Point Reyes Walkabout

Walk along lower Lagunitas Creek

September 24, 2012

White house Pool to Olema Marsh Trail to Kule Loklo—September 9, 2012. Check out this hike on our Trailfinder. This is part of a year-long effort to hike every trail at Point Reyes National Seashore, which turned 50 in 2012. Learn more.

This warm September morning, I led about 20 folks from SPAWN’s California Naturalist Team (http://www.spawnusa.org) on a field seminar along the lower reaches of Lagunitas Creek and Bear Valley Creek. They have been studying the natural history of the Lagunitas Creek watershed and this was the last of their field trips. One of the reflective themes of the walkabout was borrowed from John Burroughs’ line: “To see something new, take the same path you took yesterday.”

The trail from White House Pool upstream follows the main stem of Lagunitas Creek. This “estuarine reach” of the creek is tidally influenced, trimmed with tules and overhanging willows.

Tules, or California bulrushes (Schoenoplectus californicus), trim the banks of Lagunitas Creek along its estuarine reach and occur in dense stands and in association with cattails (Typha spp.) in Olema Marsh. Photograph by Jules Evens.

The wetland vegetation cools the water and provides cover and valuable habitat for many wildlife species—Coho salmon, river otter, green heron, pied-billed grebe, wood duck, marsh wren, odonates—and many others. As we stand on the bank discussing ecological values four Cinnamon Teal are foraging on floating algae on the opposite bank and a pair of Belted Kingfishers flies over the open water, rattling at one another in an apparent territorial dispute.

Listen to the belted kingfisher’s call.

The short spur to Olema Marsh (0.25 mi) crosses through a field of dried annual grasses, teasel, hemlock stalks, and purple flowering thistles before daylighting on a slip-fault berm above the marsh. American Goldfinches bounce from the dried inflorescences of the hemlock and an occasional barn swallow pirouettes above.

Olema Marsh
Olema Marsh looking westerly from the slip-fault block that defines the eastern edge of the wetland. Photograph by Jules Evens.

Formerly tidal, this fresh-brackish marsh has been colonized by cattails and tules, a dense forest of monocots houses the usual suspects—wrens, red-wings, yellowthroats, and frogs—but also hides mysteries. Any visit holds the potential sighting of a rare bittern and on warmer days a swarm of vivid dancer damselflies may emerge.

Lorquin's Admiral
Lorquin’s Admiral (Limenitis loquini), a riparian associate, is distributed throughout the western U.S. It is similar in appearance to the Red Admiral and the California Sister, but the orange extends to the tips of the wings on this rather common brush-footed butterfly (family Nymphalidae). Lorquin was a French naturalist who collected lepidoptera in California in the mid-1800s. Photograph by Jules Evens.


After crossing the Bear Valley Road, the path follows the riparian boundary through mosaic communities of wetland swale, oak-bay savannah, northern coastal scrub and grassland. Douglas-fir forest borders upslope. The overlap of habitats here results in an exuberant biotic community.

California goldenrod
California goldenrod (Euthamia occidentalis), is a native wetland plant that blooms in profusion, August through October, along the Bear Valley Creek trail between Olema Marsh and Kule Loklo. Photograph by Jules Evens.

We stopped at Kule Loklo, a reconstructed Miwok village, for lunch beneath the grove of blue gum Eucalyptus. The discussion turned to the benefits and liabilities of this Australian native that has become such a familiar (some would say iconic) member of the California’s coastal landscape. Some raptors, especially great horned owls, nest in the trees. On the other hand, the euc groves may act as ecological traps for some species. Various native birds—kinglets, vireos, warblers—“nectar” on the flowers, and their nostrils become clogged with the gum the flowers exude. Australian birds have coevolved with the eucs, and have bills adapted to this foraging strategy. Many North American species, especially short-billed gleaners, are not so well adapted and may suffocate from the tarry blockage. This interesting article in a 1997 PRBO newsletter explains the situation further.

This is a complicated and controversial issue that deserves careful consideration by land managers.

On the return trip, retracing our steps, we notice some things we had overlooked or missed on the first leg of the hike. Here are a few of the highlights.

Mantid in hand
We rarely see praying mantids in West Marin, so it was a surprise to see several of these critters in the dried grasses along the Olema Marsh Trail. The only native mantid is the California mantid, Stagmomantis californica. The Chinese mantid (Tenodera aridifolia) has been introduced to the Bay Area by garden suppliers. Photograph by Raven Gray.


Lace Lichen, Ramalina menziesii. Lichens are a marriage of two entirely different organisms—fungi and algae (or photosynthetic bacteria)—growing together in a mutually beneficial relationship. The algae provide nutrients through photosynthesis while the fungus protects the algae from the elements. The result is a new organism distinctly different from its component species. In a revision of the taxonomy I learned in biology class, lichen are now assigned to the Kingdom Fungi (class Ascomycetes).
There are five Noetoma species in California, but only one, the dusky-footed woodrat (N. fuscipes) resides in the Point Reyes area. All woodrats tend to mark their territories with latrines, like this one in the crotch of a willow tree. Mostly nocturnal, woodrats forage on shrubbery (poison oak, often high above the ground. Photograph by Jules Evens.

By the time we return to the banks of Lagunitas Creek the tide has come in. A green heron, an uncommon wetland bird, flushes from the tules and flies down stream. As we watch its course, we notice another uncommon and rarely seen species foraging amidst the rushes on the opposite shore—a sora rail.

The sora (Porzana carolina), like many of its family (the Raillidae), is a secretive marsh bird that rarely wanders from the cover of the marsh vegetation. We were lucky to spot this species on the edge of the rushes on the last leg of our hike. Photograph from Vancouver Island Birds.

Trail notes: Begin at the White house Pool, a Marin County Open Space District park and follow the narrow footpath through the riparian thicket that parallels Lagunitas Creek upstream. At the east end of the trail, cross Sir Francis Drake Blvd (carefully!) and walk about 50 yards east to the Olema Marsh Trail trailhead. You are now on National Seashore land. The trail passes through grassland for about 1/4 mile before arriving at the overlook of Olema Marsh, always worth a stop to look for swallows, marsh birds, and raptors overhead. Follow the driveway down to Bear Valley Road, walk north along the shoulder to the crosswalk, cross Bear Valley Road and continue along the path that parallels the Bear Valley Creek riparian corridor. This path can be muddy in winter and spring, but by late summer, it’s dry; an easy stroll. Arrive at Kule Loklo, a reconstructed Miwok village after about 1.5 miles. Tables and bathrooms are available there.

Because of the diverse habitat mix along this route, it is a favorite trail to take in the early morning from April through May to hear the dawn chorus of songbirds.

Acknowledgements: Thanks to Amelia Ryan for plant identification and Peter Baye for help with insect identification. Chris Pincetich, of SPAWN, organized the outing and he and his seminarians contributed sightings, commentary, and enthusiasm.

Lagunitas Creek toward Black Mountain
The Lagnitas Creek estuarine reach in the foreground with Black Mountain in the background, looking eastward from White House Pool. Photograph by Jules Evens.


About the Author

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).

Read This Next

Limantour Beach, and a complete hike of Point Reyes

Kehoe Marsh and McClures Beach in Winter

Point Reyes Exploration: Five Brooks to Alamere Falls

Point Reyes: Drake’s Head via Estero Trail