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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

With flare

Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus) in silhouette 
at the north end of Bodega Harbor on 31 October 2017

Monday, October 30, 2017


Just a quick photo to say...Happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 29, 2017


This afternoon (29 October 2017), I went for a short walk at Crane Creek Regional Parkthe first time I've been there since the fires.  Quite a bit of the northern edge of the park was burned.  For the record, this was one example of many blackened and charred oak trees.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Skeins of scoters

Skeins of Surf Scoters (Melanitta perspicillata) heading south, 
off Bodega Head, 27 October 2017

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

October light

Semipalmated Plovers (Charadrius semipalmatus), Bodega Head, 25 October 2017

Tuesday, October 24, 2017


Laysan Albatross (Phoebastria immutabilis) near Cordell Bank on 15 October 2017.  For a fun story about a 65-year old Laysan Albatross (named 'Wisdom') from Midway Atoll, click here.  And maybe the Laysan dance will inspire you.  :)

Monday, October 23, 2017

Pink and purple

On the way home from work tonight (23 October 2017), we couldn't help stopping briefly to photograph the sunset from Valley Ford.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Surrounded by spouts

Here are a few more photos from the pelagic trip to Cordell Bank last Sunday (15 October 2017).  If I remember right, we encountered this group of whales ~20 miles off Bodega Head.

Three examples of Humpback Whales (Megaptera novaeangliae), followed by some audio recordings:

If you can't see the audio files below, click on the title of the post above to go directly to the web page.  Also, you might need to turn up the volume of your speakers to hear the sounds of the whales.  [The third file makes me laugh...it includes a brief commentary by Rick Powers, captain of the New Sea Angler.]

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Rolling in

The first big swell of the season rolled through on 20 and 21 October 2017.  Wave heights reached almost 18 feet last night.  I took a few pictures this morning when the waves were closer to 12 feet.  [Click on the images for larger versions.]

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Blues off Bodega

We encountered a few Blue Whales (Balaenoptera musculus) during the pelagic trip on 15 October 2017.  These photos were taken ~20 miles off Bodega Head.

It's hard to get a sense of scale, but Blue Whale spouts can reach 10-12 meters (32-40 feet) in height! 

Two different individuals (above and below), showing differently shaped dorsal fins and different patterns of mottling:

The broad flukes rising out of the water as the whale dives:

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

On their way to Australia

Short-tailed Shearwater (Ardenna tenuirostris) photographed offshore of Bodega Head on 15 October 2017.

This species is an uncommon fall/winter visitor to our area.  They spend their winter (our summer) in the North Pacific (with concentrations off Alaska), then migrate south to breeding sites around Australia. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Stealth approach

Northern Right Whale Dolphin (Lissodelphis borealis) approaching the bow of the New Sea Angler during a pelagic trip to Cordell Bank on 15 October 2017.

Here's another view, with only the backs showing above the surface (note the lack of dorsal fins):

For more information about and additional photos of Northern Right Whale Dolphins, review the posts called "Smooth" on 5 September 2012 and "Bow riding" on 26 October 2012.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Breaking the surface

A few more dolphin photos to help you get through your week:


Pacific White-sided Dolphins (Lagenorhynchus obliquidens) near Cordell Bank (~27 miles offshore) on 15 October 2017.

Many thanks to Rick and Owen of the New Sea Angler for hosting the Redwood Regional Ornithological Society boat trip.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Dolphin leap

Pacific White-sided Dolphin (Lagenorhynchus obliquidens) photographed near Cordell Bank on 15 October 2017.

Thursday, October 12, 2017


Up at 1 a.m. for a fire update and a check on evacuation status, and noticed the moon rising on the eastern horizon:

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Smoky sunrise

Smoky sunrise from Cotati on 10 October 2017

Monday, October 9, 2017

Fire and smoke

I'm so sorry for everyone affected by the fires in the North Bay today.  The damage to people's homes and hearts has been devastating.

Recently I've been reading a book about volcanoes.  The book describes how the smoke and soot from large volcanic eruptions affects the atmosphere and light levels and air temperatures.  I haven't been around an intense volcanic eruption, so it's hard for me to imagine what it feels like.  But the fires and smoke and ash in Sonoma County on 9 October 2017 made me wonder if some of the conditions we experienced today were similar.

Everything felt strange and unfamiliar and scarythe dim light throughout the day...the ash and leaves falling from the sky...the color of the sun, both in the sky and its reflection in the water.

Here are three quick photos for the record.

An example of a burnt and blistered oak leaf that had fallen into our front yard in Cotati (taken ~8 a.m.):

The fiery mid-morning sun (taken ~10 a.m.):

Unusual golden reflections of the sun in an ocean wave (taken ~3 p.m.):

I hope the winds will be favorable for the firefighters tonight.  

Please stay safe.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

A little bit of this, a little bit of that

We just returned from a trip to New England to visit with family...so I'm wondering, what did I miss while I was away?

Looking at the ocean temperatures that recently dipped to ~11°C (~52°F), I'm guessing there were some strong winds during the past week?

Following up on an earlier poston 2 October 2017 I posted some photos of a large flock of Tree Swallows in Massachusetts.  If you read that post and wondered how many birds were in the last photo, I decided to count them tonight.  Here's the photo again:

Earlier I had done a rough count (by 10s) and estimated that there were somewhere between 300-400 swallows in the photo above.  Tonight I carefully counted every individual I could see and came up with...398.  This was just a small portion of the entire flock.

And back in California, here are a couple of photos from Cotati that I hadn't had a chance to share yet:

This bee was visiting a sunflower in our yard on 2 September 2017.  As you might remember, I'm slowly learning about our local bee species.  I knew that I hadn't photographed this species before.  The yellow "underbelly" really stood out.  Because I wasn't sure which species it was, I did a quick Internet search for something like "bee with yellow under the abdomen" and was quickly pointed to leafcutter bees (Megachile spp.).

Unlike many other bees that carry pollen on their legs, leafcutter bees are known for carrying pollen on the underside of the abdomen:

P.S.  Fun fact: The genus, Megachile, means "large lipped."  It refers to the large mandibles in this group of bees that are used for cutting pieces of leaves or petals to bring back to their nests.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Harvest Moon

Harvest Moon, photographed from Orleans, Massachusetts, on 5 October 2017

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

October dragons

Well, this feels a little strange.  I started learning about dragonflies in New England in the early 1990s.  But I've been living in California for over 12 years now, so I'm a little "rusty" when it comes to identifying some of the species in the northeastern U.S.  

We had a fun experience with a few darners yesterday (3 October 2017) near Alstead, New Hampshire.  We found a warm, sunny field where several darners were feeding.  They were flying a little slowly, perhaps because of cooler nighttime temperatures?  And somewhat surprisingly, when we stood still in the middle of the field, the dragonflies started flying very close to us (looking for insects?) and sometimes landing on us.

Here are two examples.  I'll hazard guesses to the species' identifications, but perhaps I can get some help from some New England friends to confirm the i.d.'s.  

Black-tipped Darner (Aeshna tuberculifera)? 

Mottled Darner (Aeshna clepsydra)? perched on my mother's fleece jacket!  The striped patterning on the thorax didn't quite fit the classic pattern for this species, but I'm not coming up with another idea (at least not yet).  Here's a close-up of the thoracic stripes:

Then Eric spotted another beautiful darner perched on an old birch tree at the edge of a boggy swamp:

How about Variable Darner (Aeshna interrupta) for this one?

Here's a close-up (dorsal view), with nice yellow highlights:

And in case you're interested in helping to confirm the identification of this species, here's another close-up, this time from the side so you can see the lateral thoracic stripes:

Fun with dragons in October!

ADDENDUM (5 October 2017): Blair confirmed all three of my identifications above, so you can now consider the identifications solid.  Thanks, Blair!

Monday, October 2, 2017

A blizzard of swallows

While visiting my mother yesterday in Humarock, Massachusetts, there was a very large flock of Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) circling over her house.

Tree Swallows gather in large flocks before migrating south to sites in the southern United States, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America.  Along the New England coast, they can often be seen eating the waxy fruit of Bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica). 

It's hard to show the scale of these Tree Swallow flocks — many hundreds of birds swirling overhead.  At one point, with their white bellies glowing against the blue October sky, they looked like a blizzard of white snowflakes! 

Here's a fun series — click on the images for larger versions.

Who wants to count the number of birds in the last photo (above)?  :)

Sunday, October 1, 2017


Eric and I were looking for toads in Walpole, Massachusetts, on 1 October 2017, when we spotted this beautiful Ringneck Snake (Diadophis punctatus) under a rock.  I'll admit it fooled us at first!

Although it's hard to tell from the picture, this is a very small snake.  [We estimate it was ~12 cm long, or a little less than 5 inches.]  In a shaded woodland, the yellow ring around the neck was hard to see. We thought it was a salamander at first, but when I got a little closer for a photo, I realized it was a young snake.

Here's a zoomed-in view:

And the smooth, blue-black scales:

For a size reference, here's the snake in Eric's hand as we released it next to the rock where we found it.  Adult Ringneck Snakes are often ~25-38 cm (~10-15 inches) long.  In Massachusetts, hatchlings emerge from eggs in August/September, so it's likely this snake is only 1-2 months old.

Although Ringneck Snakes are also found in California, I haven't seen one there yet, so it was a treat to encounter this species!