The next morning I woke up at 4:45 AM to get an early start shooting the sunrise. The lights were glowing below on the Clement Hotel's Pacific Courtyard but not a soul was in sight.
As I walked down Cannery Row only the sea gulls sitting atop the garbage bins were there to greet me.
As I drove along the coast following the Monterey Peninsula Recreational Trail I noticed some movement to my left so I pulled over. Two raccoons were running down the side of the street! You can make out one leaping into the street near the "P" in stop and the other about to run out of the frame on the right side.
I chose a spot in Berwick Park between Lover's Point and the American Tin Cannery Outlets and pulled over. The cloud cover was hanging so low I realized I probably wouldn't be able to see the sunrise. Hm. What to do? That's when, in the early morning light, I noticed a Great White Heron (aka Giant White Egret or Giant White Heron) hunting along the shoreline and in the tide pools below me. I'd photographed one before on a trip to the Colusa Wildlife Refuge up near Sacramento.
After just a few minutes it was joined by two Snowy Egrets. You can tell the difference because they are much shorter and they have bright yellow feet. They stayed for less than a minute and then they were gone.
Which was fine because our Great White Heron didn't have time for socializing. It was there to hunt.
Because of the distance and low light I wasn't able to take pictures of the quality I usually strive for. Instead, even using my 100-300 mm zoom lens, I had to settle for slightly grainy photos because I had to set my ISO quite high to get any pictures at all.
As soon as it caught, this writhing, red, gunnel fish (they're shaped like eels) the heron quickly moved away from the water line and onto some seaweed covered rocks. There it pinched the fish between it's beak and waited for it to stop struggling which took a surprisingly long time. Several minutes in fact.
By now the sun was rising but some low rays of light and a single fishing boat and lots of kelp were all I saw beneath the cloud cover.
Soon after the heron moved closer towards the shore. When it caught a second gunnel fish I was able to get a slightly better picture.
In the upper part of its beak is a piece of seaweed. The gunnel fish is closer to the tip of its beak. But this one got away. After holding it for several minutes it slipped out of the bird's beak and immediately buried itself in the seaweed. The bird searched for it but finally gave up when it was clear the gunnel had made its escape.
After spending almost 90 minutes in one location the heron decided to move on. In total I saw it make 6 attempts at prey. It was successful with three strikes. I thought 50% must be pretty good odds.
It was still quite early. Even this sea gull was sleeping on a nearby rock.
Back on Cannery Row the street was coming to life. The occasional car would pass by and a tour bus had pulled up in front of the Clement, the hotel I was staying at.
At the other end of the block from the Clement Hotel is the Monterey Bay Aquarium. If you've never been there I highly recommend a visit. It's an education and conservation gem. Over the years I've been there three times but haven't been back for probably a decade.
If you go, you will see the most exquisite sea life and displays. The Kelp Forest is one of my favorites. Right now there's also a jellyfish exhibit and a seahorse exhibit, both of which I'd love to see. There's also a sea otter exhibit that's always a crowd pleaser and the Open Sea exhibit is literally jaw dropping.
Another notable thing I love about the Monterey Bay Aquarium is their Seafood Watch list. You can print a wallet card or download their mobile apps so that you'll always know which fish are the most sustainable and environmentally sound choices when it comes to dining.
So, I had a decision to make: Visit the aquarium that day or go look for sea life out in the wild...
For instance, right behind the Clement Hotel you can look over the edge of their deck and see all kinds of life. After feeling a bit disappointed to not see any starfish yesterday at the Sunset Drive tide pools I was really happy to spot one bright orange bat starfish in the water below. Beneath a nearby pier Pigeon Guillemot were resting on the concrete pilings and there were small crabs scuttling about on the rocks. There were also Canadian Geese and Brown Pelican swimming and flying out behind the hotel.
A Giant Green Anemone in, and an exposed colony of anemone out, of the water.
I also spotted Sea Anemones both in (top) and out (bottom) of the water. They are so pretty. Whenever I see them I can't help but think they are the sunflowers of the sea. But they aren't flowers. They're animals that, with their stinging tentacles to help them catch prey, eat small crabs, fish, sea urchins and any other small prey that happen their way.
I went back to my room, cleaned up, packed and checked out by 9:00 AM. I'd decided to stick around and see parts of Monterey I'd never seen before. Every time I've ever visited, coming off the freeway, I've driven down Del Monte Boulevard and passed three places I've been curious to stop at but never have.
The Crystal Rose Collection at 1299 Del Monte Ave. Monterey, Ca
The first is a storefront whose front is a gated lot filled with wood, colorful metal and ceramic sculptures. Each time I'd think to myself "I want to stop there someday." Well that day finally came and I visited the Crystal Rose Collection. Along the street you'll see a sign that says Burlwood Industries who I believe was the previous tenant. If you're looking for a sculptural piece for your yard or home this is a great place to stop. Most of the pieces are handmade and imported from Mexico.
The owner told me one customer had purchased one of the metal tree pieces, cut away part of his gate, and mounted it in the gate to create a sculptural window into his backyard. What a clever idea!
Lake El Estero
Across the street was my second stop that morning: El Estero Park. From Del Monte Blvd you can see a small lake to your left as you drive towards Cannery Row. Often dozens of Canadian Geese are grazing on the lawn and paddle boats are on the water.
