Carla Brennan's Blog

Reflections and Photos from The Big Trip and Beyond . .

Monarchs Rule!

Leave a comment

Monarchs Rule!
October 2019

My unscientific, total guesstimate says that the number of overwintering Monarch butterflies this fall is about the same as last year. That’s good; at least there doesn’t seem to be fewer. But, as you may have read in my blog and other places, there was a precipitous drop in butterflies from 2018 from 2017. Why? Climate change, habitat loss and possibly other causes.

These photos were taken at Natural Bridges State Beach and Lighthouse Field State Beach in Santa Cruz, California. Natural Bridges has a butterfly flower garden that attracts the hungry Monarchs and allows for close-up portraits. Most of the other butterflies are either flitting about or huddled together, resting in groups high in the eucalyptus and cypress trees looking like dried leaves. You need either binoculars or a telephoto camera lens to see them with any clarity. I am amused by all the people taking photos with their smartphones; they probably, at best, captured a few tiny orange dots here and here.

Please do not reproduce any photographs without permission. Contact Carla Brennan:

This gallery contains 32 photos

Monarchs Bring Both Beauty and Sadness

Leave a comment

Monarchs Bring Both Beauty and Sadness

The over-wintering monarch butterflies this year are split between Natural Bridges and Lighthouse Field State Parks. My favorite spot is Lighthouse Field because it is easier to access and there are fewer people. Almost none, as a matter of fact. I am usually alone with my cameras, tripod, large trees and a few clumps of amassed monarchs dangling from eucalyptus or cedars branches.

Natural Bridges is the spot tourists, large families and busloads of children go to find butterflies. My first search for monarchs this year was on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Only a few butterflies were at the park but there plenty of people! I discovered that visiting the monarchs on Thanksgiving weekend has become a local family tradition. Turkey, pumpkin pie and monarchs.

An article about the decline of monarchs in Santa Cruz appeared recently in The Guardian (yes, the British daily newspaper.) They claim there is a 97% drop in the number of monarchs. I have certainly noticed fewer and fewer each year. It is another disturbing sign of climate change and loss of habitat. Read for more information:

The following article just came out in National Geographic:

Lighthouse Field State Park is across from the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum and Steamer Lane, the most famous surfing spot in Santa Cruz. After photographing the butterflies, I usually walk to the ocean cliff edge and watch the congregation of surfers jostling for the best positions to catch the next big wave.

See previous posts on over-wintering monarchs:

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

This gallery contains 18 photos

Coupling Cormorants and Migrating Monarchs in February

Leave a comment

Coupling Cormorants and Migrating Monarchs in February

Walking on West Cliff Drive on the Westside of Santa Cruz, I sought the Brandt’s cormorants I had seen a few days earlier. Cormorants are common and plentiful so most people simply ignore them. But when I saw a group of cormorants close together on a rock ledge, I knew something was up. Sure enough, closer examination revealed it was a small rookery of nesting birds. Or at least birds getting ready to nest.

Numerous piles of seaweed were placed a few feet apart. Some birds sat on the messy disorganized mounds of ocean plants while others stood nearby protecting their small territory. When a bird flew off to feed or it looked the other way, another would snatch a beak full of fibers. If one got caught in the act, noisy squabbling and beak jabbing  ensued.

Their breeding hormones had transformed their throats into a vivid cerulean blue that matched their eyes. White stringy feathers sprouted from their heads and backs, contrasting their sleek black bodies. They impressed each other with ritualized courtship behavior: heads thrown back, tails skyward, wings curled and vibrating. Sometimes they would just shake their heads vigorously, mouths open. Below, waves crashed against the cliff.

To see a video of a Brandt’s cormorant displaying go to:

And see a nest material theft in progress:

I plan to visit this colony regularly to watch them build actual viable nests, lay eggs and raise young.

On my way to my car, I spotted a snowy egret playing in the surf. I swear that was what it was doing. Without any apparent attempt to feed or do anything practical, the egret would walk into the oncoming waves, enjoy the flowing foam around its legs then lift upward quickly when then water became too deep. It then flew back toward the cliffs and started the game all over again.

Then onto Soldiers Field to check out the Monarch butterfly situation. I was surprised to see them still there, energetically flying about in the warm sunny air. No doubt they won’t be around much longer.

Please do not reproduce any photographs without permission. Prints are available for purchase for some photographs. If you are interested, contact Carla at: You can also find Carla’s photographs, paintings and jewelry on her Etsy site (Stones and Bones):

This gallery contains 21 photos