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!

Monday, February 29, 2016

Gray beauty

Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus), Bodega Head, 29 February 2016

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Leaping through the year

I wanted to find something appropriate for a "leap day" perhaps a frog?  I failed to find one today, but I still had fun trying.  

My heart leaps every time I'm able to spend time outdoors making natural history observations.  This afternoon I felt lucky to spot this handsome animal in the distance.

[Click on the image for a slightly larger version.]

 Bobcat (Lynx rufus), Bodega Bay, 28 February 2016
Enjoy your extra day, and may you experience many natural history moments throughout the year that make your heart leap.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Rolling downhill

A view of the full moon earlier this week.  We smiled when we saw it, because it looked as if the moon was rolling downhill!

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Not so boring

Can you guess how this hole was made?

This beveled and circular borehole was made in a Pacific Littleneck Clam (Leukoma staminea).

And the animal responsible for the borehole?

Lewis's Moon Snail (Neverita lewisii).  Moon snails have an accessory boring organ (ABO) and can secrete an acidic substance that softens bivalve shells.  After securing their prey with a large muscular foot, they'll alternate applying acid (with the ABO) and rasping away the softened shell with their file-like radula until they break through.  The snails then release digestive enzymes to soften the bivalve's tissues and feed on the bivalve through the borehole.

Moon snails are remarkable predators that leave definitive evidence of their past feeding activity.

P.S.  If you missed them before (or just want to enjoy them again!), I posted some nice microscope pictures of a moon snail on 5 August 2013.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

El Niño waves hello

Around here this winter El Niño has meant just a "tiny" bit more wave energy.

Check out today's west swell (the offshore buoy was reading ~17 feet):

This Brown Pelican was "surfing" the wind off the waves.  It provides some scale for these impressive wave faces.  [By the way, this is a real, full-size pelican:)   Brown Pelicans are ~4 feet (1.2 meters) long and they have a wing span of ~7 feet (2.1 meters).]

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Spring beauties

Fetid Adder's Tongue (Scoliopus bigelovii)

Western Trillium (Trillium ovatum)

Both of these photos were taken in Guerneville on 21 February 2016.

For a little more information about these wonderful spring wildflowers (and additional photos), see the Fetid Adder's Tongue post from 28 February 2013 and the Western Trillium post from 18 March 2015.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Which planet is this?

Planet Agate!

No, this photo wasn't taken with a telescope.  This is an extreme close-up of a beach stone.  When we lived in Oregon, we often found agates, or agatized rocks, on the beach.  But this is the first one we have found in the Bodega Bay area.

Check out the sparkling white crystals and the needle-like streaks:

I don't know enough about agates, but I'm wondering if the soft-looking formations along the edges make this a type of "plume agate"?  If you have more experience with agates, we'd love to learn more about how these structures are formed. 

Meanwhile, we'll continue to marvel at the beauty of this stone.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

And the pretty little pearls are...

Here's a photo to review what those little blue pearls looked like washed up on the beach:

I know this mystery animal was challenging.  Eric and I had a hunch about it, but we had several advantages.  In the field, under a 10x hand lens, the "little pearls" looked like bubbles, indicating a possible float.  The blue color was also worth paying attention to.  And if you look very closely, you can see that some of them also have a darker ring at the perimeter.  The most challenging thing about these animals was their size most were under a millimeter across!

Here's one of our first views under microscope:

Now you'll be able to see some important features — tentacles below, a "skirt" with a darker rim, a clear float, and a sail at the top (in varying stages of development).

Here's an even closer view of the individual in the lower left corner:

It might be hard to recognize this animal at this size, and before it's fully developed.  Eventually, the float will flatten out to a level platform with concentric circles, the sail will stiffen, and the shape of the sail will include a small pointed tip in the center.

Perhaps you've guessed by now that these are juvenile By-the-Wind Sailors (Velella velella)?  We've observed them about this small once before, but we've certainly never seen so many tiny Velella stranded at once.

Here's one more view, showing the developing tentacles and hint of the central "mouth" hanging down in the center of the tentacles[Note: In these pictures, the mouth is pointing up towards the top of the frame.]

If you're curious, we have included a short video clip (below).  It highlights the movements of the tiny Velella flexing its mantle (the "skirt" by the way, the brownish color is from dinoflagellate symbionts), and contracting and expanding its developing sail.

