The Cowell-Purisima Trail has two different ecosystems: on one side is shoreline and open ocean, and the other is coastal scrubland mixed with agriculture. Only the northernmost beach is accessible to the public. If you can, bring binoculars! Also, dogs and horses are not allowed on the trail due to food safety concerns related to the adjacent farm fields and sensitive wildlife.
One of the reasons why the beach access is closed is because the harbor seals claim one of the beaches as their home. While you might not hear them like the sea lions, you might see them enjoying their beachfront property! Harbor seals spend equal time in the ocean along the shoreline and on the land. In the ocean, they consume a diverse seafood menu, such as flounder, squid, and clams. On land, they rest, shed their annual molt, and most importantly, give birth and raise their pups. The pups are born every year in March-April and will double their initial 20-25 pounds in 4-6 weeks as they nurse. As an adult they can be 5-6 feet long, weigh up to 250 pounds, and live for thirty years.
As with many coastlines, there is a great diversity of birds along the trail! Out along the ocean, we have the standard soaring seabirds such as gulls and brown pelicans, Keep your eyes on the pelicans- they do a magnificent corkscrew dive to catch their prey! Grebes and sea ducks bob along the waves and dive down to swim and hunt their prey. Along the shoreline, waders like sanderlings and plovers peck at critters just under the sand’s surface. In the fall, migrant seabirds join in the feeding fray.
The trail is also a popular spot to whale watch from land! In the late fall-early winter, the gray whales are on their way down from Alaska; in early spring, they are on their way back up.
Coastal Scrub and Agriculture
A coastal scrub community occupies the bluffs above the beaches. Similar to a chaparral community, the plants here are short and resilient, and include sages, grasses, yarrow, and coyote brush. Mixed within this landscape is agriculture, both livestock and cash crops, that has been here for hundreds of years. Common crops include artichokes, brussel sprouts, pumpkins, peas, and beans.
Seed feeding birds like finches, sparrows, and towhees eat their fill on the crops and the scrub around them. Larger birds of prey like hawks, owls, kites, and the scavenging vultures take advantage of the rodents scurrying under the brush.