Carla Brennan's Blog

Reflections and Photos from The Big Trip and Beyond . .

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