Wednesday, October 12, 2011

habitat ~ 10/12/11 ~ Morro Strand State Beach

posted 10/28/11 - It was so hot and windy when we arrived in Morro Bay. It hit 92.8°F! After setting up camp, I suggested we go to the beach to cool off a bit. Morro Strand SB is a flat 3-mile beach with gentle waves. It's great for bird watching, beach combing, and tide pooling (when the tide is low). It was also once known as Atascadero State Beach, the name I remember as a child when my dad would surf fish here.

Andy and I first "discovered" this lovely beach when we camped back in June of 2009. Usually we prefer to camp at Morro Bay State Park where we ended up on this trip. Hey, I like being able to scope out individual campsites and check out any potential neighbors... so I never make reservations. This can be risky finding a spot during peak summer season, hence why 2 years ago, we had the fortune to find the less-developed Morro Strand SB, which is right on the beach. It's essentially a big parking lot with fire pits and restrooms with no showers. However, you can have access to showers at Morro Bay SP. I believe Morro Strand SB is $25/night and Morro Bay SP is $35/night. If you don't make online reservations like us, the State Parks only accept cash. Morro Strand State Beach is one of many State Parks slated for closure by next summer. I'm not sure how they would keep people off this incredible beach if it were closed.

Pacific razor clam ~ 10/12/11 ~ Morro Strand Beach

posted 10/29/11 - Through my sheer laziness (or am I simply feeling a bit tired from the increased autumnal dark hours?), I almost posted this as "Oooh, pretty shells! Look at the cool tie-dye effect."

However, I'm glad I took the time to research the shell evidence of this animal. To tell you the truth, I'm not 100% positive this is a S. patula; it might possibly be S. lucida, if I trust Dr. P. Roopnarine, a curator at CalAcademy. Walla Walla University (linked in the scientific name above) has a quick key to Cultellidae (formerly Solenidae or Pharidae). Pictured above are definitely more than 5 cm in length. What we saw in abundance at Morro Strand were several inches in length. The periostracum was well-worn in various stages from the wave action, which makes the shell look like many others from around the world, like S. costata or S. radiata. What made these pictures difficult to positively ID is that I didn't turn over the shells to look at the insides, so to speak. One online page that I found to be extraordinarily helpful is Common Marine Bivalves of California, Fish Bulletin No. 90, written by John E. Fitch, and issued in 1953.

long-billed curlew ~ 10/12/11 ~ Morro Strand Beach

Again, I have better pictures of the long-billed curlew, but I want to document the time of year. Interesting to note, my previous post of curlews here at Morro Strand State Beach on June 25, 2009 seems contrary to their typical migration patterns. They're supposedly only winter visitors here on the coast, and I wouldn't exactly say late June as being winter. Actually I saw many more long-billed curlews back in June, 2 years ago, than this visit in October. The previous post is a marbled godwit, which looks similar to an amateur like me.

marbled godwit ~ 10/12/11 ~ Morro Strand Beach

I have better pictures of marbled godwits, but I want to show the time of year and a different location. I love their long, black-tipped, pink bills. They're quite entertaining to watch as they poke their bills, sometimes up to their eyeballs, into the sand looking for goodies. I wonder how they know where to poke, because they seem to be fairly successful with about 1 out of every 3-4 pokes yielding something to eat. I don't know why, but it surprised me to find out they summer in "the northern Great Plains into southern Canada" (see the South Dakota Birds and Birding link in the common name ID above). The next post is a long-billed curlew, which looks very similar.

sand dollar ~ 10/12/11 ~ Morro Strand Beach

posted 10/25/11 - There's not a lot of decent information online for sand dollars. I'm assuming most people are okay simply knowing it's a sand dollar and don't bother to look any further as to what kind of animal this is. I've included the best links I could find in the ID above. Essentially what anyone finds on a beach are dead "skeletons" of sand dollars, so to speak. I've also posted this on flickr with hopes someone out there with knowledge of this animal can ID it.

ps - This Pacific sand dollar post inspired Jeannette of Bread on the Water to write a thoughtful piece on plastics and where do they go. The ocean? Also, after looking at other sand dollars and the descriptions of those found on the eastern shores of the Pacific Ocean, I think my best guess for D. excentricus is most likely correct.

black-crowned night heron ~ 10/12/11 ~ Morro Strand Beach

I see these young ones from time to time at the Monterey Coast Guard Pier, but I rarely have my camera on me in the early morning to capture them. On trips like this one to Morro Bay (about 150 miles southeast of Monterey Bay), I generally do carry our little point-and-shoot. Local Monterey photographers Greg Magee and Peter Monteforte (who over the past several years, I've run into rather regularly) have much better pictures of black-crowned night herons... well, much better pictures, period. They were the ones who first told me what this funny looking bird actually was with its bright yellow legs and dumpy body. It was at a time when I finally figured out how to recognize the adults, but the young ones confused me when I initially saw them.

ps 11/14/11 - If I didn't know any better, I'd almost say this was a winter plumage Chinese pond heron (Ardeola bacchus). Just joking.