Carla Brennan's Blog

Reflections and Photos from The Big Trip and Beyond . .

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Backyard Birds – Part 2

Backyard Birds – Part 2
Santa Cruz, CA
December 2020-February 2021

Below are additional backyard bird photos from my new home in Santa Cruz. It’s given me some practice for the Annual Great Backyard Bird Count coming up from February 12-15 sponsored by the Cornell Lab, Audubon and Oiseaux Canada.

You too can participate in the count! Go to:

You can also join in a Facebook Livestream Webinar on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 12pm EST to learn more about the Great Backyard Bird Count. Share in the joy of birds!
Register: Click Here

Please do not use photographs without permission. To inquire about permission contact Carla at:

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The Happiness of Hummingbirds

The Happiness of Hummingbirds
Neary Lagoon, Santa Cruz, CA

Ahead of me on the cement pathway, was a woman excitedly gesticulating upwards. She was clearly trying to show the two women nearby something unique and interesting in the trees.

I scanned the bare branches intently as I walked closer but I saw nothing. Whatever was there was hidden and relatively stationary since most birds or other creatures would have fled immediately. Was it a roosting owl or a hawk? Very possibly, I thought.

When I reached the small group I asked what all the fuss was about. She simply exclaimed, “Hummingbird nest!” Even with a mask on I could tell she was smiling broadly, completely delighted by what she was witnessing and with the opportunity to share her joy. I was elated too, as I had never seen a hummer’s nest before.

Searching above, now with some idea of what I was looking for, I pretty quickly focused in on the tiny bird and nest. The nest was about five feet overhead in the fork of several branches. It was shaped like a small round sphere and had a tiny Anna’s hummingbird settled on top.

I would never have noticed it without someone showing me where to look. It was so small and well-camouflaged that it was nearly impossible to see. Around the top were soft fibers and fine hairs probably made of spider web threads. The outside was decorated with small bits of green and yellow lichen looking like confetti glued to a ball, allowing it to perfectly blend into the complicated pattern of branches, buds and shadows.

I was able to capture several photographs from a few different angles. When I came back by the nest on my way home, the wind was blowing hard and the branches swayed and shook in the breeze. But the hummingbird sat firm and resolute, calmly protecting her eggs.

Please do not reproduce without permission. To inquire about permission, contact Carla at:

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Backyard Birds – Part 1

Backyard Birds – Part 1

Our backyard – before the August fires – was the majestic redwood forest.

Now I live in town where the houses are modest, the lots small and the backyards even smaller. Yet here, even in the middle of winter, the earth is bursting with lush greenery. It is mild enough to support many non-native tropical plants; four tall willowy palm trees sway high above us across the street and other types of palms, even bananas, adorn many lawns. Our tiny backyard has two apples tree and a Meyer lemon tree weighted down by abundant golden fruit. The bottlebrush bush, calla lilies, and violets are currently blooming, while many others plants are forming buds.

We had birds in the redwood forest, including turkeys, woodpeckers, ravens and hawks, but few song birds. They prefer the varied landscape of this more urban ecosystem where they can they can find easy shelter in the shrubs and consume the berries, seeds and fruit that are abundant.

The leaves of the apples trees are long gone as well as most of the fruit but there are enough dried apples still clinging to the branches to attract a variety of hungry birds. I sometimes sit or stand patiently, like a cat at a mouse hole, waiting with my camera to see who comes to feast on apples.

Songbirds (also known as Passerines) are notoriously difficult to photograph. They are small, in constant motion and often obscured by foliage. Click through the photos below.

All photographs were taken from our yard. Please do not reproduce without permission. To inquire about permission contact Carla at:

The Birds of Moss Landing and Elkhorn Slough, Part 1 (of 3)

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The Birds of Moss Landing and Elkhorn Slough, Part 1 (of 3)

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The Mammas and the Pup-Pups

The Mamas and the Pup-Pups
(California dreaming on the Monterey Bay)
Elkhorn Slough, Moss Landing CA

Last Thursday I went on my third trip with Elkhorn Slough Safari . It’s especially enjoyable at this time, because they allow fewer customers aboard the pontoon boat due to the pandemic. On this outing there were only five of us plus the captain and the naturalist (they can seat 22 in normal times). I had the back of the boat to myself where I could wield my cameras and walk port to starboard and back again as I wished. From the vantage point of the boat you can see a greater range of wildlife and birds: sea otters, harbor seals, sea lions, egrets, herons, cormorants, pelicans and all manner of shore birds.

