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11-31 October 2002

Part 14:  Lake San Antonio to Big Sur

(Please note: the photos on this page were scanned from a printed Publisher document, as the original Publisher file was somehow corrupted...please excuse the lousy quality, but it's better than nothing!)

I was a little apprehensive about the timing for today's excursion, seeing as I had planned to do Lake San Antonio plus the Big Sur Coast, but it turned out perfectly.  Got to the lake right around sunrise and slowly cruised some of the campgrounds, quickly discovering that the BBB wasn't kidding when it said they had a huge population of Mule Deer: they were all over the place, including several stags with good racks!  (One was even spotting the volleyball net...)  Best "campground" bird, though, was a couple of Turkeys gobbling at each other!  More California Quail zipped across the roads by the dozens as well.  The most incongruous bird was a Great Blue Heron stalking his way through the oak woodland (maybe he was hoping for a ground squirrel...)!


Turkeys in the shadows and ubiquitous Mule Deer (male, obviously, on right)


Bambi guards the volleyball net while a Great Blue Heron cruises the campground

They had a little mile long nature trail that was very nice; the mosr action was at the picnic area half way around.  Both towhees hopped around, as well as a family of California Thrashers and a couple of Wrentits; it was kinda fun seeing these three similar brown chaparral birds together!  A White-crowned Sparrow feeding on the ground jumped straight up when a thrasher with breakfast came tearing through!  Back at the car a Bobcat went tearing across the road at breakneck speed; what a look!


California Quail; fog over the lake; Spotted Towhee


Moss drapes the oaks along the nature trail, while deer feeding beneath a euc make for a picturesque scene!

Wandered over to Harris Creek, which was by far the best viewing of the lake bird-wise.  It was a little cove with several Coots and Mallards, but also several White Pelicans and Western Grebes.  And this place was almost as good as the famous 101 Rest Stop: the magpies were all over, just putting on a great show!  The steam and clouds over the lake gave an ethereal effect, and as I found more boat launches and spots to view the lake (including a one-way fishing access road), added DC Corm, Eared Grebe, and California Gull to the list.  At the visitor's center had yet another Chippie in with the Whiteys and the token Goldie; gee, maybe I should tell David about this???  (According to the range map they should all be gone by now...)


Left:  Harris Cove.  Right:  Fog over the lake creates an ethereal feel


This is a great place for Yellow-billed Magpies!


Left:  No, that's not a waterspout (wish it was--a hair got in the camera...)   Right:  Great Blue Heron where he's supposed to be...


Views of the lake from Lynch Hill Road

White-crowned Sparrow with oak savannah habitat across the way

I wanted to try and get out of there around 9:00 to start heading over the Nacimiento-Fergusen Road to the coast; the ladies at the park wanted to dissuade me, I think, as they explained that by going by way of Paso Robles was just as fast, and besides, you have to go through Fort Hunter Liggett and they'll want your driver's license, registration, birth certificate, great grandma's social security number, etc. etc.  But since that was the plan, I opted to stick with it, and I'm so glad I did: besides the nice Ferruginous Hawk on the way out, it wasn't bad at all going through the fort: a very nice lady did ask for my driver's license and registration, but that was to fill out a visitors form to let me on base, and she told me exactly how to get to the road!  And I had barely made the turn when a big, beautiful Golden Eagle came tearing in to a tree!  After awhile he got fed up with the Ravens hassling him and took off again, but what a show!


Golden Eagle (being mobbed by a Raven on right)

The habitat was beautiful through here (oak savannah), and there were lots more magpies, but once out the other side of the fort you're in the Los Padres NF (glad I had my Forest Adventure Pass), and while the road is narrow and windy as the gals had warned me, it was only 15 miles to the Coast Highway, so that made it a perfect birding road!  I stopped every mile, and it quickly went into luscious riparian woodland following the Nacimiento River, where in addition to the expected stuff picked up Winter Wren for the trip, and another cute Red-breasted Sapsucker!  After awhile you rise up into the hills (I hesitate to call them "mountains" after Yosemite et al, but this is after all the Coastal Range) and got the Steller's Jays, and I thought I may have had a Pygmy Owl calling, but I always associate them with much higher elevations, and the dickey birds didn't seem to be upset (as opposed to when I tried whistling back and they all got irritated, especially a wing-flicking Hermit Thrush!).  One local Calbirder was convinced I did have a Pygmy Owl, because he's gotten them in those mountains on a number of occasions.


Nacimiento-Fergusen Road through Fort Hunter-Liggett.  Once into the Los Padres National Forest you follow the Nacimiento River

    Coastal Range at the summit

Coming down the other side was glorious: it was mostly chaparral with some patches of grassland on the very tops of the hills, but there were also some patches of deep woodland where the road would do hairpins, and it was in one of these patches I had a knockout male Townsend's Warbler!  You shortly saw the Pacific Ocean, and the vistas were marvelous; the hawks liked it, too, as a pair of Redtails came in close, a Sharpie flapped alongside me for awhile, and yet another Golden Eagle sailed overhead!  Kept an eye out for one of those condors, but only had TVs, alas.


Red-tailed Hawk heading down towards Big Sur


First views of the Coast Highway along Big Sur

Once I hit bottom I headed south to find the "Gorda Overlook" mentioned in the BBB, which indeed gave you a distant look at some pinnipeds way down there on the rocks, but I can't help but wonder if something got lost on the way to the publishers, because I know from a previous trip that several miles south of here just into SLO County there's a terrific pullout (complete with Brown Bin sign) where you can virtually walk right up to the Elephant Seals!  And that spot is not described in the book, so I couldn't help but wonder if that's the overlook they really meant to describe.  I plan on stopping there on the way home Friday; it's too good to pass up! [Update: I did stop there and they've really expanded it, adding all sorts of interpretive signs and even picnic areas, but they now have a fence up so you can't go down to where the animals are; it's probably just as well, but you still get terrific looks at them.]

From there I headed north and stopped at a few vista points; some were better than others, and at one especially good one had Brandt's Cormorants, Brown Pelicans, and a lone Black Oystercatcher.  At the Big Bridge (don't know what creek that is, but everybody stops there to take pictures) had a slough of gulls including a couple of Mews for the trip.  At a couple of stops you could make out Chestnut-backed Chickadees making noise, and a Savannah Sparrow popped up in one patch of Pampas grass.  I pulled into Julia Pfeiffer Burns SP just to get a bozo off my bumper, and picked up a huge flock of Band-tailed Pigeons wheeling overhead, just like you see city pigeons do!







One of the famous historical bridges along the Coast Highway






More knockout scenery

Made it to Big Sur right around three, just in time to check into Big Sur Lodge, which is right inside Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.  This is a terrific place to stay (if you can live without phone or TV; the cabins are comfy, clean, modern, and spacious, and you have your own little balcony out back), and boasts a roosting tree for the reintroduced California Condors.  Alas, they didn't decide to come in that night (although an Osprey cooperated instead), but I didn't have to go far for a wonderful roast duck dinner and a cup of delicious coffee/chocolate ice cream with coconut and macadamia nuts!

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