Looking west from the Coyote Hills Regional Park
When Tom and I discussed where we would go the day before, we realized that we hadn’t been to Coyote Hills Regional Park for over five years so it was about time we revisited. It was extremely difficult though to drag myself out of bed the next day, especially when I saw it was a cold and frosty morning.
(Click on the photos for larger versions)
Coyote Hills Regional Park is not too far away from home for us; just a short drive up 101, across the Dumbarton Bridge to the East Bay, then turn left on Passo Padre Parkway. Look for the brown Coyote Hills sign and turn left again, There is an entrance fee for cars entering the park ($5) but lots of people park outside and walk or cycle in to avoid the fee.
When we got out of the car, the temperature was 39 degrees but the sun made it feel warmer. We have been here several times in the past and have always parked near the Visitors Centre. This time though we turned into the first one we saw, namely the Quarry Staging Area. No other cars were parked there at all. Even before I got out of the car I spotted a bird I didn’t recognize. I thought it might be a wren but then changed my mind. It was a plump, mostly brown bird with a lighter patch on the top of its head.
Lots of birds at Coyote Hills Regional Park
There was a trail leading upwards but we took a short cut to a trail off to our right. Patches of water and tall reeds were on on either side of the trail. The frosty grass and the drops of dew on the reeds glistened in the sun. We heard muted bird calls around and at first we could not see any birds. Slowly we spotted them; a few more like the one in the car park flitting from trees to reeds; a couple of Canada Geese motionless out on a small open patch of water and a few ducks bustling around them. Then, out in the distance, I could see hundreds of ducks which appeared to be swimming on grass. When I checked them out through my binoculars I could see that the ‘grass’ turned out to be marsh and there were lots of open patches of water amongst it.
A Northern Harrier at Coyote Hills Regional Park
Tom spotted two hawk like birds high in the branches of a tree. They were easy to spot because there were no leaves on the tree and the birds were mainly white. At first I thought they were Osprey but when I looked closer I changed my mind. A ranger happened to be passing by and he stopped to chat. We asked him what sort of birds they were but he wasn’t sure either. As soon as I got home and checked all my bird books and the internet I concluded they were Northern Harriers. The ranger told us that there were lots of birds here over-wintering and, in fact, there were about 300 white Pelicans on the other side. I remember last time we came we did see a lot of white Pelicans from the Chochenyo trail.
Continuing on our walk, we came to a cross road. The Meadowlark trail was off to the left but we went straight across and joined the Bayview trail. We started to climb and slowly the Bay came into view with the Dumbarton Bridge off to the south. Closer to land were lots of ponds walled off from the Bay by thin mud levees. Once upon a time these were salt beds but are now being reclaimed and returned to their natural habitat as a wildlife refuge mostly for migrating birds. Shielding our eyes from the sun, we drank in the tranquil view. We continued to follow the trail round several headlands. As soon as we started to round the headlands, the sun disappeared and we were in shadow. Immediately the temperature dropped and it became decidedly chilly.
We didn’t quite have the place to ourselves. Several solo cyclists passed us and now and then joggers ran by. Nearly every single one of them greeted us with a smile and a ‘good morning’. The folks are real friendly here. In the distance, several headlands away, we spotted a bench perched on top of a hill. Ah, I thought, that is what I’m aiming for.
Each time we changed direction, we got a different view – Palo Alto off to the west where we clearly saw the Hoover Tower at Stanford, San Mateo Bridge and Oakland to the north and Moffett Field to the south. Tom even spotted the Sutro Tower in San Francisco, which was barely visible in the far distance. It was a glorious day to be out walking in the sunshine.
View from Coyote Hills Regional Park. A little chilly but quite peaceful.
We walked the Bayview trail until we came to the Soaproot trail and there we turned right. This trail leads over the hill but we came across the bench a little way along. It was conveniently placed to view the whole bay from the Dumbarton Bridge up to the SanMateo Bridge. I immediately started to write but it was difficult. This time the trouble was caused by the bench itself and not the sun making the screen impossible to see. Although I have long leg,s I had to sit almost on the edge for my feet to reach the ground. By doing this, it made my thighs slope and the iPad kept slipping down. On top of that, as it was so cold, I had gloves on and it was difficult to type on the keyboard. It would have been impossible to type with gloves on the inbuilt iPad keyboard but I am lucky enough now have a Logitech keyboard. Tom gave me his pack to put my feet on and that did improve the situation for a bit. We would have stayed there longer but the bench was in an exposed position and eventually the cold made us move on.
