I had only taken a few steps past the gate leading to the Point Reyes Lighthouse when movement on the rocks ahead of me caught my attention.
Rock Wrens are at home year-round in this area of coastal California.
They measure 5 1/2 to 6 1/2 inches from the top of their heads to the tip of their tails and, standing on tall legs, appear more slender than their Carolina Wren cousins. The Birds of North America account of this species describes these wrens as a "mysterious" bird that has been little studied. That may be, in part, due to its inaccessible nesting habitat.
And here is one of those mysterious things that little is known about. A breeding pair creates a "pebble path" three or more inches wide that leads to the nest cavity and the nest. No one actually knows what purpose this structure serves, but a great deal of effort goes into it.
As you can see in the images above and below, these loose surfaced, sloping, rock ledges that form the cliffs descending to the Pacific Ocean, are not the most inviting of habitats for extensive human observation.
Both members of the pair gather rocks, sticks, and other extraneous materials (which may include nails and bits of trash) to construct the "pavement" leading to the nest site and the platform on which the nest is built (which the female builds alone). In one two-hour observation, the female of a pair made 91 trips during the construction of the pavement and nest platform. All of those rocks were carried in that tiny little bill!
Next: Elephant Seals
Point Reyes National Seashore
Rock Wren at Cornell's All About Birds
Other "life" birds seen on this trip: Snowy Plover