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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Watching a Giant

Today was the last day of our spring field trip to northern California and Oregon.  We stopped briefly at Patrick's Point State Park in Trinidad, CA.  It was a productive outing, but one of the highlights was something we weren't even looking for.

I was standing on a rock with fairly deep water to either side, when a very long tentacle appeared.  Then the rest of a large octopus emerged and began to crawl underneath the rock I was standing on!  In the photo below, note the crab in the lower left corner.  Octopuses eat crabs, so it's likely this crab was on high alert:

I turned around, and the octopus emerged from the other side of the rock:

And then it started crawling towards a large pool:


Below, the octopus is in the open as it approached the far edge of the pool.  Giant Pacific Octopuses (Enteroctopus dofleini) are known as the largest octopuses in the world, so we were curious about this individual's size.  

After the octopus left the area, we measured a large sea anemone in the same view (see next section below).  We then estimated the distance from the tip of the leftmost tentacle to the tip of the rightmost tentacle.  Our conservative estimate for that distance (the "arm span") in the photo below is 1.4 meters (4.6 feet).  Although that's impressive, we realize it is likely this octopus could extend its tentacles much farther.  (Some of the largest individuals have measured 15-20 feet across!)

Here's one more image while the octopus paused before jetting backwards and disappearing below another boulder.  For scale, note the other familiar animals nearby, e.g., the Ochre Sea Star on the right side of the image and a few Purple Sea Urchins under a ledge above the octopus.  The Giant Green Anemone on the rock directly in front of the octopus is ~11 cm (~4.3 inches) across.  (The anemone's tentacles are withdrawn, so it looks like a soft, army-green lump.)

Although the total amount of time that passed while we watched this octopus was only ~2 minutes, it was a memorable experience that felt much longer.  We've seen Giant Pacific Octopuses in aquariums, but this was the first time we've observed a living animal in the wild.  We're so grateful for these gifts from the ocean.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Peering out

A pair of Cliff Swallows (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) in their nest near Cape Mendocino on 25 May 2017.

Monday, May 29, 2017


Yesterday we were excited to find this beautiful nudibranch, Diamondback Tritonia (Tritonia festiva), at Cape Arago, Oregon.

After we finished fieldwork today, we noticed this wonderful agate, with patterning reminiscent of the nudibranch:

A fun back-to-back combination!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Fins from the Inn

This afternoon I glanced out the window of the Yachats Inn and was surprised to see large fins breaking the surface of the water fairly close to shore.  We ran out the door and down to the shore to try to get a better look:

Orcas!  Although we've spent quite a bit of time in Yachats, Oregon, this is the first time we've seen Orcas here.  We watched them swim south past Yachats, and then decided to try to catch up with them further south.  

We stopped at Cooks Chasm, looked north, and saw them rounding the corner and headed our way.  And when they disappeared out of view, we drove south to Strawberry Hill.  After a short wait, the Orcas appeared again! 

There were at least five animals (including one small individual), possibly more.  Here's one of the better pictures I took:

Luck was on our side today — it's always worth a glance out the window!

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Weathered gray

Broad-leaved Stonecrop (Sedum spathulifolium) growing in driftwood, photographed near Point St. George in northern California on 26 May 2017.

Friday, May 26, 2017

A pink "tail"

About two years ago, I shared some photos of an Ochre Sea Star "comet." 

When a sea star has only one arm remaining (and often a portion of the central disc), and it regrows all of its other arms, it's called a "comet" because the original arm is so much larger and appears similar to the tail of a true comet traveling across the sky.

Today Eric spotted another comet, but in a different species:

This is a Six-armed Sea Star (Leptasterias sp.).  They normally have six arms of similar length, but in this case, the sea star has one very large arm and five much smaller arms.  Note the larger (original) arm is pink, while the newer arms are white.

For comparison, here's a more typical Six-armed Sea Star:

Both of these sea stars were photographed in Del Norte County on 26 May 2017.

I wrote a little more about sea star "comets" in the August 2015 post, so if you're interested, you can review that post here.

