Carla Brennan's Blog

Reflections and Photos from The Big Trip and Beyond . .

Belize: The Jungle

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Belize: The Jungle
January 2019

In January, myself and four other family members celebrated the Holidays and New Year by going to Central America, primarily Belize. We’d had talked about this idea for several years and this year, my sister made it happen. My blog posts will be divided into three parts: Belize: The Jungle, Guatemala: Tikal National Park, Belize: the Ocean.

Our first stop was to travel west to near San Ignacio. After driving directly from the airport and getting a little lost, we finally made it to our rental house, called “The Treehouse,” in Bullet Tree Falls. It was an extraordinary place. Three round peaked rooms were connected by rectangular rooms up on stilts. The expansive upper outside deck was built around a large bullet tree which towered over the house. The lower deck had a swimming pool complete with fountain and lounge chairs. The sloping manicured lawn reached all the way to the banks of the Mopan River.

The warm humid fragrant air was filled with birdsong and frog trills. Evenings were surprisingly cool. Crowing roosters and barking dogs added to the ambiance. From the main paved road through Bullet Tree Falls our house was down two miles on a rugged potholed dirt road. This became the first of a series of very bumpy rides.

The first full day we went into San Ignacio for a good breakfast at Pop’s Restaurant. Then we headed to an iguana rehabilitation center. Our guide, Nigel, was devoted to and passionate about his iguanas, just as his mother had been before him. Injured iguanas are brought here, then nursed back to health, allowed to breed and then some, especially the offspring, are release back into the wild. Iguanas are declining in population primarily because people eat them, or more precisely, their eggs. It is actually outlawed but no one enforces the ban. (It is the same iguana species that is invading and overpopulating Florida. Maybe an exchange can be made!)

It was mating season and there was activity between the sexes in the screened-in enclosures where they are cared for and protected. At least on of the females was already pregnant with eggs. A large wild male iguana sat on the top of the enclosure, wistfully looking at all the females inside beyond his reach. These rehabilitated lizards are acclimated to humans and don’t mind being touched or held. I enjoyed getting close-up reptile portraits.

We followed that with a trip to the open air market to stock up on fruit and vegetables, purchasing, among other things, the sweetest, most delicious pineapple I have had in years. (Actually pineapple is off my diet but I had to make an exception here.) Absolutely heavenly. Markets like his look similar whether you are in Central America or Southeast Asia.

English is the official language in Belize (it was formerly British Honduras), but out here, knowing a little Spanish was helpful. There are something like 12 languages spoken in this small country. The money is in Belizean dollars which is valued at half US dollars, making it easy to calculate the exchange rate. Most places will take either Belizean and US Dollars.

I am also including in his post our trip to the Belize Zoo. This zoo has only rescued native animals. So it is a good opportunity to see some of the more exotic species that are hard to locate in the wild. It was set in the jungle with winding maze-like paths leading to the various animal enclosures. Some of the birds were in what I would call cages, but most of the residents had large natural environments in which they could roam, at least a little. They had big cats including jaguars, mountain lions, ocelots, and jaguarundis. I don’t have many good photos of these animals since the conditions were difficult and dark for photography. It was often hard to shoot through the mesh enclosure walls. It poured much of the time adding to the challenge. Some of the animals we saw were not actually residents of the zoo but were visitors like us. Agoutis (rabbit-like with longer legs and small ears) ran around, several bird species came and went, and I saw a large spiny-tailed iguana sprawled on a fence.

Back at The Treehouse I went for several walks on the dirt road, looking for birds, butterflies, flowers and enjoying the abundance of biomass and jungly sounds. I’d hoped to swim the Mopan River or, with a little preparation, go on a kayak or tubing trip. This never happened so I will have to return some day! Sitting by the river at sunset one evening I saw as many as 75 cattle egrets fly down the river, interspersed with small groups of cormorants.

One aborted adventure was an attempt to get to the minimally developed Mayan ruin called El Pilar, not far as the crow (or groovebilled ani) flies. We were in an Indiana Jones mood so we started down the seven mile dirt road to the archeological site. But after two miles of slow bumpy progress, we realized the road was in too bad a condition to proceed and we turned around. Either hiking or horseback would be a better way to go. The extent of the ancient Mayan empire in that area is truly mind boggling. So much of it has barely been discovered or unearthed.

