Saturday, November 22, 2008

Coyote Hills Bird Watching

I just purchased a new zoom lens, okay, a monster zoom lens (Simga 50-500mm) and decided I had to see what this thing could do. Weighing in at 4 pounds, it is quadruple the weight of my camera. My REI Hiker walking stick provided stabilization, but just barely (I can't wait until Christmas).

I knew the perfect place to go: Coyote Hills in Fremont. The coastal hills and wetlands are a great place to view wildlife, especially birds. Even though we arrived later than I wanted, I was hoping some of the critters were still out and about. We (Ronald and I) parked in the "free" lot and headed into the park. It wasn't looking too good, there was not much action in the sky.

The first bird we came across was a Golden-crowned Sparrow (At least I think it was one). There were a number of them playing in the reeds on the side of the trial and I snapped off a few shots. I soon spotted a number of hawks circling above me, but they were right in the sun and there was no way I could get a shot of them. In fact, the hawks teased me the whole time I was there. Always out of reach even with the monster lens!

A bit further down the trail we came to a small canal with a number of Mallard Ducks bathing. I was hoping for Egrets and Herons, but the ducks would have to do. I hefted the 15" of lens through the reeds and kept the shutter busy. The ducks did not disappoint and I appreciated their cooperation.

We walked a bit further towards Dairy Glen, but it became apparent that we weren't going to see much more. Heading back to the car, a couple of guys on mountain bikes passed us and I heard one of them say to his buddy, "Did you see that lens?". I smiled, stood a bit taller and continued on.

Coyote Hills is a great place for hiking, biking and wildlife viewing. The terrain varies from plank walkways through the wetlands to trails along the bay. The park connects to Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge to the South and the Alameda Creek Trail to the North. You can check out a nice loop trail at (I didn't map this one, but it is still a good trek). I've posted a number of photos below. Click on them to see a better resolution pic.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Fall Spectacular - Tomales Point Trail

At the Northern most edge of Pt. Reyes National Park is Tomales Point, a peninsula situated with Tomales Bay to the East and the Pacific Ocean to the West. It is also a spectacular place to hike! I first got the idea to try this trail out after discovering Tom Mangan's blog: Two-Heel Drive. Tom picked up my story on Cloud's Rest and the number of visitors to this site sky rocketed (Thanks Tom!). Tomales Point is listed as one of his top 5 best hikes and since I love Point Reyes and had a Saturday free, I gathered the group of usual suspects (Tim, Tony, Bob and my son Ron) and we headed north.

We could not ask for better weather: no fog, no wind, a clear sunny day! The 4.9-mile hike to the end of the trail took us a lot longer than on the way back. The photographic opportunities were tremendous. Of course, the coastal scenery was great and we gazed at the high cliffs, crashing waves and pristine beaches as we headed to the point. There were parts of the trail where one can see the sparkling waters of the Pacific Ocean on one side and deep blue waters of Tomales Bay on the other.

I had heard about the wildlife in the area, especially the Tule Elk and we were not disappointed. Right off the bat we were entertained by a little long-tailed weasel (pictured left), popping up and down among the grasses in front of us. It looked like he was teasing us. Besides the elk and weasel, we saw or heard a myriad of wildlife: black-tailed deer, sea lions, pelicans, cormorants, black oystercatchers, seaguls, California red-sided gartersnake, turkey vultures, red-tailed hawks and peregrine falcons.

We continued on and soon had our first siting of the Tule Elk (pictured below). A large bull elk was standing proud on the bluff, reminding me of the Hartford commercials. As we came closer, we saw a dozen or so females mulling about. Apparently the bull wasn't happy with all the attention and he gathered his herd and moved them away. We could see more bulls in the distance so we continued on the trail with cameras in hand.
The group of bulls were next in a series of encounters with the Elk. The most memorable was a National Geographic moment. Two rutting bulls decided to lock horns. Cameras were ready, but apparently, my brain wasn't. I had the wrong settings on my camera and although I captured the perfect moment when they came against each other, a 1/60 shutter speed, fast moving elk and excited hands make for a very bad photo(pictured left)! Picture or not, the memory is in my head and it is one that will last a long time!

I highly recommend this 10-mile hike. I imagine it will be a bit different during "normal" Pt. Reyes weather (windy, foggy, etc.). I would rate this trip as an easy to moderate hike. There is an elevation change of about a 1000 ft over the course of the trip. Most of the trail was well packed but it did get soft and sandy as you neared the point. A rough draft (very rough) trip report and map of this hike and additional photos can be found on TrimbleOutdoors. The polished version will be available soon at BACKPACKER magazine and more photos will be on my Picasa web albums as soon as I can go through them. Thanks for taking the time to read about this trip. Your comments are welcome and appreciated.

After the faceoff

Elk everywhere

Silhouette of Pelicans

Cypress Trees at Pierce Point Ranch