Carla Brennan's Blog

Reflections and Photos from The Big Trip and Beyond . .

Spearfishing with Egrets

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Spearfishing with Egrets.
February 11, 2018.
Moss Landing, CA.

Off on a Sunday afternoon to Moss Landing for some wildlife viewing and beach walking. I was most interested in identifying birds this trip but I was also on the lookout for otters, seals and sea lions. It was a pleasant day and I spotted a variety of shorebirds: long-billed curlews, willets, black-bellied plover, mallards, blue-winged teals, buffleheads, black-necked stilts, terns, and lots of gulls. The tide was quite low leaving an expansive mud flat on the bay, attracting some birds.  At the top of a far barren tree perched a white and black raptor. I first assumed it was an osprey but then realized it was a kite, a white-tailed kite. A new bird for my Life List.

With its inner bay, tidal flats, marshes, open beaches, and estuary, Moss Landing offers a wide range of wildlife habitats in a relatively small area. This place is not free of humans, however. It is home to whale-watching and fishing boats and the world famous Phil’s Restaurant as well as the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. That Sunday was also the weekend of the big Pebble Beach PGA tournament nearby in Monterey so we were concerned extra sight-seers might be on the highways and at the beaches.

The road into Moss Landing crosses a small lagoon near a marina. For some reason in this confined area there are often a few birds and an occasional otter. It’s easy to park there and sneak up for some relatively close photographs. Sure enough, there were two great egrets, a pair of eared grebes, and double crested cormorants. A snowy egret landed while I was shooting.

One great egret stood still and elegant on a rock for quite a while. Suddenly she spotted some prey, invisible to me beneath the water. Leaping forward, she plunged completely into the lagoon with only her upper angel wings above the surface. I had never witnessed one of these large wading birds completely submerge itself. The egret then burst from the water, flapping wildly toward shore with two anchovies! What a catch!

One fish was crushed between the jaws of its beak and the other was impaled on the pointed tip. It took patience and skill for the egret to reposition the anchovies so it could swallow them. But eventually the fish disappeared down its gullet and the great egret resumed its still and elegant pose.

Please do not reproduce any photographs without permission. Prints are available for purchase for some photographs. If you are interested, contact Carla at: brennan.carla@gmail.com. You can also find Carla’s photographs, paintings and jewelry on her Etsy site (Stones and Bones): https://www.etsy.com/shop/stonesandbones

This gallery contains 25 photos

Coupling Cormorants and Migrating Monarchs in February

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Coupling Cormorants and Migrating Monarchs in February
2/5/2018

Walking on West Cliff Drive on the Westside of Santa Cruz, I sought the Brandt’s cormorants I had seen a few days earlier. Cormorants are common and plentiful so most people simply ignore them. But when I saw a group of cormorants close together on a rock ledge, I knew something was up. Sure enough, closer examination revealed it was a small rookery of nesting birds. Or at least birds getting ready to nest.

Numerous piles of seaweed were placed a few feet apart. Some birds sat on the messy disorganized mounds of ocean plants while others stood nearby protecting their small territory. When a bird flew off to feed or it looked the other way, another would snatch a beak full of fibers. If one got caught in the act, noisy squabbling and beak jabbing  ensued.

Their breeding hormones had transformed their throats into a vivid cerulean blue that matched their eyes. White stringy feathers sprouted from their heads and backs, contrasting their sleek black bodies. They impressed each other with ritualized courtship behavior: heads thrown back, tails skyward, wings curled and vibrating. Sometimes they would just shake their heads vigorously, mouths open. Below, waves crashed against the cliff.

To see a video of a Brandt’s cormorant displaying go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lo_3aAL3geo

And see a nest material theft in progress: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3KP1rO4GfHU

I plan to visit this colony regularly to watch them build actual viable nests, lay eggs and raise young.

On my way to my car, I spotted a snowy egret playing in the surf. I swear that was what it was doing. Without any apparent attempt to feed or do anything practical, the egret would walk into the oncoming waves, enjoy the flowing foam around its legs then lift upward quickly when then water became too deep. It then flew back toward the cliffs and started the game all over again.

Then onto Soldiers Field to check out the Monarch butterfly situation. I was surprised to see them still there, energetically flying about in the warm sunny air. No doubt they won’t be around much longer.

Please do not reproduce any photographs without permission. Prints are available for purchase for some photographs. If you are interested, contact Carla at: brennan.carla@gmail.com. You can also find Carla’s photographs, paintings and jewelry on her Etsy site (Stones and Bones): https://www.etsy.com/shop/stonesandbones

This gallery contains 21 photos


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MUSINGS ON MUSHROOMS

MUSINGS ON MUSHROOMS
Update on the 2017-18 mushroom season in California

I missed the peak season this year. Sadly, I was too busy to get out much. Although the timing varies a little from year to year (and that’s especially true now with our unpredictable weather), November and December are generally the best months for fungus here in Santa Cruz County. Many mushrooms emerge after the first fall rains to then quickly rot away until next year. However, some mushroom species return throughout winter and others prefer to first reveal themselves later in the year.

