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

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

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

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.

Please do not reproduce any photographs without permission.

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