ONE OF THE SIGNS OF SPRING IN LA JOLLA IS THE BEGINNING OF THE BRANDT’S CORMORANTS BREEDING CYCLE. These black coastal aquatic birds live here year round and can be seen frequently stretching out their sea-soaked wings to the sun to dry. They are like a magical totem on the cliffs to the sea. During the breeding season, the Cormorants throats become bright turquoise & they have beautiful turquoise eyes, too. As if this isn’t enough the males breeding display is a dance. The male chooses a prime nest site and then performs his dance to attract a female. The male raises his head to the sun fully displaying his jeweled throat, flutters his iridescent black wings, lifts & spreads his tail wide & moves his head repeatedly up & down. This dance continues until he finds a mate. I am mesmerized by this flock of males all dancing on the side of the bluff. Turquoise jeweled throats with turquoise eyes make me swoon.
Once the male Cormorant has a mate, he will bring the female nesting material from under the water and she will build the nest. The nest is made of green seaweeds & eelgrass, pink algae & is held together by their bird droppings. Once the nest dries in the sun, it looks like a gray mound on the side of the bluff. The little winter rain we’ve had this year has caused the bluffs to be filled with blooming Sea Lavender & tiny white daisies, which makes the Cormorant nests appear to be in a cliff-side garden.
As the days progress, I visit the Cormorants & when she stands up to rearrange the nest, I can see she has laid several pretty pale blue eggs. Most of the nests now have eggs & I am delighted. Now the waiting begins. Even on overcast days, the sun beats down on the side of the bluff and the Cormorants are hot. To keep cool, their throats vibrate and their turquoise throats shimmer in the sun like jewels. It’s hard work being a Cormorant mom.
While watching the Cormorants, I spot fledged Black Phoebe chicks perched on small shrub branches on the side of the bluff. The mother flits back and forth bringing them insects to eat. She is very busy catching tiny insects to feed her babies. It is definitely a San Diego spring on the coast.
Back at Casa Beach, all is still peaceful for the Harbor seals because the beach is still closed to people for the pupping season. It is such a joy to see the colony of 300 harbor seals all resting undisturbed on the beach. The “Pup Club” is in full swing now. All the weaned pups hang out together & they are the cutest little creatures. Their roly-poly furriness with tightly shut eyes & heart-shaped eyes steals my heart over & over. At low tide the seals sleep on the exposed reefs & use the reef rocks like pillows.
Close by to Casa Beach are the Double-Crested Cormorants & they are wearing their breeding “hats” of white feather plumes sticking out from the sides of their heads. They have bright yellow-orange throats. I always smile when I see them visiting.
A favorite drive of mine is coming down the hill to La Jolla with the heart-stopping view of La Jolla Shores & La Jolla Cove. One day I stop to walk on the beach near the SIO Pier (Scripps Institution of Oceanology) and the tall blue-purple stalks of Pride of Madeira are in full bloom. Flowers are everywhere this year bursting with the happiness of the life-giving rain.
At the La Jolla Cove the huge male sea lions have returned. They spar with each other in the water snapping & snarling at each other while barking non-stop. It is music to my ears. The males are everywhere. On top of Alligator Rock they sprawl out & rest, but in the water they swim & roll in the shallows near the beach. Which male will win out & get all the females? Only the biggest, strongest & apparently maybe the loudest, too!
The aqua waves roll onto the shore at the Cove. It is a magic place & I am grateful.