An afternoon stroll in Morgan Territory Regional Park this Sunday, prompted by delusions of spotting a Puma (aka Mountain Lion, Cougar), turned into an above-average, all-around wildlife outing. During our hike , in addition to several birds and butterflies, we observed in great detail several species of dragonflies as well as a couple nice amphibians.
We started our hike from the main parking lot and staging area around 12:30 p.m., already late in the day – not ideal for wildlife watching. The sun was somewhat tempered by a cool breeze every once in a while, but the temperature remained high throughout the hike.
Passing through a shady patch, we spotted three interesting species of warblers – small, jumpy birds – flitting through the oak trees. The Black-throated Grey Warbler, Hermit Warbler, and Wilson’s Warbler captivated us for some time, but we pushed on hoping to reach a spot where Pumas had been known to be seen during the day.
Earlier in the month, at the Martinez Beaver Festival, a person we met standing at the Bay Area Ridge Trail booth recounted two daytime Puma sightings at Morgan Territory around a campsite there. Needless to say, we didn’t see any Puma. We also missed the campsite entirely as the trail signs were a bit confusing.
Instead we spent our time around two ponds in the park: one was a cattle pond on the West side of Morgan Territory Road along Clyma Trail, the other was the pond I had visited before near the parking lot. The richness of animal life in and around the ponds was, as always, amazing.
Several species of dragonflies zig-zagged across the cattle pond, including Common Green Darners, Widow Skimmers, and Flame Skimmers. Occasionally, we would spot pairs mating or laying eggs in the pond. Most exciting was seeing several dragonfly nymphs cruising around in the water like some prehistoric underwater creatures.
As I circled the edge of the pond, I noticed several California Red-legged Frog and Sierran Treefrog tadpoles in the water, clustered near the edge of the pond. Some appeared to be feeding on the algae in the water. At one point, the dragonfly nymph swam over to an area with several tadpoles lounging, but as the nymph got close to any of them, the tadpoles zipped away.
After walking a little further around the pond’s perimeter, I found a grown Red-legged Frog sitting semi-submerged and seemingly unafraid of the human observers.
Walking back towards the staging area along the Coyote Trail was tough due to some steep uphill stretches and a relentless sun, but our spirits were buoyed by a Western Skink which slithered up the side of the trail from some leaf-litter. We saw several species of butterflies along the trails as well, including the California Sister, Western Tiger Swallowtail, Common Ringlet, and Common Buckeye.
After a few miles, we arrived at the second pond near the parking lot. A quick survey of the ponds surface revealed hundreds of amphibian heads poking up out of the water (and one unidentified cranium – perhaps a Garter Snake?). The pond was teeming with Red-legged Frogs.
As we neared the pond for closer inspection, we were surprised by another amphibian. Small Western Toads started popping up around our feet everywhere – we had to be careful not to step on them.
After watching the toads and several frogs in the pond for a few minutes, we walked back to the parking lot after a surprisingly good, albeit Puma-less, four hours.