Friday, February 13, 2015

Bird Island Trail in the Point Lobos Reserve, California

Cormorants dotting the slopes and cliffs of Bird Island

Bird Island Trail is a 0.52-mile-long soil-and-boardwalk trail in the Point Lobos State Natural Reserve [1,2], located at the Central California Coast a few miles south of Carmel. This trail follows the rocky coastline between open Monterey pine woods with views of China Cove, Gibson Beach, the Carmel Highlands and the churning waters around rock islands. The cluster of islands has been and still is shaped by pounding waves, which enlarge existing cracks in the brittle granite and turns them, over time, into caves and then into arches. If such arches collapse, they leave behind islands such as Bird Island.

The long set of stairs descending the cliffs to the small sand beach and cave in China Cove are closed in spring when harbor seals are nursing their newborn pups in the cove. But your cliffside hike will pass various points with magnificent views into the channel-shaped China Cove with its sparkling jade-green waters.

The jade-green waters of China Cove
China Cove with beach, cave and jade-green waters
Crescent-shaped Gibson Beach, between Pelican Point and the Carmel Highlands, can also be accessed by descending a long flight of steps. Continuing on the Bird Island Trail, you will soon reach the natural platform of Pelican Point—your Bird Island overlook. There, the trail loops between coastal scrub and takes you close to the ocean-spray-exposed islands populated by birds such as cormorants.

Cormorants belong to the family Phalacrocoracidae. This scientific name is derived from the Greek words phalakros, meaning “bald,” and korax, meaning “crow” or “raven.” From a distance, a careless viewer may take cormorants for “seacrows.”

Bird Island is known for its nesting colonies of Brandt's cormorants [3]. There will be good chance that you may spot other seabirds around, including Pelagic Cormorants, pelicans, Black Ostercatcher, Western gulls and Black-crowned night herons [4]. Sea otters and harbor seals frequently visit the waters between the islands  

Getting to the Bird Island Trail
See the section Getting to the Bird Rock Parking area and trail in my Gibson Beach post. If you don't want to pay the entrance fee of $10.00 per vehicle, you may succeed in finding a parking lot next to Highway 1 and walk into the park. Hike southbound on the South Plateau Trail, which connects the area of the reserve entrance with Gibson Beach and the Bird Island Trail.

References and more to explore
[1] Point Lobos Foundation: Bird Island Trail [].
[2] Point Lobos State Natural Reserve: Bird Island Trail [].
[3] Nature Photography by Pam & Richard: Point Lobos: Nesting Brandt's Cormorants [].
[4] Point Lobos Foundation: Birds [].

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