P.S.  Last spring, I posted some pictures of a juvenile Velella that was ~1 mm across.  Follow this link to review that post, "Just learning to sail."

P.P.S.  In the video, perhaps you noticed the edge of a Purple Sea Snail (Janthina umbilicata)?   That's a story for another night!

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Pretty little pearls

Last night we encountered a bit of a mystery on Salmon Creek Beach.  Here are some photos of what we saw, so you can try to come up with a guess yourself.  I'll warn you that this is a bit challenging we still didn't know for sure until a view through a microscope confirmed our hunch.

The strand line had a distinctly blue-gray hue:

When we got down on our hands and knees to take a closer look, this is what we saw:

And when I zoomed in close with my camera, we realized there were thousands of small blue-gray objects among the sand grains.  (Many were the same size or smaller than the grains of sand!)

From a distance, they reminded me of "pretty little pearls."  [Given these views from a very small section of the strand line, I can't even imagine how many of these were on the entire beach.]

Any guesses about the identity of these mystery objects?  I'll share the answer tomorrow night.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Washed ashore

Just a quick note that with this recent storm, many interesting pelagic animals have washed ashore.

Do you remember the pyrosomes from 2014?  Quite a few are appearing on the beaches now.

For a description and more information about pyrosomes, review the post from 8 December 2014.

And stay tuned for more interesting discoveries!

Thursday, February 18, 2016


Yes!  We found an entire Pelagic Red Crab (Pleuroncodes planipes)!  This one was washed ashore on Salmon Creek Beach on 18 February 2016.  (It appeared to be a molt.)

Last fall, on 19 October 2015 (review that post here), we discovered two Pelagic Red Crab claws, but this is the first time we've found a whole Pelagic Red Crab (also known as a Tuna Crab) in Bodega Bay.

This species rarely makes it to Northern California.  It's only happened in a few warm-water years.  I did a quick search on the Internet tonight, and it sounds like Pelagic Red Crabs might have been spotted in Washington in December 2015, but we'll have to inquire about whether that record has been confirmed.

It's been stormy recently.  Wave heights were about 16 feet tonight.  Winds were mostly from the southeast, veering towards west late in the day.  Rain showers have been sliding by, bringing ~0.5 inch of rain during the last two days.  Here are a couple of pictures of today's conditions:

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Burnished gold

Allen's Hummigbird (Selasphorus sassin), Bodega Dunes, 16 February 2016

Well, I didn't get quite the picture I was hoping for, but this hummingbird was so striking that I thought I'd share it, and tell you that I'll keep trying to get a better photo!

Monday, February 15, 2016

Warming up

Satyr Anglewing (Polygonia satyrus) 

The air temperature reached ~65°F (~16°C) in Bodega Bay today — pretty warm for February.  I took a quick walk in the Bodega Dunes to look for butterflies.  It was a little late in the day, but I still recorded four species:  Monarch (15+), Red Admiral (6), Satyr Anglewing (2), and Margined White (1). 

If it's warmer tomorrow, perhaps another species or two will be visible!

Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Calling from Petaluma

I recorded some fun bird calls and songs in Petaluma this weekend.

Do you want to try to guess which species of birds they are?

I'll reveal the answers at the end of this post.

[If you're reading this in an e-mail, click on the title of the post above to go directly to the website to see the audio files.]

Be sure to turn up the volume of your speakers. (Listening with headphones is even better.)

Here's Sound 1.  There are some background sounds, but listen for the hollow, knocking notes.  You'll hear three different series of these notes —  at about 3 seconds, 10 seconds, and 16 seconds.

Here's Sound 2.  In this case you'll also hear three different series of notes, but this time the notes are loud whistles and gurgles.

Here's Sound 3.  There's some background sound, but focus on the clear, whistled note.  You'll hear the note five times — at about 1, 4, 6, 9, and 11 seconds.

Okay, are you ready for the answers?

Sound 1: Common Raven (Corvus corvax).  This is sometimes referred to as a percussion-like call.  Some liken it to a drumming woodpecker.  It's apparently only given by females.

Sound 2: Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta).  An impressive vocal array.

