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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Wandering offshore

Well, I'd rather see one alive, but since this is the first time I've seen a Wandering Glider (Pantala flavescens) washed up on a beach in Bodega Bay, I thought it was worth posting a picture:

Last summer I shared a picture of the similar Spot-winged Glider (Pantala hymenaea) washed up on the beach.  If you'd like to compare, you can review the post from 10 July 2014.

While we experience a short heat wave today and tomorrow (over 100°F or 38°C in Santa Rosa today!), I wouldn't be surprised to see more migrant dragonflies appearing in our area.
Keep your eyes open!

P.S.  We don't know what happens to these dragonflies.  Do they fly too far offshore and run out of energy?  Do they get blown out to sea by strong winds? 

Monday, June 29, 2015

Digging for moles

In early March I mentioned that it was a big year for mole crabs (review that post here).

A variety of gulls have been taking advantage of this prey source.

Most recently, on 27 June 2015, I watched California Gulls (Larus californicus) and Heermann's Gulls (Larus heermanni) feeding on mole crabs at Salmon Creek Beach.  Below are a couple of pictures of each (California first, then Heermann's).

Sunday, June 28, 2015

File this away

We haven't done a mystery close-up in a while.

Can you guess what this is?

It looks like a series of waves running towards the shore, doesn't it?

Here's another clue:

And this one will help a bit more:

It still might be hard to tell what type of animal this is.

You're seeing extreme close-ups (under the microscope) of a shell.

I'm guessing it will be difficult to identify the type of shell, so the next photo will reveal the entire shell as I found it on the beach:

There are a few things that stand out about this clam.  It has a very oblong shape; it has narrow ridges that look like rays running towards the edge of the shell (more prominent near the margins); and it's very thin and fragile.  (Yes, it's broken, but it's still worthy of sharing because it's a rare clam in this area!)

Meet Limaria hemphilli.  I've seen various common names for it, but I think my favorite is Hemphill's File Clam.  It was named after Henry Hemphill (from San Diego), who did a lot of the early work on molluscs in California...and its ridges give it a file-like appearance.

Limaria hemphilli is more common south of Monterey.  In fact, most books list Monterey as its northern limit.  But we've seen at least four individuals in Bodega Bay during the past ten years.  I hope to photograph one alive some day they're quite spectacular with many long tentacles reaching far beyond the shell.  And they have interesting behaviors they make "nests," and they swim like scallops!

P.S.  If you're curious, there's a nice picture of a live Limaria available here.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Early birds

Just a quick note to document the early return of Whimbrel to our area.  I photographed this flock of eight on Salmon Creek Beach on 27 June 2015.  These are early migrants the first individuals returning from the northern breeding grounds.  (Most don't start appearing in the Bodega Bay area until July.)

In western North America, Whimbrel nest in subarctic and arctic areas of Alaska and Yukon Territory.  They winter from British Columbia to Chile, with most birds south of San Francisco Bay.  

Friday, June 26, 2015

Gargoyles by the sea

In 1945, Tyrrell wrote "The young, when hatched or only a day or two old, are not things of joy and beauty.  In fact, they reminded us of grotesque gargoyles."  I suppose it's true that raven nestlings are not quite as regal as their parents it takes a few weeks until they're fully feathered.  But look at that mouth!  I was impressed with both the width and the color.  Even without an adult nearby, these chicks were reaching around with their bills wide open, waiting for a delivery of food.

I'm guessing these raven nestlings are about 2 weeks old.  (They'll leave the nest after 5-7 weeks.)  They were photographed on Bodega Head on 25 June 2015.  I was far away from this nest, but cropped the picture later to view the number and condition of the nestlings.  How many can you find?

Thursday, June 25, 2015

First quarter

Did you see the beautiful sunset on 24 June 2015?

I stepped outside to enjoy the shapes and colors of the clouds:

And then I looked straight up and noticed the moon:

This is a first quarter moon, occurring ~1 week after the new moon.  The first quarter moon rises at noon, is overhead at sunset, and sets ~ midnight.  It's called a first quarter moon because it's about one quarter of the way through its orbit around the Earth. 

And although it's often called a "half moon," only one quarter of the bright side of the moon is visible to us.  That is, the dark side directly opposite the bright portion (in this case, on the left) is in shadow.  And the other side of the moon (facing away from the Earth) is also half lit and half in shadow.

P.S.  Some of the facts above are from earthsky.org.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Bearded One

Intriguing, isn't it?  Pretty little tufts of narrow filaments at intervals along the branch.

Here's a slightly zoomed out view:

Meet Dasya binghamiae (formerly Pogonophorella californica quite a name change!).  Not only is this a fun seaweed, but this individual represents a new record for Sonoma County, and the northernmost record of this species in California!

Congratulations are due to Peter Connors for noticing a seaweed that looked "different."  It was growing on the South Jetty (at the entrance to Bodega Harbor).  Although it had been documented in Marin County near the Estero de San Antonio in 1912 and in Tomales Bay in 1995 — it hadn't been observed in Sonoma County until 18 June 2015.

