Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Trip through Carrizo Plain National Monument

Crossing the Temblor Range

On the second day of our post-Thanksgiving road trip, we headed inland from the coast to Carrizo Plains National Monument, in hopes of finding some pronghorn antelope. We did find them, but I didn't get any good images (they were too far off) -- but maybe I'll tack one or two onto a later post, anyway. During the afternoon we drove a loop of what was basically the entire length of the park, and in the southeast corner, we crossed over what I believe is the tip of the Temblor Range. After driving for over an hour in what was more desert than grassland, it was a true delight to take this tiny dirt road over these hills. The view from the top was just spectacular!

Late afternoon in Carrizo Plain NM

As a note to anyone interested in visiting the park (which I do highly recommend!), the roads are not well marked, and we missed this turnoff, as it looked like any of the other non-descript dirt roads.

Far away sights

This is a place I would love to spend more time in -- it gave me a great appreciation for plains ecosystems (something I have not spent much time in), and it would be awesome to photograph these magical grasslands during the golden hours of light. While I don't have any pictures to show, I can tell you that the park took on a whole different and truly spectacular character as the sun rapidly approached the horizon. The tips of all of the grasses just lit up, and it almost looked as if snow had covered the ground. We got to experience this beautiful scene from the car, as we raced the last of the light to get out of the park and back to a farming field we saw on the way in that had the pronghorn in it. To our delight, they were in the same area at the end of the day, and we were able to watch them through the binoculars until it was finally too dark.

Grasses at the top

Monday, December 7, 2009

Curlew dancing in the wind

Curlew dancing in the wind

The storm system we followed down the coast kept the winds strong all day, but they were the worst when we got out of the car in Morro Bay. I had planned the trip to get us to this area so that I could look for some birds to photograph in the late light, and the timing worked out perfectly. Unfortunately, the strong winds made it hard to stay out on the beach! It didn't stop blowing, not even for a second -- it was just a constant force against your body.

Curlew shuffle

It was bad enough for us walking around on the beach, but I can't even imagine how hard it was for the handful of curlews I saw along the beach. They were leaning at odd angles while they walked, and feathers were flowing in all directions.

Ruffled by the wind

In the end, we only spent a short time on the beach -- just enough to snap off a few shots of some curles -- before deciding to try our luck at a location further inland.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Along the coast in Big Sur

We had a really nice drive through Big Sur over Thanksgiving weekend -- it was the first time that I have done the whole distance, and I didn't realize how much of the area is forested. As it turns out, Los Padres National Forest covers nearly 2 million acres of the Big Sur area, and 220 miles of coastline!

Big Sur Coastline

We stopped for lunch in a large pull-out area on a bluff-top overlooking the water near a sign that mentioned something about sea otter habitat (we didn't catch it all as we drove by). While we didn't see any otters (or at least any that looked different from all of the bobbing kelp!), we did get nearly blown away by the strong winds. All day we had been at the trailing edge of a storm that was heading south down the coast as well, which made for some pretty skies of sunshine and storm clouds for most of the trip, but also kept things really windy.

One interesting thing of note at the pullout is that there were two "chairs" made from some giant tree stumps that had been placed to look out over the water. In the short time that we were parked there (by the stumps since it was at the end of the lot) no fewer than three cars also pulled into the area then got out and took their pictures on the stumps, then left. I'm not sure if they realized they had an audience or not, but we got to watch each group brace themselves into the wind, pose with hair flying everywhere, then move on. Not to be outdone, we took a few shots on the stumps before we left as well.

From the beach

These pictures were taken at a small picnic area just a few hundred feet further down the road from where we picniced in the car -- go figure, right? It had access to the beach, were we were able to watch the gulls take flight and hover since they weren't able to fly into the wind. (Also, in the frame above, the stump chairs were up on the cliff top with the tree.)

Friday, December 4, 2009

'Tis the Season


Its an exciting time of year along the central California coast -- the elephant seals are returning to the rookery beaches for their winter antics of fighting, mating, and having babies.


My trip last weekend was still too early to see any of the big blokes, but there were a few rambunctious youngsters who did a little play fighting while we were there.


Thursday, December 3, 2009



A Thanksgiving weekend road trip brought me down through Big Sur on CA-1 to Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo. Although we got to the Piedras Blancas Rookery in the middle of the day and the light was harsh, it was still fun to snap off a few shots of the young seals that are starting to gather there. No really big males yet, so mostly tiny noses around the beach.