It’s been quite birdy (that’s a word, right?) around here for the last month or so. Lots of wintering warblers, sparrows, woodpeckers, towhees, phoebes, etc. I’ve done a bit of wandering around the local woods with my trusty Sony.
Almost forgot about this one. Back in August I was snorkeling with Hai inside the harbor at Kawaihae and ran into this gorgeous, largish nudibranch prowling the reef just a couple of feet below the surface. I don’t know if it has a common name, but the scientific name is Goniobranchus albopunctatus. According to seaslugsofhawaii.com, this diurnal species reaches three inches in length—this specimen was about two inches. The white circles are distinctive. White Cheerios descending into a bowl of red milk.
Well, it’s been almost two months since I’ve been able to snorkel in warm Hawaiian waters. And I’ve only been able to spend a total of about an hour snorkeling in California’ chilly (!) waters so far this year. However, contrary to my fears about our move to California, life is still worth living. In contrast to Hawaii, California’s central coast is loaded with native birds and land mammals, and I’ve got my fancy new bird camera. So instead of exercising my inner hunter-gatherer through underwater photography I’ve been shooting birds. So life is good, very good. (And besides, we’re already planning our next trip to Hawaii.)
Last week Marla and I took a walk at Estero Bluffs State Park, north of Cayucos and about fifteen miles north of our place in Los Osos. The bluffs recede into a long sandy beach at the north end of the park. The beach was deserted on the day we were there, except for birds.
*All bird identifications here are pretty tentative—if anyone finds an error, please let me know. In the case of the Black-bellied Plover the (unlikely) alternative ID is Pacific Golden Plover. I rely heavily on Cornell Ornithology Lab’s Merlin app. This app gives the likelihood of seeing a species at any given location and date. It says that the Golden Plover is much less likely than the Black-bellied. Birds are a lot harder than reef fish!
We’ve finally gotten to spend some time in the water here in sunny California. We drove down to visit Jill, Eric and kids in San Diego and took a side trip to Santa Catalina Island. We snorkeled at Victoria Beach in the town of Laguna Beach and at Lover’s Cove in Avalon on Catalina. Both are marine sanctuaries and are therefore loaded with tame fish. Unfortunately, it was heavily overcast and rather cold at both sites, so we didn’t stay in the water as long as we’d have liked.
Southern California waters are both similar to and very different from the Hawaiian and South Pacific reefs that we’re familiar with. Many of the same fish families are represented in both places. A lot of the fish we’ve seen so far in California look sort of familiar, but not quite what we’re used to seeing. Here are a few:
We got two days of boat diving in during our August trip back to Hawaii. One day with Blue Wilderness Divers and one with Kohala Divers—both great outfits. Conditions were excellent on both days, and we saw a lot of nice stuff. Here are a couple of notable encounters.
The term megafauna, Latin for big, big animals, is rather loosely defined. Specifically, the minimum size that divides megafauna from plain old regular fauna varies a great deal. In some usages the threshold is 1,000 kilograms (one metric ton); in others it’s 45 kilograms (about 100 pounds). The latter usage seems to be more common, and probably makes more biological sense, as the vast majority of animals are far smaller than 100 pounds. Most animals would regard anything of that size as a terrifying monster. Just ask your cat. So for this post I’m using the 100 pound definition. (Gee, I never thought of myself as megafauna.)
Marla and I returned for a visit to Hawaii two weeks ago, after three-plus months at our new place in California. Despite marginal conditions for our first week, we’ve gotten out snorkeling several times and have had the good luck to be greeted by several types of megafauna:
Well, Marla and I have finally completed our big move from Hawaii to California. It’s not like we’re really gone forever; at least that’s what we want to think. Marla’s sister Wendy is keeping the Hawaii house, and we plan to return frequently. I’d like to think we’ll spend around a couple of months per year in Hawaii, although Marla may disagree with that estimate. In any case, we’ve left Hawaii with mixed emotions. We’re excited about our new location in Los Osos on the central California coast, but much of our hearts remain in Hawaii.
Mother Nature has been generous to us during our final weeks as Hawaii residents. A few weeks ago I posted about our fantastic spinner dolphin encounter at Mahukona. Then we had the opportunity to swim with large pelagic sharks. And finally, on our last swim at Kawaihae we were visited by a group of extremely sociable mantas. About a half dozen of them swam back and forth along the breakwater for at least an hour. It was a mixed group—a couple of larger adults, including old One-eye, a frequent visitor whose left eye has been severely injured, and a few smaller individuals only about six feet across. The younger ones seemed especially interested in us, repeatedly swooping within easy touching distance—but we of course refrained from touching. These gentle, intelligent, sweet-natured animals really tug at the heart.
I plan to continue this blog, but posts may be even more infrequent than they are now. Maybe I’ll include more mainland-based posts, or maybe I’ll start another blog. Meanwhile, thanks for reading.
Last week we joined our friends Ned and Susan on a snorkel trip to the pelagic zone offshore from Kona. Kona Diving Ecoadventures takes passengers about five miles offshore to waters around a mile deep. There they search for pelagic cetaceans—pilot whales, sperm whales, open-ocean dolphins—and other pelagic megafauna such as sharks and billfish. The passengers are allowed to get into the water and snorkel with anything interesting that is encountered, in a manner, we were told, intended not to unduly disturb the animals.
In stark contrast to the bustling nearshore reefs, the open ocean is mostly mile after mile of emptiness, so there’s a lot of searching and no guarantee as to what, if anything, you’ll encounter. On this trip we saw little in the open ocean—only a mixed pod of spinner and spotted dolphins that we observed from the boat.
Fortunately, open ocean is not all there is off the Kona coast—there are also fish farms operating in these deep waters. All sorts of marine life congregate near the aquaculture operations, partly attracted to wasted fish feed, and partly due to the shelter provided by the farms’ netting and associated structures where smaller organisms can hide from predators. Our boat visited one of the farms, where we had the opportunity to swim with Rough-toothed Dolphins (no decent photos though) and two species of shark.
On Sunday Marla and I took a two-dive scuba trip with our friends at Blue Wilderness Dive Adventures. They’re one of several fine dive outfits in West Hawaii. Their boat is a large rigid inflatable (RIB) with few amenities, but fast and quite comfortable. They launch from the Puako public boat ramp, which is just a few minutes from several very nice dive sites. On this day we dove a site called Paniau—one of our favorites—and Puako Point—a new favorite. We saw some nice stuff:
Spinner dolphins are among the most iconic Hawaiian wildlife. Several of our friends have had close, prolonged encounters with these oh-so-charismatic animals. Until yesterday we’d not been so lucky. We arrived at Mahukona at about 8:30 yesterday morning and immediately spotted a large pod of these beauties about fifty meters offshore—closer than we usually see them at this location. They appeared to be milling around rather than just passing through as they usually do here. So we geared up as fast as we could and swam out. Within minutes several members of the pod swam by us, clearly aware of us, but unconcerned by our presence. The pod meandered around in an area about a hundred meters in diameter for about twenty minutes, passing very close to us many times and sometimes completely surrounding us. Then they wandered off to the south, leaving us to swim back to the dock, cold but elated.