Carla Brennan's Blog

Reflections and Photos from The Big Trip and Beyond . .

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

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

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

Egrets Everywhere

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Well, actually, they aren’t everywhere but I sure have seen a lot of them, both great egrets and snowy egrets, while living near the coast in California. Egrets – along with herons, pelicans and cranes – are good friends of the wildlife photographer. They are large, often remain still for long periods, are elegant in form and beautiful in flight. (Maybe pelicans aren’t exactly elegant but they are certainly appealing.) Most of the photos in this post have not been published before.

To see two other blog posts devoted to egrets, go to:
https://carlabrennan.com/2018/02/14/spearfishing-with-egrets/
https://carlabrennan.com/2015/12/07/angels-with-big-yellow-feet/

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 34 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

Watch My Cormorant Videos!

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July 13, 2018
Natural Bridges State Park, Santa Cruz, CA

Here is something really exciting! (Well, maybe.) Videos! Chris has been hounding me to take videos as well as stills of the cormorants. I have been resisting this suggestion because filming videos represents a whole new creative CAN OF WORMS in terms of the skill, equipment and technique. I have enough on my hands with still photography.

But I finally gave in and spent the good part of two hours taking short videos of the cormorant activity using my same DSLR camera (Canon 70D) and telephoto lens (Tamron 150-600). It is a steep learning curve but, for better or worse, I may be hooked! Admittedly, a few years ago I entertained the idea of documentary film-making and have an idea of what I would like to produce. That would truly be a daunting task.

If you can’t play the videos, let me know, since this is my first time publishing my videos on my blog.

The videos are pretty jerky because the slightest movement is amplified in telephoto. Some of what I shot was on the tripod and some just handheld. The wind caused small movements in the camera even when it sat on the tripod. In photography, there is always new equipment to be had and if I do more videos, I will need a smoother moving head for the tripod. I already have my eye on a Manfrotto fluid head!

I also have to deal with sound which is a whole new world. What you mostly will hear is the ocean, wind, traffic, California gulls and voices of people nearby. The cormorants don’t make a lot of sound themselves. Maybe someday I will be able to multitask by narrating while video taping. I can also eventually learn to overlay sound.

Included here are videos of the cormorant colony on the cliff ledge as well as the juvenile gathering (creche) below on the beach. You will get a better sense of their active and interactive nature in these videos.

The cliff ledge colony. There are still a number of adults and chicks but the population has thinned a lot. There are even a few fuzzy, specked young. Several adults sit on nests but I don’t believe there are any eggs; maybe its just a good resting spot. The birds running, hopping, skipping, waddling and flapping wings are mostly juveniles. Some juveniles are taking very short excursions up into the cascade of ice plants. I guess they get to try their new wings and be safely caught by the tangled mat of plants. You will also see a favorite cormorant activity: stealing nesting material from others. You may also see them “projectile pooping.” Male and female cormorants are identical.

The creche. The main spectacle here was the adults feeding the juveniles. There are several scenes of parents feeding young and even more examples of juveniles hassling and chasing parents to feed them or feed them more. The young will beg by pecking at the parents beak to stimulate regurgitation. The parents give the impression this whole process is unpleasant, they are worn out and vaguely annoyed by their children (a familiar feeling?) Once they feed an offspring they usually indifferently waddle right back into the waves. This must be a lot of work for them, catching enough fish for both themselves and these adult-sized offspring. You can tell which are the adults because they are black all over and have a small white throat patch with occasional flashes of blue. The immature cormorants have a rich chocolate brown front. There was also a lot of coming and going of juveniles in and out of the water and some were flying successfully.

Please do not reproduce without permission.