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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Between showers

It was a rainy day on the Outer Cape, but we had a few interesting observations between showers:

Salt marsh near Boatmeadow Creek in Eastham, with Cape Cod Bay in the background

In the late afternoon, we walked the edge of a different salt marsh near Uncle Tim's Bridge in Wellfleet.  Along with the beautiful colors of the grasses in Duck Creek, we came upon the following:

Juvenile Mud Fiddler Crab (Uca pugnax)

 Egg shells of a Diamondback Terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin)

Hundreds of small, silvery fish at the upper edge of the marsh.  Perhaps they were stranded by the high tide?  

Here's a close-up:

My best guess on the identity of this fish is a juvenile Menhaden (Brevoortia tyrannus) growing up, we called them Pogies.  If you can confirm, or have a different guess, let me know.

I didn't get any pictures, but we also had nice views of terns, jaegers, shearwaters, and Gray Seals off Lecount Hollow Beach in Wellfleet.

Not too bad for a stormy September day!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The "striped collector"

Eastern Chipmunk (Tamias striatus) eating an acorn in Alstead, New Hampshire, on 27 September 2015.

Although we knew "striatus" means striped, we weren't sure about "Tamias."  After doing some research, it sounds like Tamias means "collector" or "keeper" an appropriate name for an animal that stores nuts and seeds underground for the winter. 

P.S.  I posted a photo of a Sonoma Chipmunk (at Point Reyes) on 27 May 2012.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Fall colors

Fall colors, in migrants and foliage, in Alstead, NH, on 28 September 2015:

Black-throated Green Warbler (Setophaga virens)

Black-and-white Warbler (Mniotilta varia)

Blue-headed Vireo (Vireo solitarius)

 Leaves turning color along the shore of Lake Warren

Sunday, September 27, 2015

In the shadow

The full moon at 8:58 p.m. EDT:

At 10:06 p.m. EDT, with the majority obscured:

And at 10:16 p.m. EDT:

We felt lucky to be in New Hampshire on a clear night for this amazing lunar eclipse!

CORRIGENDUM (28 September 2015): I corrected the time of the first photo to 8:58 p.m.  (I just made a mistake when typing it in.)  Thanks to Peter for catching this mistake!

Friday, September 25, 2015

Sunset clouds

Sunset clouds from Cotati, CA, on 23 September 2015

Wednesday, September 23, 2015


"You can observe a lot by watching.
— Yogi Berra

And another of my favorite quotes about observing:

"There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something.
— J.R.R. Tolkien (The Hobbit)

In the air

Sanderlings, Salmon Creek Beach, 20 September 2015. 

Happy Fall!


Monday, September 21, 2015

What eyes!

In mid-August, I wrote about seeing my first Western Pondhawk (Erythemis collocata) on Bodega Head.  (I took a distant photo of a female on 15 August 2015.)  A few weeks later, I returned to the same spot and photographed this male.

What amazing eyes!

Here's the entire dragonfly:

And a view from the side:

It'll be interesting to see if the sightings this year (including at least one ovipositing female) result in emerging individuals at this wetland next year.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

From 20 miles offshore

A few pictures from the pelagic trip to Bodega Canyon and Cordell Bank on 18 September 2015:

 Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel (Oceanodroma furcata)

Northern Fulmar (Fulmaris glacialis

Pomarine Jaeger (Stercorarius pomarinus)

Black-footed Albatross (Phoebastria nigripes

Wings over wind over waves

(Black-footed Albatross with 6.5-foot wing span)

Many thanks to Debi Shearwater for 35 years of organizing pelagic trips out of Bodega Bay and giving so many people a chance to learn about offshore wildlife.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Long or short?

Yesterday was the third time I've seen common dolphins on a pelagic trip to Bodega Canyon and Cordell Bank.  Before 2014-2015, it would be more typical to see Pacific White-sided Dolphins or Northern Right Whale Dolphins, so I'm still learning how to separate Short-beaked Common Dolphins (Delphinus delphis) and Long-beaked Common Dolphins (Delphinus capensis).

On 18 September 2015, several groups of common dolphins approached the boat and rode the bow waves.  

Before showing the pictures, here's a reminder about characteristics to look for to separate the two species:

A Short-beaked Common Dolphin has (1) a shorter beak, (2) a brighter front panel (of the hourglass pattern along the side), especially between the pectoral fin and the eye, (3) a dark eyeline between the beak and the eye contrasting with the bright white front panel, and (4) a dark line extending from the pectoral fin to the vent. 

This picture is from the first group of dolphins:

And now here's a photo from the second group: 

I'm leaning towards calling the first individual a Long-beaked Common Dolphin, and the second individual a Short-beaked Common Dolphin.  What do you think?

Also, I reviewed my dolphin pictures from the September 6 boat trip.  I'm not sure about the identification now.  On the boat, we thought they were Short-beaked.  But now I'm going to retract that initial identification because I'm wondering if they could be Long-beaked.  If you'd like to review those pictures yourself, check out the post from 10 September 2015.  Let me know if you have any thoughts about the identification.

Watching these fast and graceful swimmers is always a trip highlight!

Friday, September 18, 2015

Long but short

Long-tailed Jaeger (Stercorarius longicaudus), without its long central tail feathers.  
Photographed near Cordell Bank on 18 September 2015.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Under and over the moon

I stepped out of the house around sunset and heard a loud, rasping call.  

I looked up to see this:

A White-tailed Kite (Elanus leucurus) was protesting being attacked by American Crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos).

I was excited to see a kite because I had seen ~10 kites about a week ago and it looked like they were en route to a roost site.  I had looked for them again, without any luck.

