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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

I know what it feels like...

On my way back from the post office this afternoon, I stopped to watch a flock of American White Pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) feeding in Bodega Harbor.  One of the pelicans looked a little funny.  Did you notice it, too?

The pelican on the far right had a piece of sea lettuce (Ulva sp.) draped over its head.  It probably just got stuck there while the pelican was fishing.  But it made me laugh because I know what it feels like to have sea lettuce on your face!  While pulling lobster traps when we were young, sometimes my sister and I would have sea lettuce "fights."  It's the perfect seaweed for it, because the thin, transparent sheets mold right to your face.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Sleeping in the sun

Juvenile Northern Elephant Seal (Mirounga angustirostris), 30 May 2016

Sunday, May 29, 2016


After chores today, I went for a short walk around Cotati.  It was nice visiting with some of our neighbors (see below):

Western Tiger Swallowtails (Papilio rufutus) perhaps a male following a female?

An accipiter (Cooper's Hawk?) calling and landing in a tall pine.

A Brown Creeper (Certhia americana) bringing food into a nest!  (The nest is underneath the peeling eucalyptus bark.)

Saturday, May 28, 2016


I went out this morning to try to photograph wasps, but I was having a hard time.  Then I noticed these wonderful bees:

The bees quickly entered burrows, so they were difficult to photograph.  Eventually I found one digging, and caught a glimpse of its beautiful green eyes:

And then I spotted a female outside of a burrow:

And a male perched on a flower stem (below).  Note his bright yellow face (it made the male easy to follow even when it was flying):

I'm pretty sure this is Anthophora californica.  It's the first time I've photographed this bee.  [You might remember that I showed a different species of Anthophora in 2013 see the post called "Turrets and Tongues".]

Eventually, I also managed to photograph the wasp.  I need to ask for some help with the identification, but I think it might be a "cutworm wasp," perhaps Podalonia (argentifrons?)?  Impressively, the wasp was carrying a large caterpillar (perhaps a cutworm!):

And here's one more bonus picture.  I'm not sure about the identity of this pretty little bee, but I'm wondering if it's a species of Andrena?  This bee was so small and so fast, and the pollen on its legs was so dense and so bright, it looked as if a clump of pollen was flying among the vegetation!  UPDATE (30 May 2016): Robbin Thorp has confirmed this as Lasioglossum sp. 

Friday, May 27, 2016

A "getaway"?

Many of you know that Eric and I have been monitoring sea stars.  One of the things we're interested in is what they eat. 

Ochre Sea Stars (Pisaster ochraceus) often assume a hunched appearance when they're feeding, holding their prey below their bodies.  

In the photo above, at first I thought this sea star might be interested in the Lined Chiton (Tonicella lineata) attached to the rock below the sea star's arm on the upper left. (To find the chiton, look for the pink and white stripes.)

But then I noticed something darker directly underneath the sea star, and wondered if the sea star was eating something elseA mussel?  A limpet?  I couldn't tell for sure, but this image also made me wonder if the chiton could sense the sea star nearby and whether it would try to make a "getaway" while the sea star was preoccupied?

Only the sea star and the chiton know the outcome.

P.S.  If you're curious about the chiton, I posted a picture of a Lined Chiton on 9 November 2012, and a related Loki's Chiton on 17 May 2013.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Foggy morning

Outer coast of Bodega Head, 26 May 2016

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Bathing in the shallows

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) bathing in the shallows along the shoreline of Bodega Harbor.  Photographed 25 May 2016.

Check out the hook on the upper mandible!  [You can click on the image for a slightly larger version.]

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Swirls on the rocks

Do you have any guesses about the identity of these white swirls?  This photograph is from the rocky intertidal zone on Bodega Head.  The mystery mass was attached to the rock.

After spotting these white swirls, I looked around and found the animal responsible for creating them:

The mystery object above is an egg mass laid by a Shag-Rug Nudibranch (Aeolidia papillosa).  There are three nudibranchs (sea slugs) in the photograph (two on the left and one on the right). 

