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

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Boo!

One night when I was looking for something to post on the blog, I started scanning the bark of the redwood trees with my flashlight.  I was a little startled to see a dark face staring out at me from deep within a crevice:


Yikes!  No one had told me there were such large spiders living among the redwood bark!  Were there more of them?  Sure enough, I searched more trees, and found several of these beautiful, but slightly scary spiders!


I don't know what species of spider this is yet, but I'm hoping to find out some day.  Although these pictures were taken last spring (April 2013), they seemed appropriate for tonight.


Happy Halloween!



Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A beautiful day

Well, I know it was a little risky, but I started the day with a feeling that I wanted to record what this day was like...just in case.

So I went for a quick walk.  It was a beautiful, warm, sunny day.  The ocean was very calm, but occasionally a wave would rise up, curl, and tumble towards shore.


From a distance, I spotted a good omen a Peregrine Falcon perched on the edge of the bluffs.  I always feel lucky to see Peregrine Falcons, so the sighting boded well for the day.


Looking at these pictures will remind me of what October 30, 2013 felt like — the day the Boston Red Sox won the World Series at Fenway Park!  Who knows when that will happen again, especially since it hasn't happened in 95 years!  Yeah, Boston!

Now many of you know that we've adopted the Giants as our West Coast/National League team.  And we were right there with them in the 2010 and 2012 World Series (and even were lucky enough to attend the Lincecum gem with 14 strikeouts against the Braves in the 2010 NLDS and an NLCS game in 2012).

But serious sports fans will understand that your home team will always be "the one" — and so we listened intently to WEEI from 3,000 miles away and jumped around with Red Sox gear on during each big play of this World Series.  Hats off to you, Boston, for an amazing year!  Yahoooo!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Eyes closed

Leaving work today we caught a glimpse of this mammal disappearing into the shrubs:


The Bobcat stopped briefly and closed its eyes for a few moments.  We wondered if it was sleepy, or just waiting for us to leave so it could continue with its evening activities?


No matter what was behind this behavior, in the resulting picture I was struck by the amazing stripes across the different parts of its face (especially to either side of the nose, at the base of the whiskers).

Monday, October 28, 2013

All aboard!

A couple of days ago, on 26 October 2013, an unusual object on the beach caught my eye:


This is what it looked like when I flipped it over (next image).  It was ~11 inches long.


It was a little wooden boat!


It was puzzling to wonder where it had come from.  All of the parts were wooden except for four metal hooks on the upper deck (one was missing) and a few small metal nails or tacks along the keel.  It looked like there used to be a mast in the center.  The boat had been painted, and at some point it had been burned (see charred markings).

I was also very curious about the animals that were aboard.  They were small, but if you looked closely you could see quite a few animals living in the grooves of the boat:



Because of their size, I decided to look at the animals under a microscope.  It was a whole different world, and after doing a mini-survey, this is what I found:


Two species of acorn barnacles (larger one on the left with orange on the inside of the opercular plates, and smaller ones on the right).



One species of gooseneck barnacle (possibly Pollicipes sp.?) it's the small stalked barnacle at the upper edge of the photo.


A spirorbid tube worm (white tube between the barnacles).


A teeny-tiny brown limpet (very magnified in the image above).



Long byssal threads that indicate mussels used to live on the boat, too.


 
And finally, a mystery critter!  My first thought was bryozoan, but then I questioned that and wondered about tunicate (or sea squirt).  I haven't seen many of them this small.  If you're more familiar with them at this size, perhaps you can help with an identification?  Below is another view, showing that this animal is stalked and branched.


It was an intriguing assortment of life aboard a little wooden boat!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Golden opportunity

Okay, I'll admit it when it comes to beautiful shorebirds, it's hard for me to stay away.  I just couldn't help going back to Doran Beach to look for the Pacific Golden-Plover again.  As the tide was rising I found the plover easily, but it was pretty far away and the light wasn't great.  I had nice looks through a spotting scope, and then conceded that I wasn't going to get any pictures.  

I started walking back towards the parking lot, and stopped to look at a smaller group of shorebirds close to shore.  While looking through the scope, I heard a flock of shorebirds arriving, and then I couldn't believe my eyes when the golden-plover landed nearby.  Then my luck improved even more when the sun broke through the clouds.

The plover was roosting with a mixed flock of Dunlin, Sanderling, and Western Sandpipers.  They took off a couple of times, but landed nearby again, so I had several opportunities for photos.  Here are a few of my favorites highlighting the Pacific Golden-Plover on 27 October 2013:




Saturday, October 26, 2013

Side by side

I ate my lunch at Doran Beach today, where there was a nice variety of shorebirds in Bodega Harbor.  Most of them were too far away for photographs, but I'm including one image for the record.


