San Pedro Valley County Park (10/31/2022)

Today was not my monthly day trip day. No. But I just had to go back. See, I briefly heard Great Horned Owls last time. But didn’t see them. And wasn’t able to record them properly. Had to go back. Had to.

There were also two “Easy” trails (per AllTrails) left for me to explore. Didn’t wanna wait til next month. Maybe the owls would have moved a bit by then? The park would close even earlier before sunset? You know how these things go.

As I was walking through the parking lot, deer on the other side of the fence were casually chillin’ and casually eatin’. Oddly, one seemed to follow me a bit. They must really be used to people.

Also saw a tree there that had Redbud-shaped leaves. Seek thinks it’s a “Judas-tree,” but I’m not convinced yet. Since it’s not native, it won’t be easy to ID on iNat since it’s cultivated, but I’ll see what I can do.

First, I did the Valley View Trail. All in all, not terribly exciting. Mostly dry right now, with a random Pacific Aster and Common Yarrow here or there. And I wasn’t thrilled to be in full sun the whole time. This valley weather does not match Pacifica forecasts! But it’s a pretty meh trail heading up. Though, a Gray Buckeye was a delightful surprise to start out my ascent.

Heard that likely same Northern Flicker somewhere in the eucs across the way. Some White-crowned Sparrows, a California Scrub-Jay, and many a Western Fence Lizard kept me company.

Got near the peak, and I saw the first message board on the trail. Bobcat, perhaps? The view across the way was starting to look nice, as Hazelnut Trail was facing me. Wrentits were calling. And then I saw a newtome flower! Longleaf Paintbrush! There were a handful around after I saw the first one. How I adore Paintbrush. These are tough to focus with my camera, though!

One instance of flowering Deerweed, one instance of flowering Coffeeberry, and one instance of seeing a Hutton’s Vireo (and miraculously snapping just one photo of it that was in decent focus). Not tons to write home about, but at this point I was able to see the ocean waves crashing in the distance.

Started heading down, and I was lucky to catch a Variegated Meadowhawk sit still. It even posed both its front and back for me. Those magical glittery wings! Hooboy. MAGICAL.

Completed the trail, and I was back in that open meadow along Weiler Ranch Road. Deer were out. A couple Brush Rabbits. The light was starting to leave. But I had time left! On my way to the Brooks Falls Loop, I heard odd noises in the bramble near me. WHA? Didn’t sound like bird noises, but they were. Two Wrentits were making bizarretome sounds. Like drumming or something. They popped out eversobriefly, but I managed to actually get a couple photos of one. It is RARE to get that. For me. Very exciting!

But before I saw them, I was just standing there at the side of the trail. Looking into the bramble. Two older ladies walked past me, and one of them asked, “Are you STARING at something?” I said that I was LISTENING for something. People are so funny. Sometimes it’s worth just listening, ok??

On my walk to the Brooks Falls Loop, I happened to see a BANANA SLUG near the creek! Small! I had no idea I’d see them in such an open space. Then I saw THREE MORE a couple feet further ahead. All different lengths and widths. WACKY!

Started up the Montara Mountain Trail (as it’s part of the loop), and it was pretty boring with just eucalyptus everywhere. But then I rounded a corner, and things got interesting. A huge Coast Live Oak was on the hillside. Birds were in it and near it. A Downy Woodpecker was all I managed to see, but ahead on the trail was a group of California Quail and one Merriam’s Chipmunk. It was interesting that one Quail and the Chipmunk appeared to be foraging near each other with ease. Are Quail so chill that other critters, like this Chipmunk and the Brush Rabbit from my first visit, are relaxed enough to be near them?

Noticed some moss and lichen growing at the base of some of the eucs as I got higher up. Guess the fog rolls in here a lot?

After noting a large Western Hardwood Sulphur Shelf on a euc, I arrived at a very welcome bench with a view. Took my snack break there and spotted the tiniest Fairy Door EVER in the base of a large euc. Teeny tiny. And adorable.

After reaching a decent height, things started to change. Started seeing clusters of Oaks. Then Manzanitas. Happy place! At one point I looked down at some berry-filled scat, and I heard those same Wrentit calls. Then I spotted one in the Manzanitas on one side of the trail. And heard then saw two in the Coyote Brush opposite that. I stood still and quiet, and they came out. And were so close to me. Maybe four feet? It was thrilling given how infrequently I see these birds. Hear them? Yes, ALL THE TIME. But seeing them well and then having them so close? Felt like a comforting balance to my last visit when I encountered a dead Wrentit on the Hazelnut Trail. Yeah, turns out that’s what it was. So it was nice to have close encounters with them alive this time around. Really special, honestly.

Also started to see what looked like clear animal trails. Often. Like big enough for a Mountain Lion. WHOA! Ok, so there are signs all around saying you’re in Mountain Lion Country, but it was so awesome to see large animal trails like that. And so weird to think of Mountain Lions just napping under Manzanitas and Coyote Brush. At least, it’s a strange and unexpected visual for me!

Came around a corner, and a Spotted Towhee was stomping on the side of the trail. Managed to snap some photos before it disappeared like they do.

And then I was facing the East side of Montara Mountain. And, DANG. It’s GORGEOUS. I headed down Brooks Creek Trail and stopped to enjoy the view at the Waterfall Viewing Point. No waterfall, as was expected, but there was water on the rock wall! Can’t wait to return after the rains.

I headed back just in time to wait and hear the owls. But it didn’t happen. Was in the exact same spot as last week just before sunset. Waited. Waited til sunset. No hooting. Checked the GHO observations on iNat that I’d looked up before, and they were further back on the trail. Dang! Why didn’t I bookmark their locations and look for them while I was back there?? I hate when I’m not as prepared as I should be. But I heard them near the ranger’s house, a bit East of those observations. Guess I got lucky last week? And was unlucky with the timing of that dang leaf-blower. Dang.

So my plan to find the Great Horned Owls there was a bust. But, I now feel like I really know this county park pretty well! And I got to see some of the birds today that I’d only been able to hear or see a second of in previous visits. I now know where the Falls are. And, newtome native flower. Always a highlight.

Plus, on my drive out of the area, I saw a number of groups of Trick-or-Treaters walking the suburban streets. So I got to see creatures of the night in the end anyway.

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