With their tentacle-like cerata, Shag-Rug Nudibranchs can look very similar to their sea anemone prey.  Here's a different individual photographed in Mendocino County in 2008:

Monday, May 23, 2016


It's been a rough couple of years for some of the local kelps.  They've struggled with the warmer ocean temperatures of 2014 and 2015.  

But recently we noticed several specimens of Bull Kelp (Nereocystis luetkeana) and Sea Palm (Postelsia palmaeformis) on the beach.  Perhaps they washed downcoast from more northern sites?  

Let's hope that this is a good sign, and that water temperatures cool down this summer giving them a better chance at successful growth and reproduction.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Early Heermann's

We spotted this Heermann's Gull (Larus heermanni) on Salmon Creek Beach yesterday, 21 May 2016.  It caught my eye because this is early for Heermann's Gulls to appear along the Sonoma Coast.  Most don't arrive until mid-late June (after nesting in the Gulf of California).

P.S.  For more pictures of this handsome gull, review the post from 5 July 2012.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Patterns in the foam

Living in Bodega Bay, you can't help but wonder about sea foam how is it created, how do the different shapes and sizes form, and what happens to it?  And sometimes it's just nice to appreciate the patterns in the foam.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Staying close

Recently, observers have reported many Gray Whale cow/calf pairs swimming north close to shore.  Here's one pair photographed from Bodega Head today (18 May 2016):

(The calf is smaller and paler than the adult.) 

P.S.  It sounds like the mouth of the Russian River has also been good place to see them.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Positive identification

It sounds like staff at the California Academy of Sciences was able to conclude that the juvenile Gray Whale washed ashore on Salmon Creek Beach yesterday was likely the same animal in the Orca attack offshore of Carmet on Saturday.

See the story in the Press Democrat here.

Eric and I were also working on this analysis tonight...comparing pictures in the video taken offshore to my pictures from the beach. 

We also think the evidence points to it being the same animal, but we used the color pattern on the head (instead of the flipper).

It's a little tricky, since the distance, angle, and lighting are different between the two images, but see what you think.

In the two pictures shown below, compare the sizes, shapes, and positions of the lighter patches on the head.

Here's a still shot from the video, with the head of the juvenile whale on the far right side:

And here's a close-up of the head of the whale that washed ashore on Salmon Creek Beach:

It seems like too many of the white patches match up to be a coincidence.  

If you haven't yet heard, the whale washed back out to sea last night.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Possible clues

When I arrived at work this morning, I heard that Orcas had been spotted off Bodega Head over the weekend!  Then I heard that someone had filmed Orcas attacking a young Gray Whale offshore of Carmet (just north of Bodega Bay) on Saturday.  Then the phone rang, with a report that a juvenile Gray Whale had washed up dead on the north end of Salmon Creek Beach this morning.

Here's the Gray Whale in the surf zone.  It was ~20-25 feet long:

We don't know the cause of death yet, or if this is the same whale that the Orcas attacked.  

Although I'm not an expert at all, I scanned for possible clues and noticed a few.  Below I'll show a couple of close-ups. 

(If you're not comfortable thinking about how this whale might have died, you might want to skip the rest of the pictures below.)

Here's one view of the throat pleats:

I'm sure you noticed those jagged rake marks.  Could they be from the teeth of an Orca?  (Or a shark?) 

Next, a view of the tailstock (just before the flukes):

If you look closely, you'll see additional rake marks along the tops of the "knuckles."

The Marine Mammal Center and the California Academy of Sciences hope to take a closer look at this whale.  If I learn any more about a possible cause of death, I'll post an update.
P.S.  For a little more information about Gray Whales, see the post from 1 February 2014 when a juvenile washed ashore a couple of years ago.  And if you're interested in the intriguing barnacles that live on these whales, review the post from 24 May 2015.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Tundra tuxedo

Semipalmated Plover (Charadrius semipalmatus), Salmon Creek Beach, 14 May 2016

(all dressed up in breeding plumage, on its way to nest on the tundra)

Friday, May 13, 2016

The weight of the whorled?

For the record, this is the fifth month in which we've found Purple Sea Snails (Janthina umbilicata) in Bodega Bay.  Although most were found in March and April, we also spotted them in January, February, and May.

