Carrizo Plain in November

January 1, 2019 at 6:01 am (Bird photography, Birds - California, California, California Central Coast, Nature, Nature photography, Photography) ()

Carrizo Plain National Monument, California

This image reminds me of Zabriski Point at Death Valley. I visited Carrizo Plain National Monument in Central California the day before Thanksgiving 2018. The most stunning natural phenomena that day were the lenticular clouds forming stacks of flying saucers due to the turbulent atmosphere preceding a rare rainstorm.

Lenticular clouds stacked like pancakes

I jazzed it up quite a bit for the top image, but the clouds weren’t that dramatic.

They were more like this
Lenticular cloud

I’ve seen these clouds regularly over Mount Rainier. They usually meant rain or snow within 24 hours. However, out here, the rain came within a handful of hours.

Bell’s Sparrow

The Bell’s sparrow, along with the Sagebrush sparrow, split from the former Sage sparrow. Visual differences are hard to figure sometimes, but the songs are a bit more distinctive.

Loggerhead Shrike
Prairie Falcon

If you compare the landscape along the Sprague Hill Road with the previous post taken a month later, you’ll see how quickly that rain helped to green up the landscape.

In another month or two, there will be wildflowers blooming!

Carrizo Plain National Monument, California
This was just outside the monument.
I’m not sure what the rock composition is to make this patch so distinctive

Carrizo Plain National Monument is administered by the Bureau of Land Management, and offers a very different landscape from that of the rest of San Luis Obispo County.

Carrizo Plain National Monument, California

Let’s hope for a good winter of rains, to bring back the green to the hillsides. To cover the plain with flowers. To keep drought at bay.

Happy New Year!

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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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.

Kestrel

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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Website:  CindyMcIntyre.com

Online gallery:  Smugmug and Fine Art America

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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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Website:  CindyMcIntyre.com

Online gallery:  Smugmug and Fine Art America

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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

Feel free to reblog or share

Website:  CindyMcIntyre.com

Online gallery:  Smugmug and Fine Art America

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Whales!

November 20, 2018 at 4:05 pm (Birds - California, California, California Central Coast, Nature, Nature photography, Photography)

Humpback whale diving. Notice the barnacles and what looks like kelp growing on the tail!

My friend from Maine and I went on a whale watch tour with Monterey Bay Whale Watch, Nov. 13. We saw several humpback whales and a pod of orcas (killer whales.)

A closer view

Although I lived in Tacoma, Washington for 18 years, I had never seen orcas. So this was a new experience for me. Read the rest of this entry »

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Hi Mountain Lookout

October 15, 2018 at 7:27 pm (Bird photography, Birds - California, California, California Central Coast, Nature, Nature photography, Photography, Uncategorized, Wildlife)

Cinnamon-colored American Black Bears
When I found out from the Morro Coast Audubon Society that the Hi Mountain Condor Lookout was having an open house, I cut my Eastern Sierras trip short and drove home so I could learn about the work being done to save California condors from extinction.

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Summer Fog

September 18, 2018 at 5:00 am (California, California Central Coast, Nature, Nature photography, Photography)

A “marine layer” of fog along the coast

Paso Robles is always the HOTTEST town in the Central Coast in summer. It can be 106 in Paso and 66 degrees 20 miles away on the coast. Consistently. Read the rest of this entry »

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Tule Elk at Their Finest

September 15, 2018 at 2:48 pm (California, California Central Coast, Nature, Nature photography, Photography, Video, Wildlife) (, , )

The biggest herd of elk I’ve ever seen under control of one alpha male was along the Pacific Coast Highway just north of San Simeon, California the first week of September. He ruled over 35 cows and half-grown calves, with 10 other bulls – some with huge racks – grazed peacefully. One scrawny male challenged him while I was there. Take a look.

The first part of the video was in mid-afternoon, so the heat waves interfered with the quality. But I returned an hour before sunset for the best light, and they were closer to the road. A few horses even joined them in grazing.

He spent a lot of time rounding up his harem in a fairly tight bunch, so no interloper could snatch them away.

The testosterone keeps the bulls pretty wound up, and he made a few mating attempts with a cow who seemed receptive. It seems the females also mount the males as well, which could be a sign of affection and desire. Watch the video if you don’t believe me. Read the rest of this entry »

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Mission San Miguel – Birds

September 1, 2018 at 5:00 am (Bird photography, Birds - California, California, California Central Coast, Nature, Nature photography, Photography) (, )

Cliff Swallow

This is the 4th in a series of photographs of Mission San Miguel, California.

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Mission San Miguel – Crosses

August 31, 2018 at 5:00 am (California, California Central Coast, Photography) ()

Mission San Miguel, California

This is the third in a series of photographs of Mission San Miguel, California.

Mission San Miguel, California

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