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Friday, September 24, 2021


Semipalmated Plover (Charadrius semipalmatus), 24 September 2021

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Evasive maneuvers


A tight flock of shorebirds over the waves...

...often means a falcon is nearby.

Salmon Creek Beach, 21 September 2021

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Ushering in the fall


Harvest moon, welcoming the autumn equinox. 

Photographed in Cotati on 21 September 2021.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Not the only onessssss

When we were at the Gualala River recently, we realized we were not the only ones searching for toads.  We came across a few garter snakes, including the one above that had swallowed a toad!  (More on this below...)
There are several species of garter snakes in this area, which can make them challenging to identify.
Two of the snakes we saw had a lot of red coloration on their heads and bodies.  Here's a side view of the same snake shown in the first photo:

I could use some help, but my guess on this individual is California Red-sided Gartner Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis infernalis).  

We also photographed a different individual that I think might be the same species:


But the third snake looked very different:
Here's a side view of the same individual:
The identification of this snake was confusing to me.  Usually garter snakes have a paler yellow dorsal stripe down the middle of the back.  This one only had a partial stripe on the neck.  

As you can see, there is no red coloration anywhere.  And if you're interested in comparing, the labial scales (along the jaw, below the eye) and the internasal scales (between the nostrils) are different (in number and shape, respectively) relative to the first two snakes.

My best guess right now for the third snake is an Aquatic Garter Snake (Thamnophis atratus, possibly Thamnophis atratus hydrophilus).  But I haven't been able to locate another example of an Aquatic Garter Snake with this coloration.  [The color pattern is a better match for a Two-striped Garter Snake (Thamnophis hammondii), but that species isn't found in Sonoma County.] 
If you have any input about these identifications, I'd be grateful for any feedback!

P.S.  Fun natural history note: If you look closely at the first photo in this post, you'll see that the snake looks swollen in its midsection.  We weren't sure what was causing that at first, but while Eric was watching the snake, it regurgitated a partially digested toad!

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Tales from the Gualala toad

Last night I mentioned we went up to the Gualala River to look for toads.  Eric grew up with toads in his backyard and I used to interact with toads on Cape Cod.  We don't see toads on Bodega Head, so every now and then we both miss finding and watching toads.

We hadn't looked for them along the Gualala River before, but I had heard that young toads have been reported emerging from the river in the fall.  So with yesterday's rain showers, we figured it was worth a shot and it would be new territory for us.

It took some patience and persistence, but eventually we found two toads.  The first was a small individual (~3 cm long) hiding under a rock.  Here's the view I showed last night and two others.  Note the variety of colors, including orange under the feet:

It sounds like I should be calling these California Toads (Anaxyrus borealis halophilus) now, a subspecies of Western Toad. But it can be hard to track the taxonomy, so let me know if you have different information.
Later, Eric encountered a larger toad partially buried in the rocks near the river.  It was hard to spot, but luckily it moved slightly, revealing itself as amphibian rather than rock:
We have a few other fun observations from our time in northern Sonoma County yesterday, so stay tuned!

P.S.  Sounds like Gualala was one of the wettest places in the county yesterday with ~1.5" of rain.

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Toadally thankful


We were hopeful that today's precipitation would bring us some luck in finding a toad...and it did!  I'll write more tomorrow, but here's a wonderful photo that Eric took of a juvenile Western Toad (Anaxyrus boreas) near the Gualala River on 18 September 2021.  So thankful for the rain!

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Sunset snack

Young Sanderling (Calidris alba) with a Mole Crab (Emerita analoga), 16 September 2021