Those of you who have followed my blog for the past 4+ years are familiar with my subject matter; I write about local nature and wildlife and I post photos that I’ve taken on my field trips to different places. The title of my blog, “On the Wing,” reflects my specific interest in birds, butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies; these are the subjects of most of my photos. I’ve been a birder for close to 30 years and have seen 670 different bird species in my travels throughout North America.
I love finding and identifying different species, whether they’re birds, insects or something else; getting a good photograph has been a more recent emphasis now that digital photography makes this easier to achieve. When I started out birding in Oregon in 1984, I had a Nikon FM camera and a 300mm lens, and thought that was hot stuff! I shot Kodachrome 200, the “best” slide film available, and thought my photos were pretty darn good. Now, of course, I cringe when I look at them; they’re simply awful! But I saw some good, rare bird species back in those days and it’s nice to have even bad “record” photos of them. Counting those old photos, I’ve photographed something like 520 species, and I’m always looking for a better opportunity!
This blog is almost always about local and regional wildlife, mainly in Virginia, but occasionally I get to take a vacation and I post photos from other parts of the country; this is such a post. In late July and early August I took a wonderful trip to Utah and Central California. In my last blog I posted photos I took of wildlife in Utah; this entry is all about Central California. The photo at the top of this post is of my sister walking along the beach at Morro Bay, where we spent four nights.
I did not expect all the birds that I saw on the beach at Morro Bay. It was full of large shorebirds like Long-billed Curlews, Whimbrels and Marbled Godwits, and they were at close range on the beach, chasing the receding waves or probing in the sand for food:
This bird and the next are Long-billed Curlews. They are fairly common in the right habitat in the western states, but are extremely rare vagrants in the East. They are spectacular birds, and North America’s largest shorebird.
The next two species do occur in Virginia, but their ranges are very specific and local. Whimbrels migrate through Virginia along the coast during a small window of time (occasionally, one might get forced inland during storms); Marbled Godwits also migrate through, and a few are usually present well into winter. The best place I know of to look for both species is at Willis Wharf on the Eastern Shore, especially during a lower tide. At Morro Bay, the beach was covered with dozens of both species, which was an awesome spectacle — I had a ball photographing them:
Also present on Morro Beach were Snowy Egrets. We have Snowy Egrets here in SE Virginia, in wetlands, marshes and bays, but I have never seen them chasing the surf like they were in California!
Snowy Egrets in the Pacific surf
One of the most beautiful gulls in North America, in my opinion, is the Heerman’s Gull. It is not one of your typical “white gull with gray wings and black wingtips” gull species; it has a look all its own. Heerman’s Gulls only occur on the Pacific coast. Most nest on the island of Isla Rasa in the Gulf of California, and the rest develope small breeding colonies as far north as California. After breeding, they disperse north to Central California and as far north as British Columbia. I remember them from when I lived in Oregon, and they’re one of my favorites:
Heerman’s Gull at Morro Beach, California
I absolutely loved the Morro Bay area. The town itself has restaurants and little shops along the waterfront, there is plenty of public access to the beach and the bay, Sea Otters can be seen in the bay and around Morro Rock, and of course the California coast north and south of Morro Bay is spectacular. Perhaps the one disadvantage, in some peoples’ opinions, is that summers are rather cool (definitely not swimsuit weather), and in the summer the town and the bay are usually fogged in; the sun did not peek through until the afternoon while we were there — in fact one day it did not appear until about an hour before sunset! This seems to be unique to the geography of Morro Bay, because the towns just a few miles north and south will be sunny when Morro Bay is fogged in.
San Simeon and the Hearst Castle are just a short drive north of Morro Bay. My interest was not in visiting the castle, but the Elephant Seal beach nearby. It was not breeding season and I didn’t know whether we would see any seals, so I was thrilled when we arrived and found many dozens of seals lounging on the beach, viewable from the overlook and parking area. We learned these were all young male Elephant Seals, not nearly the size of the adult males yet, but they were still very impressive. And some of them were practicing how to be tough and fearsome, “fighting” with each other like the pair below:
In this picture it looks like I was up close and personal with them; I was not, and I was very glad to see that people (and photographers) were not allowed on the beach. It was my trusty telephoto lens that brought me closer to the action.
As I said, these seals were all young males; the appendages on their faces (the “trunks” if you will, and the reason for their name of Elephant Seals) are not nearly the size of the fully grown males’ yet. And they are not fully grown; if you do a search on Google for the size of adult Elephant Seals, you will see charts that illustrate that the seals are actually taller than a 6 foot human when they rear up like the seals in the photo above. Just awesome!
Two more photos below show the seals sleeping side by side on the beach. In the first photo, you can see how the seals are in different stages of molt (yes, they shed their skin), and in the second you get a background view of the gorgeous California coast and the famed Highway 1. This seems to be a good place to end this post; in my next one I’ll finish up the California trip.
If you share my interest in taking nature and wildlife photos, please consider joining us at our quarterly Nature Photo Night at the Library! Bring up to 20 of your favorite photos on a CD or a USB device; we project them onto the library’s movie screen for everyone to view and discuss. Our next meeting is Monday, October 20 beginning at 6:00 p.m. at the Chesapeake Central Library (298 Cedar Rd.). Please give me a call if you have any questions or would like more information! (757-410-7147, and ask for Karen)