Bobcat, photo by docent Brad Loe
Mammals are present in all the habitat types in the coastal areas of Año Nuevo SP, although they are seen less frequently than other wildlife due to their often elusive and/or nocturnal habits. Botta’s pocket gophers and brush rabbits are some of the smaller mammals present in the grasslands and early successional stages of other habitats onsite. Bats forage over the ponds at night and roost in buildings and crevices in trees during the day. California gray squirrels are present in the forested habitats of the park, and are closely associated with oaks. Larger species such as coyote, bobcat, and black-tailed deer can also be seen throughout Año Nuevo SP in annual grasslands, closed-cone pine-cypress, and other habitats.
Numerous bat species that are recognized as California Species of Special Concern and/or High Priority by the Western Bat Working Group are potentially present in Año Nuevo SP, including the pallid bat, Townsend’s big-eared bat, longlegged myotis, fringed myotis, and western mastiff bat. The Santa Cruz Mountains region is home to a population of mountain lions, and Año Nuevo SP is an important component of a network of protected lands that lions range through. Large predators like these are critical components of healthy ecosystems.
Grizzly bears and other large mammals were once common at Año Nuevo, and grizzlies in particular were a dominant factor in the animal life of this region. They were a constant threat to the Indians who lived here for centuries, and they were still a significant danger for Spanish and early American settlers during the 18th and 19th centuries. It was a grizzly, for example, that killed William Waddell in 1875, near the creek that bears his name at Big Basin State Park, just south of Ano Nuevo. And it was not until about the mid-1880s that the last grizzly in the Santa Cruz Mountains was killed.
Coastal Año Nuevo SP contains aquatic habitats that support amphibians. The ponds and freshwater emergent wetlands are home to the California red-legged frog and an abundance of Pacific tree frogs. Western toads can also be found in a variety of habitats, including riparian and upland areas. At least four species of salamanders have been observed in the coastal portion of Año Nuevo SP.
The California red-legged frog, a federally threatened species, is present in the pond and riparian habitats of the Año Nuevo SP coast. This species inhabits quiet pools of streams, marshes, and ponds, and requires permanent or nearly permanent pools for larval development. Red-legged frogs have been sighted in the pond next to the Marine Education Center.
A variety of species of lizards and snakes can be found in Año Nuevo SP. Western fence lizards and western skinks are common inhabitants of a number of the habitats, including coastal scrub. Freshwater emergent wetlands support aquatic garter snakes, including the San Francisco garter snake and Southwestern pond turtle. The northern alligator lizards can be found at the forest margins in the park. The adjacent upland habitats such as annual grasslands are home to coast horned lizards, ringneck snakes, gopher snakes, and western rattlesnakes, which may be seen warming themselves in exposed areas on sunny days.
The state and federally endangered San Francisco garter snake is the rarest and most colorful of the reptiles found in this region. The species is highly aquatic, and can be found along creeks and in the freshwater emergent wetland habitats in the ponds of Año Nuevo SP’s coastal areas, where it feeds on tadpoles, frogs, and small fish. Southwestern pond turtles are residents of the ponds as well, and also depend on adjacent annual grasslands as egg-laying sites. In the drier coastal scrub habitat, the coast horned lizard, a California Species of Special Concern, may be found.
Invertebrates form the most diverse and abundant taxonomic group, and are present in all the habitats of Año Nuevo SP. More than 300 species of invertebrates have been recorded at the park, including an unusual number of rare species. Dragonflies and damselflies can be seen circling over water on warmer days, and butterflies, like the western tiger swallowtail and west coast lady, are common. Insects are a critical component of a healthy ecosystem, as they are important pollinators for native plants, and an important food source for many species of wildlife. Bright yellow banana slugs are present in and characteristic of the redwood forest of the park. Monarch butterflies, with their striking orange and black wing patterns, can be seen in the park. Planted eucalyptus and other trees in the vicinity of the historic Cascade Ranch buildings have provided a fall roost site for these migratory butterflies.
The coastal dunes of Año Nuevo Point provide suitable habitat for the globose dune beetle, a species considered by the Sacramento U.S. Fish and Wildlife Office as a Species of Concern. This beetle lives in foredunes bordering the sea, and burrows in loose sandy areas where common dune plants such as sand verbena and beach bursage grow.
The ponds and creeks of Año Nuevo SP coast support aquatic wildlife, including rare and endangered species. Aquatic amphibians and reptiles are present in addition to fish. Federally threatened steelhead migrate from the ocean inland, to spawn in the streams found in Año Nuevo SP, including Whitehouse and Gazos creeks. State endangered and federally threatened central California coast coho salmon are present in Gazos Creek. Additionally, some of the creeks within the park could contain resident species such as prickly sculpin and coast range sculpin.
A number of non-native, introduced animal species are found in Año Nuevo SP. Wild (feral) pigs have been documented in the park. Pigs can cause significant damage to natural resources, disturbing soil, uprooting native plants, and harming ground-nesting birds and other native wildlife. Bullfrogs may be present in the ponds onsite. Native to the eastern United States, bullfrogs are opportunistic feeders that have contributed to declining populations of native amphibians and other native species statewide. The introduced European starling is also found in Año Nuevo SP. This bird species is detrimental to native bird populations because it aggressively competes with native cavity-nesting birds for limited nesting sites.