I’m especially grateful for the clear deference and respect of the badger shown by your group – I respect Michael immensely.

Please let us know if you ever are graced with any other sightings and the location.

Susan for Paula Lane Action Network

On Friday, May 1, 2015 4:21 PM, Lew Z <l.zuelow> wrote:


I hike with Michael Ellis’ Footloose Forays group on Mondays. On last Monday’s hike (April 27), he spotted a badger moving about on a hillside above the main Elephant Seal beach and a number in the group were thrilled to share his sighting. Perhaps you know about this location already. We spotted her walking about and then peeking out of her den hole.

Thanks for your dedication to this remarkable creature in our midst.

Best thoughts, Lew Zuelow

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