Seal Adventures draws many visitors to Ano Nuevo State Park but there is a lot more to this park than the carrying-ons of elephant seals. Just the other morning as I walked towards the Cove Beach area of the park I came across the following scene:
Oh boy, I’d say somebody had a lovely meal. Who? My guess is the bob cat who lives near the pond above Cove Beach, Here he is below. I wonder if he thinks he is camouflaged and we can’t see him? Nice try you; we see you.
1/31/2015 – Update
Here is another photo of our Ano Nuevo bob cat. I think he’s saying, “What are you looking at?” And then, with real New York City attitude he is saying, “You lookin’ at me? Huh? You lookin’ at me, punk?”
Bob cat on Cove Beach trail, December 2014. Photo credit: Joan Teitler, Ano Nuevo Docent Naturalist
I spent most of yesterday (okay, 9:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.) removing invasives by a pond at Driscoll Ranch, one of the Mid-Peninsula Regional Open Space District’s preserves. Ooooh, there were lots of red winged blackbirds darting about as we made the ascent up over the hills. (A four-wheel drive was necessary!) Numerous cows lazed about near the large drinking hole (an enormous man-made pond fed by underground springs) while deer watched our caravan of three pass by.
No Sugar Cane Here
Down by our little pond (a small man-made one, fed by a trickle from the mountain above), there were polliwogs galore! Seeing them took me back to my childhood in Jamaica, to a year spent playing by the gullies that irrigated the cane fields. These gullies were a treasure trove of tikki tikkis (baby fish) and polliwogs. A little girl and boy, could and did, lay side by side on the banks of the gullies catching tikki tikkis and tadpoles, then releasing them back into the water. When we got tired we’d watch clouds drift overhead as we chewed on freshly broken cane.
There is no cane growing at Driscoll Ranch but just as on the plains in Jamaica, the mountain heat here is unforgiving. One of the nearby ponds had completely dried up leaving behind a landscape scarred by fissures. Any polliwogs remaining in that environment are all dead by now. Hopefully, the adult frogs were able to make it to a pond filled with water like this one.
Saving the California Red-Legged Frog
Most of the tadpoles here are the babies of the rare California red-legged frog. They are the reason my fellow volunteers and I were breaking our backs under an exceedingly hot sun, to remove invasive plants and restore this riparian habitat. How did the slaves do it? How did they work from sun up to sun down, seven days a week? Some of us were on the brink of heat stroke yesterday, and we didn’t even put in a full day’s work! With my volunteer work done at around 2:30 p.m., I headed down to the beach to enjoy the rest of the afternoon.
(Note: Driscoll Ranch – near the town of La Honda – is not yet open to the public.)
Pomponio State Beach
Where: On the San Mateo Coast (a few miles from the towns of San Gregorio and Pescadero)
Notes about Pomponio
Pomponio State Park is a refuge for the: barn swallow, blue heron and kite; and deer, fox, racoon, skunk and weasel.
The park is named after Jose Pomponio Lupugeym, a Coast Miwok who fought against Mexican rule and the Mission system. He was captain of a group of outlaws called Los Insurgentes. Pomponio died before a firing squad in 1824. (California was under Mexican rule then and Pomponio, along with many other First Peoples, was forced into the Mission system.)
You can connect to Pescadero State Beach on the south and San Gregorio State Beach on the north from Pomponio. Only do so during low-tide; it is extremely dangerous at other times.
What are Elephant Seals? We are deep sea divers and long distance travelers. We fast for long periods of time while on land. Our food sources, skates and squids, small sharks and other seafood are so far away – thousands upon thousands of miles – that once we arrive on land, we have to wait a very long time before eating again.
Northern and Southern Elephant Seals
There are two types of elephant seals: the northern (found along the Pacific islands and coasts of Mexico and California); and the southern (found along the Atlantic islands and coasts of Patagonia, Chile, Tierra del Fuego, et al). This article is only about the Northern elephant seal.
Northern Elephant Seals
Northern elephant seals spend most of their time in the ocean, coming ashore twice each year, once to mate, breed and give birth, and the other time to molt (shed and grow new skin/fur). Between the molting and breeding seasons, the northern elephant seal is at sea for six to eight months, swimming, diving and feeding. Incredibly, they remain submerged for nearly ninety percent of their time in the ocean, surfacing a mere two to four minutes during dives.
