A Clever Bird

DSCF3606I went kayaking on the Elkhorn Slough at Moss Landing, just a little north of Monterey, on the weekend. $30 for an all-day boat rental, inclusive of wetsuit, windbreaker and life jacket at Monterey Kayaks; you really can’t ask for a better deal.

The inlet was heaving with seals, otters, sea lions, and their pups, and the whole thing was good fun and superb value for money in spite of a strong tide pushing in, and a strong breeze freshening up during the cause of the day. This makes the first part of the journey really easy, but it turned out to be a good workout coming back. A good thing that I followed the advise of the rental guys and didn’t take too far up on the inlet.

Amidst the sea mammals, the inlet if crowded with birds. Geese, ducks, pelicans, herons, all kinds of water birds, and of course seagulls. In the end, I found myself watching a seagull more than anything, because the bird had discovered a clever hunting strategy:

I sat adrift and enjoyed my sandwich, watching a mother otter and her pup diving for mussels, and suspiciously eyeing the seagull from the corner of my eye. As it turned out, this particular seagull had no interest in my delicious sandwich. Instead, the bird was watching the otters just like I did, but with different intentions.

I don’t think the young otter got any mussels, but back on the surface, the mother opens up some and shares her catch – it’s the cutest thing to watch.

Enter the seagull.

She hassles the otters until they give up and dive away, while dropping their catch. The seagull dives, and enjoys a nutritious shellfish meal.

Clever, ey?

You want to hate the bird, because the bird is nasty and the otters are cute, but I couldn’t help admiring the strategy.


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Atlantis-lowres This new painting's story is a little long and windy. Allow me to explain:

Only 6 miles or so off the cost of Monterey, California, a great deal of whales travels past more or less all year. Grey Whales and Humpback Whales travel to Baja Mexico for mating. Orcas travel along for hunting, while some Orcas even became resident in Monterey bay, feeding on seals and the occasional whale calf.

Oh, and there are Blue Whales, too. A great number of them. They weren't known to be traveling through that stretch or water until not long ago, or they changed their routes in the early eighties, but they now come along every mid summer. I haven't had luck with spotting a Blue Whale myself yet, but I have been out watching for whales a couple of times. The Whale Watching company of choice has marine biologists on board, and they tell me how elusive those big animals are:

Scientists have tried tagging Blue Whales will all kinds of high-tech and low-tech gizmos and contraptions, yet have still to find out where the whales go, and where they mate.

I can't help feeling smug about this. I don't understand why we cannot accept not to understand something. Some things should just be left in peace and on their own devices.

Take, for example, the finding of an ancient tomb. Scientists will be hugely disappointed and frustrated to find that it has been opened and raided two centuries ago, and will be delighted if not – only then to proceed raiding the previously untouched tomb. All in the name of science of course.

So anyway, those biologists tell me that one could try to renegotiate international shipping routes, for example, if those were found crossing the Blue Whales' routes or mating grounds. I don't know. Since hunting stopped, the animals are recovering. I am sure they'd be most happy to be left in peace.

Not through scientific instruments, but by sheer contemplation, however, I have now successfully determined the location of the Blue Whale's mating grounds: They go to that other place that we have so far failed to find.


Oil on canvas, 20×30", November 2008.

I hope you like it. You can click here, or the thumbnail, for a larger version.