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).
An easy stroll from the parking area at the end of Mesa Road to the shore; 1.4 miles round trip. Hiked: May 19, 2012.
Immediately after leaving the parking lot at the end of Mesa Road, Coast Trail enters the Philip Burton Wilderness. The trail crosses a small drainage dominated by invasive plants, especially blue gum eucalyptus and Scotch broom. Some of the eucs at the junction with the Palomarin Beach trail are gargantuan, multi-trunked specimens.
The half-mile trail to the beach passes through coastal sage scrub and riparian thickets. Cow parsnip (Heracleum lanatum) is abundant, in full bloom in May. Rising above the shorter shrubs, its flat-topped white umbels remind us that it is in the carrot family. Several small creeks feed fairly extensive willow thickets and small freshwater swales. On a still day like today, the pathway is patrolled by dragonflies and damselflies and several species of butterflies. California ringlets, a small pale brush-footed butterfly, are particularly common but too flighty to photograph.
Field crescent butterflies seem to be chasing on another, but when they land and spread their wings, they reveal the beautiful mosaic pattern. This striking species is most common in marsh swales such as found on the Palomarin Trail.
Where the trail meets the beach, the low, nearly-succulent-leaved bush with yellow flowers is lizard tail, a true maritime plant–”When in flower…seems to be encrusted with the purest gold… set off by blue of sky and ocean” (Marin Flora). It’s just budding up in mid-May, so by early June, its full beauty should shine.
The beach is cobbled with wave-smoothed shales. The rocks have been sorted selectively by the waves with larger cobbles higher on the beach and their size decreasing down toward the tideline. Among the smooth cobbles on the higher beach are some pocked with holes.
These rocks have been sculpted by mollusks known as rock-boring pholad clams. They bore into shale and sandstone by mechanical abrasion. While holding on with their foot, they rock the toothed edge of their shell back-and-forth rhythmically, excavating a perfectly circular cavity into which they settle and continue to grow until they are imprisoned. Once encased, the mollusks are safe from predators and simply siphon plankton out of the water. Notice the shell in the deep hole on the upper portion of this cobble.
The cobbled beach is remarkably free of debris. But the weathered carapaces of rock crabs are strewn by the hundreds along the half-mile of beach up to Abalone Point. Most are smaller than the 4.25-inch minimum allowed to be kept by crabbers, so I wonder if these are discarded by-catch, or if there has been a die-off.
As I sit on a make-shift driftwood bench for a snack and a drink, a black oystercatcher lands at the water’s edge.
The oystercatcher is known as one of the true “rock stars” of the bird world, because it rarely wanders away from the wave-splashed, rocky shore. It’s a large shorebird (17.5 inches, stem to stern) with a chisel-like bill designed for prying barnacles, limpets, and mussels from the splash zone. But this one is just staring out at the ocean, seeming to contemplate the gentle rhythm of the swells, as I am. After about 10 minutes, he flies off toward Abalone Point.