Carrizo Plain Christmas Bird Count

December 30, 2018 at 1:02 pm (Bird photography, Birds - California, California, California Central Coast, Nature, Nature photography, Photography) (, , , , )

Barn Owl at old Goodwin Ranch

I missed the Dec. 15 Christmas Bird Count with the Morro Coast Audubon Society due to acute bronchitis, so I was happy for the chance to do the one at Carrizo Plain National Monument on Dec. 29.

Barn Owl

I always hope for at least one new bird or one great photograph. I didn’t get my new bird (mountain plover) but I got some stunners of a barn owl. It’s not a bird I’ve seen a lot of, even though they’re quite common.

This was one of a pair the others in my group had seen in a tamarisk tree. The house resident said there are two pairs that normally take up residence in the old barns and granaries, which have fallen into disrepair.

Barn owl

Although the tree is right next to the house, this owl was extremely wary. Every time it flew into the tree and I got a good look at it, it flew out. I hated to keep harassing it, so I ended the game with a few nice images. There was a large nest in the tree as well, though it’s not certain if the nest belonged to the owl. With the plethora of available covered buildings, I doubt it, but they are known to nest in dense trees.


The count circle was divvied up into sections, and I went with four other women, two of whom had done that area before. Even though I had visited Carrizo several times, this was my first CBC there.

Red-tail hawk

We spent quite a bit of time at the ranch, as the birding was pretty good. The resident of the home had a bird feeder frequented by many lark sparrows and house finches, with some white-crowned sparrows thrown in. There were western meadowlarks, mourning doves, horned larks, and a variety of other usual suspects in the area. Even though there was a hill with many ground squirrel type holes, I couldn’t coax out a burrowing owl.

Western meadowlark

Although the morning started in the low 20s, it warmed to the 50s and a few lark sparrows sprinkled the soundscape with their buzzy melodies. Western meadowlarks also felt a tinge of spring in the air and let out a few notes as well. Meadowlarks tend to be more cooperative photo subjects when they are singing.

Western meadowlark

Horned larks

I saw many more horned larks during a Thanksgiving visit. They tend to travel in large flocks of 20-100. This was on the small side.

We also saw 10 Bell’s sparrows on the edge of Soda Lake. The heat waves distorted nearly all photos taken at any distance, so I don’t have one of these guys, but the distinctive feature at a distance was their very long tails which they cocked up like a miniature roadrunner when they scurried along looking for seeds.

I ventured out of our count area while the others returned to tally the results. I wanted to look for the mountain plover, which would be a life bird for me. No luck at the areas they had been seen in the past. But I did find this prairie falcon.

Mountain bluebird

Several mountain bluebirds were also in the area, and this one caught the sunlight just right.

The blue was absolutely neon!

Say’s phoebe

Say’s phoebes were also on the prowl, especially as the insects became more active as the sun warmed the landscape.

The roadrunner (beep beep!) had crossed the road in front of me, ran down a dry wash, and back out the other side at high speed.

Carrizo Ranch

There is a private ranch on the Sprague Hill Road, which offered some ribbons of green (alfalfa?) in the still-brown landscape.

Carrizo Plain National Monument Christmas Bird Count, Dec. 29, 2018
Carrizo Plain National Monument Christmas Bird Count, Dec. 29, 2018

Just a reminder: This is one of the public lands whose employees are either furloughed or working without pay. Shutting down the government is a tyrannical abuse of power and shouts “failure!” to those we sent to represent our best interests. Our natural, cultural and social heritage is too valuable and precious to be used as a pawn in power grabs. Pay attention to who and what you support, or these lands will just be another commodity for corporations to exploit. End of rant.

Photos and text copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre

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Christmas Eve Birding

December 26, 2018 at 5:15 am (Bird photography, Birds - California, California, California Central Coast, Nature, Nature photography, Wildlife) (, )

Black Oystercatcher

There was patchy fog in Paso Robles, and I figured it would be thick at the coast, but I was pleasantly surprised. I’d heard about some good birds at several of the Estero Bluffs State Park lookouts and wanted to add a few to my life list.

I was fortunate to find both harlequin ducks, although they were in different spots on the “Fig Tree” trail.

Black Turnstone

I also added the black turnstone to my life list and photo collection!

Peregrine Falcon

I couldn’t believe it was warm enough to wear a tank top. I’ve been out there on a summer afternoon when it was windy and darned cold!

Cayucos from the Estero Bluffs trail

I was happy to see some colorful-billed surf scoters riding the waves.

Then there were the usual suspects.

Yellow-rumped (Audubon’s) warbler showing its butterbutt
Turkey Vulture patrolling the shore

Juvenile double-crested cormorant

Before I made it back to the car, the fish scale clouds rolled in. I knew rain was coming, but I tucked in a short trip to the Morro Bay Marina boardwalk. It was uncharacteristically quiet, perhaps because of the incoming rain.

View of the Back Bay, from Morro Bay Marina
Morro Rock

Unknown shorebird

I gave myself a headache trying to figure which species the above bird was, but I’ll add its name when I find out. It was at Estero Bluffs, and I think it was about the size of the black turnstones. A gentle mist began by the time I was in the car, and we received another welcome dose of rain overnight.

Our coastal hills turn green in winter – thanks to the rain!

This is my favorite viewpoint on State Hwy 46 between Paso Robles and the coast. It’s starting to look like Ireland!

I hear “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” – the original version — is on TV now, so I must end this post to give my Christmas Day a proper ending.

Happy Holidays to all!

Photos and text copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre

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Faces Only a Mom Could Love

December 25, 2018 at 7:30 pm (California, California Central Coast, Nature, Nature photography, Photography, Wildlife) ()

Elephant Seal bull calling out a challenge

I’m recovering from a 3-week bout of acute bronchitis and needed to get my nature fix, so I spent Christmas Eve day visiting some of my favorite spots on the Central California Coast.

The Elephant Seal Rookery at San Simeon is seeing some early action during the winter breeding season, but there were far more bulls than maternity patients. Since there weren’t too many ladies to fight over, many of them enjoyed sprawling on the sand catching a few winks, their gnarly snouts wiggling as they snored.

There were occasional challenges, however, with heads thwacking and teeth slashing before one – usually the younger, smaller bull – backing down. The more grotesque the “trunk” and the thicker the neck, the more powerful the bull. Some young males choose to tangle with someone their own size, waiting for the day they can claim mating privileges.

Bellowing bull

Frankly, they look more like hippopotami (hippopotamuses?) to me.

The few moms on the beach had newborn pups squawking amid the din of barks and bellows. They will soon fatten on rich milk and will be joined by hundreds more moms and pups on the beach.

Watch the video and hear the racket!

The rookery is a very popular place, and many languages of amazement and awe were heard on the boardwalk that allows for safe viewing. Docents are often on hand to educate visitors and make sure they don’t bother the seals. The morning was stunningly warm. I’ve been at the coast on summer afternoons that were colder than this December morning! Oddly, rain came in before sunset.

Clash of the Titans

The birthing and breeding season will peak in January and February, and many elephant seals haul out on smaller beaches nearby. As with all marine mammals, care must be taken not to harass them by getting close to them. It’s bad manners, and also against the law. Enjoy them, respect them, and protect them.

Photos and text copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre

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Online gallery:  Smugmug and Fine Art America

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