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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Sunset dance

We've been in New Hampshire for a couple of days.  Last night we were watching the sunset and I had just started taking pictures when I noticed a few birds fly into view:

They were flying quite high over a lake, with deep wing beats, and quick maneuvers:

Their silhouettes were dramatic against the sunset clouds:

At times they looked like falcons, other times like kites:

A few times they came quite close.  If you look carefully, in the next image you can see a white wing bar near the tip of the right wing:

I'm guessing these Common Nighthawks (Chordeiles minor) were in the midst of their migration to South America.  

If you aren't familiar with them, nighthawks are in the nightjar family (Caprimulgidae) and are related to Whip-poor-wills and poorwills.  This is a good time of year to watch for them.  In New England, the Connecticut River Valley provides good opportunities for seeing nighthawks migrating at sunset.  (I saw and heard Common Nighthawks over our house in Sebastopol when we first moved to California, and they have been observed on Bodega Head.)

Wish them a good journey!

Sunday, August 28, 2016


Eastern Cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus), Walpole, MA,  28 August 2016

Friday, August 26, 2016

Evening high tide

Evening high tide in the salt marsh, Scituate, MA, 26 August 2016

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

A rare "op-portunid-y"

Yesterday Jason mentioned he had found something exciting.  He gave me a chance to guess what it was, but I struck out.  He and Ted had been trapping crabs in Tomales Bay for a research project, and discovered an unexpected species.

If you're familiar with local crabs, you'll probably recognize that this is not a species that we usually find in the Bodega Bay/Tomales Bay area. 

Keep in mind that this summer follows two warm-water years ("The Blob" in 2014-2015 and El Niño in 2015-2016).

Did you notice the rounded, flattened, paddle-like legs in the photo above?  The paddles are used for both swimming and burying in the sand (and are a characteristic of the swimming crabs, Family Portunidae).
Here's another photo of this striking crab, this time from below:

This image emphasizes the impressive length of the claws.  And isn't that purple color amazing?!

From the front you can see the spines on the claws and on the carapace.  (For those of you who have spent time on the East Coast, you might have noticed a similarity to a blue crab.)

Meet Xantus' Swimming Crab (Portunus xantusii)!  This species has a more southern distribution, with most records occurring south of Morro Bay.  They were recorded in Monterey Bay in June 2016 (see story here), and there are a few iNaturalist records from San Francisco Bay in March 2016 and June 2016.

Since these crabs have planktonic larvae, it's likely that larvae reached this area in either 2014 or 2015 (based on their relatively large size, I'm leaning towards 2014).  The crabs survived and are now being discovered in sandy/muddy habitats far to the north of their normal range.

Jason and Ted found four Xantus' Swimming Crabs near Sacramento Landing in Tomales Bay.  It would be great to hear about any other sightings, so if you see one of these crabs, take pictures, measure the width of the carapace, and let us know.  This is a rare opportunity to document Xantus' Swimming Crab in northern California.

Here's one more pictureJason smiling about his exciting discovery!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Long wings and feathers like scales

Wonderful views of two juvenile Baird's Sandpipers (Calidris bairdii) feeding along the wrack line on Salmon Creek Beach tonight (22 August 2016).  At one point, they walked right by us!

For a little more information about Baird's Sandpipers and their amazing migration, see the post from 3 August 2013.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Tucked in

Juvenile Western Sandpipers (Calidris mauri), roosting on the outer coast at high tide, 20 August 2016

Friday, August 19, 2016

Like pepper

Recently we noticed an amazing number of juvenile periwinkles (Littorina spp.) in the high intertidal zone.  It must have been a very good year for them!

These young snails are tiny.  I should have taken a picture showing an entire rock but there were so many little black snails scattered across the boulder that it looked as if someone had shaken pepper all over the rock!  Note how the snails are concentrated along the edges of and in between the barnacles.  Do you have ideas about why that might be?

