Lagniappe

May 28, 2020 at 7:03 pm (Bird photography, Birds - California, California, California Central Coast, California wildflowers, Nature, Nature photography, San Luis Obispo County, Wildflowers) (, , )

Western bluebird male

Lagniappe often means “a little of this, a little of that.” Since I have many hangers-on images that didn’t quite fit into a themed blog, I’m tossing them all in here like a stew.

Mrs. Western Bluebird

This sapsucker-drilled tree has a cavity just perfect for this pair of western bluebirds.

A pair of hooded orioles enjoyed a snack in Paso Robles

Hooded orioles
Hooded oriole
Vineyard and hayfield – Cuevas Vineyards
I haven’t seen too many of the rectangular bales until recently
Vineyards stay green when the grass goes brown
Corner of State Hwy 1 and Hwy 46, Cambria
Great horned owl, Sweet Springs Audubon Preserve, Los Osos
Golden eagle (?)
Juvenile bald eagle and golden eagle, Lockwood CA
Juvenile bald eagle
Sunset, Penman Springs Vineyards, Paso Robles

Now, my files are cleaned out!

Photos and text copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre
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Website:  CindyMcIntyre.com
Online gallery:  Smugmug and Fine Art America
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Big Sur

May 27, 2020 at 7:16 pm (Birds - California, California, California Central Coast, California wildflowers, Monterey County, Nature, Nature photography, Photography, Wildflowers) ()

Nacimiento-Fergusson Road overlooking Big Sur

I’ve driven the challenging Nacimiento-Fergusson Road from Fort Hunter Liggett to Big Sur two or three times before, but last weekend was the first time I’d started in Big Sur going home.

The N-F road had been closed by the Los Padres National Forest because there were complaints of too much traffic on the Pacific Coast Highway (State Hwy 1, aka Big Sur Highway) during the COVID-19 lockdown. The campgrounds had already been closed and folks were availing themselves of road pullouts or wherever they could to camp.

iPhone pano from the stairway overlook of Sand Dollar Beach

They felt that closing the N-F Road would cut down on tourism. I’m not sure it worked. My housemate and I wanted to also explore the Cone Peak road that branches off the N-F Road, but that remained closed. Even so, we had a lovely trip. The N-F Road is narrowest on the scariest part of the road, where you may need to move way over along an unprotected cliff edge if encountering another vehicle. But I just go slow and anticipate the folks turning corners by taking a little too much of my lane.

Band-tailed pigeon

One of my goals has been to get Marilyn a band-tailed pigeon for her life list. Here was one of three perched alongside the highway at Sand Dollar Beach. The parking lot didn’t open until 9 a.m. but we walked in anyway.

Turkey vultures

A pair of turkey vultures waited for the thermals to make soaring worth their while.

A few short trails led to viewpoints, but we were most interested in the flora. The path to the stairs had a deep erosion rut in it, which made it a bit difficult as I only had my beach sandals on.

Sand Dollar Beach

Sand Dollar Beach had no actual sand dollars, and even though it is known for its jade, we didn’t see any. (Much of it has already been absconded with illegally.) There was, however, plenty of the California state rock, serpentine.

Serpentine and barnacles

Many rocks harbored mussels, snails, and barnacles, with little collections of shrunken anemones trying to hide in the wet sand until the tide came back up to nurture them.

Cliff swallows had a colony on one of the cliffs just offshore.

Cliff swallow nests
Cliff swallows in their nests made of mud
North edge of Sand Dollar Beach

We always like to be out very early to avoid crowds, especially during the pandemic. It’s also the best time for photography and birdwatching.

Marilyn

There were very few seashells, but there were some interesting rocks washing up with the tide. I loved the black rocks dotted with a different mineral, some of which had a quartz sheen.

There were also a few wildflowers.

And some very small sea urchins.

Sea urchin

I was also fascinated with the delicate seaweed.

We had lunch at the Whale Watcher’s Cafe in Gorda, where the employees wore masks and required the same of their customers. That suited us just fine! We ordered fish & chips to eat on the outdoor patio (where tables had appropriate social distancing) and agreed the food was delicious.

Our table, and view

Another beautiful day in paradise.

Photos and text copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre
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Website:  CindyMcIntyre.com
Online gallery:  Smugmug and Fine Art America
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Southern Monterey County

May 21, 2020 at 8:33 am (Bird photography, Birds - California, Butterflies, California, California Central Coast, California wildflowers, Monterey County, Nature, Nature photography, Photography, Wildflowers) (, , , )

Nacimiento-Fergusson Road at Fort Hunter Liggett
Same view same time last year

The Los Padres National Forest re-opened the Nacimiento-Fergusson Road and I had a hankering to explore one of my favorite areas in Central Coast California.

