Surfing seals and bright blue birds? Welcome to San Diego;)

Actually sea lions, California sea lions (Zalophus californianus). They are “eared seals” native to the West Coast of North America. It is one of six species of sea lions and yes, they love to surf. I talked Mike into doing the tourist thing and going to La Jolla Cove, I actually wanted to see the Brandt’s Cormorants but the sea lions were an added delight! There were some huge sets coming in. Several body surfers were out with the sea lions as well! The sea lions kept looking at them like”Dude, who are the guys with no fur?”

The miracle of finding parking meant the Gods and Goddesses of the cove were smiling upon us! I’d come looking for the Brandt’s Cormorants who are showing their bright blue breeding colouration. I had no idea just how blue until we saw them! They were stunning! Males collect (sometimes steal) nesting material, and both male and female arrange it constantly during incubation. Nests are circular bowls of grass, moss, weeds, sticks, marine algae, and bits of driftwood (less often feathers). Adults in breeding plumage are mostly blackish, with blue eyes, vivid blue throat skin surrounded by a buffy band, and whiskery white feathers on the head, neck, and shoulders.

In the main part of its range, from California to Washington, the Brandt’s Cormorant is tied to the rich food sources associated with upwellings of the California Current. Male Brandt’s Cormorants usually arrive before females in nesting areas and claim small nesting territories on rocks or cliffs. Males advertise to females by pointing the bill skyward (to show off the blue skin of the throat) or by waving the wings. ♫♪♫ “I got it! Baby I’ve got it!” ♪♫♪

Brandt’s Cormorants foreplay;)

I sat and watched, several tourists asked me a few questions about them, I could give them their name and tell them to look them up! New bird for me! Google them! Ha! Poor Mike has to endure my constant stopping and photographing…Ha! He just goes on ahead, no ladies to look at on the beach, poor him;) Ha! A pair put on quite the show in front of me as I watched…Brandt’s Chiropractic work or sex? Ha!

Pairs maintain their bond usually just for one season. They greet each other at the nest with displays, including pointing the bill at the sky, a “gape” display in which they inflate the blue skin of the throat and cock back the head, and a display in which the females grasp the male’s bill (containing nesting material) and the two sway with bills locked, gradually placing the material in the nest. Both sexes share incubation and chick-rearing duties. Nice guys, not like those good for nothing dead beat humminbird Dad’s! Ha!

The sea lions seemed completely oblivious to all the cormorant quacking and panting in the warm sun as they sun bathed on the rocks below after their surfing adventures. They shared the rocks with a few seagulls and Royal Terns, punk hairdos’ gone bad;)

You get such a beautiful view looking down at the rocks and off to the North towards La Jolla Shores. It was interesting to watch the big sets come in, breaking and curling into horses manes and tails.

Several very very large California Ground Squirrels (Otospermophilus beecheyi, Otospermophius in Greek means seed-loving squirrel with prominent ears!) could be seen sauntering, not moving very quickly, among the succulents, choosing the tastiest morsel…they were HUGE! Rodents of unusual size! Ha! The California ground squirrel is diurnal, which means it is most active in the daytime. It lives in colonies, but the squirrels tend not to socialize with each other. They often spend their time feeding, sunning, dust-bathing, and grooming and eating, always eating! California ground squirrels are frequently preyed on by rattlesnakes. They are also preyed on by eagles, raccoons, foxes, and weasels. Since the 1970s, interdisciplinary research at the University of California Davis, has shown that the squirrels use a variety of techniques to reduce rattlesnake predation. Some populations of California ground squirrels have varying levels of immunity to rattlesnake venom as adults. Female squirrels with pups either roll on or chew on the skins shed by rattlesnakes and then lick themselves and their pups (who are never immune to venom before one month of age) to disguise their scent. Tricky little guys!

It wasn’t just the Cormorants in breeding colours either! The California Brown Pelicans were showing off as well! Adult colors change during breeding season. Chest and head feathers become golden, eyes blue, and the skin surrounding the eyes pink. The gray gular pouch turns bright red and the back of the neck chestnut-brown. The male selects a site on the ground or in an exposed treetop and performs head swaying displays to attract a female. The California Brown Pelican, a subspecies of P. occidentalis, is the smallest member of the pelican family! The diet of California Brown Pelicans consists primarily of surface-schooling fish such as Pacific mackerel, Pacific sardines, and northern anchovies. Anchovies are 90% of their diet during the breeding season. They have a lifespan of 25-30 years if they survive predation, starvation, pollution, entanglement, etc. Such amazing flyers and yes, their beaks can hold more than their bellies can! The beak is capable of holding up to 3 gallons of water, about 3 times more than its belly can!

Mike had to drag me away, as normal, somebody needed to feed Mike! Ha! It was odd being back in ‘merica;) back to hamburgers and fries at Habit Burger. Just not the same as tacos…:( Our border crossing was fabulous though, we drove up from the Valle de la Guadalupe, said a sad goodbye to Mexico as we slowly made our way through Tecate and to the border…there was NO ONE there! Always makes me nervous, what is wrong, bomb scare? Someone shot? Why so quiet? We literally drove up to the Customs booth with one car in front of us…unheard of, but now the new normal the lovely border patrol guard informed us!

I hate borders…my mother made clearing Customs an absolute nightmare for us as kids with hidden guns and drugs at times, we were forced to look at our shoes not into anyones eyes and DON’T glance at the secret compartment she kept the 12 gauge shotgun and the .357 magnum in…sigh. I find them very stressful to this day. This young woman could not have been nicer. She told us she was moving to Toronto at the end of the week, driving, to work for US Customs at Pearson Airport. She had more questions for us then vice a versa! OK, I’m always smuggling in an extra bottle of wine, or the last container of cat food but I did get rid off all the eggs! She said she had to look into the trailer, checking for people I think with a quick glance she said we were free to go and we told her, “Get really warm boots!” Ha! Already done she laughed. What a pleasant experience that was…now to erase the 300 other bad Customs experiences;)

We’d booked a lakeside spot at Santee Lakes for during the week, they are never available over the weekend unless you book months ahead, spaces big enough for us that is so the cats could look out the back window at the Coots and ducks. They did have a spot available a few up and in, which would mean a three minute move for the weekend as well so I signed up for that, a week in San Diego before we leave the cities behind, a chance to visit with family and also, photograph ducks…but that is a whole other story;)

Stay tuned for ducks and waterfowl in all colours and sizes! No rubber ones;)

Mrs. and Mr. Wood Duck

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