Point Reyes Walkabout

Abbott’s Lagoon Photo Gallery

August 13, 2012

The more we know of other forms of life, the more we enjoy and respect ourselves . . . Humanity is exalted not because we are so far above other living creatures but because knowing them well elevates the very concept of life.  —E.O. Wilson

A visit to Abbott’s Lagoon always proves rewarding and never fails to offer a fresh experience. I’ve strolled down to the main lagoon dozens of times over the years and each visit is unique and memorable. Last August I met an American badger on the trail (link posting #2) and now I expect to see him every time I come, though apparently that was a one-time treat. Other encounters have included long-tailed weasel, coyote, bobcat, golden eagle, lark bunting, chestnut-collared longspur . . . It’s a long list. Although many of these sightings are lucky happenstance, there are also reliable encounters to be had. Today’s outing provided the usual suspects—pelicans, terns, snowy plover—but also some surprises, as expected. The following images are in order of appearance on this morning’s walk.

California red-legged frog
This juvenile California red-legged frog (Rana draytonii) was crossing the path near the parking lot. Point Reyes hosts one of the highest densities of this federally threatened species. Juveniles like this one disperse overland on misty summer mornings. Listen to the song: California red-legged frog call
Cobweb Thistle
Cobweb thistle (Cirsium occidentale var. californicum), a native perennial, occurs in sandy, grassy, or brushy locations in coastal strand, coastal sage shrub and chaparral from southern  to central California. Note the condensation on the cobwebby hairs surrounding the bracts (involucre). The technical term for cobwebby is “arachnoid.”
Stachys swale
Coast hedge nettle (Stachys chamissonis), blooming in profusion in the swale along the path to Abbott’s Lagoon, is a native perennial in the mint family that is endemic to California alone. This morning the flowers bwere being visted by Allen’s hummingbirds, numerous insects, and dozens of fledgling song sparrows were flitting among the dock and other wetland plants.
Odonates (dragonflies and damselflies) abound around the ponds and swales that border the path to the lower lagoon. This morning brilliant bluets (Enallagma spp.) were particularly abundant. This genus is dauntingly difficult to identify in the field, but according to Tim Manolis’s excellent “Dragonflies and Damselflies of California” (U.C. Press, 2003) the mature male Northern Bluet (E. cyanthigerum) is the brightest blue of the group, so I suspect that is what this dazzling creature is.
Tussock caterpillar
This tussuck moth caterpillar, of unknown species, was common along the portion of the path that runs through northern coastal scrub habitat. The most famous member of the family (Lymantriidae) is the gypsy moth, but whether any are associated with coyote bush, I haven’t a clue. He’s a psychedelic looking character and I suspect the garish dress is a warning to predators-“do not eat.”
Caspian Terns
Caspian Tern adult with fledgling begging for food. The closest nesting locations are in San Pablo Bay, about 35 miles to the east, but shortly after fledging, the young follow the adults out to the coast. From mid-july through the fall, Caspian Terns are common visitors to the peninsula’s larger lagoons and estuaries.
Snowy Plover
Western snowy plover on the outer beach at Abbott’s Lagoon. The National Park Service provides protection for this federally threatened species by from March 1 through September 30 by cordoning off sections of the beach where plovers nest and raise young.


Sand wasp
Sand wasps (Bembix americana) were common along the path to the lagoon during mid-day. Bembix specializes in killing flies and digs solitary burrows in sand in which to raise young. Although Bembix looks superficially like a yellow jacket, note the big green eyes the white rather than yellow abdominal stripes and the bright yellow legs.
American bittern (Botaurus lentiginosus), a secretive and seldom-seen relative of herons and egrets, was hunting along the edge of the pond nearest the parking lot, probably eating any red-legged frog he came upon. Bitterns bred at Abbott’s this year, and the fledglings were seen often here earlier in the season.

Acknowledgments: Thanks to Seth Bunnell for help with insect identification.

Critter List

Bombex sand wasp
Bluet damselfly
Cardinal meadowhawk dragonfly
Unidentified Odanates


Surf Scoter
California Quail
Pacific Loon
Pied-billed Grebe
Horned Grebe
American White Pelican
Brown Pelican
Double-crested Cormorant
American Bittern
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Turkey Vulture
Red-tailed Hawk
Black-bellied Plover
Yellowlegs sp.
Western Sandpiper
Baird’s Sandpiper
Long-billed Dowitcher
Red-necked Phalarope
Red Phalarope
Heermann’s Gull
Ring-billed Gull
California Gull
Herring Gull
Western Gull
Caspian Tern
Elegant Tern
Common Murre
Allen’s Hummingbird
Selasphorus Hummingbird sp.
Western Scrub-Jay
American Crow
Tree Swallow
Violet-green Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Barn Swallow
Bewick’s Wren
Marsh Wren
Western Bluebird
Common Yellowthroat
Wilson’s Warbler
Spotted Towhee
Savannah Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Brown-headed Cowbird
American Goldfinch

Black-tailed Deer
Brush Rabbit
Coyote (tracks)


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).

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