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!

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Gimme shelter

A gale warning was in effect todayand the ocean confirmed it!  Northwest winds were blowing at ~30 mph (25 knots), with gusts to ~40 mph (35 knots).  The marine forecast called for 11-14 foot waves, but the offshore buoy was reading 17 feet at ~5 p.m.

I could barely hold the camera steady for these pictures.

A Sanderling found shelter behind some driftwood:

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Enjoying the wind

A quick look at an adult Peregrine Falcon off Bodega Head this afternoon.  I'm not sure, but it looks like some new feathers are growing in on the right wing tip.  What do you think?

Friday, January 29, 2016

From sea to shore

Large waves have brought a lot of plastic to the beaches recently (always depressing).  This piece had a small Blue Buoy Barnacle (Dosima fascicularis) attached to it.  In 2014, we found Blue Buoy Barnacles in August and September.  In 2015, we encountered them again, but during May and June.  And now this is our first record for Dosima in January.  I'm not sure if the presence of this species is related to warmer water, but the ocean off Bodega Head has warmed up again recently it reached ~14°C (57°F) this week. 

Eric also spotted some of the more common pelagic gooseneck barnacles.  This clump was attached to a rope tangled up in kelp:

Lepas anatifera, Salmon Creek Beach, 29 January 2016

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Little red caps

About a week ago, I wrote about Purple Sea Snails (Janthina umbilicata).  We found those snails on 20 January.  A few days later, on 23 January, I found a few more and one of them had eggs!

Janthina lays egg capsules and attaches them to the underside of its float.  In the photo below, it's easy to see the bubbles making up the float on the left, and the egg capsules (filled with embryos!) on the right:

A close-up reveals the small white embryos inside the clear capsules.  One book estimated that Janthina umbilicata has about 80 embryos per capsule.  What do you think?

We kept this snail in the lab, and here's what the embryos looked like today (4 days later):

They've grown quickly!  Their cap-shaped shells are an intriguing shade of brownish-red:

The embryos are still very small (the egg capsules themselves are only ~2 mm long).  This is the best view I could get:

Eventually, the larvae will emerge from the capsules as free-swimming veligers.  But I haven't been able to find information on development time within the egg capsules, or the duration of the larval stage once free of the capsule.  For example, how long does it take until the swimming larvae metamorphose into floating snails and start living at the surface of the ocean?  When do they create their first float?  (How many bubbles are in their first float?  When do the shells become purple?  Does the color change happen when they start eating Velella?)

Monday, January 25, 2016

Sea and sky

From Salmon Creek Beach on 23 January 2016

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Scattered showers

Scattered showers and rainbows today.  This is the view looking north along Salmon Creek Beach.

Looks like we've received ~16.5 inches of rain since October 1st.  That's a little over 50% of our average annual rainfall.  Keep it comin'!

Friday, January 22, 2016

Flock of eight

A distant picture, but a photo for the record: Tundra Swans (Cygnus columbianus) at a flooded field along Roblar Road in Petaluma on 21 January 2016.  It appeared that at least two of them were immature birds.

If you're interested, here are some older pictures of Tundra Swans from Doran Beach on 22 January 2013 and 21 November 2013.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016


Intrigued?  Meet Janthina umbilicata, also known as a Purple Sea Snail.  Eric and I were surprised to find hundreds of them washed ashore on Salmon Creek Beach yesterday (19 January 2016).  [There were likely thousands on the entire beach.] 

Janthina is a pelagic snail, spending all of its time in the open ocean (unless it is washed onto beaches during storms).  It's also important to know that Janthina is primarily tropical/subtropical.  They're not often seen this far north, and it's likely their appearance here this winter is due to El Niño conditions.

Here's what they looked like on the beach one photo with a blade of giant kelp for scale, and another with a ruler.

Note the range in the size of the snails. The overall range was from about 0.5 mm long to about 7-8 mm long.  Here's an example of the different sizes we found:

I have a fun connection with Janthina.  I grew up on a barrier beach (in Massachusetts), and when I was young, I would scan the pages of the field guides in our house, especially the identification guide for shells.  I always paused on the page about Purple Sea Snails because I was so taken with their amazing color and I wondered if I would ever get to see one.  I didn't until 2005, my first year in California (when I found a few empty shells washed up on the beach.)  It has now been 11 years, but I never imagined I would see hundreds of them and that some of them would be alive!

The next picture displays their wonderful color and the striations on the shell:

Because Janthina is rare in northern California, we brought some snails into the lab for documentation.  Once in the water, the snails started actively rebuilding their floats!

Janthina drifts at the surface of the sea, suspended from a raft of bubbles that they create.  The process was easy to observe, and you're in luck, because Eric filmed it (video below).

Remember that the view you're seeing is from above; that is, you're looking down at the snail hanging below its float.  You'll see the snail's tentacles each tentacle is branched, and has a black line of pigment.  The foot is black and very active. 

Watch for a few different things.  The snail extends its foot and breaks the surface.  The front of the foot expands and a concavity is formed in the center, allowing the snail to trap a bubble of air.  The snail then attaches the bubble to its float with mucus.  It also appears to spend time running its foot over the surface of the raft, perhaps to ensure that all of the bubbles are cemented together.