Jolon Road

The forecast called for light rain in the afternoon, and the fish scale clouds (and a few lenticular caps) verified the prediction.

A lone tree I’ve always wanted to photograph, and the clouds gave the opportunity

My route to work pre-COVID was along Jolon Road, bordered by vineyards and hilly pastures. I was surprised how quickly the rain-enriched greenery had already changed to its golden summer wardrobe.

I wanted to find three things for Marilyn, who is staying with me until she is called back to her volunteer job for U.S. Fish & Wildlife. A nice herd of tule elk was one. We didn’t get to see them up close, so we settled for this view through the oaks.

Tule elk, Jolon Road at Fort Hunter Liggett

This was another herd, in a most beautiful setting. I had hoped that with a huge reduction in military training due to COVID, the elk would be more numerous and closer to the road. Not this time.

Mission Road

Although our goal was “The Indians” area of the Los Padres National Forest, we did a little detour to one of my favorite landscapes – the one at the top of this post. Last year the foreground was filled with lupine, and I treated a birder friend to that view.

The above hillside is directly behind us. We can go months without even a wisp of a cloud (fog doesn’t count) so it’s a joy to have a cloud-filled landscape to make the difference between a photo taken and not taken.

The Indians

After leaving the Fort Hunter Liggett boundary and crossing into the Los Padres National Forest off Del Venturi Road, we were at “The Indians.” Several dirt roads branch off the main road, perfect for dispersed camping.

The trailhead is a short distance from the entrance, and the rocks make for easy climbing to look for grinding holes, also known as mortar holes.

I opted for the easy trail that led to another section of rocks bordering a small creek.

A black-tail doe bounded ahead of me and posed beautifully, framed by the large valley oaks common to this area.

Valley oak bark is distinguished by the “tiles”

Although there were no picturesque fields of wildflowers, there were a few treasures.

The creek flowed through a narrow rock canyon, and at one end my friend, seeking access to soak her feet, inadvertently scared off a water ouzel (American dipper) that flew off with an angry protest.

There was also a smattering of the Santa Lucia sticky monkeyflower growing out of the rocks.

Santa Lucia sticky monkeyflower

There was also a perfect grinding hole.

We explored some of the dirt roads, including the one that harbored the harlequin lupine, the second target of our outings.

Harlequin lupine
Marilyn photographing a harlequin lupine
Acmon blue female
Overcast light is my favorite type

Since we were now very close to the mountains, the mist-laden clouds drizzled us off and on, adding to the character and mystery of the place. When we drove home, we left the mist behind.

Del Venturi Pond offered several pairs of ruddy ducks in prime breeding plumage, red-winged blackbirds, western bluebirds, violet-green swallows, and a great-tailed grackle. We didn’t find target number three: the band-tailed pigeon. I guess we’ll have to go back!

It was another great weekend in paradise, Central Coast California.

Photos and text copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre
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Morro Rock-Otters & Birds

May 11, 2020 at 5:45 am (Bird photography, Birds - California, California, California Central Coast, California wildflowers, Nature, Nature photography, Photography, San Luis Obispo County, Wildflowers) (, )

Mom and baby sea otter

Photographers like me like to go out early in the morning when the birds are active and the people aren’t. Marilyn and I headed out to Morro Rock, part of Morro Bay State Park on Saturday, with a stop at my favorite California viewpoint off Hwy 46.

Looking toward Morro Rock, well hidden in fog

As is typical of summer, the coast is often shrouded in fog on mornings when it is sunny and headed for hot weather in Paso Robles.

Heading out

In addition to having a special character, fog also evens out the light and is makes it easy to photograph the sea otters, which are so contrasty in the sun. It’s also great light for photographing birds.

This little family was aware of a swimmer in a wetsuit headed their way.

The otters just came right back after the swimmer passed by

Otters are almost always found here, wrapped in the kelp or diving for food. The babies by now are big enough to be nearly indistinguishable from the adults, but are still close to their moms.

The rock has one or several peregrine falcon nests as well, but we didn’t see them. However, there were perhaps 200 western gulls perched on guano-stained ledges, and I saw one bringing nesting materials to a potential nesting site.

One of the most remarkable birds there is the canyon wren, and we heard two males singing their song mostly associated with desert canyons.

Canyon wren male staking out his territory

There was also a Bewick’s wren singing, too.

Bewick’s wren

You can hear them in this somewhat shaky video. (Using a Nikon D750 handheld with 200-500mm lens, trying to look through the LED screen instead of the viewfinder, is a nightmare.)

