Readers’ wildlife photos

Reader Joe Dickinson sent some photos from California:

Most of the following photos were taken at the base of Morro Rock, a prominent feature at Morro Bay that anchors a very long sandbar, providing excellent wildlife habitat.

This rather chubby California ground squirrel (Citellus beecheyi) was expertly working tourists visiting the rock.

A whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus) was forging in the shallows inside the sandbar.

A pair of marbled godwits (Limosa fedoa) arrived to check out the same area.

Here are those two species next to each other.  It would be interesting to know how bill length and shape affect food selection and/or foraging strategies for two species of similar body size utilizing the same habitat.  Perhaps one of your readers can tell us.

This great blue heron (Ardea herodias) landed on a ledge up on the rock.  He/she looks as if engaged in some sort of display, but I did not see a potential recipient.

This western gull (Larus occidentalis) has the prominent red spot that, famously, prompts chicks to beg by pecking at the parent’s beak.

As is common at this location, we spotted some sea otters (Enhydra lutris), but they kept their distance, so I will “cheat” with a shot at the same location a few years ago.

Our base for this trip was our favorite d*g-friendly motel in Cambria.  It provides spectacular views of the sunset.  Here, also from a few years ago, is a brown pelican [Pelecanus occidentalis] flying into the sunset.  I’m particularly proud of this photo because, if you look carefully just above the top edge of the sun, you can see a somewhat wispy “green flash”.

Finally, arriving home, I spotted this elegant garter snake (probably Thamnophis sintalis) in our front yard. Ignore the weeds:  I’ll get to it.


  1. GBJames
    Posted June 9, 2017 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    You call those weeds? I’ll show you weeds! 😉

  2. Mike
    Posted June 9, 2017 at 7:42 am | Permalink

    I love Sea Otters

  3. Robert Bate
    Posted June 9, 2017 at 7:48 am | Permalink

    I’m pretty sure those are Long-billed Curlews not Whimbrels up top. Buffy breast and a bill that could scratch its vent no prob!

  4. Posted June 9, 2017 at 8:03 am | Permalink

    According to the internet, the curlew probes in soft material along shorelines for worms and other invertebrates. I found that the godwit does the same when at shorelines, but it breeds and overwinters far away from shores and there it probes in ground vegetation. So perhaps its beak is a more general purpose prober, and the curlew beak is for more specialized feeding.

    • rickflick
      Posted June 9, 2017 at 8:15 am | Permalink

      That sounds reasonable. I notice the Godwit’s beak is thicker and looks like it would work better in heavier ground. Likewise, the head and neck look stronger.

    • Robert Bate
      Posted June 9, 2017 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

      Long-billed Curlews can be found in grasslands in their breeding habitat. Most “shorebirds” breed in tundra zones.

  5. rickflick
    Posted June 9, 2017 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    I have a garter snake living under my back steps. When it’s warm it comes out and returns to it’s lair in the evening. It shed its skin yesterday so it seems to be growing and thriving there.

  6. Posted June 9, 2017 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    It is wonderful to see blue herons in so many different places. They are common enough here in Michigan, where they make me stop whatever I am doing to watch them in awe.

    • Terry Sheldon
      Posted June 9, 2017 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

      I love blue herons, particularly watching them in flight. I once had to do some coordination with the PA Department of Environmental Protection because a project I was involved with was within a specified distance of a large blue heron rookery. Even from 1000 feet away you could clearly make out 25-30 nests in the tops of mature trees. Just imagining those majestic birds nesting up there (let alone building the nests) boggles the mind.

  7. Posted June 9, 2017 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    Beautiful photos Joe! I love the sunset shot. Looks like about 1000mm (equivalent) or cropping. Very nicely done.

  8. Posted June 9, 2017 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    What *do* those “hair like feathers” do?

    • Diane G.
      Posted June 10, 2017 at 1:57 am | Permalink

      Per “All About Birds:”

      Great Blue Herons have specialized feathers on their chest that continually grow and fray. The herons comb this “powder down” with a fringed claw on their middle toes, using the down like a washcloth to remove fish slime and other oils from their feathers as they preen. Applying the powder to their underparts protects their feathers against the slime and oils of swamps.

  9. Mark R.
    Posted June 9, 2017 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    Great photos Joe! I’d be proud of the sunset pic as well- beautiful!

    You obviously heard about the landslide that closed hwy 101 up north. I feel bad for those living around Big Sur.

  10. Posted June 9, 2017 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

    Hey thanks for the visit to a Californian beach and not a beach babe, lifeguard in sight.
    Sea otters hanging out was a treat.

  11. Dale Franzwa
    Posted June 10, 2017 at 12:36 am | Permalink

    I have a theory about Morro Rock. I think it once was an ancient rocky mountain top that got sheared off during some long ago ice age, moved down the coast by the advancing ice sheet, then dropped in its present location as the ice melted. Anybody got a better explanation? I’m pretty sure Zeus didn’t put it there.

    Ah, the famous Green Flash. I’ve heard explanations for it. Been aboard sportfishing boats coming home from long range fishing trips where the skipper alerted passengers to look for it at sun set. However, I’ve never seen it. Unfortunately, I don’t see it in that photo either. Do others actually see it? Are my eyes just that bad?

    • Diane G.
      Posted June 10, 2017 at 2:06 am | Permalink

      Per Wikipedia:

      Geologically, Morro Rock, located in San Luis Obispo County, in the town of Morro Bay, California, is one of 13 volcanic, intrusive units that form volcanic plugs (remnant volcanic necks of volcanoes), lava domes, and sheetlike intrusions from Morro Rock southeast 29 km or 18 mi to Islay Hill. The plugs form the distinctive peaks along U.S. Highway 101 just south of San Luis Obispo and south of State Highway 1 from San Luis Obispo to Morro Bay.

      At least in the most recent Ice Age, I’m pretty sure the ice itself got nowhere near California… 😉

      Try zooming in on the sun. You can see something that looks like a tiny greenish hyphen right at the top–not at all what the phrase “Green Flash” calls to mind, IMO.

      • Dale Franzwa
        Posted June 10, 2017 at 11:46 pm | Permalink

        Thanks for correcting me. I think I got that idea from boulders found in North Africa which don’t belong there. Supposedly, that’s what led to the “snowball earth” hypothesis that explains the origin of multi-celled life prior to 600 mya, maybe.

        I tried the zoom in trick and got a tiny pale blue blob sitting atop the sun. Don’t look like no green flash to me but, so what?

  12. Diane G.
    Posted June 10, 2017 at 2:08 am | Permalink

    Beautiful and most interesting pics, Joe. Such adorable otters! 🙂 And mucho congrats on that sunset with green flash! (Even without it the picture would be stunning!)

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