June 7, 2009

The Wild Life

Last weekend was spent in Cambria. We were witnesses to an incredible array of wildlife--more than we'd seen on any of our numerous other visits . This seal was my favorite with his head popping up randomly among the rocks as he searched for the perfect spot to sun himself. The unidentifiable bird was a surprise addition to the photo--wish I could say I planned it that way.

Saturday night as we walked to dinner two sea otters gently floated on their backs dining on local delicacies. Of course I didn't have my camera. P and I frequently think we see otters, but more often than not we are mistaking bulbous kelp heads for bobbing otter faces. Of course the binoculars that would allow us to confirm the identity of these mysterious floating creatures are usually back in our hotel room. I enjoy walking unencumbered by equipment, but I also hate not being able to identify what we're looking at.

Sunday morning brought a display of dolphins. They seemed to be trolling this patch of Cambria's coastline as they cavorted in small groups. Fins and sleek bodies were revealed diving through the water. We've never seen any dolphins there before, and even the locals seemed amazed as they gathered along the boardwalk to observe them while a perfect squadron of pelicans flew overhead.

Wildlife encounters continued throughout the week. A morning walk near home yielded hummingbirds zooming into bell-shaped moon flowers suspended over backyard fences. A red-tailed hawk, chased by a pair of unidentifiable but very protective nesting birds, swooped in front of me and landed in a eucalyptus tree. But the highlight was spotting a male California quail sitting on top of a wooded fence post, his black and white topknot bobbing. I was so delighted to see him that at first I didn't notice the dozen or so baby quail plus his plainer mate scurrying around at the base of the post. I love watching quail. They used to occasionally appear on the deck of my parent's house to eat the bird seed my mom threw out. The arrival of our state bird always warranted an urgent "Maggie, come look!" call from my mom, and we'd stand together to admire them.

My last avian sighting was yesterday at UCSB. There is a small fish pond by the back entrance to P's office. Each year a pair of mallards arrive to nest in the reeds. They share the space with at least three very healthy carp. I walked over to see if the ducks were there and suddenly the male mallard flew by me and skidded to a landing in the shallow water. By the time I pulled my camera out of my purse the female had arrived as well. She immediately swam into the reeds to protect her nest while the green-capped male distracted me with dramatic wing displays and loud quacking. I got the message but missed out on a good close-up. I think we'll be seeing baby ducklings soon.

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