Canyon and Bewick’s wrens singing

Another birder also pointed out a bushtit nest. They resemble a “dirty sock” as she called it, and I would never have recognized it as a nest. The parents kept bringing materials in to finish it, but they were sneaky and fast, so no photos of them.

Bushtit nest

There were three black-crowned night herons fishing on shore.

The California ground squirrels were so used to being fed they waited expectantly when people passed by. However, we do not feed the wildlife, so they didn’t get a tip for their portrait.

Around 10 a.m. it started getting “crowded” – which in this era of COVID-19, doesn’t take a lot of people. Almost nobody wore a mask, and as we walked back to the car, a river of people flowed toward the beach – many of them not socially distancing and obviously not families. We were glad to leave.

We went to the Morro Bay State Park Marina to continue our birding foray and to wait for the Bayside Cafe to open for take-out lunch (Marilyn’s treat!)

White-crowned sparrow with band

Although it’s a mecca in winter, the birds were few today. However, it was a Global Big Day for birding and we dutifully entered every bird we saw in eBird. White-crowned sparrows are so plentiful we hardly react to them, but this male begged for his portrait, and neither of us realized it had a band until we edited our photos.

Male bushtit

A pair of bushtits were also making a nest, which we didn’t find, but saw the birds flitting back and forth. We enjoyed a lovely lunch in the car, overlooking the bay, having called in our order for spicy green chile soup (yum!), Baja fish tacos, the battered fish sampler, and tres leches cake. Of course we used sanitizer, especially when using the bathroom (for the doorknobs).

On the way home we stopped at the rookery across from the golf course and found cormorants nesting. It never occurred to me that they nested in trees. There were also several blue herons there as well, but I’m not sure if they had nests. As far as we know, they are double-crested cormorants.

It was a lovely, lovely day.

Photos and text copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre
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Website:  CindyMcIntyre.com
Online gallery:  Smugmug and Fine Art America
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Estero Bluffs

May 8, 2020 at 6:23 pm (Bird photography, Birds - California, California, California Central Coast, California wildflowers, Nature, Nature photography, San Luis Obispo County) (, , )

A partial fogbow

Estero Bluffs is one of my favorite places along the California coast. The best trail for me is this one, by the windmill. On this morning, it was the second trail of the day for my friend and me.

Windmill and oaks

The fogbow was a bit of magic that added to the beauty of the oaks and windmill.

So we spent some time documenting this fleeting beauty before heading down to the beach. It was a great trail for me, as I had hip replacement surgery six weeks earlier and didn’t require a lot of up and down.

American goldfinch male

There was a smattering of wildlife on the grassy prairie on the short walk down to the beach.

I found a little vole munching on some greenery.

Red-winged blackbirds were in full regalia.

The best reason to visit this beach, however, is that it is a breeding spot for the endangered snowy plover.

Male snowy plover

The nesting area is roped off, and if there were any nests we were not in a position to see them. However there were three unbanded and one banded adult.

Banded male snowy plover

A small flock of whimbrels was at the waterline along with sanderlings and one least sandpiper.

Whimbrel

A female harrier took a break from scouting for breakfast.

The yellow flowers are invasive mustard, which makes up for its displacement of native plants by being so darned beautiful.

Fogbank

There weren’t too many people this early in the morning. In normal times I prefer this anyway, but in the COVID-19 era it’s a matter of safety.

Forget the narration… just enjoy the rest of the images!

Another nice treat was that my favorite Mexican restaurant El Chorlito in San Simeon was open! For carry-out only, of course. It was the first restaurant meal I’d had in about three months. We drove to an overlook along the beach and ate in the car. I normally eat on the patio to enjoy the succulent garden, but at least we got to enjoy the stunning flowers while they prepared our meals.

View of Hollister Peak from Hwy 46 viewpoint on the way home.

I will post the cool fogbow pictures from our first trip to a beach in Cayucos next. Altogether I walked 3.5 miles! And my leg (the one with the new hip) was only a little swollen the next day! I had the BEST surgeon.

Photos and text copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre
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Website:  CindyMcIntyre.com
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Carrizo’s Mini-SuperBloom

May 1, 2020 at 8:02 am (Birds - California, California, California Central Coast, California wildflowers, Nature, Nature photography, San Luis Obispo County, Wildflowers) ()

I’ve been to my beloved Carrizo Plain National Monument twice this Spring hoping the late rains offered up another Superbloom such as last year’s.

A field of goldfields

For the most part, nope. In early April, though, my friend and I were treated to a small herd of pronghorn does and a Bell’s sparrow lifer for her.

