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R and R time at Ano Nuevo.

The bloody duels of massive bull elephant seals and the clusters of onlooking tour groups are wintertime sights at Ano Nuevo State Reserve on the San Mateo coast. But in late spring and early summer, the reserve holds unsuspected attractions: warm days, migrating birds, frolicking sea lions. The big news is the growing number of young elephant seals that stay on after the winter's breeding battles. You won't see as many seals as in the winter, but access to them is easier. After March, crowds are small and big tour groups are gone. The reserve hopes to continue the winter's volunteer guide program through the spring, so you can still join a group to learn more about elphant seals and how to protect them.

Docents are stationed at the old dairy barn, now a nature center (open weekends 9 to 5) where a new interpretive display is taking shape. From here, they'll take you along the 1-mile trail skirting inland past a small pond, then over the sand dunes. Though still shifting southward, this big dune field is gradually stabilizing: you can see how it is being anchored by a creeping carpet of wild strawberry, sand verbena, and low willows.

Since the 1,252-acre reserve encompasses beach and woodland habitat, some 300 bird species can be spotted during the year, this month, look for kites, kestrels, and marsh hawks over the inland area, godwits and whimbrels poking about the wave edges.

The dune trail takes you to Ano Nuevo Point and a gently curving beach where you might see a small colony of elephant seals on the sand.

In the late 1800s, hunting had reduced their numbers to a few hundred, but now they're estimated to be 60,000 strong from the Farallon Islands to Baja California. From November to march, this is the seals largest mainland breeding rookery (3,000 last winter), though as their numbers have risen they have begun a few colonies farther south.

The holdovers in spring and summer are "weaners" (yearlings) and molting adults that can weigh a ton or more. Though these giants may look harmless, you should give them wide berth--they are unpredictable and can move faster than you might imagine. The law prohibits you from going closer than 20 feet to any elephant seal, and protects all flora and fauna in the reserve.

In addition to the elephant seal, three other pinniped species inhabit the waters around the point and Ano Nuevo Island, just 1/2 mile offshore: the small, mottled harbor seal is a year-round resident, the dark brown California sea lion is a summer and fall visitor, and the tawny Stellar sea lion mates here in late summer.

To get a look atthem lounging on nearby rocks or on the island, bring binoculars or a telephoto lens for your camera. A "roving naturalist" out at the beach will answer questions and help you spot wildlife. To learn more about the reserve's wildlife. You can join either of two groups. The Volunteer Docent Program began just last year; docents can lead elephant seal tours, give lectures, or staff the nature center. Following an orientation day, there's a brief training session. Volunteers should be able to work three days a month. The Ano Nuevo Interpretive Association presents lectures, films, and a quarterly newsletter ($10 annual fee for membership and newsletter). To join either group, write to Ano Nuevo. New Year's Creek Rd., Pescadero 94060.

Day-use fee is $2. A tour fee may also be imposed; call (415) 879-0595 to check. dress warmly, even in summer, as the afternoon breeze can be chilly. The reserve is 55 miles south of San Francisco on State Highway 1.
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Date:Apr 1, 1984
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