Season Change at Ano Nuevo
Now that the breeding/mating/birthing season is over, so too are the guided hikes at Ano Nuevo. That means pretty soon we will be entering the roving season. This is when the public can access areas that up to two weeks ago, were only accessible by guided hikes (led by volunteer naturalists like me). The roving season will be less hectic, more laid back and so, I am hoping to do some sketching and painting while volunteering out by the coast.
During the breeding season (December to March), many of the adult males (the alphas, for sure) are on the beach for about 100 days without food. The mature females are on land for about five weeks. The females who are coming in pregnant during the breeding season give birth within 4-5 days of arrival. They nurse their pup for about 24-28 days, mate during the last 3-5 days of nursing and then head back into the ocean to find food to eat.
Elephant Seal Pups
Elephant seal pups weigh about 70 pounds at birth. They quadruple their birth weight while nursing, but lose about 1/3 of that weight during the weaning period. The common belief is that the mom weans her pup, leaves it all alone and it then has to figure out how to survive. The mom in me thinks this cannot be! Momma elephant seal, while nursing her baby is saying things, teaching him/her how to survive and us dumb humans don’t even realize it. That is what I think. I watch mom and pup bonding during those 28 days before weaning occurs and I imagine mom passing on the following tidbits: “Baby, you see that far side of the island over there? Don’t stray there, my love. There are these pretty white sharks who are just waiting to greet and eat my plump little baby. Steer clear my love. Swim in the open. Swim toward the deep my love. Head in that direction over there. If you pay attention to what I’m saying, you’ll be just fine. Good luck my baby. I love you.” That is what I think the mom is telling her baby all the while that she is nursing him or her.
Incredible Divers and Swimmers
Elephant seals dive as deep as 2,000 t o 5,000 feet for food. The average dive lasts about 20 minutes, but they can dive for an hour or more. They resurface for 2-4 minutes and continue this diving pattern 24 hours a day! The females eat mostly squid; the males eat small sharks, rays and bottom-dwelling fish.
The male elephant seals from Ano Nuevo typically travel 5,000 miles round trip, towards the Aleutians where they feed along the Continental Shelf. They make this trip twice per year. The female elephant seal travels a shorter distance, about 3,000 miles along the Northeast Pacific, in the direction of Hawaii. She too, makes this trip twice per year.
The northern elephant seal was hunted to near extinction for their blubber. By the early 19o0s, only a small group of between 20-100 managed to survive the hunts. Protected first by Mexico (where this small group was found) and later by the United States (as they multiplied and expanded their range), the elephant seals have managed to multiply and increase their population. Today’s population is estimated to be around 175,000 to 185,000 seals. All of them are from the bottleneck, the same gene pool, that was discovered on Guadalupe Island, Mexico, a little over 100 years ago. Researchers at the nearby University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC), are tracking and building a database on the movement and habits of the Ano Nuevo population of elephant seals. With each year comes new revelations. For a brief overview of the work being done on elephant seals by the UCSC, visit their site at http://news.ucsc.edu/2012/05/elephant-seals.html.
The adult females can weigh up to around 1,700 pounds and the males, up to around 5,000 pounds. The mature male has a bulbous appendage for a nose. It is called a proboscis. He uses it to honk and to assert dominance. For more interesting facts about the northern elephant seal, visit the National Marine Mammal Laboratory’s site at:
Photo credit for the male juvenile elephant seal at the top of the post belongs to The Marine Mammal Center. You can see his proboscis is just barely starting to form. Only the males of the specie grow this nose and it seems to serve no other purpose except for asserting dominance, which is crucial in the breeding season. (Not all males get a chance to mate.)
I took the second photograph of a colony of what is mostly young pups, at Ano Nuevo State Park, two weeks ago. The seals in this photograph will be heading out to the ocean soon. They will have many challenges along the way, including figuring out where to go, what to eat, and how to avoid predators like the great white sharks that lay in wait not too far from where they are now. The mortality rate for young elephant seals is extremely high. Only about twenty six percent of them make it to age two. Some of the young die at the rookery but the majority of deaths occur at sea. For more details on elephant seals’ mortality rate, see the UCS”s 1971-78 Ano Nuevo study at:
Where: Pescadero, CA (25 miles south of Half Moon Bay, and 35 miles north of Santa Cruz)
Note: The Calypso Orchid blooms only in the spring. It tends to bloom from the middle to the end of March in Butano State Park, Pescadero.