Thistle sage

We didn’t go any further south that time than Panorama Road, which we took off Soda Lake Road to Elkhorn Road and back out. This time, however, I wanted to give her a California condor and find some desert candles for me. We were skunked on both accounts.

However, one stretch of Soda Lake Road in the southern end was a show-stopper. Last year’s hillside daisies which were the dominant flower were scarce, now overshadowed by the short shag-carpet goldfields. Fields of phacelia were non-existent. Instead were clusters of vivid thistle sage, Salvia carduacea.

A wildflower bouquet with thistle sage

We took several side roads to explore this new abundance. Several folks were dispersed camping – which last year was my very favorite area to camp because of the big skies, colorful landscapes, and scarcity of other humans.

One interesting phenomenon was the two types of flowers that encircled many of the Mormon teas. White fiesta flower is a tangle of small white flowers that gives a lacy frill. Another was the Parry’s mallow, a lovely lavender cupped flower ringing the base. The Parry’s mallow Eremalche parryi is endemic to California, and the subspecies kernensis is federally endangered. However I don’t know whether this is the Kern mallow (below), although it is known to be found in this same area.

Parry’s (Kern?) Mallow, Eremalche parryi

Here’s how it looks:

Parry’s mallow ringing the Mormon tea

Picturesque clouds were scarce, so we pounced on this one.

Western meadowlark

Maybe I will make one more trip before the dry season sets in for good, to see what else makes an appearance. Stay safe!

Photos and text copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre
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Website:  CindyMcIntyre.com
Online gallery:  Smugmug and Fine Art America
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Shell Creek Wildflowers

April 30, 2020 at 7:51 am (Bird photography, Birds - California, California, California Central Coast, California wildflowers, Nature, Nature photography, Photography, Wildflowers) ()

Lupine, purple owl’s clover, California poppies, tidy tips

There’s a street famous in these parts for its bounty of wildflowers. Shell Creek Road is off Highway 58 between Paso Robles and Carrizo Plain National Monument.

Purple owl’s clover, lupine, silver puffs

Why does this stretch of California have such a lush profusion of color when the surrounding fields and hills remain sparsely flowered?

Early April – carpet of goldfields

Perhaps it was left untilled and relatively undisturbed, since much of the countryside is either vineyards or pasture.

Lupines and silverpuffs, late April

During this time of COVID-19 pandemic, places such as this can be a healing balm, as long as folks keep social distancing from strangers.

Thistle sage

As Spring moves from March to May, the types of dominant flowers change. They also change depending on the amount of rain during the winter.

On nice weekends the place can be overrun, which is unfortunate. People wade through the flower fields, creating spider webs of trails and defeating the magnificence of an untrammeled carpet of natural color.

So enjoy the flowers here, or from the roadside, taking care not to destroy the very beauty you seek.

Savannah sparrow
Western kingbird

Photos and text copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre
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Website:  CindyMcIntyre.com
Online gallery:  Smugmug and Fine Art America
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Hummingbirds

April 23, 2020 at 6:59 am (Bird photography, Birds - California, California, California Central Coast, Nature, Nature photography, Photography, Wildlife) ()

Female Allen’s Hummingbird and lilac

This spring was the first I had noticed some unusual hummingbirds at my yard feeders.

Male Rufous Hummingbird

Unlike the mostly iridescent green-backed Anna’s hummers that are year-round residents, these sported a lot of rusty coloration.

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Vineyards

April 22, 2020 at 5:37 pm (California, California Central Coast, fine art photography, Nature, Nature photography, Photography) (, , )

During this time of quarantine, it’s nice to go on a “road trip” to the place you live.

Especially since we are told not to venture too far from home anyway. Since I live in wine country, my housemate and I explored the countryside in its Spring finery.

The hills of Paso Robles and San Miguel were perfect subjects on an overcast April morning.

If I could upload the birdsong that emanated from this tree, you could enjoy the celebratory mood as well.

Hog Canyon Road

Photos and text copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre

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Website:  CindyMcIntyre.com

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Love of Carrizo Plain in the Time of COVID-19

April 7, 2020 at 8:00 am (Bird photography, Birds - California, California, California Central Coast, California wildflowers, Nature, Nature photography, San Luis Obispo County, Wildflowers, Wildlife) ()

Pronghorn females

I have visited Carrizo Plain National Monument about a dozen times and this is the first time I saw pronghorns. I guess it helped that it was not a people-frenzied super bloom year, as last year was, and it was also in the midst of the Safe-at-Home era of the COVID-19 pandemic, so running across them was more likely.

Two pronghorn does

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