Point Reyes Walkabout

All Abuzz on Muddy Hollow Trail

August 24, 2012

“Let me keep my mind on what matters, which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.”  —Mary Oliver

See this hike mapped: Muddy Hollow Trail

Bridge, Muddy Hollow, Point Reyes
Rerouting the trail and adding footbridges to span the swales that cross the path have made this trail much more accessible.

This short (1.5 mile), gentle walk follows the course of Muddy Hollow Creek from the parking lot at the trailhead downstream to the shoreline of Limantour Estero. The trail used to get flooded in the wet season when the creek overflowed its low banks, but last year the Park Service rerouted the trail and added several footbridges across some low spots, so now it is accessible year-round. Muddy Hollow is no longer muddy!

Although birds and mammals tend to siesta in mid-day heat, insects come alive.

This was a late morning stroll on a warm day, so bird activity was limited. Mammals were somewhat more active: A harem of tule elk was grazing on the ridgeline that parallels the trail, with well-endowed bull watching over the ladies. Also, a caterwauling coyote somewhere in the distance, was a rare sound so late in the morning.

The trail parallels a riparian corridor of red alder and companion wetland plants that provide shade on a warm morning like this, but sections climb the slope through coastal scrub in the direct sun. The riparian woodland is quite wide in the canyon and the trail follows the edge of the alders; it’s not too intrusive so opportunities to see and hear wildlife are enhanced.


Bull Elk
A bull tule elk on the ridge above the Muddy Hollow Pond.

I started the hike rather late, so by mid-morning the birds had quieted down but the insects were all abuzz. I did find a mixed flock of early migrant landbirds—insect gleaners moving through the alder/willow thickets and foraging in a patch of dried poison hemlock. Chickadees and bushtits were joined by Wilson’s Warblers, an Orange-crowned Warbler, and the least common bird in the batch, a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.

On the walk back down Muddy Hollow, the fog had burned off and it was getting quite warm. Dragonflies and damselflies were patrolling the path, foraging for smaller insects, and butterflies were crisscrossing the trail.  The large dragonfly pictured here landed long enough to allow me to catch her composed beauty.

Blue-eyed Darner (Aeshna multicolor), female.
Blue-eyed Darner (Aeshna multicolor), female.

The darners are large dragonflies (this one about 3 inches) with gigantic eyes and a long abdomen that “supposedly resembles a darning needle thus giving rise to the common name” (Tim Manolis in “Dragonflies and Damselflies of California.”) The male has blue-eyes, hence the other part of the common name.

The Buckeye butterfly (Junonia coenia) is more closely associated with coyote bush than the buckeye tree. This individual landed in the trail with the hindwing hidden beneath the forewing, presenting a mask-like, big-eyed “face.” According to Art Shapiro, author of the California Natural History Guide to Butterflies, this folded wing posture is a common behavior in hot weather (like today) to reduce exposure to solar radiation. The rounded forewing indicates that this individual is a female. (The chitonous scales that make up butterfly wings break down over time with exposure to sunlight, as do bird feathers, which explains the worn wings on this individual.)


The astonishingly brilliant cardinal meadowhawk (Sympetrum illotum) is one of the commonest of our dragonflies. It is also one of the easiest to identify with white dots on the thorax, rusty-amber wash on the leading edge of the wings, and its habit of holding its wings flexed forward when perched, as shown here.
The Muddy Hollow Trail ends along the inner shoreline of Limantour Estero. If you time your walk to arrive at this portion (going in either direction) on an incoming moderate tide (>2.5’), this is a good place to see shorebirds, especially from August through April. On higher tides, waterfowl congregate over the flooded marsh. Raptors, kingfishers, and yellowthroats are always present here.

Trail notes: Muddy Hollow is no longer muddy, at least along the path. The Park completed a major rerouting of the trail in 2010, moving sections upslope and adding three bridges across some perennially damp swales. This is an easy stroll, 1.5 miles from the trailhead at the parking lot downstream along the riparian corridor. As you approach the Limantour Natural Area the trail passes a small ponded wetland then emerges along the shore of inner Limantour Estero.

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).