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

Saturday, June 30, 2012


Sneezeweed (Helenium puberulum)

Found in wet areas along Westshore Road close to Campbell Cove.  I liked the description of this species at the Thompson & Morgan website:  "Autumn Lollipop boasts heads of rustic yellow and bronze with a small basal frill of ruffled petals. Highly ornate and also an extremely original cut flower."  The dried and powdered petals and leaves apparently produce intense sneezing (although I can't yet speak from experience!).

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Lekking leps

Eric observed an intriguing butterfly flutter to the ground near our house in Sebastopol this morning.  It turned out to be a Pine White (Neophasia menapia).  It's the first time we've noticed this species in our yard.

Note the greenish-white background color.  The thick, dark outlines of the veins and the orange coloration along the edge of the hindwing indicate that this is a female.  (Males are paler and lack the orange.)  Some of the darker scales showed a purple iridescence (see below).

Shapiro and Manolis provide this fun description of Pine White behavior in A Field Guide to Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley Regions (2007):

"Adults lek around the tops of pines and occasionally other trees, dropping to near the ground and then rising to near the top in a spiraling motion;  they repeat the process again and again.  Their flight seems effortless, with infrequent wingbeats, and they have more than once been likened to giant snowflakes wafted in the breeze."

[A lek is a gathering of individuals involved in courtship displays.  "Lep" (from the title of this post) is an informal abbreviation for "lepidoptera," the scientific name for butterflies and moths.]

Here's a close-up:

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Tall spouts

Sometimes the ocean off Bodega Head is very calm, creating excellent conditions for whale watching.  We heard there were Blue Whales (Balaenoptera musculus) relatively close to shore this past weekend.  It's early for Blue Whales to show up in this area.  They're most often seen later in the summer and fall, but we've heard there may be some food (krill) around right now.

After work on 25 June 2012, we scanned the horizon and spotted a few extremely tall spouts, likely Blue Whales.  (Blue Whale spouts can be up to 30 feet high!)

I'm still amazed that it's possible to see Blue Whales from shore here.  They're more often observed offshore, so I'm thankful for every sighting!

Since the photo above isn't great, here's another whale photo taken last October — Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) flukes at Cordell Bank.  There may be Humpbacks around right now, too, so keep your eyes open!

And if you're wondering what the waves sounded like as they washed up the beach this weekend, here's a sound clip.  Listen for the crash of the waves, then water sliding and hissing over the sand and sloshing around before heading back to sea.

Waves by nhbh

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Tinted Wentletrap

This is one of my favorite local marine snails, the Tinted Wentletrap (Epitonium tinctum).  It's ~1.5 cm tall, slender, with tight whorls and well defined axial ribs (or varices).  The ribs appear to spiral around the shell towards the apex, hence the name wentletrap, originally a Dutch term for a spiral staircase.

Tinted Wentletraps are specialized carnivores, feeding on sea anemones.  On Bodega Head, they can be found nestled among Aggregating Anemones (Anthopleura elegantissima) — see below.  This may be a little challenging, but how many wentletraps can you find in the photo below?  (Note that some of the snails are partially buried in the sand and a little out of focus.)

There are 5 wentletraps.  Along with the one in full view, there are four others:

When reading about this species, I learned that their egg capsules are coated with sand.  After looking at the photo above I think there might be some egg capsules just to the left of the lower right snail (see next photo).  They are larger and appear more rounded than typical sand grains at this site.  (I'll explore further on another day and will report back.)

Although not the same species of wentletrap, I've always liked this drawing of wentletraps and their anemone prey from the 4th and 5th editions of Between Pacific Tides.

Some species of wentletraps pierce the columns or sides of anemones, but the Tinted Wentletrap attacks the anemone's tentacles!  It's been suggested that the snails produce a toxin that anesthetizes the tentacles so they can't retract. 

Monday, June 25, 2012

Spots and stripes forever

For years I've only caught fleeting glimpses of this handsome feline.  On 24 June 2012, I finally photographed a Bobcat (Lynx rufus) on Bodega Head.

What beautiful spots and stripes!  

Bobcats are about 25-30 inches long and weigh ~15-30 lbs.  Note the short tail (the tip is black above and white underneath), long legs, and short black fur tufts at the tips of the ears.  

Below you can see the broad, soft feet, and the foot pads on the back right foot (four toes, retractable claws).

Bobcats are crepuscular (active at dawn and dusk) and nocturnal (active at night).  They are stealth predators using a pounce-and-strike method to hunt a variety of animals, primarily small mammals and birds.

It was fun to learn that Lynx means "lamp" in Latin, and refers to either the specialized vision of these cats for hunting in dimly lit conditions, or the way their eyes reflect light at night.  (Thanks to Paul Rezendes in Tracking & the Art of Seeing for this fact.)

