Saturday, April 12, 2003

Huff's Hole report

Yesterday, 4/11, Kevin Cooper and I made our annual trip down into
Huff’s Hole, in the Santa Lucia Wilderness Area of Los Padres National
Forest. We hiked from Hi Mountain Lookout -about 8 miles round trip-
down to Hi Valley and for about a mile beyond Hi Valley Rock we cut
brush and clipped poison oak along the trail, with the assistance of Tom
Murphey, USFS employee, and volunteer Neil Wilcox.

We found a pair of prairie falcons occupying Hi Valley Rock, and
volunteers and staff should be able to monitor their flights and nesting
activities this season from up at Hi Mountain lookout, by using
binoculars and spotting scopes. We did not find peregrine falcons at the
Huff’s Hole cliffs during our brief visit- last known nesting there was
9 years ago, but someday peregrines may return again and are still our
source of inspiration for making these annual treks into poison oak
habitat! These cliffs were also a historical California Condor nesting
site until the early 1970’s.

The day was pleasant with an increasing cloud layer, SW wind and
afternoon temperature was cool at 50*F, with the approaching storm
front. The Huff’s Hole protrero is bright green now with grass and some
colorful patches of fiddleneck, annual blue lupine, popcorn flower,
owl’s clover, brodea, etc. The Hi Valley grassy understory beneath the
oaks includes some buttercups, shooting stars, and blue-eyed grass. I
noticed the Cal Poly students had tagged a large valley oak- with
numerous acorn woodpecker holes- near Hi Valley Rock in one of their
study plots. I have been acquainted with that stately tree for 25 years
now, since first working at Huff’s Hole as a peregrine nest guard.
Chaparral shrub species blooming on the slopes included woolly-blue
curls, ceanothus, bush poppies, chamise (somewhat early), prickly phlox,
holly-leaf cherry, mountain mahogany (gone to fruit), clematis, black
sage, pitcher sage, poison oak, and wild cucumber.

Other wildlife sightings of note: a flock of band-tailed pigeons flew by
the lookout in the morning. a black-throated grey warbler was singing
from the blue oaks in Hi Valley, two ash-throated flycatchers were
calling from Hi Valley and Huff’s Hole, pairs of ravens flying about
near the cliffs and slopes, and it was good again to hear the frequent
calls of mountain quail, white-throated swifts and canyon wrens. We
followed signs of a bear- scat, tracks, and tree scratchings- for a long
distance into Huff’s Hole. Three wild turkeys were on the flats just
south of the Salinas River crossing near Pozo.

Kathleen Intorf staffed the lookout during the day. We kept in contact
and tested the reception of our hand-held radios- we had good radio
communications, but were not able to call out by cell phone when down in
Huff’s Hole. Something to keep in mind for future visits there- use the
radios if needing to callout in emergencies or reporting in to the
lookout staff.

Steve Schubert