So even with a late start, I have found a diversity of mushrooms and have enjoy documenting them. I’ve also been experimenting with macro-photography using the super-macro setting on my Olympus Tough 5. The forest floor can be quite dark which puts my cameras at a disadvantage so a few photos are of questionable quality (lots of noise) but I still include them to share my finds. Some mushrooms have been labeled but most I am not quite sure of their identification.

WHAT’S WITH THE EGG?
In some photos you will see a brown chicken’s egg. This was an inspired idea (if I say so myself) to find a way to indicate approximate size and scale of the mushrooms. It can be hard to tell from photographs whether the mushroom is 1” or 10” across. People use a variety of objects to help with this: money, lighters, keys, rulers, hands. I wanted something that looked relatively natural so I ordered fake wooden eggs. Many of the shots do not have the egg in the photo, mostly because I haven’t gotten reliably into the habit of using it.

MY FAVORITE FIND THIS YEAR
My most exciting find was in the dark understory of the redwood forest just a few feet from the trail in Henry Cowell State Park. Tanoak and other leafy branches obscured it from easy view. My eye caught a white form amid the dappled light of the forest floor. My first thought was large oyster mushrooms but on closer examination, these were revealed to be big white chanterelles! A mushroom I had never seen before. They were beautiful robust fleshy specimens, prime for the picking and eating, considered to be very tasty. But this is a state park and picking mushrooms is verboten. Which was fine for me, I prefer to leave them alone and bring back only photographic evidence. Rain was soon forecast and they would likely begin decaying in the moisture. Chris was disappointed, however, to not get a tasty wild treat.

I told a park docent about the discovery of these chanterelles and he told me where I might find one of the earliest wild flowers, a flower I have never seen before, California Fetid Adder’s Tongue. They bloom in in February.  Stay tuned and I hope to share a photo with you!

FOG IN FORMATION
I have often pondered how and why small steamy clouds of fog drift up from the redwood forest. Fog often rolls in from the ocean or descends from low clouds, but there are times when the forest itself seems to create fog, especially on partly sunny days. During my mushroom walk in Henry Cowell, I got to witness this in action. With the sun shining brightly on some damp redwoods trees, steam arose right out of the bark, creating undulating wisps of upward floating moisture. I’ve included a few photos to try to captures this mesmerizing phenomena.

MEMORIES OF MUSHROOMS PAST
As I walked through Henry Cowell recently, I pause wistfully at places where I had spotted exceptional mushrooms during the previous season. The tree that had bright orange chicken-of-the-woods now showed only small withered dark remnants of once living fungi. The ground below a redwood tree where a small group of large dyers polypore once stood was now bare.

There is one live oak on the park near the entrance kiosk that hosts a continual variety of mushrooms under its low branches. This year I found a whole new cast of mycological characters, including a new one for me called amusingly, “cowboy’s handkerchief” for its slimy mucus covered exterior.

The largest individual fungus I have ever seen was in Williamsburg, MA in about 1998. This was before I was a photographer so I have no recorded evidence of it. I would need a dozen eggs to scale its size. Wandering off the trail in the forest behind my house, I was quietly exploring the woods for what I might find. There I stumbled on a brown fleshy shelf mushroom emerging from the base of a tree. It was if the the tree itself had formed into a semicircular low table just right for a dinner gathering of gnomes. The mushroom was almost 3 feet across; I can’t imagine how much it weighed. It was a single individual enormous shelf, not multiple layers like chicken-of-the-woods or oyster mushrooms.

I have also seen huge outcroppings of lion’s mane mushrooms, looking like a mass of delicate tiny icicles in summer (MA). In northern MI I found colorful beach ball sized protuberances of chicken-of-the-woods in an old growth forest. Part of the attraction of mushrooms hunting is their unpredictability and their ephemeral nature.

New recommended book, Mushrooms of the Redwoods Coast, by Noah Siegel and Christian Schwarz. Great photos.

Please do not reproduce any photographs without permission. Prints are available for purchase for some photographs. If you are interested, contact Carla at: brennan.carla@gmail.com. You can also find Carla’s photographs, paintings and jewelry on her Etsy site (Stones and Bones): https://www.etsy.com/shop/stonesandbones

 

On a Real Wild Goose Chase

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November 19-20, 2017
San Luis and Merced National Wildlife Refuges, Near Los Banos, CA

 

Please do not reproduce any photographs without permission. Prints are available for purchase for some photographs. If you are interested, contact Carla at: brennan.carla@gmail.com. You can also find Carla’s photographs, paintings and jewelry on her Etsy site (Stones and Bones): https://www.etsy.com/shop/stonesandbones

This gallery contains 34 photos

Deep Sea Diving on Land: The Monterey Bay Aquarium

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For one week a year the (pricey) Monterey Bay Aquarium is open for free for locals. Chris and I went last Saturday and braved the long serpentine line to get our glimpse of creatures seldom seen.

