Cambrian: Opinion

Think Africa’s great migrations are impressive? Check out Cambria’s backcountry

Tarantulas are among the many species that migrate through Cambria’s backcountry.
Tarantulas are among the many species that migrate through Cambria’s backcountry. Special to The Cambrian

Many people are aware of the annual migration of wildebeest, gazelles, zebras and other ungulates in Tanzanita and Kenya. San Simeon Travel’s John O’Regan is the ultimate Africa whisperer and probably knows better than anyone how impressive these migrations are.

However, he may not know that we have our own migrations right here in Cambria’s backcountry. Just in case you want to encourage him to organize an exotic trip up here to the Santa Lucia Mountains to witness our migrations, I’ll try to provide a little peek into these events, even though they are somewhat less impressive than what happens in Africa.

During our early years here, we started realizing that some of the local wildlife seemed to come and go with the seasons. At first, it was just some of the birds we noticed, primarily the Steller’s jays. Not only were we being awakened daily at dawn for months by an army of these beautiful, insistent, squawking jays, we were also having to race them for the fruit in our orchards. Mostly, they have continued to win this race, leaving us with many pathetically battered and munched apples, apricots and plums.

Then, all of a sudden, they’re gone, except for a few stragglers who eventually disappear. Where do they go, and why? Do they take advantage of our hospitality through the summer only for the fruit? If so, that’s pretty cheeky.

Blue Feathers on Redwood.jpg
Stellar’s jays are among the many species that migrate through Cambria’s backcountry. Marcia Rhoades Special to The Cambrian

We also seem to be a huge tourist attraction for band-tailed pigeons. They come and go every year, but they are quiet and seem happy enough with the local food sources to leave our fruit alone. They are charming visitors we thoroughly enjoy while they are staying here at our ranch.

If you’re beginning to yawn at this local migration business, let me move on to some more exotic creature migrations we’ve experienced here.

One day, many years ago, we found a small turtle, trudging across our meadow in full sight of our dogs and cats. Concerned for its safety, my husband John carried the turtle back to the creek it had come from. It wasn’t long before we saw it once again, slowly making its way across the meadow. Knowing nothing about turtle behavior, we tried to figure out how to protect this vulnerable little creature. Wondering if the turtle had a destination in mind, we carried it over to the creek on the other side of our meadow – in the direction it had been walking. Voila! Like magic, the turtle, crossed that creek and kept going. It was apparently migrating, something we didn’t know was a thing for turtles.

All of a sudden, we were savvy wildlife migration observers and wranglers.

Some years after that, we encountered a tarantula in the middle of the road.

Being the wildlife experts we had become, we watched it briefly and then helped it across the road – in the direction it was already traveling – where it would be safe from getting run over. We had really gotten the hang of this migration thing.

So, if you’ve been hankering to see a migration firsthand and can’t manage Africa, think about a trip into the Santa Lucias for a true, if slightly less compelling, wildlife migration experience. I encourage you to talk to John O’Regan. If his brow furrows, his eyes glaze over, and he says, “I think I’m booked for the next 10 years, and then I’m retiring,” John and I would be happy to lead it ourselves. Check with us about our tour pricing.

Mountain Musings is special to The Cambrian. Email Marcia Rhoades at