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!

Friday, August 31, 2012

Purple wings and orange feet

Here's one I need help with.  I think this is a wasp, and my best guess after looking around a bit is that it's a type of square-headed wasp (possibly in the Tribe Larrini).  But I don't have any experience identifying wasps, so if someone can assist with an identification, I'd greatly appreciate it!  It was photographed on 31 August 2012 along a dirt path through a coastal grassland on Bodega Head.

Note the purplish tinge to the wings (the wasp would occasionally flick them) and the complementary orange coloration near the "feet."

Below you can see that most of the abdomen is orange-red.  The wasp had a distinctive way of pressing its antennae together and holding them still for a while, and then tapping or feeling with them rapidly.

I liked the white stripes on the inner edges of the large eyes.

ADDENDUM (2 September 2012): Thanks to Lynn Kimsey at UC Davis' Bohart Museum of Entomology for a possible identification.  She says that this is probably a species of Tachysphex in the family Crabronidae.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

39 or 3+9

On the way to work this morning, the outdoor thermometer in our car registered 39°F in the town of Bodega a chilly temperature for August!

At work, a friend asked me about whether I'd ever seen juvenile Gumboot Chitons (Cryptochiton stelleri).  I have a few photos of them, and since many people have only seen the larger adults, I decided it would be fun to share a couple of photos of juveniles.

Here's a small Gumboot Chiton from Bodega Head that was ~10-12 mm long (it's in a mussel shell).

Note that at this size, you can see a hint of the white plates exposed along the back.  (This isn't true for adults, as you'll see below).  The juveniles I've found are also paler in color than the adults.

Here's a different juvenile photographed under a microscope.  Check out the clusters (or fascicles) of spines.

Now here's a reminder about what the adults look like.  You may have encountered them in intertidal boulder fields.  Sometimes they look like big red blobs among the algae.  The first image was taken near Mendocino, the second along the Big Sur coast.

The outer covering is relatively soft and leathery.  As adults, their eight plates are hidden (hence the "Crypto" part of their name).  

Gumboot Chitons can reach lengths up to 12 inches.  See below for scale.  (Eric's boot is conveniently ~12 inches long!)

You might be wondering about the title of this post.  I know this is a S-T-R-E-T-C-H, but it's the first title that came to me.  39 degrees (an impressive summer temperature) and 3+9 = 12 inches (an impressive length for a chiton, but fun to see what they look like at 12 mm!).

Wednesday, August 29, 2012


Two flowers that are noticeable as you walk through the dunes in late summer and early fall:

California Goldenrod (Solidago velutina).  Having struggled at times with identifying the many species of goldenrods in New England, I was surprised to find that there is only one species of goldenrod on Bodega Head.  The Jepson Manual describes the inflorescence, or flower head, as wand-shaped.  The species name, velutina, refers to the velvety leaves.  There are 12 species of goldenrods in California.

California Goldenbush or Mock Heather (Ericameria ericoides).  This is an attractive native sub-shrub (low to the ground) that reaches its northern limit at Bodega Head.  It's endemic to California.  [Another New England connection: In general form and appearance, this species reminds me of Hudsonia ericoides on Cape Cod, sometimes known as False Heather or Golden Heather.  The species name, ericoides, means "heather-like."]

Above, Melanie Daniels (a.k.a. Tippi Hedren — who's coming to The Tides in Bodega Bay this weekend!) shows off the goldenbush flowers.  If you haven't yet seen this doll, it's an authentic barbie doll released in 2008 to celebrate the 35th anniversary of Alfred Hitchcock's, The Birds.  Much of the movie was filmed on Bodega Head, in Bodega Bay, and in Bodega.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

In spades

I came across a bird kill in the dunes today (28 August 2012).  Here are the clues (to the species identity) as I encountered them:
Note the relatively short wing (I should have measured, but I'm guessing it was ~10 inches long).  The rufous edges on the smaller feathers indicate that this is a juvenile.

Beautiful barred feather patterns on the underside.  The next photo shows a close-up of the innermost feathers.  I love the spade-shaped markings!

After the wing, I found these feathers:

These are probably breast feathers.  Note the long dark streaks along the shafts.

The next clue was helpful for identifying the type of bird:

These large talons reveal that this is raptor.

Any guesses which species?  

The next two photos were taken earlier this month.  They're not the best photos, but they show the species that I think is involved in the mystery above.

The two images above show a juvenile Cooper's Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) in flight and hunting in coyote brush (Baccharis pilularis).  Accipiters primarily eat medium-sized birds.  I'm guessing this one was chasing a sparrow (or possibly a jay I never saw the item of interest).

I've read that Cooper's Hawks may be preyed upon by Great Horned Owls or Red-tailed Hawks, both possibilities on Bodega Head.

Before today, I had no idea that Cooper's Hawks had such handsome spade-shaped markings on the undersides of their wings!

(Now I'll always think of them when playing cards.)

Monday, August 27, 2012

Mystery photos

When I was younger, we used to get Ranger Rick magazine.  One of my favorite parts of the magazine was the back page. It contained a grid of mystery photos.  Each small square had an extreme close-up of an organism and you could try to guess which organism it came from.

