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Friday, March 31, 2017

Leaning in

Whew!  It's been a windy week!  

That's not necessarily unusual at this time of year in Bodega Bay (sometimes known as "Blow-dega Bay").  

Yesterday northwest winds were blowing over 25 knots (30 mph) with higher gusts.

The wind was so strong that it made us wonder how far you could lean into it?  

Eric decided to give it a try:

I know it's hard to gauge the wind speed in this picture, but — Wow!   Although the wind only supported Eric at that angle for around 15 seconds, it was impressively strong wind, and I had trouble believing what I was seeing.

Okay, it was very windy, but it wasn't quite that windy.  We thought it would be funny to stage a photo like this.  Eric was actually leaning against a board that we later removed from the image using PhotoShop.  Did we fool anyone? 

Happy April Fools' Day!

Thursday, March 30, 2017


Common Raven gathering nest material, 28 March 2017

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

A closer look

I received quite a few e-mails and comments about last night's mystery object (thank you!)...but as of tonight, it still remains a mystery. 

There are some ideas floating around, but none have been confirmed.  We're starting to lean towards an invertebrate, rather than a vertebrate.  And our strongest leaning is towards a fossil barnacle (at least as of 9 p.m. on 29 March 2017).  [Note: Although some aspects of this object look barnacle-like, others do not, so we're still looking for assistance with the identification.]

We're continuing to work on the identity of this object, so I thought I'd share a few more images, in case they're helpful.

A nice scan of two different sides:

I need to take a better picture of the wider, open end, but here's one view of the interior edge (looking down into the hollowed portion at the top of the first photo):

The photo above was taken under a microscope.  I was so intrigued by the patterning that I zoomed in even closer:

I'm not sure whether this helps with the identificationit might just be a pattern that developed while the object was being fossilized.

I'll provide updates if we learn more...

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Long in the tooth?

While walking on the beach today, this object caught my eye:


We picked it up for a closer look:

It seemed like a tooth...but from what type of animal? 

My mind considered some exotic possibilities:

Could it be a Sperm Whale (Physeter macrocephalus) tooth?  

An Orca (Orcinus orca) tooth?  

Or a Steller Sea Lion (Eumetopias jubatus) tooth?

A little later I thought, how about a Grizzly Bear (Ursus arctos horribilis) tooth?  

Eric even wondered about part of a Woolly Mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) tooth?

Well, I don't know for sure that it's a tooth, but it's fun to think about the options.  It could be a different type of bone (and note: I think it might be fossilized.) 

Here's a photo with a ruler for scale.  It's ~5 cm (2 inches) long.

If you have ideas about what this is and what type of animal it's from, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Ocean colors

Off the Mendocino coast in May 2012.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

An ode to Stumpy

If you've spent a lot of time some place, you'll appreciate the feeling of recognizing certain features of the landscape.  It's easy to start checking in on them — to say hello, and to watch them change over time.

And so we present an ode to "Stumpy" a large driftwood stump that washed ashore on Salmon Creek Beach in 2012.  During our surveys there, Eric and I noted Stumpy's location and position, and I took random photographs during the past five years.

Below you'll find a selection of photographs in chronological order.  Note that the position and orientation of the stump changed a lot over the years, and sometimes it was quite buried in the sand.







Stumpy headed back out to sea around 20 February 2017.  Who knows where Stumpy will end up, but if you happen to see our friend, say a big "Hello!" for us.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Break from the past

I've been trying to catch up with some photo organization, so here's a wave from the archives (November 2014).

Thursday, March 23, 2017


The local ravens have been sampling a diversity of food items:

Scavenging a seabird:

Dodging the waves while digging for mole crabs:

Assessing a large seed:

Sharing a fish: 

What have you seen them eating?

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Digging it

A few years ago, I introduced the Long-armed Brittle Star (Amphiodia occidentalis).  

You can review the earlier post here, but I'm excited to share even better footage of this amazing brittle star in action.

Take a look!

This video is shown in actual time.  Note the extremely long, flexible arms of the brittle star; the impressive digging behavior (the sand grains appear to be "boiling"); and close-ups of the tube feet flicking upwards.  The tube feet are visible on the under sides of the arms (below the spines) watch for them especially during the interval at 30-35 seconds.

[If you can't see the video clip below, click on the title of the post above to go directly to the web site.]

I hope you dig this video as much as we did!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017


Rose-painted Semele (Semele rubropicta), photographed in Bodega Bay on 21 March 2017.  It was ~3 cm (a little over an inch) long.

Note the small circular holeevidence that this clam was drilled by a predator.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Spring showers

Oak Titmouse (Baeolophus inornatus) just after taking a bath.  They've been singing very loudly around our house recently.

Happy Spring!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Little ship at sea

A little ship at sea...recently discovered on a fishing float washed up on a local beach.

Perhaps some of you have found similar floats?

It's always interesting to wonder about the origins and journeys of objects that wash up on the beach.  

In this case, the Chinese characters reveal some clues.  Thanks to Evelyne, here's a translation of the characters surrounding the ship:

➤ The top two characters (on either side of the ship's sail):
浙 江 = Zhejiang Province, a province on the central eastern coast of China, south of the Yangtze River  

The bottom two characters on the left:

溫 州 = Wenzhou City

And the bottom two characters on the right:

蟠 凤 = Pan Feng Village  (separately these two characters also mean "coiled phoenix" and are part of an idiom used in a poem by one of the most famous Chinese poets, Li Bai)

It's likely that this float was made in this Chinese village.  But where did the float begin its journey in the ocean?  We're not sure, but there is another clue.  Did you notice the white, lacy animal growing in patches on the float?

