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

Monday, January 22, 2018

Winter sun

Not necessarily surprising, but it was nice to see a few Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) basking in the sun on 20 January 2018.  Although there was frost inland that morning, air temperatures reached about 55°F in Bodega Bay during the afternoon.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

A visit by the local team

We were doing some chores at home today (and watching some football on the side).  There was a steady stream of birds visiting the bird bath in the backyard.  I couldn't resist taking a few quick pictures of these Bushtits (Psaltriparus minimus):

A male (note his dark eyes):

 A female (note her pale eyes):

And a male and a female side-by-side:

I'm not exactly sure why, but we tend to see lots of activity at the bird bath when it's cold outside (there was frost this morning), and when it's raining (it started early this evening).

Friday, January 19, 2018

On the western horizon

Western horizon near sunset, 19 January 2018

Thursday, January 18, 2018


I kept checking the wave heights last night and they remained at ~10 feet.  But when I checked again when I woke up today, I was impressed.  Early this morning the wave heights shot up to ~24 feet!  Click here to review the wave height graph from the offshore buoy.

There was light rain this morning, but I took a few pictures for the record:

These were very big waves.  It's hard to judge the heights of breaking waves, especially when it's stormy.  But I have a few photos with gulls for scale.  [Click on the images for larger versions.]  In the first photo below, there are two gulls the one in the center (between waves) is the easiest to see:

And here's another where you can use the gull to estimate the height of the wave faceBased on known measurements, the gull's wing span is ~58 inches, or ~4.8 feet.  You can then use the gull to estimate the height of the wave:

It depends on where you measure, but my estimate for this wave face came out to ~435 inches, or ~36 feet (~11 meters)!  That might be a bit high, but it gives you a feel for how big these waves were.

Although there's a lot of winter left, this was likely one of the biggest wave events of the season.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Sea serpents

Well, I had a tough time making a decision about what to post tonight.  I promised an answer to a mystery photo from last night, so I'll address that first.  But I took a few nice wave photos today, so I'll include those, too, as a bonus!

First, the mystery close-up from last night:

Someone guessed trout, and that was an excellent guess!  

This is a small fish that washed up on Salmon Creek Beach.  Below is the entire fishit was only ~7 cm (~2.75 inches) long.

I'm not 100% sure which species this is.  The eel-like shape is distinctive, as is a basically continuous fin (dorsal/anal/ventral) running around the body, and note the "overhanging snout."  My best guess is a juvenile Spotted Cusk-eel (Chilara taylori).  They live in burrows on sandy bottoms, so the habitat off of Salmon Creek Beach is appropriate.  If you're familiar with this species and can confirm or correct the identification, please do!  [P.S.  Cusk-eels are in the family Ophidiidae.  "Ophis" means "snake" and refers to the eel-like or snake-like appearance.]

I think you know that I can't resist big waves.  So here are a few shots from 17 January 2018.  Pick your favorite!

"Sea Dragon"

"Sea Serpent"

"Sea Elephant"

"Lotus Flower"

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Geometric mystery

A bit of a mystery close-up for you:

I'll reveal more tomorrow night (at least as much as I can figure out!).  Maybe someone out there will be able to help?

Monday, January 15, 2018

Roaring in

The offshore buoy reported a 12-foot west swell today, but some of the sets seemed even larger.  I took a few photos and couldn't choose just one to share, so here are several different views of the waves off Bodega Head today, 15 January 2018:

Eric's always recommending that I include something in the photo for scale.  It's not always easy, but here are three examplesthe first with a cormorant, the second with a gull, and the third with a seal.  [Click on the images for larger versions.]

Here's one of the more dramatic shots of the morning.  Whenever I see a wave exploding against the shoreline like this, I have trouble understanding how anything living on the rocks (e.g., seaweeds, invertebrates) survives.  Amazing!

 To wrap up — a wave just starting to break:

Should be an interesting week for watching waves.  Stay safe!

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Building swell

Breaking wave on 13 January 2018.  It sounds like the largest swell this coming week will arrive on Thursday.  The National Weather Service is calling for a 16-19 foot west swell on 18 January 2018!

