If you're interested in using any of these photographs, please contact me. Send an e-mail to naturalhistoryphotos(at)gmail.com. Thanks!

Monday, May 22, 2017

Catching some z's in the Hemizonia?

An interesting moth in a Hemizonia flower.  The dewdrops on the wing made me wonder if the moth had spent the night in this flower?

Unfortunately, I'm not sure which species of moth this is, but I'll be working on the identification.  If you're familiar with this species, let me know!

Photographed in Marin County on 22 May 2017.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Simmer down

Sunset photographed from Cotati on 21 May 2017, after a hot weekend!

Friday, May 19, 2017

Mules and horses

Narrow-leaved Mule's-ears (Wyethia angustifolia)

A very fuzzy bee was also very interested in the flowers: 

Here are the long, slender leaves that give this wildflower part of its name.  The leaves can be up to 20 inches long.  (Hmmm...how long are a mule's ears?)

And here's a close-up of the leaf patterning:

The genus, Wyethia, is named after Nathaniel Wyeth, an inventor (of a horse-drawn ice cutter) and expedition leader.  (Wyeth has connections to Fresh Pond in Cambridge, MA!).  In the early 1800s, he traveled across the country with Thomas Nuttall (of Nuttall's Woodpecker) and John Kirk Townsend (of Townsend's Warbler).

Thursday, May 18, 2017


I'm not 100% sure what species of worm this is, but isn't the color amazing?  This beautiful turquoise polychaetepossibly Nereis grubei — was crawling over the rocks in the intertidal zone.  It was photographed on Bodega Head on 16 May 2017.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017


Pacific Loon (Gavia pacifica) at the north end of Bodega Harbor, 16 May 2017

Monday, May 15, 2017


Surfgrass (Phyllospadix scouleri) photographed along the outer coast in January 2012.  

P.S. For more information about surfgrass, check out the post called "Seeds in your socks" from 9 April 2014.

P.P.S.  Many of you know that I'm from New England and, well...once a Boston sports fan, always a Boston sports fan.  With apologies to Matt, I couldn't help posting something green tonight to celebrate the nice win by the Boston Celtics.  Way to go, Green Men!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Careening among the corals

Recently, while Eric was looking at the soft corals, he noticed some interesting animals living among them.  In the photo below, the tentacles of the soft corals are withdrawn, so the polyps look like small orange lumps.  Note the tall, thin, animals standing upright among the corals:

The tiny stalked animals are kamptozoans — a unique phylum formerly known as entoprocts, and commonly referred to as "nodding heads."  We think this is Barentsia parva.  It's the first time we've encountered this species. 

It's hard to tell from the microscope photos, but these animals are very small only ~2 mm high.  (You can see why people don't encounter them very often!)

Here's an individual zooid (below).  Look for the following features:

- The stolon the "runner" at the bottom from which the rest of the colonial animal arises (in this case, it looks golden and it's covered with debris)

- The calyx the broad cup-like section at the top, with the feeding tentacles along the rim

- Rods the long, narrow sections making up the stalk between the calyx and the stolon

- Nodes the swollen sections at the base of the rod and sometimes in the middle of the rod

This illustration of Barentsia parva will also help orient you to their basic anatomy:

Modified from Wasson, K.  1997.  Systematic revision of colonial kamptozoans (entoprocts) of the Pacific coast of North America.  Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 121: 1-63.

I mentioned that kamptozoans are commonly referred to as "nodding heads."  Luckily, Eric captured some of the "nodding" behavior that gives them this name.

In the video below, watch for the distinctive movements of individual zooids as they bend rather abruptly into their neighbors.  

Note that sometimes the feeding tentacles are extended upward; other times, they are withdrawn.  There's a sequence in the video between 29-35 seconds that shows particles moving in the water the flow is being generated by beating cilia on the feeding tentacles.  If you look very closely, you might even see tiny particles that have been captured moving down the tentacles (from the tip down towards the mouth).  [If you can't see the video below, click on the title of the post above to go to the web page.]

We hope you enjoyed this introduction to a seldom seen species.

P.S.  To compare Barentsia parva with a different kamptozoan, Barentsia conferta, review the post called "Nodding heads" from 8 July 2012.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Spreading out

Recently, Eric took some wonderful photographs of some local soft corals.  Here are a few of his best images.  This is Cryptophyton goddardi from the rocky intertidal zone:

Cryptophyton goddardi polyps grow in dense clusters, often on the underside of rocky ledges:

The coral polyps use their long, pinnate tentacles to capture zooplankton and food particles from the water:

P.S.  I first wrote about this species a while ago, on 25 January 2012, so for a little more information about them, click here.

P.P.S.  And if you'd like to compare Cryptophyton goddardi with another species of octocoral, Thrombophyton trachydermum, review the post called "A sparking necklace" from 28 June 2016.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Pearl gray

I'm so thankful to Dea for alerting me to the presence of some Fork-tailed Storm-Petrels (Oceanodroma furcata) at the entrance to Bodega Harbor yesterday (10 May 2017).  Fork-tailed Storm-Petrels are small (~8.5 inches long) and fast, and therefore hard to photograph, but I'm excited to share a few photos for the record.  [Click on the images for slightly larger and sharper versions.]

Fork-tailed Storm-Petrels are usually found farther offshore, so watching them from land was a real treat.  The storm-petrels were feeding very close to shoresometimes flying right along the edge of the jetty.

I was standing on the North Jetty (at the end of Doran Beach).  The next image shows a storm-petrel flying over the South Jetty with Bodega Head in the background:

Sometimes the storm-petrels would fly low to the water and start foot-pattering on the surface:

And sometimes they'd land on the water and reach for prey:

On several occasions they appeared to catch small fish:

The storm-petrels were so close, it was a great opportunity to study their feathers:

I didn't get many photos that show their forked tails very well, but here's one as this storm-petrel flew along the South Jetty:

I heard that a few storm-petrels were still around today near the entrance to the harbor.  If you're interested in looking for them, they also might be visible from the southern end of Bodega Head.