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The journey, Part 2

Here's an update to "The journey" post from 19 June 2012.  Thanks to the help of a few people, we now have a possible translation for the characters on the float and a possible barnacle identification.

First, I'd like to acknowledge everyone who has helped with this effort.  I can only share the information below because of their generosity, time, and expertise.  S. Gilbert contacted me and began the translation process.  The Roberts family — Luke, Yachiyo, and May — then assisted with interpreting the characters and identifying the possible manufacturer of the float.  Jim Carlton provided feedback on the identity of the barnacle. 

Below is another view of the Asian characters.  The photo has been flipped, because I didn't know the correct orientation when I first posted the photo!  The image brightness/contrast has been adjusted to make it easier to see the raised characters.  I've also circled the characters.  I'm sure that #2-5 are characters.  I'm not 100% certain about #1, but after looking at the float I think it could be a character, but it might not be possible to identify it at this time.

And here is a translation of characters #2-5:

Character #4 is the Japanese katakana symbol for the sound "fu".   This symbol is only used in Japanese, identifying the origin of the float"furooto" would be the Japanese way of writing the English word for float.  It's possible that the last two syllables were represented but are no longer visible on the float.

Luke also located a manufacturing company, Sanshin Kako Co., Ltd., that began making polyethylene fishing floats in 1967.  They now make dishes for schools and hospitals.

Jim Carlton suggested that the large barnacles on the float may be Megabalanus rosa (not M. californicus, as I originally proposed), a species found in the western Pacific.  On 19 June, I wasn't certain about the identification, as the barnacles didn't seem quite right for M. californicus.  

Unfortunately, the opercular plates are missing on all of these barnacles.  The plates are important for barnacle identification.  Jim is being sent some similar barnacles from the Japanese dock that washed up on Agate Beach in Oregon, so perhaps he'll have even more insight after reviewing those individuals.

Here's a close-up of one of the large pink barnacles with small pelagic gooseneck barnacles and bryozoan (the lacy crust) growing on its shell.  There were also two white barnacles on the float, similar to the pink barnacles in shape and structure but lacking the pink color.

Jim Carlton also pointed out that although we see objects with Asian characters washed ashore every year, they usually don't have Asian species growing on them.  If this is Megabalanus rosa, and if the float originated in Japan, it's possible that this is debris from the March 2011 tsunami.  If so, Salmon Creek Beach may be one of the southernmost locations along the North American coast from which tsunami-related debris has been reported to date.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Feet first

Two views of an Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) fishing over the north end of Bodega Harbor on 23 June 2012.

Note the very long wingspan (150-180 cm or 5-6 feet), dark carpal (wrist) patches, long legs, curved talons, and hooked bill.

Osprey are primarily fish eaters.  After hovering above the water, they plunge feet first to capture surface-schooling fish within ~1 meter of the surface or bottom-dwelling species if the water is shallow enough.

Here's another photo from last year (11 March 2011).  Let me know if you can identify the fish!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

What a drag!

Four species of algae growing on one chiton! 

The chiton is on the left side, barely visible under the seaweeds (see close up below).  Can you guess the four seaweeds?

(1) The large well-developed holdfast with a long stipe (stem) is Bull Kelp (Nereocystis luetkeana).  

(2) The slightly darker brown algae above that, with a short stipe and wavy-edged blade is Feather Boa Kelp (Egregia menziesii).  

(3) The smooth dark purple blade with some iridescence is Splendid Iridescent Seaweed (Mazzaella splendens).  

(4) The bright green algae at the bottom is a type of sea lettuce, probably Ulva linza.

It's likely that the algae increases the drag forces that the chiton experiences, which might increase its risk of dislodgement.  (Photos taken at the North Jetty near the entrance to Bodega Harbor.)

Although difficult to see, the chiton is probably Mopalia hindsii, one of the larger chitons in northern California.  See the next photo of a different individual without algae.  Note that the outer edge (called a "girdle" in chitons) is wide and relatively smooth.


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Let's split

Splitting seed pod of Willow Herb

Willow herb (Epilobium ciliatum) has loculicidal fruit.  The fruit is a long, slender pod that contains the seeds.  Loculicidal means that the pod splits longitudinally (lengthwise), sort of like peeling a banana (according to Michelle).

["Locule" means "little place" in Latin.  In plants, it's a small compartment (a chamber within the ovary) that contains the seeds.]

Here are a few more views of this graceful arching seed pod and its symmetrical arrangement of seeds.

Note that each seed has a white hair-tuft to aid in dispersal by wind.

Here's the flower itself. On Bodega Head it's found in freshwater marshes and wet roadside ditches.

P.S.  Happy Solstice!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The journey

A relatively large white float discovered during a bird survey on Salmon Creek Beach on 19 June 2012.  It was ~21 inches long.

There were a few faded Asian characters visible on one end (see below).

At least two species of barnacles were growing on the float.