If you haven't seen periwinkle embryos before, here's a picture taken under a microscope:

Adult female periwinkles release transparent capsules containing fertilized eggs into the water.  The eggs and embryos develop for about a week and then emerge from the capsule as free-swimming planktonic larvae.  Eventually the swimming veligers will undergo metamorphosis and settle onto the bottom as tiny snails.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Diving and surfacing

Nice views of Humpback Whales from the boat trip to Cordell Bank on 14 August 2016:

In the last picture, one whale has just surfaced (on the left, you can see the mound-like splashguard surrounding the blowhole and the spray from the exhalation), and a second whale is diving (on the right, with flukes raised).

Monday, August 15, 2016

Cooler water

We only had a couple of dolphins visit the boat yesterday near Cordell Bank.  But the sighting is notable as they were Pacific White-sided Dolphins (Lagenorhynchus obliquidens).  

I don't get out on pelagic trips that often, but during the last two years, while ocean temperatures were warmer, I only saw Common Dolphins (Delphinus spp.).  With cooler water temperatures this year, perhaps the species have shifted back to the more expected dolphin for this area.

For the record, here's a documentary shot of a Pacific White-sided Dolphin from yesterday:

And a better shot from a trip in October 2011:

Sunday, August 14, 2016

"Ocean runners"

Ashy Storm-Petrel (Oceanodroma homochroa), above, and two Fork-tailed Storm-Petrels (Oceanodroma furcata), below

Photographed at Bodega Canyon, ~18 miles offshore, 14 August 2016

P.S.  Their genus, Oceanodroma, means "ocean runner," likely for the way they can appear to be running on water (flying low and sometimes pattering their feet on the surface of the ocean).

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Looking for fish

Immature Brown Pelicans off Bodega Head, 8 August 2016

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Island

I've been really busy lately, so haven't been out walking much.  And I've been thinking a lot about where I grew up.  So here's a picture of the island in Massachusetts where I spent a lot of time: 

Above the island, you can see the confluence of the North River (coming from the left) and the South River (coming from the right).  The Atlantic Ocean is outside the mouth of the river (to the right side of the photo).

I'm so glad to have a picture like this of where I grew up. Looking at it brings back so many different memories.  Just one photo helps to maintain a long-term sense of place.  I hope all of you have some pictures or memories of important landscapes in your life.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Up and over

Salmon Creek Beach, 9 August 2016

Monday, August 8, 2016

Young bull

Bull Kelp is a very large alga when full grownthe stipe (stem) alone can reach a length of ~36 meters (~118 feet!), and the pneumatocyst (float) can be as large as 15 cm (0.5 feet) across. 

These two juveniles pictured above are quite small — the larger individual's stipe measured ~4.5 cm (~1.7 inches) and its pneumatocyst was only 1 cm (0.4 inches) across.  (The smaller individual doesn't have a pneumatocyst yet; and its first broad blade hasn't yet split into Bull Kelp's distinctive ribbon-like blades.)

With the end of El Niño and water temperatures cooling down, I hope this year will be a better year for kelps in our region.

Photograph from Salmon Creek Beach on 6 August 2016.

Sunday, August 7, 2016


How could I not show an octopus for 8/8/2016?

Happy birthday to all of you lucky Leos!


Friday, August 5, 2016

Looking for summer fruit

Recently, this Opossum (Didelphis virginiana) has been visiting our backyard in search of fruit, especially nectarines.

Although it might be hard to tell from the picture, this is a small Opossum, with a body length (not including the tail) of only about 6-7 inches.  From information we can find, an Opossum this size is about 5-6 months old, and probably left its mother fairly recently.

A few Opossum facts:

- Opossums are currently the only marsupial found in the United States, but millions of years ago there were many other types of marsupials living here.

- Amazingly, when an Opossum is born, it's only ~14 mm long (smaller than a dime)!

