In the area of the marina at Moss Landing, a very elegant looking bird is prevalent. These are grebes. As a kid, we used to have great crested grebes where I grew up and they were a cool looking bird. This is a different sub type of grebe but the family resemblance is clear. They have a nice shape to them and these have a very striking red eye coloration. They were swimming around in the harbor area and diving for food periodically.
A while back I posted shots of the sea lions at Moss Landing. Since then, their numbers have done a further job on destroying the dock at the entrance to Elkhorn Slough. They are now squeezing themselves onto what remains. They also find other docks or the backs of boats on which to take their rest. Interestingly, they didn’t appear to venture into the slough itself. They were all gathered in the entrance area with quick access to the open sea. Whether they have a territorial battle with the harbor seals or just don’t like the water that way I don’t know. However, it is safe to say the smell around what remains of the dock is pretty ripe when they are about!
If you have seen the previous posts from Elkhorn Slough and have followed the blog for a while, it won’t take too much imagination to work out what bird I also got a bunch of shots of while we were on the boat. The cormorants were out and about keeping me entertained. Maybe they were a little put out that so much other wildlife was getting my attention although they really didn’t seem to care too much about our presence at all.
Whatever their attitude may or may not have been, they were all over the place. Flying past us, sunning themselves on marker posts, resting on sand banks or fishing in the waters around us, they did it all and I tried to photograph them doing it all. Since I have gone overboard on cormorants before, I won’t go nuts here. Just a few to maintain expectations…
The mud flats of Elkhorn Slough are a popular haunt for harbor seals. Relatively easily distinguished from sea lions, these guys seemed to really enjoy just lying out on the flats and sunning themselves. I imagine there are times of day when they are busy hunting for food but they must have been successful by the time we came by because they were not too active.
Their coats are very different when wet and dry and some of them would lie just into the water, possibly as a result of the tide having changed the water level while they rested. You could see the change in the coat underneath versus on top where it had dried out. One or two had even draped weed over themselves. Our guide explained why but I’m afraid I can’t for the life of me remember what the reason was. Therefore, I am going to go with fashion!
The pelican population of Elkhorn Slough is pretty substantial. There were a few white pelicans but the majority was brown pelicans. As we trundled around the slough, a steady stream of pelicans went about their business fishing. Watching pelicans fish is a reasonably predictable task. They glide around looking for the fish in a way that is very different from how they fly if they are trying to get somewhere.
As they spot a fish, they slow up noticeably preparing for the dive. Then they roll in like a dive bomber head down towards the unsuspecting prey. At the last minute, they pull back their wings and extend their head to enter beak first and grab whatever it is that they have spotted. All that is left on the surface for a moment is the ripple from their entry. Then they bob back to the surface, hopefully devouring whatever they were after. Then they lumber back into the air to repeat the process.
Watching this is not tricky. Having it happen close enough to you to get a good shot is a different story. Even at the high frame rate my camera can do, the transition from dive to underwater is very quick and only a few frames. You have to try and track smoothly and keep everything in focus.
I got shots of some more distant entries. These don’t make the best shots but they can work as animated GIFs. Once or twice they came a bit closer to us and then it was just a case of hoping that I didn’t miss it while watching something else and that the light was on a good side. That and crossing my fingers that I didn’t screw it up!
We took a great trip to do a little wildlife spotting. Nancy found out about a tour operation in Moss landing on the coast of Monterey Bay. They are called Elkhorn Slough Safari and you can find out more about them at http://www.elkhornslough.com/ if you are interested. Elkhorn Slough is an estuary area that comes out at Moss Landing. It is absolutely packed with wildlife (so expect a few more posts). The company operates a pontoon boat that takes you through the marina and up into the slough. On the day we went, the boat was reasonably full but there was a bit of space. The captain was very helpful when he saw me carrying camera gear and cleared out space for me at the back of the boat which allowed me to move from side to side as anything came up. He constantly pointed out anything that could be of interest.
I won’t tell you too much more about the tour other than to say that the two people taking care of us were great, very friendly, helpful at spotting things and they provided some great cookies which I wouldn’t have minded chomping the lot!
First in the posts will be the subject that probably attracts a lot of the visitors and that is Sea Otters. This part of the coastline has a very dense population of Sea otters. In fact, we probably got to see a substantial chunk of the California population on this trip. There are obviously lots more of them along the coast but here they are gathered close together. As we motored along the water, we saw a steady stream of them diving for food, eating their catch, playing around with each other or in one particularly impressive area, about 30 of them formed up in a large group just hanging out.
We also came across a mother with a pretty fresh looking baby. She was floating on her back with the baby resting on her stomach. Apparently the babies float right away so she can go hunting and leave them to bob on the surface although other otters may hijack the kid until the mother hands over her catch. Sweet creatures!
En route back from Monterey, I wanted to show Liese and Chris the sea lions that bask on the jetty at Moss Landing. We got out of the car and sure enough, there they were. However, something had happened since I had last been there. One section of the jetty was gone and another section only seemed to be partially attached. I guess a storm had done some damage. This didn’t make any difference to the sea lions and they were squeezed on to all of the remaining space.
