Sanborn County Park (2/14/2022)

Today I went searching for California Newts. And, I WON!

Can’t remember when I first starting seeing them mentioned that prompted me to start a plan for seeing them. Maybe a Bay Nature article? Maybe seeing somewhere that that road in Tilden was closed for newt crossings right now? Anyhoo, I’ve been following iNat observations, hoping one would be somewhere relatively easy for me to get to in order to increase my chances. And, one popped up in Saratoga.

I had just made plans to have lunch with my dad in Los Gatos, so I figured I could do my Naturing for the day nearby and maybe see a newt. Turns out, I hit THE JACKPOT.

I’ve never been to Sanborn County Park before. Didn’t know it existed. Looked like the sighting was at “Walden Pond” next to Walden West School. The pond appeared to be within the park boundaries, which was good! What was strangely (?) coincidental was that I had previously bookmarked a spot right near this pond where a Northern Pygmy Owl had been spotted in January. Maybe it’d be A TWOFER? Is that how you spell twofer?

On the way, I drove past Villa Montalva, which I’d been to before, as well as the Mountain Winery. So, these places were all nestled nearby, hm! Driving up, I spotted a number of Milkmaids along the road, and I took that as a good sign of things to come.

First of all, this place was kind of amazing. Just past the entrance and first parking lots, you can see a hillside of A TON of picnic tables and grills and even picnic tables under wood gazebos. It definitely looked like it was from another time and place. Like, the ’50s or something. And, even stranger, NO ONE WAS THERE. It was practically empty. So, a little spooky to start out in a new place.

I made it to the true beginning of the park and trails, and there are some pretty old but charming buildings there. And, a small and simple stage (where Silicon Valley Shakespeare usually performs). So, THIS is where they are! Lots of large stone staircases and walls everywhere. I loved it.

I was looking around near a building that appeared to be closed and reminded me of one of the Jack London houses, and I saw two small pond-looking things below. It was one large pond with a bridge crossing over the middle. I saw what looked like tiny bubbles bursting at the surface. Skimmers of some kind. But, HEY THERE! A California Newt! WOW! Was not expecting to see any so soon or so close to the entrance!! Looking more and closer, I saw A BUNCH. Even three all clinging tightly to each other. Looked like a small one had grabbed onto a larger one. And, another was trying to keep hold, too. Was I watching newt sex?

I couldn’t believe my luck. I looked around to see if I could share my joy with anyone, but I pretty much had the place to myself. I kept looking closer and in different spots, and I continued to see them EVERYWHERE. Taking photos of things underwater when they blend in pretty well to what’s below is tough. I wish I had a camera that could’ve done a better job, but I got a couple in focus. I’ll take it! I must say they are pretty funny to observe. Whenever I’d get close to the pond’s edge, they’d freeze. And, appearing to be suspended in the water, they looked like astronauts in space or something. Cracked me up every time.

I thought for a second that since I’d already achieved my goal, perhaps I was done? The forest looked like primarily redwoods and their usual counterparts, and I’d just been to such a place yesterday. But, I was curious about this “Walden Pond,” so I stayed on target. Good thing was, I’d already seen like twenty or so California Newts, so no matter what happened it was a fantastic day.

There wasn’t an AllTrails map for where I wanted to go, so I made up my own loop and headed up the Nature Trail, then the San Andreas Trail to get to the pond. The Nature Trail was nice! Saw a shriveled up mushroom I’ll never ID in that state that looked like a witch’s hat. Enjoyed listening and watching a small stream. Spotted some stereum thing that looked pretty cool. Was mesmerized by a huge and hollowed out redwood stump. Found a newtome flora, Western Heart’s Ease! This was unexpectedly timely given the day. Watched a Western Gray Squirrel run up a tree. Heard a frog croak once.

Then I was at the top. And, it was kind of a mess. Looked like maybe the area was changed up a bit, as there were piles of rock/dirt near a number of plantings (Western Blue-eyed Grass and Coast Live Oak). And, some Toyon berries.

I was looking at some Willow trees, when a small group of students and a teacher started heading my way. I guessed they were from the Walden West School. On their approach, the teacher appeared to answer a question, and said, “Well, we ARE in a public park.” So, I assumed a student asked what the heck I was doing there.

Moving on, I spotted a super tiny pink flower. Newtome flora, Henbit Deadnettle! Introduced and dang adorable, I must say. I’ve not seen deadnettle like that before!