Tonight was different.  I watched at least 15 individuals (it was hard to keep track) fly into a roost site.  Several were perched in a high tree nearby:

And then I could see individual kites gliding in from various locations.  Sunset was ~7:15 p.m., so the light was dim, but there was a beautiful crescent moon near the roost site:

White-tailed Kites roost communally.  According to the Birds of North America account:
  • As many as 100 kites have been recorded at one roost site, but more often there are 10-40. 
  • The kites approach the roost site individually, within ~1 hour of sunset. 
  • The roost sites are sensitive to human disturbance. 
  • Interestingly, there are a lot of "unknowns" about roost sites it is not known if the same roost sites are used repeatedly, how the roost sites are selected, or what function they serve.

One White-tailed Kite is beautiful enough, never mind dozens coming into roost!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Eye of the sun

We didn't see many Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola) on our September 6th boat trip, but this one was close to the boat.  Note the very large eye, and the interesting skin pattern.  [Click on the picture for a slightly larger version.]

For views of an entire sunfish, see the post from 24 August 2014.

I'll be posting a few more pelagic trip photos, so stay tuned!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Small but swift

Just a quick post to document Vaux's Swift (Chaetura vauxi) at Bodega Head on 8 September 2015.  They're considered an uncommon migrant here.  This is the first time I've managed to photograph them.

This is a small swift the smallest in North America at about ~11 cm (~4.5 inches) long.  

Above, and below, note the paler throat and upper breast:

The next picture is a silhouette, but you can see the spines on the tips of the tail feathers used for support when perching vertically.

Now I can only hope to photograph a Black Swift (Cypseloides niger) on Bodega Head!  (There are only two records for Black Swift on Bodega Head, from 1977 and 1980.)

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Straight outta Santa Barbara

Wow is right!

Here's another view:

And another (the branching digestive gland is visible within the cerata cores):

I'm guessing many of you might know what type of animal this is.  The next picture will show you the entire animal as we found it on 12 September 2015:

Meet the Santa Barbara Janolus (Janolus barbarensis).  Spectacular, isn't it?  As the name suggests, this is a southern species whose northern range limit is generally considered to be San Francisco.  Above, this nudibranch is shown with bryozoan prey (Bugula sp.)

Because of warm ocean temperatures, Jeff had told us to keep any eye out for this species.  Then yesterday, Shawn Brumbaugh (SRJC) and Chris Kwan let us know they had found one at the Spud Point Marina. 

Due to its rarity (and beauty), Eric and I went to see if we could find one ourselves.  After an hour, Eric's sharp eyes and persistence paid off.

Note that the nudibranch's rhinophores (sense organs) are more yellowish, with slightly darker blue tips:

Here's an even closer view of a rhinophore:

If you're wondering, this individual was between 60-65 mm (2.3-2.5 inches) long — a large nudibranch!  (Most books say this species reaches up to 50 mm long.)  See below for a view with Eric's thumb for scale:

We were very excited to find this species in Bodega Bay.  It sounds like the Santa Barbara Janolus prefers more protected sites, so if there are bays/harbors with docks near you, it might be worth a look! 

Many thanks to Shawn and Chris for bringing their discovery to our attention! 

ADDENDUM (13 September 2015): Exciting news! Jeff Goddard confirmed that this is a northern record for Janolus barbarensis.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Mystery sound in the backyard

I wasn't going to post tonight, but then something happened and I couldn't help myself.

I'll post a sound clip first to see if you can identify the sound.  I realize this is basically impossible, but I thought you might like to consider the possibilities.  It might take an entire posse of listeners to figure this out!

[If you're reading this in an e-mail, click on the title of the post to access the sound file.]

Below is a place holder picture, while you think about the sound above.  Feel free to replay it a few times, if needed.  (Be sure to turn up your speakers, or wear headphones.)  The answer will be revealed after the next photo.

Okay, do you have a guess about the sound?  Do you possibly need some hints?  

The sound involves chewing and slurping...by a mammal that I haven't posted about yet.

The mystery sound is:

An Opossum (Didelphis virginiana) eating a peach!

We had been hearing a sound in the backyard at night.  Tonight it was very loud, so we went out to look around and spotted this Opossum under a peach tree.  It was just starting to eat a very ripe peach, and seemed very focused on the task.  So I got my recorder and documented the sound of the Opossum eating, and then I came back with a camera and took a couple of quick pictures in the dark.

The Opossum has been enjoying some very nice late-night snacks!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Common again

Four Short-beaked Common Dolphins (Delphinus delphis) along side the New Sea Angler near Cordell Bank.
During most years Pacific White-sided Dolphins
(Lagenorhynchos obliquidens) would be more common than Common Dolphins...but as on last year's trip in early September, on 9 September 2015 we only observed Short-beaked Common Dolphins.
I didn't get great pictures this year, but it seems worth documenting the presence of Short-beaked Common Dolphins in this area.  They didn't stay near the boat for long, but we estimated there were ~30 individuals (or so).

Note the prominent beak, the uniformly gray dorsal fin and the cream color along the side. Pacific White-sided Dolphins have a shorter beak,  much more white on their dorsal fin, and patches of gray and white on their sides.  To compare, review the post from 3 September 2012.

One more picture:

Although the offshore water temperature on 9 September was ~54°F (~12°C), this summer it has reached ~64°F (~17°C).  Short-beaked Common Dolphins have a more southerly distribution, so perhaps this year's developing El Niño or last year's lingering "blob" of warm water has drawn them north again or encouraged them to stay.

P.S.  Click here for Short-beaked Common Dolphin photos from 2014.  

CORRIGENDUM (19 September 2015): After seeing more common dolphins on 18 September, I'm now leaning towards calling the dolphins in the photos above Long-beaked Common Dolphins.  I wish the pictures were better, but for now I'm at least making sure you know that I have questions about the identity of the dolphins above based on what can be seen in these pictures.