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Monday, November 30, 2015

Suckers for the low zone

This might be tough, but do you want to guess what type of animal this is?  This is a close-up view of one end of the animal:

If you think that looks like a sucker, you're right!  It's a magnified view of a caudal sucker (the tail end).

Here's a look at the other end:

If you think that looks like a sucker, you're right again!  ;)  It's a magnified view of an oral sucker (the mouth end). 

I'll also tell you that this is a marine invertebrate.  So you need to visualize an animal with suckers at both ends...

Are you ready for the answer?

The next photo will reveal the entire animal after Eric discovered it attached to a rock in the low intertidal zone:

If you think that looks like a leech, you're right!  This is Trachelobdella oregonensis.   It was ~30 mm long when outstretched.

The diagram below highlights some of the main features of this species.  Look for (1) overall dark coloration; (2) the pale caudal sucker; (3) the small oral sucker with lighter patterning; and (4) 10 pairs of "pulsatile vesicles" = the bumps along the sides.

Modified from The Light and Smith Manual (edited by James Carlton) 

And here's a view of the leech while it was attached to the side of a bowl by its caudal sucker.

Although this individual was not attached to a fish, Trachelobdella oregonensis is known to be a parasite on a specific fish host — Cabezon (Scorpanichthys marmoratus).

The Light and Smith Manual states that this species has only been found from the central Oregon coast.  However, I searched the Smithsonian's invertebrate collection, and two California locations are represented: Crescent City and Pacific Grove.  So this record from 26 November 2015 could be a first for the Bodega Bay area.  [Yes, we found this leech on Thanksgiving (after our holiday meal) — there are so many interesting things to discover in the low intertidal zone that we couldn't resist a short field trip during one of the better low tides of the year!]

One more quick fact: Of ~700 species of leeches worldwide, only ~100 of those are marine.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

A new home for Hilton's

Meet Hilton's Aeolid (Phidiana hiltoni), a distinctive nudibranch (sea slug).  This picture represents the northernmost site record for this species!  On 25 November 2015, Eric spotted ~7 individuals in the low intertidal zone at Pinnacle Gulch in Bodega Bay.  Prior to this, the farthest north this species had been recorded was Bolinas.  It's occurrence north of Point Reyes this year is likely associated with the developing El NiƱo event.

Note the long tentacles with a narrow orange stripe; the two rhinophores orange at the base and white above; and the dark cerata with light tips.

To see this striking nudibranch in action, check out this short video clip (thanks to Eric!).  [If you can't see the video in an e-mail, click on the link below.]


Because Hilton's Aeolid is more common from Bolinas south, any records north of Point Reyes are of great interest.  If you observe any, I'd love to hear about it!

P.S.  Some of you might recall that I briefly introduced this voracious predator a few years ago see the post from 27 April 2013.

Saturday, November 28, 2015


Just after sunset, from Bodega Head, 28 November 2015

Friday, November 27, 2015

Afternoon reflections

Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus), Abbotts Lagoon, 27 November 2015

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Purple spines

We have some exciting marine invertebrate discoveries to share, but I need a little time to sort through the photos.

For now, I'll share one of my favorite pictures from a tidepooling excursion today:

This is a small juvenile Giant Sea Star (Pisaster giganteus).  It was only ~6 cm (2.3 inches) across.  Can you see the short, purple-colored spines?  [Click on the photo for a slightly larger version.]  That's one way to differentiate a Giant Sea Star from an Ochre Sea Star.

For some close-up images of Giant Sea Star spines, review the post from 26 April 2013.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015


Brrrr!  The air temperature reached near 30°F this morning in Cotati.  It was fun to see these "frosty evergreen trees" on our windshield.  Do you see them?  (Or something different?)

Happy Thanksgiving to all!  Stay warm!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Good tidings

These pictures were taken at work today to document the "King Tide" on 24 November 2015.  The tide was predicted to reach about 6.58 feet at 8:56 a.m. this morning (which is a higher high tide for the Bodega Head region).  Tomorrow will be slightly higher = 6.66' at 9:38 a.m.  [For anyone who is curious, it looks like Dec. 24th will be the highest tide of the year = 6.68' at 9:18 a.m.]

I tried to capture a variety of shoreline settings.  See what you think!

Looking north along Salmon Creek Beach:

Looking south along the outer coast of Bodega Head:

Towards the south end of Horseshoe Cove: 

Gaffney Point salt marsh in Bodega Harbor.  Note that the salt marsh, between the foreground and the signs, is almost completely covered.  (That's the town of Bodega Bay and Mount Roscoe in the background.)

