Aside from some shoreline modification associated with marinas and fill in the communities of Morro Bay and Baywood Park, much of this IBA has remained strikingly unaltered from original conditions, especially compared with other wetlands south of the San Francisco Bay Area. The habitat of may be divided into four main units. Dominating the landscape is the vast, shallow open water of the bay, which is tidally drained. The highly productive saltmarsh of this IBA is restricted to the east and southeast sides of the bay, most extensive along South Bay Blvd. near the community of Baywood Park. Small patches of woodland (both oak and riparian) may be found associated with creeks on the eastern edge of the bay, notably within Morro Bay State Park and the remarkable dwarf Coast Live Oak woodland of Elfin Forest (San Luis Obispo Co. Parks). The western and southwestern edge of the bay, inaccessible by land, is dominated by dune habitats, with their own distinct avifauna, protected as Morro Dunes Natural Preserve (DFG). Morro Bay is designated as part of the National Estuary Program by the EPA, and receives funding to protect and restore the physical, biological, economic, and recreational values of the Morro Bay Estuary.

Ornithological Summary

Morro Bay is one of the most important waterbird stopover and wintering locations in California south of San Francisco Bay with up to 20,000 shorebirds spending the winter on its tidally-exposed mudflats (Page and Shuford 2000). The concentration of migrant and wintering Brant is one of the highest in the state, exceeding 4000 birds during the winter of 2000-01 (J. Roser, via email). Many of the thousands of waterfowl and shorebirds that forage on the waters of the bay (e.g. over 2000 Marbled Godwit and c. 500 Long-billed Curlew regularly winter) roost in the upland habitat at the bay's edge, including the long sand spit on the west side. This IBA also approximately 30% of California's Pacifc coast population of the Western Snowy Plover. Though California Clapper Rail was last seen in 1973, a small population of Black Rail possibly persist in the tidal marsh here is one of only three south of the San Francisco Bay Area (desert populations in the Imperial Valley and the Colorado River Valley being the other two). Many species of raptors, including Short-eared Owl and Northern Harrier, winter on the dry portions of the marsh and adjacent grassland. Two areas seem particularly critical for migrant passerines: the willow thickets along Pecho Rd. in Los Osos; and the Elfin Forest at Baywood Park. The only major heron rookery on the bay is located in a eucalyptus grove at Fairbanks Point within Morro Bay State Park. Morro Rock, located at the north end of the bay, continues to support a nesting pair (exceptionally two, as in 2001) of Peregrine Falcon. Bell's Sage Sparrow has been resident, at least formerly, in dune scrub on aeolian sand deposits near Shark's Inlet" at the extreme southern end of the bay in Los Osos, further south on the dunes into Montana De Oro State Park (S. Schubert, via email), and in shrub vegetation on a hillside known as Bayview Heights above the town of Los Osos.

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Conservation Issues

The natural resources of Morro Bay have long been recognized by government agencies and non-profit organizations, and this IBA enjoys conservation attention by multiple groups, including the National Estuary Program. The fact that residential and commercial development is continuing throughout the relatively small Morro Bay watershed necessitates the assignment of a "Medium" conservation threat -large areas are protected, but the entire area will continue to be subject to encroachment and its associated threats (exotic species, human disturbance) for the foreseeable future. Other issues include the Duke Energy Power Plant, contamination from failing septic systems in Los Osos, and an outdated sewage treatment plant in Morro Bay.

Ownership

Ownership of this IBA includes State Parks, City of Morro Bay, Morro Coast Audubon and private landowners. Portions of the estuary are owned by CA DFG and the City of Morro Bay.

Habitat

The habitat of may be divided into four main units. Dominating the landscape is the vast, shallow open water of the bay, which is tidally drained. The highly productive saltmarsh of this IBA is restricted to the east and southeast sides of the bay, most extensive along South Bay Blvd. near the community of Baywood Park. Small patches of woodland (both oak and riparian) may be found associated with creeks on the eastern edge of the bay, notably within Morro Bay State Park and the remarkable dwarf Coast Live Oak woodland of Elfin Forest (San Luis Obispo Co. Parks). The western and southwestern edge of the bay, inaccessible by land, is dominated by dune habitats, with their own distinct avifauna, protected as Morro Dunes Natural Preserve (DFG).

Forested Upland Evergreen Forest Other : refers to Coast Live Oak