Sound 3: Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus).  I don't know much about shrike vocalizations, but I was intrigued by this beautiful call note.  I couldn't find a good written description of it, and only came across one other recording that was somewhat similar.  Have you heard shrikes calling like this?  Is it a sound that just hasn't been described very well?  Or is there geographical variation in shrike call notes?

Now that you've heard the shrike, here are two pictures of the individual that was calling:

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Out of the wind

May you also find a nice, cozy place out of the wind. 

(Least Sandpipers, Salmon Creek Beach, 13 February 2016)

                                                                        ♥                   ♥   
                                                                         Happy Valentine's Day!
                                                                            ♥    ♥    ♥        ♥    ♥   

Friday, February 12, 2016

Rose Quartz and Serenity

I know, I know...you've probably been wondering why I haven't yet posted about the 2016 Pantone Color of the Year.  ;)

Well, I'll admit that at first I was a little uncertain about the choice of this year's color.  They actually chose two colors but it's not "Colors of the Year," it's "Color of the Year". 

When we heard that they chose Rose Quartz (pale pink) and Serenity (pale blue), Eric and I wondered about what we could find in nature to represent both of those colors at once.  

There are probably quite a few options, but we first recognized it in the sky.  These colors are often paired at sunrise and sunset.  So here you go!

Sunrise from Cotati on 11 February 2016:

Sunset from Bodega Head on 11 February 2016: 

P.S.  If you'd like to see last year's post including the 2015 Pantone Color of the Year (=Marsala), click here.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The night after

The night after the new moon (9 February 2016)

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Colorful bubbles

A few more foam bubbles for you, because I just can't get over their colors!

Diversity of color:

Color from the side:

Intensity of color (the copper color is amazing!):

 Swirls of color:

Bubbles in a tidepool, with anemone tentacles below:

Watch for these colorful bubbles after strong northwest winds during the late winter and spring!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

A record from the buoy

Check it out!  A Brown Booby (Sula leucogaster) was spotted in Tomales Bay during an Audubon Canyon Ranch waterbird survey on 6 February 2016.  

Although quite a few Brown Boobies have been reported from the Farallon Islands during the last couple of years (up to 30 individuals in one day!), this is the first record of a Brown Booby in Tomales Bay.

Some of you probably noticed that this bird is sitting on an oceanographic buoy.  The buoy is maintained by UC Davis' Bodega Marine Laboratory.  Although sensors on the buoy are probably recording water conditions associated with El Niño, I'm guessing no one thought it would provide a biological record like this!

Although data collected at the buoy are not available right now, you can read more about the buoy here, and older data are available here.

Many thanks to Roger Harshaw for allowing me to share his wonderful photos.

Monday, February 8, 2016

West swell with an offshore breeze

The waves weren't that big today — around 6-7 feet — but with an offshore wind, they sure were pretty.

P.S.  Hard to believe the air temperature reached over 75°F on Bodega Head today!  Seems like that could be a record for February 8th.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Little swimmers

Remember the Purple Sea Snail (Janthina umbilicata) egg capsules?

When I took this picture, the embryos were still developing inside the capsules.  A few days later, some of the larvae emerged from the capsules as active swimming veligers.

These Janthina larvae are extremely small, and are good swimmers.  Here are two still shots (the best I could manage), but at the end of this post there's a short video clip that's much better.

View from the side:

View from above:

Mostly what you're seeing is the reddish shell and the ciliated velar lobes.  In the video, watch for the long cilia beating along the edges of the velar lobes the motion is useful for both swimming and feeding.

Note that this video was made under a microscope — it's magnified 200x!

By the way, from what we can gather, not many people have filmed Janthina larvae, so although this is a short video, you're probably one of the few people in the world to watch a swimming Purple Sea Snail veliger! 

[If you're receiving this via e-mail, click on the title of the video below to watch the clip.] 

Friday, February 5, 2016

Foamy Friday

Strong winds and waves this week have created perfect conditions for foam:

I don't know why, but I'm fascinated by the conditions that create this thick foam, as well as the movement and structure of the foam. The foam is very dynamic as it interacts with the water surging through the channels.  And it's fun to look at the foam up-close — to see the details of the differently-sized bubbles and how the bubbles fit together, change position, and reflect light:

I haven't looked into this before, but it looks like there's quite a bit of research about the complicated behavior of bubble clusters (or the physics of foam).  See here for an example from UC Berkeley.