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Sunday, July 31, 2016

Loooong back, curved fin

Okay, remember the picture from last night?  Did you have a guess about which species of whale it showed?

I took these pictures of a Fin Whale (Balaenoptera physalus) during a boat trip to Bodega Canyon and Cordell Bank on 30 July 2016.

Here's a close-up view of the head (below).  Note the raised blowhole area (on the left side).

This whale surfaced remarkably close to the boat, which allowed a few nice views of the back and the dorsal fin.

Although I've been on a few trips to Cordell Bank now, this is the first time I've seen Fin Whales there.  I don't know a lot about their status in the Pacific Ocean, but it sounds like they're more common in southern California.  (Seawater temperatures are much cooler this summer compared to the summers of 2014 and 2015 and apparently there's a lot of krill around right now.  Perhaps the Fin Whales have been attracted by an abundance of food?)

Note the very dark coloration.  The dorsal fin rises off the back at a relatively shallow angle and is quite broad at the base.  The fin is falcate (crescent-shaped) and larger than the fin of a Blue Whale.

Apparently, Fin Whales often have small circular markings in the area near the dorsal fin, perhaps from lampreys or cookie-cutter sharks.  If you look closely at the next picture (click on it for larger version), you can see some paler circular markings.

A few fun facts about Fin Whales:
  • They're bigthey're the second largest whale in the world, reaching lengths of about 24 meters (about 78 feet)
  • They're fast — reaching swimming speeds up to ~37 km/h (~22 mph)
  • They're loud — producing low frequency sounds (20-Hz) that can be heard hundreds of kilometers away  

P.S.  Some of the facts above are from Marine Mammals of the World (Second Edition) by Jefferson, Webber, and Pitman (2015).

Saturday, July 30, 2016

A hint

A hint of some pictures to come this week...


Thursday, July 28, 2016

Along the tideline

I had fun watching some Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica) feeding along the tideline tonight.  I didn't end up with the picture I hoped for it was probably a little too dark, and I was probably a little too slow.  But it was still fun, so I'll share some of my attempts:

Trying to photograph these swallows was harder than trying to keep up with storm-petrels!  I'll have to try again another day.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016


What do you find inspiring?

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Learning to hunt

In the early evening, we watched this juvenile Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus) hunting over the grassland on Bodega Head.  It was foggy and the light was dim, but it was a memorable experience -- such a handsome bird.  Note the wonderful chestnut color on the breast.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Spotted along the bluff

Black-tailed Deer (Odocoileus hemionus columbianus), 19 July 2016

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Yellow in the orange

This female Hooded Oriole (Icterus cucullatus) has been visiting a citrus tree in our backyard in Cotati.  She's very secretive, so it's been difficult to get a picture.  In the early evening, we are alerted to her arrival by soft "chut chut chut" notes.  I'll have to try to record them.

P.S.  To see a photo of a male Hooded Oriole in the same tree last year, see "Orange in the orange" on 18 June 2015.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Peering out

Young coyote on Bodega Head, 21 July 2016

P.S.  For more coyote pictures, check out previous posts "Caught napping" on 9 August 2014 and "Pounce!" on 7 October 2012.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Morning moon

Rising sun, setting moon21 July 2016

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Here's looking at...


This young falcon paused briefly to take a look:

It's so magical to watch Peregrine Falcons in flight.

I promise to post other pictures soon, but these birds are pretty special.  And they'll probably be on their way soon, dispersing to other areas.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Side by side

Light was hard to come by in the fog this morning, but I love seeing these two young Peregrine Falcons around.  (This photo was taken along the side of the road on 19 July 2016.)

They're two of three siblings that fledged from a local nest this year.  Note the very dark coloration brown on the back, heavy streaking on the breast.  And the buff rather than white coloration on the sides of the face and chin.

To compare these juveniles with an adult — review the post from 25 October 2012.

Monday, July 18, 2016

High and low

High clouds, low fog — Bodega Head, 17 July 2016

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Growing among the rocks

Liveforever (Dudleya farinosa), a member of the stonecrop family, flowering on Bodega Head on 17 July 2016.  Recently I encountered another name for this species Powdery Dudleya.  I like it!  

P.S.  The species name, "farinosa," means "powdery," referring to the fact that the leaves are sometimes gray-green (although not in this case).

Friday, July 15, 2016

Feeding time

Well, it's not my best Northern Rough-winged Swallow picture, but it's one of the few times I've photographed them bringing food to a nest (with nestlings).  Although it's hard to tell, this adult is carrying insects in its bill. 

This photograph is from 15 July 2016.  This appears to be a relatively late date for Northern Rough-winged Swallows to be feeding young in this region.  (Perhaps their first brood failed, so they're trying a second time?)

Three years ago, I photographed fledglings much earlier see the post from 21 June 2013.

And to see some nice photographs of adult Northern Rough-winged Swallows, review the post from 2 May 2013.

Thursday, July 14, 2016


A few days ago, we came across this American Shrew-Mole (Neurotrichus gibbsii) on Bodega Head.  It wasn't alive, and we couldn't tell what had happened to it.  We don't see shrew-moles very often, and it's fur was so beautiful that I decided to share a picture:

I first introduced this intriguing mammal on 9 February 2013.  There's quite a bit of information in that post, so to learn more about shrew-moles, or "burrowers of the soft earth," click here.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Six arms

It's rare to see an Ochre Sea Star (Pisaster ochraceus) with six arms, but here's one from 7 July 2016.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Red ribbon

That's a tail-end view (above).