Sea otters reproduce year round so mothers and pups might be seen at anytime. Even so, sometimes there are many mothers and offspring and other times there are few. This was a trip blessed with many. As a matter of fact, it seemed that every otter that popped into view had a pup with her. Some pups were small fuzzy bundles where it was hard to tell which end was which. Most were older and getting closer to independence. Pups stay with their moms for about six months.

I highly recommend watching PBS Nature episode “Saving Otter 501” to learn about sea otters and especially orphaned ones and how they are cared for by the Monterey Bay Aquarium to return to the sea.

Enjoy the portfolio below of sea otter mother-pup portraits.
Please do not reproduce photographs without permission.

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A New Dawn

A New Dawn
January 22, 2021

It’s a “new dawn,” because seeing the dawn every day is new for me. I’m not a get-up-before-sunrise type. But I recently got inspired to enjoy sunrise outdoors after catching glimpses from my windows of a frequent early morning sky on fire.

Right now the sunrise is late enough to occur at a not unreasonable time, about 7:15 AM. But it will happen earlier and earlier and, at some point this spring, I will likely refuse to leave my warm bed even with the promise of witnessing yet another morning spectacle.

Our current location, since early December, is a short drive to a wide beach that abuts the Santa Cruz Harbor and hosts the Walton Lighthouse. Because California mostly faces west and southwest, the sunrise cannot be seen from most beaches. This is sunset country.

However, Seabright State Beach is an exception. It faces south, the water line running east and west, so that the rising sun, at this time of year, clears the hills at one end and illuminates the shore. And conveniently, the lighthouse at the eastern end adds a well-known landmark and a welcomed compositional element to the photographs I take.

The sunrise people arrive each day. Many with dogs, others getting exercise, some making music or taking photos. Still others are there just to absorb the magic of the soft growing light and the way it plays on the ever moving waters of the sea. The fragrant air, the view, the sand under one’s feet bring each of us back to the vivid immediacy of the moment.

I will explore each sunrise as the unique occurrence that it is. A sight to never to be seen again, as it quietly and completely dissolves into the light of day. Every morning a new dawn.

Below is a slideshow of sunrises from Seabright Beach, Santa Cruz, CA. Please do not use any photos without permission. To inquire about permission, contact Carla at:

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Cotoni-Coast Dairies National Monument
Santa Cruz, CA

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Pacific winter storms bring the wild waves to the Santa Cruz coastline. It is the season that the surfers love most. During the last couple weeks, high surf warnings have been frequent, alerting me to grab my camera and go to the beach. The warnings advise beachgoers to “not turn your back to the ocean” because sneaker waves can unexpectedly rush in and wash people out to sea.

Yesterday, as I watched from the Rockview lookout on Pleasure Point, a red Coast Guard helicopter flew slowly overhead. When the surf is like this, surfers, boaters and swimmers often get into trouble and need to be rescued. Some do not make it.

From the cliffs overlooking the sea westward, you can see the huge swells roll in from the horizon. Normally the swells are not visible from afar and the waves crash on shore, but when the surf is unusually high, the swells stand out in endless parallel rows, often cresting long before reaching land. The roar from the sea is loud and constant, and the surface becomes a frothy stew of foam.

Here are a few photos from Cotoni-Coast Dairies National Monument along Highway One at sunset. (Making Coast Dairies a national monument was one of Obama’s last acts as president. I worried that Trump might overturn the order but so far he hasn’t. He still has 3 days but I doubt this is a priority for him.)

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Battle of the Egrets

The Battle of the Egrets
Natural Bridges State Beach, Santa Cruz, CA
Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Snowy egrets like to get into territorial tussles. When they do, it’s like watching angels break out into a fistfight. Calm, elegant beauty suddenly devolves into a frenzy of feathers and jabbing limbs. They become wild, acrobatic and aggressive but the altercation usually ends as abruptly as it started.

Locally, snowy egrets are sporting their long lacy breeding plumage on their heads, necks and backs. It becomes especially visible when they are excited through courtship or disputes.