And the road goes on forever...

Friday, February 12, 2010

Coastal Wild Life

Part of the glory of living at the coast is the abundance of wildlife. I thought it would be fun to show our readers some that I have managed to capture on camera as we went about our activities.

Let’s start with our Charleston dock walk the other day where we followed the barking voices to get up close with some sunning California sea lions. They were enjoying the sun as much as us!

The sea lions major haunt is the rock reef near Cape Arago named Simpsons Reef. It’s possible all year to view hundreds, if not thousands of them hauled out and resting, with their cacophonous barking carrying far out on the sea wind. The sea lions mix with the smaller harbor seals in the port waters, where we frequently see babies with their mothers.

I’m no bird expert and the one that is most numerous in the area and some would say a total nuisance is the seagull. They are frequent companions to our boat out on the water since they seem to learn quickly and know that every time a crab pot is pulled Marc will be tossing the old bait and re-baiting. As the tuna goes flying through the air they frequently catch it on the fly with spectacular aerial dogfights amongst themselves. One year I watched a nest perched atop a boat with two tiny babies which took over two months for their fluffy fuzz to mature into a downier feathering. At about three months, although they were nearly the size of their parent, they still had not flown and were dependent upon her for food. In the bird word I would call this a long childhood. As immature youngsters, they are a mottled brown, only turning their typical white and grey as mature adults.

The next most numerous birds we spot are the pelicans. There was a recent report that the young pelicans in Oregon are starving and no one seems to know why. They generally work an area of the water in groups, dive bombing for their food and then moving on to a new section. Seagulls frequently move in immediately and peck at their faces in an attempt to capture the fish that a pelican seems to rarely miss and thus many times we see the pelican with his beak low in the water, seeming to protect his catch. They are clumsy fliers with a friendly, comical expression.

Various breeds of egrets and storks quietly work the waters but are generally shy and don’t stick around for pictures. Once, I even happened to spot an American bald eagle circling the ocean with a group of seagulls although they didn’t take kindly to his presence. And of course, there are many species of sea ducks, cormorants and even a loon one winter.

For us, the most appreciated wildlife is that available under the sea. Tidal pools are always interesting to explore and at very low tides, various sea stars, anemones, mussels and barnacles are exposed on the rocks and pilings.

We have most familiarity of course, with the Dungeness crab and its lesser thought of cousin, the red rock crab. The rock crabs have extremely hard shells which splinter into tiny pieces upon cracking so they are vastly under-appreciated for their more buttery flavored meat than their famous cousin. They also have very aggressive attitudes and the way this specimen keeps his claws ready to grab anything that comes within reach is an oft seen pose.