Place: Osos Flaco Lake State Park, Arroyo Grande, California
Coordinates: 35.029038, -120.617459
Length: about 2.2 miles to beach and back.
The universe works its magic constantly. Sometimes I am fortunate to tap it too, and be aware of it in real time.
Last Saturday I made a wonderful discovery: the Oso Flaco Lake State Park and beach. I went there with minimal prior knowledge and preparation, and absolutely no expectations. And I found heaven.
We had spent the previous night at Santa Maria, after two failed attempts at camping. (Coming down from Mt. Pinos on Rte 166, we found Valle Vista Campground filthy with human trash and overrun with fire ants, and Aliso Park with people who were happily shooting firearms in the campground, where a clear sign stating 'No Hunting, No Shooting, was posted. Attn. Los Padres National Forest!)
With Papa Quail on a personal tour overseas, it was me and the chikas on our way home from a week-long visit to Southern California, and I had promised them, and myself as well, some beach time. Wanting to avoid the weekend crowd of the popular beaches I continued west on Rte 166 from Santa Maria, and north on Hwy 1 past Guadalupe, to Oso Flaco Lake SP, which I found on a quick search online.
All I wanted was a couple of hours of quiet beach time before hitting the road on the long way home. Well, I got that, alright. And a lot, lot more.
The beginning of the trail didn't promise much. A boulevard of dune willows, interlaced with poison oak, blackberry and bull nettle (i.e. hostile vegetation), with wide pavement in between.
I didn't see any bears. However, looking closer at the path side did show some interesting flowers:
|Pacific Potentilla (Potentilla anserina ssp. pacifica)|
And indeed it was :-)
|Redsepal Evening Primrose (Oenothera glazioviana). Not native.|
|Oso Flaco Lake, view north|
|Oso Flaco Lake, view south.|
(The photo below I took on our way back: the heron stood there for the entire time we were at the beach!)
"A rail!" she exclaimed.
I pointed my camera and took a series of photographs. Sure enough - there it was - a rail. A very elusive, hard to see bird. It was my chika who also nailed the species down: "A Virginia Rail. It's smaller than the dowitchers," she said. She sure takes after Papa Quail :-)
The water of the Oso Flaco Creek slow down at the dunes barrier and well behind them to form the Lake. A large area of the water was thickly grown with algae.
|It reminded me of the end of 'The Voyage of the Dawn Treader'.|
The water was as calm as were its fish. The only ripples were made by a pair of dragonflies in procreation, the female dipping her hindquarters in the water, rippling it as she laid her eggs.
I didn't expect to see much bloom this late in summer. I was happy to find myself wrong.
I promptly replaced the high zoom lens with the wide angle lens. My neck thanked me.
|Branching Phacelia (Phacelia ramosissima)|
|Common Sandaster (Corethrogyne filaginifolia)|
More at the beginning of the dunes trail: the dune ragwort, with inflorescences that look like someone has been playing, 'Love me, love me not' with.
The large dune on the horizon called 'Devil's Slide' looked very alluring. Another time I'd like to walk all the way there.
|Oso Flaco Dunes, view to the south.|
Some of them also sport some very bright and beautiful flowers!
|Beach Evening Primrose (Camissonia cheiranthifolia ssp. cheiranthifolia)|
|Red Sand Verbena (Abronia maritima)|
|Oso Flaco Creek and lagoon|
|Great Blue Heron|
The corner of the lagoon functioned as a busy spa. I saw there California gulls, western gulls, Heermann's gulls and ring-billed gulls. There might have been other gull species there, but gulls are on a higher level of birding which I and yet to achieve.
I assured my chika that the plover will return, and went back to the strand line. Across the stream, not far from where we chose to sit, was a large group of shore birds that were running in and out of the water line. Most of them were sanderlings but upon close observation of the photos at home, Papa Quail had identified some sand pipers among them.
I watched them for a long time, mesmerized by the graceful gliding motion of the little birds on the wet sand, and their perfect timing with the waves. It looked like a masterpiece choreography executed to perfection by a huge dance troupe.
The sanderlings were not doing this for joy alone. They were foraging. Their sturdy, straight beaks perfectly suited to pluck from the wet sand those bite-size morsels called sand crabs, or sand diggers.
When I turned my attention from the birds to my chikas, I noticed they were doing the very same thing: hunting sand diggers. And they too were very successful. (They did release the critters, though.)
|A hatful of sand diggers|
I didn't nap for long. The beach, which was almost deserted when we got there, started accumulating more people, and those kept scaring the birds into the air.
I kept observing, and then I saw the plovers return.
"It has leg bands," he observed. "That alone means it's a snowy plover."
We did compare with the book, of course. And indeed it was a snowy plover: an endangered shorebird species. There were two of these that I saw, and only one of them had the leg bands.
Papa Quail expressed his jealousy loudly. He had never seen snowy plovers. Well, he'll just have to come hiking with us more often, right?
Meanwhile, sanderlings that were scared off the spot across the creek had landed on our side, very close to where I was sitting. Finally I had a good look at them.
|Sanderlings and a Heermann's Gull|
|Pacific Brown Pelicans|
|The Osprey with the Catch of the Day|
|Heermann's Gull, adult and 2 juvenile|
Eventually I had to get back into the role of the responsible adult. I also remembered I still had a 4 hours drive yet ahead of me. Luckily, by the time I told the chikas it was time to go they were ready and came along without any fuss.
|The overgrown lagoon behind the dune.|
|Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja affinis)|
Oso Flaco Lake State Park is located south of the renowned section of Hwy 1, therefore out of the way for the regular crowd of tourists. The mile-long hike to the beach also serves to deter most beach goers whose only interest is the ocean itself. Other than a toilet (vault) near the beach, there are no amenities there at all. No life guard, no trash receptacles, no drinking water, no picnic tables or sitting benches. The beach is a s wild as could be. As it should be. But if coastal wilderness is your thing, it is the best that can be. I have no doubt I will revisit that place. And next time I'll be bringing Papa Quail along. I just hope the plovers will wait for him :-)
Many thanks to members of the California Native Plants Society for their help in identifying the verbena!