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Wednesday, March 30, 2016


On 26 March 2016, we watched this female White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) approach a cavity on the underside of a large oak branch.  

At first we thought she might be interested in using it as a nest site.  But when she backed out with a mouthful of material, we realized that she was gathering nesting material from this cavity:

I don't know if there was a former nest in the cavity, or if softer materials had simply collected there and she was gathering them to use at a new site.  Before this, I hadn't considered what nuthatches use to make their nests, so it was intriguing behavior to watch.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The little bear with the beautiful nose

While Eric and I were doing a beach survey tonight, we looked up from searching for small invertebrates near our feet to see a mammal in the distance moving towards the surf:

For a while, it swam close to shore:

And then it re-emerged onto the beach.  [I should mention that all of these pictures are heavily cropped; we watched respectfully from a distance.]

We were both excited and worried to see a young fur seal.  Although The Marine Mammal Center has handled a record number of stranded fur seals this year, I've only seen them at sea, and Eric had never seen one before.  Fur seals are pelagic, spending most of their life offshore.  Seeing one on the beach could mean that the animal wasn't healthy (although this one appeared energetic).

This fur seal started to groom with its very long hind flippers:

The whole time we were there it groomed various parts of its body with its hind flippers it was amazing to see how flexible it was!

I don't have experience identifying Northern Fur Seals and Guadalupe Fur Seals.  I've tried reading about them, and my best guess for this individual is a Northern Fur Seal (Callorhinus ursinus).

I'm basing the identification on the short snout and rounded forehead...long ears...extremely long hind flippers...and a lack of fur past the wrist on the upper side of the front flippers.  That said, if you have more experience and can help confirm or correct this identification, please let me know.

You might have noticed that this fur seal is tagged look for the orange tag on the front right flipper in the last picture.  I'm not sure if this means it was tagged at a breeding colony, or if it's a rehabilitated animal that was released.  Perhaps someone familiar with fur seal tags could provide additional information.

P.S.  Callorhinus means "beautiful nose" and ursinus means "bear-like," hence the name of this post.

ADDENDUM (30 March 2016):  A quick update:  Several people have responded that they agree with the identification as a Northern Fur Seal.

And, TMMC has some information about tagging on their websiteThey mention the sources of different tag colors:

Green -- A
ño Nuevo Island
Pink -- Farallon Islands
Red -- San Miguel Island
Orange -- rehabilitation centers

I also learned that a tag on the right flipper indicates a female (vs. on the left for a male).  So this female Northern Fur Seal was released from a rehabilitation center.  Thanks everyone for the useful information!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Gale warning

It's often windy in Bodega Bay, but today it was really windy.  I find it hard to capture such strong winds in a picture it would be better if you could be here, trying to stand upright against 45 mph gusts.

Looking offshore from Bodega Head on 28 March 2016.  Northwest winds were blowing at 30 mph with 45 mph gusts.  West swell was ~10.5 feet.  Strong winds during the last week have dropped the water temperature down to ~10°C (50°F), but I wouldn't be surprised if it starts creeping up again once the winds let up later this week.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Easter seal

Harbor Seal (Phoca vitulina), photographed off Bodega Head on Easter Sunday, 27 March 2016

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Purplish pink

Blue Dicks (Dichelostemma capitatum) in Petaluma, CA, on 26 March 2016

Friday, March 25, 2016

Glossed with purplish blue

Common Raven (Corvus corvax), 25 March 2016

I believe this is the female of a pair.  I love the purplish iridescent sheen of her feathers.  (The Birds of North America account describes it as "glossed with purple to purplish blue.")

Thursday, March 24, 2016


Beach Knotweed (Polygonum paronychia), a native subshrub in the Bodega Dunes, in bloom on 24 March 2016

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Dusky Turban

Close-up of a Dusky Turban Snail shell (Tegula pulligo).  This shell is not entire; it has a broken spire (otherwise it would be higher!).  ;)

It was washed ashore on Bodega Head and photographed 23 March 2016.

P.S.  This is one of three species of turban snails on Bodega Head.  The others include Black Turban Snail (Tegula funebralis) and Brown Turban Snail (Tegula brunnea).

