May 22, 2011

Okay, Who’s Nest?

Good morning and greetings, nature fans. State park officials recently announced that because of budget cuts, seventy state parks across California will close starting in September. Holy Rosa Parks, that’s a 25% slice and dice. We’re talking beaches, redwood forests and parks with historical and cultural significance with rest rooms that haven’t been thoroughly cleaned in years. You would think at a time when vacation money is tight that the parks would be a natural place that would stay open, but this is not the case.

Governor Jerry Brown had to slash the budget and state public services got carved up like a honey-baked ham. Personally, I blame Arnold Swarzenegger for not being able to keep it in his pants.

Fortunately, one California State Park that escaped unscathed was Natural Bridges State Beach. So this is where our journey begins today as we are featuring that sleek, black sea bird that swims like Michael Phelps, the cormorant. Last week I saw a couple of huge flocks flying low to the water, furiously flapping their wings in a v-formation, as they were either on their way to feeding grounds or late for birds-only retreat.

So every weekday morning, after summoning up the courage to get out of bed, I knock back a couple of organic Pop Tarts and drop my kids off at school. I then head over to West Cliff Drive before settling outside the entrance to Natural Bridges, where my wife and I start our four mile, er two miles, er mile and a half stroll along our favorite street in Santa Cruz.

I am always excited in April when the cormorants return to this nesting spot on the edge of the cliff (photo #1) to build their nests, lay their eggs and discuss their hopes and dreams. I’m not sure if this is where they’ll actually mate, but who wouldn’t feel love in the air in a spot where the tides flow in and out, waves crash below you 24 hours a day and you can double date with pelicans.

Last year, a colony of these colonial nesters showed up at the usual time, built their custom homes but then halfway through the party abandoned this prime shelf of real estate. Local birders informed me in hushed tones that word on the street was that there wasn’t enough food and they were starving and forced to move on. It was very disturbing to have them leave so suddenly, but it was nature’s way of telling me something was wrong.

So at this point in late May, the females are sitting on the nests while their mates gather fish n’ chips and talk sports. Actually, both parents take part in building the nest and incubating the eggs, but the males get credit as the general contractor. I shot photo #3 last week so you can see what stage we are at with these sea birds. But just in case we don’t make it to the birth announcement stage, I threw in photos 5 & 6 from a few years back so you could see what these spanking new toddlers look like at birth.

Much like my time at Woodstock, the newly hatched cormorants are blind for their first three days on earth as well as buck naked. For the next five to seven weeks their mothers will sit on them, protecting their newborns from the wind, rain and natural predators like the nature photographer. And like my daughter’s worst nightmare, the babies are fed through regurgitation until they grow big and strong enough to fly off to join larger flocks or enroll in the Peace Corps.

It’s a west side treat to watch this magical event along the edge of the continent, from the flying in of the grasses, seaweed and dry wall for the nests to the lamaze births of the babies, all done out in the open in Pacific Ocean time. If you want to check it out, just park in the upper lot at Natural Bridges and walk outside the entrance and voila, you’re at cormorant nesting central. If things go according to plans, the chicks will hatch and then they’ll hang around through the summer with day trips to the Boardwalk, Monterey Bay Aquarium and Phil’s Fish House. For us locals, it’s like watching Animal Planet on the big screen of life.

On to the late night. “They found so much porn at Bin Laden’s compound that they’re investigating whether the porn was used to send coded messages. So remember guys, from now on when your lady catches you, you’re not looking at porn, you’re analyzing coded messages. ‘Honey, I wasn’t looking at porn. I’m in Al Qaeda.’” –Conan O’Brien “They have found Osama bin Laden’s diary. Some entries: ‘Very unhappy with TV reception. Death to Time-Warner.’ ‘Three wives, one bathroom, you do the math.’ The final entry: ‘Dear Diary, can’t talk now. Someone’s at the door. Hope it’s the Domino’s guy.’” -David Letterman

“President Obama’s approval rating, which got a bump after killing bin Laden, has slipped again. Which is really bad news — not for the president, for Moammar Gadhafi. President Obama suggested that Israel should go back to the pre-1967 borders. Native Americans said, “Why stop there? Let’s go back to the pre-1492 borders.”–Jay Leno

“I’m Conan O’Brien, or as I can now publicly call myself, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jr. Schwarzenegger secretly fathered a child outside of his marriage 10 years ago. He told his wife at the time but it took 10 years for her to figure out what he was saying.”—Conan O’Brien “There have been rumors going around for years now about a half Austrian, half Mexican baby who could bench-press a Ford Expedition.” -Jimmy Kimmel

“Arnold Schwarzenegger fathered a lovechild back in 2003. He’s been taking care of the child financially, providing healthcare and education — the same stuff he took from every other child while he was governor of California. “I guess ‘love child’ is a nicer term than ‘OK-Maria’s-asleep child.’ The woman was an employee. I’m not sure what she did, but I think she worked on Arnold’s staff.” -Craig Ferguson “Arnold Schwarzenegger admitted that he fathered a child with a member of his household staff. He kept this secret for more than 10 years. You know how he did it? He moved the woman and child into an apartment right down the street from the Pakistani military academy.” -Jay Leno

“Mitt Romney raised over $10 million in eight hours. That’s a dollar for every position he’s had on healthcare.” -Jay Leno “Ron Paul announced that he will run for president, and he supports the legalization of prostitution and heroin. If he does win, it will be one heck of a victory party.” -Conan O’Brien “Al-Qaida has a new leader. It’s quite a success story. He worked his way up all the way from the mail bomb room.” -David Letterman

So that’s our pre-Memorial Day weekend blast. Birthday wishes go out on Wednesday to my life-partner, soul mate and sports-loving wife Allison, who as you can imagine, has put up with plenty from yours truly over the years. And on Saturday, it’s that special day for my Marin-based sister-in-law Wendi, a faithful reader of this blog who lives life like every day is summer camp. So enjoy the singing cicadas, NBA conference finals and we’ll catch you in overtime. Aloha, mahalo and later, Maria Shriver fans.

5 Comments »

  1. That’s quite a rookery – kind of like an oceanfront maternity ward. Glad to see they’re back in town.

    Comment by J. J. Barea — May 23, 2011 @ 6:57 am

  2. Thanks for the smiles and a great start on this week.

    Comment by Babs — May 23, 2011 @ 7:30 am

  3. Always did love summer camp….

    thanks for the up-to-date info on the cormorant.
    Hope they stick around this year.

    See you soon.

    -your fun lovin, archery doin, sister-in-law

    Comment by Wendi Gilbert — May 23, 2011 @ 8:29 am

  4. I thought you and Allison walked to Aptos.

    Comment by Larry Bird — May 23, 2011 @ 8:34 am

  5. Hi Geoff,
    Very cool that you follow the cormorants. I notice though that in some past years (2009) your pictures are very close, with the birds coming off their eggs–I recommend staying further back from the nests (behind the fence) so that the birds aren’t moving because of your presence. Brandt’s cormorants are extremely sensitive to disturbance and will abandon a colony rapidly if a human flushes them off their nests. I am helping with a small volunteer research effort to track the success of this colony as part of habitat restoration for westcliff drive. Your overview photos of the colony in past years would be very useful to help us try to reconstruct the history of the colony. Let me know if you’d be interested in helping monitor or with old photos. Thanks, Ryan Carle.

    Comment by Ryan Carle — June 8, 2012 @ 11:38 am

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