Abbott’s Lagoon with Jim Coleman – 15 May 2017

Abbott’s Lagoon is a favorite flat hike through grasslands that lead to the Pt. Reyes Great Beach. Writing in BAY NATURE in August 2012 the estimable Jules Evans says, “A visit to Abbott’s Lagoon always proves rewarding and never fails to offer a fresh experience. I’ve strolled down to the main lagoon dozens of times over the years and each visit is unique and memorable.” In an interview by Paul Epstein in BN, January 2016, he asks David Lukas about his favorite trail at Pt. Reyes. DL: My favorite spot is Abbott’s Lagoon because there’s intact old growth coastal chaparral there, and a sense of openness to the sky, and openness to possibility – with the beach tantalizingly far off.”

This scene greeted us in the Abbott’s parking area beckoning bewitchingly on this Goldilocks Day last Monday.

Matt checks reception by the trailhead and points out that the sign has a “no drone clause”. “Launching, landing or operating unmanned or remote controlled aircraft in or onto Point Reyes National Seashore is prohibited.”

Jim is listening to Kit who is enthusiastically relating an exciting experience en route to Abbott’s this morning, She had a close and personal experience watching a coyote stalking some wild turkeys and then finally opting to “scout” a herd of cows before being scared off by the herd leader. Roz has found the perfect chapeau and some of us are having a group meeting. not Kit’s coyote but in the family and just down the road
How about “herd leaders” to which I hadn’t given much thought.

Jim introduces us to this amazing location and is telling us that the lagoon is divided unlike Gaul into two separate parts. He’s also talking about the exotic grasses brought in by agriculture for this area that have almost displaced the native grasses tended so carefully by the Miwok Natives for two thousand years. “Less than one percent of California’s grassland is still intact today. The northern coastal prairie, which extends into Oregon, is the most diverse type of grassland in North America. Pristine patches of this vegetation still grow at Point Reyes on either side of the San Andreas Fault.”

Jim plucked up a few grass samples as we started the hike identifying some of the common agricultural grasses. From left to right we have “rye, oat, barley and brome” which sounds suspiciously like a rock group escaped from the Haight. Great history of the transition from native grasses to the exotic European grasses. Looking at these grasses from the farmer’s point of view since we normally just rue the loss of the native grasses.

We’ve seen Owl’s Clover (Castilleja densiflora) (Castilleja exserta?) in a number of areas this spring. Lillian McHoul writes in her WILDFLOWERS OF MARIN about it with another name, Orthocarpus densiflorus, when it was included in the genus Orthocarpus. “From the Greek orthos, upright, and carpos, fruit.” The CNPS website notes that “the plant is an annual about a foot tall with a hairy stem covered in thready leaves. Although this species is variable in appearance and easily hybridizes with other Castilleja, it generally bears a brightly-colored flower cluster of shaggy pink-purple or lavender flowers that resemble clover (but they are not related). … this is a hemiparasite which derives some of its nutrients directly from the roots of other plants by injecting them with haustoria; this is the reason for its small reduced leaves.”’s-Clover)
And because you were curious: – it wasn’t some kind of Roman building after all.

California’s only native thistle, the Cobweb (Cirsium occidentale), there were a number on the verge showing their cobwebby appearance. “spreading spines which are laced, often quite heavily, in fibers resembling cobwebs.”

a cobwebby discussion

We passed many areas with velvet grass which is a very invasive exotic and is very soft to the touch – there’s some kind of lesson in that.

Santa Barbara Sedge (Carex barbaras) was favored by the native Americans for basketry.

Jim spied this Click Beetle along the trail practicing for its next olympic jumping event. It spun off his hand in a high arc and when snagged again continued to jump even higher with aplomb. The Wiki entry states that there are 9300 known species worldwide and 965 “valid”(?) species in North America.