The photography conditions in the aquarium go from bad to worse but I persevered and ended up with a few memorable shots included here. It is dark in most exhibits since below the ocean’s surface light diminishes rapidly. I had to crank up my ISO to its max. And there is, of course, glass between you and the salt water. Lots of it. It results in blurring, glaring, reflections and distortion. And one must also wade through the crowds to first get close to the glass. The ratio of usable photographs to far-too-crappy photographs was at new low. Yet a few images, with help from Photoshop, convey the startling beauty and mystery of the aquarium inhabitants. I am still sorting through the images.

Enjoy.

http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/

Please do not reproduce any photographs without permission. Prints are available for purchase for some photographs. If you are interested, contact Carla at: brennan.carla@gmail.com. You can also find Carla’s photographs, paintings and jewelry on her Etsy site (Stones and Bones): https://www.etsy.com/shop/stonesandbones

This gallery contains 34 photos

This Week’s Vitamin Sea Report

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This week’s Vitamin Sea report.

Davenport Landing Beach, Davenport, CA. November 12, 2017.
This is a beach I don’t usually go to. Not for any good reason. Maybe because there is a little development on the cove: a few buildings, an abalone farm. And it’s a small beach, although with the tide out you can walk for quite a ways under the cliffs.

But I had the impulse to stop there yesterday. The loop road off Highway 1 was packed with parked cars which seemed odd. The other beach parking areas I passed were not full. Reaching the sand, I discovered there was a surf contest in progress. Surfers, surf kayakers and surf stand-up paddleboarders ran in and out of the water; horns blasted signaling the beginnings and endings of events.

The weather was sublime: cloudless, windless and warm. The waves were shapely and shimmering from the low afternoon sun. I stayed past sunset, to witness the joyful activity and the natural beauty.

This gallery contains 17 photos

Sea Star, Plover and Anemones

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November 5, 2017

Out for my weekly dose of Vitamin Sea, I wandered the beaches of Scott’s Creek along Highway 1 just north of Davenport, CA. This has become one of my favorite stops because it offers a variety of beach habitats and is easy to get to from my car. (To access many of the beaches along 1 you must climb down steep eroded cliff paths to reach the water. This becomes even more dicey when you are carrying heavy photographic equipment.)

There is fresh water (Scotts Creek), a broad beach, high cliffs, lots of tidal pools and decent beachcombing.

When I arrived there yesterday about noon, the water was as high as I have seen it; a full moon tide. The usual tide pools were under waves. So I meandered the water line taking in the chilly sunny day, looking for whatever presented itself.

AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER
One lone shore bird (the rest of the birds I saw were gulls) danced at the water’s edge hunting small tasty crustaceans. I wasn’t sure what it was as many of the shore birds look similar (to me anyway.) But later I identified it as an American Golden-Plover in its non-breeding plumage (the longer wingtips distinguish it from the Pacific Golden-Plover). This lonely bird was on its 12,000 mile migration to South America from summering in the Arctic, stopping along the California coast for food. These Plovers have one of the longest migratory routes in the world.

NORTHERN HARRIER
A female Northern Harrier caught the sea winds at the top of the cliffs perfectly, allowing it to hover, without flapping, in one place as it looked for a meal. Later I saw it carrying a rodent in its talons. (It was a bit too far to get a really good photo.)

CALIFORNIA GULL AND OCHRE SEA STAR (STARFISH)
This gull found a prize and eventually consumed it. I was glad to see the sea star since the Pacific coast population of Ochre Sea Stars has been decimated in recent years from “starfish wasting disease” thought to be made worse by higher water temperatures. I used to frequently see large orange, purple and brown sea stars in the tide pools but I haven’t spotted one in years. This gull lowered the current sea star population by one but at least this sea star looked healthy.

ANEMONES
After a few hours of looking mainly toward my feet, seeking sea treasures, I realized the tide had quickly receded and rocks and tide pools were emerging everywhere. Anemones were waving their many arms in the shallow moving water, ranging in size from tiny to five inches across. I photographed them from above and also tried, for the first time, underwater shots using my new Olympus Tough waterproof camera. Some cool images!

(Treasures I collected: sea glass, pieces of abalone and other shells, smooth stones with piddock clam holes, jade.)

Please do not reproduce any photographs without permission. Prints are available for purchase for some photographs. If you are interested, contact Carla at: brennan.carla@gmail.com. You can also find Carla’s photographs, paintings and jewelry on her Etsy site (Stones and Bones): https://www.etsy.com/shop/stonesandbones

 

This gallery contains 12 photos