Saturday, January 27, 2007

A Day at the Slough

The Adventure Begins!
Originally uploaded by egret's nest.
Well, an afternoon at the slough. Our school district gave us a semester break today -- and we took full advantage of it. We headed off on the hour drive to Moss Landing around 9:30 yesterday morning. All was well. Mom and I were chatting. The kids were playing with their Littlest Pet Shop Digital toys and happy as clams.

Until we got right between Aptos and Watsonville and hit a wall of traffic. "Oh, an accident," we said brightly. "Or roadwork." And we inched along. Past the last possible hope exit. Just as we got where we couldn't really get to it, I thought, "hmmm, wonder if I should have gotten off and taken that exit."

An hour later, we finally made it to where the road crew had been working about 1/2 mile beyond us over a big hill. Only they were done now. Unbelievable. As we got there, the traffic opened up and we flew on our way again. Trying to resist the urge to go 90 mph. After all, I suspect that "making up lost time" isn't a good argument in court!

So, we couldn't stop at the huge pottery place and price big urns for the backyard. Nor could we poke around in any of the antique stores in Moss Landing either. Sigh.

But, we did get to eat at Phil's Fish Market and Eatery. YUM! Utterly delish! I ordered their squid and chips. Both kids asked to try my squid which was amazing. I was pretty sure that Gage would try it but Ruthie did too -- her love of anything fried won the day, I'm sure. They both also tasted my mom's scallops. Also delish! But, I preferred my squid. I've been craving it since that horrible shoe leather (or overcooked shoe leather that tasted a bit off as my husband put it) I had in Monterey after we went to the aquarium. This was better!

And, then we were off to the Slough. Beautiful day for it -- overcast but not cold. Sweatshirts and light jackets were fine. We headed off in high spirits. The first bird we saw was singing away in a bush ahead of us on the trail. We stopped and looked through the bins and my camera. Couldn't tell what it was -- it was an unusual song though. Then Mom noticed it was blue through the bins. Hmmmm. We got closer -- brave bird, not concerned about us. The kids are being really quiet and good -- walking, not yelling. We get close enough and realize that it's a Western-Scrub Jay. Not even remotely rare or interesting. Nothing like a new bird for us. A common, everyday, rather annoying yard bird! Hilarious! Set us off on our adventures in good spirits!

We stopped at the overlook. Elkhorn Slough is a nature reserve that is being reclaimed. It was once a dairy and they have left the barns up. You see evidence of it's former life as you walk the trails. The Slough itself is where the fresh water drains down from the hills and collects and mixes with the seawater coming inland. Take a look at this map to see why this is such a special area:

Overview of Elkhorn Slough. The white rectangle in the middle is the barn where the barn owls live. The very regular inlets are part of the restoration effort. They are put in to give shorebirds a place to forage and rest while the slough is recovering from years of dredging. We walked across that causeway above the barn and around the south marsh there and back to the barns and then up to the visitor's center in the lower right corner.

Here is an overview photo I took:

Elkhorn Slough
Overview of the Slough from the lookout area. The barns are below us and you can see part of the South Marsh.

The first REAL bird we saw was tough to id -- largely because I forgot my field guide. Sigh. Anyway, we looked at it, saw field marks, and took pictures. When we got home and looked at them with the guides, we decided it was probably a red-shouldered hawk. Beautiful flying around kind of below us as we were still up high at the lookout area. And, off we went. We stopped at the barn where the Barn Owls nest but didn't see any signs of life -- other than about a bazillion owl pellets. We also saw about a thousand coyote poops on the trail around this area. Lots of life! (well, and, I suppose death! :)

Near the barn, we saw and heard lots of LBJs in the brush. They were adept at hiding and were probably mostly House Sparrows anyway but it would have been nice to know. Shortly after we got back on the trail, I saw this little lovely . . .

Hutton's Vireo Hutton's Vireo
Hutton's Vireo

I believe it's Hutton's Vireo. At first I thought it was a warbler but looking at the field guides, that big eye seems more like a vireo to me. It was small but VERY close to us. Thank heavens for the burst mode on my camera.

Next, we walked out to the water and headed out on the walkway. We saw a ton of shorebirds. The tide was out so it was very different than the last time we were there. We were closer to the shorebirds which was cool though. Saw Willets, Whimbrels, and Marbled Godwits for sure and then bunch of other sandpiper-y darlings that we couldn't ID even with pictures.

Willet Willet's wings
Willet and Willet with wings open.

The Willets amaze me. They look like these non-describe LBJ's until they fly and then you are dazzled by this flash of black and white. The wing picture isn't good but it gives you the idea. The Marbled Godwits looked all warm and carmelly. Gorgeous.

Marbled Godwit
Marbled Godwit foraging in mud and marsh plants.

We saw some buffleheads and eared grebes in the water nearby as well. And, then a very handsome bird of prey caught our attention. It was a White-tailed Kite. Amazing bird and not even remotely interested in letting us get close enough for a good picture. I snuck up on it but when I stepped out from the cover to get the shot, it was gone. I'm sure I will improve in this area but I did get this shots.

White-tailed Kite
The White-tailed Kite who was camera shy.

We wound our way back from this point. It was lovely and we saw some more birds but not close up or I didn't get the shot. We saw two woodpeckers -- Acorn and Downy. The Downy was very close but the light was all wrong and we were hurrying back to the center at this point.

We got back to the center and got a couple of goodies at the gift shop. I got a little backpack sized bird guide (by the Stokes!) so I'll have SOMETHING when I go out next time and forget my good guides. And, I got a gorgeous pewter barrette with a feather on it for my hair. Next time, I'll get this one -- amazing, isn't it?

From there, we headed home, made it to soccer, had a great dinner, and crashed for the night!


Sandy said...

Except for the traffic, it looks like you had a great day. Pretty there!

mon@rch said...

Wonderful day, many of those birds would have been lifers for me!

vicki said...

I'm all caught up now and I just have one question: What's in the Cioppino in a bucket?

Kidding. But I am all caught up. All the 7 year old energy! Phew! I'm jealous- I would like a tarantula like that.

This post is so rich with links and details and photos. The slough looks like a place to get lost in for days. Wonderful bird photos- I like the Willets, too. "Willets, Whimbrels, and Marbled Godwits"- sounds like something Lewis Carroll might write. :-)

vicki said...

P.S. Happy Birthday, Gage and Mom!

Mary said...

Girl, you did more in one day than I do in a month. You must be incredibly energetic. Good for you. What a great family day! Love the photos of birds I'll never see...

LauraHinNJ said...

Willets are one of the few shorebirds that I know - that black and white pattern on their wings and their call - love them!

Susan Gets Native said...

I want to go birding with you. All of those (except the house sparrows) would be lifers.
The Slough looks like a great place!

Liza Lee Miller said...

Hey, you all have an open invitation to come on out to the Central Coast. We have a birding oasis here. I'll take you to the Slough and then to Big Basin State Park. Birding-o-rama!