Animal Adventures by Ron Toel

Taking a trip to California, was the furthest thing from my mind when the chance presented itself. However, I found some good prices for the air fare and headed West. My first trip…….knew not what to expect or what I would see. It proved to be more than interesting.

Morrow Bay, a location in central California on the coast was my destination. A relatively small town, with food restaurants and motels was what I found. It also possesses 3-4 small parks in the area that produced several first time seen birds and flowers to be photographed and also George Lepp has his school in the area . The town was built around one BIG rock, Morrow Rock, which leads into a bay, Morrow Bay.

I spent every morning searching the bay for first time critters to shoot. Besides the birds, I shot the sea otters and sea lions…..both with wee ones. The otters were playing and/or sleeping about 50 feet from shore, and a 500mm was necessary for them to be seen in the image.

The sea lions announced their location by following their bark. They were actually on a barge tied to the wharf behind a restaurant. I walked out on the wharf, and daddy, a big dude, jumped in and swam around, but momma and baby just stayed there pretending to sleep. I sat down on the wharf, and watched dad go swimming by and the baby which was apprehensive. Shortly Dad jumped back pm the barge, I sat quiet and they settled down and I started taking images. After about an hour, Dad jumped from the barge to the wharf. And gradually moved to within 20 feet of me……let out a bark as if to say what are you doing in my space. I got a good look at his teeth and could smell his fishy breath. Just then some other tourist came to the wharf and dad retreated to back in the water. I had some images so I thought this would be a good time to exit stage left.

The next day was even more productive. I left early on the 101 headed north. After about a slow drive of an hour looking for coastal scenes, I saw a sign that said “elephant seals”. Anyone who knows me knows I am not going to pass this up. I parked the car and there were hundreds of baby 6-700pound elephant seals laying on the beach. I spent the day observing them fight, sleep, crawl (actually flop would be a better word).

While observing, I noticed a small ground squirrel trying to get my attention by begging. I sat down in the sand and in less than 5 minutes, it was in my lap and in another 5, I was petting it.

About mid afternoon the sun was getting warm and was way to contrasty to shoot, so I headed back to the bay. I only drove about 2-3 miles when spotted more elephant seals on the beach. Here there were no signs, no people, no fences, and I stopped. I walked over to the edge of a high bank and peered over. There were more seals here than the other location. I got my camera and walked down the edge to a place that allowed me to get on the level of the babies. I was now in the sand and the babies were sleeping. As I approached they would raise their head and bellow, and then lay their head in the sand again. I slowly got closer, and closer. They allowed me to mingle within their groups, so close that I reached out and petted several. They did not even look up when I petted them.( they feel like petting a Budweiser horse).

Momma elephant seal weans her babies by leaving them laying on the beach while she goes on a 8000 mile hunting spree to feed the new fetus she is carrying. When the babies get hungry, they venture out into the ocean and look for goodies to eat. There is no training given them. It is amazing that they survive.

There were a few, very few, large males still hanging around. Even skinny they are big….my guess was 1200 lbs.

The next day I saw thule elk, and Sitka black tailed deer, and turkeys. I also drove the coast on the southern edge of Big Sur for some scenic images and there are many old missions that I found interesting to shoot. A walk along the rocky shore will produce several tide pools to see smaller sea life to photograph. A worth while trip.

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