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Coming Up in the Elfin Forest

Text and photos by Jean Wheeler

If you “must go where the wild goose goes,” then Morro Bay National Estuary should be your target at this time of year. All four species of geese listed in our Pocket Guide (can be ordered from the "Forest Store" above) begin arriving in October, if not before.

Not only the geese, but all ten species of dabbling ducks and at least seven of nine species of diving ducks have usually settled on the estuary by October or November. The American Avocet similarly returns at peak population. All five grebe species peak from September or October until March or April. Western gulls are year round residents, but five other species of gulls join them here only in fall through spring.

American Avocet
American Avocet

The Elfin Forest itself plays host to brush or woodland birds also migrating through or wintering. Fox, Lincoln’s, and Goldencrowned Sparrows join our year-round White-crowned Sparrows. Ruby-crowned Kinglets settle in for the winter. American Robins and Hermit Thrushes replace our summer Swainson’s Thrushes after those depart southward. Yellow-rumped Warblers peak in these months and Say’s Phoebe joins its year-round relative, the Black Phoebe, for a winter visit. Passing through in small flocks are Cedar Waxwings, Western Tanagers, and Pine Siskins.

California Aster
California Aster

While October and November are minimal in colorful flowers, let us hope that the rains that brought relief last year from the four year drought will return again early this autumn to green up the Elfin Forest in preparation for wonderful floral displays in winter and spring. A few flower species which normally do continue to show some blossoms in these months even without early rains are California Asters (white to pinkish or lavender petals around yellow central disks), Dune Buckwheat (their formerly white flowers have aged to pink or rust), Coyote Brush (white and yellowish flowers), and Seaside Golden Yarrow. The dried flower heads of Black Sage look like black pompoms on their stems, decorating the Elfin Forest for Halloween.

Black Sage
Black Sage

Take an autumn walk in Elfin Forest and marvel in appreciation of our vegetation. It is so well adapted to thrive in this most difficult season at the end of months without significant rain, even though autumn often features some of our hottest days of the year. Don’t miss the terrific vistas from Bush Lupine Point and Siena’s View of the wintering waterbirds on Morro Bay National Estuary.


Recent Sightings in the Elfin Forest

Feral Pig Damage in the Elfin Forest

Healthy vs Damaged Marsh

On August 6th, SWAP Conservation Committee member Bob Meyer sent the following report to the SWAP Board. Bob sent us ten photos, two of them are included here.

"A little over two months ago we received the first reports of feral hogs feeding out on the marsh portion of the Elfin Forest. That part of the Forest is owned by State Parks. Investigation of the western end of the Don Klopher Trail (in the lower grove next to the estuary) showed that end was being heavily used and extended westward."

"Friday I put on boots and went on to the marsh portion of the Forest for a look-see. I didn’t see any hogs, but plenty of damage to the marsh. This photo (lower right) is of the devastation a few hundred feet to the west. Until recently this was a very healthy stand of various tules, rushes and Pacific pickleweed, mixed with some Distichlis (Saltgrass). Except for the Distichlis all are known to have fairly good nutritive value in that humans at one time or another have used portions of them as part of their diet. Humans and hogs have similar digestive tracts. The part of pickleweed humans eat is the fleshy leaves. I’ve tried it pickled - not bad."

"I went as far as the northern-most part of the upland Forest. (The top photo) is a panorama taken there. The area not covered, heading southwest towards Siena’s View, is where all our pictures of the sows and the piglets were taken so there is more damage to be seen."

Devastated marsh
Small devastated area

"I covered about a 1/4 mile of the marsh, and scaling the damaged area from our latest aerial photo I come up with about 1.25 acres of marsh vegetation totally gone. The area disturbed, but not yet churned into semi-permanent mud flats is about twice that.”

Because the feral pigs are causing such extreme damage to the estuary plant life, we forwarded Bob Meyer’s report to the Morro Bay National Estuary Program. MBNEP Communications and Outreach Coordinator Rachel Pass wrote back that MBNEP Director Lexie Bell and the staff are in discussion and research mode about the feral pigs. They are continuing conversations with California State Parks and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, since pigs have been spotted on land belonging to both organizations. We will continue to keep our readers informed about this serious problem.

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: oakleaves@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.