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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Fresh fish for lunch

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus), along Westshore Road in Bodega Bay, 28 November 2016

Monday, November 28, 2016

Hide nor hare

I'm excited to share an update about the identity of last night's mystery object!  Here's a reminder of the object that I wasn't sure about:

I had wondered about a bivalve periostracum (the outermost layer)...and also about a snail's operculum (the "trap door"), as had a few other folks.  But I wasn't satisfied with either possibility.

For example, after checking various books, I couldn't find any clam with this shape.  And, although I started looking at snail opercula, and some of them were closer in shape, the material (very thin and flexible), the chalky layer, and an odd twist along one side of the shell, didn't match with any operculum I was familiar with.  Here's a picture of the twist that puzzled me:

However, a breakthrough came today via a Twitter exchange!  Annaliese (at Oregon State University) sent out a request for assistance and Rebecca (at the California Academy of Sciences) responded with an identification, including a photo! 

Here's the photo of a dried specimen from the California Academy of Sciences:

Compare that with my mystery specimen from Dillon Beach (now dried out, see below):

You can see how similar the shape and texture are.

I agree with Rebecca that this is a good match with her sample which is the *internal* shell of a California Sea Hare (Aplysia californica)!  I'll admit that I hadn't known (or had forgotten) that Aplysia had an internal shell, and I've certainly never seen hide nor hare of such a shell.  ;)

I know that this phenomenon might be confusing at first, but there are some snail relatives (like sea hares) that have internal shells that aren't visible from the outside.  Here's a link to a diagram showing the development of a California Sea Hare (see Research study 2).  Note that they have an external shell when very young, but the shell becomes internal in the adults.

Many thanks to Rebecca and Annaliese for solving the mystery!

P.S.  Adult California Sea Hares were observed in Sonoma and Marin counties in 2015 and 2016.  To review what the adults look like, see the posts from 28 September 2016 and 23 May 2015.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Help with a mystery object?

Okay, this one is a true mystery.  We found this object while walking Dillon Beach on 25 November 2016:

Our best guess right now is that it's the periostracum (outer covering) from a large bivalve.  (It measured ~6.5 cm long by ~5 cm wide.) 

However, the material and its transparency seem different than other bivalve coverings that we've seen, so we're open to any other thoughts or suggestions.  The inner surface appeared to have a chalky white residue (perhaps from the middle shell layer of a clam?).

And even if it is the outer covering of a clam, we are uncertain about which species it's from.

Here's another view, this time from the side:

Let me know if you have any ideas about its identity.  I'm still working on it, but it would great to solve this mystery!

ADDENDUM (28 November 2016): Several people have suggested this could be the operculum ("trap-door") of a large snail, e.g., a whelk.  That's a strong possibility, and at this time I think I'm leaning that way.

ADDENDUM (1 December 2016): For the identity of this mystery object, see the post on 28 November 2016.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Rainbow over rain clouds

Looking north from Tolay Lake in Petaluma on 26 November 2016.

Friday, November 25, 2016

A view to a kill

We walked at North Beach on the outer coast of Point Reyes this afternoon (25 November 2016).  We'd been walking for a while, watching the waves, and then noticed this bird on the beach up ahead:

A beautiful adult Peregrine Falcon...with prey!  Can you see the feathers strewn out behind the falcon?  [Click on the image for a larger version.] 

It was tough to guess the identity of the prey from a distance, so after the falcon had flown to a higher perch with its prey, we went up to get a closer look at the feathers that had been plucked off.  Here are two close-ups of the feathers (see below).  

Do you have any guesses about which species of bird the falcon had caught?

The reddish color along the feather shafts is the best clue.  

The falcon was eating a Northern Flicker!  

(For pictures of a Northern Flicker taken last year, click here.)

When the falcon flew off, it landed on a piece of driftwood further south and continued to remove feathers:

We didn't want to disturb its meal.  Then at the same time, Eric and I realized a beach feature could help us get a better look.

The beach had prominent, deep cusps today high berms alternating with low valleys.  Although it's hard to capture in a picture, here's one attempt to show the berms along the shore:

So the three of us (Eric, my mother, and I) belly-crawled from the bottom of a valley to the top of a berm and barely peaked over the top:

It worked!  Our low-profile positioning provided amazing views of this falcon eating its prey without interrupting its meal.
As always, lots to be thankful for! 

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Congratulations, Jackie!

Hello, everyone!  This is Eric writing.  Jackie has reluctantly agreed to let me write the first-ever guest post on her blog.  The reason for my post is to share with you some good news.  Two weeks ago, Jackie received the “Naturalist of the Year Award” from the Western Society of Naturalists!  You can read more about the history and goals of this prestigious award here.

Those of you who have been regular readers of this blog over the past 5 years know that Jackie keeps her blog focused on the wondrous fauna, flora, and coastal landscapes of our region.  She rarely includes much about herself in these posts, and so I’m not likely to get many words in here about Jackie before she kicks me out of her blog!    

