Carla Brennan's Blog

Reflections and Photos from The Big Trip and Beyond . .

Monarchs Rule!

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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: brennan.carla@gmail.com

This gallery contains 32 photos

The Ongoing Saga of the Cormorant Colony

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If you followed my blog last year, you saw posts dedicated to the nesting, hatching and growth of a breeding colony of Brandt’s Cormorants in Natural Bridges State Park, Santa Cruz, California.

Twice during the previous month, I visited the rock ledge they had inhabited last year. But no cormorants. Just a couple California gulls and a snowy egret. I was bereft, hoping they were okay wherever they had gone. I wondered why they had not returned here.

It took me a while to realize I had actually seen them in their new location. They are now on top of the famous rock outcropping at Natural Bridge’s Beach. It forms the last natural arch standing in the park. The “bridge” that connected the rock to the shore and for which the park is named, collapsed in the 1989 earthquake.

From the parking lot just outside the park entrance, there is a clear view to the new colony site. However, it is considerably farther away than my viewing spot last year. Fortunately, I now have a better camera and lens. So I hope the quality of my photographs is comparable to the past. Included here are a few long distance and close-up shots. Notice their bright blue throat patches and their straggly white whisker feathers on their back and neck.

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 8 photos

Monarchs Bring Both Beauty and Sadness

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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:
https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/dec/07/its-a-sad-reality-a-troubling-trend-sees-a-97-decline-in-monarch-butterflies

The following article just came out in National Geographic:
https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2018/12/monarch-butterflies-risk-extinction-climate-change/

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:
https://carlabrennan.com/2018/02/06/vitamin-sea-and-butterflies-in-february/
https://carlabrennan.com/2016/11/07/the-butterflies-are-back/

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 18 photos

Another Day in the Life of Brandt’s Cormorants

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July 6, 2018.
West Cliff Drive, Natural Bridges State Park, Santa Cruz, CA.

You may be getting tired of the ongoing saga of the cormorant nesting colony. But I am loving following their growth, life cycle and idiosyncratic behavior.

Much had change from the week before. The colony cliff site was noticeably less populated although there still were a few chicks, several adults sitting on nests and general activity. Last week there had been six juveniles standing on the beach below. This week I counted 35. These congregations of juveniles are called creches. The young birds were much more active than before.

Many were experimenting entering the water, swimming, diving, playing together, and then returning to land. Some were obviously inexperienced and got tossed and tumbled by the waves. As one juvenile walked out of the sea onto the sand it’s feet were hit by the next incoming wave and it was thrown completely backward into the foam.

I watched at least six adults climb out of the water to feed their young. Although they may have several offspring, only one is fed at a time. Sometimes a unrelated bird would start to beg for food but the adult would aggressively chase it away. These feedings are captured in a variety of photos below. Honestly, it makes me gag to watch them!

People walking by stopped and asked me what kind of birds they were. I pointed out the colony, the nests and the juveniles below. If you watched for only a few minutes, nothing special seemed to be happening. But, as is the case in nature, if you stay still, observe carefully and are patient you begin to see nuanced, amusing and unexpected behaviors.

Near the creche was a small ledge about 3 feet high on the cliff face. I called this the “practice ledge”. The juveniles would periodically attempt to fly onto the ledge. One bird tried twice only to fall back into the sand. Others were successful. There is no way these birds could make it back to their colony 30 feet above!

Many juveniles seemed interested in rearranging the seaweed on the beach. They would pick up pieces, drag them along and then deposit them elsewhere. Occasionally one would get a mouthful of seaweed and take it into the water. At other times one would come out of the water with a new fresh clump of seaweed. I am guessing this mimics nest building behavior. But they did not seem to know why they are doing it and were just entertaining themselves.

I was fortunate to watch a juvenile’s first launch from the colony. With his wings outspread, he not so much flew, but plummeted down the cliff, landing with an awkward “plop” into the waves below. He then began to swim furiously but was caught by the swells and currents and driven to some rocks offshore. The young bird scrambled onto a rock, probably relieved to find some terra firma again. Eventually a large wave knocked him into the water again and he found his way to shore to join the other juveniles in the creche.

Please do not reproduce photographs without permission.

This gallery contains 25 photos