Carla Brennan's Blog

Reflections and Photos from The Big Trip and Beyond . .


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The Squirrels of Santa Cruz County

The Squirrels of Santa Cruz
2021

In the redwood forest where I used to live, the only squirrels living there were Western Gray Squirrels (which pretty much look like Eastern Gray Squirrels.) End of story about squirrels in Santa Cruz County, right? . . . well, actually, no. When I photographed the squirrel below in a park in more urban Santa Cruz, I thought, “What the hell? That’s not a gray squirrel! What is it?” After a little research, I found that in urbanized Santa Cruz you are more likely to see an introduced Fox Squirrel or Eastern Gray Squirrel, both from the Eastern US. I guess squirrels like California, too.

Fox Squirrel

Western Gray Squirrel


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Hummingbird King of the Garden

Hummingbird King of the Garden
Summer 2021
Santa Cruz, CA

For the last few months, a male Anna’s Hummingbird has reigned over our little flower garden. He has several shady spots where he rests between bouts of sipping nectar or chasing other hummers. If a hummingbird dares to trespass into his home territory, the Little King – with incredible swiftness and precision – vanquishes the intruder with an aerial chase that includes great whirring of wings and noisy chatter.

One of his favorite spots to sit and patrol the garden is on the lower branches of the apple tree. I also sit under that tree about 6-8 feet from him and we enjoy sharing the space and observing the flowers together. Sometimes he sits silently while other times he emits an energetic series of delicate chirps. Overall the Little King is a chatty bird and I can usually find him if I wait and listening for his voice.

But this week he has disappeared. I feel bereft; before I could always count on his presence. I listen for his cheerful twittering but hear nothing. A female Anna’s has started showing up regularly but she seems to call somewhere else home.

Has he moved on? To greener, more flowery pastures? Has something happened to him? He seems too fast and agile to be captured by a neighborhood cat or a marauding Cooper’s hawk. But they are known to prey on hummers.

During these months of sharing the garden with the Little King, I’ve patiently sat with my camera in my lap, hoping to capture those moments when his head feathers flash red-pink. As David Allen Sibley says, “the iridescent colors of the throat of a male hummingbird are among the most refined and spectacular colors in all of nature.” Only when the light and the viewing angle are right, do the colors light up, and often for only seconds as the bird ceaselessly moves from flower to flower. Otherwise his head and throat appear deep black.

Below is a sampling of photographs of the Hummingbird King as well as the new gray-green female visitor. In one photo of the female, you can see the rarely viewed small patch of red-pink on her throat.

Please do not use photographs without permission. To inquire about permission, contact Carla at: brennan.carla@gmail.com.


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Snapshot Impressions from New England

Snapshot Impressions from New England
Summer 2021

This was Chris and my first extended trip since the beginning of COVID. Our first plane ride. This was a trip dedicated to connecting with family and friends in-person after the long separation of the pandemic. This was not a photographic trip since there was limited time and many people to see, catch up with and hug (at least those who were allowing hugs.) Of course, I took a camera but it was my 3rd string camera, the smallest, lightest one that was most expendable if there was a mishap.

The visit started in New Hampshire at my sister and brother-in-law’s home. Then we all went to Moosehead Lake in Maine for a week with my niece and her boyfriend joining us there. Back to New Hampshire and then to western Massachusetts where I had lived for 25 years and where I still have many friends.

Included here are random photos of natural beauty: creatures, mushrooms, flowers (some wild, some cultivated) and landscapes.

Please do not use photographs without permission. To inquire about permission, contact Carla at: brennan.carla@gmail.com.


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Catch of the Day – August 14, 2021

Catch of the Day – August 14, 2021
Santa Cruz, CA

This was both a photographic capture for me and a food capture for the western scrub jay I was watching. The jay flew into the apple tree beside me carrying something that looked like an animal part. The bird – in full scavenger mode – picked at it, searching for any tasty morsels that might be left. Eventually, I recognized its catch as the desiccated, ragged remains of a mouse. Probably the leftovers from one of the neighborhood cats. It was a bit gruesome but then nothing goes to waste in nature. Once again, you never know what you will see when you sit quietly in nature.

Earlier I had been watching (and photographing) the jay as it perched on the neighbor’s fence. Strangely, it looked like it was quietly muttering to itself, slightly opening and closing its beak and turning its head side to side. Then I realized it actually WAS muttering to itself, making a barely audible sound I had never heard from a jay. Soft chirpy, melodic, fluent notes that reminded me of a mockingbird on low volume. Later it would speak up with the more typical, loud jay “SQWAWK!”

Please do not use photographs without permission. To inquire about permission, contact Carla at: brennan.carla@gmail.com.


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Catch of the Day – 6/30/21

Catch of the Day – 6/30/21
UCSC Arboretum and Neary Lagoon
Santa Cruz, CA

“Catch of the Day” is my new name for posts where I share photo highlights from walks without much commentary.