So, let me just say that I can think of no one more deserving of this recognition.  I’m continually amazed by her skills as a naturalist – her insightful observations, curiosity, intuition, patience, attention to detail, breadth of knowledge, photographer’s eye, and commitment to sharing.  Jackie inspires us all to seek out and embrace the beauty and mysteries of nature, and this is a tremendous gift for which I am very thankful.
Here are a few recent photographs of Jackie.  Searching within a seagrass bed for tiny invertebrates during Summer 2015:

And, walking the beach earlier this year during an El Niño storm, in search of purple sea snails: 

Congratulations, Jackie!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

With gratitude

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

I'm so grateful that there are new things to discover and appreciate every day.

As always, many thanks to you for joining me on this journey to learn about and share the beauty of the world around us.

I'm looking forward to another year of natural history observations!

With humility, respect, and gratitude,

Your NHBH author

P.S.  The bird in the photo is a Peregrine Falcon.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Fins in the waves

The other day I started thinking about the Bottlenose Dolphins that have been observed in the area during the last few years.  I hadn't seen them recently (I think the last time was off Pinnacle Gulch during July 2016), so I wondered if they had moved elsewhere.  And then we saw a few off Salmon Creek Beach on 17 November 2016.  These dolphins looked relatively small; perhaps they were younger animals?

I'm guessing other folks have seen Bottlenose Dolphins in our area from time to time.  If so, let me know!  I'd love to hear about your sightings.  It'd be fun to keep track of where they're spending their time, and if they continue to be seen regularly in Bodega Bay.

P.S.  For previous posts about Bottlenose Dolphins, see links below:

17 September 2014 (Dolphins in the surf)
1 March 2015 (Spirited)
13 July 2015 (Through the fog)
12 January 2016 (The leap and the line)

Monday, November 21, 2016


On the way back from the post office today, I noticed this young Bonaparte's Gull (Chroicocephalus philadelphia) feeding along the shoreline near Gaffney Point in Bodega Harbor.  

While walking or swimming, the gull searched and then dipped its bill below the surface to pick up small prey items.  Here's another view of it actively searching for prey:

There were about a dozen Red Phalaropes in the same area, also surface-dipping for small food items:

All of the birds were so busy feeding that I became curious about what type of prey they were after.  I walked down to the water's edge and scanned for a clue.  There were hundreds of small crustaceans swimming just below the surface!  I picked up a nearby clam shell and scooped up one of the mystery animals to see what it was:

I think both the Bonaparte's Gull and the Red Phalaropes were actively feeding on small amphipods.  [There are two amphipods in the photo above; perhaps a male holding a female?]

The afternoon light was nice, providing wonderful views, so here are two more pictures of the Bonaparte's Gull:

Although the amphipods were small (most were less than 1 cm long), they must have been worth the effort!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Phalaropes calling

On 1 November 2016, I posted some pictures of some Red Phalaropes involved in some aggressive behaviors.  I mentioned that I hoped to share some examples of the vocalizations that accompanied these interactions.  Well, I finally found a few minutes to edit a few of the audio files.

Here are two pictures of phalaropes from one of the days I recorded them.  Following these images, I'll share some examples of the audio files.  You might need to turn up the volume of your speakers.  [If you can't see the audio files in the e-mail, just click on the title of this post to go directly to the web page.] 

First, here's an example of the typical flight calla short, high-pitched "pit" or "pit-pit-pit":

Next, an example of their "contact calls" or twittering.  [This one was recorded in the rain.]

And here are two examples of the more aggressive calls.  Listen for a series of emphatic notes, especially in the first recording (4novC) between ~5-8 seconds:


Saturday, November 19, 2016

Frost in the intertidal zone?

A few nights ago while doing work in the rocky intertidal zone, we spotted quite a few patches that at first looked like frost:

Here's another view of a branched alga showing a similar effect:

We knew it couldn't be frost, and when we took a closer look, we were impressed:

These are extensive bryozoan colonies covering the algae.  In the photo above, the bryozoan Membranipora has grown around the branches of Neorhodomela larix (a common intertidal seaweed).

I've posted about bryozoans a few times, but to see what these beautiful marine invertebrate colonies look like when submerged and viewed under a microscope, check out the post from 27 January 2015, especially the 5th and 6th pictures.

I'm not sure why the bryozoans are so extensive this year, but my guess is that they've done very well with the warm ocean temperatures during the last two years.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Peering down

This morning Lewis mentioned he had seen an adult Bald Eagle near Gaffney Point in Bodega Harbor on the way to work.  When I went out to the post office, I looked in the same area and the eagle was still there!

I took this picture from a distance, so this picture is cropped dramatically, but it turned out to be a decent shot.

Interestingly, the eagle appeared to spend some time peering down into the water.  Was it looking for fish?

