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Coming Up in the Elfin Forest

Text and photos by Jean Wheeler

Rejoice, bird lovers—the fall migration season is upon us again! Throughout October and November, Morro Bay National Estuary will be receiving water and shore birds migrating through or arriving for their winter vacation here. Terrestrial species will lso be settling into the Elfin Forest for the winter or migrating through on their way to their tropical winter resorts.

Terrestrial species arriving around the boardwalk for the winter include Golden-crowned Sparrows), as well as Fox and Lincoln’s Sparrows. They will be visiting resident White-crowned Sparrows from October to March or April. Rubycrowned Kinglets also settle in for the winter. American Robins and Hermit Thrushes replace our summer Swainson’s Thrushes while the latter depart southward. Yellow-rumped Warblers peak in these months and Say’s Phoebe joins its year-round relative, the Black Phoebe. A dawn or dusk walker in the Elfin Forest may be lucky enough to see or more likely hear a wintering short-eared owl. Passing through in small flocks, we can hope to catch views of Cedar Waxwings, Western Tanagers, and Pine Siskins.

Northern Pintail Duck
Northern Pintail

Several species of ducks begin to arrive on the estuary as early as August and September. By October we can enjoy watching many dabbling ducks floating on the surface of Morro Bay, dipping their heads way down to seek food with their tails pointing up in the air. Those to look for include Mallards, Northern Pintails, Gadwalls, many American and perhaps a few wandering Eurasian Wigeons, as well as Northern Shovelers and Teal (Blue-winged, Cinnamon, and Green-winged).

Diving ducks plunge completely below the surface disappearing in search of their food. Among those to look for as they pop back up to the surface are Scaup (Lesser and Greater), RingNecked, Canvasback, Surf Scoter, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, and Ruddy Ducks. Horned, Eared, Pied-billed, Western, and Clark’s Grebes also arrive from September to November remaining until March or April.

Shorebirds such as Sandpipers, Dowitchers, and the American Avocet reach peak populations in winter with birds arriving from shorelines farther north that won’t support them in winter.

Black Sage
Black Sage

October and November are minimal in colorful flowers, but if fall and winter rains come early, the Elfin Forest could be greening up in preparation for wonderful floral displays in the winter and spring months to come. A few species normally continuing to show some blossoms in October and November drought are California Sagebrush (white), Dune Buckwheat (originally white flowers have aged to pink or rust), California Asters (pinkish to lavender-white petals around yellow central disks), Coyote Brush (white and yellow flowers), and Seaside Golden Yarrow. The formerly white but now dead blossoms of Black Sage remain on their stems like black pompoms, honoring the Halloween season!

On an autumn walk in the Elfin Forest, you may take pleasure in green leaves on shrubs and flowers opening here just as they are falling and will be gone for months in most of our nation. Enjoy the everyday activities of our year-around resident wildlife as well as all the winged arrivals, departures, and passers through on the great fall bird migrations.


Please Report Elfin Forest Sightings

Have you observed any unusual birds in the Elfin Forest? Mammals? Reptiles? Amphibians? Insects? Interesting activities or footprints of wildlife in our Elfin Forest? Unusual plants? Taken a good photo?

Please report any interesting sightings to your Oakleaves editors at: oakleaf@elfin-forest.org for inclusion in future issues under “Elfin Forest Sightings.” You can also leave a message on SWAP’s answering machine, (805) 528-0392.