Here's a little bit more (the red animal weaving diagonally across the photo below):

And the next picture shows the entire animal (contracted):

Although I've shown a few different nemerteans (ribbon worms) on the blog, these are my first pictures of a beautiful species called Cerebratulus montgomeryi.  The impressive length, the rich red color, and the white tip on the head (to the right) are helpful field marks.  (This individual was photographed in the low intertidal zone on Bodega Head on 7 July 2016.)

P.S.  For views of other local nemerteans, see Tubulanus sexlineatus, Micrura verrilli, and Micrura wilsoni.

P.P.S.  Hi, Serena!

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Emerald beauty

I'll have to tell a longer story about this sea anemone some time, but for now I thought you might just enjoy its wonderful patterning.  (And don't miss the juvenile anemone to the left!)

We think this anemone is probably Epiactis handi, named after Cadet Hand (founding director of the Bodega Marine Laboratory).

I photographed it on Bodega Head on 7 July 2016.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

The owner of the golden branches

And the answer to last night's mystery close-up is...

These are the tentacles of a peanut worm (Themiste sp.)!  The body of the peanut worm is buried below the sediment.  The tentacles are extended for feeding, but they can also be withdrawn when needed (e.g., for protection).

To watch a sequence of a peanut worm pulling in its tentacles, review the post from 20 July 2014.

And in case you were wondering — a sea cucumber's tentacles can look very similar.  But note that the peanut worm's tentacles lack the shiny ossicles of a sea cucumber.  This is especially apparent in the main tentacle branches.  To compare, check the photos in the sea cucumber post from 16 April 2013.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Golden branches

Ready for another mystery close-up?

In this case, I know what it is, but I'll let you have fun wondering about the possibilities before I reveal the answer:

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Mystery fish

Sadly, I don't know the identity of this fish.  But I was so taken by it
the beautiful colors and intriguing patterning that I couldn't resist sharing it.  And perhaps someone out there will be able to help with the identification?  The fish was ~22 mm long.  It was photographed in a shallow pool in the low intertidal zone on 7 July 2016.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The colors of the stars

Color variations in Pisaster ochraceus.  

Photographed 6 July 2016.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Among the willows

A quick look at two nice butterflies (both photographed in Santa Rosa on 3 July 2016):

Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)  

Lorquin's Admiral (Limenitis lorquini)

Monday, July 4, 2016

All in a row

I stopped briefly at a quiet spot in Santa Rosa yesterday.  From the edge of a creek, I first heard and then saw a female Wood Duck (Aix sponsa) with young.

Here's a close-up of the ducklings:

And the hen with her brood as they swam towards the shadows of the creek bank:

What a pleasant surprise!

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Red, white, and...Boom!

Tonight's post starts with a fun video.  Check out these wonderful sequences of a Twistclaw Pistol Shrimp (Alpheus clamator) that Eric filmed recently.  [If you receive this post via e-mail and can't see the video below, click on the title of the post above to go to the website.]

Watch for a variety of things in the video, e.g., the small chromatophores (like polka dots scattered across the body), the heart beating, the antennules flicking, the long hairs on the claws.  And note the two different types of claws, especially the larger, intriguing left claw:

Although Twistclaw Pistol Shrimp have now been recorded in Oregon, their distribution is generally more southern.  We've only found a few in the Bodega Bay area.

Pistol shrimp are also known as snapping shrimp.  So if you've heard of snapping shrimp, or even heard snapping shrimp yourself, this shrimp is a member of that group.

The common names refer to a remarkable ability (not revealed during the video).  The oversized claw is very unusualinstead of being used for crushing or tearing, it can produce a loud snapping sound and powerful shock waves that stun its prey! 

Although I'm not great with physics, here's a basic explanation of how it works.  At the tip of the claw there is a "plunger".  The "plunger" can be "cocked" — i.e., locked in an open position — but when released, the "plunger" hits a "socket" on the opposite side with such a powerful force that it creates an extreme high-velocity water jet (at ~60 mph!).  A bubble forms in the low pressure area in the wake of the water jet.  The bubble grows quickly, but then the high pressure surrounding it causes it to collapse on itself (also known as cavitation).  All of this happens so quickly that when the bubble collapses, it emits heat, light, and sound, and it creates a shock wave that emanates from the claw.  In addition to stunning prey, it's possible that pistol shrimp use the snapping sound for communication and defense of their burrows.

From the side, you'll notice that the large claw has an unusual shape.  Below are two pictures, one showing the entire animal, and the second a close-up of the claw:

(These are different individuals, but it's the same species.)

From the side views, it's hard to interpret what's going on, but it's a little easier with two views from above. The first shows the claw in the closed position:

And the second shows the same claw with the "plunger" in the "cocked" position:

A slightly different angle allows you to see both the "plunger" and the "socket".

It's an amazing design and an incredible behavior.  If you're lucky enough to find a pistol shrimp, listen carefully and take a close look at the claw!

P.S.  We thought this might be an appropriate topic for the holiday.  Happy Fourth of July!