Carla Brennan's Blog

Reflections and Photos from The Big Trip and Beyond . .

Whale Tails and Sea Lions

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Whale Tails and Sea Lions
July 2019, Monterey Bay, CA

The day was overcast and foggy. The blues of the sky and sea had vanished, rendering everything in shades of black-and-white. Eliza and I were going whale watching aboard the Goddess Fantasy from Moss Landing. I splurged and paid an extra fee to get us “VIP” seating on the upper deck. I figured it would be easier to move from port to starboard to stern as we tracked the whale sightings. It would also give me a better perspective for photography. It was definitely worth it.

In the harbor, sea lions lounged on various docks, weighing them down into the water. Signs warned to beware of “vicious sea lions.” We watched a sailor aim a hose at a sea lion that was positioned between him and his boat. I would have thought the sea lion would have enjoyed the shower but it slid into the sea. Cormorants greeted us at the signs welcoming boaters.

Just a little ways into the Bay we sighted a single humpback whale lunge feeding, its large knobby head with mouth agape burst through the water. We kept going to an area where a small group of humpbacks had been seen. What made this whale watch special – that is, seeing something new – was the large rafts (groups) of sea lions that were swimming along side the whales. These whales were all dive fishing which means we mostly only saw spouting, arching backs and diving tails. Few heads emerged and there was no breaching. But we were interested to see them rise and dive amid the swimming sea lions as if they were all enjoying the day together.

Several times the sea lions swam quickly, leaping out of the water in quick synchronous graceful arcs called “porpoising.” I tried to photograph this but failed to capture it.

After the whale watch we went to Moss Landing State Beach and watched the sea otters.

A couple weeks later a photo from Monterey Bay of a humpback whale that accidentally scooped up a sea lion while lunge feeding went viral. This would have been taken about the same time we were there. All the experts claimed how unusual it was to see this. But after watching how closely the humpbacks and sea lions fished together, I’m surprised it doesn’t happen more often.
https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2019/07/humpback-whale-sea-lion-mouth-photo/

Please do not use any photographs without permission. Contact Carla at: brennan.carla@gmail.com

 

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Elephant Seals Rough-housing!

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Elephant Seals Rough-housing!
Pescadero, CA
7/22/19

Eliza (my niece) and I went to Ano Nuevo State Park, Pescadero, CA, to check on any elephant seals that might be there. July is when the males arrive onshore to molt. The females are currently feeding far out to sea; they molt in the spring.

I warned Eliza that all we might see were big inert lumps of furry blubber lying on the beach. Like sacks of sand. Not very exciting really. But we were pleasantly surprised to find plenty of action. Juvenile and mature males were engaged in play fighting. Quite entertaining! There were brawls both in and out of the water with lots of strange guttural gurgles, grunts and groans. With their fur coming off, some of the molting seals looked like characters from “The Walking Dead.” Hollywood make-up artists take note.

Observe the difference in the size of their noses. For elephant seals, size matters when it comes to their schnoz. During breeding season in the fall, the fighting will no longer be play and will draw blood as they fight over who gets to rule the harem.

On our way out to see the seals (a 1.5 mile hike), a docent at the small “staging area” cabin pointed out several mud-constructed cliff swallows nests. Parents were flying back and forth with insect meals for the growing chicks. We also witnessed a mother California quail with her large brood of chicks crossing the trail in front of us. At first we saw 2 or 3 babies, then 6 or 7, then 9, 10, 11! A male, possible the father of this group, was acting as sentry atop a bush, looking for predators. Fortunately, we didn’t qualify. There was also constant bird traffic traveling between the small fresh water pond and the ocean. Streams of brown pelican flew overhead. The most unusual sighting was a San Francisco garter snake, retracting into the grassy meadow, with a mouse in its mouth!

 

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Meet the Timema!

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(I haven’t posted a blog in a while because an update/upgrade caused problems in editing this blog. We figure out how to fix it this morning.)

Meet the Timema!

It’s not every day that I see an insect from a genus that was previously unknown to me. The Timema, or short-bodied walking stick! I know about regular walking sticks, the long-bodied wingless insect that looks just like it’s name, an imitation stick with six legs. But the existence of the Timema was a revelation.

One foggy morning, a few weeks ago, I wandered onto our back deck, a small platform 10 feet off the ground abutting one of our massive redwood trees. On the white door was a large – not huge but noticeable, maybe 2” – green wingless insect. On closer examination, it was actually two insects, one riding the back of the other.

I was flummoxed; what could this creature be? It was not like anything I had seen before. Because it was wingless and most (but not all) adult insects have wings, I guessed they were immature/nymph stage insects. Maybe a grasshopper or katydid. But they lacked those large back jumping legs. And why were they different sizes? The critter on top was considerably smaller than the one on the bottom.

Chris and I both grabbed cameras for a photo shoot before they skedaddled back to whence they came. The white of the door frame nicely contrasted them like a “photo ark” image by Joel Sartore. Photo Ark

I posted the photos on Facebook, hoping to crowd source an identification. I also sent an inquiry to a website: whatsthatbug.com. A friend sent my Facebook post to her entomology buddies, The Bug Chicks, at Texas A & M University. I heard back from the Chicks and the website about the same time; they both said I had the fortune to witness (and photograph) the elusive timema. Who knew these critters lurked in the redwood forest surrounding my home all this time? What other mysterious beings are out there?

To make it more interesting, these were a mating pair, probably post-coitus. After sex the smaller male rides on top of the larger female for as long as five days! This is called “mate guarding.” For an amusing human reenactment of this unique walking stick behavior, see this video by The Bug Chicks. https://vimeo.com/59447990. Also, its interesting to note that many Timemas are parthenogenetic, meaning females can reproduce without male participation by making clones of themselves instead. Neat trick!

Timemas live in the far western United States, mostly in California. There are many kinds, each with a favored host plant. There are timemas on redwoods, oaks, douglas firs, manzanitas, and other trees. Some are green and others are tan, brown or gray, whatever color camouflages them best for their chosen lifestyle. Mine were very green and very possibly redwood specialists. I feel blessed to have seen this mating pair, since I could easily have gone a lifetime without even knowing they existed.

(By the way, can anyone tell me how timema is pronounced? Which syllable is accented? Long or short vowels?)

Please help us restore balance to our beleaguered planet so our many amazing and varied inhabitants – like timemas – can continue to thrive!

Have you ever seen a timema?

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