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!

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Long backs and tiny fins

If you've followed previous posts on this blog, you know that I'm often drawn to very small things sea star larvae and other microscopic animals, for example.  But other times my heart beats faster when in the presence of very large things like Blue Whales (Balaenoptera musculus)!

Fun fact: Blue Whales are the largest animals to have lived on Earth.  At maturity they measure about 88-108 feet (27-33 meters) in length and about 330,000 pounds (165 tons).

About an hour and a half after we left Bodega Harbor yesterday on our way to Bodega Canyon, we encountered 2-3 Blue Whales.  

The spouts of Blue Whales are powerful and may reach ~ 9 meters (30 feet) high.  Here are two examples:

In the image below, you can see the "splashguard" surrounding the blowhole.  It looks like a prominent mound or ridge at the bottom of the spout.

After a few blows, the backs of the whales appeared.  Blue Whale backs are very long, very smooth, and mottled with splotches of darker and lighter gray.

A distinctive feature in Blue Whales is the diminutive dorsal fin.  Look for it at the far right end of the back (just emerging from the water) in the next photo.

The current estimate for the Blue Whale population off the California/Mexico coast is only ~2000 individuals.  Here's hoping that the population continues to recover.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Pelagic week #3

This Long-tailed Jaeger (Stercorarius longicaudus) welcomes you to Pelagic Week #3!  

Last fall I featured some of the seabirds and marine mammals from Cordell Bank and Bodega Canyon after two different offshore boat trips (starting on 2 September 2012 and 26 October 2012).  

I went on a trip today, so I will be showing some of our pelagic neighbors during the next few days.  I hope this jaeger entices you to come back to learn about these amazing open ocean animals.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Handsome visitors

Two handsome moths visited our yard in Sebastopol last night:

I think this is Zale lunata, or the Lunate Zale.  Moths have the best names!  To fully appreciate the colors and patterns, here's a close-up of the right forewing (a small triangle of the hindwing is showing at the bottom):

The second individual was very different:

I think this is a type of maple spanworm in the genus Prochoerodes, possibly Prochoerodes forficaria.  If you're familiar with this group, please chime in!  Again, because the tones and textures are outstanding when viewed up close, I've zoomed in on the left forewing:

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Last year's Leasts

Whew!  I'm behind way behind! in filing my photographs.  I had to spend some time on "organizational chores" tonight, but while doing so I came upon this image from about this time last year.  

These are Least Sandpipers (Calidris minutilla) at the north end of Bodega Harbor in early September 2012.  Note the slightly tapered and downcurved bill and the yellowish legs.  I liked the way they were all doing different things. If you're wondering, they're gathered around a rock that's covered with sea lettuce (Ulva sp.) and a few barnacles.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

As green as can be

On 25 August 2013, I encountered another fascinating native bee.  Below is the first one I saw emerging from a burrow in the ground:

There were several other bees nearby, hovering over the grassland vegetation and occasionally landing and disappearing underground.  I didn't have the best lens with me at the time, but I think these pictures still show off the brilliant colors of this species.

After a few minutes, I realized that a few bees were much faster than the others.  They were difficult to follow, zipped around very quickly in the vicinity of the other bees, and then disappeared.  

Eventually I managed a few pictures of these faster individuals.  They're blurry (these bees were in flight), but you can still make out the general color pattern:

After doing a little research, I'm pretty sure this is a type of Green Sweat Bee in the genus Agapostemon.  Two species in this genus have been recorded on Bodega Head (A. femoratus and A. texanus), so I'll have to inquire about how to tell them apart.  

The first individuals I photographed (all green) are the females, while the second type with the yellow-and-black striped abdomens are the males. 

It's going to take a while, but I'm slowly working my way through photographing all of the local bees.  Do you have a guess about how many species of bees have been recorded on Bodega Head?  (The answer is below the next picture.)

48 species of bees have been recorded on Bodega Head!  The list is available here.

Monday, August 26, 2013

That's it!

I really like Bushtits (Psaltriparus minimus).  I can't quite explain what it is about them, but there's something inside of me that just feels right whenever I hear their twittering call notes or see flocks of these tiny songbirds moving among the trees or shrubs. 

Bushtits are very active and often hidden by vegetation, so it's hard to get a good look at them and even harder to photograph them.

Here's a typical view of one peering out among the needles of a pine.  These photographs were taken along Old Bay Flat Road near the north end of Bodega Harbor on 25 August 2013.