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 51 photos

Snow!

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Snow!
February 5, 2019

Snow was predicted for last night above 1000 ft. in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Our house is at 1400 ft. so I woke up excited this morning to see what had fallen during the night. We only get snow here about every 5-10 years so this is a special event; the higher elevations have it a little more frequently.

There was a teensy bit of snow on our cars and in small patches on the ground. However, since the top of our mountain is at 2500 ft., I knew there would be more up there. I drove the two miles up Alba Road to Empire Grade in my trusty Subaru. Yes, it was a winter wonderland! There was only about an inch or so, but enough to turn the redwood forest into a beautiful lacy filigree.

Alba Road is not built for snow and ice; it is narrow, steep, winding, with drop-offs and no guard rails. And people here don’t know how to drive on snow and ice. I parked at the intersection and wandered a bit. A little Kia was parked behind me, also taking photos. When they tried to leave, their wheels just spun. I flexed my muscles getting ready to help push them out when they finally got traction and left.

I also watched several cars make the turn from Alba to Empire Grade a little too fast, fishtailing their way down the road, barely in control. One ignorant lad actually gunned the accelerator when reaching Empire Grade, causing an impressive sideways slide and coming to an eventual stop facing the wrong direction. There are no such things as snow tires or snow plows here. This reminded me of being in Amherst MA during the first fall snowfall when all the new foreign students at the University, who have never seen snow, try to drive.

It was gorgeous driving home: sun, snow, fog, dripping trees and god rays, all mixed together. After some breakfast (winter weather, makes you hungry!) I walked up and down the same two miles taking more photos. Better take advantage of this now; it will likely be another 5-10 years for the next opportunity.

I have always been a snow lover (except for the part when it’s all over the cars, roads, sidewalks, etc. And when it turns into ice.) Having snow today was like a visit from a dear old friend. One that leaves you with joy and inspiration before disappearing.

BTW, I did all of that while still in my pajamas. When there is SNOW, who has time to get dressed?

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.

 

 

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UNEXPECTED ELEPHANT SEALS

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UNEXPECTED ELEPHANT SEALS
Photography from Ano Nuevo State Park, CA, Sunday Jan. 27, 2019

On Sunday the weather was splendid and Chris and I decided to go to the coast. Living among the big redwoods, especially in winter, can make the entire day seem dark, even when the sun shines. I suggested we go to Cove Beach at Ano Nuevo State Park. I thought we would forego the elephant seal colony that resides on a beach about a mile from the visitors center and instead meander to the closer Cove beach. You need a reservation to visit the seals and it was mid-afternoon by the time we got there. We were unlikely to get permission to make the walk to the colony.

But we were lucky to discover that six immature males (adolescents 1-4 years old and sub-adult males 4-7 years old) had fled the “designated” area and were lounging on Cove Beach instead. The designated area is roped off and monitored by docents while at Cove neither the seals nor the humans were supervised. A sign said to stay at least 25 feet from seals but it seemed I was the only one who had read it.

These young males had probably escaped the colony to get a reprieve from being harassed by the mature males. The occasional bands of curious humans that came close to them probably seemed benign compared to their older aggressive brethren. They lolled on the sand in massive blubbery lumps occasionally lifting their large heads and improbable proboscis noses to eye the two-legged strangers. As you will see, sometimes discerning the features of their head and faces amid the lumps and bulges was challenging. It can be hard to know what you are looking at. They can seem bizarre or as Chris said, “kind of gross.” The seals were huge, probably close to 10 feet or more in length.

One elephant seal found comfort in the coolness of a salt water pool formed by the last high tide. Most of the time, he looked dead, inert, and sleeping or a least resting with his head submerged. But periodically he would resurface and stretch, blow bubbles and yawn, creating strange and amusing poses.

Also included are two photos of common fossil rock strewn on the beach. They are Purisima Formations from the Pilocene period.

California elephant seals made the national news the same week I made this post. Here is a CBS newsclip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BeApgSmqth8

Here is a video Chris made of the bubble blowing elephant seal:

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 32 photos

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