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Monday, April 30, 2012

Ruff day at the beach

Photos of a Ruff (Philomachus pugnax) taken at the north end of Bodega Harbor on 30 April 2012 at ~ 6 p.m.

This bird was first spotted in Bodega Harbor on 21 April 2012 and has been seen occasionally since then.  I was excited to get some photos as Ruffs are rare migrants in Sonoma County.  They are an Old World species, breeding in northern Eurasia and wintering mainly in Africa.  The Birds of Sonoma County lists only 9 records (mostly in fall) between 1961 and 2000.

Ruffs are medium-sized sandpipers (~10-12" long).  They generally have a small-headed and large-bodied appearance, with a medium length bill (slightly decurved).  Legs are variable in color, but yellow in this individual.  Upper feathers have dark bars and distinct pale fringes.

Ruff in center, flanked by Marbled Godwits (see above and below).

Below, note the relatively long yellow legs.  Most of the other birds are Marbled Godwits.  There are also three Red Knots in the foreground (gray backs and red breasts) and two Short-billed Dowitchers, one directly behind and another to the far right of the Ruff (shorter and darker brown).

The Ruff spent a lot of time resting.  Can you find it in the next photo?

It's on the far right, with a Red Knot in the foreground and Marbled Godwits to the left. 

In the photo below there are six species of shorebirds — along with the Ruff there are Marbled Godwits, Willets, Red Knots, Short-billed Dowitchers, and a Dunlin.  Can you pick out the Ruff?

The Ruff is just to the left of the largest rock. 

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Jumper on the trowel

When putting away some gardening tools this afternoon in Sebastopol, I noticed a jumping spider on one of the trowels.

A bright white face, overall brown color, with mahogany between the eyes, hints of violet iridescence on the legs and palps, and cream-colored stripes visible from above and at the leg joints.

In browsing pictures of jumping spiders on the Internet, the color pattern of this spider looks similar to Evarcha proszynskii.  But that's just the closest I've come to an i.d. so far.  Does anyone have thoughts about the identity of this captivating salticid?

ADDENDUM (30 April 2012)

Dick Walton has corrected my initial guess.  This is a species of Phanias.  Check out his Natural History Services website for some amazing and inspiring videos of jumping spiders.  (And Ryan Kaldari has confirmed it as Phanias albeolus.)

Saturday, April 28, 2012


 Strap Kelp (Lessoniopsis littoralis)

A distinctive perennial kelp, growing in the low intertidal zone on the rocky outer coast.  Note the large, compact holdfast, the thick and gnarled trunk-like stipe (or stem), and the abundant strap-like blades (with visible midribs).  

Mature plants may have up to 500 blades.  The blades can reach up to 1 meter in length (see below).

Strap Kelp grows in sites "exposed to the full force of surf" (Marine Algae of California by Abbott and Hollenberg).  Or, according to Dawson in Seashore Plants of California, it is "very well adapted to withstand the most violent agitation of the sea."

If you see Strap Kelp, it's a good idea to be very cautious as the ocean is bound to be dangerous (to inflexible people without strong holdfasts) wherever it grows. 

Here's one more photo (below) with both Strap Kelp and Sea Cabbage (Saccharina (= Hedophyllum) sessile) the latter with shorter, broader blades.

Most of these images were taken at Van Damme State Park.  The second photo is from Bodega Head.

Friday, April 27, 2012


Congratulations, Dr. Kerry Nickols!  A few images of the coast to help celebrate her Ph.D. and to inspire thoughts about the Coastal Boundary Layer!  (First three from Bodega Head, last two from Big Sur.)

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Reds and purples

Sometimes there seems to be a color scheme for the day.  Today I helped Eric with field work at Van Damme State Park in Mendocino County.  Between tasks I took a few photos, where reds and purples kept appearing.

Red Urchin (Strongylocentrotus franciscanus) among Purple Urchins (S. purpuratus)

Close-up of a Gumboot Chiton (Cryptochiton stelleri)

A very small (~1 cm across) Ochre Seastar (Pisaster ochraceus)

 An elegant scale worm in a shallow pool (not certain of the species)

The day started with an intense squall line approaching from the horizon.  It moved very quickly across the ocean towards land.  I barely had time to take this picture before it started to pour!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


 Burrows of the American Badger (Taxidea taxus)

Badgers are fossorial (adapted to life underground), digging burrows for den sites or to pursue prey such as pocket gophers.  Their large fan-shaped mounds are impressive examples of bioturbation soil disturbance caused by animals.  