In reading about their behavior, I was struck by the different approaches in the Birds of North America account (2001) and Bent's Life Histories of North American Birds (1942):

From the BNA:  "Individuals in flocks or small groups remain in a cohesive group while moving and foraging, maintaining auditory contact with soft calls."

From Bent:  "The flock is somewhat scattered, and one cannot tell at first how many birds there are in the company, but they keep in touch with one another as they feed, with gentle twittering notes. They seem to be in constant motion as they travel along, hurriedly crossing the open spaces between the bushes, a few at a time, then more and more, all traveling in the same general direction; when 20 or 30 have crossed, and we think that all have gone, there are always a few stragglers hurrying along to catch up with the procession."

Both of these approaches have value.  The BNA account is short and to the point.  But the description in Bent is exactly what I experience with Bushtits in the field, and it's fun when you feel that someone else has described a species really well.  When I read the BNA account I said, "True."  But when I read the Bent account I said, "Yes!  That's it!  That's exactly what Bushtits do!"

Below, one Bushtit paused long enough on a branch for a nice profile.  (That's a strand of spider web silk crossing through the image.)  This picture made me appreciate the long toes of a Bushtit and how important they probably are to these birds that are such a meaningful part of the California landscape.

P.S.   For a little more information about Bushtits, see the post from 3 February 2012.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

It's all relative

I heard this species calling as I was walking across the parking lot at work today, knew it was interesting (an uncommon fall migrant on Bodega Head), wanted to document it, but just could not get a decent photo.  The bird was very active and every time I tried to position myself for a photo, it would move further away or to the other side of a shrub.

I'm including these images because they're the first photos I've taken of this species on Bodega Head.

This is a Willow Flycatcher (Empidonax traillii).  Note the indistinct eye-ring and the relatively distinct wing bars.  If this was a video, you'd see the bird flicking its tail regularly.  

The bill is relatively long and the throat is relatively white against the gray breast and belly (see below).

Note that the wings are relatively short.

Because vocalizations are helpful when identifying species within this group of flycatchers, I'm also including two sound clips.  Listen closely for the short "whit" call note.  [If you're receiving this post via e-mail, click on the title of the post above to access the sound clips.]

Here's sound clip 1:

wifl1 by nhbh

And sound clip 2:

wifl2 by nhbh

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Works of Artemisia

While tidepooling on the Mendocino coast this week, we encountered a beautiful sea anemone among some sand and shell material:

This is Anthopleura artemisia, sometimes called the Moonglow Anemone.

We looked around and found a few more individuals, but true to form, they were all quite different from one another.  Although books often describe how variable this species can be, I have yet to find an explanation of why this anemone comes in so many different and striking color patterns.

Below is another version of Anthopleura artemisia.  Note the mottled tentacles.

And here's another wonderful example:

If you're interested in finding this anemone, look for it in intertidal areas attached to rocks that are buried by sand and shell debris.

It's a special day when you can look down and be captivated by the oral disc pattern of Anthopleura artemisia!


Friday, August 23, 2013

Coppery fringe

I photographed this moth in Sebastopol tonight.  Not sure what species it is yet, but I thought you might like its coppery fringe and highlights.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

In a pinch

The predator approaches from below:

The prey reacts:

In this case, the predator is a Sunflower Star (Pycnopodia helianthoides) and the prey is a Purple Sea Urchin (Strongylocentrotus purpuratus), photographed on the Mendocino coast on 22 August 2013.  

In the photo above, note that the sea urchin has flattened its spines and extended its pincer-like pedicellariae.  The pedicellariae look like little white stars among the purple spines and tubefeet.  

Although small, the pedicellariae can be very effective deterrents against larger predators such as Sunflower Stars.  The pedicellariae pinch and they contain toxins!  [The toxins in Purple Sea Urchin pedicellariae are not harmful to people.]

The next image shows a better view of the urchin's pedicellariae. 

This urchin was in "full defense mode", which made it easy to photograph the exposed pedicellariae.  In these images you can clearly see the three-parted pedicellariae spread wide open, ready to fend off the approaching sea star.  In the still photo below, the pedicellariae look delicate and flower-like, but it's more appropriate to think of them as menacing and dangerous!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013


Are you curious?  Do you have a guess?

Here's a closer view:

This may be challenging because these embryos are still very young.  They're 36 days old, but are only about one third of the way through their development.  Each one is ~3 mm long.

In the photo below, note the very large eye — the orange pigment is the retina.  And look for the tiny rounded buds — although there are only four in view, there are eight in total (that's a big hint!).