I am familiar with another species of Dasya from the East Coast, whose common name is Chenille Weed.  I haven't seen a common name for Dasya binghamiae.  How about Tufted Dasya?

Its former name, Pogonophorella, basically means "a bearer of beards," presumably for all of those little tufts.  So I suppose another possible name could be Bearded Dasya.  Which name do you like?  Can you come up with something better?

Monday, June 22, 2015

Name that flower

This is Microseris bigelovii, a nice annual wildflower that grows along the coast.  The Jepson Manual doesn't list a common name for it.  When I realized that, I thought it deserved a common name, so I started playing around with ideas.

Below I'll tell you the name I came up with, and here's a hint: I'm not sure you can tell from this picture, but it has a very pretty orange hue.  Do you want to try to come up with a common name?

So I've decided to call this flower Bigelow's Tangerine.  It has a certain ring to it, doesn't it?  And it describes the petal color and refers to the person for whom it was named.

Later I learned that Microseris bigelovii is sometimes called Coastal Silverpuffs, in reference to the rounded head of seeds (similar to a dandelion).  But I think I'll keep calling it Bigelow's Tangerine.  I can't help it...it sounds exotic, and it's fun to say!

Let me know if you came up with other ideas!

P.S.  This flower was named after Dr. John Milton Bigelow a professor of botany at Detroit Medical College who participated in the Pacific Railroad Survey of 1853-1854 and several other collecting trips in California.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Keen on keenae

Not too long ago, Eric wondered why I hadn't posted more pictures of local snails.  I think he was surprised because it was one of the first groups I started studying when I moved to California.  To be honest, I'm not sure what the answer is.  Many of them are small, so perhaps hard to photograph.  But since his observation is true, I'll be trying to share some more snail photographs.

These are Eroded Periwinkles (Littorina keenae) in a narrow crevice in the splash zone (the highest level of the rocky intertidal zone).  They live higher than any other marine gastropod.  They can be out of the water for such long periods of time that some people might consider them semi-terrestrial.

They're called Eroded Periwinkles because their shell erodes as they age.

This is a helpful characteristic when you're trying to identify them, but if you only look at larger, older individuals, you miss out on the wonderful variation and patterning of the juveniles:

As you can see, some are pale, others are dark (mahogany brown?), and they have variable amounts of white.  It's amazing how well these combinations match the surrounding rocks.

Below are two more examples of the pale and dark forms:

Although they blend in well, once you know what to look for, I'm guessing you'll find some Eroded Periwinkles in splash zone crevices during your visits to the coast.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

On the buckwheat

Here's a bit of a mystery.  Can you guess what caused this pattern on the leaf of the Coast Buckwheat (Eriogonum latifolium)?

The next photo will give away part of the answer: 

A small caterpillar was feeding on the outer layers of the Coast Buckwheat leaf.  I'm guessing the caterpillar is either a blue or a hairstreak.  Unfortunately, I'm not sure which one.  If you know which butterfly this is, let me know, and I'll post the answer!

Photos from the Pinnacle Gulch Trail on 19 June 2015.

P.S.  Click on the names for an example of an Acmon Blue, a Gray Hairstreak, or a Coast Bramble Hairstreak.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Orange in the orange

This Hooded Oriole (Icterus cucullatus) has been visiting our yard in the evenings.  He's shy, so I haven't been able to get a better picture yet — this was my first.

I was curious about the species name cucullatus.  Quite appropriately, it means "hooded."  When I was searching for the meaning, I realized there were quite a few birds, and other organisms, with "cucullatus" in their name.

This is tough, unless you're familiar with the scientific names of birds.  Can you think of other birds named cucullatus?  Or here's a small hint: other birds that are hooded?

- Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus)
- Dodo (Raphus cucullatus)
- Village Weaver (Ploceus cucullatus)
- Bronze Mannikin (Spermestes cucullatus)

I suppose it's not surprising, but I also noticed many other species with cucullatus in their name fungi, flowers, snakes, a grasshopper, a beetle, and a copepod.


I hope the oriole comes back for another visit.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

A sign of warm water?

I've heard a few reports of Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola) recently a couple washed up on local beaches (see below), and Lewis saw one swimming at the north end of Bodega Harbor yesterday (near Whaleship Road)!  I don't know how often they enter Bodega Harbor do you?

This relatively small sunfish was photographed on Salmon Creek Beach on 14 June 2015:

Ocean Sunfish are often associated with warmer water.  Although sea water temperatures have dropped down to 10.5°C (51°F) during the last couple of days, just before that they were up to 15.5°C (60°F).  It'll be interesting to see how warm the ocean gets this summer.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Roll out the Barrel

Last night I showed a picture of doliolids washed up on Salmon Creek Beach:

I thought it would be valuable to document this event, and to illustrate what the doliolids looked like en masse on the sand because you might encounter them that way.  However, I felt badly that the picture didn't provide a proper introduction to doliolids.

So here you go!

These animals were ~1 cm long.  Doliolids are barrel-shaped with prominent muscle bands.  (In doliolids the muscle bands completely encircle the animal, whereas in salps the muscle bands are incomplete.)  They have openings at both ends water is drawn in through the oral siphon and expelled through the atrial siphon (see diagram below).  The muscle bands are used for swimming, and for opening and closing the siphons.

Modified from Biology of the Invertebrates, 6th Edition by Pechenik (2009)

Doliolids are active filter-feeders, using a mucous net to capture small particles in the water.

Cilia on the pharynx generate a water current.  As the water passes through the pharyngeal cavity, food is trapped on a mucous sheet (secreted by the endostyle) and then is rolled into a string and transferred to the mouth.  The pharynx is also a site for gas exchange.

Here's another individual in which you can still see the pharynx (at the bottom of the picture):

I was intrigued by the structure of the pharynx, so I've included an even closer view where you can see the gill slits (the long, narrow openings in the pharynx):

Although many doliolids are tropical or semi-tropical, Dolioletta gegenbauri is a relatively cold-tolerant species.  This species is found in northern California, but it's uncommon to see them near shore.  They're open ocean animals, so finding them on the beach is rare (and fascinating!).

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Purple slime

A quick walk at Salmon Creek Beach on 14 June 2015 yielded some interesting sightings.

There were quite a few (perhaps 25?) Blue Buoy Barnacles (Dosima fascicularis).  Many individuals were attached to By-the-wind Sailors (Velella velella), but some had their own floats, as above.

There was a lot of foam, and many bubbles, and you know I can't resist photographing colorful bubbles.  

I couldn't choose a favorite bubble picture, so I've included a few (below).  Which one do you like?  (Some of these bubbles were attached to Velella, which created a vivid blue backdrop.)

One of the most interesting things we saw wasn't easily photographed.  Here's a picture:

I know it doesn't look like much, but I'm guessing you can tell that it looks gelatinous, and purple!

There were probably millions of doliolids washing up on the beach tonight.  Doliolids are planktonic animals related to salps and pyrosomes.  We first noticed doliolids in the surf zone about ten days ago.  This is the first time we've observed large numbers stranding on Salmon Creek Beach.  Although we didn't identify them for sure, it's likely to be Dolioletta gegenbauri.  You can see a nice picture of an individual doliolid at the JelliesZone web site.  (They also include a description of doliolids.)

Unfortunately, the doliolids didn't retain their shape when washed up on the sand, so they just looked like patches of purple slime.  If I get a better picture in the days ahead, I'll post one.  Meanwhile, if you're walking local beaches and see something similar to the picture above, perhaps you'll recognize it as an interesting pelagic animal!
P.S.  Eric also noticed an unusual, strong sulfur smell while walking the beach perhaps emitted by phytoplankton?

Saturday, June 13, 2015

At the high-tide line

Seaside Heliotrope (Heliotropium curassavicum), photographed near Dillon Beach in early June 2015.

Here's a view of the entire plant, spreading across the sand near the high-tide line:

I really like this plant there's something about it's blue-green leaves, and the contrasting flowers out at the tips of the branches.

Some of my older pictures from Bodega Bay in 2007 highlight the flowers and their purplish throats:

I think I also like this plant because it reminds me of another species associated with cobble/gravel beaches Seaside Mertensia (or Oysterleaf), Mertensia maritima.  Although Seaside Mertensia is not found in California (I've seen it in New England and on Grand Manan), it's in the same family, and it shares the wonderful blue-green leaves, fun clusters of tubular flowers, and an association with interesting habitats.

Friday, June 12, 2015


Black Oystercatcher (Haematopus bachmani), Bodega Head, 12 June 2015

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Pleased to meet you!

Janet noticed this young male Chestnut-sided Warbler (Setophaga pensylvanica) in the Bodega Marine Lab parking lot on 9 June 2015.  Luckily, it was still around on 10 June, so I documented it with a few pictures and an audio recording. 

Although I've photographed several Chestnut-sided Warblers in the fall, I think this is the first time I've seen one on Bodega Head in the spring.

After the rain last night and this morning (!), the warbler spent quite a bit of time preening and trying to dry off.  It alternated preening bouts and feeding bouts, and was very vocal, singing loudly throughout the morning.  (I first heard it while working inside at my desk!)

While feeding, it actively looked for insects among the leaves and branches:

And here's the audio recording.  You might need to turn up your volume.  [If you can't see the audio file below, click on the title of this post above to view the file on the web page.] 

Sometimes this warbler's song is translated as "Pleased, pleased, pleased to meet you!"  Chestnut-sided Warblers have two types of songs: one that sounds like that phrase with an accent on the "you," and another that has an unaccented-ending.  Mostly this bird seemed to be singing the unaccented-ending song, but if you listen closely around 12-13 seconds, you can hear a quiet version of the accented "Pleased to meet you" phrase.

What a treat to hear this handsome warbler on the West Coast!