See photos above, and here's an extreme close-up:

This is the skeleton of a bryozoan, and thanks to Jim we know that it's Jellyella eburnea, a species associated with warmer water.  So although we don't know the entire route of the float and the little ship, it likely spent some time in warmer water (possibly to our south).

P.S.  Many thanks to Evelyne, Jim, Megan, and Miho for their assistance with this story!

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Fun in the surf

We were treated to some nice views of dolphins and whales off Salmon Creek Beach today (18 March 2017).

Two record shots of Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus).  They're a bit distant, but it's worth documenting their continued presence in this area:

And we were excited to see a Gray Whale cow-calf pair surprisingly close to shore within ~100 meters of the beach!  The calf seemed to be having fun in the surf.  Here it is, upside down, showing its belly and pectoral fins out to either side:

The next view was the underside of the calf's flukes in a wave, headed out to sea:

And here's one more — just the tip of the Gray Whale's flukes carving through the water like a shark fin:

At one point, the dolphins were very close to the whales and it was interesting to think about what kinds of interactions they might have had.

Here's hoping for more marine mammal sightings this spring!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Young clover

  Happy St. Patrick's Day!    

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Unexpected guest

An unexpected guest stopped by my office today:

I was a little surprised to look down and see this young garter snake just outside my door!  Then again, the recent warm weather seems to have awakened much of the local flora and fauna.

I think this is a juvenile Coast Garter Snake (Thamnophis elegans terrestris).

For an earlier post about them, review the "Fork in the road" post from 9 April 2013.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Pointilism in the prairie

Baby Blue Eyes (Nemophila menziesii), photographed in the coastal prairie on Bodega Head on 12 March 2017.

With the amount of rain we've had this winter, it could be an interesting wildflower year!

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Mmmm...plum nectar

The plum blossoms in our yard continue to be very popular.

Warm temperatures today (in the high 70s!) brought some butterflies, including this beautiful Anise Swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon).

Friday, March 10, 2017

White stripes

Once thought to be one species, the nudibranch Hermissenda crassicornis is now thought to be a complex of three different species.

Hermissenda crassicornis (the more northern species) has vertical white stripes on the front of its cerata (the projections on the back) see photo above from the Sonoma Coast taken on 10 March 2017.

In contrast, Hermissenda opalescens (the more southern species) lacks those vertical white stripes.

Both species occur in the Bodega Bay region, so you'll need to look closely to tell them apart.  Remember, the dominant color of the cerata can vary (e.g., orange, red, or brown), so it's important to check for the presence or absence of the vertical white stripes.

For comparison, here's a picture of what is now called Hermissenda opalescens (photographed on Bodega Head in May 2013):

P.S.  If you're curious, the third species, Hermissenda emurai, is found in the western Pacific (e.g., Japan and Russia).

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Beautiful little sailors

This morning, Matt let me know that some small By-the-Wind Sailors (Velella velella) had washed ashore on the beach.  We haven't seen them in a while, so I took a few photos for documentation:

When Matt said "small," he wasn't kidding!  Compare the Velella (of various sizes) with the surrounding sand grains:

Here's a picture with a ruler for a sense of scale.  The largest Velella were only about 10 mm long:

There were thousands of Velella washed up on the beach today (9 March 2017).  Here's one more picture of one of these beautiful little sailors:

P.S.  I've posted about Velella quite a bit.  If you're new to the blog and to Velella velella, the best place to start is probably the post from 5 December 2012.  Otherwise, just visit the Natural History of Bodega Head website, scroll to the very bottom of the page, and enter "velella" under "Search This Blog" to find various posts about the biology and life history of Velella.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Rolling in

Fog rolling in during the late afternoon.  Photographed from Dillon Beach on 8 March 2017.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

7 for the 7th

A seven-armed Bat Star (Patiria miniata) for 7 March 2017.

P.S.  Bat Stars typically have five arms.  We've encountered some six-armed individuals, but this is the first we've seen with seven arms! 

Monday, March 6, 2017


A few more chiton pictures for you:

Veiled Chiton (Placiphorella velata) note the pink and white striped girdle surrounding the narrow plates — effective coloration for blending in with coralline algae.

And here's another Veiled Chiton living on the bottom of an abandoned urchin pit.  This chiton is a little harder to see — it's very well camouflaged with tiny tube worms and dark algae growing on its plates.  (To find it, look for the pink and white striped girdle.)

I first wrote about Veiled Chitons on 21 August 2012.  To learn more about these remarkable carnivorous chitons (they trap amphipods!), review the post called "A veiled threat" here

And it was fun for us to see this chiton:

A juvenile Gumboot Chiton (Cryptochiton stelleri).  This individual was only ~8 cm (~3 inches) long.  Although I have shown pictures of adult Gumboot Chitons and much smaller juveniles (~1 cm long, and ~2 cm long), we haven't seen many of this size.  We were impressed with how flattened they appeared — but note that you can still see the eight hidden plates lined up along the center of the chiton (allowing you to identify this as a chiton, rather than part of the rock).

All photographs are from northern Sonoma County on 24 February 2017.