These are the embryos of a Red Octopus (Octopus rubescens)The rounded buds mentioned above are developing arms.  And the large, opaque, balloon-like structure taking up a significant portion of the space inside each capsule is the yolk.  At the water temperatures found in Bodega Bay, we believe it will take over 100 days for them to fully develop and hatch.

Eric was taking care of this octopus in an aquarium during his summer class.  One morning she was behaving differently and he discovered that she had laid eggs!  Red Octopuses produce multiple festoons or strings each containing dozens of small egg capsules.  I tried to photograph her protecting her eggs in the aquarium (see below).  Look for the tiny white eggs being covered by the octopus.  [The octopus attached the eggs so that they were hanging down from the roof of a large empty mussel shell.]

The next picture shows a close-up of the eggs.  They look like tiny grains of rice.

Because this octopus had been kept alone, we weren't sure if the eggs were fertile.  So after a month we decided that we should look at a few of the eggs to see if they were developing.  It was very exciting to discover the little embryos inside!  We'll continue to let the octopus protect her eggs (tremendous dedication on her part!), and we'll maintain this small cluster of eggs in seawater and document their development over time.  Stay tuned for updates, hopefully until hatching in mid-late October!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Worth the wait

This is a follow-up to the Orobanche post on 16 August 2013.  I had wondered about the yellow linings on the lower flower petals and whether they might serve as a visual cue for pollinators. 

Well, the next day I happened to be walking by the Orobanche again.  Lewis had suggested that it would be fun to sit nearby and watch to see which pollinators visit these flowers.  I was on my way to a meeting, but I decided to give it 5 minutes.

I waited 4 minutes, and no insects had come to the flowers.  Why not?  They seemed so perfect wide open and ready for visitors.  Should I leave?  It had been 4 minutes already without any signs of activity.  But I had told myself that I would watch for 5 minutes.  So I gave it another minute.

With about 30 seconds to go, a small bee flew in!  It dove into one flower very quickly, so I waited with camera poised until it appeared (see below).  You can see it emerging head-first, crawling along the yellow nectar guides.

It then flew to at least 3 more Orobanche flowers.  Because of its small size and unpredictable flight pattern the bee was difficult to photograph.  These are the best images I have for now.  I'll be sending the pictures out for help with an identification of the bee.

A view from above:

On the way to another flower (not such a bad place to bee!):

Emerging from the "tube":

Taking off:

Sunday, August 18, 2013


Hundreds of these were washing up on Salmon Creek Beach today:

Below is another view, this time on the open sand, and flipped over:

Are you familiar with these objects?  They're from a marine invertebrate, but their common name is linked to a completely different animal.  The next two images offer a bit of a hint:

Here the mystery object is compared to a bird feather.  As you'll recall, in the past some bird feathers were used as writing implements, or quill pens.  The similar shape of the mystery object to a bird feather led someone to give the mystery object a matching name.  Do you have a guess yet?  

The photo below the next one will give it away, so I'll reveal another clue now.  The object is an internal structure from a swimming mollusc with eight arms and two long tentacles.

And the mystery object is from a...

These are squid pens.  Instead of shells, squid have these long, narrow, chitinous structures inside their mantles.  The pens offer support and serve as a site for muscle attachment.  [If you're curious, the formal name for a squid pen is a gladius.]

I'm not sure why so many squid pens are washing up on the beach right now.  Are the squid being eaten by something?  (Lots of animals like to eat squid.)  Are they laying eggs offshore and then dying?  It was breezy yesterday, so the wind and waves may have driven the pens onto the beach.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Why so glandular?

These pictures are thanks to Lewis's sharp eyes.  I'm so glad he pointed out this intriguing wildflower!  It was growing along the coastal bluff on Bodega Head.  I photographed it today, 16 August 2013.

This is California Orobanche (Orobanche californica).  It's a native perennial with an interesting mode of living.  It doesn't photosynthesize, but instead is parasitic on other plants (in this case, especially species in the Asteraceae family).

The next view is a bit closer and from a slightly different angle:

I was very curious about the yellow linings on the lower petals (see below).  Could they be insect attractants, functioning like runways for potential pollinators?

The other thing I noticed about Orobanche today is that it's covered with glandular hairs.  And I mean covered.  When you look closely there are little droplets everywhere!  They're small, so hard to see in these photos, but the following image highlights some of the glandular hairs along the petal margins.  Why so glandular?