For comparison, it's helpful to have a Black-bellied Plover (Pluvialis squatarola) and a Pacific Golden-Plover (Pluvialis fulva) side by side.

The golden-plover is smaller overall, with a more golden head and breast, and pale axillary feathers (or "armpits").  [It was calling while in flight, and the call is what made me lean toward identifying it as a Pacific Golden-Plover rather than an American Golden-Plover.]

To review some better pictures of a Pacific Golden-Plover taken last October, click here.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Querulous

I stopped at Doran Beach on my way home for a brief walk before sunset.  I decided to explore the harbor side of the beach and came across a small flock of Sanderlings feeding near the water line.


The wind was very calm, so it was easy to hear the Sanderlings calling. I'm a little embarrassed to share that I learned something about Sanderlings tonight that I hadn't realized before, even though I've been watching and listening to them for over 20 years!

The Sanderlings were giving short single note calls...but every now and then you'd also hear a series of notes (4-5) strung together.  In the past, I've assumed that various individuals were making those calls, and that the group was generally keeping in contact while feeding. 


But while I was trying to photographs these birds, my camera landed on one bird that was making the series of notes.  This bird was different than all of the rest in that it had its back feathers raised and it was chasing other birds that were nearby (see left-hand bird below).


It would alternate calling/chasing and feeding, but it kept its back feathers raised the whole time, so it was easy to pick out among all of the other birds.

Here's another view of the elevated feathers (left-hand bird again):


The series of notes was not just a "keep-in-touch" call by several individuals, but it was an aggressive territorial call by one particular Sanderling.  My experience of watching and listening to the flock completely changed after realizing this.  Next time I'll bring a recorder so I can share this sound with you.

There are a couple of other interesting things about this sound and behavior: 

- Here's the voice description in Bent (1927):  "The note of the Sanderling is a soft ket, ket, ket uttered singly or in series somewhat querulous in tone.  It is at times used in taking wing, also with variations in the conversational twittering of a feeding flock."  Although this is a brief statement, the word "querulous" may be important as it leads you to think the author had the impression that the birds were "unhappy" about something (e.g., in tonight's case, that another bird was intruding on its feeding territory).

- The Sounds section from the Birds of North America was also intriguing.  "Relatively quiet outside of male Display Flights and adult distraction displays in the high Arctic, so sounds are largely unstudied. With only a few published sonograms and no tape-recorded contextual analysis of vocalizations..."  It's somewhat surprising for such a common bird, but it appears as though no one has taken the time to fully document and describe these territorial calls made during the non-breeding season.

- The Sibley Guide to Birds has one line that says, "Threat a high, thin, relatively slow twee, twee, twee..."  I don't know if this refers to the territorial calls?
 

Here's one more picture of the Sanderling that humbled me.  And now I'll never forget what a territorial Sanderling sounds like!


Thursday, October 24, 2013

A few lessons

Two nights ago, a couple of moths taught me a few lessons.

Lesson #1: Remember that some moths fly on chilly nights!  It was cool (47°F) and foggy, and I wasn't thinking there would be any moths to see, but I left a light on by accident, and when I went to shut it off, these two moth species were nearby.


Lesson #2: Don't assume a distinctive color will make an identification easy.  When I saw this pale green moth with lines running across the wings, I was excited not only because it was pretty, but because there aren't that many green moths with stripes, so I thought identifying it would be relatively straightforward.  

Well, I turned to the plate in the book showing green moths with dark lines, and wouldn't you know, they didn't look quite right.  I didn't know what else to do, so I decided to look at some images of those species on the Internet (e.g., Chlorosea, Nemoria, Dichorda, Synchlora) to see if perhaps they would look different online.  Sadly, they didn't.  But luckily, another moth appeared in my image search that looked like a better match.

This moth wasn't green, but the wing shape and the wing markings were very close.  It's not a perfect match, but I've read that there are 10 species of Eusarca on the West Coast, so for now I'll just call this Eusarca sp.


Lesson #3: Remember to look at what's right in front of you!  This is the second species of moth I encountered on 23 October (below).  At first I couldn't find it in the book.  I looked and looked, and looked and looked.  I couldn't believe I wasn't able to find it because it's a relatively large moth with fairly distinctive colors and patterns.


