Morro Bay!

 In early November Jacob and I took a short trip down to Morro Bay, California to visit his aunt and uncle and do some exploring. I'll start with saying if you haven't checked out the new eBird Trip Reports feature yet you should get on that! It's great. Here's a link to my Morro Bay trip report. You'll see a map with all the places we visited and a list of all the birds we saw including how many we photographed and how many were lifers.

After a brief layover in San Francisco we landed in San Luis Obispo and picked up our rental car. We grabbed a late breakfast in town, birded around Laguna Lake for awhile, then headed inland to Morro Bay. The Morro Bay Rock was our first stop and it was filled with cuteness. 

Sea otter


California ground-squirrel

 The California coast is known for its wintering monarch butterflies so we visited Monarch Grove Natural Area to see if we could find any. We walked through the eucalyptus trees with no luck before seeing a couple in another area looking up. As we wandered over we started spotting clumps of butterflies.

The whole time monarchs were fluttering around looking magical. After our trip we started seeing news reports about the California monarchs and how their numbers have rebounded this year. A New York Times article from a couple days ago mentioned that last year's count of 2,000 butterflies was a huge drop from 2017's 200,000. But this year they've already counted 100,000. It's good news but no one is sure yet of the reasons. 

We stayed at the Back Bay Inn in Baywood Park, which is of course right on the bay. This made early morning birding very easy and a good way to kill time till 8:00 breakfast. 

Blue-winged Teal

California Towhee

Black-bellied Plover

After breakfast we drove up to Black Hill in Morro Bay State Park. Our main target here was Nuttall's Woodpecker, a lifer for Jacob. We hiked around the trails and did find a few along with great views of the area.

After that we met up with Jacob's aunt and uncle who had rented a boat on the bay. We had an awesome time eating snacks and cruising around looking at sea otters, sea lions, and birds. The otters stole the show for sure. 

At one point two otters started following us and swimming around the boat. One put its little paws on the side of the boat and did a backflip. I tried to take a cell phone video:

In the afternoon we hiked around Los Osos Oak State Reserve which has tons of cool old coast live oaks.

That evening we had tasty Thai takeout from Noi's 2nd Street Cafe and watched the sunset.

I also took this terrible photo because I can't remember ever seeing Brown and American White Pelicans hanging out so close together.

On our third day we got up early and headed to Morro Bay State Park. We heard several Great Horneds hooting in the dark and I even found some moths at the campground bathroom. Our birding destination was the Morro Bay Marina and Boardwalk Trail, a popular hotspot. 

We had many new trip birds here like American Avocets, Forster's and Royal Terns, a couple of random Snow Geese, and finally a California Thrasher!

Say's Phoebe

We went into town to grab a second breakfast at Dorn's and picked up three county birds: starling, House Sparrow, and Bonaparte's Gull.

Rock Pigeon eyeing my french toast

With full bellies we were ready for our first California dock fouling experience. If you're not familiar with dock fouling check out Luan from Washington's website, Nature Lookings where she explains the concept well. Basically we were going to go lie down on docks and look at the creatures inhabiting their underwater parts. 

We brought along a small underwater camera and took tons of of photos. 

Sunburst anemone 

Plumose anemone (not sure which sp.)
Opalescent nudibranch

Three-lined aeolid
Plumose anemone 


Giant acorn barnacle

Giant feather duster worm

Strawberry anemones

It was so cool to see how much was growing on these docks since my attempts in Oregon haven't been impressive. Unfortunately having my head upside down gave me a terrible headache so next time I might take some ibuprofen beforehand. 

After some rest back at the hotel we went up to Morro Strand Beach to look at shorebirds. It was great, tons of birds everywhere.

Snowy-Semipalmated Plover combo


Long-billed Curlew chomping a mole crab

Whimbrel preparing to chomp a mole crab

On our walk south along the beach some people were riding horses ahead of us. On our walk back north many of the hoof prints were filled with Snowy Plovers.

Another highlight here was the chance to stare at Elegant and Royal Terns together. 

Elegant on the left, Royals on the right

Elegant Tern

After that we hung out with Jacob's aunt and uncle for the rest of the day, even picked up two more county birds while walking their neighborhood with them: Cedar Waxwing and Merlin. 

Our last morning we woke to rain. Excellent news for California, not ideal for birding. We packed up and headed out to Dolly's Donuts in town, then drove the long way back to the valley.  In the town of Santa Margarita we easily found our target bird, the Yellow-billed Magpie. This California endemic had somehow evaded me over the years and I was glad to finally see a bunch.

We decided to keep going east towards Santa Margarita Lake, with a u-turn when I thought I saw a Lewis's Woodpecker. Indeed it was!

Bonus Band-tailed Pigeons

We had 20 species at this random roadside stop before finally continuing on to the lake. The lake was cool with tons of trails to explore. A little misty rainy at first but dried off and we found five new trip birds plus what may have been my lifer desert cottontail. 

On our drive out of the park we found another flock of Yellow-billed Magpies which allowed for lots of photos. 

We made it back to San Luis Obispo with a little extra time so we birded a random spot in town, Meadow Park. 

Northern Mockingbird

Scaly-breasted Munias

 We stopped for lunch, then headed to the airport. It was a really fun quick trip, I highly recommend it! Good times!


  1. Such a cool place! I enjoyed the otters, the underwater critters and the birds..the YBMA very striking looking bird. Are the Munias regulars in that area? Hope you have a great December.


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