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Thursday, September 21, 2017

Crescent before the fall

Crescent moon photographed near moonset on 21 September 2017

 (just before the autumn equinox on 22 September 2017)

Happy Fall !

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

7:18 p.m.

Sunset from Cotati, 20 September 2017 

Tuesday, September 19, 2017


Spiny Lobster (Panulirus interruptus) molt, washed up on Bodega Head, 19 September 2017

Although we had wondered if we'd ever find a Spiny Lobster in Bodega Bay, we were surprised to look down and see this on the beach tonight.

Spiny Lobster are a southern species they are primarily found south of Point Conception, and they're most abundant off the central coast of Baja California, Mexico.  During El Niño years, they may be observed north to Monterey.  Since about 2011, molts have been discovered occasionally in San Francisco (Crissy Field) and Bolinas (Agate Beach).

There is a 2001 record for a post-larval stage Spiny Lobster in Bodega Harbor, but to our knowledge, this is the first record of an adult Spiny Lobster molt in Bodega Bay, and therefore the northernmost record for a Spiny Lobster molt on the West Coast!

Spiny Lobsters can reach a carapace length of ~44 mm in 2 years.  The molt we found was missing the carapace, but we can still come up with an estimate — see photo with ruler below:

Here's some rough, but interesting guesswork.  The carapace on this individual might have been ~50 mm long...which is a potential match for a 3-year old lobster...which is a potential match for a lobster that settled in northern California during the warm-water anomaly ("The Blob") in 2014.  We have some research to do on these measurements, but it's interesting to think about when the lobsters might have arrived on our coast.

We'd be very interested in any other sightings of Spiny Lobster molts from Point Reyes north, so let us know if you spot any washed up on the beach (and please take a photo)!

P.S.  I was curious about the scientific name.  The specific epithet "interruptus" comes from the interrupted groove on each abdominal segment.  Below, note the gap (white arrow) separating the grooves that run through the middle of each abdominal segment:

Monday, September 18, 2017

Mid-September reflections

Red-necked Phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus), feeding in a salt marsh pool along the edge of Bodega Harbor on 18 September 2017.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Kites at sunset

Not much time tonight, but here are a few more pictures of White-tailed Kites just before heading to a roost site for the night on 17 September 2017.  (Click on the images for larger versions.)

A beautiful immature bird, with rusty coloration on the breast, white-edged feathers behind the "black shoulder", and gray at the back of the head.  (The eyes are also darker than those of an adult.)

Below, the immature kite turns to watch another individual trying to land nearby This is a good look at the underwing pattern (and the tail feathers being molted note the different lengths of the feathers).

A kite soaring overhead with just a hint of the setting sun:

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Late summer night

Just a few quick shots of the White-tailed Kites coming in to roost tonight (16 September 2017):


Since the kites fly in just before sunset, the light is quite dim.  I don't have the right camera lens for these conditions, so most of my shots are blurry, but even so, I can't help sharing this one (below).  I love that you can still see the coloration of the young bird on the rightthe beautiful rust color on the breast and the grayish cap:

There were interesting conditions and behaviors tonight.  It was one of those late summer nights that makes you want to linger outside, and the kites seemed to think so, too!  They perched high on the trees overlooking the roost site, kept circling around high above, and they stayed out until it was almost too dark to see them.

I'm so thankful for the opportunity to spend time watching kites!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Path of Toad-ality

Last night Will mentioned he had seen some gorgeous toads...so how could we resist?

After work, Eric and I took a short walk in Sugarloaf Ridge State Park.  Sure enough, just after dusk, we started seeing toads along the path.

Below are a few of my favorite pictures.  These are Western Toads (Anaxyrus boreas, formerly Bufo boreas).  They ranged in size from about ~2-4" (~5-10 cm) long, shown here from largest to smallest:

This was the first time we've seen Western Toads in Sonoma County.  It was so nice to see them!  Thanks, Will, for letting us know about the wonderful toads.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Blue note

We were fortunate to see a few Blue Whales (Balaenoptera musculus) near Cordell Bank on 10 September 2017.  [Click on the photos for larger versions.]

Here's another example of the very long back and the very small dorsal fin (relative to the size of the whale, that is).  Compared with the first photo (above), note the slightly different shape of the fin, as these are different individuals:

Sometimes the mottled patterning on the back was visible:

Below, on the right, look for the large "splashguard" surrounding the blowholes:

From a slightly different angle:

And one more, this time of the flukes, with the impressively thick caudal peduncle, or tail stock:

For more photos and information about Blue Whales, review the following posts:

Tuesday, September 12, 2017



During the pelagic trip on Sunday (10 September 2017), we had great looks at a group of Dall's Porpoises (Phocoenoides dalli) as they swam alongside the boat.  