Thursday, May 25, 2017


Looking north towards Cape Mendocino, the westernmost point in California, on 25 May 2017

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Pointing skyward

A pretty patch of Ithuriel's Spear (Triteleia laxa) photographed on 22 May 2017.

For a little more information about this species, review the post from 16 June 2012.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Wildflower views

I helped out with a plant survey yesterday.  Here are a few of my favorite views:

Leptosiphon sp.  (Not sure which species — can anyone help?)

Leptosiphon sp. with Blue-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium bellum)

Leptosiphon sp. with goldfields, possibly Perennial Goldfields (Lasthenia california ssp. macrantha)

I hope you're also enjoying some of the wildflowers this year!

Monday, May 22, 2017

Catching some z's in the Hemizonia?

An interesting moth in a Hemizonia flower.  The dewdrops on the wing made me wonder if the moth had spent the night in this flower?

Unfortunately, I'm not sure which species of moth this is, but I'll be working on the identification.  If you're familiar with this species, let me know!

Photographed in Marin County on 22 May 2017.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Simmer down

Sunset photographed from Cotati on 21 May 2017, after a hot weekend!

Friday, May 19, 2017

Mules and horses

Narrow-leaved Mule's-ears (Wyethia angustifolia)

A very fuzzy bee was also very interested in the flowers: 

Here are the long, slender leaves that give this wildflower part of its name.  The leaves can be up to 20 inches long.  (Hmmm...how long are a mule's ears?)

And here's a close-up of the leaf patterning:

The genus, Wyethia, is named after Nathaniel Wyeth, an inventor (of a horse-drawn ice cutter) and expedition leader.  (Wyeth has connections to Fresh Pond in Cambridge, MA!).  In the early 1800s, he traveled across the country with Thomas Nuttall (of Nuttall's Woodpecker) and John Kirk Townsend (of Townsend's Warbler).

Thursday, May 18, 2017


I'm not 100% sure what species of worm this is, but isn't the color amazing?  This beautiful turquoise polychaetepossibly Nereis grubei — was crawling over the rocks in the intertidal zone.  It was photographed on Bodega Head on 16 May 2017.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017


Pacific Loon (Gavia pacifica) at the north end of Bodega Harbor, 16 May 2017

Monday, May 15, 2017


Surfgrass (Phyllospadix scouleri) photographed along the outer coast in January 2012.  

P.S. For more information about surfgrass, check out the post called "Seeds in your socks" from 9 April 2014.

P.P.S.  Many of you know that I'm from New England and, well...once a Boston sports fan, always a Boston sports fan.  With apologies to Matt, I couldn't help posting something green tonight to celebrate the nice win by the Boston Celtics.  Way to go, Green Men!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Careening among the corals

Recently, while Eric was looking at the soft corals, he noticed some interesting animals living among them.  In the photo below, the tentacles of the soft corals are withdrawn, so the polyps look like small orange lumps.  Note the tall, thin, animals standing upright among the corals:

The tiny stalked animals are kamptozoans — a unique phylum formerly known as entoprocts, and commonly referred to as "nodding heads."  We think this is Barentsia parva.  It's the first time we've encountered this species. 

It's hard to tell from the microscope photos, but these animals are very small only ~2 mm high.  (You can see why people don't encounter them very often!)

Here's an individual zooid (below).  Look for the following features:

- The stolon the "runner" at the bottom from which the rest of the colonial animal arises (in this case, it looks golden and it's covered with debris)

- The calyx the broad cup-like section at the top, with the feeding tentacles along the rim

- Rods the long, narrow sections making up the stalk between the calyx and the stolon

- Nodes the swollen sections at the base of the rod and sometimes in the middle of the rod

This illustration of Barentsia parva will also help orient you to their basic anatomy:

Modified from Wasson, K.  1997.  Systematic revision of colonial kamptozoans (entoprocts) of the Pacific coast of North America.  Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 121: 1-63.

I mentioned that kamptozoans are commonly referred to as "nodding heads."  Luckily, Eric captured some of the "nodding" behavior that gives them this name.

In the video below, watch for the distinctive movements of individual zooids as they bend rather abruptly into their neighbors.  

