Carla Brennan's Blog

Reflections and Photos from The Big Trip and Beyond . .

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.

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Last of the Wildflowers 2018

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Because of health issues, I missed much of the June wildflower season. Still I was able to capture a few over the past six weeks on several short walks and have included some of those flowers here. To see many more flowers, at this point, I would have to go to higher elevations in the Sierras but I don’t think I will make it there this summer.

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This gallery contains 65 photos

Cormorants 6-28-18

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Natural Bridges State Park, West Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz
6-28-18

I got back to the Brandt’s cormorant colony today after a three week absence. I wasn’t sure how many young would still be there. Possibly some of the babies were finally mature enough to be on their own. But the colony was more crowded than ever and abuzz with activity. The oldest young we’re getting harder to distinguish from their parents.

Flight feathers were fully formed and many excitedly flapped their wings. Some birds ran through the colony with wings extended like overexcited toddlers racing through a crowd. I watched several birds play with and fight over a ziplock bag. A few adults still sat on nests; I don’t know if they were tending any eggs or tiny birds.

There was also a group of six juveniles standing together on the small beach 30 feet below. This is the first time I had seen any young birds separated from the group on the cliff. They seemed to have been evicted from the colony but still lacked the skill or confidence to be totally on their own. Periodically, one would venture out and step into the surf but then dash quickly back to the dry sandy ground as if they literally had cold feet. Soon most of their life would be spent diving and fishing in the frigid Pacific waters.

These six birds had graduated from being large adolescents – that are as tall as the parents but still awkward and goofy – to becoming what are called “juveniles.” If human, we might call them young adults. Their backs were now sleek and dark instead of fuzzy and speckled. Their fronts were taking on the deep bronze color of a juvenile; they would look like this for another year before turning into the solid iridescent black of an adult.

The parent of two of the juveniles walked out of the surf and was greeted eagerly by its offspring. It had brought lunch. Only one of the young was aggressive enough to get fed by plunging it’s entire head down the parent’s throat to receive the regurgitated fish. This group was like gang of older teenagers who should have been on their own but we’re still living in their parents basement mooching food.

This spot had an unusually strong, foul fishy smell which I assume was emanating from the colony.

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This gallery contains 22 photos

Babies Are Growing Fast!

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West Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz, CA, May 13 – June 1, 2018

The baby cormorants are exploding in size, seemingly overnight. There are a few small newly hatched chicks but most are nearly the height of their parents. They do not have flight feathers yet but they sure like to exercise their underdeveloped wings. Still covered in fuzzy gray feathers with some white spots they are quickly darkening in color and will soon be sleek. The rock ledge is crowded with families and most birds stand nearby, but not in, their now too small nests.

I also discovered two nesting California Gulls among the blooming iceplants just above the cormorants. I have yet to see any baby gulls. These gull are actually the biggest predator of cormorant eggs and small chicks. Now most chicks are larger than the gulls.

I will include photos from May 13, May 18, May 27 and June 1. You can see the striking difference in the size of the babies. In one photo from May 18 you will see a brown immature Brandt’s cormorant from last years brood. It’s the only juvenile I have seen while visiting this site.

Please do not reproduce any photographs without my permission. Thank you!

 

This gallery contains 22 photos


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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.

 

Sea Star, Plover and Anemones

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November 5, 2017

Out for my weekly dose of Vitamin Sea, I wandered the beaches of Scott’s Creek along Highway 1 just north of Davenport, CA. This has become one of my favorite stops because it offers a variety of beach habitats and is easy to get to from my car. (To access many of the beaches along 1 you must climb down steep eroded cliff paths to reach the water. This becomes even more dicey when you are carrying heavy photographic equipment.)

There is fresh water (Scotts Creek), a broad beach, high cliffs, lots of tidal pools and decent beachcombing.

When I arrived there yesterday about noon, the water was as high as I have seen it; a full moon tide. The usual tide pools were under waves. So I meandered the water line taking in the chilly sunny day, looking for whatever presented itself.

AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER
One lone shore bird (the rest of the birds I saw were gulls) danced at the water’s edge hunting small tasty crustaceans. I wasn’t sure what it was as many of the shore birds look similar (to me anyway.) But later I identified it as an American Golden-Plover in its non-breeding plumage (the longer wingtips distinguish it from the Pacific Golden-Plover). This lonely bird was on its 12,000 mile migration to South America from summering in the Arctic, stopping along the California coast for food. These Plovers have one of the longest migratory routes in the world.

NORTHERN HARRIER
A female Northern Harrier caught the sea winds at the top of the cliffs perfectly, allowing it to hover, without flapping, in one place as it looked for a meal. Later I saw it carrying a rodent in its talons. (It was a bit too far to get a really good photo.)

CALIFORNIA GULL AND OCHRE SEA STAR (STARFISH)
This gull found a prize and eventually consumed it. I was glad to see the sea star since the Pacific coast population of Ochre Sea Stars has been decimated in recent years from “starfish wasting disease” thought to be made worse by higher water temperatures. I used to frequently see large orange, purple and brown sea stars in the tide pools but I haven’t spotted one in years. This gull lowered the current sea star population by one but at least this sea star looked healthy.

ANEMONES
After a few hours of looking mainly toward my feet, seeking sea treasures, I realized the tide had quickly receded and rocks and tide pools were emerging everywhere. Anemones were waving their many arms in the shallow moving water, ranging in size from tiny to five inches across. I photographed them from above and also tried, for the first time, underwater shots using my new Olympus Tough waterproof camera. Some cool images!

(Treasures I collected: sea glass, pieces of abalone and other shells, smooth stones with piddock clam holes, jade.)

Please do not reproduce any photographs without permission. Prints are available for purchase for some photographs. If you are interested, contact Carla at: brennan.carla@gmail.com. You can also find Carla’s photographs, paintings and jewelry on her Etsy site (Stones and Bones): https://www.etsy.com/shop/stonesandbones

 

This gallery contains 12 photos

2017 Wildflower Bouquet #2

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Here are some of the wildflowers I have stumbled upon in Santa Cruz County during the last month. Two of the flowers were new to me, the musk monkeyflower and the delightful stream orchid. The aptly-named orchid I discovered blooming along the banks of the San Lorenzo River in Henry Cowell State Park. I had to crouch in the river (in my bathing suit) to get the shot.

Please do not reproduce any photographs without permission. Prints are available for purchase for some photographs. If you are interested, contact Carla at: brennan.carla@gmail.com. You can also find Carla’s photographs, paintings and jewelry on her Etsy site (Stones and Bones): https://www.etsy.com/shop/stonesandbones

This gallery contains 27 photos