Tuesday, March 22, 2016


Did you notice that the wave in the foreground was headed offshore, away from the beach?  The waves were reflecting strongly off the beach this evening.  It made for pretty intense wave action as the crests from the incoming and outgoing waves collided.

When incoming and outgoing waves meet, the collision is called interference.  When the crests combine, it is called "constructive interference" and the result can be a sudden, explosive increase in wave height.  Some day I'll get a better picture of it, but here's one example:

Monday, March 21, 2016


Dramatic clouds over Bodega Bay at the end of the day (21 March 2016).  Looks like we received ~0.5 inch of rain during the past 24 hours.  That brings the total to ~27 inches since October 1st about 87% of average for the hydrological year (October-September).

Sunday, March 20, 2016


A mystery close-up  — Can you guess what animal it is?

Here's a view from the side:

And one of the entire shell:

Purple-ringed Top Snail, or Jeweled Top Snail (Calliostoma annulatum)

Photographed on 16 February 2016.  Note that "annulatum" comes from "annulus" or "ring".

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Key features

Hooded Keyhole Limpet (Cranopsis cucullata, formerly Puncturella cucullata)

Photographed on 12 March 2016.  This species is more common subtidally I've only seen a handful washed up on the beach in this area.

The "keyhole" is a normal feature, i.e., this is *not* a broken shell.  The hole, or slit, is located just in front of the apex (peak) of the shell.  The position and shape of the keyhole, along with the strong ribs and the dentate margin, are useful identification features.

P.S.  The species name, "cucullata," means "hooded" — sometimes the apex of the shell leans backward (like a hood).  [I should have taken a picture from the side; I'll try to add one.]  This expands the list of "hooded species" with cucullata in their scientific name — see the post from 18 June 2015.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Pot of gold?

Evening Poppy (Hesperomecon linearis)

Maybe I should have shown this picture yesterday for St. Patrick's Day?

From the post about poppies on Bodega Head on 22 March 2012: Formerly known as Meconella linearis.  The common name has not been standardized.  Sometimes referred to as Popcorn Poppy or Carnival Poppy.  Hespero = evening or west, and mecon = poppy, hence the name above.  Of the six petals, the inner three are mostly white and the outer three are mostly yellow.  This is the rarest of the poppies on Bodega Head and is only found at a few sites in older, remnant stabilized dunes.  It's also rare in Sonoma County, with perhaps just one or two other known locations.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Big foot captured on video

Remember the Purple Sea Snail (Janthina umbilicata) I've shown several times during the past couple of months?

During certain conditions from late January-present, we've been finding quite a few of them washed up on the beach.  On 12 March 2016, we were walking along the beach counting them, when we noticed one snail that looked similar but slightly different.

It was larger, paler, more compressed (flattened from top-to-bottom), with a shorter spire (the first few whorls), and it had a more substantial float.  The striations (or lines) on the shell were also different — rounded all the way around, rather than angled.

Here's the same snail from below.  Although it's completely covered with sand grains, look for the float emerging from the shell:

It has been interesting enough to see one species of Janthina this year...and here was a second!  Although we need to confirm the identification with an expert, my best guess right now is that this is Janthina janthina. 

We didn't know if the snail was alive, and because this species is so rare in this area, we decided to bring it back to the lab for documentation.

The snail floated in sea water, so we left it in a tank overnight.  When I arrived the next day, this is what I saw:

The snail was alive and in about 12 hours it had created an impressive float made of very large bubbles. 

Here's a view from the side in a small aquarium:

The online record is incomplete, but in a quick search we could only find one entry for Janthina janthina in Northern California from 1935Its occurrence here this year is likely related to the current El Niño event.  We took some additional documentary photographs and video (see below).

One thing we noticed right away was how different the tentacles are between the two species.  Although they both have forked tentacles, Janthina janthina's tentacles are much more rounded.  They made us think of velvety deer antlers, or mittens (with thumbs)!

The next photo shows a close-up of the snail, emerging from its shell, with its broad foot gliding over its bubble raft.  Look for the tentacles on either side of the proboscis (left side of the photo they almost look like lobster claws). 

