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Friday, April 29, 2016

The mouth of the river


The mouth of the North River, with Fourth Cliff (in Humarock, MA) out of view to the right.  Photographed 29 April 2016.

Saturday, April 23, 2016


I first introduced Violet Sea Snails (Janthina janthina) on 16 March 2016.  So far, this is the rarer of the two Janthina species to appear in this area in 2016.  We've seen more than a thousand Purple Sea Snails (Janthina umbilicata) this year, but only three Violet Sea Snails.  

These pictures show a Violet Sea Snail that I found on 22 April 2016.  The first picture is a view from the side.  Next, a view from above, highlighting the amazing bubble raft of this snail.  Both pictures were taken in a small aquarium.  The shell is ~12 mm across.

We don't know how many more sea snails will appear this year, but if there are southerly winds, keep your eyes open for these pelagic beauties!  (I'd love to hear about any sightings.)

Friday, April 22, 2016

As far as you could see

View looking south along Salmon Creek Beach on 22 April 2016:

And here's a view looking north (below).  The entire beach looked like this.  Do you have any guesses about what's creating those white strand lines?

The next picture will give away the answer:

There were uncountable numbers of By-the-wind Sailors (Velella velella) washed ashore today...most were no longer alive, hence the white color.

This followed at least a day and half of southerly winds.  Seawater temperatures rose to ~14.5°C (58°F).

Hope you had a nice Earth Day!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Purple rain

Purple Sea Snail and rain clouds (20 April 2016)

With a recent change in weather, a few more Purple Sea Snails (Janthina umbilicata) washed ashore during the past two days.  South winds seem to be important for their appearance on beaches in this area. 

(If you were wondering, in the first picture there's also a By-the-wind Sailor (Velella velella) float/sail to the left of the sea snail.)

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Headed north

This morning we were treated to very nice views of several Gray Whale cow-calf pairs swimming north past Bodega Head:

Here's a close-up of one of the adults:

I always feel lucky to see whales, especially close to shore!

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Little fighter

We were doing a beach survey...I passed an old, eroded kelp holdfast...but Eric picked it up and looked more carefully.  His sharp eyes noticed something with spots, and when viewed up-close, he recognized it as a tiny crab, only ~4-5 mm across:

There were thin white rings surrounding each dark spot and smaller orange speckles scattered across the carapace:

Eventually I noticed the dark tips on the claws an important clue to the identification of this crab!

Seeing the dark claws made us realize this was probably a juvenile black-clawed crab (Lophopanopeus sp.).

And then we learned about another important feature to look for when identifying this group of crabs: hairs on the different segments of the walking legs:

Unfortunately, I don't have experience evaluating this character, and I might need better pictures, so we'll have to request help from crab experts to see if we can figure out which species of black-clawed crab this is.

P.S.  The scientific name was intriguing to me.  I tried to interpret the meaning behind it.  "Lopho" means tufted or crested, and "panopeus" could refer to a character in Greek mythology known to be a fighter. This is guesswork, but perhaps "Lopho" refers to the hairs mentioned above, and perhaps "panopeus" refers to the strength and behavior of these crabs?  For crabs of the same weight, the crushing force of the claw of a black-clawed crab is known to be more than 5x greater than a shore crab (Hemigrapsus nudus) and 2x greater than a rock crab (Cancer productus)!  Watch your fingers!

Monday, April 18, 2016

So many choices

If you were a bee, which one would you choose?

Many coastal prairie wildflowers are having a great year.  On 16 April 2016, some native bees joined the "party":

Silver Bee (Habropodus miserabilis) landing on Cream Cups (Platystemon californicus)

Yellow-faced Bumblebee (Bombus vosnesenskii) visiting Sky Lupine (Lupinus nanus)

P.S.  Bee there, or be square!

Sunday, April 17, 2016

A busy Sunday afternoon

After Sunday chores, I took a short walk at Sonoma Valley Regional Park (in Glen Ellen).  There was a lot of breeding bird activity, and insects were visible in sunny spots.  [It reached 90°F in Cotati today!]

Here's a selection of images to represent the walk:

Juvenile Bewick's Wren (Thryomanes bewickii) note the shorter bill with yellowish color at the gape

Oak Titmouse (Baeolophus inornatus) with a bright green caterpillar in its bill (it flew into a nest hole with it, likely to feed young) 

Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor) nectaring on Dichelostemma

Mournful Duskywing (Erynnis tristis) — look for the prominent white edges on the hind wings

Unidentified robber fly (Asilidae) with amazing metallic orange eyes!  Robber flies are sit-and-wait predators that feed on other insects.  (If you are familiar with this species, I'd love help with the identification.)

