Thursday, September 17, 2015

California Coast Trip - Day 6

This was one of the best days of the whole trip...which is why it took me so long to process all the photos and get this post written.  The volume and variety of wildlife we saw on this day was truly outstanding.  I wish I could say the same for the photos - it was one of the few overcast days and I really struggled with the light.  Would love to go back for a re-do with what I've learned since then.  So, since the quality is only "meh"...I'm going to overwhelm you with quantity instead :-)

Look who came to visit our back yard while we were eating breakfast!  No fawns around so probably a different female.  And yes, I think this one is pregnant, too.  There's some male deer out there who were VERY busy this year!
After breakfast, I found a pamphlet in the rental house's living room for a pontoon boat tour of Elkhorn Slough just north of Monterey Bay.  It looked like fun and since I knew that Mom wouldn't be up for the kayaking adventure I had planned for later in the week, I thought this might be a good way for her to get some exposure to nature without too much exertion.

We departed from the Moss Landing harbor.  I knew we were in for something special when I realized that this is the same harbor where the MBARI (Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute) boats are berthed.  I've seen them on so many programs on Animal Planet and the Discovery Channel that it was kind of a thrill to see them tied up there - and you could even see their deep water submersibles/remote-operated vehicles hanging on the back deck.  The deep underwater Monterey Canyon is still being explored and they are finding new species there all the time.

Before we were even out of the harbor, we passed a group of California Sea Lions:

This guy was checking out the tourists!  In this photo you can see one of the main characteristics that distinguish sea lions from seals.  Sea lions have external ear flaps.

Everybody is having their daily nap on this nice, comfortable dock.

In the background, you can see a more mature male...much larger and with more of a "ruff."

A couple of juvenile Western Gulls.... 

...escorted us on our way.
There were lots of gulls, terns and this bird which was a new one for me...the Pigeon Guillemot.  They put on quite a show diving for fish - quite successfully, too.
Then we passed by the Pelican and Cormorant docks.  These are Brown Pelicans and there's a Cormorant in the background.

Polly Pelican wonders how much longer it will take for this BIG egg to hatch!
I'm pretty sure the guide said these were Double Crested Cormorants but I have to admit that I was so giddy with the picture-taking that I may have got that wrong.
I do know this was quite the nursery area - they've let them have a couple of old piers/docks to themselves and they are just covered with nests so a lot of these birds are juveniles.
Here are a couple playing peek-a-boo around the piling.
And here's one of the nests.

I even got a sort-of shot of a chick.  By the way...did I mention that this area absolutely REEKED?  Even from the boat out in the middle of the slough you could smell it. was so bad.
From there, we headed over to see the stars of the show...the local sea otter population.

Did you know a group of sea otters is called a "raft?"  Once I saw them all grouped together like this, I could see why. 

Most of them ignored us, but some were curious enough to pop up closer to the boat and take a look.
Hard to hold the camera steady on a moving boat, but at least you can see his whiskers!

They spend a lot of time grooming and ruffling up their fur - it's very dense and ruffling it traps air in their pelt which helps to insulate them from the cold water since they don't have blubber like seals. 

One of the cool things about this tour is that it collects official data for MBARI so several of the passengers were each assigned a counter device and a different animal to count during the trip.  Ryan got assigned the otters!

His official count for the entire trip was 68...and I know there were many we never saw so there's quite the healthy population there. 

I'm a little obsessed with those tiny, furry paw-hands they have.  SO CUTE!

Here's a female with a pup.

The pup gets a free ride!

Then it was time for more birds - we got this lovely overflight of American White Pelicans.

Here's a whole gang hanging out together...Cormorants in the front, Brown Pelicans in the middle and American White Pelicans in the background.
Everybody's preening (or sleeping as that second pelican is doing in the background)!
This was my second new bird for the day - a Ring-billed Gull.  Although I hear people say we have them here in the southern part of the state, I have yet to see one.  Had to go all the way up north to find this guy!
Then we passed this entire field full of egrets.  There's a Great Egret in the center (with the yellow bill) and he's surrounded by a bunch of Snowy Egrets.  There were actually quite a lot more of them, but this is as wide a view as my camera could capture.
As much as the sea lions were hanging out on the docks, the Harbor Seals seemed to prefer the mud flats on the banks of the slough.

I really found it odd to see them in mud and grass instead of hauled out on a sandy beach.

I also decided there may be some truth to the idea that they might be one of the origins of the mermaid myth.  I mean...drunken sailor...low light conditions...those creepy eyes...

Not content to just lie on the mud...this guy decided to taste it.

Our guide advised that the seals with the darker coats had older fur that hadn't molted yet.  Seals like this one with lighter coats had already completed their molt.  Maybe that's why this one is posing for the camera!

And I swear it's smiling!

But I guess that was all too much effort because...SNNNZZZZ! 

Penny Pelican is disgusted by the lazy habits of Sammy the Seal.  Meanwhile, the Cormorants have decided to perform a group shunning to express their dissatisfaction.  If only Sammy was awake to realize all of this.
After we finished the boat tour, we had lunch at a nearby restaurant and then drove into Monterey to check out Fisherman's Wharf.

Apparently, there was quite a squid run going on while we were there and most of the boats were still out, but we did get to see a few of them come in to offload.  This sea lion was waiting patiently in the harbor hoping to grab some of the goodies for himself.

It really amazes me how they manage to climb up on these things...especially with no hands.

I walked over to the other side of the wharf and found this lighter golden-colored sea lion.  I swear there's a semi-circular set of marks on its neck and shoulder that sure look like they might have been left by a shark.

At least this appears to be a safe place to snooze.
As we were leaving the wharf, I spied something cool.  Having gotten totally skunked thus far on tide pools, I was really glad to find these:

Beautiful green anemone...and no, I haven't altered the color.  This is what they look like in Northern California due to a particular kind of algae in their tentacles.  Our Southern California anemones are much duller green than this.
And the piece de one and only starfish for the entire trip!  This is a submerged shot because I thought the water ripples were cool.

Here it is partially exposed and surrounded by some darker anemones.  I keep being told that we are not supposed to call them "starfish" any more because, of course, they aren't fish.  Now, we are supposed to call them "sea stars."  That's fine, I guess, but I grew up thinking of them as "starfish" (and OF COURSE I always knew they were not fish) so personally, I think I'll keep on with that tradition.
Either way...can't believe I had to find one munching mussels on a sea wall in the harbor instead of in a tide pool, but I'm glad I finally found one!
More interesting stuff to come including the Aquarium, a trip to Carmel and a visit to Pt. Lobos.


Stewart M said...

Wow - what an abundance of good things to see - I love the otters! I have bookmarked Elkhorn Slough in the off chance that work may take me to that part of the world!

Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

EG CameraGirl said...

Oh my goodness! What a great place to visit and take photos!