Saturday, January 13, 2018

High on the rocks

Well, I finally found a few minutes to look for the Rock Sandpiper (Calidris ptilocnemis) that's been seen near the southern end of Bodega Head.  Below are a couple of photos for the record, taken on 13 January 2018:

Here's the Rock Sandpiper (lower bird) with a Surfbird for comparison:

And one more, this time with a Surfbird (left), a Black Turnstone (right), and the Rock Sandpiper (bottom):

Today I almost would have called it a "Seaweed Sandpiper."  Although rock was the base material, the sandpiper spent most of its time feeding very intensively among the seaweeds (primarily Pyropia sp., formerly Porphyra sp.) high on the rocks.  I couldn't see what the sandpiper was eating, but perhaps it was finding amphipods?

P.S.  If you're interested in seeing this bird, it's been pretty easy to observe from the main whale watching area at the outer parking lot on Bodega Head.  Check the large sea stacks just offshore from the whale watching area (e.g., when you're at the whale watching area, look down and a bit to the north).

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Sun halo

I haven't had a chance to post this one.  An interesting sun halo from 30 December 2017.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Light on the ocean

I was getting ready to leave work tonight when I noticed unusual light out on the ocean.  I walked up to the edge of the bluff to take a look.

There was a bright band of silver on the surface about a kilometer offshore, with curtains of very light fog blowing along it to the southeast.

Above the bright patch, there appeared to be a reasonably large cloud bank:

 The conditions were hard to photograph, so I kept trying:

As the sun slowly set, the colors started shifting from silver to gold:

With shades of purple above:

And a very coppery reflection remained until the sun was gone:

I'm not sure what caused this interesting lighting.  Was the water in that area a different temperature?  Did it change the conditions on the surface?  Did it cause a fog bank to form above it?  Did the fog bank reflect the sunset down to the surface of the ocean?  What other ideas do you have?

Even after more than 40 years of watching the ocean, I'm so grateful that there's always something new to see and wonder about!

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Rounded spines

I haven't had a chance to post this mystery close-up photo.  Do you recognize what animal this is?

Below is an expanded view.  Perhaps it will start to look more familiar?

These are close-ups of the spines of an Ochre Sea Star (Pisaster ochraceus).  The spines are made of calcium carbonate and are external projections of the sea star's internal skeleton.  Most of the time, we're used to seeing the spines from farther away, scattered across the surface of the sea star:

It's fun to see what the spines look like up close!

Monday, January 8, 2018

Stepping out


Well, after receiving almost 3 inches of rain in the past 24 hours, I stepped outside to see if any salamanders were out and about.  It didn't take long to find one!  In the photo above, note the expanded tips of the toes a feature that's apparently helpful for climbing.

This is a fairly large Arboreal Salamander (Aneides lugubris), the most common salamander in our backyard.  I'd estimate this individual was ~15 cm (~6 inches) long.

I'm so glad they're finally experiencing some rain!

Sunday, January 7, 2018

A fish of a different stripe

Here's another nice little fish that we encountered in the rocky intertidal zone on 1 January 2018.  My best guess?  I'm leaning towards this being a Striped Kelpfish (Gibbonsia metzi).  But I don't have any experience with this group, so please let me know if you have a different opinion!

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Green on the horizon

This is a good time of year to watch for a green flash on the horizon at sunset.  This one showed up through a narrow gap in the clouds tonight, 6 January 2018.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Sheltered from the storm

We got lucky tonight.  While driving home from work, we spotted this beautiful Barn Owl (Tyto alba) perched in a tree along the roadside.  Eric is always encouraging me to have my camera ready in case we see something interesting on the drive home.  But I'll admitI'm often lazy and I leave the camera in the back of the car with everything else where it's hard to reach.  This time I heeded his advice, and it was worth it!  :)

P.S.  We received ~0.4 inches of rain today.  Let's hope for more tonight!

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Orange dots

Glass-spined Brittle Star (Ophiothrix spiculata) photographed in the low intertidal zone along the Sonoma Coast on 1 January 2018.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

What a marvelous night...

...for a moonglow

Moonglow Anemone (Anthopleura artemisia), photographed on Bodega Head on 2 January 2018.  This species often emerges from sand and gravel in the low intertidal zone.  Click on the photo for a larger version and check out the varied patterns on the tentacles!

Monday, January 1, 2018

Sunset colors

I often exchange a sunset photo from the West Coast with my mom on New Year's Day (she sends a sunrise photo from the East Coast).  So, here's the sunset on 1 January 2018:

And just for fun, here's another sunset picture can you see me and the sunset reflected in this fish's eye?

Quite a fish!  I'd love some assistance with the identification if you recognize this species.

Both photos were taken in the intertidal zone near Fort Ross.