Cormorant wins

X_BCormorant MBay3_2016 CMaParsonsJust sharing good news.

A photo that I took in March of a young Brandt’s cormorant at the Coast Guard Breakwater has won 1st place in the Sanctuary Life category of the National Marine Sanctuaries’ photo contest Get Into Your Sanctuary. I’m surprised and pleased that an everyday coastal bird (that I happen to like) won!

My thanks to the contest organizers and to everyone who has supported my sharing of Monterey Bay experiences.

Posted in California coastline, Monterey Bay | Tagged , | 7 Comments

Dining out wild style

Americans love to dine out. Each week 83% of us visit “fast food” restaurants and about 68% visit casual dining restaurants (2013 data). We like some variety, eating mostly “American” food, but also Italian, Mexican and Chinese, but we’re generally not adventurous eaters.

All wildlife — 100% — dine out daily. They have no other option. Many animals, especially those that live in close association with humans, eat a variety of foods, but some animals are very particular. These photos show a variety of animals photographed while they were dining out wild style locally.

This presentation was part of an assignment for a photography course I’ve been taking with Heather Angel  (Heather Angel Photography) through My Photo School. Hers is my second of their online courses. I’ve found the assignments challenging and tutors (the school is UK based) very helpful, and I’ve learned a lot from them, plus the course format and timing has been convenient. Since the course is finished, I thought I’d share this with all of you.
A note of caution: Not everyone is a dainty eater and some can be gross (last photo).

PaintedLady2Painted lady butterflies feed on the nectar of a variety of host plants, but they especially like Asteraceae (composite) flowers. Since they live only a few weeks, they have to get a lot of eating pleasure into a very short life. If you look closely, you can see the proboscis (tube mouth) sucking up the flower nectar.


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Sea otters were thought to be generalists when it came to eating — dining on whatever local invertebrates were handy. Research has shown that individuals have specific tastes and choose their foods based on what they like (as well as what’s available). This sea otter at Elkhorn Slough is eating what looks like an innkeeper worm. I got this shot using a telephoto lens while sitting in a kayak. When photographing wildlife it’s good to mind your manners and not disturb them. Getting close enough to change behaviors is rude, and with marine mammals, it’s illegal.

Sanderling CMParsonsSanderlings eat the small invertebrates they find on or in beach sand. Their comical scurry up and down beaches following the waves is in pursuit of exposed sand crabs or sand fleas. This one seems to have found a meal too big for its bill.



CedarWaxwing CMParsonsCedar waxwings feed mostly on fruit year-round but also snack on protein-rich insects in the spring and summer. I photographed a group of waxwings dining on pyracantha berries across from my office on a cool November morning. The whole scene appeared fall festive.


Albatross CMParsonsThe seagoing black-footed albatross is a predator that catches flying fish and their eggs, as well as squid. However, like most of us, they don’t pass up a free meal. A group of albatrosses came upon (or were attracted to) a harbor porpoise killed by a group of orcas (killer whales). On a whale-watching trip, we happened upon the albatrosses. The orcas took only a bite out of the porpoise (you can see the porpoise’s blowhole). This gave the albatrosses access to a large amount of fresh meat, and the whale-watchers access to a feeding fest.

Dining out is different for everyone, as you can see.
If a photographer is diligent, patient and knows wildlife, she (or he) can capture great photos of locals enjoying a wild meal.

Posted in California coastline, Elkhorn Slough, Monterey Bay | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Artful sand dollars

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADuring low-tide walks this week sand dollars (Dendraster excentricus) have been the dominant life form. Everywhere dotting the exposed sand were white tests (as in dead shells), soft deep-purple disks (the healthy live ones), and shapely sand traces (from under-sand burrowing). The feeding must be good and the living easy on this beach. (I just learned that more than 500 individuals can crowd into a square yard!)
SandDollar CMaParsons
Sand dollars are often collected as souvenirs and used in art projects. The white tests are beautiful (although several people collecting the purplish shells didn’t realize these were living animals).

To counter the notion of sand dollars as art, I thought I’d post the art created by sand dollars. Don’t you think their living works are lovelier than those adorning our bureaus and walls?

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References & Resources
If you want to learn more about our Pacific coast sand dollar, visit this nicely done San Francisco State biogeography class post from 2005.


Posted in California coastline, Monterey Bay, Sandy beach | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Black-footed albatross feeding

HumpbackTail CMP6_30_16On Thursday I went whale watching with FastRaft and friends. I expected to see whales — humpbacks are usually in the Monterey Bay during the summer — and there had been reports of Risso’s and other types of dolphins, too.


It turned out to be a great trip (even with the thick fog and swells). The whales were awesome. We saw humpbacks feeding, fin whales cruising nearby, and orcas (killer whales) hunting. Kate Spencer of FastRaft posted some fine whale shots on Facebook.

BFAlbatrosses CMP6_30_16Fin whales were a new sighting for me and I’ve never seen killer whales while out on Monterey Bay. But what I found even more amazing were the black-footed albatrosses. About 8 miles out, off Marina, the orcas had killed and abandoned a harbor porpoise. (We heard the pod later got a harbor seal, too.) After watching the whales, Kate took us back to the albatrosses. [Thanks, Kate!]

BFAlbatross1 CMP6_30_16Around the dead porpoise were several albatrosses and a few western gulls.  The black-footed albatross (Phoebastria nigripes) is a pelagic (open-water) bird — it spends nearly all of its time gliding on a wingspan of 76 – 85 inches (193 – 216 cm). I have taken photos of them on the wing before, and they’re beautiful fliers, but that’s nothing compared to close-up views. These birds were feeding right next to us. Here are some of my best shots. I’m not including anything too gory (and there was plenty of that with the partially eaten porpoise).

Finally, a reminder. The population of black-footed albatross is supposedly stable, yet it’s classified as “near threatened” due to today’s ocean issues: fishing practices, pollution and plastic, climate change. What you do on land every day can have a positive or negative impact on amazing ocean life that we seldom see. They’re out there trying to make a living, as we all are, and making better use of your reusable water bottle or driving fewer miles can make a difference.

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Posted in California coastline, Monterey Bay | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments