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Saturday, February 28, 2015


The forecast called for a chance of thunderstorms, and possible hail.  I was hopeful, but often these predictions fall short.  That was not the case today.

Around mid-day, we were treated to an amazing series of showers and thunderstorms, including lightning.  If you've been following the blog for a while, you know I can't resist recording thunder.  So here you go, two of the better thunder rolls from today.  Remember to turn your volume up.  If you have headphones, the listening experience is even better with them.  (There are a few birds calling, too — you'll hear Oak Titmice and American Crows.)

In the late afternoon we decided to go for a very short walk in Santa Rosa.  As we started down the trail, I was puzzled by what looked like ice among the grass.  When we looked closer, we realized it was hail!

We had only seen a tiny bit of hail at our house, but this was impressive.  In some areas, e.g., under shade and in low spots, the hail was so dense it looked like snow.  And then Eric had a brilliant idea:

A hailman!  For New Englanders who have been missing snowmen, this was the closest we've come to building one in Sonoma County since moving here 10 years ago.  I just wish the hailman didn't melt so quickly!  (And if we had known there had been so much hail, we certainly would have brought trays to try sledding.  Next time.)

Here are a few more pictures of the hail.  This was around 4-5 p.m.  I wish I had been there several hours earlier to see the new fallen hail.

Next to the trunk of a buckeye tree:

Surrounding stones next to a creek:

With ferns and moss:

The clouds associated with this thunder and hail were impressive.  Two examples after the storms had passed:

Friday, February 27, 2015

Passing through

It's especially fun to see rainbows over the ocean.  This one felt like it was going to pass right through me.  Photographed off Bodega Head on 27 February 2015.

Live long and prosper!

Thursday, February 26, 2015


A quick shot taken at the end of the day on 26 February 2015.  Can you tell that the spray was being blown sideways?  The wind was blowing out of the northwest at about 30 mph.  The spring upwelling season has begun!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Blue on red

I've shown this species of butterfly before, but this is the first time I've photographed an Acmon Blue (Plebejus acmon) nectaring on Red Maids (Calandrinia ciliata).  This picture was taken in the Bodega Dunes on 25 February 2015.  This also gives me a chance to provide updates on a few other butterfly records mentioned on the blog in February.

The next picture shows the Acmon Blue as seen from above, which will be useful when comparing it with the tailed blue from 21 February:

To review, here's the tailed blue (below).  Look for the "tails," and compare the orange/black markings along the edge of the hind wing.

I'm sure you noticed that the Acmon Blue lacked tails and that the tailed blue had fewer orange markings.

You might also remember that I was wondering if this was a Western Tailed Blue or an Eastern Tailed Blue.  I heard from a few people about the identification (thank you!).  The amount of orange on the upper side of the hindwing is helpful.  So is the overall size of the butterfly.  The habitat is potentially useful, too.  In this case, I'm not sure about the size, as I actually thought the two butterflies I saw were relatively large, but it's true I didn't measure them or have much nearby for scale.  It's apparently rare for Western Tailed Blues to have orange on the upperside of the hindwing.  And it's more common to see Eastern Tailed Blues in disturbed, riparian habitats at low elevations (a match for the habitat at Crane Creek Regional Park in Santa Rosa).  All together, I'll identify them as Eastern Tailed Blues for now.

And do you remember the blurry picture of the Western Pine Elfin on 14 February 2015? 


Well, it turns out that this was a state record!  That is, it was an early flight date for California.  Prior to this, the early date for the state was 6 March.  So this Bodega Dunes elfin will go into the record books.

(For examples of California butterfly flight records, you can download The International Lepidoptera Survey Newsletters here.)

Monday, February 23, 2015

Hidden creature

Last week, partially as a reward for finishing field work, Eric had a goal in mind to find an animal he hadn't seen in a while.  I was impressed that he was successful — it's not easy to find!  Even its scientific name means "hidden creature."

Here's a magnified view (under a microscope):

Yup, it's those small orange bumps.  Each "bump" is only about 2 mm across.  And yes, this is a colonial animal (i.e., the bumps are connected to each other).

I'll zoom in for a closer view:

Now you might have guessed that this isn't the entire storythe animals are withdrawn.  But if you wait and watch patiently, you get to see what the rest of the animal looks like:

A little bit different than a bump on a rock, right?  

The next picture shows a view from above (with the mouth in the center).  The number of tentacles provides a clue to the type of animal that this is.

Eight tentacles helps you identify this as an octocoral, one of the soft corals found along our coast.  Because they're small and inconspicuous, many people aren't aware that soft corals occur in this area.

Another fascinating thing is that they've hardly been studied at all.  Very little is known about the biology and behavior of soft corals along the West Coast.

It's easy to be drawn to their beauty (see Eric's next photo), but it's also fun to wonder about various aspects of their lives.  What and how do they eat?  When do they reproduce?  How do they interact with their "neighbors"?  How do they protect themselves?  How long do they live?

Viewed up-close, the texture of their tentacles somehow reminded me of burrowing sea cucumber tentacles and amphibian feet (tree frogs, geckos) at the same time.  Increased surface area for capturing food?

I haven't mentioned it yet, but we believe this is Cryptophyton goddardi.  ("Crypto" = "hidden" and "phyto" = "creature" and "goddardi" from Jeff Goddard who collected the specimen in 1992 used to describe this species.)  To identify soft corals, it's important to look at their scleriteshard spicules made of calcium carbonate embedded in their tissue.  (Sclerites may be useful for structural support or in defense against predators.)  Below are the knobby, microscopic sclerites that help identify this coral.

Here's one more view of this wonderful octocoral colony.  Look for two polyps with their tentacles expanded, one polyp with its tentacles withdrawn (but still visible outside of its base), and several polyps in the background (no tentacles visible).

Although they're small, now you can imagine these corals with their eight pinnate tentacles living under wave-swept rocky ledges.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Which blue?

This wonderful butterfly sent me down a bit of a frustrating path tonight.  It's a "tailed blue" can you see the "tails" trailing off the back edge of each hind wing?  They're hard to see in the field, so you have to look carefully.

Even though I haven't seen one in California yet, my first thought was, "Okay, this is going to be a Western Tailed Blue (Cupido amyntula)."

But then when I started doing some research, I learned that Eastern Tailed Blues (Cupido comyntas) are also present in some parts of California.

So now the question iswhich of the tailed blues is this?

Unfortunately, I don't have my butterfly field guides with me right now.  And when I tried to find out how to separate the two species online, I had a hard time tracking down useful information.  Then I reviewed pictures of the two species.  I've seen lots of Eastern Tailed Blues (on the East Coast), but not many Western Tailed Blues. 

I'll also reveal that I didn't get very good looks at the underside of this butterfly (although it looked quite pale).

After all of this, I still couldn't decide which one this was — a Western Tailed Blue or an Eastern Tailed Blue.

So...I'll either have to ask around for help from people with more experience, or wait until I have access to some butterfly books that perhaps can help point me to characters that might separate the two species.  Can you help?

Here's a slightly different view:

Photographed at Crane Creek Regional Park in Santa Rosa on 21 February 2015.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Sea salt

This is a short story to follow up last night's post.  

In January, we were talking with Jeff about sightings of Hopkins' Rose nudibranchs in northern California this yearsee that post on 3 January 2015.  (We're thinking their appearance is based in part on warm ocean water.)  Then Jeff said, "P.S.  I would also expect higher than usual numbers of Doriopsilla albopunctata."

Jeff is one of the most experienced nudibranch observers on the West Coast.  So I wasn't surprised when his prediction started coming true.

Although I've seen Salted Dorids in this area before, their numbers definitely seem to be higher this year, so it's a good time to watch for them if you're in rocky tidepool areas.

Here are two more pictures — a small individual and a close-up:

Given how warm the water has been for the past 7 months, it's possible that 2015 could be a very interesting year for nudibranchs in this area.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Bright and spotted

I have another nudibranch story, but I'm out of time tonight.  So I'll leave you with a nice picture to brighten your day, and finish the story tomorrow!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Snow white

From a distance, I looked into a tidepool and saw a snow white nudibranch.  When I got closer, I noticed the small brownish spots scattered across the upper surface.  My eyebrows furrowed.  My head tilted.  I recognized this speciesa Ring-spotted Dorid (Diaulula sandiegensis)but it looked different than every other individual I've seen on Bodega Head and in northern California.

Here are two examples. The first is from Bodega Head in July 2010:

Two individuals, side-by-side.  Note the beige or yellow background coloration, and that there are fewer, larger spots.

