Santa Cruz Travel Guide 2012 - (Page 17)
Whether you spend a day whale watching on the Monterey Bay, birding through Watsonville’s wetlands, or touring an elephant seal breeding ground north of town, you will be taking part in a trend that has captured the attention of visitors worldwide. With an impressive variety of wildlife watching experiences for visitors to enjoy, Santa Cruz County has become a destination for nature lovers. One of the most noteworthy natural events happens each winter, when gray whales migrate through the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. The whales travel 12,000 miles round-trip from the arctic to warmer waters in Mexico to mate and nurse their young. As these majestic mammals pass the coastline, the Davenport cliffs make a perfect perch for whale watching. Or, spot whales by boat or kayak, where you may also see dolphins, sea otters, and a number of coastal birds. Speaking of birds, Pajaro (“bird” in English) Valley’s rivers and sloughs provide a rich habitat for an amazing diversity of birds. Birdwatching in Watsonville and the surrounding area is unparalleled, due to the proximity of the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Reserve, one of California’s last undisturbed coastal wetlands. The globallysignificant Pacific Flyway is nearby, a main passage for migratory birds, and one of only six common avian corridors in the nation. In addition, Watsonville’s 800 acres of wetlands provide a resting stop for migratory birds to feed and regain their strength before continuing their journey. Popular with birders, over 200 species of waterfowl, raptors and songbirds live and migrate through the wetlands. Opt for a guided tour of the wetlands, or head north and track hummingbirds and quail at the UCSC Arboretum. The annual Monterey Bay Birding Festival in September is another way to spot birds. Held in the Watsonville region, the festival features special presentations and expert-led full and half-day trips to birding hot spots. To the north, Año Nuevo State Reserve is the largest mainland breeding colony in North America of the northern elephant seal. In winter, the males battle for mates on the beaches and the females give birth to their pups on the dunes. Visitors can view these lumbering mammals up close on a docent-led tour from December through March. With an abundance of natural beauty, it’s no wonder Santa Cruz County has become a destination for viewing the wonders of wildlife. For ideas on how to enjoy local wildlife in Santa Cruz County, see page 72.
Santa Cruz County
with an impreSSive variety of wildlife watChing experienCeS for viSitorS to enjoy, Santa Cruz County haS beCome a deStination for nature loverS.
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