Eric was very fortunate to capture some nice footage of Janthina janthina working on its float.  In the video clip below, watch for:

The front of the foot expanding (tremendously!), then breaking the surface to grab a bubble of air and wrap it in mucus secreted by the foot.  (If you watch closely, you can even see the bubble below the foot as the snail attaches it to the float.)  

The snail's large black foot gliding over the float (applying another layer of mucus?)

A glimpse of the extended proboscis with sharp radular teeth exposed at the tip.

Amazing, right?  Not many people get to see these pelagic snails in action, so we hope this helps you visualize and wonder about their lives at sea.

P.S.  If you want to review the photos and video of the first species, Janthina umbilicata, click here.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016


Purplish Copper (Lycaena helloides), Bodega Dunes, 15 March 2016

Remarkably, this is the first time I've observed Purplish Coppers in the Bodega Dunes, even after 12 years of looking (at least casually, and sometimes seriously) for butterflies.

I counted several individuals today.  A male is shown above.  The next pictures are two different views of a female — first from above, and then from below.


Have I missed this species in previous years?  It's a pretty distinctive butterfly, so that's a little hard to believe.

Or — What's different about this year?  Or last year (e.g., one possibility is that adults laid eggs last year, and then a new generation emerged locally this year)?

Have you seen or do you know of other sightings of Purplish Copper on Bodega Head or in the Bodega Dunes?  Are they irregular here?  Or have I really just been missing them all of these years?

If you're looking locally — Acmon Blues (Plebejus acmon) are the most common lycaenid (blue or copper) on Bodega Head.  With a quick view, they might look somewhat similar to Purplish Coppers.  But they're smaller, bluer above, grayer below, with more numerous and heavier spots below, and note the more substantial orange marginal "lunules" on the underwing, which can look like a band of orange near the edges of the wings:

[If you were wondering, all of these butterflies were nectaring on Coastal Goldfields (Lasthenia minor).]

Art Shapiro (see web page here) says that Purplish Coppers used to be more common along the coast, and that they used to emerge early in the season (e.g., in March, similar to the ones I saw today).  Now it's rare to see them before June.  Were today's sightings a hint of how things used to be?

P.S.  It appears that the early date for Purplish Copper in California is 4 March.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Rainbows between showers

A vivid rainbow between rain showers on 11 March 2016:

And there have been rainbow swirls in foam bubbles during the past few days.  Find your favorite!  [Click on the image for a larger version.]

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Let's Move!

Remember last night's mystery anemones (see post from 11 March 2016)?

Well, we have a clue to their origin. 

Jim Carlton astutely inquired about whether there were any markings on the cap.

Eric searched more thoroughly today, and found a faded word on the top of the black cap:

When Eric searched for the word "KURE" on the Internet, he discovered that Kure is a port town in Japan (near Hiroshima).

And then he started searching for KURE products.  Here's what he found:

Lots of black plastic caps!  KURE is a company that makes cleaning products and lubricants see their website here. (Note that their slogan is, "Let's Move!"  It appears that the mystery anemones took their slogan literally!).

The fact that the anemones were growing in a KURE product cap makes us think that they might have originated in Japan rather than the Indo-Pacific.  We'll continue to follow up on the identity of the mystery anemones.

Friday, March 11, 2016

The incredible journey

Eric and I have been continuing our surveys for unusual marine invertebrates appearing during this year's El Niño conditions.  Last Saturday, it was very stormy and rainy, and we were wondering whether we should go out — but we put on our boots and rain gear and headed for Salmon Creek Beach.

When the waves are really big, sometimes they "clean" the beach, i.e., there's not much to find.  Here's what the beach looked like on 5 March 2016:

We had walked for a while without seeing much, and then Eric noticed a large black plastic cap that had recently washed up.  He looked inside, and wondered about some small anemones on the inside edge of the cap.  We couldn't immediately recall seeing anemones on floating debris, so Eric was curious about their identity.  Below is a picture of the cap and the anemones as we found them:

We couldn't identify the anemones in the field, so we brought them back to the lab for a closer look.  The anemones opened up, expanding their tentacles.  There were over 20 anemones in the cap!

This was our first view under the microscope:

 And a close-up of the tentacles:

The white markings and cross-bands on the tentacles reminded us of Anthopleura artemisia, but overall the anemones didn't look quite right for that species. 