Whether this was a space issue or not I don’t know but a whole bunch of them had taken up residence on the ramp to the jetty from the parking lot. This ramp is blocked off to pedestrians but this isn’t a problem when you can look over the wooden panel and see the sea lions right underneath you. They certainly didn’t seem bothered by us and most didn’t even open their eyes, preferring to doze in the sun. Lower down by the water, the usual squabbles were going on between those in a good spot, those in a bad spot and those trying to get out of the water and find a spot of any sort.
Relaxing with our lunch near the harbor entrance at Moss Landing, the noisiest thing we could hear (apart from the foghorn on the entrance markers) was the sound of sea lions. There was a steady stream of their barking so we were looking around to see where they were. There was a pontoon jetty near the highway that was the source of the noise with a lot of them lying on it and sunbathing. We figured this had to be worth a visit before we left.
A while later we drove around to the location of the jetty and took a look at the gathering. This was not just a few sea lions. There were tons of them. There was nowhere near enough space for them all so they were piled up on top of each other. It was quite a sight. Several deep they were stacked across the dock. As new ones would leap out of the water, they would land on those already there and try to make their way to their preferred spot. All of this would arouse the ire of whoever they were walking on so barks and bites would be thrown around with abandon. It seemed quite a perilous voyage. Getting out at all wasn’t easy since there was no space to gain any purchase initially so, if the first leap wasn’t good enough, the chances were you would be “helped” back into the water.
It was hard to work out where the preferable location was. It appeared that the water’s edge was better since the sea lions there would periodically drop their heads into the water to cool off and blow some bubbles. We guessed that made this the best place to be but it was hard to tell. Some of the others on the edge were almost totally buried by their neighbors and that didn’t look to appealing. Whichever way it works, it was obviously the place to be if you were a local sea lion.
I am getting repetitive! I can’t get enough of cormorants. I have said it before but they are just my favorite bird. Moss Landing proved to be a fun place to go and watch some. We ended up sitting near the harbor entrance and the waterway there was something of a highway for cormorants. There was a steady stream of them in each direction so I was a happy guy. As they came out, the light was better for them but either way was okay so I was shooting a lot. I was trying to work out whether there was a cormorant traffic plan since they seemed to go out on one side and in on the other. This wasn’t a rule but seemed to happen a lot. Maybe I was just looking for a pattern that wasn’t really there. I’m sure they can manage to avoid each other without implementing traffic rules!
Having said that, I did get watch must count as my first crossing shot of the season. Not fast jets or even any other type of plane. Two cormorants made a head on pass and I caught the moment. Let’s tick that one off for the year. As with Monterey over the holidays, I saw a few birds carrying material which I assume is for nest building. The big load in their mouth doesn’t seem to affect the balance. I also noticed the variation in colors between some of the birds with a light colored breast on a few of them. I was even spoiled by having one fly straight in towards me to land on the water and then proceed to dive under in the area in front of me. What a star!
Living near the ocean now means I have a lot of chances to see these great birds. Therefore, prepare to have a steady stream of cormorant related posts in the months to come. You may not love them like I do but hopefully the shots will be enough to avoid driving you away!
In a previous trip to Monterey, I saw some sea otters out in the bay near the aquarium. I was interested in heading back to try and get something a bit better than last time and that included taking along a lens that was a bit more up to the task. I had done a little research online about places where he sea otters are regularly seen and decided to go to Moss Landing which is further up the bay from Monterey itself. There is a marina there which was supposed to be popular with the otters. I had no idea whether this meant they were always there or it was just a good chance that they might show up. Imagine my surprise, then, to pull up and see two otters in the water right next to the road.
We weren’t the only ones paying them a visit. There were a few people around with some long lenses on display. One of the otters was pretty subdued and seemed to be focused on grooming while the other was a lot more active. Lots of twisting and diving was going on and the constant movement made tracking for a good shot a little harder than might have been expected. They aren’t the hardest target by any stretch of the imagination but when they are active, they really don’t stay still for long. If they are lying on their back and grooming, things are a little easier.
I didn’t just pay attention to the otters near the road. There were a bunch of them out in the entrance to the harbor feeding on the local shellfish. It was fun to watch them come back to the surface, start to feed and attract the attention of the seagulls that saw a meal for the taking and decided to have a go. Of course, sea otters have some pretty healthy claws and teeth so were not an easy mark for the gulls. They seemed to keep their prize but it didn’t stop the gulls having a go. Sometimes, they just seemed to sit and watch. Maybe they were just envious.
Getting a good shot of the otters was harder than I expected. With them constantly on the move, they always seemed to be lined up in the wrong direction. The back of the head does not make a good shot and they seem to blink a lot so, without the eye, the image looks less interesting. A bit of patience was in order. Also, using the long lens in close meant that the depth of field was shallow so a sharp eye meant a blurred nose and vice versa. I looked at both types of shot to see if it mattered and, while when looking at normal size, it didn’t make a big difference, the shots with the eye sharp did appear better. I guess that rule is not a bad one!