And one more, although not really of the high tide.  The light on the ocean was fantastic after the front passed through.  The wind was blowing ~25 mph from the north northwest:

P.S.  If you'd like to see another example of a local "King Tide," you can review the post from 13 December 2012.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Spiralling in

Channeled Top Snail (Calliostoma canaliculatum), photographed along the Bodega Bay shoreline on 23 November 2015.

Here's a view from the side as the snail was crawling.  The tentacles and a small dark eye are visible on the right side.  You can also see the foot speckled, with a fuzzy-looking texture.  And if you look closely, there's a partial view of the operculum ("trap door") golden and circular (although only half is in view below the back edge of the shell).

Here's one more view from below, when the snail was trying to right itself.

What a pretty foot!  And a beautiful snail.  I love the iridescence along the spirals.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The small singer

Lesser Goldfinch (Spinus psaltria) near the Lydia Park Community Garden in Rohnert Park on 22 November 2015.

A male is above, while a much paler female is below.

The "Lesser" in their common name refers to their small size about 1/2" smaller (in length) than an American Goldfinch. 

Someday I'll have to record the intricate song of Lesser Goldfinches.  Their species name, "psaltria", means "singer."

Saturday, November 21, 2015

To Catch an Acorn Thief

This afternoon we watched two striking Lewis's Woodpeckers (Melanerpes lewis) at Crane Creek Regional Park.

They spent some time hawking insects from the tops of trees providing nice views in flight:

We also watched one of the woodpeckers feeding on cached acorns in an oak tree:

Then we noticed that someone else was interested in the acorns, too:

Did you spot the Oak Titmouse at the top of the picture?

Here's a different view of the two species in one photo.  Can you find the titmouse?

(The titmouse is just right of center at the bottom of the image.) 

It was interesting to watch the woodpecker and the titmouse interact.  The woodpecker would remove an acorn from a crevice, then bring it to the horizontal branch to break it into pieces.  Sometimes the woodpecker would fly off before it had finished the entire acorn, and the titmouse would be waiting to sneak out to the branch to steal some "crumbs."  But the woodpecker was vigilant and protective.  As soon as it realized the titmouse was near the branch, the woodpecker swooped down to chase the titmouse away. 

Sure, the woodpecker had done all the work of finding and caching the acorns in the first place.  And the titmouse was behaving like a thief (or kleptoparasite).  But watching this, it was hard not to root for the titmouse, at least occasionally.

Although most of the titmouse's attempts ended in failure, here's what happened at least once:

Yes!  The Oak Titmouse was successful in securing a piece of an acorn. 

It made us wonder — How much time does the titmouse spend trying to sneak in for "crumbs"?  How much time does the woodpecker spend trying to defend its cache?  It also made us appreciate how highly valued acorns must be.

P.S.  If you're interested in seeing the Lewis's Woodpeckers, try walking the Creek Trail at Crane Creek Regional Park in Santa Rosa.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Big and little

 So, a big Calidris and a little Calidris walk onto a sandbar...

Just kidding!

Two Red Knots (Calidris canutus) and a Sanderling (Calidris alba) along Salmon Creek Beach at sunset.  [There were at least three Red Knots feeding among the other shorebirds.]

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Beamed across

Here's something interesting that washed up on Doran Beach:

Although it's hard to tell, this beam was about 7 feet long.

Can you see those holes in the end of it?  Do you know what kind of animal made the holes?

Here's a view of some of the smaller holes on the top of the beam:

The holes belong to "shipworms" indicating that the beam was at sea for a while.  Shipworms are actually not worms at all, but rather are marine bivalves small clams that tunnel through submerged wood.

I decided to share pictures of this beam and the shipworm holes because it might have an unusual origin.  Jim let me know that it's possible this is a piece of debris from the Japanese tsunami in 2011.  He's been involved with the Japanese Tsunami Marine Debris project, and there are characteristics of this beam that indicate a possible origin from the Tohoku coast of Honshu.  (An expert is working on identifying the shipworms — they might be a species from the Western Pacific called Psiloteredo.)

It's unknown when the beam washed up at Doran, or how it made its way across the Pacific Ocean, but it's amazing to think about such a long-distance journey.

P.S.  If you'd like to read a little more about shipworms, there's a Wikipedia article here.

P.P.S.  For more information about the Japanese Tsunami Marine Debris program, visit NOAA's web site.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Striped grain-eater

Someday I'll get better pictures of a Lark Sparrow (Chondestes grammica), but I thought I'd share this one for now because it's such a pretty bird.  This species is rare on Bodega Head, but more common inland.

I ran into a flock of about 10-12 Lark Sparrows feeding on the ground at Crane Creek Regional Park on 15 November 2015.