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Seen last weekend at Butano State Park, the tiny Calypso Orchid (also called Fairy Slippers). When John Muir came across these rare plants in the 1890s he wrote:
“I never before saw a plant so full of life, so perfectly spiritual, it seemed pure enough for the throne of its Creator.”
Calypso bulbosa, you are beautiful but you failed to bowl me over. Perhaps it was the idea of finding you, rare as you are, that colored Muir’s reaction. Look! You are barely visible, hiding as you are in the underbrush on the forest floor.
Butano State Park
Sitting in a redwood filled canyon in the Santa Cruz Mountains, Butano is one of the lesser known parks in the California State Parks system. It is located three to four miles from the San Mateo Coast and offers the hiker over seventeen miles of uphill and downhill trails. If you wish to get a good view of the ocean from inside the park, hike the Mill Ox loop. You won’t be disappointed (unless the coast is blanketed in fog). The campgrounds, closed when I visited, are open from April through November. There are also guided nature walks and weekend programs at the campfire center during the summer.
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ACTIVITIES: Hike, camp, dog walking (dogs are only allowed on the paved roads and in campsites; they should be leashed at all times)
REGION: off the San Mateo Coast
HOURS: Day use area from 8:00 a.m. to sunset; overnight camping
COST: $10 day use fee; $35 overnight camping fee (Book reservations via reserveamerica.com or by calling 800-444-7275. Dogs are allowed at the campground but not on the trails.)
LOCATION/VENUE:Butano State Park, 1500 Cloverdale Road, Pescadero, CA 94060 Phone: (650) 879-2040
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Sensuous Kalypsoblissfully isolatedbeneath giantsroots skirting,writhing, touchinguntil lovingly you emitjust one single bloombefore withering,dying, fallingbackwardsinto self.
Since I got here/I’ve been chasing/the elusive/some say unattainable/bacon and egg/on a roll./Saturday morning at Davenport’s Cash Store/breakfast burritos/but no bacon and egg sandwiches/none whatsoever.
Bay Area, I love you, but why can’t you just do this one thing for me? Why can’t you serve me a simple bacon egg (and cheese) on a roll? I’m willing to take any old roll. I will forgo the ubiquitous sesame seed rolls of my New York years. I will. Davenport Cash Store, your house coffee is excellent but why couldn’t you make me a bacon and egg sandwich? You offered me breakfast burritos instead. If breakfast is over, how come you are still serving breakfast burritos, huh? HUH?
This Friday at Ano Nuevo was amazing. There were some great big elephant seal bulls along the paths. Oh they were corpulent, rotund, big. Such fat blubbery beauties! There were also many newborns nursing down by the beach. As of Friday (1/18/13), the count of elephant seals at Ano Nuevo was 1,086 females, plus 575 pups and 258 males. Oh what squeals and yips and bellowing took place. It was a veritable wildlife adventure.
Saturday I went exploring around Davenport, a small town near Ano Nuevo. Its Cash Store is a great place for coffee and it has the best pico de gallo I’ve had in the Bay Area. If you are passing through town on a Saturday night, stop in and see one of their shows. Last Saturday night a local group, Esoteric Collective, was the highlight of the evening.
Around the corner from The Cash Store is the Davenport Jail Museum. Although its Web site stated that it was open weekends from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., it was padlocked when I showed up around 1:00 p.m. It never opened that day.
Some things to do in Davenport are:
Hike the beach and cliff trails along Highway One
Check out the art in the Davenport Gallery (address 450 Highway One) which is next door to The Cash Store
Walk around the town (this takes all of ten minutes!) and visit the St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church, at the end of Davenport Avenue. It and the old jail/museum are Spanish/Mexican-styled architecture and are the two oldest structures in the town. The church was built in 1915, the jail, in 1914.
The Davenport Cement Plant (Cemex) sits at the edge of town. Just like the cement factory in Jamaica, it is located near the water; that cannot be good for the environment.