We met at 6:00 on the periphery of the park. We talked about our goals for the trip and then he handed me a radio so we could easily communicate while he led us to his favorite hot spots.
Our first stop was at a pond where we saw the red-necked phalarope, but the angle of the sun make it difficult to get good shots.
We drove on and Daniel pointed a few things out to us before getting very excited. He had spotted our quarry, a bobcat. Less than an hour into our morning and our guide had delivered. He told us to shoot from inside our truck at first, then as the bobcat made its way past us, we all quietly got out and shot and walked slowly behind him. This went on for about 30 minutes. Several times he disappeared in the tall grasses, but then he showed up again a little farther on. We watched as he hunted and pounced on something, laid down, then stood back up smacking his lips. He then walked around a large overgrown mound of dirt, walked to the top and scent marked before looking back at us and disappearing a final time. I don’t know who was more excited, us or Daniel.
Our next stop was Abbot’s Pond where, as we started to pull into the parking area, Daniel spotted a skunk way out in the field. He asked if we wanted to go shoot it (we could get quite close because they weren’t skittish like bobcats), and we said yes. We hiked about a quarter mile out and started taking pictures when we saw one, then two, tiny tails with the skunk – a mother and two kits! We followed them for awhile then let them go on their way.
When we were ready to leave the field we found that we had been trapped by a herd of cattle. They had gotten out of their own field, the field we had just crossed, and we’re now returning. Daniel jumped the fence and managed to herd the cows enough out of our way that we could get by. As we passed, the closest cow looked like she/he had taken a step towards me. I put out my hand and yelled, “No! Don’t you do it!” then walked backwards, keeping eye contact, out of the field.
From this little adventure we hiked a little over a mile out to Abbott’s Pond. Along the hike we came across several California quail perched up on fence posts or bushes, that decided we weren’t worth the trouble of flying away, so we got quite a few good shots of them. We met up with a friend of Daniels, a world class tracker, and then saw a river otter swimming towards the bridge we were standing near. He disappeared after going under the bridge, so we had the impression that he might have a den under there somewhere.
The next stop was at a huge tree where Daniel pointed out a great horned owl he knew to frequent there. We never would have seen it otherwise.
On our way to the next location, Daniel pointed out some Tule elk on the slope to our left. Most of the elk were laying down because the wind had gotten so harsh. Daniel estimated it was about 50 miles per hour.
An old farmstead was our next stop. We were hoping to see weasels, gray fox and maybe a barn owl, but all we saw were lots of barn swallows and starlings. Afterward Daniel gave us the option of calling the tour early (just a half-day) because the winds were keeping the animals down to the ground. He knew the animals were bedding down low to keep our of the wind. We agreed with him, and after giving us some locations we could check out in our own, we gave our thanks and said our goodbyes.
Back at our hotel, I made parking reservations for the next day.
Friday, May 20
This morning we slept in until a little after 7:00. We picked up breakfast at McDonald’s, then headed to Muir Woods National Monument where we had parking reservations for 9:00am. The parking lots were filling up when we arrived, but we were able to find a spot at the far end of the second lot. We hiked about a quarter mile to the entrance, showed our Senior Park Pass and proceeded into the park. I got a stamp in our book and then we made the decision to hike the two-mile loop boardwalk trail. It was beautiful there! Redwood and sequoia trees were all around us. Ferns, flowers and moss were on the forest floor. We could hear a variety of birds and spotted a pacific wren and a dark-eyed Junko. We also kept hearing the our current obsession, the Pacific slope flycatcher which has eluded us like the northern parula. At the one-mile point we decided to return via the ledge trail which was about thirty feet or so up from the boardwalk. Along that route we saw a rufous-backed chickadee, and a brown creeper who blended in perfectly with the bark of the tree it was climbing.
Saturday, May 21
Today we drove down to Oxnard and the Santa Monica region for a couple of days. We started with the Channel Islands National Park visitor center so we could get a stamp in the book, then we drove to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area to check out a location I’d found through eBirds. Unfortunately, with it being the weekend, the area was packed and there was no place to park. We gave up and headed to our hotel for the night. Poor Alan, he had to drive the twisty-windy-narrow roads through the Santa Monica Mountains.
Sunday, May 22
This morning we took a wildlife cruise with Island Packers to the Channel Islands. The boat was 45 minutes late taking off because of a mechanical issue, so our cruise didn’t go as long as it should have, which was disappointing. But we did see some interesting wildlife. There were spotted harbor seals, common dolphins, California sea lions, gulls, an incredible number of brown pelicans, and a pigeon guillemot (a new lifer for our list).
After docking we found a seafood restaurant and had some fish and chips, then went in search of the Santa Monica Mountains visitor center. According to their website we should have been able to drive to it along a particular route, but when we got to that turn it was closed off to all but handicap accessible vehicles. A sign indicated where to go, so there we went. We eventually found a parking lot, but could not find the visitor. After heading down a trail that took us to the maintenance buildings, we asked another hiker if he knew where the visitor center was. He told us it was about a quarter mile “that way”, so we took off and finally found it. We got a stamp in our book, then hiked back as the Pacific slope flycatcher teased us from the canyon walls.
We went back to our hotel, showered, then visited with my cousin Carolyn and her husband, Bob. We treated them to dinner at a wonderful, quirky restaurant called The Junkyard. After dinner Alan stated that if there was a restaurant like this near home, we would be there several nights a week! The décor was, well, junk, and it was everywhere. The menus looked hand-written and we’re 24 pages long in page protectors in binders. So clever! The menu was incredibly diverse, there was something for everyone, and the food was outstanding. The calamari appetizer was some of the best we have had, with just the lightest dusting of flour, salt and pepper. The servings were more than any of us could manage, but oh so good. After dinner we returned to Carolyn and Bob’s to do laundry (thank you SO much for that), and also visit with their daughter, Alisha, and her family. Alisha and I talked photography and cameras, and we all shared photos.