Naturalist and writer Jules Evens has lived near Point Reyes for over 30 years. He is the founder of Avocet Research Associates and the author of The Natural History of the Point Reyes Peninsula and An Introduction to California Birdlife (both UC Press).
The Outer Point Reyes Peninsula is a Mecca for both birds and birdwatchers during autumn migration. The month of September is the peak of songbird passage and when conditions are right—lack of strong northwest winds, night sky obscured by high overcast—migrant landbirds “fall out” on the outer point. The islands of Monterey cypresses that were planted as windbreaks around the historic settlements attract migrating songbirds (“passerines”), providing cover and refueling opportunities. And birdwatchers are highly attuned to the ideal conditions that will help them find species that are rare in California. The rarest of these are considered “vagrants,” birds off course from their normal migratory routes.
The easy trail to Chimney Rock (0.9 miles each way) at the southern end of the point passes a large grove of cypress that surrounds an old Coast Guard residence perched above the “Fish Docks.” Located on the leeward side of the peninsula, this island of vegetation is one of the most productive vagrant traps on the point. Most of the rare species of small passerines found in fall 2012 were in these trees.
A short trail from the Chimney Rock parking lot to the “Elephant Seal Overlook” (0.2 miles each way) affords distant but reliable looks at the elephant seal colony that hangs out on the inaccessible beach below the Drakes Bay cliffs. The guttural, flatulent sounds of the “e-seals” will greet you before you arrive at the overlook and actually see these behemoths of the beach. Hear here: