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Monday, March 2, 2015

Blending in

Did you find the Burrowing Owl in the center of the photo?

(Click on the photo for a larger version.)

I wasn't sure whether to post this picture, as the owl is a little hard to see.  Then I thought about it more, and I liked how the image invites you to appreciate a Burrowing Owl's ability to blend in with grassland habitat.  I liked how the owl's mottled brown-and-white feathering matches the dark-and-light patterning of the surrounding vegetation. 

This photograph was taken on 27 February 2015.

To learn more about Burrowing Owls, and see a few closer pictures, review the post from 6 February 2013.

Sunday, March 1, 2015


As we approached Salmon Creek Beach tonight for a short walk, Eric said casually, "I wonder what happened to those dolphins we saw in the fall?"

The very next moment I looked up and said surprisingly, "There they are!"

Last September we felt very lucky to watch a group of Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) off Salmon Creek Beach (see post from 21 September 2014), and now we had a chance to observe them again.  Although I'm not certain yet that these are the same individuals, we might be able to tell after analyzing the pictures.

There were at least three dolphins tonight, and probably four.  For the record, here are two images showing three individuals.  Although Eric and I both felt there might have been four dolphins present, I never photographed four at once.

At least one of these dolphins was a small calf or juvenile.  Its pale gray coloration was noticeable, even from a distance.  And so was its behavior surfing the waves, leaping out the backside of the waves, jumping completely out of the water, sometimes re-entering the water upside down, and swimming sideways next to an adult.  Although they were distant, I can't help but show a sampling of these images so that you can get a feel for the spirit and energy of this young dolphin.

Has anyone else seen these dolphins around recently?  With the warm water temperatures, I wouldn't be surprised, but it would be valuable to keep track of any local observations.

Saturday, February 28, 2015


The forecast called for a chance of thunderstorms, and possible hail.  I was hopeful, but often these predictions fall short.  That was not the case today.

Around mid-day, we were treated to an amazing series of showers and thunderstorms, including lightning.  If you've been following the blog for a while, you know I can't resist recording thunder.  So here you go, two of the better thunder rolls from today.  Remember to turn your volume up.  If you have headphones, the listening experience is even better with them.  (There are a few birds calling, too — you'll hear Oak Titmice and American Crows.)

In the late afternoon we decided to go for a very short walk in Santa Rosa.  As we started down the trail, I was puzzled by what looked like ice among the grass.  When we looked closer, we realized it was hail!

We had only seen a tiny bit of hail at our house, but this was impressive.  In some areas, e.g., under shade and in low spots, the hail was so dense it looked like snow.  And then Eric had a brilliant idea:

A hailman!  For New Englanders who have been missing snowmen, this was the closest we've come to building one in Sonoma County since moving here 10 years ago.  I just wish the hailman didn't melt so quickly!  (And if we had known there had been so much hail, we certainly would have brought trays to try sledding.  Next time.)

Here are a few more pictures of the hail.  This was around 4-5 p.m.  I wish I had been there several hours earlier to see the new fallen hail.

Next to the trunk of a buckeye tree:

Surrounding stones next to a creek:

With ferns and moss:

The clouds associated with this thunder and hail were impressive.  Two examples after the storms had passed:

Friday, February 27, 2015

Passing through

It's especially fun to see rainbows over the ocean.  This one felt like it was going to pass right through me.  Photographed off Bodega Head on 27 February 2015.

Live long and prosper!

Thursday, February 26, 2015


A quick shot taken at the end of the day on 26 February 2015.  Can you tell that the spray was being blown sideways?  The wind was blowing out of the northwest at about 30 mph.  The spring upwelling season has begun!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Blue on red

I've shown this species of butterfly before, but this is the first time I've photographed an Acmon Blue (Plebejus acmon) nectaring on Red Maids (Calandrinia ciliata).  This picture was taken in the Bodega Dunes on 25 February 2015.  This also gives me a chance to provide updates on a few other butterfly records mentioned on the blog in February.

The next picture shows the Acmon Blue as seen from above, which will be useful when comparing it with the tailed blue from 21 February:

To review, here's the tailed blue (below).  Look for the "tails," and compare the orange/black markings along the edge of the hind wing.

I'm sure you noticed that the Acmon Blue lacked tails and that the tailed blue had fewer orange markings.

You might also remember that I was wondering if this was a Western Tailed Blue or an Eastern Tailed Blue.  I heard from a few people about the identification (thank you!).  The amount of orange on the upper side of the hindwing is helpful.  So is the overall size of the butterfly.  The habitat is potentially useful, too.  In this case, I'm not sure about the size, as I actually thought the two butterflies I saw were relatively large, but it's true I didn't measure them or have much nearby for scale.  It's apparently rare for Western Tailed Blues to have orange on the upperside of the hindwing.  And it's more common to see Eastern Tailed Blues in disturbed, riparian habitats at low elevations (a match for the habitat at Crane Creek Regional Park in Santa Rosa).  All together, I'll identify them as Eastern Tailed Blues for now.

And do you remember the blurry picture of the Western Pine Elfin on 14 February 2015? 


Well, it turns out that this was a state record!  That is, it was an early flight date for California.  Prior to this, the early date for the state was 6 March.  So this Bodega Dunes elfin will go into the record books.

(For examples of California butterfly flight records, you can download The International Lepidoptera Survey Newsletters here.)

Monday, February 23, 2015

Hidden creature

Last week, partially as a reward for finishing field work, Eric had a goal in mind to find an animal he hadn't seen in a while.  I was impressed that he was successful — it's not easy to find!  Even its scientific name means "hidden creature."

Here's a magnified view (under a microscope):

Yup, it's those small orange bumps.  Each "bump" is only about 2 mm across.  And yes, this is a colonial animal (i.e., the bumps are connected to each other).

I'll zoom in for a closer view:

Now you might have guessed that this isn't the entire storythe animals are withdrawn.  But if you wait and watch patiently, you get to see what the rest of the animal looks like:

A little bit different than a bump on a rock, right?  

The next picture shows a view from above (with the mouth in the center).  The number of tentacles provides a clue to the type of animal that this is.

Eight tentacles helps you identify this as an octocoral, one of the soft corals found along our coast.  Because they're small and inconspicuous, many people aren't aware that soft corals occur in this area.

Another fascinating thing is that they've hardly been studied at all.  Very little is known about the biology and behavior of soft corals along the West Coast.

It's easy to be drawn to their beauty (see Eric's next photo), but it's also fun to wonder about various aspects of their lives.  What and how do they eat?  When do they reproduce?  How do they interact with their "neighbors"?  How do they protect themselves?  How long do they live?

Viewed up-close, the texture of their tentacles somehow reminded me of burrowing sea cucumber tentacles and amphibian feet (tree frogs, geckos) at the same time.  Increased surface area for capturing food?

I haven't mentioned it yet, but we believe this is Cryptophyton goddardi.  ("Crypto" = "hidden" and "phyto" = "creature" and "goddardi" from Jeff Goddard who collected the specimen in 1992 used to describe this species.)  To identify soft corals, it's important to look at their scleriteshard spicules made of calcium carbonate embedded in their tissue.  (Sclerites may be useful for structural support or in defense against predators.)  Below are the knobby, microscopic sclerites that help identify this coral.

Here's one more view of this wonderful octocoral colony.  Look for two polyps with their tentacles expanded, one polyp with its tentacles withdrawn (but still visible outside of its base), and several polyps in the background (no tentacles visible).

Although they're small, now you can imagine these corals with their eight pinnate tentacles living under wave-swept rocky ledges.