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Sunday, December 31, 2017

Looking forward

Wishing all of you a wonderful 2018 filled with inspiring landscapes and seascapes and natural history adventures...

Happy New Year

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Golden eyes

I helped out with the Western Sonoma County Christmas Bird Count today (30 December 2017).  Nice to see this Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia) in the morning sun.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Birds of a feather

A nice flock of Surfbirds (Calidris virgata, formerly Aphriza virgata) flew in and landed nearby while we were doing field work this afternoon on Bodega Head.  Some began to feed, others rested, and several started preening.  Here are a few quick shots.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Searching for seeds among stones

Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris), Duxbury, Massachusetts, 22 December 2017

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Frozen fluidity -- Part 2

Following up last night's post, here are a few more ice photos.  As a reminder, these are close-ups of patterns within thin sheets of ice on tree trunks (photographed in Walpole, Massachusetts, on 26 December 2017):

It's so much fun to know that you can find beautiful patterns like this in the backyard!

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Frozen fluidity

We were curious about the patterns in the ice droplets that I showed in last night's post, so we went out to look for more examples.  The frozen droplets were no longer there, but Eric spotted some amazing shapes and patterns in very thin sheets of ice on tree trunks.

I couldn't pick just one photo, so here are several examples.

Some of the patterns reminded us of old window glass:

The patches of ice were very small most were only ~1-2 cm across.  The individual "cells" that you see in the images were much smaller than that, probably only ~2 mm across.  I captured these views with the microscope function on my point-and-shoot camera.  [I love that function!  It's like having a microscope in the field!]

Some of the cells contained very simple and regular patterns.  Others had very complex and chaotic patterns.  I'll show more of the latter tomorrow, but here's a hint of what's to come:

Monday, December 25, 2017

Following the path

The paths of air bubbles in a frozen water droplet photographed in Walpole, Massachusetts, on 25 December 2017.  The water droplet is hanging from the bottom of a Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) berry. 

This is an extreme close-up.  The water droplet was only ~4 mm long.

Once again, I'm not sure how these patterns were created.  But it's fascinating to follow the paths of the air bubbles and to wonder about these micro-landscapes in our backyards. 


One more:

So cool!

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Winter celebration

Yesterday's combination of rain and cold temperatures caused glaze ice to form on tree branches in Walpole, Massachusetts.  The outer limbs were completely encased in an amazing layer of ice!

I'm not sure what conditions led to the pebbled appearance of the ice.  Do you know?

Here's another example (below).  The patterns and light running through the ice were stunning.  [I sure do miss cold winters in New England!]

One more picture, this time of several branches:

May you also find joy in the light of winter!

Saturday, December 23, 2017

From Sable Island

Just a few shots of "Ipswich Sparrows" (Passerculus sandwichensis princeps) at Duxbury Beach, Massachusetts, on 22 December 2017.

This is a subspecies of Savannah Sparrow that nests on Sable Island, Nova Scotia.  They winter in the Canadian Maritimes and along the East Coast (primarily in New England).  Note the relatively large size and pale coloration.

The sparrows were well camouflaged among the brown and gold salt marsh vegetation and silvery bits of ice:

We don't get to see "Ipswich Sparrows" in California, so I appreciated this opportunity to watch them for a little while.

Many thanks to Eric and my mom for spotting these sparrows along the shoreline!

Friday, December 22, 2017

Winter white

We took a nice birthday walk along Duxbury Beach (in Massachusetts) this morning and encountered three Snowy Owls!  I love seeing these beautiful owls in the winter salt marshes along Duxbury Bay.  The owls were a bit distant, but here a few pictures:

A second, darker individual:

I'll share a few more pictures from Duxbury soon!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Swimming north

A couple of days ago (19 December 2017), I looked out at the ocean from Bodega Head and noticed how calm it was.  It seemed like great conditions for spotting dolphins.  Within a few seconds, I saw a few fins break the surface!  These Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) were pretty far away, but I managed a few photos for the record:

There were at least 3 individuals.

One or two of the dolphins appeared to be smaller, perhaps juveniles.  (For example, see individual on the left in the photo below.)

The dolphins were swimming north towards the mouth of Salmon Creek.  

If you see any Bottlenose Dolphins near shore, let us know!
Happy Solstice!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Shades of blue

Female Western Bluebird (Sialia mexicana), 19 December 2017

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The sphinx with a pom-pom

Eric spotted this cool moth near an outdoor light in Bodega Bay tonight (19 December 2017).  [Click on the picture for a larger version.]

The moth has a somewhat unusual appearance, so if you need some orientation, here you go:

The moth is facing left.  The first pair of legs is stretched out the legs are covered with scales, making the legs look very furry.  There are dense scales concentrated on top of the head, giving the moth an "upswept hairdo."  And there is a tuft of long scales at the tip of the abdomen, forming a little "pom-pom" (at the far right).

I love the colors of this moth — silvery gray, pale lavender (with small dark flecks), narrow white stripes, and a garnet highlight near the outer tip of the wing.  Wow!

