Elephant Seals inside Point Reyes National Seashore



Before I even start saying a few things about the journey just one disclaimer. All the images in this post were made to look like a painting as we wanted to relive the painting like landscape of Point reyes.

Point reyes is literally a nothing place for the normal tourist. It is quite close to San Francisco the technology capital of the world. Quite literally this is backside of the famous Golden gate bridge of San Francisco. So any normal person would keep San Francisco as the destination but we as the people we are , did not intend to spend any time in San Francisco.

Our reason to visit the place was just one. Elephant seals ! Elephant seals are the biggest of all the seals and they can reach 20 feet in length and weigh more than 3.5 tonnes. They were once literally extinct except for a few individuals but after some protection they have managed to survive. We always wanted to see these mammoths , so when the season was right we made it to San Francisco.

We arrived at sunset in California and quickly took a car and tried to reach the coast for the sunset but managed only to get into traffic. The roadside had several windmills and the golden shine of the evening sun was beautiful as well.

Windmills silhouette in california

The beautiful orange coloring of the sky gave us a classic silhouette of the windmills.

Actually we kind of arrived late in San Francisco because of delay in flight. We were supposed to be there in Point reyes in morning itself and then look for some accommodation nearby. Even though our plan collapsed because of the flight delay we still went ahead to Point reyes hoping to find some place near the shore for staying the night. It was getting dark fast and we were still in traffic and by the time we reached near Point reyes it was after 10.00 pm.

The place was already desolated and we could hardly find anyone in the place we hoped to stay. We know we were stranded and decided to find a safe spot to park the vehicle for the night. We sometimes sleep in the car itself as staying in a hotel brings us back to civilization and we rather prefer to be close to forest. We searched for a place but could not find any. Left with no choice we had to drive back to San Francisco and it was till date the most harrowing drive I did. Pitch black on the cliff side with no protecting rails and with countless sharp turns coming one after another it was a drive to remember. We reached the Golden gate bridge and by this time it was 1.00 am. We decided to just park the vehicle at tourist center near the bridge and rest for the day.

Next day morning we were off to an early start as we wanted to see the place in early morning sunshine.

Grass lands doted with lupine bushes in Point reyes

Grass lands doted with lupine bushes in Point Reyes

The entire place had the hue of a straw heap. Beautiful lupine bushes dotted the landscape and even their color too was going in sync with the surrounding color palette. It was also misty adding to the beauty of the place. We got down and started taking pics and roamed around looking for other flowers but the cold wind was kind of a deterrent. Nonetheless we roamed around like crazy.

As seeing the elephant seals was the main agenda we soon proceeded to the shore line. We reached a view point and tried to look down on the Pacific Ocean. Only then did I realize that this was the first time I am seeing the Pacific Ocean. It was calm and serene. The mist did not clear at all and we could not get a clear view of the distant beaches. The Elephant Seals use these beaches for resting but we were all on top of an overhanging cliff.

An abandoned fishing pier along the Pacific coast

An abandoned fishing pier along the Pacific coast. Having lived near Lake Erie we had got used to large expanse of water but when we saw the Ocean it all changed..simply Oceans are different.

We had to make a decision as to whether stay in the place until the mist cleared or drive to another location to search for the seals. For all that mattered the seals could be resting just below us and we were not able to see them. It was confusing but we decided to wait because we found a very large patch of cliff vegetation. Ocean facing cliffs have constant mist showering them and hence they have an unique ecosystem. We found a paintbrush flower but this was very small unlike the desert paintbrush that we saw in Big Bend national park.

Beautiful paintbrush flowers along the mist covered cliffs of Point Reyes

Beautiful paintbrush flowers along the mist covered cliffs.

After spotting few more flowers we left the place as the mist was in no mood to move. We stopped at several places looking for the California quail and finally found one. While we were looking for quails below bushes and behind trees this one was happily sitting right on top of a fence post and looking around. Birders could understand the relevance of this reverse behavior. Quails in general are hard to find as they move at the bottom of the undergrowth and thus seldom seen. Quails taking a perch is a rarity but here we were looking at one.

