Coastal Trail Walk, with Newts

California newt

This mellow hike was a joy in spring: wildflowers everywhere, great views, no fog. We chose the hiker-only trails where we could, but bike routes cover similar ground. The views offshore on a clear day are amazing, and the highlight was seeing a pond full of California newts in a former gun emplacement at Battery Townsley. The concrete "pond" has been filled with vegetation, and there were newts everywhere!

We also saw lots of blue-eyed grass, checkerbloom, lupine, and other wildflowers. In summer, there won't be many flowers, but the view are still amazing, especially after the morning fog burns off.

Curious about the newts, I called Darren Fong, aquatic biologist for the GGNRA, to see what he knew about them. Turns out the nearest resident newts are down at Rodeo Lagoon, but he's not sure how they manage to find these random gun emplacements full of water. A couple of years ago, a California red-legged frog found its way into another emplacement farther south in the Headlands.

The newts will likely leave the pond in summer, returning the following spring, but this is an unusual habitat, so they might be visible year-round. Look out for them whenever you go, and let us know in the comments if you see them! They are coated with a potent neurotoxin, so they don't have many predators, other than garter snakes, which have evolved some resistance.

Newt paradise won't go on forever here, though, according to Fong. The gun emplacements are considered part of the park's cultural heritage, and five feet of standing water in our cultural heritage is generally not considered a good thing. Eventually, park staff will have to capture the newts, move them down to Rodeo Lagoon, and then fix the drainage issues. But there's no schedule for that at the moment. Meanwhile, nature takes its course in the oddest places.

Contributed by Bay Nature.

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