Carla Brennan's Blog

Reflections and Photos from The Big Trip and Beyond . .

The Mendonoma Coast

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I am in Gualala writing this. After the coming week here I will no doubt have a slew of photos to share. This post includes some of the backlog of images from previous trips in September and November.

The term “Mendonoma” is the marriage of Mendocino and Sonoma counties; together they possess a long stretch of stunning seascapes. I am guessing this word was thought up as a publicity gimmick for tourism but it makes sense to pair these counties since they share a similar geography. On our regular trips to Gualala we travel Highway One from Bodega Bay in Sonoma through Jenner to Gualala which sits on the county line between the two. While here, we often take trips north to beaches or towns such as Bowling Ball Beach, Point Arena and the town of Mendocino. So the so-called Mendonoma Coast is our regular playground.

The most exciting event was when gray whales came into Gualala Bay in September and swam by the cliffs just below us. We happened to be home and I had my tripod and camera already set up on the deck. It was thrilling to watch them spout and swim from from the comfort of the house. Whale photographs, unless the beasts are breaching or diving are not very interesting (gray humps) but I included several to prove how close they were.

The next most exciting experience was successfully taking long exposure photographs of the Milky Way (and Mars). These were taken from a different deck on the house. The camera is much more sensitive than the naked eye so many, many more more stars appear in the photograph than we can actually see. I am gradually learning to become better at astrophotography and will continue to experiment.

Some of the birds included – the peregrine falcon, common mergansers, and green heron – were photographed during a kayak trip on the Gualala River. On one side of the river is Sonoma County and on the other, Mendocino, so this was a true Mendonoma experience. It was windy that day, as it had been all week. You can see the fluffing up of the falcon feathers from the stiff breeze in the tall tree. The mergansers were hunkered down to withstand the wind. Fortunately, I didn’t have to kayak far inland to be out of the coastal breeze (otherwise kayaking would have been a nightmare.) When I saw the green heron, the air was light.

There is a bald eagle pair who live in the Gualala area. The photograph included appears to be in a wild and remote place but it was actually only a block from “downtown” Gualala.

A few words about beach hoppers, Megalorchestia corniculata. Although they are common they are nocturnal so you don’t usually see them. I got to Bowling Ball Beach one morning before the sun had risen over the cliffs and these little beach-dwelling shrimp-relatives were busy sparring with each other and going in and out of their burrows. They would soon disappear for the day. Their bodies are about an inch long.

I am experimenting with black and white photography and have included a few examples here. This opens up a whole new vision for places and subjects I’ve photographed many times before.

Please do not reproduce any photographs or videos without permission. If you are interested in purchasing a photograph, contact Carla at: brennan.carla@gmail.com.

This gallery contains 38 photos

Our Local Underwater Treasure: Monterey Bay Aquarium

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Well, it’s that time of year again! No, not the holidays but the annual free week for locals at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, CA. This past week I made three trips. Although I am a “local” I live at the northernmost reaches of the tri-county free zone. With good traffic (and often it isn’t) it takes over an hour to get there. Parking can be a challenge, too. On my last trip I became an aquarium member. Now I have unlimited access to the aquarium. (Why haven’t I done this before?)

I was glad so many children were being exposed to these creatures and informational interactive exhibits. Future marine biologists and environmentalists in the making! But it did create an experience that is something like a theme-park playground gone mad. Strollers everywhere, overstimulated and overexcited children running amok, some having full-blown meltdowns.

By the third trip, I had refined some of my photo technique. For example, I soon learned that tanks with curve surfaces we’re hopeless, At least with my current cameras. To the naked eye the contents looked clear, but to the camera it was blurry. I fumbled with my camera settings and would occasionally hit it just right, getting the correct mix of ISO, shutter and aperture. Low light is one of the biggest camera bedevilments. I lugged around two large cameras and my purse, all dangling from my neck. It was clumsy and burdensome but still I persevered. And enjoyed myself immensely.

What is my favorite exhibit? Hard to say. The “Open Sea” may be the winner. It’s an enormous tank with a 90 foot window facing a large darkened amphitheater. Light rays penetrate the water from above and sea creatures circle the tank, some leisurely and others quickly, coming in and out of view. Huge sea turtles, molas (AKA sunfish), schools of tuna and sardines, hammerhead sharks, rays. The background ambient music helps lull one into an otherworldly trance. They have scheduled feeding times and lectures about the inhabitants but I avoid these since it becomes a dense mob scene. The only downside for me is the difficulty in getting good photos under the dark conditions and through the very thick glass. Occasionally a photo stands out.

The jellies are, of course, a favorite for everyone. They also offer a soothing ethereal beauty that can calm even the most distracted, agitated mind. The exhibit is much easier to photograph so it offers that satisfaction, too. By the way, some of my photos I printed upside down. Contrary to popular assumptions, the jellies are more likely to be floating with their umbrella body heading downward and their tentacles upward. At least that’s true in these enclosed tanks.