P.S.  Thanks again to Dea for letting me know the storm-petrels had appeared.  I never thought I'd be "buzzed" by a Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel while standing on the jetty!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Not a drift log

I was driving along Westshore Road at the north end of Bodega Harbor this morning when an unusual silhouette in the water caught my eye.  I said to myself, "Hmmm...I don't think that's a drift log."

Sea otters (Enhydra lutris) are rare in the Bodega Bay area, so I stopped to take a few pictures:

The otter was resting while floating on its back:


Eventually it swam (with a corkscrew motion) further from shore.  Here's a picture with the Spud Point Marina in the background:

This is the third sea otter I've seen in the Bodega Bay region (during the past 12 years).  The first was near the harbor entrance in December 2006; and the second was found dead (from a shark attack) on Salmon Creek Beach in September 2011.  [We also heard about one photographed from a sailboat in Bodega Bay in April 2015.]

Who knows if sea otters will ever become established in this area again, but for now it's always fun to see them whenever they wander this way.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

One of these things...

...is not like the others:

Sanderlings (Calidris alba) and one Dunlin (Calidris alpina), Salmon Creek Beach, 9 May 2017

Monday, May 8, 2017


A quick shot of a Black-crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) in Cheney Creek on 8 May 2017.  The long white occipital plumes (originating from the back of the head) are longest in older birds during the breeding season.

P.S.  On 19 June 2013, I shared a photo of a younger Black-crowned Night-Heron in the post called "Nesting locally".

Sunday, May 7, 2017


Looking offshore from Bodega Head on 5 May 2017, when the wind was blowing from the northwest at ~25-30 knots.  
After several days of strong winds, the seawater temperature dropped to nearly 9°C (48.5°F) this morning.

Saturday, May 6, 2017


We were doing some yard work this afternoon, when Eric noticed a very dark spider.  I was excited to see that it was a jumping spider with iridescent green chelicera.  Here it is after launching onto Eric's hand (!):

Meet the Bold Jumping Spider (Phidippus audax).  "Bold" is an appropriate name for this speciesit was very active and an incredible jumper, covering distances many times its own body length.

Here's a close-up:

As you can see, this spider is predominantly black, but there are silvery bands on the legs and white markings on the abdomen:

It was fun to meet this spider during an afternoon of chores.

Friday, May 5, 2017


Twins!  Black-tailed Deer (Odocoileus hemionus) fawns, photographed 5 May 2017

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Three golds

Old gold:

Five-ribbed Kelp (Costaria costata), Mendocino coast, 2 May 2017

Green gold:

Fish embryos, Sonoma coast, 30 April 2017  (They were in single layer on the underside of a small boulder.  Let me know if you can identify the species!) 

Rose gold:

Johnny-tuck (Triphysaria eriantha ssp. rosea) and Coastal Goldfields (Lasthenia minor), Mendocino coast, 2 May 2017

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Soft pink

Thanks to Peter for showing me a diversity of clover species today, including this Small-head Clover (Trifolium microcephalum), photographed near Westside Park in Bodega Bay.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Northbound again

We've been busy with field work during the last few days, but out of the corner of my eye, I've noticed impressive flights of Pacific Loons (Gavia pacifica) fairly close to shore.  The loons are migrating north to their breeding grounds, e.g., Arctic tundra lakes.  I often think of seeing large numbers of loons a little earlier, around mid-April.  Perhaps I haven't noticed, but these were the first really big flights that I've seen this spring.  

I took a few pictures for the record.  First, a distant shot.  [Click on the photos for larger versions.]

I don't have a big enough lens for this distance, but this group came a little closer: 

And here's one showing the striking breeding plumage of Pacific Loons:

There were occasional Common Loons and Red-throated Loons mixed in with the Pacific Loons.  Can you find the Common Loon (with an all black head) in the photo below?

(The Common Loon is the fifth bird from the left.)

The pictures in this post were taken off the Mendocino coast on 2 May 2017.  On 30 April 2017, flocks of loons were streaming by Bodega Head.  

P.S.  I've written about loon flights beforecheck out earlier posts: "Northbound" on 11 April 2013 and "Early morning flight" on 17 April 2014.

Monday, May 1, 2017

S-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g o-u-t

So the other day, I was watching this beautiful Six-lined Ribbon Worm (Tubulanus sexlineatus).  It was gliding over a patch of orange sea squirts.  

Along with being curious about what the ribbon worm was up to, I started wondering how long it was.  So I scanned left:

And then I scanned to the left some more:

And then I scanned to the left some more, and realized that I was looking at a very long ribbon worm.  This might be hard, but can you find additional lengths of the ribbon worm behind the main section?  [You can click on the image below for a slightly larger version.]

Given the scale of the photo, I know this is challenging.  Here are some arrows to help you (the rightmost arrow is the head and the leftmost arrow is the last part of the ribbon worm that I could find):

And here's a close-up of the lower left corner of the photo to make it easier to spot the left-hand sections of the ribbon worm:

I estimated that the portions of this Six-lined Ribbon Worm that I could see, from the head to where I could no longer follow it, added up to a length of ~50 cm (~20 inches).  It turns out that this species of nemertean is described as being ~20 cm long, but it can stretch to lengths of over 1 meter!

And since you stayed with me, below is a bonus shotjust enjoying the patterning of the ribbon worm against a colorful backdrop:

P.S.  If you're interested, there are some wonderful microscope images of this species in the post called "All lined up" on 20 March 2015.