Eventually I had to give up looking in the Moths of Western North America and check a smaller book.  There I came across a moth that had potential Sabulodes aegrotata, sometimes called an Omnivorous Looper.  I went back to the Moths of Western North America and found this species on the same page as the green moths I had been looking at!  I had bypassed that page because I had started there with the green moths, and figured this ginger-colored moth with the vanilla-bean spots had to be on a different page.  Not!

Here are two close-ups of Sabulodes aegrotata.  It sounds like this is a common moth, but I just haven't noticed it myself yet.  Perhaps you'll see it in a nearby yard!



Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Cackling Geese, Part 2

Last winter I introduced Cackling Geese (Branta hutchinsii) when I photographed a flyover in Bodega Harbor (see that post from 12 February 2013).

This morning I obtained closer photographs when I noticed two individuals in a small patch of grassland near the entrance to the Bodega Marine Laboratory.


Remember that these are basically smaller versions of Canada Geese.  They were officially split off as separate species in 2004.  Note that everything is smaller, and when a Canada Goose isn't nearby for comparison, it's the shorter bill that really stands out as being different.

It was interesting to see that these individuals had slightly different head shapes, with one being more rounded than the other.  Can you see that in the photo above?

Below are the two individuals in separate photos.  Can you pick out which one has the rounder head?




[The first photo shows the goose with the longer or flatter head, while the second photo shows the goose with the rounder head.]


The geese were walking through the grassland, searching for food (i.e., plants to graze on).

 
I was curious about which species of plants they preferred.  Generally it was too difficult to see what they were eating, but I photographed one of the geese with the green leaves of a native grass, California Brome (Bromus carinatus).



Warning: This next section is only for Bugs Bunny fans!

P.S. I know most of you will think I'm crazy, but I had a funny memory run through my head while watching these birds.  It had to do with a Bugs Bunny cartoon!  It might be hard to tell from the photos, but these geese are quite small, and their diminutive features make them quite "cute."  There was something about their appearance that almost made me want to pick them up...and that made me remember the Bugs Bunny episode with the Abominable Snowman when he picks up Daffy Duck and says, "Just what I always wanted, my own little bunny rabbit.  I will name him George...and I will hug him and pet him and squeeze him..."  If you remember that cartoon, I think you'll know what I mean.  If not, I apologize for the random and rambling story!  (By the way, you can watch The Abominable Snow Rabbit episode on the Internet.)

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Look what the swell washed in

The first significant swell of the season rolled in during the last couple of days.  In the early evening I went out to the bluff edge for a quick look to see how the waves had impacted the beach, and was surprised to see another face looking up at me:


Young Northern Elephant Seals (Mirounga angustirostris) show up on Bodega Head occasionally, but their appearance doesn't seem predictable to me yet.  I don't look around and think, "Ah, this is an elephant seal day."  

Instead, I'm often walking the beach and almost stumble into them before noticing that they're there.

I'm guessing this seal had sought a place to rest while the ocean was churned up with a large northwest swell and foam.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Eating breakfast

A long day at work today, but while I was eating breakfast this morning I noticed this bird outside my window:


I'm always excited to see Brown Creepers (Certhia americana).  I don't think I'll ever get tired of watching them.

Here's another view when the creeper was crouched low against the redwood bark, searching for invertebrate prey.  (It was eating breakfast, too!)


To see a few more pictures and to learn more about creepers, review the post from last fall.
 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Only a little orange

During a quick beach walk late this afternoon, I was a little surprised to see quite a few moths and butterflies washed up in the wrack line.  I'm wondering if they wandered too far offshore during the warmer weather last week, and then didn't make it back to land.


This is an Orange Sulphur (Colias eurytheme).  The image above shows the upper surface of the wings, while the next photo shows the undersides.


I photographed a live Orange Sulphur on Bodega Head on 5 October 2013, so here's an individual in better condition for comparison (below).  Although the butterfly on the beach is worn, you should be able to find similar markingslook closely for the pale rounded spots with dark outlines on both wings and several solid smudgy spots on the forewing.


Although it's called an Orange Sulphur, you probably noticed that the butterfly on the beach isn't very orange or yellow, except for those two small orange patches on the hindwings (see first picture of this post).  Art Shapiro describes this coloration in his Field Guide to Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley Regions:

"Up to half the females are white, due to an autosomal dominant gene called "alba," which is expressed only in that sex.  "Alba" acts by interrupting the series of chemical reactions leading to the production of the usual orange pigment — but it does not affect the orange spot in the middle of the hindwing upperside." 

