—Summer sees visitors flocking to Morro Bay, but they are missing something if they don’t return for a winter visit. Winter is the season when a diversity of wildlife occupies the bay and surrounding areas.
Birds are the most noticeable from November through March. The fall/winter migration bring a variety of bird species to Morro Bay and the Central Coast, inspiring the Coast Audubon Society to start the Morro Bay Winter Bird Festival in 1996. Birders from all over the country and world participate in guided field trip, special workshops, and hearing keynote speakers who are experts in their fields. The 2022 festival is the 25th Morro Bay Winter Bird Festival.
This 2022 keynote speakers are:
- John Muir Laws, “Seven Habits of Highly Effective Birders,” Saturday, January 15
- Raymond VanBuskirk, “Birding: Medicine for the Soul,” Sunday, January 16
A total of 160 events fill the five day festival, January 13-17 including master classes, pelagic cruises, birding by boat, kayak, bus and car, day hikes, and informative workshops.
You don’t need to attend the festival to watch the birdlife. Walks along the Morro Bay State Park boardwalk offer sights of thousands of shorebirds including Brant geese, great and snowy egrets, great blue herons, black crowned night herons, and white pelicans. Rent a kayak from the marina and paddle onto the bay or estuary to become enveloped in a murmuration of western and least sandpipers swarming and flowing over their feeding grounds.
Watch tiny horned and eared grebes diving deeply for fish and then suddenly popping back into view. Several species of loons frequent the bay while hundreds of brown pelicans perform aerial ballet and breathtaking headfirst dives scooping up fish. It’s a thrill watching an osprey plunge into the water, grasping a fish with his talons. You might also see peregrine falcons roosting on ledges of Morro Rock.
Drive to the back bay and stop at Sweet Springs Preserve to see blue winged teal, mallards, northern shovelers, scaup and more. Egrets and herons are commonly spotted standing silently in the fresh-water spring where you might see some western pond turtles sunning themselves on driftwood.
Keep an eye overhead for the thrilling sightings of hawks, falcons, and bald eagles.
Birds aren’t the only animals wintering in Morro Bay. California sea lions, harbor seals and sea otters are most numerous during the winter.
Morro Bay is one of the winter breeding grounds for the California sea lion. At one time, the sea lions became such a nuisance on the docks, even hauling themselves onto moored boats, that the Harbor officials set up a floating dock hoping the animals would prefer it over the boats. It was successful and now there is a permanent dock just for the sea lions! Take a tour boat from any of the waterfront venues for up-close views of the sea lions.
The spotted harbor seal can be seen popping their heads out of the water or hauling themselves onto the mudflats. Harbor seals are much smaller than sea lions and unlike sea lions, who can use their flippers to “walk” on land, the harbor seal can only move on land in an undulating motion. Their flippers, however are great assistance for swimming and deep diving for food.
Probably the most loved sea mammal is the California sea otter. Tour boats regularly pass pods of the furry critters often wrapped in large pieces of kelp. Large groups of sea otters, mostly females with pups, are seen in the water near the south t-pier.
The 2022 Morro Bay Winter Bird Festival takes place over Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend Thursday-Monday, January 13-17. For more information and to register visit morrobaybirdfestival.org. Schedules and registration information is available at www.morrobaybirdfestival.org. Proof of completed COVID-19 vaccination is required.
ꟷRuth Ann Angus