Although not from today, here's an older picture of a different robber fly.  It had just captured a butterfly in the Bodega Dunes (photographed 18 August 2010):

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Two days after the wind

Ocean colors from the coast to the horizon during very calm conditions on 16 April 2016 
(two days after strong northwest winds)

Friday, April 15, 2016

After the wind

The Pacific Ocean after a windy night (photographed 15 April 2016)

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Passing by

Passing squall on the horizon, 14 April 2016 

Peregrine Falcon overhead

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

"Spiky Yoda"

While walking Salmon Creek Beach on two days earlier this month (2 April and 6 April 2016), we looked down to see a few of these distinctive gelatinous bits on the sand:

Although they looked somewhat similar to the nectophore (swimming bell) of a siphonophore that we found last year (see post about Hippopodius on 16 April 2015), they were also quite different in that they had prominent points (especially out to the sides) and abundant little "spines," making them look very spiky.

For scale, here's a photo with Eric's finger.  This nectophore was ~15 mm across.

To fully appreciate the gelatinous spines, here's a view under the microscope:

Meet Vogtia spinosa!  This is the first time we've found this species washed up on the beach.  Usually they live offshore and at depth (often 300-500 meters below the surface).

Unfortunately, I've had trouble finding pictures or diagrams of the entire animal.  I've read that Vogtia is arranged similarly to Hippopodius, so check out the diagram on my previous post to start visualizing what Vogtia might look like.  To clarify, what we found on the beach is a single nectophore when the animal is whole, there might be up to 16 nectophores positioned next to each other along a central stem.   

I can't resist showing one more picture.  Below is the Vogtia nectophore on Eric's thumb.  For some reason, it's shape reminded me of Yoda, so before I identified this siphonophore to species, I casually called it the "Spiky Yoda" nectophore.  What do you think?  Do you see Yoda, too?  ;)

Monday, April 11, 2016

Comparing two sea snails

I have a long list of things I've been meaning to post, so I'm going to check one of them off my list tonight.

Remember the Violet Sea Snail (Janthina janthina) that I showed on 16 March 2016 (see post here)?  I thought it would be useful to post better pictures of its shell, especially in comparison to the related Purple Sea Snails (Janthina umbilicata) shown in January and February 2016.

Here's the first photo of the Violet Sea Snail (Janthina janthina), showing the view with the aperture (opening) of the shell facing up:

And here's a view from the opposite side:

Note how pale Janthina janthina is, especially on the topmost whorls.  Also examine the shape of the striations (lines) on the shell.  They bend gently (in a U-shape) along the center of the largest whorl.  We'll compare these lines in both species soon, but first here's another view of these two features (the paleness and the rounded lines):

To compare Janthina janthina with Janthina umbilicata, I'll show them in the same position.
So here's Janthina janthina:

And here's Janthina umbilicata:

Now you can compare several different features:

(1) the height of the spires.  Note that the spire (topmost whorls) is much lower in Janthina janthina it appears flattened in comparison with the taller spire in Janthina umbilicata

(2) the shape of the striations.  Look for the gently rounded, U-shaped striations in Janthina janthina.  Compare that shape to the strong angled V-shaped striations in Janthina umbilicata.  (Follow the striations from the top of the whorl down towards the bottom.)

(3) a keel in the center of the largest whorl.  Janthina janthina lacks a keel in the center of the largest whorl you only see the striations. While Janthina umbilicata has a noticeable keel in the photo above, it looks like a zipper running through the center of the whorl (located at the bottom of the "V").

Janthina janthina appears to be quite rare in northern California, but now there's a pretty good record of this shell and you'll know what to look for to separate these two species if you are lucky enough to find a sea snail in the future!

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Pausing to preen

I went for a short walk in the neighborhood before dinner.  It was relatively quiet, and then I heard one of my favorite birds calling, a Brown Creeper (Certhia americana).  

I listened carefully, and tried to follow the sound.  Brown Creepers are usually pretty active, searching for food along tree trunks and branches.  Watching for their movement is a good way to find them. Because they call while foraging, the sound usually moves around with them, but this time the call note kept coming from the same location.  Eventually I spotted the bird that was calling:

Instead of feeding, this creeper was actively preening.  It caught me a little off-guard — I couldn't immediately recall seeing a creeper preening before. 

Later I read in the Birds of North America that preening in Brown Creepers has not been described in detail.  It was hard to photograph, as the bird was perched in a shadowy place, but here's one image for the record:

I watched this Brown Creeper preen for ~4 minutes.  Then it started to search for food along the trunk.  It continued to give call notes, apparently keeping in touch with another creeper nearby.

I started wondering about why it might be difficult to observe creepers preening.  I'm guessing it's not because they don't preen that often.  Do they preen in more out-of-the-way places?  Or at times of day when we're less likely to see it?  Are they usually still and quiet when preening, and therefore harder to spot while blending in with the bark? 
P.S.  Click here for some nice pictures of a creeper posted on 5 October 2012.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Greenish sheen

Muir's Hairstreak (Callophrys muiri) nectaring on Western Wallflower (Erysimum capitatum)

Photographed in The Cedars (near Cazadero) on 8 April 2016

Note the greenish sheen, especially on the hind wing.  This is a feature I looked for last year (see post from 29 April 2015), but missed.  It was nice to see it!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Can you believe your eyes?

Well, I'm out of time tonight, but I mentioned the amazing mirages visible during yesterday's heat wave, so I'll post a few pictures so that you can start enjoying and puzzling over them.  [Click on the images for slightly larger versions.]

These photographs show the shoreline north of Bodega Head near Jenner (the Goat Rock area and further north).  Note what appear to be incredibly sheer and improbably tall cliffs (at least for this area) at the waterline, and strange inversions of reality:

The next image is a boat offshore.  My basic (uninformed) impression is that there could be four imagesStarting at the bottom: (1) the boat at the ocean surface, then (2) an inverted image above it, then (3) a second image of the boat upright, and finally (4) a second inverted image above that.  I'm not sure about this, so see what you think:

When the weather clears, I'll photograph the same shoreline shown above for comparison.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Breathe, sip, sigh...

What a crazy day — an air temperature of 84°F (29°C) in Bodega Bay on April 6th!  The heat created dramatic mirages along the horizon in the early evening (those pictures will take a little longer to sort out). 

For now, I'll show a few other favorite sightings from today:

Spouts of two Humpback Whales (Megaptera novaeangliae)

Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia) nectaring on a Seaside Daisy (Erigeron glaucus)

Looking west across Bodega Harbor at sunset

Tuesday, April 5, 2016


Glorious Top Shell (Calliostoma gloriosum), photographed 2 April 2016

The northern geographic range limit for this species is often listed as San Francisco, but I've found several specimens broken shells like this one — washed ashore in the Bodega Bay area during the last 12 years. 

Glorious Top Shells are supposedly more common in deeper water, so perhaps they occur offshore, and it takes a lot of wave energy (like we've experienced this winter) to push them onto the beach?

P.S.  Recently, I've shown two other top snails Channeled Top Snail (Calliostoma canaliculatum) and Purple-ringed Top Snail (Calliostoma annulatum), but I have yet to show the most common top snail in this area, Blue Top Snail (Calliostoma ligatum).  Some day!

Monday, April 4, 2016

Right off the bat

I started walking down the beach tonight, and immediately noticed this Juvenile Bat Star (Patiria miniata) with a beautiful color pattern.

Okay, I'll admit it.  This bat star was fun (juvenile sea stars are always nice), but it also seemed appropriate to use a baseball phrase today.  Happy Opening Day!

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Blue Toadflax

Blue Toadflax (Nuttallanthus texanus, formerly Linaria canadensis) 
 Photographed in the Bodega Dunes, 24 March 2016

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Two mysteries solved

This is a tale of two mysteries solved.

This year, Eric and I have found several shell fragments of a mystery snail washed up on Salmon Creek Beach.  We have encountered five of them (one just today!), but here are the four that we had found by late March (in order of discovery, from left to right they range from ~2-3.5 cm long):

The first three pieces were fairly incomplete, and didn't provide enough clues to identify the snail.  However, the fourth piece was more substantial.  Here are two different views:

Finding this larger piece gave me hope, and I started looking through various identification guides for a match.  Unfortunately, I didn't have any luck identifying this snail using that method.  (Frustrating!)

Then, one day, I was browsing Jim Watanabe's website for a different reason, and I happened to scroll down to the bottom and realized I was looking at a beautiful picture of our mystery snail!  

Meet Carpenter's Turrid (Megasurcula carpenteriana).  You can see Jim Watanabe's picture of a live animal here.  It appears that Bodega Bay is the northern limit for this subtidal snail.

Then came the second epiphany.  Years ago, Jim Carlton brought me a broken shell that one of his students had found on a beach near Bodega Head.  None of us knew what it was at the time.  For years I have been keeping that shell in the back of my mind, hoping to identify it some day.

Just after I figured out that our shell fragments were Carpenter's Turrids, I realized that it was very likely that Jim's student's shell was also a Carpenter's Turrid.  Whew!  It's fun to have mysteries, but it's also nice to solve them.

P.S.  In 2014, I shared pictures of some wonderful snail larvae (veligers) that we thought might belong to a turrid snail.  As a group, turrids are predominantly southern, but now we're wondering if the veligers with the pretty orange spots could possibly be Carpenter's Turrids?  As is often the case, when one (or two) mysteries are solved, others appear!