Dall's Porpoises are always fun to watch, but incredibly frustrating to photograph.  They're so fast with swimming speeds up to ~30 knots (!), they're one of the fastest of the small cetaceans — and when they surface, it's usually with a very dramatic splash (often called a "rooster tail").  Mostly I end up with photographs of not much animal and a lot of splash.

Here's an example of a Dall's Porpoise surfacing:

Below, I've zoomed in so you can see different features. Dall's Porpoises are mostly black, so the bright white thoracic panel (coming up the side) stands out.  Above that you can see the triangular dorsal fin with a bit of gray frosting at the tip.  And note the small dark pectoral fin between the white panel and the head.

Just for fun, and because they create interesting patterns, here are some of my best Dall's Porpoise splashes of the day.  [Click on the pictures to see the finer details.]

If you'd like to learn more about Dall's Porpoises, check out these fact sheets from the American Cetacean Society and NOAA.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Stormy light and swirling kites

Interesting sky and weather tonight!

Dark storm clouds moved in just before sunset, accompanied by strong, swirling breezes.  The White-tailed Kites that have been roosting nearby responded by arriving at the roost site earlier than usual, soaring much higher than usual, and flying in to the roost site very fast at a very steep angle.  

It looked like there were some rain showers up high:

And then some intriguing rainbows surrounded by a rosy blush appeared to the east:

Not too long after, the sun lit up the western clouds:

It's raining now.  Will there be thunder tonight?

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Wake rider

Pacific White-sided Dolphin (Lagenorhynchus obliquidens) riding the wake of the New Sea Angler near Cordell Bank on 10 September 2017.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Might as well jump

I spent a few minutes watching a Least Sandpiper (Calidris minutilla) today.  Occasionally, it paused.  Most of the time it was busy looking for food, especially beach hoppers.

Sometimes, the sandpiper was successful in capturing prey.  In the photo below, there is small beach hopper in its bill (close to the tip).  [Click on the picture for a larger version.]

Sometimes, the beach hopper was successful in avoiding capture.  Below, look for the beach hopper escaping via a jump to the right!

Friday, September 8, 2017

Gray beauty

Painted Tiger Moths (Arachnis picta), 8 September 2017

For more pictures and information about this species, see the following posts:


Thursday, September 7, 2017

Gathering at dusk

Just a quick note about the White-tailed Kites that have been roosting in our neighborhood.  When it was so hot and hazy last weekend, we didn't see them at all.  But now that the weather has changed, I'm happy to report that they've returned!

This year, the kites seem to be roosting in different places, but there's a tall tree near our house where some of them gather before heading to a roost site.  It's so nice to see them, if only for a few minutes.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Stauro Trek: A continuing mission...

Several days ago, on 1 September, I showed this mystery photo:

The next day, I promised to tell the full story about this animal.  Well, it turned out to be a bigger mystery than we first anticipated.  I don't have enough time tonight to reveal all of the details, but I thought it would be fun to share at least part of the story (and more pictures!).

If you follow this blog, you might have guessed that this is a staurozoan, sometimes informally called a stalked jelly.  [See previous posts about staurozoans on 13 July 2017, 25 May 2013, and 12 November 2012.]  Below you can see the entire animal, with the stalk attached to a blade of algae.  This individual is ~25 mm long.

Staurozoans are predators, capturing small crustaceans (e.g., amphipods) with their stinging tentacles.  Here's a close-up of one arm with the beautiful (but deadly) tentacles:

While observing these staurozoans, we noticed an individual with an amphipod deep inside the calyx (the cup-like portion of the staurozoan).  Can you find the pink amphipod in the photo below?

One time we saw a staurozoan capture an amphipod that swam a little too close to the tentacles:

The unanticipated and exciting part of this story is that we are not sure which species this is.  It appears that it could be a staurozoan not previously known from California.  We are continuing to work with a team of experts to try to figure it out.  I'll provide additional information and we'll share more as the mission unfolds.  

And I'll end with a bonus.  Eric captured some very nice video, so here are some short clips of two individuals:

Haliclystus sp Bodega Bay from Jackie Sones on Vimeo.

Stay tuned!

P.S.  Many thanks to Malina for spotting these staurozoans!