Coming Up in the Elfin Forest
by Jean Wheeler
Our Elfin Forest normally produces abundantly active bird life on both land and water and a kaleidoscope of colorfully blooming shrubs and herbs beginning around the holiday season. Hopefully we’ll have had enough early showers by mid-December to bring a return to something like the wonderful show we normally expect in these months despite the severe shortage of rain in recent years.
Buckbrush (Ceanothus) flowers are among the first blossoms to open as autumn ends and winter begins. By the time this issue reaches our website and mailboxes, the boardwalk could be bordered all around with their white to lilac blossoms. Morro manzanitas were among the shrubs hardest hit by prolonged drought, but they did show some of their bell-like white blossoms last year, blushing with a lovely pinkish glow. Hopefully this year their blooming will begin by Christmas, as usual, and come closer to the abundance of more “normal” years. Fuchsia-flowered gooseberries usually also open in December, and their long red trumpets provide lots of nectar to the long bills and tongues of Anna’s Hummingbirds. These red flower tubes are a major food support to the hummers in their winter/spring nesting season.
By the end of January, California peonies may be opening their drooping red flower balls among their large bright green leaves in the understory. Look for them especially near Siena’s View and along the 11th Street sand trail. Other understory plants likely to be in bloom are the white to pink or lilac rays of asters surrounding their golden disk flowers and the yellow and gold of early California poppies.
Our area is known as one of the top birding regions in our nation, especially in these winter months. That’s why the Morro Bay Winter Bird Festival, held on Martin Luther King Weekend each year, attracts hundreds of visitors from all over the U.S. and Canada. The festival is scheduled for January 18-21 in 2019 and early registration is essential for field trips—they fill fast.
Virtually all species of water birds and wading birds listed in our Pocket Guide (available from the "Forest Store" - last brown button at top of this page) are present and at peak populations in December and January. Look out onto the estuary from Bush Lupine Point or Siena’s View to spot large American White Pelicans and Canada and Brant Geese. Dabbling Ducks likely to be present in large numbers include Northern Pintails, American Wigeons, Northern Shovelers, as well as Blue-winged, Cinnamon, and Green-winged Teal. Diving ducks typically numerous include Greater and Lesser Scaup, Buffleheads, and Ruddy Ducks. Wading birds commonly seen are Great and Snowy Egrets, American Avocets and many species of Sandpipers.
All the raptors listed in the Pocket Guide and a great many of the passerines are also present in midwinter. The shrubs around the boardwalk can be alive with flitting Finches, Sparrows, Gnatcatchers, Wrens, Phoebes, Chickadees, Bushtits, Nuthatches, and many other little brown and little grey birds. Larger common birds of the brush often seen are Thrashers, Towhees, Scrub Jays, Quail, Blackbirds, and Doves. Brush Rabbits and Ground Squirrels may be active in the daytime and prints in the sand beside the boardwalk on many mornings reveal the presence of raccoons during the night. Coyotes are frequently observed from or even walking on the boardwalk—if your dog is walking you, be sure he has you on his leash for his own safety!
Take a break from holiday shopping madness and enjoy a walk in the Elfin Forest that we protect through our generous donations and active volunteer efforts!
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: email@example.com for inclusion in future issues under “Elfin Forest Sightings.” You can also leave a message on SWAP’s answering machine, (805) 528-0392.