I hadn't looked into the meaning of their scientific name before, so it was fun to learn that it means "striped grain-eater."  

The name is appropriate in that Lark Sparrows eat a lot of seeds (especially from grasses).  However, I was intrigued to learn that ~25% of their diet can be insects (primarily grasshoppers!).  [Diet facts from The Birds of North America Online.]

Monday, November 16, 2015

Sittin' on the dock near Bodega Bay

Here's a close-up mystery photo for you.  Can you tell what type of animal this is?  (The answer is below the photo.)

These are the gill plumes of a nudibranch (sea slug).

Below is a view of the entire nudibranch:

Matt let us know that Kelly had spotted a few Polycera hedgpethi at Spud Point Marina.  I took a look on 14 November 2015 and found a few individuals.

On the West Coast, Polycera hedgpethi is generally a more southern species most books list Marin County as the northern limit.  Although it has been noted in Bodega Harbor before, it might not be that common here.  It's another species that could be responding to warmer water temperatures.

This species has bright yellow markings, but it blends in well with the background of colorful marine invertebrates (in this case, tunicates, bryozoans and tubeworms) living on the docks:

Polycera hedgpethi eats Bugula the purple, branched bryozoan in these photos.  Searching among patches of Bugula is a good way to find this nudibranch.  I'd love to hear about it if you spot any!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

What's for dinner?

This afternoon, I was watching this Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) eat fruit from a shrub at Crane Creek Regional Park in Santa Rosa.

I was intrigued because I couldn't remember if I had seen flickers feeding on fruit before.  They're primarily ant-eaters. 

Can you tell what type of fruit this flicker was feeding on?

Warning: The next picture will give away the answer.

Okay, here we go.  He was feeding on...

Poison Oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum)!  Perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised.  But if you react to Poison Oak like I do, then you wonder how anything can get that close to it, never mind eat it!

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Rolling in

A 12-foot northwest swell made for some nice waves this afternoon.  Photographed from Bodega Head on 14 November 2015.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Among the cones

Well, I'm afraid these are just documentary shots.  I heard and saw a few Red Crossbills (Loxia curvirostra) today along Occidental Road, about 1.5 miles east of Occidental.  They were feeding at the top of a very tall redwood.  So that you, too, can keep your eyes and ears open for them here are two pictures from 13 November 2015, and a link to an audio recording from Sebastopol in 2012.

There are at least three Red Crossbills in the photo above — all on the right side of the trunk, at the top, middle, and bottom of the picture.

And here are two more crossbills showing their red color (one in the upper right, another in the lower left).

The link to audio recording from Sebastopol on 9 December 2012 is here.  The crossbills I heard today sounded similar to those from 2012, so I'm guessing they were also Type 3 Red Crossbills.  [For more information about Red Crossbill types, here's an article by Matt Young.]

Hearing their call notes is one of the best ways to find crossbills, so listen for their two-parted call, especially where there are concentrations of cones.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The masses

Back in September, while doing a shorebird survey in Bodega Harbor, a couple of different egg masses on the tidal flats caught my eye.

They attracted my attention not only because they were so noticeable, but also because I have been doing shorebird surveys in the same area for over 10 years now and I didn't recall seeing these egg masses before.

One was bright yellow and wrapped around algae or seagrass:

The other was bright white, shaped like a corkscrew, and embedded in the sand:

I finally tracked down the snail making the yellow egg masses.  It was a bubble snail, Haminoea vesicula.  Here are two images to help you visualize how the yellow egg masses consist of rows of developing embryos:

I showed examples of adult bubble snails on 4 June 2015, so check out those pictures here.

I kept meaning to return to find out which species had produced the white corkscrew egg masses, but hadn't found the time.  Today Jeff helped me out he identified the distinctive egg masses as belonging to Rictaxis punctocaelatus.

Below are two close-ups of these spiraled egg masses: 

I haven't seen adult Rictaxis yet (it's been on my wish list!), but if you'd like to see examples of these wonderful local gastropods, check out pictures here.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Where have all the sunflowers gone?

This picture of a juvenile Sunflower Star (Pycnopodia helianthoides) was taken on 12 July 2014.  I haven't seen a Sunflower Star in the intertidal zone since then.  It appears that this species has declined dramatically in the Bodega Bay area, likely due to the effects of wasting disease. 

This juvenile was ~70 mm across, and had ~14 arms.  Here's a picture for scale:

I showed a series of smaller Sunflower Stars from December 2013 through May 2014.  If you'd like to review, links to previous pictures are below:

Here's hoping that some of these juvenile Sunflower Stars have survived:

And that someday soon we'll be seeing adults again like this one from 12 May 2012.