The kelp forest tank is another place to just rest and observe. The sway of the kelp fronds, the scattering of light like in an earthbound forest, and the circling of sharks, sea bass, garibaldis, and sardines are mesmerizing.

I am partial to cephalopods making the “Tentacles” exhibit is a favorite, too. Many of the cephalopods like to hide in dark crevices so you can go through the exhibits and not see all the inhabitants. To augment the living creatures they include cephalopod themed art, videos and interactive exhibits. This time, one of the large octopuses was in full view. And it preformed magic right in front of us. Within a blink of an eye (I just looked down at my camera for a second,) it transformed itself from a fleshy pale stone color to a brilliant scarlet red. How fabulous is that! Wouldn’t you like to be able to morph into your own color scheme? Maybe if we could change into literally all hues of the rainbow at will, we would get past our limited thinking about race.

The Baja exhibit has three special residents: Green moray eels, garden eels and seahorses. There are also many tanks throughout the aquarium with tropical fish. The one with clown fish and blue tang fish brought delighted screeches from children: “Dory!” “Nemo!”

The otters, penguins and puffins we’re also engaging, of course. I haven’t even thoroughly gone through all the aquarium photos or the post-production work yet but you will get a good taste (mostly salty!) of what can be seen at the aquarium from these.

Please do not reproduce any photographs or videos without permission. If you are interested in purchasing a photograph, contact Carla at: brennan.carla@gmail.com

This gallery contains 43 photos

Mostly Moss Landing

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Mostly Moss Landing

Below is a combination of photos from two trips in the last couple months to Moss Landing, CA. I would go there everyday if I could! Well, once a week anyway. Even though it is a busy place for humans with Highway One (traffic!), fishing, whale-watching vessels, tourist stops, restaurants and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, it is also a busy place for wildlife. Sea otters, sea lions, harbor seals and shore, wading and other birds. On one trip, there was a large raft of sea otters with several coming close to shore but almost no sea lions. The next time there were plenty of sea lions but few otters. Both times had shore birds and pelicans.

LONG-BILLED CURLEW
I have a series of four photos showing a curlew with a small clam between its beak which it consumes. What is interesting about this, is the clam seems to be suspended between the upper and lower mandibles by mucus. Does anyone know anything about this?

SEA OTTERS
As I said, there was a large raft of otters bobbing in the harbor. They were conveniently located near one of the dune lookouts. The otters were either resting – floating still with front paws in prayer position – or grooming themselves, or playing. One otter came close to shore (and to me) wading on its back in a few inches of water to energetically groom itself. It was difficult to choose which photos to included here. I had hundreds.

OTTERS ON LAND
Occasionally, but not often, an otter will come ashore and walk on all four. You can then see how thick and luxurious their furs is (for which they were hunted to near extinction.) They look like a bear with a small strange head. One such photo is included.

WOUNDED OTTER
I first saw this otter lying lifeless on the sand. Deep raw red gashes on its head and back were visible. I assumed it was dead. But when I looked back it was gone! I periodically caught glimpses of it swimming with the otter raft as if nothing was wrong. I am guessing it had an encounter with either a boat propeller or a shark. I don’t know if it has survived but I hope so.

I have also added a few photographs from other places that haven’t been shared on this post yet.

SALMON SHARK
I stumbled on a small dead shark entangled in kelp, maybe 3 feet long from tip to tip; I thought it could be a young great white shark. Many juvenile sharks were sighted this summer in the Monterey Bay area. After internet searching, I identified it was a salmon shark. A species previously unknown to me. It is a close relative of the great white and looks very similar, but smaller with a few minor coloration distinctions. As its name implies, it likes salmon and therefore is less likely to mistake humans as prey.

WANDERING TATTLER
This lonely bird was wandering the shore at Scotts Creek in Davenport. A first I thought it was a willet, but its yellow legs indicated it was something else. Bird books, apps and internet searching led me to the wandering tattler, another new bird for my life list. They winter and migrate through California.

 

Please do not reproduce any photographs or videos without permission. If you are interested in purchasing a photograph, contact Carla at: brennan.carla@gmail.com

This gallery contains 64 photos

New England Earth and Sky

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New England Earth and Sky
August 2018

In mid August, Chris and I flew to New England. It was my first major trip since surgery in May and June. What caught my eye most on the visit were the skies. So different from Central California where there is usually little weather drama.

On our first day there, staying by the beach in Hampton, NH, a large storm system passed through. We got completely drenched as we rushed back home from a walk. I had to use the freely distributed doggy-poop bags to cover my camera.

The bold contrasts in the sky – the dark brooding clouds and areas of bright light – were enthralling. They communicated potential danger, seething and simmering with potent energy and the threat of fury.

Most of the other photos are a smattering of sightings or experiences. Birds, flowers, mushrooms, kayaking. I regret not having had more time to hunt mushrooms. After the storms and the ensuing heat that first week, the forest was erupting in fungus.

Included are also shots of a small lake in Granby, MA, where a friend took me to swim. The prevalence of lakes, ponds, and creeks in New England is something I sorely miss in California. Swimming in the late summer in a pond in the woods when the water is mild and refreshing is possibly the height of pleasure in nature. Just before we left to get to the car before dusk, a trio of barred owls called to each other across the water.

