Thursday, May 21, 2009

Brandt's cormorant
Phalacrocorax penicillatus

I wish I kept records of my observations from the past few years. Hopefully, this blog will motivate me to write down what I see, complete with dates!

I've witnessed the cormorants starting to build nests as early the first week of February. (honestly, I only know this b/c a friend of mine keeps a nature journal with dates and asked me when we're going out to check the cormorants). It's a very noticeable event, because they force the older, massive sea lions off the rocks... which is funny to think about - this dinky bird "bossing around" several-hundred pound, typically obstinate animals... plus, the rocks turn a bright white from all the poop. The courting cormorants are fun to watch as they stretch back their necks to reveal the brilliant blue throat patches. I think it was 2005 or 2006 when they successfully bred and laid eggs without interruption such that they had humongous, demanding chicks by this time of year. The poor parents often look smaller than their young by the time the chicks are ready to leave the nest. However, the past few years, they stopped building nests, disappeared, started again, stopped, disappeared, etc... Last year (or was it this year?), I thought a few late-season storms may have washed away their nests. It's odd to me that egg-laying doesn't happen at the same time each year, let alone within 3 months' time. I read in a Monterey Herald article that the cormorants have a "flexible" breeding schedule. This year there are very few cormorants and it seems very late for them to start building nests for the 3rd time this year. Notice the young sea lions in the background? In years past, older sea lions didn't appear to go on top of rocks until late in the chick-raising season. I know very little about birds, so I don't have my ornithology terminology down. I wonder what's going on.

Pelecanus occidentalis

I love watching the pelicans fly! We see them flying in a swooping line outside our office window all the time. However, it's very unusual to see pelicans on the rocks so close to the end of the Coast Guard Pier. This one, with the brown hood, is not typical of the ones we see here year-round... or is it the other way around? The markings on the head are so distinctive in these pics.

sea lions

The boys are back in town! And, they stink to high heaven!!! I think it was 2005 when I last saw almost as many young ones here. That was the year when researchers placed a floating cage at the end of the Coast Guard Pier to tag sea lions. Unfortunately, the cormorants seem to be laying eggs very late this year and we noticed many of them dead, floating near the rocks... possibly crushed by the young sea lions?

ps - For an excellent video of sea lions in Monterey, check out this YouTube video.