California Bush Quail , Point reyes

California Bush Quail …usually not the most advertising type but he was perching on top of a fence pole.

After taking a few clicks we reached another cliff with a view at the beaches. The entire area was scenic with deer hopping in the middle of grass. We could not resist a walk as they had a board showing all wildflowers in the area. We did find some nice flowers but we were in the off season and majority of flowers prefer the spring it seems. Consoling ourselves we had a casual walk on the grass covered mountains.

Grasslands, Point reyes

Grasslands are excellent place for seeing flowers but the right season is the key. We had come here a little early as we wanted to see the elephant seals and hence no flowers 🙁

Once we were back from the walk, we again got our focus to the elephant seals. We were trying to get down the cliff to the beach so as to walk the beach and find the giants. Soon enough we saw a board stating beach is prohibited. We know what it means , it means the seals do come here. We took an vantage point and looked and there they were, the sleeping giants.

Southern Elephant seals, Point reyes

Sleeping giants..Southern Elephant seals. They weigh more than a tonne !

The elephant seals were all huddle together like one big mass and sleeping without any movement. After the first few moments I was afraid that they were all dead washed up one’s because there was absolutely no movement. Not even a hint and then one of them rolled over. Relief and excitement at the same time. We decided not to go any further as they might get disturbed, after all sleeping babies are not to be disturbed !

We always refrain from getting closer to an animal if it looks disturbed. We often ask ourselves what good is a photo in conservation? Destruction happens anyway , even if people are aware of the beautiful natural world. If we are killing a species why bother taking a picture and then killing ?

It was already afternoon and we did not even eat in the morning , we only realized that now.

So we took some time off from birding and filled our tummies. We checked in the nearby hotel and then went out for an evening drive to a nearby beach. In all our years we have ever seen beach vegetation like this. The multitude of colors was amazing.

Beach flora in point reyes

We all tend to think that beaches mean sand but that is not true at all. Only in beaches where heavy human activities occur , beaches are covered only with sand but in places where human impact is minimal the beaches are a floral wonderland. The amount of species is incredible . In the picture each colour is a different type of plant.

The vegetation looked like a carpet covered the beach with flowers and unique shaped leaves. Once we reached the beach we found gulls and terns flying everywhere. Gulls are american version of crows or rather I should say ocean version of crows. They tend to scavenge but can also hunt for fish in the ocean. In fact the Tamil name for gulls is “kadal kakka” literally meaning ocean crow. They are bold birds and we have seen them plucking food from distracted tourists. 

Bonaparte's Gull in Point reyes

The Bonaparte’s Gull was seen in small flocks.

The next day morning we were off to a spot where we could find White Pelican. The area was again a huge grassland adjoining the ocean. There was a lake inland and from very far away we could spot the pelican with its distinctive white feathers. We wanted to approach it coming from behind the tall grass. The wide open spaces with the strong breeze was a treat to watch.

As I moved in through the grass they just took off but it seemed like the reason was not me. Well that is what birding is, sometimes luck is everything. Some thoughts suddenly strike you and help oneself understand life in a moment – should we consider ourselves unlucky for missing a bird or should we consider ourselves lucky that we roamed around a place which literally looked like a painting? We as travelers always considered the later.

Couple walking in grasslands of Point reyes

A couple casually walking along the grasslands looked like a painting from far away

Our mind works in a funny way. It pushes us to next..next…next. But for satisfaction a mind should rest. It should get overwhelmed. It should feel the sense of content. Somehow Point Reyes gave us that.

We roamed continuously. We hardly ate anything at all. We saw numerous birds , got soaked in the mist, got lost, shivered in cold….But all these incidents together made a wonderful painting memory to cherish forever. 

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