Here's one for you to try!  (The answer is below the photo.)

If you guessed the underside of a fungus or mushroom, you're right!  The following are all different views of the same fungus on a eucalyptus tree photographed today.  I'm asking a friend for help with the identification, so will report back with more information soon.

ADDENDUM (28 August 2012): Peter and Brendan have both suggested that this is Laetiporus sulphureus (Sulphur Shelf or Chicken-of-the-Woods).  Thanks for the identification assistance!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Bon voyage!

The view during a sail and kayak adventure on Tomales Bay on 26 August 2012.  From left to right are Tomales Point (the northern tip of Point Reyes), Bodega Head (in the far background through the mouth of Tomales Bay), and Tom's Point (with distinct trees).  Seals and pelicans (both species) are in the foreground.

A large flock of Brown Pelicans flying overhead.

A pretty hydromedusa in shallow water near shore.  This is a species of Aequorea, sometimes called a Crystal Jelly.  Note the many radial canals with pale blue gonadal folds.  This individual was ~8 cm across.

We were sailing with Nature today (sitting forward below) and wish her Bon voyage! on her upcoming journey to Washington, D.C. and beyond (including Antarctica!).

Safari njema! (in Swahili)

Oq yo'l (Happy journey in Uzbek) 

Cair Vie!  (Fair winds in Manx)

Saturday, August 25, 2012

What's it like on the outside?

While doing field work on the Mendocino coast earlier this week, Eric encountered a large concentration of egg capsules on the underside of a plastic washer that had been in a mussel bed (see below).

The white eggs capsules were deposited by a Leather Limpet (Onchidella borealis).    There's one adult Leather Limpet in the upper left corner of the photo.  [The yellow capsules are flatworm eggs.]

Leather Limpets aren't true limpets (they're pulmonates), but they look like limpets without shells.  Adults are ~6-10 mm long and live in the mid-high intertidal zone near algal holdfasts and shaded crevices.  Adult coloration is highly variable.  Many are yellowish-green, but others are whitish and some are deep maroon.  They graze on diatoms and microalgae.

In the photo above, there are two Leather Limpets (one red, one white), along with one true limpet (lower right) and one chiton (upper right). 

A few years ago, Eric found some Leather Limpet egg capsules in various stages of development.  We took some photos under a microscope.

Leather Limpets are direct developers.  The larvae complete their development within the capsule over ~30-40 days and then emerge as tiny juveniles ~1 mm long.

The capsules look a bit like bubbles.  Note that each larva is developing within an individual chamber.

This is a late stage larva.

A juvenile is hatching and crawling over the outside of the capsules.

This next picture always makes me laugh.  I can't help wondering if the juvenile inside (not yet hatched, but with two dark eye spots) is looking at the crawling juvenile and wondering what it's like on the outside.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Red-necked or Red?

The phalarope show continues near shore.  During the last few days, hundreds have been visible from land.  Yesterday I estimated 350-500 in one sweep of the horizon with binoculars.

Today they were very close to shore, within the foam reflecting off the rocks.  The majority appeared to be juvenile Red-necked Phalaropes (Phalaropus lobatus), but I found a few adult Red Phalaropes (Phalaropus fulicarius), too.  (Apparently, juvenile Red Phalaropes don't arrive in this area until later in the fall.)

Here's a shot of a small group.  All of these images were taken from shore.

The following three images show Red-necked Phalaropes.  Note especially the thin bill, slender neck, and the dark feathers with patterning on the back.

Now study the next three photos of a Red Phalarope.

You've probably noticed that this Red Phalarope is larger, with a thicker neck and thicker bill, and is uniform gray on the back.  In general it has a more robust (less delicate) appearance than the Red-necked Phalaropes. 

Now here are two photos of both species for comparison.  Can you tell which is which?

Well done!  In both cases, the Red Phalarope is on the right.

[You may be wondering where the red is that gives these species their common names.  It's only apparent in breeding plumage.]

Here are two more photos.  (I can't help it!  It's not every day you get to photograph phalaropes.)  The first shows a Red-necked Phalarope in the process of leaping forward to catch something.  I've read that they eat amphipods, euphausiids (krill), mysid shrimp, and fish eggs and larvae.

And this picture is just for fun — photographer's choice?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Puckered up

Five-ribbed Kelp (Costaria costata), photographed along the Mendocino coast on 20 August 2012.  

The blades can be up 1.5-2 meters (5-6.5 ft) long and 35 cm (1 ft) wide.  Note the strong longitudinal ribs running parallel to the edges of the blade.  Three of the ribs project on one side of the blade, and two of the ribs project on the opposite side.

The stipe is somewhat compressed with prominent grooves (see below). 

The holdfast is made up of many narrow, branched haptera (root-like structures).  This holdfast was attached to coralline algae.

The areas in between the ribs are strongly puckered (see next photo).  In algal terminology, this is called bullate = a local outward bulging, blistering, or puckering of the surface (definition from Marine Algae of California by Abbott and Hollenberg).

An interesting puzzle: Although Costaria costata can be found from Alaska to southern California, and I've seen it both north and south of Bodega Head, I have yet to find it on Bodega Head itself.  Have you?  If so, I'd love to hear about it!