Onwards and upward we climbed. At the top of the hill we looked down on the marshes and I tried to work out how we could find our way back to where we parked the car. Tom took his time walking down the hill by stopping every now and then to take photos. I strode on. At one point I came to a junction where two trails met and decided to keep on the Soaproot trail as it continued downward. I just hoped that Tom would realize which way I went. At the bottom of the hill I looked and and was glad to see that Tom had indeed taken the same route as I had and he soon joined me. I had began to follow the Bayview trail but Tom pointed out that I was going the wrong way. At first I didn’t believe him but he proved to be right (but then his sense of direction has always been better than mine). Before long I recognized places we had seen on the way out – the ducks swimming in the grass and the tree where the Northern Harrier had been. Back in the car park there were a few more cars parked but it was no where near being full.
It was time to find somewhere to have breakfast. Palo Alto was the nearest place we knew we would be lucky, so that is the direction we took. The car was warm and it felt so nice to be able to feel my fingers again. Coyote Hills has so many trails and we can’t wait to get back again to try a few more of them out.
February 22 2013 | Special Places | No Comments »
Looking out towards Año Nuevo from the visitor center
Año Nuevo is our main destination today. This is the best time of the year to see the elephant seals because both the females and the males are in residence. The females came ashore in December to give birth to their pups and the males arrived a bit later to start organizing their harems. Between December 15 and March 1 the only way to view the seals is to go on a guided tour which can be pre-booked online. Tom has visited during this time but I haven’t. We haven’t pre-booked but when we were last at Año Nuevo in November we were told that on most days it is OK to turn up on spec, especially for the early tours, because there are often spaces available due to no-shows. I did check the day before to see if we could book but there were no spaces available. Fingers crossed we can get on a tour!
This is the dawn of a new age because I’m using my new iPad for the first time on our travels. Hopefully it will save a lot of time. Before I used to take a notebook and write with a pen and then enter it into WordPress when I got back home. With the iPad and an app called Blogpress I can just sync it up when I get home and editing will be much quicker.
We left home at 6:30 when it was still dark and immediately I became aware of a couple more advantages of using the iPad. For one thing I can write in the dark because the screen is backlit. The second advantage is that every word is readable. A lot of times I would have trouble deciphering my notes because handwriting in a car suffers with every bump, twist and turn.
A thicket on our first little hike. The morning light and dew made it sparkle.
We could tell it was going to be a beautiful day. As we crested the summit of the Santa Cruz Mountains we could see no fog at the coast. Ahead we could clearly see the lights of Monterey clear across Monterey Bay – a rare phenomenon for us.
In Santa Cruz we stopped on Mission for coffee. It was called On a Mission Coffee and is little more than a kiosk but they also have a small range of breakfast items. We already had breakfast before we left home so we just bought liquid refreshment this time. Tom had coffee and I chose hot chocolate. We have bought coffee here before but then there was a huge range of magazines for sale at the side. I asked what happened to the magazines and the young girl told us they stopped because it wasn’t profitable.
We made another stop at Davenport Landing. Here there is a small secluded sandy beach. A couple of early morning surfers were already braving the elements and from where we stood they sounded as though they were having fun. A short walk on the beach, a couple of photos and we were on our way again.
There is nothing to beat an early morning drive along this stretch of road at this time of the morning on a lovely day like today. So many photo ops but unfortunately no time to stop again today.
Año Nuevo Sate Park opens at 8 am and we arrived a couple of minutes before. At the kiosk we paid the $10 entrance fee to the park and were given a standby number. We were the first standbys today so have a good chance to actually get on a tour. All guided walks start at the Visitors Center so from the car park that is where we headed. Along the way we paused to watch a flock of quail scurrying around. The males look particularly plump and handsome at this time of the year.
