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Sunday, August 30, 2015


I didn't get to post these pictures from 28 August 2015.  Just before sunset, the sky was filled with "popcorn" clouds.  Perhaps you saw them, too?

Here's a description of these cirrocumulus clouds from The Weather Network: 

"These high-altitude "popcorn" cloudlets can be a harbinger of unsettled weather. If they occur with cirrus and cirrostratus clouds spreading broadly across the sky, they may mean rain is on the way within 8-12 hours."

Sure enough, rain followed these clouds in the early morning of 29 August.  During the past 10 years, I remember rain (although rare) in June/July, but I'm having trouble recalling rain in August.  It was light and didn't amount to much about 0.8 mm (1/32 inch) in Bodega Bay — but it was nice waking up to the sounds of raindrops. 

Saturday, August 29, 2015


This juvenile Long-billed Curlew (Numenius americanus) is standing in water that's 19.9°C (67.8°F)!  The photograph was taken on 29 August 2015 at Salmon Creek Beach.  I won't be surprised if the Pacific Ocean off Bodega Head reaches 20°C (68°F) tonight.  Amazing.  (That's more than 5°C above the long-term average for this time of year.)

Friday, August 28, 2015

All in the family

Eric called to say that he was seeing some young birds outside of his office.  Luckily, they were still in view by the time I got there.  Here's my first photo:

And then I captured two in one view:

This was my first close look at juvenile Western Bluebirds (Sialia mexicana).

Eric had noticed that these juveniles were being fed.  So I kept watching, and sure enough we saw the juveniles begging.  Here is one example:

And then another example (below).  This time the bird on the right is bringing food (just barely visible in its bill).

I was a little confused when we were watching this behavior.  The juveniles were begging and receiving food from birds that didn't look like adults.

I kept watching, and then saw this bird (on the left) come in to feed one of the juveniles:

The birds were moving quickly, but the blue on the neck and rusty color on the breast looked more like an adult...but then again, not quite right.  When I downloaded the photos I could see yellow at the gape (the base of the bill).  The bird on the left was not an adult it was also a juvenile, although an older individual.  The younger juveniles were being fed by older juveniles!

So then I had to look up information about cooperative breeding in bluebirds.  In turns out that it's very rare in Eastern Bluebirds, but a bit more common in Western Bluebirds.  [For example, in one study, 7.4% of Western Bluebird pairs at the Hastings Reservation (in Carmel, California) had helpers.]

The "helpers" can be either adults or juveniles.  In this case, they were juveniles.  When this happens, the older juveniles are most often helping their parents feed a later brood.  (Western Bluebirds can have up to three broods in one season.)

P.S.  To see pictures of adult Western Bluebirds, see the post from 12 December 2013.

P.P.S.  If you'd like to learn more about cooperative breeding in Western Bluebirds, check out this paper:

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Mystery spot

This might be tough, but can you guess where this photograph of a Common Green Darner (Anax junius) was taken?

Here's a more helpful clue:

It might also help to tell you that I was in San Francisco today.

Could you tell that these pictures were taken at a baseball field?  All of them were taken at AT&T Park on 27 August 2015.  The dragonflies were a nice bonus to an exciting baseball game!

In the past —  see the post from 1 July 2012 — I've mentioned that I have some fun when attending baseball games by keeping track of bird and insect sightings.

Today the most visible dragonflies were Common Green Darners.  They were actively feeding along the edges of the field.  I'm not sure exactly how many individuals were in the Park, but I photographed at least three at one time:

Although distant, I also photographed one tandem (male/female) pair of green darners:

And today I added one new "ballpark species" to my list.  I didn't get a photograph, but I saw one Flame Skimmer (Libellula saturata).  I'd love to hear about your bird and dragonfly sightings at baseball games!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Murre food, please!

There have been a lot of Common Murres (Uria aalge) around recently.  Thanks to some friends, I photographed this one from a boat outside of Bodega Rock (on 21 August 2015).

This murre has prey in its bill.  Can you tell what it is?  

It's a small fish, but I'm not sure of the species.  If you can identify the fish, please let me know!

Common Murres are known to eat fish (e.g., anchovies, sardines, smelt, rockfish), as well as krill and squid.  To catch their prey, they regularly dive 20-50 meters (65-164 feet), and they've been recorded as deep as 180 meters (590 feet)!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Ocean light

From Salmon Creek Beach, 25 August 2015

Monday, August 24, 2015

Sunny Side Up

Yesterday afternoon, while looking offshore from Bodega Head, I noticed a few light-colored animals near the surface.  At first I thought they were sunfish, but I couldn't see the typical fins.  I continued to watch, and eventually realized they were large jellyfish.  

Here's an example, with a Brandt's Cormorant for scale:

Later I saw a few of these jellies close to shore:

I like the picture above because you can tell how this jelly got its common name.  This is an Egg-yolk Jelly (Phacellophora camtschatica).  

Egg-yolk Jellies are large, with bell diameters up to 60 cm (24 inches) across.  The yellow color in the middle of the clear bell is gonadal tissue.

Harder to see are the many dozens of thin white tentacles hanging from the perimeter of the bell (look for a hint of them below):

Egg-yolk Jellies can extend their tentacles 3-6 meters (10-20 feet), creating a net to capture other jellies (which they eat).

The genus, Phacellophora, means "bearing bundles," although I'm not sure if that refers to the tentacles or the oral arms.  The oral arms are visible from below (see next picture) note the distinctive folded or convoluted texture.

Egg-yolk Jellies are relatively easy to identify, but I don't see them washing up on beaches as often as Sea Nettles or Moon Jellies.

Sunday, August 23, 2015


After chores this morning, I took a quick run out to the coast in the late afternoon.  When I got there, the ocean was flat calm and the sky was overcast gray.  These conditions made it easy to see very large flocks of birds ~ 0.5 mile offshore.

From a distance, the dense flocks looked like dark ribbons:

With a magnified view, it was possible to see many birds sitting on the water, as well as large numbers in flight.

Occasionally, the birds sitting on the water would take off all at once:

Although the sitting flocks stood out, scanning other areas of the ocean revealed impressive, although sparser, concentrations of birds flying south:

The birds in these photographs are Sooty Shearwaters (Puffinus griseus).  It was very difficult to count the number of shearwaters visible off Bodega Head this afternoon.   

I tried to make a quick estimate of the number of birds in the second photo of this post.  Here it is again (below) if you'd like to try counting yourself.  [Click on the picture of a slightly larger version.]

My first pass through the flock in the picture above resulted in a count of ~550-600 shearwaters.  This was a very small portion of the total number of birds visible across the entire seascape.  I'm going to throw out a very rough estimate of at least 10,000 Sooty Shearwaters in view from Bodega Head at ~3:30 p.m. today.

If you're near the coast, it's worth watching for this spectacle of shearwaters.

P.S.  I first wrote about Sooty Shearwaters and their amazing migrations on 19 August 2012.  You can review that post here.

ADDENDUM (24 August 2015): And here's another view of an incredibly dense shearwater flock (all of those little black specks).  Can you tell where this picture was taken?

View from Dillon Beach, looking towards Tomales Point (northern tip of Point Reyes).  Taken on 23 August 2015 (Thanks, Stephanie!).  [Clues for the location: extensive dune grass in the foreground, looking straight across to a steep rocky promontory, and a navigational buoy just off the tip.]

Friday, August 21, 2015

From across the Pacific

I'm so thankful to Doug Wilgis for sharing these photos.  When I opened my e-mail and saw the pictures, it made my day.  It's so much fun to know these amazing animals are close by:

Doug saw this Leatherback Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) off Kehoe Beach at Point Reyes on 16 August 2015.

Here's another great shot of the turtle with Kehoe Beach in the background:

Leatherbacks are the largest living turtles.  They reach lengths of ~6.5 feet (2 meters) and weights of up to ~1,400 lbs. (650 kg).   

Turtles feeding in this area during the summer may nest in the western Pacific (e.g., Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands).  It's about a 6,000 mile (9,700 km) swim across the Pacific Ocean.

One of the Leatherback's primary prey is jellyfish.  They feed on them at the surface, but they can also dive as deep as 4,200 ft. (1,280 meters) and stay under water for as long as 70 minutes!

For more information about Leatherbacks, check out NOAA's web page here.

And again, many thanks to Doug for taking the time to observe and document this turtle and for sharing the pictures with all of us.

Thursday, August 20, 2015


A few days ago, I watched some young shorebirds feeding in the wrack line:

Semipalmated Plover in the foreground.
(If you're curious, those are Western Sandpipers in the background).

Below is a closer view of a Semipalmated Plover.  Click on the picture for a larger version.  Look for the nice white edges to the feathers.  This "scalloped" appearance is a telltale sign of a juvenile bird.

Although I'll always love seeing shorebirds up close, my other favorite view is when they're well camouflaged.  The plover in the image below is a perfect match for the dried seaweed, sand, and shells.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Mystery solved, with a little help

I was trimming some branches on a shrub outside of our house, and was surprised to encounter this:

Okay, that's an extreme closeup.  

Below is a different view, and from further away:

 Do you have a guess about what type of animal this is?

The picture below shows one end of the animal:

Are you ready for the answer?

The next picture will give it away:

This a Carolina Sphinx Moth caterpillar, sometimes called a Tobacco Hornworm (Manduca sexta).  Some of you might also be familiar with Tomato Hornworms (Manduca quinquemaculatus) instead of diagonal lines as in this Tobacco Hornworm, Tomato Hornworms have v-shaped markings on their sides.  Tomato Hornworms also tend to have eight stripes, rather than seven.  And the "horn" is red in Tobacco Hornworms, but tends to be black in Tomato Hornworms.