El Eestero Paddle Boats (831) 375-1484
I pulled in and learned that the park not only has paddle boats you can rent by the hour at El Estero Boating, it also has many other activities including:
- The Dennis the Menace Children's Playground
- A Dog Park
- A Skate Park (For both inline skates and skate boards)
- BBQ Pits for up to 200 people
- An Outdoor Exercise Course
- A Baseball Diamond
My final stop was Monterey's Old Fisherman's Wharf. Established in 1845, it took me until 2012 to get here for a visit.
While there were several gift shops along the wharf the first thing I noticed was the food vendors. Not because I was hungry, but because they were everywhere and most give out free samples of clam chowder and display some of their best menu items out front to lure you in. If you tried every sample from end to end you would probably be too full to actually sit down for a bowl at any of the restaurants. LOL
This is also where many of the whale watching boats leave from. Standing in one location I could see three different companies and was able to see the Monterey Whale Watching's stand and boat, the Greatland, with many passengers lining up for the next tour.
There are many activities available. I saw people getting ready to go kayaking, there's a sailboat company, people were stand up paddle boarding and there's even a glass bottom boat.
While at first you can't see them, you can definitely hear the raucous barking of the resident California Sea Lions. There's a small dock that sits on the furthest tip of the pier facing the harbor. There I saw sea lions resting on the dock and cavorting in the water.
Love that I was able to get this shot of a sea lion diving into Monterey Bay!
Who was this? As soon as I saw this huge sea lion I was pretty sure it was one I'd read about in the news earlier this year.
According to the Marine Mammal Center California Sea Lion males usually measure up to seven feet long and can weigh up to 850 lbs. The females can reach up to six feet long and can weigh up to 220 lbs. But this big boy was clearly much larger than any of the other sea lions on the dock. That's because he was (most likely) a threatened Stellar Sea Lion which can grow up to 11 feet long and weigh up to 2500 lbs!
One was spotted in the local area back in March at Moss Landing, which is why I'd read about it in the news.
He was simply huge. The California Sea Lions were dwarfed by his height. According to the article linked above, of the 40,000 Stellar Sea Lions left only around 500 live along California's coast. A small breeding population does live at the nearby Año Nuevo Reserve but most live in Alaska. When they make an appearance in local Bay Area harbors they always cause quite a stir. They are considered threatened because their population has dropped by 80% in the past 30 years. Because of this they are protected by both the Marine Mammal Act and the Endangered Species Act.
While photographing the sea lions I spotted a juvenile Brown Pelican. He was preening and resting despite all of the noise coming from the sea lions and sea gulls. As beautiful as the Bay can be, serene isn't a word I'd ever use to describe it as it is a literal cacophony of sounds.
For just a minute, an adult Brown Pelican landed nearby. The most distinctive difference between the two is the adult's white head.
So here's the thing, if you go out looking for sea life you have to look everywhere! Especially down in the water there is always something to see. This starfish was massive My guess is that it measured at least 18" in diameter. It was beneath the pier and I noticed it while shooting the sea lions.
I was ready to head out but decided to walk past the harbor on my way back to the car. In the pictures above you can see the wharf and just to the right of it is the harbor with many boats. In that small strip of water along the walkway and just beneath the guardrail I saw this:
A Sea Nettle Jellyfish! I actually saw two of them but this was the first one. I was thrilled to be able to photograph a jellyfish in the wild!
I also spotted two Opaleye Perch which were really hard to photograph without a polarizing lens but if you look carefully you can just make out their forms and the white spots on their backs. There were also small crabs both out of and in the water all along the entire walkway.
And then I spotted a second jellyfish! This was a Moon Jelly. It didn't have any discernible long tentacles but I could see some short nubby ones along its underside. It's bell (aka hood) was particularly neat because it was very transparent. It was so white and bright it looked as if it was glowing in the water.
I even made a video of them for you that includes a third jellyfish I spotted later that day at Moss Landing.
Not nearly as easy to spot I did notice a very small fish, probably no more than four inches long darting between the rocks. In the top picture it's very hard to pick out so I made a close p for you. I believe this was a Sculpin. I'd seen even smaller ones, most less than an inch long, in the tide pools off Pacific Grove the day before but wasn't able to get a clear picture of any of them.
The picture below shows that small channel of water between the dock and the walkway where I spotted all of this wildlife. So my tip would be to look, really carefully, and be patient. Just like in the morning. Had I moved on too quickly I would have missed the Great White Heron the same way I could have missed the jellyfish or sculpin. I watched as many people came down the walkway most so into their conversations and getting to the wharf they never even glanced down at the water beside. them. They missed quite a show :)
To visit any or all of the places I stopped at that day here's what you need to know:
The Clement Hotel - website
750 Cannery Row
Berwick Park - map
Ocean View Blvd x 9th Street
The Crystal Rose Collection - website
1299 Del Monte Ave.
El Estero Park - website - map
777 Pearl Street
Old Fisherman's Wharf - website - map
#1 Old Fishermans Wharf
Monterey, CA 93940
Past posts about Monterey Include:
Where to Stay and Play in Monterey
Cutest Dog Ever Sea Otter Halloween Costume!
Sea Kayak Wedding Photos in Monterey Bay