Hmmphh.  I wondered, "Why not?"  There wasn't an explanation, but it was still interesting to learn about why some female Orange Sulphurs are only a little orange.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Pink Predator

Sometimes people ask me how I'm able to come up with something new to post every day.  To be honest, I'm not really sure!  I'm often surprised myself.  

There are days like today when I realize that I don't have a "photo of the day" to post yet, and I'm not sure what I'm going to do.  Then I'll make time for a short walk and find something interesting.  

You're more likely to find something if you're determined to do so...if you're really looking.  But the diversity of habitats on and around Bodega Head also makes it easy.  There's always something to see!

Here's an outer beach find from 19 October 2013:


This is a very large comb jelly called Beroe.  For scale, the next picture contains a ruler that shows this individual is about 15 cm (6 inches) long.

 
Washed up on the sand, it's difficult to see this animal as it's meant to be, swimming in the ocean.

But at least I can show a close-up of the comb rows.  In the image below, look for the parallel lines running down the body of the comb jelly. 


Each line is made up of rows of cilia that the comb jelly uses to swim.  Beroe are fast swimmersthey're predators on other comb jellies!

(To learn more about comb rows, review previous posts about sea gooseberries on 15 July 2013 and 19 February 2012.)

If you're interested in seeing a few photos of what Beroe looks like when alive and swimming, check out this web page from The Jellies Zone

Friday, October 18, 2013

In the pumpkin patch

We were wandering through a local pumpkin patch, looking for orange among the greenery, when these much smaller orange spots appeared:


California Sisters (Adelpha bredowii californica) are more commonly associated with oak woodlands, so these butterflies don't show up on Bodega Head very often.  These photographs were taken in Sebastopol on 18 October 2013.

Not only are there dramatic orange spots at the tips of the forewings, but note the smaller orange spots at the inside corners of the hindwings, the orange eyes, and the orange proboscis (see below)!  The color scheme is a good match for a pumpkin patch in October!


P.S.  I was wondering why these butterflies are called "sisters."  It sounds like the genus is known for those strong white stripes running across the dark wings, a pattern which reminded someone of a nun's habit.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Good grief!

It was very warm today, so I thought I might have a chance at finding an interesting moth tonight.  Sure enough, this one landed near an outdoor light in our yard in Sebastopol.  Check out those zigzag patterns!


The zigzags made me think of a sand painting, but they reminded Eric of Charlie Brown's shirt!  An appropriate connection for Sonoma County!  (See picture of Charlie Brown's shirt here.)

Many of you know how much I like close-up photographs of moth wings, so here you go:


I'm not familiar with this species yet, so I have just started to work on the identification.  (My first leaning was towards a species of Dysstroma?)  I'll update it here if I can figure it out.  If you know what species this is, feel free to submit a comment or to e-mail me.
 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Blue and black

Well, I didn't get great shots of this bird, but it was the first time I've seen this species on Bodega Head, so I'm posting these photos for the record.


Black-throated Blue Warblers (Setophaga caerulescens) are rare migrants on Bodega Head.  They primarily breed in the northeastern U.S. and southern Canada (and follow the Appalachians south) and winter in the Caribbean (a few are found along the Caribbean coast of the Yucatan Peninsula/Belize/Honduras).  But lucky for us on the "Left Coast," a few stray west every now and then.

Here are two more pictures.  The first is a view from above, highlighting the blue back and the white "handkerchief" or wing patch.


The second is a more distant view on a limb within the eucalyptus that the bird seemed to favor during foraging bouts.  All of these images were taken in Owl Canyon on 15 October 2013.



I'm going to show two more pictures, but they come with a warning:  They're not "pretty pictures."  They're about a couple of details that I was curious about.  

In the field I noticed that the bird had a white "chin"just below the bill.  I was curious about this feature, as I hadn't really noticed this on Black-throated Blue Warblers before.  Here's a picture showing the white chin:


I didn't know if this could be particular to an individual bird, or if it could have something to do with the age of a bird.  After reading a little more about Black-throated Blue Warblers, it sounds like younger birds might have white chin feathers.  But since I'm new to interpreting this, perhaps someone out there might be able to help with evaluating the white chin on this bird?

And here's another feature I was wondering about: the leg/feet color.  In good light, the legs/feet were pale orange (see below). 


My reading also led me to believe that leg color may be an age indicator.  That is, that younger birds have paler legs, and that legs become darker with age (e.g., they're black in adults).

So you can see I've started to wonder if this might be a subadult male Black-throated Blue Warbler.  But I'll be the first to admit that I don't have much experience aging them, so I'd be very interested in what other people think!

P.S.  Thanks to Mike for first spotting this bird on 11 October!