Right now, northern elephant seal mating season is in full swing at Ano Nuevo State Reserve, a wildlife hotspot about a one-hour drive south of Fitzgerald Marine Reserve. The seals are the loudest, largest, and most obvious beneficiaries of that reserve’s protected status, but the island just offshore provides critical breeding habitat to a number of seabird species.
Of special interest is the rhinoceros auklet, a puffin-like bird that grows a distinctive horn on its bill during mating season. The species ranges around the Pacific rim from Japan to California, but because it nests in burrows, it needs a place like Ano Nuevo Island, which is free of animals (bobcats, foxes, coyotes, and their domesticated kin) that prey on nestlings. In fact, Ano Nuevo Island and the Farallon Islands are the only spots in California where these birds breed, which makes it a “species of special concern” to the California Department of Fish and Game.
Recently researchers, artists and volunteers have deployed ceramic burrows dubbed “love shacks” on the island to help the rhinoceros auklet in its fight to survive. The human-made nests are part of a multi-year effort to restore Ano Nuevo Island to the pristine natural conditions wrecked by lighthouse keepers who arrived in the late 1800s. Read more about the Ano Nuevo Island Restoration Project and the fascinating wildlife it protects in this San Jose Mercury News article.