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Thursday, August 31, 2017

On the nature of pappus

I need to correct a mistake in last night's post.  I called the Coyote Brush flowers male, but I've realized now that the flowers in last night's photo are female (and I've corrected that post).

I'm not a botanist, so I hope you will forgive my mistake...and perhaps you can learn with me.  Here's what happened.  I had remembered that in Coyote Brush, male and female flowers occur on separate plants.  But when I took the picture that I showed last night, I couldn't remember how to tell the different types of flowers apart.  So I looked around for clues and found this:

I said, "Okay, I can see that the shorter yellowish flowers are producing pappus. Pappus is the white fluffy material that (often) carries seeds.  [When you blow seeds off a dandelion, you're blowing on the pappus (with a seed at the bottom) which then floats away.]  

Until now, I have associated pappus with seeds, which are produced by female flowers, so I thought these shorter yellowish flowers were female.  And I reasoned that therefore the longer whitish flowers (in last night's photo) were male.

Then today I noticed a lot of insect activity around some Coyote Brush plants — e.g., here's a nice fly (and an ant), feeding on white flowers.

When I looked closely, I realized that there was pappus associated with the white flowers (see below for an example):

So now I realized I had a problem.  A few days ago I had noticed pappus on yellow flowers, and today I observed pappus on white flowers.  So...which flowers are male and which are female?

I had to do some more research, and discovered that the white flowers are female and the yellow flowers are male.  They *both* produce pappus, but note that the pappus is longer in the females and shorter in the males.

I hadn't realized that some male flowers produce pappus, but now I know, and you do, too! 

Since pappus is associated with seeds and can play a role in seed dispersal, it raises the question of why male flowers also produce pappus?  I don't know the answer, but let me know if you've heard of an explanation (or can think of one!).

Here are two more pictures: a closeup of male Coyote Brush flowers, and a handsome striped fly on a male flower:

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Late summer flowers

California Goldenbush (Ericameria ericoides) in yellow, and female Coyote Brush (Baccharis pilularis) flowers in white.  Photographed in the Bodega Dunes on 25 August 2017.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Quite a night

Well, I didn't expect to post about kites again so soon, but it was a fun night to watch them and I photographed some interesting behaviors.

The moon was in a nice location for some of these pictures:

Some of the kites perch on the tallest trees before flying down to the roost site.  This kite sat on top of very tall redwood tree, perhaps 70 feet high? 

This individual seemed a little protective of its perch.  It would watch other approaching kites very closely, sometimes posturing towards them.  The next photo show the kite turning to face the incoming individual and opening its bill (I'm not sure if it made a sound; I didn't hear anything.)

When another kite approached, the perched kite would often start flicking its tail dramaticallyIs tail-flicking a signal to stay away?  [ADDENDUM: I just read about this.  According to the Birds of North America, "tail bobs" are apparently threats to intrusions by other raptors.]

Several times the kite had other avian visitors.  Can you make out the identity of the other bird in the photo below?

Did you guess hummingbird?  It is probably an Anna's Hummingbird.  I don't know if the hummingbird was curious about the kite, or if it was interested in trying to make the kite move on. 

As in 2015, sometimes crows swing by to chase the kites:

Two more photos to wrap-up —  these kites were directly overhead as they flew west towards their roost site:

Quite a night!

Monday, August 28, 2017

They're back!

Remember the posts about the White-tailed Kites (Elanus leucurus) during the fall of 2015?  We didn't see them last year, but a few kites have returned to roost in our neighborhood this year.

Here's one photo from 27 August 2017 (perched at the top of a redwood tree):

And another from 28 August 2017 (flying by on the way to the roost site around sunset):

To review some of the previous posts about communal roosting behavior in White-tailed Kites, see the following posts:


Sunday, August 27, 2017

Foraging among the flowers

A few visitors to the Seaside Wild Buckwheat flowers (Eriogonum latifolium) in the Bodega Dunes on 26 August 2017:

Male Acmon Blue (Plebejus acmon) from below

Female Acmon Blue (Plebejus acmon) from above

A small wasp with big green eyes, possibly a bee hunter (Philanthus sp.)?

A beautiful iridescent blue wasp, possibly a spider wasp (Psorthaspsis sp.)?

If you can assist with the wasp identifications, let me know!

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Hunting and hiding

Immature Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis), probably hunting for California Voles (Microtus californicus). 

California Vole (Microtus californicus), probably hiding from potential predators.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Through the lichens

Barn Owl (Tyto alba) peering through the lichens, 23 August 2017

California Voles are abundant on Bodega Head this year, so perhaps the owls are being drawn to the high density of potential prey.  2012 was also a good year for both small mammals and Barn Owl observations in local grasslands.  Click here to see some Barn Owl photos from mid-August 2012.

Thursday, August 24, 2017


Buller's Shearwaters (Puffinus bulleri) near Cordell Bank on 20 August 2017.

For more pictures and information about Buller's Shearwaters, see the post called "Visitors from New Zealand" from 30 October 2012.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Three different views

Several views of Laysan Albatross (Phoebastria immutabilis) near Cordell Bank on 20 August 2017.

P.S.  For an introduction to Laysan Albatross, check out the post called "Incoming" from 2 September 2012.  If you're interested in listening to audio recordings of their calls, see "Largely silent at sea" from 9 September 2015.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Just right

I knew it as soon as I started walking along the trail. The weather was just right for dragonflies on Bodega Head todaywarm and sunny with just a slight breeze.  I was working outside for a little while this afternoon and was lucky to capture a few quick pictures for the record:

Twelve-spotted Skimmer (Libellula pulchella)

Common Green Darner (Anax junius

Blue-eyed Darner (Rhionaeschna multicolor

 Black Saddlebags (Tramea lacerata)

Western Pondhawk (Erythemis collocata

In addition to the species above, I also observed Spot-winged Glider (Pantala hymenaea), Wandering Glider (Pantala flavescens), Variegated Meadowhawk (Sympetrum corruptum), and a fly-by dragonfly that was probably a Flame Skimmer (Libellula saturata).  That was a total of nine species of dragonflies on Bodega Head this afternoon (my personal record is 10 species in one day on Bodega Head — see the post from 15 August 2015).

Monday, August 21, 2017

Sol-ano Eclipse

We couldn't make it to Oregon for the total solar eclipse, but we wanted to watch from northern California.  At this time of year, we realized it wasn't likely that the coast would be clear, but we hoped that we could watch from an inland site in Sonoma County.  

The weather forecast looked good over the weekend, but when we checked again this morning, the clouds weren't predicted to clear from Sonoma County until after noon!  So we reviewed the hourly forecasts to find the westernmost site that would be clear by mid-morning.  Then we headed to a location in northwestern Solano County.

It turned out to be worth the drive.   We arrived around 10 a.m. (after the eclipse had started) and watched as the moon's silhouette crossed the sun, with the eclipse peak at ~10:15 a.m.  We left to go back to work when the moon's silhouette was just covering the bottom left corner of the sun.  Here's a sequence (read like a book) that spans from 10:05 a.m. to 11:08 a.m. PDT:

The top right and the bottom left images bracket the maximum extent of the eclipse in our area.  Coverage at that time was approximately 80%.

It was fun and inspiring to experience the planetary wonder of the Great American Eclipse of 2017.  [See you in Vermont for the total solar eclipse in 2024!]

Sunday, August 20, 2017

White wing flashes

South Polar Skua (Stercorarius maccormicki) near Cordell Bank, 20 August 2017 

For a little more information about skuas, check out the post called "Pirates and marauders" from 31 October 2012.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Baird's x 3

We had some nice view of Baird's Sandpipers (Calidris bairdii) on Salmon Creek Beach tonight (17 August 2017).

They appeared to be feeding on amphipods along the upper beach:

There were at least three Baird's Sandpipers, often in view together:

It's always nice to see this species.  For some (better) photos and a little more information about Baird's Sandpipers, see the post called "Long wings and feathers like scales" on 22 August 2016.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Holding on

A young Sierran Treefrog (Pseudacris sierra) holding on to a bur-reed leaf in Bodega Bay on 16 August 2017.

P.S.  You might know this species as a Pacific Treefrog or Pacific Chorus Frog (Pseudacris regilla), but there have been some taxonomic changes during the last few years.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Buteo above

Sometimes when the news is getting you down, it's nice to look up.  

In the face of such sadness, I'm thankful to the natural world for strength, inspiration, and hope. 

Juvenile Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis), Bodega Head, 12 August 2017

Monday, August 14, 2017

Bands of light

Well, I didn't have a chance to take any pictures today, but here are a couple more spider silk photos from yesterday.  Sometimes it's fun to think about what the color combinations remind you of:


Sunday, August 13, 2017

The thread continues

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that I might not be sharing photographs of spider web threads for a while (see "Shifting sun" post from 31 July 2017).  However, I searched a different spot in the backyard this morning and I found a nice orb web with the sun hitting it just right in a few places.

I continue to puzzle over these dramatic colors.  And I've been wonderingas the angle of the sun shifts with the seasons, will the colors in the spider web strands change? 

Perhaps not, but it will be fun to explore.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Deep-sea highlights

It was hard to choose among the many photos from the E/V Nautilus dive at Bodega Canyon yesterday (11 August 2017).  Here are a few of our favorite screenshots.  [Click on the images for larger versions.]

Crinoid, or feather star, probably Florometra serratissima

Deep-sea nudibranch, Tritonia tetraquetra

Although Tritonia seems to have been the most common nudibranch species observed on these dives, a few other species have appeared.  

Finding the nudibranch in the next image is harder.  The ROV was focused on the primnoid coral (see white branches at right side of photo) covered by beige and yellow zoanthids (the dominant animals in the image).  But look for the small white nudibranch in the upper left corner! 

[In case you're wondering, zoanthids are cnidarians with features similar to corals and anemones, but they don't have hard skeletons and their tentacle arrangement is different from most anemones.]

The views of deep-sea bamboo corals were spectacular:

Bamboo corals are in the family Isididae.  I'm just learning about these corals, but I think the individuals pictured here might be in the genus Keratoisis.  Although bamboo corals are named after their beautiful skeletons with a banding pattern similar to bamboos, it was fun to see these living corals, with their dense peach-colored polyps:

The next coral species is Isidella tentacula.  The "tentacula" part of the name comes from their distinctive 'sweeper tentacles.'  Look for them at the base of coral:

Here's a close-up of the sweeper tentacles near the holdfast of the coral (see below).  It's thought that these tentacles are defensive, containing concentrations of stinging nematocysts.

Many thanks again to the E/V Nautilus crew for sharing these wonderful deep-sea communities with us.  It's been a gift to join you in exploring Bodega Canyon!

P.S.  We hope you get in at least one more dive before you head north.  And if you happen to see this post, we'd love a few more close-up views of a stalked crinoid (sea lily).  :)