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Coastal California, Spring 2018: A mini-TR


Tdgraves
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I'm back from the KTP and whilst we process the photos, I thought I'd do a mini-TR for the week we spent in California in the spring. We were in LA at the end of April for a conference and we then spent a few days driving up the coast on Highway 1 (although most of the time we were not on this, as it is still being repaired after the landslide). It was our 15th wedding anniversary and so the emphasis was on nice hotels, but if there was wildlife and birds along the way, all the better. I was hoping to add to my BY thread.... 

 

But the main non-bird target was these guys, who we had never seen before....

 

 

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Which as you can see, we found!

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25/4/18

 

When we were in LA, we took a morning out to go to the Ernest E. Debs Regional Park, where there is an Audubon centre. This is really close to where we were staying and although you could hear the road and occasionally see buildings, it is a real getaway from the city. It seemed to be popular with walkers and joggers. There was a small information and visitor centre with bathrooms, but admission was free. We were slightly concerned when a staff member saw us with a camera and asked us what we had seen, when we had only just arrived at about 9.45 am! He seemed to think we would be lucky to see any birds at this late hour...

 

We had a lovely walk, which winds it's way up and then down a hill, which took about 2 1/2 hours, during which we positively identified 24 birds and also caught a glimpse of a bobcat, something that we had also never seen before! This park is a little oasis in a large urban metropolis and we really enjoyed our morning there.

 

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tbc

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offshorebirder

Looks like you had a nice trip @Tdgraves.   Wonderful photo of the Sea Otters and very nice bird pics as well.

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LA to Santa Ynez

 

I had planned a relatively short drive on the first day, as I wasn't sure what time we would be able to leave the conference. Santa Ynez is in wine country and given the relatively short drive from LA, has prices to match. We stayed at Santa Ynez Inn, which was nice, but I felt was overpriced. We had an excellent dinner at the Santa Ynez kitchen, which was packed on a Friday night.

 

En route to Santa Ynez, we stopped at Goleta Beach Park, near the UC Santa Barbara campus. This was also popular on a Friday lunchtime. We had a fabulous lunch at the Beachside Bar, an unpretentious diner on the beach and were lucky to get a table. Highly recommended. This beach was chosen for its' birds as it is on a small estuary and the first bird we saw after parking was an acorn woodpecker. The rest were more predictable water birds with 16 species seen.

 

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Not bad for wandering around for an hour or so. It was a short scenic drive through the mountains to the hotel

 

TBC

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Morro Bay

 

This is one of the hits when you search sea otters, so we had high hopes. Being away, we had forgotten that it was a Saturday, so the place was heaving. As predicted by google, there was a small group of sea otters sheltering in the harbour. All of these shots were taken from the sea wall with a 100-400 lens. There were a couple of boat tours (where I assume that they also showed you other marine life), but they did not get any closer than us to the sea otters

 

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It is surprisingly difficult to photograph these creatures as they float slowly on the ocean :wacko:

 

These guys were hanging around looking for hand outs....

 

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and of course, some birds

 

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We now had a very long drive to Big Sur, as the closure of highway 1 added about 100 miles to the journey. It was a pleasant drive though a large valley, where it seemed a lot of Californian produce is grown - strawberries and lettuce when we were there. The final 25 miles or so was on highway 1 and I thought google maps was wrong (for the first time ever) when it told us that we had another hour to go, but, as usual, it was correct. I hadn't realised how bendy the coast road was! Of course, you also had to allow for the many tourists stopping for photos. There were still wild flowers growing and the blue skies and ocean views were stunning - but I didn't stop for a photo opportunity...

 

TBC

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Wish google maps was that reliable for me...

Lovely sea otter pics. :) Really like the two hawks in the same shot as well too. Coastal california is beautiful, and I noted the huge amounts of agriculture (esp lettuce!) being grown as well in my own trip there in 2015. Must say how polite those gulls are as someone who's lived on the UK coast on and off the past 5 years too!

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Congratulations on the Wedding Anniversary.

The otters are amazing animals. And lots of birds!

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Big Sur

 

This was the big splurge of the trip and a surprise for the OH (TBH most of the trip was, as he paid less than the usual attention to trip planning, following his Dad's death). I have always wanted to stay at the Post Ranch Inn, since seeing a leaflet, in Hawaai of all places, probably about 15 years ago. When I initially started planning this trip, I looked at their rates and immediately discounted it (shame that they don't ;) ). However, the more I thought about it, the more I decided that we needed to go. When would our next chance be, given the 15 year lag? Life is too short, right? Anyway that was my justification, but fee free to use your own. It is a stunning 5 star hotel, hotel being the wrong word and resort gives the wrong idea, collection of high end cabins and rooms in the woods on the edge of a cliff is more accurate. He was suitably impressed when we were driven (yes, driven) to our stilted cabin. The restaurant is rightly acclaimed and has glass walls so that you can enjoy the precipitous drop to the ocean. We had a stunning meal in the restaurant and speedy and tasty room service burgers in front of our open fire on the second. This was supposed to be the relaxation part of our trip. However, it was the Big Sur marathon, so we were awoken at about 6am by repeated tannoy announcements on the Sunday morning, but were able to get back to sleep. This also meant we were "trapped" in the property until the last runners had passed, as Highway 1 was closed to traffic. After a leisurely but filling buffet breakfast with an omlette chef making food to order, we decided to go on a walk around the property. It is fairly extensive and took about 2 1/2 hours from memory, mainly of woodland and open meadow, with rising and falling terrain. We only met other people by the pool....