Here's a view of this large caterpillar from above:

I'm grateful to this caterpillar for helping me solve a mystery.  We're living in a new house, and I hadn't known the identity of a purple-flowering shrub.  When I found this caterpillar, I realized I had a clue.  These caterpillars eat plants in the Solanaceae Family (tobacco, tomato, eggplant, nightshade, etc.).  So then I did a quick Internet image search for shrubs in that family with purple flowers.  There it was!  It's sometimes called Blue Potato Bush, or Gentian Bush (Lycianthes rantonnetii, or Solanum rantonnetii).

And here's one more fun fact about the caterpillar.  Gardeners might think of the hornworms as pests because they have voracious appetites for leaves of valuable crops.  This is not a "wimpy" caterpillar the one I found was ~3 inches long!  Their scientific name, "Manduca," is appropriate it means "glutton."

P.S.  If you'd like to see pictures of the sphinx moth that this caterpillar will turn into, click here.

Monday, August 17, 2015

You know it's hot when...

...jellyfish are washing up on the beach?

Stranded jellyfish aren't necessarily directly related to hot air temperatures, although we often see jellies washing up in mid-late summer.  

I heard some heat records were set yesterday, so I was trying to come up with a picture that could represent how hot it was.  I'm afraid I failed, but I can show a nice Moon Jelly (Aurelia sp.) that I photographed on 15 August 2015.  [It reminded me of a fried egg, and the accompanying saying, "It's so hot outside, you could fry an egg."]

And the following image is a Sea Nettle (Chrysaora fuscescens) from 5 August 2015.  These are the two most common jellyfish that was ashore during summer.

P.S.  I'll wrap up with a bonus question for Dave Matthews Band enthusiasts.  Can you name the song that has the fried egg saying mentioned above in the lyrics?  The answer is below the picture.

P.P.S.  The DMB song is "Stay (Wasting Time)."  Stay cool! 

Sunday, August 16, 2015


A dreamy view of Marbled Godwits, 15 August 2015

Saturday, August 15, 2015

A record day

Today I set my personal record for the greatest number of dragonfly species seen on Bodega Head in one day.

Remember that Bodega Head isn't a great site for dragonflies it's often cold and windy, and there isn't much fresh water.  But on warm days in late summer/fall, species that are known to disperse along the coast often appear.  I was happy to set my own record, and to document one species that I hadn't observed on Bodega Head before.  

How many species do you think I saw?  (The answer is below this picture.)

Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis) — male

On 15 August 2015, I recorded 10 species of dragonflies on Bodega Head.  I was excited, but also a little frustrated, because I thought I should have been able to find one more species.

I photographed 8 out of the 10 species.  Although I have seen a Blue Dasher (above) in the Bodega Dunes, this is the first time I've photographed one on Bodega Head.

The next picture is a "documentary" image it's not a great photo, but it serves as a record.  This is the first time I've seen this species on Bodega Head.

 Western Pondhawk (Erythemis collocata) an ovipositing female

Below are the other six species I photographed today:

 Variegated Meadowhawk (Sympetrum corruptum) — male

 Cardinal Meadowhawk (Sympetrum illotum) — ovipositing pair

Black Saddlebags (Tramea lacerata) — male

Red Saddlebags (Tramea onusta) female 

Twelve-spotted Skimmer (Libellula pulchella) — male

 Common Green Darner (Anax junius) — male, in the upper left corner of the photo
[There is also a Black Saddlebags in the upper right corner.]

And the two species that I observed but didn't photograph?  Spot-winged Glider (Pantala hymenaea) and a mosaic darner, probably Blue-eyed Darner (Rhionaeschna multicolor).

I don't think it will be easy to see more than 10 species of dragonflies in one day on Bodega Head, but I'll keep trying, and I'd love to hear about your observations, too.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

And you also know the Pacific Ocean is calm when...

...you can skip a stone across the surf zone on the outer coast!

Given the calm conditions, we couldn't resist trying few.  (I've never thought of photographing skipping stones before.  It was challenging!)

There were some interesting splashes:

And some serious air:

The wind is picking up now, and there's a small craft advisory in effect tomorrow, but perhaps there will be more stone-skipping opportunities in the late summer/fall.  Watch for waves less than 2 feet.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

You know the Pacific Ocean is calm when...

...you see a Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) fishing in the surf zone! 

Here's a slightly closer view of the hovering kingfisher (below).  Can you tell if this is a male or female?  (Click on the photo for a larger version.)

Females and males can be told apart by their pectoral bands.  Males have one slate blue band across their chest, while females have two: one slate blue band and one rufous band (as well as rufous sides).  

She picked a nice day to explore the outer coast! 


Two different views of the unusually calm ocean on 12 August 2015: