Where in the world is Elkhorn Slough?

10 Mar
Satellite image of Elkhorn Slough

Satellite image of Elkhorn Slough

Elkhorn Slough feeds down into the bottom of the Monterey Bay.  A Slough (pronounced Slough slew) is an estuary where fresh water meets salt water.  Elkhorn Slough is a seasonal estuary.  There is no river that feeds it, just seasonal creeks, springs, and rainfall runoff.

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That the Slough exists for birds and birders is amazing.  It has a long and varied history.  In the 1900s, the railroad came through the area and built levees and ran the railroad right down the middle of the Slough.  It still exists today, working away.  Farmers filled in mudflats and turned it into pasture land for the dairy cows.  In the 1970’s, the Army Corp of Engineers started working on reclaiming the pasture land.  They came in and built a series of artificial islands to encourage life to come back to the Slough.  You can see them in the picture below.

Closeup of the Slough

Closeup of the Slough

In the picture above, you can see the gray area in the lower right.  That is the main buildings of the Visitor’s/Research center.  The trails that leave it take you down to the big white rectangle in the middle of the image.  That is the old Milking barn where the barn owls nest now  From there, you can go around the big body of water by two ways to the left across a levee or to the the right following the contour of the land/water.  The road labelled Paradise Valley Rd is no longer open to the public.  You walk on it along in the late spring and summer with Marsh Rabbits hopping into your path and a hedgerow of wild roses along your way.  It’s so lovely!  That road takes you across the railroad tracks to Hummingbird Island (upper left corner).  I haven’t explored the other trails in the preserve yet but will someday.  The artificial islands work, by the way.  They team with life . . . birds of all sorts use them as access points and nesting sites.

Great Egret at Whistlestop

On the way to Elkhorn Slough, one passes Whistlestop Lagoon.  It’s an interesting place.  It is a tidal basin however it is on the other side of a levee road.  The tide comes and goes through two big pipes in the levee.  This changes the composition of the water compared to other parts of the Slough.  It teams with life.  From the levee, you can see birds, crabs, fish, sharks, and more.   When the tide is coming in, it is really neat to stand near the pipes and watch the fish — some huge — come to feed on the nutrient rich water that flows in.

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This Great Blue Heron eschewed the water and was doing some upland game hunting at the edge of Whistlestop.

Egret at Whistlestop

Snowy Egrets always look so elegant as they hunt in the mud.  🙂

Elkhorn Slough is one of many sloughs (estuaries) we have along the edge of the Monterey Bay.  I love the way you can see the signs of the old uses for the Slough (see the fence post above in the picture) and how rich it is with nature.  I love that the Elkhorn Slough foundation is slowly and steadily reintroducing native plants but also acknowledging that the invasive planted species such as the Eucalyptus have their place too as habitat.

I heartily recommend a day spent at Elkhorn Slough for any birder who visits our area.  It only costs $2.50 to spend all day there and you’ll definitely get your money’s worth in birds!  Heck, email me and I’ll try to meet you there.  I’m allowed to lead field trips there now, after all!

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4 Responses to “Where in the world is Elkhorn Slough?”

  1. Neefer 18 March, 2009 at 8:34 am #

    So is it slough as in dough or slough as in rough?

    • Clare 18 March, 2009 at 12:24 pm #

      Slough as in “slew”, which rhymes with stew

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