Here's one of four individuals that I encountered on 11 May 2016:

Did you notice the small pelagic barnacles (Lepas sp.) attached to the outer whorl of this snail?  We had heard that Lepas sometimes attaches to Janthina, but we didn't see this ourselves until April-May.

Here's a view of a snail shell floating at the surface, with the attached barnacles hanging below (their feeding appendages are extended like fans):

Although they start out small, these pelagic barnacles can grow to a size much larger than the snail.  Do the barnacles eventually weigh down the snail?  Does a snail have to add more bubbles to its raft to counteract the barnacles?  (For a picture of a bubble raft, review the post from 20 January 2016.)

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The chiton, the coral, and the Cuthona

Just a few fun sightings from field work during this past low tide series:

Juvenile Gumboot Chiton (Cryptochiton stelleri).  It was only ~8 mm long!

Soft Coral (Cryptophyton goddardi).  
Check out the post from 25 January 2012 for more pictures of this species.

A beautiful little nudibranch, Cuthona lagunae.  Named after Laguna Beach.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016


Finally!  I can't tell you how many By-the-wind Sailors (Velella velella) I've looked at...and I had yet to find a right-handed Velella, until tonight (11 May 2016).

Velella is known to have two different morphologies.  Left-handed Velella have the sail angled across the body from the upper left to the lower right.  The majority of Velella observed in the Bodega Bay area are left-handed.  

Right-handed Velella have the sail angled in the opposite direction, i.e., across the body from the upper right to the lower left.  The Velella pictured above is right-handed.

For comparison, here's a more typical left-handed Velella (on the left) next to the less common right-handed Velella (on the right).  Compare the angles of the sails:

There's been a long-standing question regarding the significance of having a left-handed or right-handed sail.  And people have wondered whether the abundance of the two different forms is related to being in the northern vs. southern hemispheres, or in the eastern vs. western sides of an ocean.  As far as I know, the significance of "handedness" in Velella has not been well studied and remains a mystery.  

If you come across a right-handed Velella, I'd love to hear about it!

Monday, May 9, 2016

Purple pools and purple waves

Eric and I did some early morning field work today.  When we first got there, we noticed a purplish hue at the high tide line.  When we got closer to the tidepools we saw this:

The pools were filled with doliolids!

Here's a close-up showing how dense they were:

And another shot, with some of the doliolids floating at the surface.  You can see their barrel-shape, with prominent muscle bands:

I don't recall seeing abundances and concentrations of doliolids in the intertidal zone like this before.  For the record, here are a few more examples:

Draped over Feather Boa Kelp (Egregia menziesii)

Undigestible portions being spit out by Aggregating Anemones (Anthopleura elegantissima) the large pinkish blobs emerging from the anemones' mouths:

There were so many doliolids, they were painting the waves purple!

I introduced doliolids last year, so to learn more about them, read the post from 15 June 2015.

P.S.  I heard that doliolids were also seen at Doran Beach today.  If you come across them, let me know it would be fun to know where else they're showing up.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Growing up

Juvenile Ochre Sea Stars (Pisaster ochraceus), photographed 8 May 2016.  Most of these individuals are ~2.5 years old (and ~2-4 cm across).  Wish them luck!

Here's an example of how they start out the individual below is less than 6 months old:

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Pink branches and golden flecks


Quite something, isn't it?  

We think this is a Branched Dendronotus (Dendronotus venustus).  Usually this nudibranch (sea slug) is much darker in the Bodega Bay area.  This is our first time seeing such a pale individual.  

It was almost transparent, with the pinkish digestive gland showing through, and bright yellow spots everywhere — on the body, the oral tentacles, the rhinophores (sensory organs), and the cerata (branching appendages on the back).

Watch for these beautiful nudibranchs on rocky shores with lots of hydroids.

Friday, May 6, 2016

The race is on!

It might not look like much, but this is a Hoof Snail (Antisabia panamensis, formerly Hipponix cranioides).  I thought it would be appropriate for Derby Day.

Here's another view: