Carla Brennan's Blog

Reflections and Photos from The Big Trip and Beyond . .

More at Moss Landing


More at Moss Landing, CA
September 2019

If you’ve you been following my blog, then you’re already familiar with Moss Landing. It sits in the middle of the great crescent of Monterey Bay with Santa Cruz at the top and Monterey at the bottom. The harbor at Moss Landing is a draw for many coastal creatures: birds, sea otters, sea lions and seals. Even though it is busy with human activity it’s a place where you are almost guaranteed to see wildlife.

Chris was scheduled for surgery and we wanted a one night getaway before then. In the center of the crowded harbor is a KOA RV park. We’d talked many times about staying there but never had. I was excited to have the extra time to wander the harbor with my cameras. Usually I visit Moss Landing for only 2 to 3 hours stints. (This post actually includes photos from my most recent shorter visit as well as the overnight.)

The RV park was nothing special and was expensive by our standards but it worked well for us anyway. We could walk to the beach (Salinas River State Beach) and the harbor channel. We could also walk to several restaurants. We enjoyed a better-than-average Mexican dinner at the Haute Enchilada and a better-than-average Thai lunch at the Lemongrass Seafood Bar and Grill. We could even walk to a small museum and store devoted to Shakespeare. What more do you need?

As I said, Moss Landing is a busy place, not like our usual preferred camping locations. It has commercial fishing, recreational fishing, whale watching excursions, sailboats, marine supply businesses, restaurants, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute and the nearby Highway One. And let’s not forget the huge powerplant that allows you to locate Moss Landing from a distance by its two towering smokestacks. Even during the night there was traffic on the highway, people coming and going in the harbor and groups of sea lions erupting into excited barking.

• Next to us at our campsite was a pristine late 60’s VW bus. Bright orange without a dent or speck of dirt anywhere. The 60s live on in California.

• During a previous visit to Moss Landing I discovered several Monterey cypresses where egrets and herons like to roost. These trees were an easy hike from our campsite and I visited them several times a day.

• In the low light of dusk, two otters were singlehandedly ridding the docks of their accumulated mussels. One otter took a large shell and whacked it against a cement piling, essentially using the dock structure as a tool to open the mollusk.

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Egrets Everywhere

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Well, actually, they aren’t everywhere but I sure have seen a lot of them, both great egrets and snowy egrets, while living near the coast in California. Egrets – along with herons, pelicans and cranes – are good friends of the wildlife photographer. They are large, often remain still for long periods, are elegant in form and beautiful in flight. (Maybe pelicans aren’t exactly elegant but they are certainly appealing.) Most of the photos in this post have not been published before.

To see two other blog posts devoted to egrets, go to:

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Spearfishing with Egrets


Spearfishing with Egrets
February 11, 2018
Moss Landing, CA

Off on a Sunday afternoon to Moss Landing for some wildlife viewing and beach walking. I was most interested in identifying birds this trip but I was also on the lookout for otters, seals and sea lions. It was a pleasant day and I spotted a variety of shorebirds: long-billed curlews, willets, black-bellied plover, mallards, blue-winged teals, buffleheads, black-necked stilts, terns, and lots of gulls. The tide was quite low leaving an expansive mud flat on the bay, attracting some birds.  At the top of a far barren tree perched a white and black raptor. I first assumed it was an osprey but then realized it was a kite, a white-tailed kite. A new bird for my Life List.

With its inner bay, tidal flats, marshes, open beaches, and estuary, Moss Landing offers a wide range of wildlife habitats in a relatively small area. This place is not free of humans, however. It is home to whale-watching and fishing boats and the world famous Phil’s Restaurant as well as the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. That Sunday was also the weekend of the big Pebble Beach PGA tournament nearby in Monterey so we were concerned extra sight-seers might be on the highways and at the beaches.

The road into Moss Landing crosses a small lagoon near a marina. For some reason in this confined area there are often a few birds and an occasional otter. It’s easy to park there and sneak up for some relatively close photographs. Sure enough, there were two great egrets, a pair of eared grebes, and double crested cormorants. A snowy egret landed while I was shooting.

One great egret stood still and elegant on a rock for quite a while. Suddenly she spotted some prey, invisible to me beneath the water. Leaping forward, she plunged completely into the lagoon with only her upper angel wings above the surface. I had never witnessed one of these large wading birds completely submerge itself. The egret then burst from the water, flapping wildly toward shore with two anchovies! What a catch!

One fish was crushed between the jaws of its beak and the other was impaled on the pointed tip. It took patience and skill for the egret to reposition the anchovies so it could swallow them. But eventually the fish disappeared down its gullet and the great egret resumed its still and elegant pose.

Please do not reproduce any photographs without permission. Prints are available for purchase for some photographs. If you are interested, contact Carla at: You can also find Carla’s photographs, paintings and jewelry on her Etsy site (Stones and Bones):

This gallery contains 25 photos