a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: Elkhorn Slough

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Elkhorn Slough

SUMMARY: Other things to do without dogs.

A couple of weekends ago, I joined a photography meet-up group for a chartered trip on Elkhorn Slough. The slough is quite shallow; we chartered a flat-bottomed tourboat whose skipper is not only well-versed in the wildlife but is himself a photographer, so he knew what made good photos and where to move the boat for the best lighting.

Elkhorn: Hey, did you know that there is a dog sport called "shed dog"? Basically, you teach your dog to find antlers. More info here.

Slough: Pronounced "sloo" (like "through"). A stream distributary, secondary delta channel without trees, marshy area, pond, or swamp--depending on what part of the country or world you're in.

Elkhorn Slough: "7-mile-long (11 km) tidal slough and estuary on Monterey Bay in Monterey County, California. Elkhorn Slough harbors the largest tract of tidal salt marsh in California outside of San Francisco Bay and provides much-needed habitat for hundreds of species of plants and animals, including more than 340 species of birds. More than 5,000 acres of the Elkhorn Slough area are preserved. The slough's wildlife and habitats are protected primarily by two marine protected areas, the Elkhorn Slough State Marine Reserve (SMR) and Elkhorn Slough State Marine Conservation Area (SMCA). The combined areas cover 1.57 square miles (4.1 km2)." (Wikipedia)

Our expectations--to see some nifty birds, some sea lions, and maybe an otter or two-- Particularly an OTTER or two!-- from right close up.

I rented meself some serious glass--a 50-500mm lens--for the trip--quite inexpensive compared to the top-of-the-line long telephotos and with a much greater range than any others. They warned up front that it's not a crystal-clear prime lens, but that the weight couldn't be beat compared to the more expensive glass. With camera, "only" around 5 lbs. (groan, still a bit weighty).

50mm length

500mm length

I hoped that would be enough to get some excellent close-ups of birds and maybe even OTTERS! I took over 700 photos; about half were tossable right up front. Here are a few that turned out ok. There are more that I like, too, but this is a flavor.

Our "Safari" boat:

The skipper, out on the Slough:

We started at the Moss Landing Harbor, which is home port for many sailboats, fishing boats, and, er, well, those black-painted schooners--

There are other ways to get around the slough-- motorboat (we didn't see many of these):
--and kayak (we saw many of these in all brilliant colors of the rainbow):

We all prepared for the trip in our own ways.

(I did some playing around with fun filters on some of the photos afterwards--like that last one above of the meet-up organizer and his sister, and this slightly stylized one of a seagull flying overhead with some nice backlighting.)

And did we see BIRDS? Yes, we did!

Western Grebe:

Western Grebe--love the bright red eye and yellow beak.

Brandt's cormorant with bright-blue mating-season throat.

Another Brandt's cormorant on its nest.

Great Blue Heron.

Cormorant gathering in his flock.

Surf Scoter giving us a wary eye.

Pigeon Guillemot with his bright-red legs.

Brown Pelicans flying high overhead--
--and winging by just inches from the water, never quite touching it:

Eared Grebe. This guy is really small compared to all the others and never came very close. This is wayyyy cropped in.

Caspian Terns darting overhead, with their distinctive red beaks:

And did we see SEA LIONS? Oh, yes, we did!

They were not particular about sharing their personal space.

Is this enough sea lions for ya?

And did we see HARBOR SEALS?

Oh yes we did!

It's the Burt Reynolds of Harbor Seals:

They also assemble along the shallows and on shore, but are not nearly as chummy as the sea lions.

And did we see OTTERS?

Oh boy, did we! But getting a really cute photo of that iconic face was really hard. I tried, though.

Must wash hands before dinner.

This guy obligingly kept diving and coming up with various food items, which he ate alongside our boat, over and over. Here he's disassembling a clam.

They might look cute, but theys gots sharp pointy toothers!

HOLY MARINE MAMMAL, Is THIS enough otters for ya? I had never SEEN so many otters-- I've probably never seen this many, total, in my life, in the wild before, and here they all were, just hangin' out in the shallows, grooming and napping and watching the occasional tourist.


  1. I want to be an otter when I grow up.

  2. Great photos. I love otters, so lucky to see so many at once.

  3. Cool. Looks like a really wonderful trip. I've always wanted to go. On my list.

  4. An otter's life, on this day and in this place, looked pretty good to me. No predators likely in the slough. Lots of food, apparently.

    Vici, I can recommend the Safari guy--i've got the phone number around here somewhere.

  5. Elkhorn Slough Safari at Moss Landing: 831-633-5555
    private charters as well as public tours. By reservation only. www.elkhornslough.com

  6. No, I did NOT know that there is a dog sport called shed dog, nor that it's the fastest growing sport in the dog world. Well huh! Go figure. Or maybe, go antler.

    What a fun-, fur-, and feather-filled day. Fun seeing all those closeups!