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11-31 October 2002

Part 16:  Elkhorn Slough

The next day was a blessing in disguise: my original plan was to explore the Carmel River area, and then go back to Pt. Lobos to finish up.  I know the area under the Highway One bridge is supposed to be good, but after seeing all the gang scrawl there I just didn't feel comfortable wandering around down there by myself, especially at the crack of dawn (plus a guy in a pickup followed me to the area and was circling around, giving me the look over, so I just parked and listened for five).  So I went to the parking area for the state beach, and that was locked up!  So since Pt. Lobos didn't open till nine anyway, I pulled out the handy dandy BBB to see what was nearby that I hadn't planned on seeing, and Elkhorn Slough appeared it be it!  I was thrilled, as I had heard so much about it, so up to Castroville I went.  Only I had another unpleasant surprise when I got to the place: they didn't open up till nine, either!  Fortunately they had maps of the area at the gate, with other accessible birding options listed.  Nearby Kirby Park had "nature observation" listed under its activities, so up I went. 

On the way up there the road crosses a little bit of the slough, which was just full of stuff!  I found a place to pull off and scan, and enjoyed tons of Least Sandpipers and Black-necked Stilts, among other things.  A little further down the road was another pullout and a wider expanse of slough to look at, so from there enjoyed lots more ducks and shorebirds, the highlights including Cooper's Hawk, Avocet, Blue-winged Teal, and Bonaparte's Gulls.  Further out were just tons of egrets feeding!  (You also take your life in your hands along this road; they really go tearing past!)


A piece of Elkhorn Slough next to Elkhorn Road  

Pulled into Kirby Park, which had a delightful paved pathway and boardwalk through the salt marsh!  The interpretive sign boasts of Clapper Rails, but evidently they haven't been seen in the area for about 20 years.  Had great views of all sorts of shorebirds, including Western Sandpiper (which was new for the trip, surprisingly), both curlews, godwits, Short-billed Dowitcher, and fairly cooperative Marsh Wrens.  The shrubby stuff on the way out had some very cooperative Myrtle Warblers; in fact, most of the Butterbutts here tended to be Myrtles.  Savannah Sparrows joined the Songs, and one almost looked like a Large-billed, but not up here, I don't think!  In the waterbird department, Ring-billed Gulls guarded the boardwalk railing, and both Elegant and Forster's Terns were farther out.  The Least Sandpipers were nearly within touching distance, but when they all suddenly took off (and I hadn't been moving), that could have been only one thing, and sure enough, a Merlin came whizzing in low!  I was so excited: that made for a falcon sweep for the trip!


A wonderful paved trail and boardwalk at Kirby Park takes you right into the slough where you can see Least Sandpipers!


L-R:  American Goldfinch (in much duller winter plumage); Western Gull; Savannah Sparrow; Long-billed Curlew


Ring-billed Gulls on the boardwalk and Least Sandpipers under it!


"Myrtle" Warblers (aka "Eastern Butterbutts") were more numerous here than their western counterparts, the "Audubon's" Warbler


Common Yellowthroats


Left and center:  Marbled Godwits;  right: Marsh Wren 

By the time I finished there the Slough should have been open, so I tootled on back and picked up a trail map at the visitor's center.  Like Andrew Molera, all trails leave from the parking lot, so I decided to make one big loop of the three loop trails they had, and boy did I get my exercise!  You start on a bit of a hill, and you wind up going down to water level on all three trails, but they're all wide and well-maintained, and it was just a delightful walk.  A Golden-crowned Sparrow sang "Three Blind Mice" starting out, and this time the chickadees were just a tad more cooperative and actually allowed more lingering looks!  American Goldfinches were more cooperative, and though the trails are mostly through grassland, you do go through patches of oak and eucalyptus woodland; got Acorn, Hairy, and Downy Woodpeckers in here, as well as the chickadees and titmice.  The waters were rather barren compared to Kirby Park, but had a foursome of lady Buffleheads in one little finger, and a mess of Mallards in Cattail Swale.  One overlook into the South Marsh gave a great view of a couple "islands" of birds which included both Brown and White Pelicans and Double-crested Cormorants.  A scrunched-up Great Blue Heron had me fooled into thinking it was a White-tailed Kite (bad light, you know)!


Brown Pelican flying by the South Marsh at the Preserve


The two wintering "crowned" sparrows: immature and adult White-crowned (left) and Golden-crowned (right)   


Female Buffleheads


Left:  Oak woodland along the South Marsh Loop Trail;  Center:  Grassland along the Long Valley Loop Trail;  Right:  Horned Bunny-Pheasant on display at the VC

After that death march I treated myself to a T-shirt and pin, then headed on down to Carmel River SB; I was sorely tempted to stick around and check out Moss Landing, as many of the birds they had listed as either "common" or "uncommon" would have been good for the trip, but I had originally planned to bird Carmel River, so I dutifully headed south, figuring I could catch up on the rest of the Elkhorn Slough area on my next trip.  The gate was open now, but alas there was nothing new bird-wise: lots of gulls put on a show in the lagoon (including a few Mew), and the waves pounding on the beach created geyser-like effects, which was neat, and a White-tailed Kite (for real) hovered over the area.  Three kinds of blackbirds hung out at the sign, but alas I couldn't pick out any loons or winter ducks out to sea; oh, well.


Next stop, with Official Icterid Greeters (Brown-headed Cowbirds, male on left)


L-R:  Brewer's Blackbird; Red-winged Blackbird; Golden-crowned Sparrow (token Emberizid...)


Carmel River Lagoon and associated birds...


L-R:  White-tailed Kite; Killdeer; Western Gulls (1st year bird at left)


Heermann's (left) and California Gulls

Headed towards Pt. Lobos when I saw another pair of birders on the beach, so I pulled over and checked out the gull flock they were looking at; nothing unusual, but I did manage to get at least one winter duck at the stop: a nice male Surf Scoter!  The couple was from back east, and after chatting a bit they mentioned that Pt. Lobos was closed due to repaving!  So much for checking out that Bird Island spot!  You could walk in, though, so I decided to head on down and hike over to Granite Point to see if I could at least kick up more rocky shorebirds. 

Both sides of the highway were lined with parked cars when I got there (everyone else had the same idea), so I joined the throng and headed on in, but once in the woods I felt pretty secluded, surprisingly!  Nothing new for the trip, of course, but added P-Nuts, Creepers, kinglets within touching distance, and Winter Wren for the day in the woods, and out on the rocks a few more Black Oystercatchers whistled and flew.  Another couple pointed out a big group of Harbor Seals hauled out (they so blended in with the rocks I didn't even notice them), but I couldn't find the Sea Otters the ranger told me about.  Both Brandt's and Pelagic Cormorants were all over, of course, but I missed my turn and wound up going all the way back to the state beach!  A Say's Phoebe had claimed the rock out here in the middle of the grassland, but it was getting late, and I couldn't remember if they were closing the park at four or five, so I headed straight back, not stopping for anything (except some juncos when I was almost back to the car).  I was shot, but today's list beat 'em all, with a whopping 94 species! 


Back to Point Lobos for a wrap-up trip: Coal Shute Point and Granite Point


Harbor Seals blend in with the rocks, while a Black Turnstone and Willet hop the rocks


L-R:  Black Oystercatchers; Bewick's Wren; Ruby-crowned Kinglet; female Junco  

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