Unfortunately, I don't have access to my moth identification guides right now.  So if you have any thoughts about the identity of this moth, I'd love to hear about it!

P.S.  Thanks to Eric for spotting this beauty on the wall as we walked by!

ADDENDUM (20 December 2017): Lynn wrote to suggest that this moth could be a species in the genus Clostera.  That looks like a good match!  I'll keep working on it to see if we can figure out which species.  Thanks, Lynn!


Monday, December 18, 2017

Papa pycno

Here's one for all of the sea spider enthusiasts out there!  

I've shown a few sea spiders (also known as pycnogonids) on this blog, but this is the first post about Tanystylum californicum.  Eric spotted this individual earlier in December.  It's <5 mm across (including the legs).

Here's a closer view.  Although this sea spider was small, Eric could tell it looked "spiky" even before looking through a microscope:

If you look closely in the photo above, you might notice some white clusters underneath the sea spider.  Flipping the sea spider over revealed that this was a male.  

In the photo below, note the three white clusters of embryos.  In most pycnogonids, there is paternal brood care (unusual for marine invertebrates) males carry and take care of the developing embryos:

Look for the special hook-like appendage, called an oviger, that holds the embryos.  (There are two ovigers, but one is hidden below the embryos.)  

And note that the three different embryo clusters are in different stages of development.  The whitest, opaque cluster (on the left) is the youngest; the cluster with embryos showing tiny red eye spots is further along (on the upper right); and the lowest cluster is the oldest, with larvae hatching!

Here's a zoomed in view of a couple of larvae (called protonymphons) crawling on the outside of the embryo cluster:

The larvae were tiny, but here's a close-up of one.  Note the fairly substantial claws (chelifores) pointing downward.  Sea spider larvae will undergo many molts before they look like the adults!


Saturday, December 16, 2017


A beautiful Ferruginous Hawk (Buteo regalis) soaring over the grassland opposite Lucas Wharf in Bodega Bay today (16 December 2017).

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Force

Black Oystercatchers prying mussels off the rocks at sunset.

May the Force be with you!

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Crossed at the tip

I heard and then saw a Red Crossbill (Loxia curvirostra) near the Ren Brown Gallery in Bodega Bay today (14 December 2017).

The crossbill was at the very top of a very tall pine tree, but I managed a few pictures for the record.  Look for the distinctive crossed bill (the upper and lower mandibles cross near the tip), the red and yellow coloration, and the notched tail.

I first wrote about Red Crossbills on 9 December 2012, so review the post called "Nomads" for an introduction to this interesting nomadic finch.

P.S.  I was intrigued by the genus name "Loxia."  It sounds like it might be derived from a Latin word meaning "dislocation."  So I'm guessing that term refers to the unusual crossed bill.

P.P.S.  For anyone interested in call types of Red Crossbillsin the earlier post, I recorded the crossbills and they were identified as Type 3 Red Crossbills.  The bird today sounded similar.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Berry delicious

It's been a busy couple of days, but here are a few pictures of Cedar Waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) from our yard in the late afternoon today (13 December 2017).

A close-up of the red wax-like droplets at the tips of the secondary feathers:

And one image of the flock just after it took off.  When they're feeding, sometimes it's hard to see (or hear) how many waxwings are in the tree.  I'm almost always surprised by how many birds there actually are.  How many do you see in the photo below?  (All of the birds in the photo are waxwings.)

[I counted 46 waxwings.]

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Ultra Violet mystery

On 7 and 8 December 2017, I showed two mystery photos:

If you guessed that this is a type of crustacean (i.e., the group that contains crab, lobster, and shrimp, among other animals), you are correct.  So the next question is, what type of crustacean?

Here's another close-up, revealing a bit more. This animal was ~2.5 cm long.

Meet Betaeus harfordi!   This is a shrimp in a group that is sometimes referred to as "hooded shrimps."  In the second close-up (above), and in the photos below, you can see that the carapace extends up and over and slightly in front of the eyes.

Older summaries about this species describe it as dark purple, blue-black, or deep blue.  The first individual we photographed (above) showed strong purple coloration, but we also looked at a second individual that tended towards the blue side:

Here are the two together so you can compare the colors.  [The photographs below were taken outdoors in natural light, rather than indoors in the lab.]

Betaeus harfordi has an interesting life history.  This shrimp has an obligate association with abalone.  It lives in the mantle cavity of abalone along the West Coast (all eight species).

A shrimp leaves the shelter of the abalone to feed at night, but then returns to its host during the day.  (Interestingly, a shrimp can sense the presence and location of its abalone host chemically!) 

Here are two more photos.  Note the "hood" over the eyes and the interesting claws (with the movable portion of the claw at the bottom):

Many thanks to our colleagues who study abalone for sharing these fascinating symbiotic shrimp!

P.S.  The "harfordi" part of the scientific name refers to William G.W. Harford, director of the California Academy of Sciences from 1876-1886.