 

The first bird we saw was a small family of California quail

 

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This was the bird I was most excited to see. We heard them on our first day, but on our way back from the hot tub on the second night, they were next to our cabin.

 

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Some wild flowers

 

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and other wildlife

 

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california mule deer

 

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The view inland

 

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We also had an astronomy session with their telescope, the largest in a hotel in the USA apparently.....

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At least you were trapped at Post Ranch! :)

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@Tdgraves, great report.  I love the fact that the turkey was your most wanted bird.  Those of us who live (or lived, in our case) in California just take them for granted.  I remember having a work meeting once and watching a couple walking in the parking lot.  The meeting room had a glass door to the outside.  Then I lost sight of them.  Next thing I know, one of them appeared at the door and started bobbing it's head while it stared in at us.  Made me laugh out loud.  Best meeting I ever had...

 

Alan

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On 10/5/2018 at 9:11 PM, Patty said:

At least you were trapped at Post Ranch! :)

 

I can think of many worse places to be trapped!!

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Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

 

This was one of the few places where we had to pay to enter, although I think it was only about $10. There is a rather confusing sign saying "car park full" which may discourage visitors, but as the place is designed as a sort of loop, with lots of stop off points with parking, I think this would have only affected those wishing to do a day hike.

 

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There was a protected beach that you could look down onto, where harbour seals were looking after their pups

 

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There was a heartbreaking scene where a mother of a dead pup kept calling it and encouraging it to move :(

 

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The birding highlight was probably the breeding colony of Brandt's cormorants

 

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As you can see, the sun doesn't always shine in California, it sometimes becomes obscured by the "marine layer" aka fog....

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Carmel-by-the-sea etc.

 

We stayed at the Auberge de Carmel, courtesy of some United miles which were just languishing in my account. This is a converted old (old for the USA ;)) building, the main draw being their restaurant, Aubergine, which was excellent. The smallest restaurant I have ever been in, 7 tables from memory.

 

First stop was Carmel river state beach

 

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And because that was cold in the marine layer and not much was going on, we though we'd do the 17 mile drive to Monterey, which we could do in the car. Something else with an entrance fee, but I'm not really sure what for. This is a tourist trap with lots of buses etc. must be a nightmare to live there...

 

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There were seals and seal lions around the peninsula, but I have no decent photos of them.

 

We then went to our next overnight stop, Carmel valley village. This was really close by, but amazing to see the difference in climate. It is back into wine making areas with tight valleys and high hills. We had barely driven 5 miles when the fog lifted and the temperature rapidly climbed. We stayed at Bernadus Lodge, which was quite large and very popular. It is on a vineyard, so included a wine tasting - it would've been rude not to. An excellent sauvignon blanc.

 

In the hotel grounds...

 

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We had another nice dinner and a good nights sleep.

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Elkhorn Slough

 

This is a prime birding area on an estuary. I guess this is all tide dependent, as the majority of the birds we saw were land based! There is usually a small entrance fee, but for some reason it was waived on the day we visited. We had a good walk and only met a couple of other people once we left the visitor centre.

 

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A good place to spend a few hours and we certainly felt we had done a good walk, as it was up and down hill.

 

TBC

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Moss landing beach/harbour

 

Another place which is a hit when you search for sea otters online and as it was on the way to San Francisco, it had to be done. The entrance is very poorly signposted and we just turned as we saw yachts. There were a few cars parked and some people looking into the harbour, so we stopped where they were - bingo!

 

This one fancied a bit of time on dry land...

 

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One of the crowd saw our "large" lens and told us that there were whales off of the beach. I think we probably would have wandered onto the beach if he hadn't told us, but this was an added incentive and bonus.

 

Whale photography is even harder than sea otter photography and these are all courtesy of the OH, who had more patience than me :angry:

 

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There were two whale watching tours boats, so you could kind of guess where the whales were, by watching them move, but I'm not sure that I'd want to be on this yacht :blink:

 

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There were also some sleepy seals in the harbour

 

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A good stop off indeed!

 

TBC

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The Sea Otters are so cute! A good selection of birds, and well done to OH for whale photos.

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Do these see otters ever do anything else apart from lying on their backs looking cute?

 

?

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@Tdgraves, that was a great stop!  Love the otters of course and very well done with the whale shots.  A photo of a breaching humpback from the shore is NOT easy.

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40 minutes ago, Peter Connan said:

Do these see otters ever do anything else apart from lying on their backs looking cute?

 

?

 

@Peter Connan yes - they swim around pretending to be seals (they look very different when wet)...

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Oh, wow! I've managed to miss breach shots from a boat :P Breaching whales have capsized kayaks off of Moss Landing. The slough is the only place where otters regularly rest on the sand.

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