By Rachel Murray
Many people including locals think there isn’t much chance for wildlife viewing inside the City of Fort Bragg. But the State Park headlands between Glass Beach and Pudding Creek are rife with viewing opportunities. I walk this stretch regularly and rarely does a day go by that I don’t see something unique or special.
The area is adjacent to the large open space left when the local mill ceased operations. Herds of deer congregate on the mill site. At dawn or dusk you can often find the more adventurous members of the herd making the trek to Pudding Creek.
Entire colonies of squirrels live in the cliffs and the bowl in front of the Trestle parking lot is apparently the local squirrel nursery. You will also see the work of voles and gophers as you travel the paths.
Look out past the headlands to the coastal waters and you can see local seals and sea lions fishing for their supper. Last summer I was fortunate to see a raft (a large group) of rafting sea lions. Rafting is the term used when sea lions rest on top of the water with one flipper in the air. They look like they are waving to onlookers but really its cooling mechanism. I know this because my friend, Tanya is a marine scientist.
Once walking with Tanya along the headlands, we saw a young male humpback whale playing in the shallow waters. I often see whale spouts and occasional bits of surfacing whales about halfway to the horizon but not often that close. Perhaps Tanya is the lucky charm. You can try this charm out yourself by taking one of her whale walks at the nearby Point Cabrillo Light station.
A few times I’ve seen whales closer in where Pudding Creek merges with the sea. I imagine the fish feed on what the creek washes out and the whales feed on the fish. Once I even saw a large pod of dolphins feeding south from this spot.
These coastal waters are also home to many types of birds. Look for pelicans playing follow the leader as they skim the waves. Pelagic Cormorants dry themselves on stacks of rock. Also among the coastal rocks are American Black Oystercatchers with their red beaks, pink legs and raucous calls. They mix and mingle along the shoreline with Greater Yellowlegs and Black Turnstone which make a wonderful black and white display as they take flight.
Joining the plethora of shore birds is a wide variety of land birds. On quiet days nothing beats watching a flock of goldfinch, white crowned sparrow or meadowlark take flight as you make your way down the path. Near the trestle you can sometimes see a Kingfisher making his rounds. You might spot a Great Blue Heron or bright white Great Egret who has followed the creek all the way to the shore especially when the mouth of the creek is closed in summer. A variety of ducks also call the creek home. The ubiquitous gulls and lurking Turkey Vultures are also common here.
With so many birds and small animals around the headlands are also popular with the local birds of prey. There are Ospreys on their way to and from their ocean fishing grounds. Smaller birds of prey such as America Kestrels and White-tailed Kites can also be found. But my favorite are the Northern Harriers who hover in place looking for prey. It can be recognized by the white patch just above the tail. The pile of dried Scotch Broom branches between the two Stewart Street entrances is a favorite bird of prey perching spot.
The headlands are bathed in yellow and blue flowers in the spring and in the fall the paths are lined with the rattlesnake grass its seed heads like perfect rattles. May and October are best for spotting whales. Any day you will have the wonderful changing vistas of sky and sea and you never know what else you might see.
You can access this area from a path at the Glass Beach parking area at the end of Elm Street or the Pudding Creek Trestle parking area at the end of Glass Beach Drive. Their also entrances either side of the intersection of Stewart Street and Glass Beach Drive. Dogs on leashes can also enjoy the sights and smells.
These are natural social paths with bumps and holes. Those with limited mobility can get similar views by crossing the trestle and using the relatively smooth concrete path that runs for miles beginning on the other side of Pudding Creek.