At the Visitors Center we gave our names and were told we would be called if there were still spaces five minutes before the published time of the start. If there were a lot of standbys and spare docents, they would lay on an extra tour.
We had a look around the Marine Education Center. Lots of interesting displays explaining not only the life cycle of events on the beach but also about the dunes and surrounding environment including the other wildlife which abounds here. While we were waiting a docent told us that we would definitely be on the 9:30 tour, which gave us enough time to have a look around outside.
Just outside the Visitors Center is the start of the New Year Creek Trail which we have never been on. This would is a good opportunity so off we set. The trail turned to the left and towards Cove Beach and Highway 1. At the bottom of a steep flight of wooden steps there was a parting of the ways and I kept straight on heading for Highway 1. I was curious to see where it came out. Pretty soon I was walking over an old concrete bridge which was probably the old Highway 1. After about a quarter of a mile of uphill climbing, I reached the main road. From the highway it is hard to spot the entrance to the trail. I retraced my steps to the concrete bridge and could see Tom down on the beach. When I joined him he told me there were a couple of seals on the beach. One was off to the right on the other side of New Year Creek and the other was our side and just around the edge of the cliff. This was a lone bull. The scarring on his back was very pronounced. At first I thought it was dead but by checking with my binoculars I could see that he was breathing so merely sleeping.
Striking a pose. Our first encounter with a young male elephant seal.
By 9:15 we were back at the Visitors Center in order to be ready to set off at 9:30. The earlier groups which set out comprised mostly of teenage students. Our tour though was mostly couples and small groups. At the staging post a park ranger laid down a few rules – no food, not even gum (bottled water is allowed); always stay behind the docent and never get closer than 25 feet from any of the seals. We were introduced to our docent Cheryl Wong. Along the way she dispensed lots of information spiced with humor.
Before we reached the sand dunes, Cheryl stopped and gave us a potted history of Año Nuevo, who discovered it (Sebastián Vizcaíno), the rise, fall and subsequent rise again of the elephant seal population over the years and some background of the Ohlone Indians who called this place home before the Europeans arrived and began to ‘civilize’ them. At a later stop Cheryl went into the life cycle of the seals, what they feed on and how they are able to hold their breath for such a long time under water. She circulated a small piece of hide covered in coarse fur and a whisker. The hide felt a bit rough but the whisker was amazing. I was astounded at the thickness of it.
Elephant seal at Año Nuevo. You actually get pretty close to these guys.
Our first close encounter with an elephant seal happened shortly afterward. A young bull had hauled himself out of the water and was stretched out on the path in front of us. Cheryl said he was about four years old and probably too young to breed yet. Even though we were the required 25 feet away he was aware of our presence and raised his head to look at us. Bulls this age can travel very fast and cover 25 feet in 3 seconds so we were very careful not to disturb him too much. When he opened his mouth to yawn we could see he only had a few back molars but this is quite common. Males start breeding when they are 5 years old and live until they are about 12 years old. Females on the other hand live for about 18 years.
At this point we deviated from the normal path and headed towards the beach over the dunes. We passed several other solitary seals who were basking some way from the shore. We were met by a park ranger – Officer Marty – who called herself a traffic cop. She told the docent which paths to take to avoid disturbing seals. There was another bull but much older than the first one we saw, probably nearly 12. All the while we watched him he didn’t appear to move at all and was certainly not aware of our presence.
We walked to the top of a bluff with a view down to the beach. Here we saw lots of seals – males females and pups. Most were stretched out with
They called this guy, 'Mr. Bubbles'.
just the occasional movement of their fins to scoop sand over their backs. This is to protect them from the sun. The pups stayed close to their mothers and we saw several suckling. Only about 25% will survive their first few months. Some become separated from their mothers, some are attacked by coyotes and some are crushed by the huge males. Once they are weaned and take off into the ocean to fend for themselves they are at the mercy of Great White Sharks and Killer Whales which patrol just offshore waiting to snatch them. Only 25% of the pups born this year will survive to return to this beach.
