Thursday, September 03, 2015

California Coast Trip - Day 5

After the long drive up from Cambria the day before, we slept in and took it pretty easy on our first full day in Pacific Grove.  This was supposed to be a relaxing vacation after all!  The rental house had a pretty extensive front and back yard so we watched various birds and critters pass through while we had a leisurely breakfast (okay, it was brunch) and discussed our plans.

First up, a quick trip down the street to check out Asilomar Beach and the dune trails nearby.

Asilomar Beach looking south.
Surf on the rocks at one end of the beach.

That water was COLD!  Although, the locals insisted it was far warmer than usual...a possible harbinger of our expected El Nino?
After exploring the beach itself, we crossed the street to the dunes.  This is one of only a few locations where true dune habitat is still around and it is only a fraction of what it once was.  They are actually in the process of trying to reclaim even more of it and re-plant some of the original native plants in order to extend the dunes.
Quite a lot of wildflowers blooming - many only grow in dune habitat.  I wrote down what these were called and then stupidly left my notes behind when we headed home.  Duh.
This is a juvenile Brown Headed Cowbird.
And why is he waiting around so patiently and allowing me to get so close to him?  Because he is completely focused on his parent bird who is frantically running around nearby trying to obtain food for him.  There's something unusual about his parent, though...
This is a White-Crowned Sparrow...NOT a Cowbird.
And's the parent bird.  Cowbirds are nest parasites and lay their eggs in the nests of other birds who then raise and feed the young cowbirds.  This poor sparrow was really being run ragged by this baby cowbird.
Finally, she got something for him...
...nest parasitism is a successful strategy.  I felt so badly for the poor sparrow, though.
After we finished hiking through the dune trail and seeing the beach, it was time to head back home for lunch.  Post lunch plans were made to head over to nearby Lover's Point in the hopes of locating a kayak rental place for an excursion later in the week.
The cove proved to be a perfect place to make entry for first-time kayakers so we made plans to book a tour there later in the week after talking to the guides on-site.  Then it was time to check out the nearby rocks to see what we could find.
Striped shore crab again.  This one was out and about so a bit better view of its colors than my previous shots.
Juvenile Heerman's Gull.  When fully adult/breeding, it's head will be solid white.
Juvenile Western Gull.

Shaking out his tail feathers after a good preening.

Another Western gull, but younger than the first.

He was checking out the kelp buffet in the cove.  Lots of critters hanging out in the kelp that a seagull would love to munch on.
It was about this time that the stars of the show arrived - the main animal I had wanted to see for the entire trip:  Sea Otters!

For most of our trip, they would remain farther out from shore in the kelp beds, but on this day as I was high up on the rocks on this point, a pair decided to come floating by right at the base of the rocks.

This is one of the few times I felt my SX 50 zoom was inadequate - I was dying for an even more close-up shot!

Seafood buffet, anyone?

Even though I was up so high, I did feel like she was looking right at me in this shot.
And then right back to floating.  You can see her turquoise tag on her flipper.

Her pup arrived on scene about that time...sporting a matching tag.

And then it was time for tandem munching...

...and snoozing...

Catching crabs and sea urchins is so exhausting! 

Finally, they drifted around the point out of sight.
Wow...I feel so lucky to have had that encounter.  It wasn't that long ago that these animals, who are a keystone species for the entire ecosystem, were thought to be extinct due to the heavy fur trade in the 17-1800s.  A very small population was found on an island off the California coast and was kept secret for approximately 10 years to allow the numbers to increase.  All the sea otters from Alaska down to Northern California are descended from this remnant population.  Although the species has made an amazing recovery, they are still in need of protected status.
We capped off this amazing day with dinner at a restaurant overlooking the cove and then headed back to the house.  Of course, we looked for deer along the way and thought we were going to get shut out...and then there they were!  Hanging out in the front yard of the house across the street from where we were staying:
First was Momma Deer who, if I'm not mistaken, is pregnant.
Either that, or she swallowed a basketball.

Probably explains why she's so hungry.  You can see where the homeowner put up a metal guard on the tree to try to keep it from being eaten all the way around.
Either way, this deer is busy because she already has not one, but...

...TWO fawns!  I'm not sure if one is adopted or if one is older by a season and still has its spots.  Don't know my deer life cycle too well.
The fawns are hungry, too!

But still willing to pose.  It must be amazing to have this show in your yard every night.  I wouldn't even care if they ate my trees...I'd plant more just to get them to come around.
Everyone in unison..."Awwwwww!"  I know, it's cuteness overload, but how can you not love a baby deer?
Stay tuned for more posts including photos from the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium.


Phil Slade said...

A great set of photos and an instructive commentary. I know cowbirds have a bad reputation but I must say that I think that juvenile is very, very pretty in that very juvenile plumage. You produced a good photographic record of the parasitism.

Its always a thrill to see otters. Your pictures make me rather jealous as I rarely see them here in NW England.

Stewart M said...

Great set of shots - love the sparrow feeding the cow bird.

But those otters are splendid, I have had a few short glimpses of otters in Europe (different species) but nothing like these.

Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

EG CameraGirl said...

I would love to be there right now. It is so hot here and the water looks so refreshing. And I love the photos of the deer and otters!