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The meandering landscape of tidal creeks and salt marshes at the center of Monterey Bay appears to be full of movement and absolutely alive upon first sight - and that’s because it is! Elkhorn Slough is a National Estuarine Research Reserve that is teeming with interesting plants and wildlife. Slough is another word for swamp, which describes the views you’ll see when visiting. But there is much more here, including the important estuary. Estuaries, including the surrounding wetlands and swamps, are where rivers meet the sea. This allows the mixing of fresh water from inland and saltwater from the sea, called brackish water, which creates one of the most productive ecosystems in the world. There are unique plant and animal communities that have adapted to brackish water.
Many visitors choose to explore this area by kayak, providing great views of the habitats and animals like sea otters, harbor seals, and over 300 types of birds! Exploring the bridges and walkways will also provide great wildlife viewing opportunities. The rich waters’ edge of mud and soil is a productive area where seabirds probe for insects and crustaceans. During the nesting and migration seasons, these mud flats are critical as birds require more high-nutrient foods, where they may find and eat midge-larvae and earthworms. Several unique amphibians live here, including salamanders that spend the majority of their life underground – some that breathe entirely through their skin. Cliff swallows may be seen in wet areas gathering mud with their beaks, which they use to construct molded gourd-shaped nests on vertical walls in colonies. Move slowly and quietly as you explore this area, and you’ll undoubtedly be rewarded with amazing sights at Elkhorn Slough!