We hope you enjoy the video!

So cool! 

We heard a rumor that Janthina was also observed in Bolinas.  Have you found them anywhere?  It would be great to keep track of their occurrence in northern California (and farther north?) this year.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Pink reflections

Sunset over Mussel Point from Salmon Creek Beach, 19 January 2016

Monday, January 18, 2016

Wave-watcher in the wind

Common Raven (Corvus corvax)

Sunday, January 17, 2016

In pursuit

We spent a rainy day at home doing chores today, but Eric looked out during a break and noticed this bird in the backyard:

It was a wonderful view of an immature Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus).  [Note the yellow eyes and overall brown coloration giving away its age.]

The hawk didn't stay for long it seemed in active pursuit of the neighborhood songbirds. 

Friday, January 15, 2016

A long way from home

We were walking Salmon Creek Beach tonight, and ran into a State Parks Ranger and a Marine Mammal Center volunteer (Hi, Phil!) looking for a dead sea turtle that had been reported washed up on the beach.  We were in the right place at the right time the turtle was spotted at the top of beach, and Phil prepared to transport it to The Marine Mammal Center.

I'll defer to experts, but it appears to be an Olive Ridley Sea Turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea).  [Note the gray coloration, and that there are at least 6 costal scutes (or scales) — these are the long scutes located between the vertebral scutes (running down the middle of the shell) and the marginal scutes (along the edge).  

Perhaps you heard that an Olive Ridley was spotted off Point Reyes in late December?  Folks have been wondering if sea turtle sightings in northern California this year could be related to El Niño conditions.

If you encounter a sea turtle on a local beach, you can call The Marine Mammal Center or the California Academy of Sciences.

P.S.  Click here for a picture of the only other sea turtle I've seen on Salmon Creek Beach (on 18 September 2013).

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The leap and the line

Sometimes, there are no words... 

(Bottlenose Dolphin and waves at Salmon Creek Beach, 12 January 2016)

Monday, January 11, 2016

Fastest digger -- Part 2

Do you remember the post about the "Fastest digger in the West" from November 2013?

Eric and I found two of these wonderful brittle stars Amphiodia occidentalis this past weekend.  Their arms are incredibly long!

This time we noticed the wonderful striped patterning on their arms, although one of the individuals was paler than the other (see pictures of both below).

And once again, the burrowing ability of this species was on display.  The next picture shows one of the brittle stars partially buried in the sand.  You can see how well the light and dark arm coloration matches the variable sand grains.  Click on the picture for a slightly larger version, and look closely for the central disc and the different parts of the arms disappearing below the surface:

P.S.  If you didn't see the earlier post about this species, it's worth watching the video clip!

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Winter waterbirds

Thanks to Audubon Canyon Ranch, I spent some time helping with a winter waterbird survey in Tomales Bay this morning.  Although we were very busy counting for most of the trip, I snapped a few photos to document the day.  

Green water along the shoreline of Point Reyes:

Low clouds among the trees:

A Red-necked Grebe (Podiceps grisegena) just one of many:

It was fun to see a nice variety and good numbers of waterbirds out there.  If you'd like to learn more about these long-term waterbird surveys (conducted since 1989!), check out ACR's web page here

Thursday, January 7, 2016


18-foot west swell, with a period of 16 seconds and a 10 knot northeast wind. 

Photographed from Bodega Head on 7 January 2016.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Showers and rainbows

Rainbow near Freestone on 5 January 2016.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Sneak peek

Well, I've run out of time tonight, but since I mentioned it last night, I'll give you a "sneak peek."  (This animal was ~3-3.5 cm long.)

I'll explain more later, but in the meantime, you can puzzle over this amphipod with its pretty pink polka dots and its peculiar eyes!


Sunday, January 3, 2016

Like crystal

I took a short walk on Salmon Creek Beach yesterday, and was intrigued to see this animal left behind after a wave retreated:

It looked so delicate...like crystal...and then it moved slightly and I realized it was alive!

Do you recognize this animal?  (Hint: I have shown this species on the blog before, but it was several years ago.)

Here's a close-up:

And one more view after it shifted so that it was on its back:

This is Phronima sedenteria, a pelagic amphipod.  I found two of them yesterday this one was without a home, while the other was still living inside a salp.

For an introduction (or a review) about this fascinating amphipod, check out the "Otherworldly" post from 8 April 2012.

P.S.  This was one of two interesting amphipods I encountered yesterday...stay tuned for #2!

Saturday, January 2, 2016


Long-billed Curlew at Salmon Creek Beach on 2 January 2016 

Friday, January 1, 2016

Festive crest

I've been caught up in a "project" lately, so haven't had much time for taking pictures (sadly).  This afternoon I was working on the computer and noticed quite a bit of bird activity.  It seems the birds especially appreciate some drinking water when the air temperature dips downward it was a frosty 27°F in Cotati this morning!

The lighting was just right to see the tall, brown crest of this Oak Titmouse (Baeolophus inornatus).

Happy New Year!  I hope you had a festive (or restive) start to the year.  May your 2016 be filled with inspiring natural history adventures!