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 scary — the 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.
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?
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.
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!
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)? :)
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!