Although they are more commonly observed near the Russian River, keep your eyes open for eagles!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Along came a spider

We were walking along a trail in Bodega Bay last night when I noticed a rather large invertebrate moving quickly across the path.  I was a little surprised by its size, so I bent down to take a closer look with my headlamp.  I couldn't help saying, "Whoa!" out loud, so Eric turned back to see what it was:

This is a large spiderfrom leg tip to leg tip it was ~5 cm (2 inches) long!  Here's a picture with a ruler for scale:

I'm pretty sure it's a "false tarantula."  (It's smaller than a true tarantula, and has finer hairs.)  Within this group, it sounds like the most common species in this area is Calisoga longitarsus.  (If there are any spider experts out there who can confirm the identification, I'd appreciate any feedback.) 

When the spider started to walk away, Eric placed the ruler in front of it so I could try to get one more picture.

Here's what happened:

The spider reared up on its hind legs, raised its front legs, and exposed its impressive fangs (see close-up below).

Although they live in burrows, during the fall the males walk around looking for females.  Best to let them continue along their way!

I'm curious Have you seen this species locally?

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Working late

Sometimes working late isn't so bad...

Sunset across Bodega Bay, 15 November 2016

Monday, November 14, 2016



While conducting surveys in the low intertidal zone tonight, Eric spotted this wonderful juvenile Gumboot Chiton (Cryptochiton stelleri).  It was only ~3 cm long.

It's not unusual to find adult Gumboot Chitons, but juveniles are much rarer.  Morris, Abbott, and Haderlie (1985) reports that juveniles are more common in the subtidal zone and rare in the low intertidal zone.
Eric continued to survey this rock, and he spotted a second individual!  In the photo below, the first chiton is in the upper left corner.  Look closely (very closely!) and you might be able to find the second one.  [Click on the image for a larger version.]
Did you spot the second chiton?  It's tough.  If you haven't found it yet, try to key in on the red/green mottled color pattern.  And here's another hint: the second chiton is wedged into a crevice, so you can't see the entire animal.  

Below is a close-up of the second individual it was only ~2 cm long.  Once you see it and the surrounding animals and seaweeds, I'm guessing you'll be able to find it in the photo above.  (And by the way, the pale pinkish animals with the rough texture just to the right of the chiton are bryozoans we were impressed with the similarity between the texture of the chiton and the bryozoans!)

These juvenile Gumboot Chitons are amazingly well camouflaged!  

So you can appreciate the texture and patterning, here's one more image among coralline algae. 

Remember, as adults Gumboot Chitons are the largest chiton species in the world, reaching lengths of ~33 cm (12 inches) long! 

P.S.  Here are links to previous posts with an even smaller juvenile and adults (30 August 2012 and 26 April 2012).

Saturday, November 12, 2016


I've been at a meeting in Monterey during the last few days, so here's a wave picture from the Big Sur area on 4 April 2009.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Clothed in black

Today, 9 November 2016, I finally caught up with the Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus) that's been observed in Bodega Bay for the past month.  It was drinking from a small puddle in the dirt parking lot at the north end of Bodega Harbor (adjacent to the Bodega Dunes campground).

Black Vultures are rare vagrants to this area.  It looks like the closest regularly occurring population is in south-central Arizona.

Here's a nice comparison with a Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura):

Note the differences in head color (gray vs. red); overall feather colors (black vs. brown); bill shape (straighter vs. more noticeably curved); and visibility of nostrils (subtle vs. obvious).

Interestingly, although the Black Vulture is slightly smaller overall, it was dominant to the Turkey Vultures.  In the picture below, note how the Black Vulture is standing upright and defending the water source, while the Turkey Vultures are low and submissive:

After drinking, the Black Vulture flew up to a nearby cypress tree to bask in the morning sunNote the "fluffed" feathers around the neck and wings (to "let the sun shine in"):

P.S.  The genus, Coragyps means "raven-vulture" and the species name, atratus, means "clothed in black."  So this is the "raven-vulture that's clothed in black."

Tuesday, November 8, 2016


There was a long period swell today about 10-foot waves at 17 seconds.  With the high tide in the early evening, the waves were running high, then reflecting off the beach and rushing back towards the still-incoming swell.  

Because the swell was gentle, when the outgoing wave hit the incoming swell, it created some interesting wave patterns.  [In all of these pictures, the ocean is to the left side of the photo and the beach is to the right.)

I'm not sure if you can tell what's happening in the picture above, but this is what it looked like when the two waves came together (one moving towards the beach and the other traveling away from the beach) — a tall "swoosh" rising vertically, but not curling much.

Here's another example a more tumultuous one (and generally more typical), but note the upward "swoosh" at the far end of the wave. 

And one more for the record:

Monday, November 7, 2016


Here's one from the archivesthe beautiful iridescent shell of a juvenile Red Abalone (Haliotis rufescens) washed up on the beach, 2 February 2016.

Friday, November 4, 2016

First of the season

The first big swell of the season today, 4 November 2016.  [Click on the images for larger versions.]

I think that was about a 12-15 foot west swell.