Photo by Kevin L. Cole, a local photographer in Morro Bay.
This is the first in a series of tales of “famous and not-so-famous birds” in and around Morro Rock, Morro Bay, California.
On a fall morning, a couple of the local birders led by Tom Edell* heard a sound of a kitten in the willows at the base of Morro Rock. One of them knew it wasn’t a cat because he was familiar with the sound of a catbird. This is not something you hear if you are born and raised in California. There have been sightings in California, but this is only the second in San Luis Obispo County. He arrived on November 10, 2008.
Within days, word got around and we were inundated by bird nuts of every description from four states that I know of. They would walk up and down the parking lot, ears and eyes attuned for this elusive prey. The third day some were able to catch a glimpse of the bird. He acts very much like a thrasher on the ground most of the time going through the underbrush and occasionally popping up for a short flight to another thicket. The fourth day was very windy and a little lady named Ida rode the bus from San Luis Obispo to Morro Bay to enjoy the sun and pick cactus apples, also known as prickly pears. She would peel them, put them in a bag to take home and juice them. It was so windy, she pulled her little shopping cart into the willows to sit down and peel apples. After she had left, I saw the catbird plain as day eating the cactus apple skins. I got a pair of gloves and walked 100 yards to pick some apples. I cut one in half and laid it open where I had seen the bird in an opening about a few feet from the underbrush. Within ten minutes, he came out to the feast to eat and stayed there for the next two weeks.
Hundreds of people came to see and photograph the bird. The “Rare Bird Alert” did too good of a job. The bird would appear about every thirty minutes like clockwork. People would yell at me to get more apples. Pretty soon someone put a water dish there. This is getting to be too much; it’s a zoo with animals, with strange hats, who have things hanging around their necks and looking through glass tubes and all at a four ounce bird fifteen feet away. They brought beach chairs and sat around the little clearing hoping to add to their life list, a poor little critter that got blown off course. Sometimes, I wish I had never put out the apple. He left before the Christmas Bird Count!
Happy trails, Bob.
Tom Edell- One of San Luis Obispo’s foremost birders and wildlife enthusiasts.