The large pink species is probably Megabalanus californicus a barnacle that is generally rare north of San Francisco (but we think it has been found on buoys as far north as the Oregon border).  [We're looking into this further and will report back if it's identified as a different species.]

The smaller gray/white stalked species are pelagic gooseneck barnacles (Lepas sp.).

Some people have asked me if objects like this float could be related to the March 2011 tsunami in Japan.  Unfortunately, I'm not sure how to identify something that is specifically related to the tsunami as we observe objects with Asian characters on local beaches every year (especially after strong westerly winds).

But don't you wonder about the journey of this float and the animals associated with it?

Monday, June 18, 2012

What does Bodega Head sound like?

Along with photographs, I'd like to be able to share the sounds of Bodega Head.  I'm totally new to this, but here's my first attempt at sharing a sound file.

Here are two images of adult Wilson's Warblers, and one of a juvenile.  Not a great photo of the juvenile, but the only one I could get tonight.  Although easy to hear, the juvenile stayed pretty hidden.

The recording below was made near Campbell Cove on 18 June 2012.  The juvenile was begging for food.  Although there are a few other sounds in the background (including the fog horn!), listen for the short chip notes.  They speed up a bit when the parent approaches with food (at about 12 seconds).  Be sure to turn up your volume as this recording is a little quiet.


Sunday, June 17, 2012

California's state bird

California's state bird, the California Quail (Callipepla californica), is a common resident on Bodega Head, especially in grassland and dune areas with shrub cover.

Note the bold black and white facial markings of the adult male (above), along with the comma-shaped topknot (although it appears to be a single feather, it's actually a set of 6 feathers).

The female is browner/grayer, with a shorter topknot.

The most familiar call of the California Quail is probably the "Assembly Call" or "Rally Call."  It's sometimes written as "chi-CA-go" or "cu-CA-cow".  Both male and female quail give this call when an individual is separated from a group or mate, or before/during movement of a covey.  

Visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's web site to hear this sound (and others!).

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Ithuriel's Spear

It's the time of year to look for Ithuriel's Spear (Triteleia laxa), a native perennial and California endemic.  On Bodega Head, watch for these clusters of purple flowers emerging from grassy areas near rock outcrops.

By the time the flowers are visible, the leaves are often withered.  This isn't a great photo, but it's the only one I seem to have of the long, keeled leaves.  (The image below was taken on 1 June 2010.)

2010 happened to be a great year for this species on Bodega Head (see below). This year there aren't as many, but it's still possible to find a few here and there.

You may be wondering, as am I, about the dramatic common name, Ithuriel's Spear.  Some of you might recall that Ithuriel is a character in Milton's Paradise Lost who uses his spear to force Satan out of disguise. However, after a little searching, I haven't been able to find an explanation of why this name was given to this wildflower.  If you know, please share the story!

Friday, June 15, 2012


While walking through a coastal grassland near Dillon Beach on 11 June 2012, a high-pitched buzzing sound caught my attention.  It sounded like a cicada, but I hadn't seen a cicada yet in California.

Magically, after focusing on and following the origin of the sound, my eyes fell on this adult male cicada perched among dense vegetation just above ground level.

I found one reference that describes 65 species of cicadas in California (Cicadas of California by John Simons published in 1954).  If anyone can help with the identity of the species in these photos, I'd be very interested!

Here's a view from above.

Note the gray compound eyes and between them the three amber-colored simple eyes forming a triangle (see below).

Although I don't know which species this is, remember the basic cicada life cycle involves males singing to attract mates, females laying eggs in plants, nymphs hatching from the eggs and falling to the ground to live a mostly subterranean life (feeding on roots) before crawling up to the surface to undergo metamorphosis into a winged adult.  "Periodical cicadas" are famous for their 13- or 17-year cycles, but other species complete their life cycle in 2-5 years.

Check out this website to hear sound samples of cicada songs from the western U.S.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Lunch on the beach

Beach Morning Glory (Calystegia soldanella), a native perennial found growing in coastal strand areas along the West Coast.  Note the thick kidney-shaped leaves trailing over the sand.

While photographing these beautiful flowers near Dillon Beach on 11 June 2012, I noticed quite a few insects on the petals and was delighted to discover that one of the visitors was not an insect but an arachnid a tiny jumping spider!  (See left side of flower below.)

This spider was only a few millimeters long, but here are my best shots:

I couldn't see it in the field, but the photos reveal that the spider had captured an insect, perhaps a fly.  Look for the wings and legs of the prey being held by the spider. 

The spider eventually jumped off the morning glory flower and onto the beach.  It just about disappeared against the background of sand grains compare the colors of the spider with the colors of the sand in the first image.

In thinking about this little spider, I can't help imagining that crossing the beach to look for prey in a morning glory flower isn't such a bad way to enjoy lunch on the beach.

P.S.  I've been lucky so far in identifying several local salticids, but I don't have a guess on this one yet.  If you do, let me know!