Carla Brennan's Blog

Reflections and Photos from The Big Trip and Beyond . .

The Babies are Hatching!

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May 12, 2018, West Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz, CA

The eggs at the Brandt’s Cormorant colony are beginning to hatch! Gray, reptile looking chicks are showing their heads and begging for food. Many of the pairs are still incubating eggs. Both parents spend time on the eggs/ hatchlings. Photos a bit blurry, but you can see the babies.

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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.

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THE FLORA – The Gualala (Mendocino County) Trip

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THE FLORA
The Gualala (Mendocino County) Trip
April 29 – May 4, 2018

Last week we left for a few days to visit Chris’s sister in Gualala, California. On the way up we stayed at Wright’s Beach Campground in Sonoma Coast State Park, one of the few places in California you can camp on the beach. From there we spent two days in Gualala and then headed north for two nights at Russian Gulch State Park. We’d hoped to camp at Navarro Beach, another on-the-beach campground, but it was closed for the season.

I am dividing photographs into three installments: The Flora, The Fauna, The Sea. One photographic goal was, as always, to capture spring wildflowers. There are numerous flowers in this collection for which I have either forgotten their name or I didn’t know it to begin with. Over time I will return and correct this omission. If you know the name of a flower I have not labeled, please let me know. I played with macro shots, so some items were nothing special with the naked eye but appear impressive in an enlarged form. A few flowers were as small as 1/4 inch.

The flower I was most determined to see was the showy pink Pacific Rhododendron. It seemed elusive until leaving Mendocino when I saw a few shrubs near the highway. I insisted Chris pull over so I could run down the road with my camera. Supposedly there are wild rhododendrons in our part of the Santa Cruz Mountains. However, I have yet to see them here.

We endured some typical spring northern coastal California weather. A few days of sunny, bright, very windy and cold weather followed by a few days of cloudy, foggy, not so windy, cold weather.

We have a book to recommend to you: California Coastal Access Guide from the California Coastal Commission. Well organized, useful maps, plentiful photographs, good basic information about the many, many wonderful places you can get to the ocean from the Oregon border to Mexico.

Please do not reproduce any photographs without permission from Carla.

 

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Colonies of Nesting Cormorants

Colonies of Nesting Cormorants
April 2018

I’ve been periodically visiting two nesting colonies of two different species of cormorants: Brandt’s and Pelagic. There is a third species found in our area – the Double-crested Cormorant – but I haven’t seen many around here and I certainly have not seen their nests. (See photos of them from Morro Bay: https://carlabrennan.com/2015/05/24/april-2015-%e2%80%a2-morro-bay-ca/.) Each species has their own preference for nest location and material.

Brandt’s Cormorant. They nest close together on rocky islands or headlands, often on the flat top of a rock face. On my most recent visit, most of the nests were completed with one parent sitting patiently on top as if incubating. When I was there in February, the cormorants were just standing around small disorganized piles of seagrass waiting to steal some from an absent neighbor.

I did catch a pair in the act of mating. (See below.) Another cormorant was vigorously doing it’s mating display. (Head up, tail up, wings up and curled.) So I guess this means that some birds were not yet impregnated. I had hoped to get a glimpse of eggs but either they haven’t been laid yet or were obscured by the sitting bird. There are about 25 nests.

Despite the wild and remote look of this nesting site, it is actually just below a parking lot and scenic lookout. I took the photos from a heavily used sidewalk next to a road and houses.

Brandt’s Cormorants are most easily identified by their bright blue breeding throat patch. They also have a few spindly white feathers on their back and cheeks. (Here they are in February: https://carlabrennan.com/2018/02/06/vitamin-sea-and-butterflies-in-february/)

Pelagic Cormorant. Despite their name, these cormorants aren’t pelagic. (Pelagic means living on the open sea.) They are instead coastal, staying on shore, beaches, and cliffs. Their preferred nesting sites are on vertical cliffs overlooking the ocean. These cliffs have tiny, tiny ledges to build nests on. A very precarious place to bring up babies I would think. The upside to this arrangement is that no cautious predator can get to them. There are not as many Pelagic Cormorants here as I have seen in past years, but a few pairs appeared to be developing nests. My telephoto lens was at its max to get these photos.

Pelagic Cormorants are most easily identified by their red face and the white patches on their lower back. Their seemingly black bodies have a touch of green iridescence.

Video. You might want to watch this Nat Geo video of a cormorant pulling off remora from a whale shark in Mexico!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=36-2AfSwRbE

Please do not reproduce any photographs without Carla’s permission.

 

The Earlybird 2018 Spring Flowers

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The Earlybird 2018 Spring Flowers.

March begins the wildflower season around here. Below are some of the first to blossom this year. These photographs were taken in Henry Cowell State Park in Felton, Skyline Ridge Open Space Preserve in Los Gatos, and along the coast in Davenport.

Giant Trillium
Western Trillium
Shooting Star
Redwood Sorrel
Milk Maids
Flowering Currant
California Buttercup
California Poppy
Wild Strawberry
Redwood Violet
Western Heart’s Ease
. . . and a few unknown

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Ephemeral Waterfalls

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Ephemeral Waterfalls
Scotts Creek Beach, Davenport, CA
April 7, 2018

The miraculous appears when unexpected. I’d been to this beach many times. I’ve walk below many beautiful cliffs along the California Coast at all times of year. But this was the first time I’d seen high waterfalls running from the coastal prairie, cascading down the cliffs to the sea. I didn’t even know they occurred here after heavy rains, although it makes sense and now I am more surprised I have never seen them before.

I had my nose down, meandering at a snail’s pace, looking for treasures left on the sand after the recent storm. Eventually I looked up and was stunned to see a waterfall up ahead where one had never been. About 80 feet high. Three more could be seen in the distance.

By tomorrow they will be only a trickle or completely gone.

Go into nature, quietly, slowly, patiently, with senses open and she will show you unimagined splendor.

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Bunnies – The Easter Edition

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Mercey Hot Springs, CA.
March 24-26, 2018.

Last week Chris and I went to one of our go-to places: Mercey Hot Springs. Half of the reason I go is for the hot healing waters, the other half is for the wildlife, and sometimes, wildflowers. And let’s not forget to mention the open arid landscape, the skies, stars and moon. In the trees of this small desert oasis are long-eared owls, great horned owls and barn owls. If you follow this blog, you’ve already seen some photos of these impressive enchanting birds. But on this trip the owls were elusive. Only a female great horned owl could reliably be seen, sitting stoically, unmoving on her nest of eggs. The barn owl made a brief appearance, emerging and disappearing quickly like a ghost, from the dense tangle of treetop limbs. I also saw, for a few moments, a golden eagle flying overhead.

The wildlife that was abundant and visible were desert cottontails, the food source for the owls as well as other raptors, foxes, coyotes, weasels and bobcats. California ground squirrels were everywhere too. They all were darting in and out of dense bushes and underground holes. So I focused my camera on them. They live in and around the shrubbery that lines the small muddy creek. But they frequently ventured farther afield, at their own risk, to eat the new green luscious spring grass.

I began to recognize individual rabbits, mostly by the unique scarring on their ears. It’s like how they identify whales, by the marks on their tails. One rabbit, I named it “Our Bunny” because it hung out in or near our campsite, was missing half an ear. I imagined on owl grabbing for this fleeing cottontail only to get away with some flimsy ear skin in its talons.

Speaking of ears, in the morning, at the right angle, I could sometimes catch the bright low sun shining through their pink ears, making it seem as if they were illuminated from within.

Our Bunny liked to crawl under the bush right next to our camper, resting only a few feet away. The bush branches were still bare, the buds just starting to leaf out. So even though the rabbit thought it was hiding, it was clearly visible. Admittedly, you had to know it was there because its coloration matched the shadowy dirt underneath. One time, as I watched it hopped toward the bush from the creek bed, it paused first to munch on some dirt. Yes, dirt. I have a photo of it. I figure they eat soil in order to add minerals and salts to their diet. I later saw a ground squirrel eating dirt. Because of the hot springs the ground here is probably particularly rich in nutrients. When I was very young I love the smell of mud, and would occasionally eat it.

California jackrabbits are my favorite bunny. They’re big, they’re fast and their ears are humongous. They can probably pick up transmissions from space. But they’re skittish and evasive and rarely seen close enough to photograph.

House finches, a common bird, shared their cheerful chirping each morning. The males’ red heads made them photogenic. Mourning doves cooed they’re sad keening all day. White-crowned sparrows pecked relentlessly in the dirt and sometimes bathed in the creek.

So just in time for Easter, I’m including here a selection a bunny portraits.

All photographs by Carla Brennan. Please do not use photographs without permission.

This gallery contains 27 photos