For the last few years, I have been in New England during the holidays or spring so I was delighted to be there in August when everything was lush and the summer explosion of biomass was at its peak.

I also can’t pass up photographing my buddies, the cormorants. We were staying right on the water so resting cormorants were a common sight. These were double-crested cormorants.
Please do not reproduce any photographs or videos without permission. If are interested in purchasing a photograph, contact Carla at: brennan.carla@gmail.com

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This gallery contains 32 photos

Another Trip Up the Coast to Gualala, CA

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Another Trip Up the Coast to Gualala, CA
July 19-23, 2018

This was my first trip since my surgeries in May and June. I was eager to have time outdoors to sit under the big sky and breathe in wild air.

The first night we drove from Stanford, where I had an appointment, to Jenner along the ocean at the mouth of the Russian River. A friend had mentioned that there were a few good spots along Highway 1 where we could boondock (that is, stay for free.)

Sure enough, we found several small areas squeezed in between the road and the precipitous cliff edge. These pullouts are most often used by tourists to stop and gawk at the incredible views. But there wasn’t much of a view that night as the fog was too dense to see the beach below much less the vast ocean before us. There was only the 360° expanse of gray thick mist. We were still happy to be there for the night and settled into dinner and some reading. Before sunset the fog lifted just enough to tantalize us with a peek at the jagged rocks emerging from the ocean. Just minutes before they had been completely invisible.

In the morning the sky was still overcast and heavy but we could see the Russian River Estuary and beyond to Goat Rock. I will included a video of our view in Jenner from both our trip up and back in another post.

In Gualala, we stayed with Chris’s sister and brother-in-law, just relaxing and enjoying the perspective from their home on a high bluff above the Pacific. Turkey vultures, ravens and gulls soared at eye level with an occasional timid deer or California quail on the ground below. We drove to a few beaches looking for beachcombing or photographic treasures. Chris hoped to boogie board but the ocean was unusually flat with low lapping waves.

We headed for Jenner again on our way home, first stopping at Salt Point State Park and Fort Ross. Fort Ross is the remains of a 19th century Russian fort and settlement when this area was frequented by Russian hunters and trappers. To see more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fort_Ross,_California

Below are a range of photos, including ocean views, a few persisting wildflowers, tafoni – the honeycomb sandstone erosion caused by sea and wind, languorous harbor seals, energetic pelicans and a few other discoveries. I will include several videos in another blog post.

Please do not reproduce any photographs or videos without permission.

 

This gallery contains 70 photos

Babies Are Growing Fast!

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West Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz, CA, May 13 – June 1, 2018

The baby cormorants are exploding in size, seemingly overnight. There are a few small newly hatched chicks but most are nearly the height of their parents. They do not have flight feathers yet but they sure like to exercise their underdeveloped wings. Still covered in fuzzy gray feathers with some white spots they are quickly darkening in color and will soon be sleek. The rock ledge is crowded with families and most birds stand nearby, but not in, their now too small nests.

I also discovered two nesting California Gulls among the blooming iceplants just above the cormorants. I have yet to see any baby gulls. These gull are actually the biggest predator of cormorant eggs and small chicks. Now most chicks are larger than the gulls.

I will include photos from May 13, May 18, May 27 and June 1. You can see the striking difference in the size of the babies. In one photo from May 18 you will see a brown immature Brandt’s cormorant from last years brood. It’s the only juvenile I have seen while visiting this site.

Please do not reproduce any photographs without my permission. Thank you!

 

This gallery contains 22 photos


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THE FAUNA – The Gualala (Mendocino County) Trip

THE FAUNA
The Gualala (Mendocino County) Trip Part 2
April 29 – May 4, 2018

We did not see an abundance of wildlife this trip. There were brief sightings of quail, hawks, pelicans, ravens and other birds. Chris spotted a surfacing whale. I later saw a spout. Deer were relatively plentiful but I did not photograph them.

Included in photo gallery:

Whimbrel. Very few shorebirds were at the many beaches we visited. Below you will see some whimbrels from Wright’s Beach.

Pelagic Cormorants. On a rugged rock off Wright’s Beach were several cormorants nesting on the sheer vertical surface. You can also see the tafoni formations in the rock, web-like holes in the stone.

Osprey. Three osprey danced in the air, whistling and flying acrobatically at Bowling Ball Beach. As soon as I got my telephoto lens they began to disperse. I have only a few long distance shots.

Harbor Seals. These were our fauna highlight. At a beach at Sea Ranch (now closed to human) a variety of adult seals and their pups lay mostly inert on the beach. Many pups were nursing. Harbor seals are easily identified by their spots. Some look like dalmatians, others like leopards or appaloosa. They come in a great variety of colors as well: near white, gray, black, brown, tan. We stood on the bluff above the cove and I would have stayed longer, but the wind was so fierce I could barely operate my camera.

Please do not reproduce any photographs without permission.