Tule elk (Cervus canadensis nannodes), California’s only endemic elk, were once thought to be extinct. According to the National Park Service, a small population of approximately 30 individuals in the mid-1870’s were discovered by a cattle rancher who set the wheels in motion for their conservation. As of 2012, this number had grown to 22 herds across California numbering 3,900 individuals (NPS).
The Tule Elk Reserve on Tomales Point, within the Point Reyes National Seashore, presents an excellent opportunity to observe and photograph these rare and beautiful animals. This past weekend, my life-long friends and fellow photographers, George and Ed, joined me in exploring the Resere. Arriving just after sunrise, the coastal fog was wafting peacefully across the dew covered grassland, and as the sign for the entrance to the Reserve came into focus, so did the elk!
Two elk peer back toward us through the early morning fog.
Visibility changed slightly with the wind, with clearer conditions revealing more of the surrounding vegetation. The orange of the California poppies (Eschscholzia californica) strikes a contrast with the dark green grasses and coyote brush (Baccharis pilularis).
As the fog began to burn off in the early morning sun, the elk seemed to be enjoying the flush of warmth while we photographers marveled at our good fortune for such magical light. We spent about 45 minutes with this group of elk, slowly working our way into the Reserve and taking it all in.
Moving past the herd we made our way toward the end of the road along Tomales Point, where the old decommissioned cattle ranch, Pierce Point Ranch, sits shrouded in fog and cypress trees.
It was here we had the good fortune to spot a bobcat hunting for gophers, although from far across a canyon to a distant hillside.
I barely had time to bring my camera up to take this snapshot, and although blurry, you can still see how agile and powerful the bobcat is!
After backtracking through Reserve along Pierce Point Rd., we returned to Sir Francis Drake Blvd, headed west, and opted to explore Mount Vision Rd. As we headed up the winding road, we could see the fog rolling over an east-facing forested slope across the valley.
From the top of Mount Vision Rd. we are looking down on the fog covering Drakes Estero State Marine Conservation Area far below, with the Pacific Ocean visible beyond.
After a great lunch in Point Reyes Station, it was back to the real world, but not without a glimpse of my favorite bird, the osprey (Pandion haliaetus).