Sunday, April 23, 2006

Huff's Hole Report

Hi all,
On Saturday, April 22nd, Kevin Cooper and I made our annual hiking trip to Huff’s Hole, in the Santa Lucia Wilderness Area, below Hi Mountain Lookout. The Salinas River crossing near Pozo is 4 feet deep, so we had to drive in on Hi Mtn. Rd. from Lopez Lake, park at the locked gate and take the Hi Valley route into Huff’s Hole. We were on the trail at 7:30 am during a light, steady rain.
Wearing rain gear was more important in helping to shed the dripping water plowing through the overgrown drenched vegetation along the trail. It seemed the sheet flow of water off our raingear helped to also shed the abundant ticks , but it remains to be seen if it repelled poison oak oils too!
The rains let up as the day progressed, with high cloudy overcast skies and a cool breeze. We were unable to get all the way into Huff’s Hole due to the downed trees, brush and poison oak beyond Hi Valley Rock- we had not seen the trail blocked by so much downed vegetation in the past 10 years and speculated it may have been caused by the weight of the March snowfalls that may have bent and snapped so many stems and trunks. Much of the Ceanothus more than 20 feet tall and several inches in diameter - regrowth since the 1985 Las Pilatas fire - was shattered and bent over the trail, with poison oak that had been growing in the brush canopy now at face-level and blocking the way. We cut and sawed our way through the downed brush and poison oak until finally having to give up, but had a good distant view of the Huff’s Hole cliffs from a sideways angle, and also from up higher where I climbed up on Hi Valley Rock.
We found a nesting pair of prairie falcons- there were food and incubation exchanges between the adults at a small pothole eyrie located on a large outcrop between Hi Valley Rock and the main Huff’s Hole cliffs. Further down on the cliffs in the distance we could hear another falcon wailing, and with bincoulars finally located a perched bird on the rocks about 3/4 mile from our vantage point- a peregrine falcon. The peregrines are probably also nesting somewhere there on the cliffs at Huff’s Hole, within 1/2 mile and a direct line of view of the prairie falcons, so this is relatively close nesting proximity between the two species often territorial and aggressive.
There were deep black bear tracks in the wet mud from the overnight rains. The bear must have been there only hours at most prior to our passing. We found bear tracks in Hi Valley, around the base of Hi Valley Rock and the trail into Huff’s Hole. Scat on the trail and scratches on the tree trunks were other signs.
Flowers observed from Hi Mtn. Rd. into Hi Valley and along Huff’s Hole trails: black sage, pitcher sage, hummingbird sage, prickly phlox, clematis, ceanothus, bush poppies, mountain mahogany, buttercups, shooting stars, chocolate lily, California peony, sanicula, blue-eyed grass, annual lupine, filaree, blue dicks, yellow violets (Johnny jump-ups)
Bird vocalizations/singing: California thrasher, wrentit, bewick’s wren, house wren, canyon wren, spotted towhee, California towhee, oak titmouse, white-breasted nuthatch, orange-crowned warbler, warbler spp., white-throated swift, western scrub jay, Steller’s jay, ash-throated flycatcher, cedar waxwing, common raven, prairie falcon, peregrine falcon
Turkey vultures were in flight and perching on the Huff’s Hole cliffs. Strangely, what was not seen flying around Hi Valley Rock or Huff’s Hole cliffs was a single swallow, completely absent from the area during several hours of observing.
It was uncharacteristic to hear Kevin complain about leg muscle soreness and fatigue while we were hiking, but then his excuse seemed reasonable being that he ran the Boston Marathon only 5 days previous! My excuse is just getting older… turning 51 years old this weekend. I celebrated my 23rd and 24th birthdays in Huff’s Hole, camped out as a peregrine nest site attendant, so the years are flying by…still grateful to be able to get back in there all these years later.
We hope to get some help - volunteers? - to finish the trail clearing this season and maybe return to check on the nesting status of the Huff’s Hole peregrines. Two years ago we also found a condor perched on the edge of a large cave there.
Steve Schubert
Volunteer Coordinator, Hi Mountain Lookout Project