We knew something was unusual when we saw the sides of the column.  We weren't familiar with a local anemone with red "punctations" or spots like this:

Along with the red spots, note the short white stripes at the base of the column:

Without a guide to anemones elsewhere in the world, we started looking around online, and we also sent a few pictures to Jim Carlton.

Here's the exciting part: Jim suggested the possibility of Anthopleura buddemeieri, a species from the Indo-Pacific (e.g., Papua New Guinea)!  Separately, we found pictures of an anemone identified online as Anthopleura asiatica, a species from Japan.  (Could this be debris from the tsunami of 11 March 2011?)  Both of these species have distinctive red spots on the column.

Unfortunately, it sounds like the taxonomy of A. asiatica is confusing, so identifying these anemones might be challenging.  But we're working on it!  And either way, this is a very unusual species to find in Northern California.  We are not aware of any records of these western Pacific anemones finding their way to North America.  Imagine the possible routes across the Pacific Ocean.  For example, can you visualize a small black cap crossing from the tropical Western Pacific to Baja and then drifting north along the West Coast of the United States until it washed up in Bodega Bay (over 10,000 km/6,000 miles)?!

Here's another thing to wonder about:

At least one of the anemones was undergoing fission splitting into two genetically identical individuals.  Is it possible that all of the anemones in this cap are related, i.e., that they started out as one individual and that they continually divided during their long journey across the Pacific?

I'll provide an update if we learn anything more.  And for now, enjoy another close-up:

P.S.  Proof that it's always worth going for a walk, even in the rain!

ADDENDUM (12 March 2016) Eric did a careful count of the anemones.  It turns out that there were 39 (!) anemones on the cap.  The average size was ~7-8 mm across.

Also, for another clue about the origin of these anemones, read the post from 12 March 2016.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

A tale of two...


These large barnacles were growing on the bottom of an oceanographic buoy.  It was a nice comparison of two local species.

Did you notice the different colors of the opercular membranes that are visible on the inside of the plates?

The right-hand barnacle, with a turquoise and red-orange membrane, is Megabalanus californicus.  The left-hand barnacle, with a yellow-orange membrane, is Balanus nubilus.  [Fun fact: Balanus nubilus was first described by Charles Darwin in 1854.]

Megabalanus is a more southern species, but it has become more common in this area during the past couple of warm-water years.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Rafting out at sea

I've been wanting to see a "rafting crab" or a "flotsam crab" (Planes spp.) for a long time.  These crabs are members of the pelagic invertebrate community, living offshore on floating objects.  I didn't know that when I finally saw one that I would be so taken with them.

Here's a series of pictures to introduce this wonderful crab.  I found this one on a small piece of driftwood washed up on the beach.  I believe this is Planes major (formerly Planes cyaneus).

Flotsam crabs are relatively small the length of this individual's carapace was less than 1 cm:

These crabs are good swimmers.  Their legs are specialized for swimming — long setae ("natatory hairs") on their legs increase surface area for propulsion:

Flotsam crabs are often brown, but they can also be blue (and given time, they can change color).  The color is dependent on chromatophores.  In this picture, some of the chromatophores are sparkling blue:

Not only were the chromatophores spectacular, but check out the colors in their compound eyes!

Flotsam crabs live on floating objects and therefore are often associated with other organisms such as pelagic gooseneck barnacles (Lepas spp.).  [Although large barnacles may provide shelter, small barnacles might be eaten by the crab.]:

Flotsam crabs are apparently unafraid of people (they probably don't encounter that many in their typical open ocean habitat).  I'd read that they would do this, and here's an example of one crawling off its float and onto my thumb:

Can you imagine what it would be like for a flotsam crab to be holding on to a piece of driftwood, or a glass float, or a piece of kelp, floating far offshore in stormy seas?
The status of flotsam crabs is somewhat of a mystery in Northern California.  They're not reported that often, but perhaps they're being overlooked?  If you see driftwood (or other floating objects) washing up on the beach, especially with pelagic barnacles (a clue that it's been at sea for a while), keep an eye out for these charismatic crabs! 

P.S.  If I can get some footage of this crab swimming, I'll try to add a video clip, too.