Whenever I encounter a badger mound, my eyebrows always seem to rise up in surprise.  The volume of soil they displace is hard to believe.  (For scale, my field notebook in the photos above is 5"x7".) Below the surface the burrows can be up to 30 feet long and 10 feet deep.  The photos above were taken on 11 April 2012 (top two photos, same burrow from different angles) and 23 March 2012 (bottom photo).

Badgers have wide, low-slung bodies, and feet adapted for digging long claws on the front feet and strong, broad hind feet for pushing soil backwards.  I don't have a great picture of a badger yet, but here's one taken on Bodega Head in 2008.

To see a badger in action digging a burrow, check out this video posted on YouTube.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

All dressed up

The feathers of many sandpipers display beautiful russet-colored tones in breeding plumage.

Western Sandpiper (Calidris mauri) 

In Western Sandpipers, rufous or chestnut-colored feathers are especially visible on their crown, ear coverts (behind the eyes), and scapulars ("shoulders").

Other field marks for Western Sandpipers include overall small size (~14-17 cm long), black legs, a relatively long bill (slightly decurved, with a thick base), gray or black chevrons (triangular markings) along the sides of the breast and flanks.

Western Sandpipers winter along the Pacific Coast (primarily from California to Peru) and breed in northern Alaska.  (There's also a small breeding population in eastern Siberia.)

I've been wondering about the scientific name, Calidris mauri.  Western Sandpipers were apparently named after Ernesto Mauri, a well known Italian botanist associated with the botanical gardens in Rome.  Mauri was a friend of Bonaparte — in this case, Charles Lucien Jules Laurent Bonaparte, Prince of Canino and Musignano.  Charles Bonaparte moved to the United States in 1822 and is considered to be "the father of systematic ornithology in America."  He was the son of Lucien, Napoleon Bonaparte's younger brother. 

Just as Western Sandpipers are long-distance migrants, their name reveals a long-distance connection between America and Italy!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Silver and silver

Three views of a Silver Bee (Habropoda miserabilis) gathering nectar and pollen from Silver Dune Lupine (Lupinus chamissonis) in the Bodega Dunes on 15 April 2012.  Silver Bees are important native pollinators in California and Oregon dune systems.

In the third photo (above), you can see the bright yellow pollen on the scopa of the bee's hindleg.  A scopa is a tuft of dense hairs used for collecting and transporting pollen.

Silver Bees are relatively large (~1520 mm long), solitary ground-nesting bees.  Nesting occurs during the spring and early summer and can sometimes be gregarious (multiple burrows at one site).  The females dig long burrows in the sand (~20" long, ending in a cell that lies about 811" below the surface).  They provision the cell with pollen and nectar and then deposit a single egg.  The larva hatches, grows, pupates and emerges (underground) as an adult in late summer/fall.  The adult overwinters in the burrow and emerges the following spring.

Here's a photo of a Silver Bee hovering above the sand near a nest site (taken 2 May 2011).  You can see the bee's shadow on the sand below.  The bee's wings aren't visible because they were moving too fast for the camera.  The fine-grained, light-colored sand was probably carried to the surface by a bee digging a burrow.

P.S.  Forty-eight species of bees have been documented on Bodega Head.  See the full list here.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Black and gold

American Goldfinches (Spinus tristis) are molting into breeding plumage at this time of year.  Pictured above are three males and two females. 

Below are two males (note the black caps).  I'm guessing that the paler bird is still in the process of molting and will become brighter yellow.  Alternatively, color saturation in goldfinches is linked to their diet.  They acquire carotenoids (lutein and zeaxanthin) from seeds.

P.S.  A Game 6 win today for the Black and Gold from Beantown!  Go B's!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Goddess of the Hearth

She appeared outside of our window in Sebastopol last night (20 April 2012) — the Vestal Tiger Moth (Spilosoma vestalis).  Beautiful, shimmering white wings, with tiny black spots.

Close-up of the hindwings.