Got to a slightly darker spot, and I saw evidence of a Mulch Maid, Stinking Orange Oyster, and one of those bizarrely burgundy slime molds. Near there, another small group of students and a teacher were stopped to observe something. As they left ahead of me, again I heard the same teacher response to a question, “Yes, we are indeed in a public park.” That’s right, private school kids. This park is not just for you!

I got close to the pond, and a large house/structure was right near it. It had white plastic all over it, but the grounds around it had more of that large stone wall and steps and gates and whatnot. The group of students and the teacher were near it, so I couldn’t explore. But, what the heck was that?

I got to Walden Pond, and it’s a big man-made pond! And, covered with tiny green algae whatnots? I don’t know what that is. I need to find out. They’re like super small green dots, and they can cover the entire surface of a pond so it looks like a green film is on top. Just two Mallards were there. No other birds. Looking at the pond, I felt so happy that I had already seen newts. It didn’t look possible to see anything in the pond itself.

HOWEVER, I looked at all the corners and crevices. And, I found more newts! I continued around, and there’s a spot where the pond appears to empty into a creek/canal thing. Because of the moving water there, I was able to see into the pond. And, MORE NEWTS. And, better yet, NEWT BABY BALLS! This image was what I had found observed here. It was the reason I came. I figured if those were present, adult newts would be, too. And, YES. All along these baby balls were newts close-by.

After marveling at the baby balls there, I came across a small dead bird on the ground. So, I’ve been wondering lately why I don’t see more dead birds here and there. Surely, they die. And, there are so many birds everywhere. Where do they go when they die? Is it at night? So, come daytime they’re already eaten or something? I was sad to see it, but in some way I’ve been thinking I should maybe see more of this? Bob believes it’s a juvenile or female House Finch.

I got to the other side of the pond, and after taking a peek at the edges to see if there were any more newts, I walked away from it. And, I spotted A NEWT CROSSING THE ROAD. I swear, I could’ve easily stepped on it. But, EXCITING! Didn’t think I’d get to see one out of the water at that point!

It did its slow crawl-walk, and I watched it gleefully. It was walking away from the pond and toward the creek/canal thing on the other side. But, at that spot, there was no water in it. And, I wondered if newts ever return to where they were born and find no water there. Does that happen?

It finally got to the other side, and I watched as it disappeared into greenery. As I was thinking, “It’s going to be all alone in that empty canal thing!” I spotted ANOTHER NEWT already in there. So, ok. It won’t be alone. I very cautiously walked away from the pond, watching the ground in front of me for any movement.

The students and teacher had left the area. So, I headed back to that abandoned looking building to get a closer look. The whole place was overgrown and seemingly forgotten. A blue canoe was haplessly left near what must have been the main entrance to the house. I walked up to the white tarp covering it, and the sign said to stay away due to Black Mold treatment. Eek! After I got home, I read up on what the deal was with the place. Apparently, in 1908 a local superior court judge built it. Then, someone else lived there. Then, it was a hostel. And, it’s been closed since the ’90s or something. The whole area has a haunted feeling. Pretty neato bonus to my Naturing time.

And, over there, I got a good look at the creek/stream thing there. And, saw another newt in it! So, practically everywhere I looked that had water HAD NEWTS.

I rounded the pond again so I could take a peek at a trail and sign I had passed before. It looked like a “No Trespassing” type sign. And, it was a “Restricted Area” sign indicating the school grounds were beyond. Pass needed, etc. I walked a little bit into the open meadow there and looked for any owls. Nope. The observation was unfortunately on school grounds. Oh, well!

As I got to the end AGAIN, I AGAIN looked carefully on the path ahead of me JUST IN CASE. And, ANOTHER NEWT was crossing the road! Maybe there’d be more as it was getting closer to sunset? Good thing I had to start heading back.

Slightly uneventful return trip, as that whole area was so dark at that point. Redwood forests get dark RIGHT QUICK. But, I did spot a couple Waxycaps. AND, I startled a Varied Thrush couple in a creek spot. I got a good look at one of them before it flew off. Varied Thrush! Been so long since I’ve seen one! It was a delightful end to my super newt-filled day.

So, yeah. I can guarantee you TONS OF NEWTS at Sanborn County Park right now. You’re welcome.

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