Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The waterways of Morro Bay

Date: Sunday, January 20, 2013
Place: Morro Bay State Park, Morro Bay, California

A blue day in Morro Bay
Occasionally we give our feet some rest and move about with the power of our arms. That January Sunday in Morro Bay was just gorgeous, so our friends and us wend down to the park's marina, rented family canoes, and spent nearly the whole day on the water.
Morro Rock
Our 'family' canoe was, in fact, a large duo canoe where two little folding seats were placed in the middle for the chikas. We sat in there, myself in the front, the elder chika behind me, the younger chika behind her and Papa Quail in the aft.
After a wobbly start and a stern warning to the chikas not to lean over the water and have our canoe capsize, we headed out northward toward Morro Rock, where the park's docent had told us we could see otters.
Nearly immediately we spotted this lovely kingfisher perched over the water.
Belted Kingfisher
On the rocks below the trees stood a great blue heron. Papa Quail, who was in dispute with the little chika on who should be using the paddle eventually yielded to my prompts and photographed the bird.   
Great blue heron
We had this sitting arrangement with the idea that Papa Quail would do most of the power rowing. In reality, his paddle was most of the time in the hands of the little chika, who was very zealous about rowing, but not very efficient. So, most of the time I did the rowing and Papa Quail got busy photographing the wildlife :-)
Common Loon
The tide was low and we had to work hard to avoid some sand bars that were very close to the surface. The west shore of Morro Bay featured a wide mud flat between the water and the sand dunes. 
Low tide at Morro Bay
 Numerous birds were scattered along the mud and next to it, in the water.We spent some time floating close to photograph some of them.
Marbled Godwit
At some point we beached on the west shore and sat down for a snack break. To get to the dunes we had to cross a section of flat, wet sand that sank deeply under our feet.
 I'm pleased to say that none of us was swallowed by quicksand.
The dunes themselves provided a great opportunity for our chikas and their friends to run around and get all their wiggles out before returning to the confinement of the canoes.
Dunes of Morro Bay peninsula
Eating in peace turned to be a bit of a challenge. The wind and the children blew sand on the food, and a very persistent gull insisted on getting a share of our food.
Western gull
We weren't the only ones pestered by hungry gulls. We were very excited when we spotted an otter. It was busy eating a shellfish.
Sea otter
And those cheeky gulls were pursuing it, occasionally attempting to snatch the booty from its paws.
Remember that scene from the movie 'Finding Nemo'?
The town's yacht marina is located at the north part of the bay. We had to carefully maneuver among them. It was easier for the waterfowl to do so.
Red-breasted merganser, male, breeding.
One of the floating rafts turned to be a good resting spot for sea lions. They were sleepy, yet quite noisy.
Sea lion bulls.
We beached again at the north part of the bay and sat down to bask in the sun and watch the children search for crabs. A small gaggle of geese floated by and Papa Quail got very excited - we had never before seen this kind!
Brant
After a short hour we returned to the canoes and rowed back to the park's marina. Not before saying goodbye to the group of cormorants that were basking on a nearby float.
Pelagic Cormorant and Brandt's cormorant (right)
What a wonderful, relaxing day that was! I definitely recommend this activity to families who visit Morro Bay. Hang on to your hats, though! We spent at least 20 minutes in retrieval of Papa Quail's hat that blew into the water.

Non of us fell into the bay, and the hat is ok.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

There's a Black Hill we had to climb: At Morro Bay State Park

Date: January 19, 2013
Place: Morro Bay State Park, Morro Bay, California
Difficulty: Easy to strenuous.

Whenever we drive south on Hwy1 we go by Morro Rock, standing out on the ocean's background, on the north side of Morro Bay. On the weekend of Martin Luther King's Day we joined our friends for camping at Morro Bay State Park, on eastern shore of Morro Bay.
We arrived on Saturday afternoon and built our camp. Our friends, who were there since the day before, were hiking somewhere at the nearby Montana del Oro State Park and we looked for a nice, short trail to hike until sunset. We selected the Black Hill trail that begins right at the campground and leads to the summit of the 661ft high Black Hill.
The Black Hill trail, labeled in yellow. 
This is our destination, as seen from early on the trail. There was some grumbling among the chikas when I pointed it out to them, but they were quelled when I suggested climbing the much higher hills of Montana del Oro instead.
The Black Hill of Morro Bay State Park
The first part of the trail is flat and easy, meandering in low chaparral. The aromatic smell of sage and artemisia in the air was strong. I enjoy this coastal perfume very much.
There were quite a few pine trees along the way. One of them had some dead, fallen branches underneath. I liked the pretty spirals of its pine cones.

Dead pinecones encircled by new growth
As we started ascending, we got a very good view of the delta of Chorro Creek, all covered with rusty salt marsh vegetation.

The Morro Estuary

A little further inland the creek made a nice S curve in the vegetation.
Chorro Creek
We reached the road and crossed it. A bit further up the hill we came into a Eucalyptus grove where awaited us a most spectacular sight: a huge aggregation of Monarch Butterflies.
From afar, they looked just like some rusty leaves, shimmying.
Clusters of Monarch Butterflies.
A close look revealed many clusters of butterflies, hanging off the trees, fluttering vibrantly.
A cluster of Monarch Butterflies.
Eucalyptus trees are non-native in California, but the Monarchs love them. These aggregations can be found in many a Eucalyptus grove along the California coast, also in the Bay Area. But it was our first time to see them in such quantities. We were very impressed by the sight.
A close-up of a few butterflies
Eventually we managed to move away from the enchanting butterflies and continued uphill. At that point, the trail becomes steep and slippery. We had to aid the little chika who kept slipping on the loose gravel.
The climb was strenuous but the view on top was worth all the sweat!
Southwest: Morro Rock

Northwest: the delta of Chorro Creek - Morro Estuary
And between the summit rocks bloomed this pretty Hummingbird Sage:
Salvia spathacea
We hung around at the summit for some time, enjoying the view and the lovely weather. Meanwhile, the sun was descending and at we were about to go down, I thought to photograph it's gleam off the ocean and the bay. The sun itself is outside of the picture and the image colors are artificially darkened by the camera in response to the brightness. In reality, it was still very bright and blue, both sky and ocean.
Sun glaze on the water, Morro Bay and the Pacific Ocean beyond. 
On our way down I noticed that the Eucalyptus trees near the summit provided a gathering place for yet another winged animal - dozens of crows decorated their upper boughs. I couldn't quite get them all in the photograph so you'll have to believe me :-)  Unlike the butterflies, these birds were very vocal.

We backtracked the same trail, and on the way down I took the time to observe the surrounding a bit more carefully.
I took notice of the extensive 'beard' of lichen that decorated many of the trees:
Lichen 'beard' hanging off a pine tree
But I liked especially the developing baby pine cones.

The sun beat us to the horizon and we arrived back at the campsite just past sunset. The trail is about 2.5 miles and the hike took us, in leisure, about 3 hours.
The campground of Morro Bay State Part is well developed and clean. It is, however, very crowded without any trees or bushes to provide any sense of privacy. Also, there is no separation between tent campers and RV campers and we had to suffer the generator noise of the RV in the neighboring site. I admit I much prefer the more desolate National Forests campgrounds.
Our friends came back shortly after and we had a very nice evening together. In the morning, we enjoyed the warm sunshine just like these turkey vultures on a nearby tree: