I took these photos in September and December 2015. I was delighted to get close enough for decent shots with my point-and-shoot camera; but at the time I could only identify my subjects as seals (or possibly sea lions?) and birds that looked like gulls and “sandpipers.” I’m pleased to say I finally took the time to sit down at the computer and educate myself about these California coastal critters.
“Pacific Harbor Seals are found north of the equator in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. In the northeast Pacific, they range from Alaska to Baja California, Mexico. They favor near-shore coastal waters and are often seen on rocky islands, sandy beaches, mudflats, bays, and estuaries…
“Pacific harbor seals spend about half their time on land and half in water. They can dive to 1,500 feet (457 m) for up to 40 minutes, although their average dive lasts three to seven minutes and is typically shallow, and they sometimes sleep in the water. They are opportunistic feeders, eating sole, flounder, sculpin, hake, cod, herring, octopus, and squid. While harbor seals swim safely in the surf, they will often curiously watch humans walking on beaches. However, they are wary of people while on land and will rush into the water if approached too closely or disturbed. In fact, if disturbed too often, they have been known to abandon favorite haul-out sites or their pups.” Quoted from The Marine Mammal Center web site.
A gathering of sandpipers, seen at Doran Regional Park in Sonoma County. I believe the darker brown birds are Marbled Godwits, and the lighter colored birds are Willets. Per Golden State Images, Marbled Godwits breed in the grasslands of the northern Great Plains and spend their winters along the Pacific coast.
The Willet tends to be a loner. It walks carefully along, browsing the mud flats for worms, shrimp, crabs and other tidbits. They apparently have some very striking black and white markings which show on their outstretched wings; however I didn’t see them in flight on this day.
Willets have shorter bills than the Marbled Godwit; the Godwit’s bill is a two-tone pink and black and is slightly upturned at the end, while the Willet’s bill is shorter, thicker, and darker. (Info from All About Birds)
Adult California gull and Willet
Gulls are one bird I see on a regular basis, even though I don’t live anywhere near the coast. They don’t seem especially picky about what they’ll eat, and on this particular day we had a crowd of them closely following us while we searched for ghost shrimp at low tide.
I’ve now learned the darker gulls are juvenile birds. It’s not until their second year that they begin to take on the familiar white and gray plumage. This young fellow was quite persistent in following us and grabbing for anything that looked like food.
It may or may not come as a surprise that gulls are in no danger of going extinct any time soon. According to All About Birds, their numbers have actually increased over the past 100 years.