Birdwatching: Thousands of birds winter in Morro Bay
By Ruth Ann Angus
–It happens every year. Summer ends, the days become crisp and clear and the birds return to Morro Bay. The National Audubon Society lists Morro Bay as a Globally Important Bird Area and it is also a part of the National Estuary Program. Fall and winter seasons bring thousands of migratory birds that make Morro Bay their winter home.
Shorebirds such as marbled godwits, willets, curlews with their long curved bill, and tiny sandpipers find a bountiful feast in the mudflats of the bay. Black brant geese migrate from spots on the Alaskan shore to feed on the rich eelgrass beds of the estuary. Fluttering terns, brown pelicans, graceful egrets, and great blue herons are also part of the seasonal mix.
One of the best ways to see the birds of Morro Bay is from the water. Outfitters located on the Embarcadero rent kayaks, canoes, and electric boats. For those who don’t want to take to the water, there are trails and viewing places surrounding the bay. An easy trail is located beginning at the rear of the Morro Bay State Park Marina parking lot and winding out along the estuary.
Morro Rock is a protected nesting ground for peregrine falcons. While there is no public access to Morro Rock the falcons and a large variety of other birds can be viewed from the water and from nearby locations.
Morro Coast Audubon Society maintains the Audubon Overlook in Los Osos on the south side of the estuary. From the small roofed deck, you can sit comfortably and view the variety of waterfowl foraging in the waters of the back bay. The Audubon Overlook can be reached from South Bay Blvd. by turning west on Santa Ysabel at the traffic light and proceeding to Third Street. A right turn at the end of the street takes you to a small dirt road that leads to the parking area.
Another excellent area for bird watching is the Sweet Springs Preserve. It is a 24-acre natural site on the southern edge of the bay consisting of one acre of freshwater ponds and marsh, 14 acres of saltwater ponds, marsh and mudflats, and nine acres of upland scrub. Wintering Brant geese and scores of ducks take up winter residence along its shores. There are trails, bridges, and benches along the way and many locals make this area their daily stroll. Ospreys are often seen perching on top of boat masts in the harbor area. Sweet Springs Reserve is located in the 600 block of Ramona Avenue in Los Osos.
The Morro Bay Winter Bird Festival, held in January, is a great way to learn about the 200 plus species that visit Morro Bay. The festival website, www.morrobaybirdfestival.org is an excellent resource for self-guided birdwatching tours. For 2021, the festival is offering online events instead of guided tours and in-person activities. Lectures and workshops from past years can also be viewed online on the website. The festival is looking forward to returning full force in 2022.
More information about birds and birdwatching opportunities on the Central Coast and is available from the Morro Coast Audubon Society at www.morrocoastaudubon.org or by calling (805) 772-1991.
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