If you're interested in using any of these photographs, please contact me. Send an e-mail to naturalhistoryphotos(at)gmail.com. Thanks!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


Nice views of Harbor Porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) in Drakes Bay today, 26 November 2014: 

This was my favorite image: 

It might not seem like much at first, but you don't see Harbor Porpoise spouts that often, so I was happy to get a picture of one.  And it also felt appropriate to capture a picture of a "breath" today.

On the day and night before Thanksgiving, it felt appropriate to pause, breathe, and say thank you.

I'm very grateful for your support during the past year...for sharing a passion for natural history...for accompanying me on this journey to explore local landscapes and seascapes and all of the organisms and patterns that surround us.

Maintaining this blog this year was harder than ever, but meant more to me than I can express, so I thank you for your interest and patience.  I so appreciate all of your comments and inquiries and observations.  I hope you can see me smiling and nodding with understanding when I read them, and that you know they inspire me to continue.  I'm so glad you're out there, reading and learning with me.  Thank you.

P.S.  Now it's your turn to breathe.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Identify the Prey in the Pellet

I know, you've been waiting and waiting for the answers to the Identify the Prey in the Pellet game.

Last night I showed this picture of a gull pellet with the remains of mystery prey items:

The next image is the same picture with some of the mystery items identified.  Are you ready?

There are at least four identifiable prey items: a Channeled Whelk (Nucella canaliculata); two species of crabsa Flat Porcelain Crab (Petrolisthes cinctipes) and a Granular Claw Crab (Oedignathus inermis); and what I think is a fish bone.  Let me know if you can identify more!

I've shown pictures of a Granular Claw Crab before see the post from 23 April 2013.

I haven't shown a Flat Porcelain Crab (Petrolisthes cinctipes).  So here you go — a gull's-eye view (below).  Note the elongate, smooth, flattened claws.  Their size, shape, and texture made them easy to identify in the pellet.

And if you're interested in playing another round of Identify the Prey in the Pellet, here's another gull pellet.  (The identity of the prey is below the picture.)

This gull pellet is dominated by one species found growing in clumps along wave-exposed rocky shores. 

The picture below reveals this species when it's alive, so don't scroll down unless you're ready for the answer:

The pellet was full of individual Gooseneck Barnacle plates (Pollicipes polymerus), a common prey item of gulls in this area.

I hope you enjoyed playing the game!

Monday, November 24, 2014

A new game

Here's a new game for you — Identify the prey in the pellet!

Below is a picture of a gull pellet.  Gulls cough up compacted pellets of previously swallowed prey parts that they can't digest.  Pellets are interesting because they offer clues about the gull's recent food items.  They're miniature treasure chests of mystery objects that tell a story about the gull's interactions.

Can you identify the different types of prey in this pellet?  I'll show you two pictures one of the pellet in its original state when I first found it.  And a second photo when I spread the pieces apart to make it a little easier to see the individual items.

If you're into playing games at different levels, the hardest level in this game would be to look at only the first photo (above) no peeking at the second photo (below)!  However, if you need some help (like I did), go ahead and look at the second photo, too.  I'll reveal the answers regarding some of the prey items tomorrow.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Is there someone following me?

A couple of nights ago we watched an interesting interaction on Salmon Creek Beach.  A couple of young Bonaparte's Gulls (Chroicocephalus philadelphia) were following a flock of Sanderlings along the shoreline.  

Although we never saw it actually happen, I'm pretty sure the Bonaparte's Gulls were waiting for the Sanderlings to come up with prey items so they could steal them a form of kleptoparasitism.

As they usually do, the Sanderlings were feeding intensively along the swash zone.  The Bonaparte's Gulls would sometimes run along with the Sanderlings (as above), other times they would fly in from another location and land in the middle of the Sanderling flock, and yet another strategy would be just to stand and watch the Sanderlings from slightly higher up the beach.

Bonaparte's Gulls are known to steal food from other species of birds.  Has anyone else noticed them kleptoparasitizing Sanderlings before?

As one of the smallest gulls in North America, Bonaparte's Gulls can appear diminutive and "innocent," but watch for the little "bandits" in them!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Crab trap surprise!

What fun to open my e-mail, to see a request for help with identifying a local animal, and then to see this photo:

This animal came up in Doug Wilgis's crab trap!  He was in Bodega Bay, off the Estero de San Antonio, on November 12th.  The trap had been set at about 25 fathoms (150 feet).  This curious animal was about 4 inches (10 cm) long.  Do you recognize it?

I've mentioned this type of animal on the blog before (a couple of years ago), but I haven't shown this stage because I've never seen it!

This is the solitary stage of a salp (or pelagic tunicate) called Thetys vagina.  Note the two fascinating amber-colored projections they're on the back end.  And I'm sure you can also see the banding in the mid-section.  These are muscle bands that the salp uses for swimming and pumping water for filter-feeding.

A salp spends its entire life in the open ocean.  Its life cycle includes two stagesa solitary stage and an aggregate stage.  [For comparison, on 30 July 2012, I showed a picture of a Thetys from the aggregate stage.]

The solitary stage shown in Doug's picture is asexual and produces chains of aggregates (shown in my July 2012 picture, and see below).  The aggregate stage is sexual and produces the solitary stage.

In late October, I found some small aggregate stage Thetys washed up on the beach, which made me wonder if there were some actively reproducing solitary stage individuals around.  Doug's observation confirms that there are!

Here are the small aggregate stage individuals that I encountered in October (see below).  They don't look like much after being washed up on the sand, but I thought it would be useful to document these smaller individuals.

You can see that the first is ~8 cm (3 inches) long, and the second is only ~4 cm (1.5 inches) long.

I'm very thankful to Doug for sharing his picture.  Not many people get to see these offshore animals, so it's fun to pass along this story to you!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


Just a few quick shots to document the large swell today:

That's about a 10-foot west swell.  In the morning, many of the wave faces had a very interesting texture like pebbled glass (see below).  The fact that the faces of the waves (as they approached Bodega Head) looked like this provides a clue about the wind speed and direction at the time.  Do you want to guess?  

The wind was blowing at about 18 mph (15 knots) from the east.  Because it was basically blowing directly at the waves, it created a dramatic rippled surface.  Even before the waves broke, as in the last picture, you could see small riffles of water being blown back off the tops of waves.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Dreaming of green

I don't know about you, but I'm ready to see the landscape turn green.  I'm hoping for some much-needed rain.  I rummaged through some older pictures and this was one of the first "green landscapes" that I found.  I haven't shown this view before, so it seemed like a fun choice.  I'm guessing many of you will recognize this scenic vista.  (And if you don't, it's a nice one to be introduced to!)

This picture was taken from Tomales Point on the northern end of the Point Reyes peninsula.  The view is looking north across Bodega Bay towards Bodega Head and Doran Beach.  That's Bird Rock off to the left (or west) of the Point.

The image above was taken in December 2007.  Seven years later, I'm hoping that December 2014 will be as green or greener!