We did not see any of the males fighting. Cheryl said they were conserving their energy until the females came into season, which happens about a month after the pups have been born. From our vantage place we had a good view of Año Nuevo Island where we could see another colony of seals resting. Many years ago, when the light house was built on the island, it was possible to walk out to the island at low tide. Now, due to erosion, that is not possible and the public has no access to the island at all.
We could not stay too long at this spot because another group was due to arrive very soon. Our next stop was to observe a lone bull in a small pond half submerged in the water. Earlier Officer Marty referred to him as Mr Bubbles and we soon saw why. Elephant seals can hold their breath for a long time and when this male raised to head to take a breath and then breathed out he produced a lot of bubbles. He did this several times and it was amusing to watch. Cheryl said they like to practice holding their breath. When they are out at sea they dive very deep and have to hold their breath for about twenty minutes.
Bull elephant seal courting a female.
Our guided tour was nearly done. Just one more climb to another overlook to see another section of the beach and more seals. This time we saw an abandoned pup that had died lying on the sand. It was distressing but that’s nature. The park rangers only intervene when the problem is man made, for instance if they get caught up in fishing lines. Apart from that they are left very much undisturbed. From start to finish the tours last for two and a half hours. One hour of that is taken up with walking from the Visitors Center to the staging area and back again. For $7 a head it is real good value and today we certainly got our money’s worth due to the fantastic weather. It was a wonderful experience to see the seals at this time of the year.
Our day was not quite over though. We rounded off the day by driving into Pescadero for lunch at Duarte’s where I enjoyed a delicious bowl of artichoke soup and Tom had a cheeseburger with fries and onion rings. Then across the road to Arcangeli Grocery where we bought a loaf of their freshly baked (and still warm) artichoke garlic herb bread. Just one more stop at Harley Farms to buy some of their lavender honey goat cheese before heading home. We took the scenic route along Stage Road to San Gregorio where we turned right onto Highway 84 and headed towards Highway 280. The end of another perfect day.
January 28 2011 | Special Places | No Comments »
Crystal Springs with the fog creeping over the coastal hills.
For this trip we decided to take a drive along Skyline Boulevard. This highway starts in San Francisco on Sloat Boulevard and heads towards the ocean and then south all the way to Highway 17. It is called Skyline because it lies along the ridge of the coastal range of mountains between the ocean and Highway 280. It is not a heavily used road. I have only been on sections of it so wanted to explore it a bit more. We did not start at the beginning of the highway but picked it up just north of Crystal Springs by taking the Hayne Road exit off 280.
Instantly we were in a different world as we turned onto Highway 35 going south. To the right was a golf course and a sign pointed left to Sawyer Camp Trail. A finger of fog hovered over the Upper Crystal Springs Reservoir. We turned onto Crystal Springs Road and parked as we wanted to get a closer look at Crystal Springs and to walk along the Sawyer Camp Trail. Highway 280 towered above us on a huge overpass. Many years ago I walked a part of the Sawyer Camp Trail. The trail is part of the Crystal Springs Regional trail which stretches for over 15 miles from San Bruno in the north to Huddart County Park near Woodside in the south. It consists of three sections; the 2.6 mile San Andreas segment in the north, the 6 mile Sawyer Camp segment in the middle and the 6.7 mile Crystal Springs segment to the south. It was 7.30 in the morning and only the serious joggers and a few hikers were around. Crystal Springs is in a really beautiful setting and lies right on the San Andreas Fault. Water from the Hetch Hetch Reservoir in Yosemite is piped to Crystal Springs. On the other side of the reservoir is a wooded ridge. Until recently this area was completely unaccessible to the public but now it is possible to book a guided tour along the Fifield-Cahill Ridge. We walked north, stopping to take photos along the way, for short distance before turning around. Back at the beginning again, we took a side trail to the Crystal Springs Dam. This dam is well over 100 years old and survived both the 1906 and the 1989 earthquakes. It is urgent need of repair and will soon be closed for three months.
Another shot of Crystal Springs Reservoir. Drinking water for much of the Bay Area.