Below is a second example from Point Reyes in November 2013:

Three individuals, again with beige coloration and fewer, larger spots.

Now here's a picture of a Ring-spotted Dorid from Monterey in April 2013:

So...back to the individual I found today...the first picture of this post.  Which do you think it looks more like?  The nudibranchs from Bodega Head in 2010 (picture 2) and Point Reyes in 2013 (picture 3), or Monterey in 2013 (picture 4)?  

I think the individual I found today looks more like the individual from Monterey.  But I'm not sure what this means.  Is it possible that larvae drifted in the plankton from southern areas to Bodega Head this year?  Given the presence of warmer water along our coast during the summer and fall of 2014, this seems like a possibility.  Or is there something else going on?

Maybe it's just variation within the species, but it's puzzling that I haven't seen any individuals this pale or with this type of ring pattern on Bodega Head until this year.

Monday, February 16, 2015

It takes two

I know, it's been way too long since I've posted a picture of clam siphons.  ;)  At least that's what Tim would say!

I photographed these siphons in a rocky crevice at low tide this afternoon.  They were under water at the time.  Do you remember which is the inhalant siphon (pulling water in) and which is the exhalant siphon (pushing water out)?

The siphon on the left, with all of the frills, is the inhalant siphon, while the siphon on the right, with the more volcano-like opening, is the exhalant siphon.

I showed a clam similar to this on 9 August 2013, but those pictures were taken under a microscope (click here to review them).  I thought it would be worthwhile to show you what the siphons would look like if you encountered them along a rocky shore.

Although I'm not sure 100% sure, this might be a Flat-tipped Piddock (Penitella penita).  But let me know if you think it could be a different species.

Saturday, February 14, 2015


While my family is enjoying record-breaking snow in New England (can you tell that I'm jealous?), and predictions in Boston are for a wind chill of 25 below zero tomorrow, air temperatures reached 62-64°F in Bodega Bay today.

I had 45 minutes in the afternoon for a short walk.  The conditions seemed perfect for butterfliessunny and warm, with only a slight breeze.  I thought I had a chance at finding an elfin, so I decided to check the Bodega Dunes.

Score!  One Western Pine Elfin!  I found them in March last year, but I think this is my first February sighting.  I know these pictures are horrible, but they're the only ones I got before the elfin flew off and disappeared...and I'm excited about sharing this experience with you.  For me, this is a very fun aspect of natural history having a hunch about something, going out to see if you can find it, and then being successful in your search (or even just having fun trying!).

This is a blurry picture from 14 February 2015 (below)...but you can still tell it's a pine elfin (really!).  After the image I'll share a link to a better photo taken in 2013.

I wondered what a pine elfin might use as a nectar source at this time of year.

Red-flowering Currant?

Willow?  (This one was being visited by a Painted Lady.)

I also took a quick look around for other butterflies and spotted quite a few Monarchs and a couple of Red Admirals:

Given the opportunity, I would have traded butterflies for snow today.  But since it wasn't an option, being able to predict that today could be an elfin day was also a fun game!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Dining out on the Innkeeper

I received a few inquiries about mystery animals washing up on Doran Beach during the last few days.  Liz thought they could be innkeeper worms, and Phil sent a photo that made it look like a possibility.  Both of them mentioned that gulls were eating the worm-like animals.  

It seemed worthwhile to confirm the identity of these animals, so I took a quick look today.  Sure enough, quite a few innkeeper worms (Urechis caupo), also known as spoon worms (echiurans), were washing up on the outside of Doran Beach (the bay side, not the harbor side), fairly close to the North Jetty.

Here are a few documentary photos of the gulls (primarily Western Gulls) taking advantage of a food resource not often available to them: 

And here's a close-up of an innkeeper worm washed up on the sand, before a gull encountered it:

This innkeeper worm was not in its best formthat is, they normally live in U-shaped burrows in the mud, and I'm guessing it had been out of its burrow for while and that its condition had deteriorated while washing around in the surf.  But you can still see a few important characteristics — the pink coloration, the sausage-like shape, and the golden setae (bristles) at both ends.  The ring of bristles at the posterior (back) end are quite prominent in good light, while the two bristles at the anterior (front) end are harder to see.

Perhaps you're wondering about why they're called innkeeper worms?  I mentioned they live in U-shaped burrows.  A few other animals are resident alongside the innkeeper worms in their burrowssee diagram below:

From Fisher, W.K. and G.E. MacGinitie.  1928.  The natural history of an echiuroid worm (Urechis)Ann. Mag. Nat. Hist. 10: 204-213.  (a) innkeeper worm, (b) scale worm, (c) pea crab, (d) goby.

So the remaining question with this current observation is: Why are the innkeeper worms washing up on the outside of Doran Beach?

Have you seen this phenomenon before?  Do you have ideas about what could be happening?

As far as I know, most of the innkeeper worms live on the mudflats in Bodega Harbor.  Do some of them live on the outer coast?  Or, were they somehow flushed from their burrows in the harbor and then washed around to the bay side and concentrated near the jetty?  If so, how did this happen?  Could it have been related to the storms last weekend?  Did the heavy rain cause channel scouring that removed some innkeeper worms from their burrows?  It is possible they were impacted by fresh water?

Lots to wonder about.  Let me know if you can think of other scenarios that would concentrate innkeeper worms in this way.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015


This is a follow-up to the post about the cerianthid (tube anemone) larva on 7 February.  

Perhaps you noticed that I mentioned it was carnivorous?  Well, it's easy to look at this larva and wonder how it feeds.  What does it eat?  How does it capture prey?  Does it happen slowly, or quickly?  Has the feeding behavior been observed or described before?

Eric couldn't resist these questions and decided to try feeding the larva in the lab.  He thought small crustaceans would be a possible prey item, so offered them brine shrimp (Artemia sp.) and filmed the results.

Sometimes I'm not sure whether to tell you what to look for, or to let you watch and discover what happened for yourself.  Tonight I've decided on the latter, but I'll also provide some interpretation after the video.

(If you're receiving this post via e-mail and can't see the video, click on the title of the post to go directly to the web page.)

Pretty scary, if you're a crustacean!

You can see how the larva's outstretched tentacles create a broad surface area for potential prey capture...and that the larva bends its aboral end (the end opposite the mouth) to aid in prey capture, too!

At about 23 seconds there's contact with prey, but it isn't sustained and the brine shrimp is lost.

But at 40 seconds there's success.  And at about 1:06 there's a very impressive capturewith a direct sweep from a tentacle to the oral lobes.  The oral lobes open so wide they look like small jaws!

At 1:20 you can see two brine shrimp deep inside the gut of the larva after they've been swallowed. 

Eric's sharp eyes also noticed that the larva seemed to be generating a directional flow of water towards the mouth (probably via the movement of cilia on its tentacles)watch for the small particles moving in that direction at about 1:20 through 1:28.  He wondered if this current might aid in moving prey that have been stunned by the nematocysts towards the mouth.

So there you have it feeding behavior of a tube anemone larva.  Looks could be a little deceivingalthough this larva spends a lot of time drifting quietly with relatively little motion, once prey is encountered, its actions are fluid, swift, and very effective.  Beware!  ;)

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Magician

I managed two distant shots of a Merlin (Falco columbarius) along the Bird Walk Coastal Access Trail today, 10 February 2015.

Friends from Cape Cod call this species "The Magician," and even though I haven't lived there for 10 years now, it's the first thing I hear in my head when I see a Merlin.

Merlins are rare in the Bodega Bay area.  I would love a few more Magician sightings every now and then.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Beach finds

Longer story, but we haven't been able to walk the beach lately.  But we went for a quick walk on Salmon Creek Beach after work tonight.  There were some interesting invertebrates washed up, perhaps due to the large waves during the storms this weekend?

I only took a few photos for the record.  I'll show three different animals.  Do you want to guess what they are?  I showed all three on the blog last year, so if you've been reading for a while, you might have seen them before.  If you're new to the blog, you'll be at a disadvantage, but you can still play along.  Don't worry if they're unfamiliarthese are pelagic animals not often seen onshore!

There were hundreds of Animal A:

Around 50 of Animal B:

And only a few of Animal C:

And the answers are:

Animal A = the swimming bell of a siphonophore, Diphyes dispar

Animal B = a small pyrosome ("fire body"), probably Pyrosoma atlanticum

Animal C = a salp, possibly Salpa fusiformis 

I mentioned that I posted about all of these animals in 2014.  If you'd like to review those entries (or read them for the first time), here are the links:

Note that some of these animals may be associated with warmer ocean water.  The water temperature is still an astounding 14.5°C (58°F) — unusually warm for this time of year.