Black stripes on the abdomen.  Relatively thin antennae indicating that this is a female.  Long white hairs on the head and thorax.

And startling bright red forelegs.

Vesta is the Roman goddess of hearth and home.  In ancient Rome, the Vestal Virgins guarded a sacred, undying fire in the Temple of Vesta.  It appears as though the color of the forelegs of Spilosoma vestalis reminded Packard (who described the species) of this sacred fire.

According to the Moths of Western North America (Powell and Opler 2009), the Vestal Tiger Moth ranges along the West Coast from Washington south to Baja.  The main flight period is listed as late May (rarely April) through June.  Perhaps the warm air temperatures during the past week caused an early emergence?

Friday, April 20, 2012

Brumous air

It takes a while to become familiar enough with a place to start to feel its rhythms.  California is so different from New England that I still don't feel completely comfortable predicting when different natural events might occur here.  However, earlier this month I started out on an exploration in the rocky intertidal zone and felt like it could be a "Wandering Tattler Day."  I had been out for a while and was focused on invertebrates, and all of a sudden there it was — a single bird perched on the outer rocks (see below).

(I only had a short lens at the time, but there's a better picture below.)

Wandering Tattlers (Tringa incana) often seem to appear out of nowhere.  They are generally solitary and are very quiet until you surprise them and then they take off, usually giving a series of very pretty clear notes — sometimes written as "lidididi".  (If you want to hear it, there's a sound clip here.)

I was taken by the vocalization description from the Birds of North America account:

Wandering Tattlers spend much of their lives in a rich acoustic environment, dominated by the roar of mountain streams and crashing waves. Just as tattlers avoid the rush of surge and surf with nimble footwork and agile flight, so too do their vocalizations dance at, or just above, the upper frequencies of the dominant ambient sounds. Whether bouncing off the walls of an alpine canyon, flashing across a coral reef, or drifting down between towering peaks, the cry of the tattler pierces the brumous air of its chosen haunts.

I wasn't familiar with the word brumous, so had to look it up.  It means foggy or wintry.  There's something in me that relates to this word.  Maybe because brumous conditions can be filled with mystery and intrigue.  [Or perhaps it's because we might see high temperatures tomorrow in the 90s (in Davis), which I'd rather not experience!]

The first photo (above) was taken on 8 April 2012 and it appears that the bird is still in non-breeding plumage with smooth gray underparts.  This second photo (below) was taken on 8 May 2010 and instead shows a bird with heavily barred underparts typical of breeding plumage.  

Note also the dark lores (between the bill and the eye), white supercilium (line above the eye), long wings, and relatively short yellowish legs.  Tattlers nest in Alaska, NW Canada, and the Russian Far East.  They winter along the coast from British Columbia to Peru.  Northward migration peaks in April–May.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Humbled by a bubble

Okay, so here's where I admit that I did poorly in my college Physics class.  I came across some incredibly beautiful bubbles today, but mostly have questions about them rather than answers.  

They were at the end of surge channel on Bodega Head's rocky outer coast where ocean water had pooled after the tide receded.  Some yellowish foam had formed at the surface and the bubbles were within the foam.  They caught my eye because of their astounding colors — they were like jewels!

(Yes, if you're wondering, that's me reflected in most of the bubbles — in various positions while trying to balance over the water.)

I've seen lots of foam in the intertidal zone, and lots of bubbles, but I don't recall seeing bubbles like this before.  Have I been missing them, was I not paying enough attention?  How often does it happen?  Under what conditions?  Does it depend on something in the water, the type of light?

Some of them had patterns approaching fractals.  Look closely within individual bubbles below.  

I wondered if individual bubbles changed color, and indeed they do.  Here are two photographs of the same bubbles (see below).  If you follow a single bubble from the first to the second image, you can see the color change.  Sometimes it's subtle, other times the shift is quite dramatic. 

(Eric noticed that sometimes the swirling pattern looks like a nebula, like an image taken by the Hubble Telescope = a Hubble Bubble!)

Here's one more, just me playing around with the reflection of my hand.

There's some good introductory information (and illustrations) about colors in bubbles at this website.  I learned that the color of the bubble depends on the thickness of the film.  Unfortunately, I'm not experienced enough to explain more than this, but I hope you can appreciate these magical swirls!