Back in the car we headed south again, crossing the old dam and heading to the junction with Highway 92, which is the main route into Half Moon Bay. This road is always busy at the weekends as Half Moon Bay is a popular destination. Even at 8.30 the traffic was building up. Skyline Boulevard joins Hw92 for a short distance, crossing over the reservoir. At the top Skyline turns left and heads south away from Hwy 92 with Crystal Springs to our left. It was still a little foggy but the views would be outstanding if visibility were better. We passed the well known Bella Vista restaurant . I’ve heard people talk about it, especially the view of San Francisco it offers, but have never been. I looked back to see if I could see the city at all and there was with nothing but fog in between. We would have liked to stop and take some photos but there was no suitable place to pull into.
We passed Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space on our right. Purisima has
The 100 year old dam holding it all back. Crystal Springs lake straddles the San Andreas Fault so when the next big one hits this dam could cause big problems.
towering redwoods with lots of trails. When the first explorers from the west discovered this area, the entire area was covered in enormous redwoods. Of course logging depleted them dramatically. The redwoods that we see today are second or third generation. There is also an entrance to the west on Purisima Creek Road. Tom took me for a hike on the lower section on one of my early visits to California and I vividly remember seeing my first banana slug. To see such a brightly colored slug was a real eye opener.
We pulled into a scenic turnout where a large number of cyclists gathered, whether at the start of a ride or merely taking a short break we didn’t know. The area is called Skeggs Point, named after Colonel John Hunt Skeggs who was a Caltrans engineer. We thought it was a vista point but the only view was was of the far side of the bay through a small gap in the trees. I expect when it was built there would have been a view but since then trees have grown to block it. A Coast and Geodetic Survey Benchmark of 2,315 ft has been placed there. I’m sure when Skeggs Point was created it looked very attractive but now it is a bit run down and dilapidated.
It was time to think about breakfast. Fortunately Alice’s Restaurant is very conveniently located on Skyline. Our last visit was in January this year and it was much the same as before. This time we sat on the covered patio at the side. One thing missing was the quote written on the restroom wall.
Windy Hill Open Space Preserve. Looking down on the fog covered Bay Area.
After breakfast we continued our drive south on Skyline but just a short way along we stopped at Windy Hill Open Space Preserve. This preserve is on the left hand side with views towards the bay. I stopped to study the large map near the entrance to decide which trail to walk and chose the Spring Ridge Trail. It was still foggy in the valley but we could see Mount Diablo on the east side of the bay. On the trail we were above the fog and the sun was shining. Windy Hill normally lives up to its name and is a good place to fly kites but that day there wasn’t very much wind at all. We didn’t walk the whole length of the trail – we could have walked all the way to Portola Road and Alpine Road – because we still have some way to go.
Soon after leaving Windy Hill we left the redwoods behind us and the countryside became more open. We had views on both sides of the road. The San Mateo and the Dumbarton Bridges were not visible but San Bruno Mountain could be seen.
I have only mentioned a couple of the open spaces and preserves we passed but here is a list of all the ones we passed with parking easily accessible from Skyline:
Huddart Country Park
El Corte de Madera Creek Open Space Preserve
Coal Creek Regional Open Space
Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve
Skyline Regional Open Space
Upper Stevens Creek Country Park
Long Ridge and Saratoga Gap Regional Open Space
Castle Rock State Park
Sanborn Skyline Country Park
There are plenty more very close to Skyline – Burleigh Murray Ranch State Park, Wunderlich Country Park, La Honda Creek Regional Open Space, Foothills Park, Los Trancos Regional Open Space, Monte Bello Regional Open Space and Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve. The whole length of Skyline Boulevard is a hiker’s paradise.
We cheated by not driving to the end of Skyline. Instead we took Black Road, which was a short cut to Highway 17. It was a single track road and extremely twisty but a very interesting drive. Before long we were passing houses and were back into civilization. We enjoyed our day out, not only the drive but the couple of trails we tried out. Lots more to do on another day.
December 10 2010 | Special Places | 1 Comment »
Couple of kayakers and an egret at Palo Alto Baylands
After our breakfast at Bill’s, we made our way to Palo Alto. As it was the rush hour, we took a circuitous route. Our destination was The Baylands Nature Preserve to the east of 101 next to Palo Alto Airport and just north of Shoreline and Moffett Field. We parked in the Byxbee Park car park. There were several other cars there but mostly they were dropping off children for a day camp. As we unloaded our bikes and got our bearings, the children were being gathered together before they set off on their hike. One of the organizers was explaining to the children all the wildlife which co-exist within the preserve, including the Burrowing Owl.
Part of the site had previously been a landfill but has now been covered in clay and topsoil and turned into park, which has incorporated art into the design. There was a trail uphill which passed a lot of the outdoor sculpture but we headed towards the bay on the Adobe Creek Loop Trail. To our right was Mayfield Slough. The tide was in and at first we did not see a lot of birds. We spotted a lone white pelican on the water.
At first we did not see any other cyclists. There were a few joggers, one with his dog running alongside. It was a chilly morning and a slight breeze ruffled my hair. The sound of birds could be heard. Overhead small planes were coming in to land at the nearby airport. Along the first part of the trail there were quite a few benches. Further on, when I needed to sit down and write, there were no benches.
We crossed a bridge where the slough entered from the bay. Out on the bay a couple of kayakers were heading for shore. A hungry tern performed a marvelous diving demonstration and he kept us captivated for some time.
(Click on the photos for larger versions)
White Pelicans at Palo Alto Baylands
A little further on we began to see a lot more birds. A mother duck was busily trying to keep control of five ducklings. Both Snowy and Greater Egrets were concentrating of finding breakfast. I spotted a Black Crowned Night Heron standing patiently on the far side of the slough. A couple of Black Phoebes were darting around snatching insects on the wing. Slowly a group of eight white pelicans swam into view. Normally the only pelicans I see are the brown pelicans which stay close to the ocean. White pelicans I have only seen frequenting wetlands and they are more striking than their brown counterparts.
What started out to be a chilly day turned into a really sunny one. We stopped so Tom could take some photos. In front of us now were hundreds of white pelicans in scattered groups on a couple of large islands in the slough. There were other birds as well on the islands. It was an amazing site, all those white birds against a green background. I took the opportunity to park my bike as well and sat down on the pickleweed. I was moaning about there not being any benches around but, quite frankly, that pickleweed made a very comfortable seat. I took my helmet and gloves off and leaned back to admire the view. I could see cars in the distance on 101 but not hear them. What an extremely pleasant way to while away the time.
More and more people were out enjoying the walk on the loop trail. Groups of friends taking a leisurely walk and talking animatedly; mothers with their young children; older couples walking hand in hand and serious joggers. There were quite a few cyclists as well and one couple stopped to talk to us. They said this was one of their favorite places to ride their bikes and come here often. During the conversation they asked if we had seen the flamingo. What, were they kidding us? But no, there was one. At first I couldn’t see it but eventually located it way out to the west. It’s long thin legs were difficult to spot but when it lowered it’s distinctive long neck into the water, it was easier to identify. The only place you are likely to see flamingos in the US are in Florida. This one had obviously escaped from captivity. Normally they are bright pink but, as far as I could see, the one frequenting Baylands is not pink at all. It has been at Baylands for a couple of months now. You just never know what you are going to see!
Whole bunch of White Pelicans at Palo Alto Baylands
From my vantage point on the pickleweed I could see the distinctive roof over the Shoreline Amphitheatre. I watched the airship rise into the air from Moffat Field and glide gracefully westward. A company called Airship Ventures provides tours of Silicon Valley and even up to San Francisco. Wouldn’t that be an adventure?
We resumed our bike ride seeing more and more birds. Up ahead we could see a whole colony of white pelicans. Overhead another half a dozen flew in to join them. When I looked back I saw several more groups flying in. Obviously it was time for all the white pelicans in the vicinity to gather and catch up on the news of the day.
Our original plan was to cycle round the complete loop but the couple we were talking to said the final part is on roads and is not very interesting, so we decided to turn round and go back the way we had come. The sun was blazing down and the light was no longer any good to take photographs. Besides, the number of people now on the trail made negotiating round them a bit of a chore.
The Baylands is a really great place to get out and take a walk and to enjoy the birds. Lets make the most of our wetlands before they completely disappear. We shall certainly be back, so look out for us.
October 15 2010 | Special Places | No Comments »