February 21, 2011

Kayaking in the Elkhorn Slough

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One of my favorite memories from my first trip to Big Sur when I was 6-years-old was kayaking in Monterey with the sea otters. My whole family went and my sister and I fought over who got to be in the kayak with my dad because we thought he would be the better paddler. After a fun couple of hours we headed back to the beach and my sister and mom rowed back in safe and sound. My dad thought it would be a good idea to catch a wave back in and we flipped our kayak and I have forever made fun of him for it. Luckily this time we had no capsizing! There are a few different areas in Monterey to see the endangered sea otters and I suggest doing a little research before you go so you get the most out of your experience. I decided that the Elkhorn Slough area would be best and found a great company that offers photo excursions marketed as “We Paddle; You Photo.” This was great for me because I was able to photograph the whole time and not have to worry about paddling or capsizing. I was paired with a really nice instructor who was a photographer as well- but was not pushy about how I should photograph, which happens a lot when a photographer is an instructor on an excursion like that and I HATE IT! He just got me to the right spots and knew the right angles and lighting to get the perfect shot. The company is called the Kayak Connection and I highly recommend them for photographers or just tourists looking to see some cool wildlife. The slough is a great spot for otters, seals, sea lions, and thousands of birds. However the sea otter is usually the main attraction. Historically the number of sea otters ranged in the hundred thousands possibly even over a million, but due to the fur trade numbers plummeted to below 2000 in the early 1990’s. The species is slowly recovering and there are now an estimated 2,800 southern sea otters off the coast of California and another 70,000 northern sea otters off the coast of Alaska, Washington and Canada. There are also about 15,000 living in Russia and a very small number (less than 12) living in Japan. The sea otter is considered endangered by the IUCN. To learn more and see how you can help check out Friends of the Sea Otter.
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February 17, 2011

Soaring with the Condors

While in Big Sur I was hoping for a spotting of the critically endangered California Condor, but I never imagined I would be so lucky as to see nine of them soaring through the sky.  The condor is the largest North American Land Bird and has the largest wingspan which can grow to over 9 feet long.  The bird population dripped drastically in the 20th Century due to poaching, lead poisoning and habitat destruction and were forced to the brink of extinction.  Luckily in 1987 the government created a plan to capture the 22 remaining wild birds and placed them in breeding programs in the San Diego and Los Angeles Zoos.  Starting in 1991 the birds have been slowly reintroduced to the wild and as of November 2010 there are 381 known living condors, 192 of them are in the wild.  They are considered one of the world’s rarest birds so it was very exciting to get to see them in their natural habitat.  I had called ahead and tried to plan an excursion with the Ventana Wildlife Society, but they were closed for the holiday.  Luckily I ran into a scientist from the society tracking condors at my hotel and we got to chat for a bit and she took me to a park where they like to hang out and by total chance as we drove up 9 of them were soaring around above us.  I hope to go back and get to spend more time with them (and with a more powerful lens).   All of the condors are tagged for tracking and if you get a clear picture of the tag you can go online and learn about the bird on VWS’s website.  I watched #94 for a while and got some good shots while she flew low and learned from the website that she is almost 8 years old, was hatched in San Diego, and goes by the name Late Bloomer!   For more information on the condor and to learn how you can help this critically endangered species check out the VWS.

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February 15, 2011

A Seal with a Big Schnoz

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On the way from Los Angeles to Big Sur many people make a stop in San Simeon at the famous Hearst Castle, but unfortunately many people drive right by the Piedras Blancas rookery just a few miles away. The rookery is home to the Northern Elephant Seal and is one of the best places to spot them on the Pacific Coast. The Elephant Seal was nearly hunted to extinction, but has rebounded very well. The males are very strange looking creatures- they are gigantic and have gigantic proboscis’ that resemble an elephant’s trunk (hence their name). They actually reminded me a lot of the proboscis monkeys I saw in Borneo. In the winter and early spring they mate and breed in the rookery so you can see a lot of activity. The males fight regularly by bashing their bodies against each other and biting each others necks and torsos, which you can watch in the below video:

The males also make a really loud honking sound to stake their territory which you can listen to in the below video:

For more information on the Elephant Seals of the Central Coast visit the Friends of the Elephant Seals.

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