Note that sometimes the feeding tentacles are extended upward; other times, they are withdrawn.  There's a sequence in the video between 29-35 seconds that shows particles moving in the water the flow is being generated by beating cilia on the feeding tentacles.  If you look very closely, you might even see tiny particles that have been captured moving down the tentacles (from the tip down towards the mouth).  [If you can't see the video below, click on the title of the post above to go to the web page.]

We hope you enjoyed this introduction to a seldom seen species.

P.S.  To compare Barentsia parva with a different kamptozoan, Barentsia conferta, review the post called "Nodding heads" from 8 July 2012.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Spreading out

Recently, Eric took some wonderful photographs of some local soft corals.  Here are a few of his best images.  This is Cryptophyton goddardi from the rocky intertidal zone:

Cryptophyton goddardi polyps grow in dense clusters, often on the underside of rocky ledges:

The coral polyps use their long, pinnate tentacles to capture zooplankton and food particles from the water:

P.S.  I first wrote about this species a while ago, on 25 January 2012, so for a little more information about them, click here.

P.P.S.  And if you'd like to compare Cryptophyton goddardi with another species of octocoral, Thrombophyton trachydermum, review the post called "A sparking necklace" from 28 June 2016.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Pearl gray

I'm so thankful to Dea for alerting me to the presence of some Fork-tailed Storm-Petrels (Oceanodroma furcata) at the entrance to Bodega Harbor yesterday (10 May 2017).  Fork-tailed Storm-Petrels are small (~8.5 inches long) and fast, and therefore hard to photograph, but I'm excited to share a few photos for the record.  [Click on the images for slightly larger and sharper versions.]

Fork-tailed Storm-Petrels are usually found farther offshore, so watching them from land was a real treat.  The storm-petrels were feeding very close to shoresometimes flying right along the edge of the jetty.

I was standing on the North Jetty (at the end of Doran Beach).  The next image shows a storm-petrel flying over the South Jetty with Bodega Head in the background:

Sometimes the storm-petrels would fly low to the water and start foot-pattering on the surface:

And sometimes they'd land on the water and reach for prey:

On several occasions they appeared to catch small fish:

The storm-petrels were so close, it was a great opportunity to study their feathers:

I didn't get many photos that show their forked tails very well, but here's one as this storm-petrel flew along the South Jetty:

I heard that a few storm-petrels were still around today near the entrance to the harbor.  If you're interested in looking for them, they also might be visible from the southern end of Bodega Head.

P.S.  Thanks again to Dea for letting me know the storm-petrels had appeared.  I never thought I'd be "buzzed" by a Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel while standing on the jetty!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Not a drift log

I was driving along Westshore Road at the north end of Bodega Harbor this morning when an unusual silhouette in the water caught my eye.  I said to myself, "Hmmm...I don't think that's a drift log."

Sea otters (Enhydra lutris) are rare in the Bodega Bay area, so I stopped to take a few pictures:

The otter was resting while floating on its back:


Eventually it swam (with a corkscrew motion) further from shore.  Here's a picture with the Spud Point Marina in the background:

This is the third sea otter I've seen in the Bodega Bay region (during the past 12 years).  The first was near the harbor entrance in December 2006; and the second was found dead (from a shark attack) on Salmon Creek Beach in September 2011.  [We also heard about one photographed from a sailboat in Bodega Bay in April 2015.]

Who knows if sea otters will ever become established in this area again, but for now it's always fun to see them whenever they wander this way.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

One of these things...

...is not like the others:

Sanderlings (Calidris alba) and one Dunlin (Calidris alpina), Salmon Creek Beach, 9 May 2017

Monday, May 8, 2017


A quick shot of a Black-crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) in Cheney Creek on 8 May 2017.  The long white occipital plumes (originating from the back of the head) are longest in older birds during the breeding season.

P.S.  On 19 June 2013, I shared a photo of a younger Black-crowned Night-Heron in the post called "Nesting locally".

Sunday, May 7, 2017


Looking offshore from Bodega Head on 5 May 2017, when the wind was blowing from the northwest at ~25-30 knots.  
After several days of strong winds, the seawater temperature dropped to nearly 9°C (48.5°F) this morning.