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

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The end?

Sometimes we mark the beginnings of events, or the peaks, but we're not as good at documenting the ends.

Large numbers of By-the-wind Sailors washed ashore throughout late July, August, and September.  In late September, around the 28th, after some strong northwest winds, Velella started to become hard to find on local beaches.

As of today (19 October 2014), there are still a few non-living floats/sails washing up, but not many.

Also of note is that smaller Velella started to appear in late August (see below).  These Velella were between ~1.5-3 cm long.

These smaller Velella never became abundant, but became more common through September, and we saw ~10 of them today on Salmon Creek Beach.

Here's one from 27 September...

...and a few non-living floats/sails from 19 October: 

It appears that we've passed the time of seeing live Velella washing ashore in 2014 (but I'd love to hear about it if you see one!).

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Giants and pygmies

The Giant Sequoias (Sequoiadendron giganteum) of the Sierra Nevada are impossible to capture in pictures.  When mature, many trees are 200-300 feet high and 30 feet in diameter.  (The largest trees are over 3,000 years old!)  These images are from the Mariposa Grove on 16 October 2014.

I love the color and texture of the bark:

In contrast to these enormous trees, while walking along a path and enjoying the forest, a small gray bird flew in and landed on a lichen-covered branch.  Can you find it in the picture below?

It's near the center of the photo, just to the right of the trunk.

Do you know what kind of bird it is?  

The next image will give it away.

A Northern Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium gnoma)!  What a treat to be among some of the largest trees and to see one of the smallest owls!  Northern Pygmy-Owls are only ~6-7 inches long and weigh about 60-70 grams (2-2.5 ounces).  Note the relatively long, barred tail.

And did you notice that the owl had a prey item? 

I wish I could tell what the owl had caught.  It looks like a small mammal, gray in color, and perhaps with soft fur (like a mole or shrew?).  If you have any ideas, let me know!

P.S.  Although you won't find Giant Sequoias near Bodega Head (they only grow in the Sierras), you might find Northern Pygmy-Owls nearby.  They've been observed in the Willow Creek area. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Peering and probing

Before we left Yosemite yesterday, we went on a short walk in the Mariposa Grove.  Along with the trees (which I'll talk about later), there were a few bird highlights.

I've hardly spent any time in the Sierras, so this was my first time seeing this striking black-and-white woodpecker typically associated with montane forests dominated by pines (especially Ponderosa Pines).

White-headed Woodpeckers (Picoides albolarvatus) are known for their dominantly jet black plumage, although in the right light you could see glossy bluish feathers (similar to ravens):

I read more about this species when I returned to the coast and learned that their diet includes pine seeds and invertebrates.  According to the Birds of North America account, White-headed Woodpeckers often feed on tree trunks that are furrowed or plated (containing lots of fissures).  And these woodpeckers are known for peering and probing, and flaking and gleaning, rather than hammering and boring into the bark.  The following images illustrate the peering and probing behaviors:

You probably noticed the small red spot (formally called a nuchal patch) on the back of this individual's head, indicative of a male.  Here's a better view of it:

We actually saw two woodpeckers, and the first was a female, lacking the red nuchal patch.  She was foraging in a place that made her more difficult to photograph, but I think it's still a decent comparison (see below).  Observations suggest that White-headed Woodpecker pairs remain together year-round.

What a way to end our trip — watching White-headed Woodpeckers weave their ways across wide trunks in wondrous woods!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Hanging from the branches

We spent most of the day in an indoor meeting (near Wawona), but during a short walk in the late afternoon we spotted this wonderful nest hanging from the branches of a Western Dogwood (Cornus sericia).

We wondered about the white material scattered on the outside of the nest.  Can you tell what it is?

Here's a closer view:

Our best guess is flower petals, perhaps from the dogwood itself.  What do you think?  

I had also wondered if the petals had simply stuck to the nest, or if the bird purposely included them in the nest.  Most of the group felt the bird probably incorporated them into the nest, perhaps for camouflage.

And of course, we're all wondering which species of bird built the nest.  I don't know the answer, but if you do, let me know!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

River rocks

Not from Bodega Headhow'd you know?  ;) 

We arrived for a meeting late in the day, so I just had time for a quick photo.  This is from the South Fork of the Merced River near Wawona (south entrance to Yosemite National Park) on 14 October 2014. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Something colorful, something new

On 15 September, Eric and I noticed some very small scallop shells washed up on Salmon Creek Beach.  Here's an example:

We were impressed with the diversity of shell colors and patterns:

Pick your favorite!


These are juvenile Rock Scallops (Crassadoma gigantea).  Not only did we discover how diverse their shells can be, but by looking at them up close, we learned something new.

Did you notice the row of teeth below the hinge?  (To me, it almost looks like a line of small arching waves.)  This feature is called a ctenolium.  The teeth guide the byssal threads that the scallop uses to attach to the substrate when it's young.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Low evening light

The swell continued to build today, and the wind let up in the afternoon.  Low evening light from the west lit up the tops of the 12-foot waves.