In this you see Anna’s hummingbirds, California quail, spotted phoebe, wood ducks, mallards, matilija poppies. The male wood ducks have transitioned (or are transitioning) from their delightfully ornate breeding plumage into something more sedate. When they are in the middle of transitioning they look like they tried to dress up for a fancy party but were so drunk that they made a mess of their make-up and clothes. You can easily tell the male and female wood ducks apart by their eye color. Bright red for males, black for females.

Please do not use photographs without permission. To inquire about permission, contact Carla at: brennan.carla@gmail.com.


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Cormorant Home Improvement Project

Cormorant Home Improvement Project
Point Lobos State Park
Carmel, CA
Spring/Summer 2021

If you have the patience, Brandt’s cormorant colonies are entertaining to watch. In a simple and relaxed sort of way. Like a slowed down version of “Housewives of Point Lobos” where all the housewives (and househusbands) look alike and where not a lot happens. When it comes to nature, I guess I am easily entertained. I may stand around for an hour or two while most people spend only a minute and then move on to other sights.

One can watch the birds fly in and out. One parent keeps the eggs or nestlings warm, while the other is at sea fishing. The pairs, especially early in the season, frequently interact physically with what I call kissing and necking, where they engage their beaks and rub their necks together. Some can be seen in their comical breeding display dance and occasionally you can witness them mating. There are frequent squabbles between nesting neighbors and with the western gulls when they get too close. Eventually there is the egg-laying, hatching and quick growth of the chicks. The feeding of the chicks can look quite dramatic with the nestling forcing its entire head into the throat of the parent.

One of the most amusing activities to watch is the ritual of the male cormorants bringing new nesting material to the female on the nest. To our eyes, male and female cormorants look alike and they share most of the child rearing tasks. But the area where there is a division of labor is in nest building and maintenance (and egg laying, of course.) The male gathers the nesting components including seaweed, sticks and plants while the female arranges and glues them together using her own guano (poop). The nest needs constant upkeep for the duration of the laying of eggs and rearing of the young. The males can be seen wobbling along on their two big feet, wings open for balance, carrying material in their beaks. They then drop it in front of the female and she goes about integrating it into the nest. Sometimes both males and females will steal choice nesting items from other birds. This often leads to a ruckus and minor altercations.

Please do not use photographs without permission. To inquire about permission, contact Carla at: brennan.carla@gmail.com.


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The Bald Eagle Appears at the Last Minute

The Bald Eagle Appears at the Last Minute
Gualala, CA
June 22, 2021

The view is spectacular. The house is covered in windows on a bluff, facing the expanse of the Pacific Ocean. We are dog sitting for Chris’s sister for a week. It is our last full day and I have seen the local bald eagle only twice, quickly flying by, gone before I can even lift my camera. During a call from Oregon, Chris’s sister chides me for not having photographed the eagle yet. She says I might have to stay until I capture an image; I agree.

About an hour later while packing my bags in the second story bedroom, there is a commotion and loud chirping in the pine tree right outside the large picture window. Two bald eagles have landed in the upper branches while two quarrelsome ravens hassle them. My camera is downstairs and I know I only have seconds; I run there frantically yelling, “Bald eagles! Bald eagles in the tree!” Chris grabs his phone and I take aim with my telephoto. One eagle has already flown off, pursued by a raven. The other eagle clings to the branch, ruffling feathers and gruffly arguing with the ravens.

I don’t have time to adjust the camera settings and I shoot through the window. Soon this eagle also glides away seeking relief from harassment, although the ravens continue to trail in hot pursuit.

Fortunately, I leave Gualala with a photograph of the bald eagle. An image that shows our close encounter with the great raptor.

Please do not use photographs without permission. To inquire about permission, contact Carla at: brennan.carla@gmail.com.


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From Toddler to Teenager in Two Weeks

From Toddler to Teenager in Two Weeks:
The Childhood of Brandt’s Cormorants
Point Lobos State Park
Carmel, CA

June 25, 2021

Since mid-April, I’d been driving to Point Lobos weekly so I could witness the gradual evolution of the Brandt’s Cormorant nesting colony. About a month ago, the eggs started hatching and small, helpless, naked chicks could be seen peeking out from underneath the sitting parent. During my previous visit on June 10th the chicks had enlarged considerably but were still small enough to stay in the nest. Because of my schedule there was a two-week gap before I could visit them again. I knew this was a critical time when the fastest growth spurt would happen.

On June 25th, I found that the chicks had exploded, Hulk-like, into lumbering, gangling teenagers. The colony was bustling and overcrowded with large families of active birds. The young were nearly as tall as their parents and had overflowed the nests. The adults are slick, black and shiny, looking elegant and put together. In comparison, the chicks, are a fluffy dull gray with scattered white spots and sprinkled with pieces of debris, some of which appeared to be dried guano (poop). Personal hygiene is not their strong point and the smell of the colony was strong. There was a lot of flapping of their measly wings that had not yet developed flight feathers. There was also a lot of begging for food. The parents regurgitate their digested fish meals while the chicks stick their heads fully into the parent’s mouth. If a bird stuck its head in my mouth I think I would regurgitate my last meal too.

Please do not use photographs without permission. To inquire about permission, contact Carla at: brennan.carla@gmail.com.