- An Opossum spends ~1-2 months in its mother's pouch, and then another 1-2 months hanging on to her back.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Lounging lions and drifting bells

Two more images from the boat trip on 30 July 2016:

We had nice views of a large male Steller Sea Lion (Eumetopias jubata) among the much more common California Sea Lions on Bodega Rock (off the southern tip of Bodega Head).  Look for the larger, paler individual (with short snout) in the photo above.  (Male Steller Sea Lions can reach lengths of ~3 meters (~10 feet).

And there were quite a few large Egg-yolk Jellies (Phacellophora camtschatica) offshore.  Some of these jellies looked like they were reaching maximum size with bell diameters of ~60 cm (~2 feet).

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Birds at the Bank

A few bird photos from the boat trip to Bodega Canyon and Cordell Bank on 30 July 2016:

Sooty Shearwaters (Puffinus griseus) and Pink-footed Shearwaters (Puffinus creatopus)

Black-footed Albatross (Phoebastria nigripes) preening

Sightings that day also included Northern Fulmar, Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel, Ashy Storm-Petrel, Red-necked Phalarope, Red Phalarope, Sabine's Gull, Long-tailed Jaeger, Common Murre, Pigeon Guillemot, Cassin's Auklet, and Rhinoceros Auklet.  The best birds of the day were probably these murrelets:

Although I don't have a lot of experience with murrelets, I identified these as Scripps's Murrelets (Synthliboramphus scrippsi) based primarily on the amount of black on the face and the amount of white  under the wings (hard to see here).  Let me know if you agree or disagree!

 This was a nice start to the fall seabird season!

P.S.  For previous photos of Scripps's Murrelet (from Monterey Bay), see the post from 27 August 2014.  And for previous photos of Guadalupe Murrelet (from Cordell Bank), see the post from 21 September 2014.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Two more cetaceans

Okay, here are the two other species of whales we saw this weekend.  These first two pictures are of one individual they show the dorsal fin and then the flukes:

Humpback Whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) are known for their "knobby" dorsal fins and their large flukes with a deep central notch and serrated trailing edge.  

We saw several Humpback Whales on Saturday.  The photos below are of a different individual.  They show the fin and back; the flukes from above; and a side shot showing the flukes from below, in case anyone wants to try to identify this individual whale by the color patterning:

And the fourth species of cetacean we saw on 30 July 2016?

I think this is a Common Minke Whale (Balaenoptera acutirostrata scammoni).  It surfaced while we were watching the Blue Whales in the morning, and we only had this one view.  The overall size (relatively small), the dark color, the shape of the dorsal fin, and the behavior made me think "minke."   

Minkes only get to about 6.5-8 meters (21-28 feet) long.  In comparison, humpbacks reach lengths of 11-17 meters (36-55 feet).

Monday, August 1, 2016

Even longer backs and smaller fins

We saw four species of whales on Saturday, so after the Fin Whale post last night, here's a second species:

There are a few important characters: an even longer back, a tiny dorsal fin set very far back, and mottled blue-gray color.

Here's another example from later in the day:

These Blue Whales (Balaenoptera musculus) were remarkably close to land.  Rick estimated we were about 1.5 miles off Bodega Head, but I wondered if the whales were even closer than that at times.  Amazing!  If they stay in this area, it's a great opportunity to see Blue Whales from shore (e.g., from the State Parks outer parking lot on the southern end of Bodega Head).

It was foggy in the morning, and very still (no wind), so we could hear the powerful blows of these whales when they surfaced:

The Blue Whales raised their flukes a couple of times.  I only managed a so-so picture of the flukes, but it's still helpful to see the distinctive shape (quite different than the rough-edged flukes of a humpback and the rounded flukes of a Gray Whale):

I posted about Blue Whales a few years ago on 31 August 2013 — for more pictures and some information about Blue Whales, click here

P.S.  It's hard to visualize the size of a Blue Whale (the largest animal that ever lived on Earth).  Perhaps you've heard about the size of a Blue Whale's heart?  Its dimensions are similar to a VW Bug, although the Blue Whale's heart is shorter in length: