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11-31 October 2002

Part 15:  Andrew Molera and Point Lobos State Parks

Actually got to sleep in a little, as I was just initially going to head down the Coast Highway a little in hopes of finding a condor roosting tree.  No such luck, so I headed on to Andrew Molera SP, where all the trails begin at the big parking lot.  The trail I initially wanted to take was impassable due to the river being so high, so I took the trail through the walk-in campground down to the river mouth and then up to the bluff.  I'm not sure how long this is exactly, but it took me about three and a half hours to do, and it was worth every minute!  You start out hiking through a lovely little riparian area before hitting the open campground, then you go through more eucalyptus groves and willow riparian woodland before you can actually see the river mouth.  The place was alive with sparrows, and at times the Goldies outnumbered the Whiteys!  The day's only Acorn Woodpecker was near the trailhead, and a Nuttall's was way back there, too, but surprisingly the dominant woodpeckers appeared to be Hairies and Downies!  Every once in awhile a chink would announce the presence of a Townsend's Warbler, and an occasional Orangecrown would show, but Butterbutts were the dominant warbler of course, with the ratio between Audubon's and Myrtles appearing to be about half and half.  At the potty I made a wrong turn and ended up at what was probably the "Willow Patch" marked on the map, but that proved productive with a small flock of waxwings overhead and a couple of female Purple Finches giving good looks.

                  

Part of the Big Sur River near the trailhead, with Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Steller's Jay

          

Western Scrub Jay and shy Downy Woodpecker along the trail

         

L-R:  Band-tailed Pigeon flock; Golden-crowned Sparrow and California Towhee; Mule Deer hitailing it across the campground

         

L-R:  Golden-crowned Sparrow; California Quail; the “Willow Patch”, a popular place to look for vagrants

         

L-R:  Spotted Towhee; American Robin; Big Sur River in the mist

When it finally opened up to the river I sat for awhile and enjoyed a Great Egret silhouetted against the misty river.  A ton of gulls was feeding at the mouth, so I hitailed it to the end of the trail, where no less than five species were having a feast (plus a token Western Grebe), and several turnstones of both types were feeding against the rock face and jumping up with each wave that came in. 

           

Lagoon at the mouth, and Molera Point and accompanying gull feeding frenzy

After that decided to brave the Highlands Trail and am very glad I did: the stairs were intimidating, but the view was spectacular as you overlooked the river mouth and the colossal sea stacks on the ocean side.  Here were the obligatory pelicans and cormorants, and on one rock a bird I was hoping to see here: the Peregrine Falcon!  A pair of Black Oystercatcher came screaming in as well, doing their little bowing thing.  In the meantime a couple of Coots, a pair of Pied-billed Grebes, and a female Red-breasted Merganser had moved into the river!

     

Views from the top of the ridge, with the Big Sur River mouth on right

                     

L-R: Western, Heermann’s, and California Gulls; Black Oystercatchers; California Gull

                 

More views of the Big Sur River with White-crowned Sparrow

Heading back I flushed a Red-shouldered Hawk (which made me feel good about counting it after hearing several but not trusting the Steller's Jays), and ran into several foreign kids who had spotted a Monarch cluster in the euc grove!  Chestnut-backed Chickadees were all over but frustratingly skulky, unlike the kinglets and Hutton's Vireos who insisted on getting in my face instead.  A Hermit Thrush came out in the open, too, flipping his wings irritatedly, and a Brown Creeper did a very kinglet-like dee-dee-dee which left me with a feeling of, "Oh great; now how am I supposed to tell them apart?!". 

           

L-R:  Hermit Thrush; female Townsend's Warblers; resting Monarchs   

That walk pretty much wore me out (plus there was a creepy guy "camping out" at one of the picnic areas where the other trail was, so I really didn't wanna go there), so I decided to head on up to Pt. Lobos.  And what a place!!  In many ways it kinda reminded me of Torrey Pines State Reserve, with the coastal bluffs and local wind-blown conifers, but this was much more spectacular!  I stopped first at Whaler's Cove and just took a quick look around; best bird was a point blank Oystercatcher on the rocks!

                       

Black Oystercatcher at Whaler's’s Cove at Point Lobos State Preserve

Headed up to the Information Station after that, where I took the Old Veteran Trail by mistake, but it was a great one, as it dead ends at a tremendous Brandt's Cormorant rookery!  (Another birder I ran into poured salt in the wound by telling me about these Alaskan birders who just happened to pull over on Highway One, looked up, and had two condors sailing overhead...)  Went back and hiked the loop I meant to hike, the Cypress Grove Trail, which was a wonderful walk through these beautiful Monterey Cypress trees, covered with red lichen on the ocean-facing sides!  Sea Lions (for which the park is named) barked constantly, although I couldn't actually spot any (the sun was at a bad angle by that time).

     

View from the end of Old Veteran’s Trail with Brandt's Cormorant colony

     

Scenes along the Cypress Grove Trail   

           

Left:  Red lichen on Monterey Cypress  Right:  Seascape

The nice thing about this park is that it has many trails that criss-cross each other, so you can make your own loop trails!  That's exactly what I did: I went to the Piney Woods picnic area after that, and hiked a loop through the woods that used parts of the Pine Ridge, Mound Meadow, and Lace Lichen Trails.  I was surprised at how crowded the park was for a weekday, but I had this trail all to myself, and enjoyed a curious little Winter Wren and picked up several flocks of Pygmy Nuthatches for the trip.  Sparrows were all over, including several "Sooty" Fox Sparrows.  I'm amazed by the number of what I consider "high altitude" birds showing up in comparable habitat along the coast, so I guess the habitat is really the deciding factor here!  Speaking of which, Hairy Woodpecker was definitely the dominant woodpecker in here.

           

Pine Ridge Trail with Pacific Wren

        

The roaring surf! 

Anyway, did another loop taking the Bird Island Trail, then connecting with the Mound Meadows Trail again, then Pine Ridge again over to the South Plateau Trail, then down to Bird Island and back to the parking lot.  This was nice in that you had a variety of habitat, but it was pretty strenuous in spots, so I'm not sure I'd do it again.  They had benches strategically placed along that whole loop, and at one rest a Sharp-shinned Hawk came tearing in, causing some Townsend's-type warblers to chink excitedly (but they wouldn't subsequently come out, naturally).  Also heard a Golden-crowned Kinglet doing it's rapid dee-dee-dee, then immediately heard a lower, slower version, and wondered if that could have been the creeper?  Then again, at this point, I'm accepting the possibility that they could all be chickadees... Most of the birds on this trail were similar to the last one, except that a chickadee actually decided to come out where I could see it, and a Hutton's Vireo with very pale lores literally came within touching distance; I almost thought it was a Cassin's at first, but I couldn't discern much (if any) contrast in the throat.

   

Mound Meadows Trail with the China Cove area

                          

China Cove and Chestnut-backed Chickadee

Decided that I’d definitely have to come back the next day and check out China Cove, though, cuz you could see hundreds of birds crammed on the rocks down there, and the trail takes you right up to them (or at least it appears to)!  But as it was, my time was up, and I had to get to Carmel, which is just a delightful little place!  Checked into the Tradewinds Inn and had dinner at Le Coq Dor down the street, a cozy little place with scrumptious food, and where the owner and I had quite the conversation about the end of the world! 

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