(as far north as I could go)
I drove all day Friday. It was the longest day single day of driving for this entire trip (368 miles). I left early from my camp at Gray Lodge, had breakfast in Yuba City, then drove Highway 99 to Fresno where I got off on the 41. Further south, where the road began its crossing over the coast hills, the 41 merged to the 46, which carried me to the coast near Cambria. When I set out in the morning, I thought I’d punch through to the Pacific Ocean at Morro Bay. This was better, as it is a but few miles south of San Simeon, a destination I’d been considering for this trip. I’d have driven here south through Big Sur, but the road has failed due to landslides this spring in three places. It will be at least a year before the route is passable again.
The road pull-outs along this stretch of coast are all rudely marked with signage for no overnight parking (county regs). There is a state run camping facility where you can dry camp for $18 and I opted to try that out. It turned out to be pretty painless. In fact, I stayed a second night tonight, giving me the whole day to explore to the north, at least as far as Piedras Blancas.
Saturday morning started off clear, sunny and beautiful. The marine layer fog was parked well out to sea. I drove the road north, all the way to Salmon Creek.
Piedras Blancas has long been a favorite stop for me along this stretch of coast. Not only do Northern Elephant Seals haul out, even giving birth in December, I have met interesting birds here in the past. I once found a Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher here. I made two stops at this location this day, once moving north, and again coming south. My northbound stop was at “rush hour” when a crush of tourists were queued up waiting for a chance to experience the views from the north end of the south parking area. Notable was the large gathering of Heermann’s Gulls. I’d heard the population of these birds was in trouble due to problems at their breeding grounds at Isla Raza in the Gulf of California. Yet here on this small patch of sand with the seals were several hundred of them.
After my morning visit here, I drove north to Salmon Creek, where the highway was blocked due to construction to rebuild the road lost to a landslide a few miles north on May 20th. On my way north I encountered a small herd of elk and I stopped to observe. Guarding a group of 35 cows was one dominant bull. All the pretenders were parked at the far corner of the pasture with their backs to the boss. Love was in the air. There were Wrentits, gnatcatchers (probably Blue-Gray), Spotted Towhees and Nuttall’s Woodpeckers in the roadside chaparral, but none wanted to pose for the camera.
Returning from the north, I stopped again at Piedras Blancas and found Black Oystercatchers a little nearer than I’d seen them earlier in the morning. I did my best to capture images in spite of the challenging back-lighting.
The birds I saw between San Simeon and Salmon Creek were: Heermann’s Gull, Western Gull, Black Oystercatcher, American Crow, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, Savannah Sparrow, Black Turnstone, Whimbrel, Sanderling, Double-Crested Cormorant, Brewer’s Blackbird, White-Tailed Kite, Cooper’s Hawk, Red-Tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, Brown Pelican, gnatcatcher, Dark-Eyed Junco, Western Scrub-Jay, Spotted towhee, Great Egret, Great Blue Heron, European Starlings, Brown-Headed Cowbirds, Wild Turkey, Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Wrentit, Western Bluebird.
My next post will be about my day at Morro Bay, where Sea Otters with babies captured much of my attention.