From this side of the water the perception of California is that it is very large and very loud and a bit over the top. In many respects it is:
(four locomotives at the front and two pushing from behind…get in there!)
Some of the sea creatures are equally as bullish and ‘in your face’, such as these magnificent elephant seals. They are not the most attractive of marine mammals, but it is great to see them ‘warts and all’ although some might say they might benefit from a shot of botox or a tummy-tuck (especially as facelift central, Hollywood, is only just down the road).
In California even the Curlew’s beak is bigger, when you might be forgiven for thinking that it was plenty long enough in the first place.
However the wildlife isn’t all big and bold. Some of it is quite quiet, small and subtle.
And California has an unbelievably pleasant and sunny climate (although it was pretty bad when we were there) and no end of wide open spaces. So in other words it’s got it all, which is really quite annoying.
It didn’t take long for us to find a kayak rental outfit, Monterey Bay Kayaks, at the neck of Elkhorn Slough, a sheltered creek that drains into the Pacific. Even better, Becky and I found ourselves paddling out onto the water on a OK Malibu Two, my original SOT kayak.
Although the weather had been dodgy, we managed to pick a good day for this memorable excursion. It was essentially still and sunny, so perfect for observing wildlife.
It was noticeable how tame all the wading birds and sea ducks were compared to the UK. Several were the same species as we get wintering around the coast in southwest England, but here they were completely unconcerned when we floated past a few feet away, whereas at home you are lucky to get within 200 yards of them.
I think the reason is that these birds are no longer hunted, and although shooting is decreasing in the UK it takes a while for the wariness to wear off. Or maybe the birds just know that this location is a protected refuge (a bit like Slimbridge in the UK). Interestingly dogs are very closely controlled here and must be kept on a lead at all times. Many are totally banned from beaches. It only takes one manic dog on a beach to terrify and cause havoc amongst resting shorebirds, and this only has to happen on a couple of occasions to make the birds avoid that beach completely.
What looked to be a random collection of driftwood across the other side of the estuary was in fact a raft of Sea Otters. Mega Excitement as we had never seen one before. Although most were chocolate brown, one had an almost completely white head.
Fantastic. I had hoped to sea a sea otter but never thought it would be so close. This estuary is a popular place for kayaking in the summer so the rule is that you must keep ten boat lengths away from the otters…if you can.
We passed a large haul-out of Harbour Seals as we paddled slowly up the estuary. Quite a fishy pong as we approached from downwind.
These Harbour Seals are a subspecies of the same ones found in the UK, but I have never seen one with such a bright ginger colouration as this:
The wildlife action just kept on coming as we drifted along with the incoming tide, supping tea. Lucky we brought our own tea bags (and thermos) with us from the UK, they are a bit tricky to find in the US as there is more of a focus on coffee and disposable cups in California (and the US as a whole).
We saw several new species:
It was just great to see the Godwits busily probing the mud along the shoreline as we floated past yards away.
This Black-necked Stilt took the biscuit as far as the shorebirds were concerned….what a beauty.
As we paddled past a creek which was flooded by the high tide, a Sea Otter emerged and swam past holding its paws in the air as if it was desperate not to get them wet. I suspect it had just spent a long time cleaning them and wanted them to dry thoroughly.
Sea Otters are the only exclusively marine mammal that are not surrounded by a layer of blubber to keep warm. Instead they have an incredibly warm coat, the most densely-packed and insulating of any mammal. It was the demand for this pelt that nearly led to their destruction when they were hunted to near extinction for nearly two hundred years until the early twentieth century.
Sea otters need to spend an awful lot of time cleaning and grooming this coat to maintain it’s integrity and thermal quality.
We watched this particular otter doing the most thorough brush-up we have ever witnessed.
In this video the alarming belching noise in the background is one of the local seals (NOT a result of a surfeit of fast food).
Although I hate cliches, ‘endearing’ is the appropriate word. I think it’s because of the feet.
…..to be continued…..