A PRNS biologist passed us on the trail coming up from the beach. He’d dismantled some protective fencing that had been set up to protect a hatching Western Snowy Plover. With predation of the hatchlings the fence was no longer needed here and was being moved to South Limantour Beach where a viable hatching site needed protection.

There was a congregation of Cow Parsnips (Heracleum lanatum) in concentrations we hadn’t seen before. Like many coastal plants they were growing closer to the ground than their cousins in more protected places stretching to well over your head.

Scott spotted this spider web filled with midges and was wondering, “What if the spider doesn’t like midges?”

Jim is pointing out the great differences between disturbed land to the right (man-made changes here for agriculture) and areas that have non-native grass dominance. He made the point that the disturbed land gave opportunity for the growth of native plants that had lost the competition in undisturbed areas.
We found this on various hikes with Michael when cattle are run over grassy areas breaking up the hard soil and making a place for native plants to take root along with surrounding fertilizer.
A fine example of this is the work of Tiffany Knight and Eleanor Pardini on some the dune areas of Abbott’s Lagoon. Here a “rare lupine is being pillaged by a native mouse that steals most of the seed pods. . . . The mice are a ’subsidized’ species, given a competitive advantage by human activity.
European beachgrass (Ammophila arenaria), originally planted to stabilize the dunes, has had the unintentional side effect of giving the mice cover for their nocturnal forays among the lupines. Since the beachgrass near the richest patch of lupines has been removed in 2011, the rare lupine is rebounding and the dune ecosystem – perhaps -is recovering its previous equilibrium sans mice.”
Removal of the beachgrass was actually designed to help the endangered snowy plover by multiplying its natural breeding areas. It also inadvertently helped the recovery of the rare lupine. Cf.

Next along the trail we found some Mugwort (Artemisia douglasiana) Sounds like a name that J.K. Rowling might have enjoyed – Hogworts for a start.

Jim spotted some Johnny Tuck’s blooming just up from the trail and was delighted to fine them, here he shares his enthusiasm.

Sometimes called “Butter and Eggs” in the yellow coloration, this discovery will remain Johnny Tuck dressed in white.

Just below the JTs was this lone outpost of Trifolium wormskioldii, cows clover or coast clover among its many handles.

We looked back on the upper, eastern, freshwater portion of Abbott’s Lagoon – a study in blues and greens and tans.

Lunchtime beckons with another “room with a view”

The wind was blowing smartly even in this semi-protected area so we found shelter behind this large log. It must have made its way in from the ocean in one of the heavy winter storms of years gone by.

We’re looking out on the beginnings of the western part of Abbott’s Lagoon. It has some interesting history from WW 2. It was used as a practice bombing range with dummy bombs made wooden bodies with metal heads and tail fins. If the bombardiers were able to hit a 25’ triangular target it would blossom white material indicating a hit. This detritus they assured us was washed off in the rain. As I recall, Armando told us that he dove in here while a ranger at PRNS and observed some of the remnant debris. Entitled “Tomales Bay Bombing Target” this link also includes Abbott’s Lagoon:
Along with Tomales Bay, this part of Abbott’s Lagoon enjoys bioluminescence, this article was dated in June of 2012.

Who were the Abbotts of Abbott’s Lagoon? The Winter 2014 UNDER THE GABLES newsletter of the Jack Mason Museum of West Marin History includes a well written account of early butter making in the Pierce Point area of Pt. Reyes by Carola DeRooy called “Butter Days”. As I recall, you were not encouraged to smile in these 19th Century posed photographs, serious, dignified and even solemn ruled the day. This might be your only photograph so you didn’t want to ham it up for posterity.

On our return trip, Jim was excited to spot some Pacific Reed Grass, Calamagrostis nutkaensis, on a far hill.

Jim highlights a Yellow Bush Lupine which is part of the native dune scrub community in central and southern California but can be an invasive species on the northern California coastal dunes.

Many thanks to Jim for another stellar hike.

P.S. – River Otters at Abbott’s Lagoon

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