If you're interested in using any of these photographs in any way, please contact me. Send an e-mail to naturalhistoryphotos(at)gmail.com. Thanks!

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Chasing the moon

I chased the full moon around Cotati this morning, trying to find clear patches of sky (without fog) where I could photograph it.  I might try to put together a photo montage, but for now here are a few of my favorite pictures from 31 January 2018:

4:11 a.m.

5:25 a.m.

6:02 a.m.

6:20 a.m. 

6:58 a.m.

Quite a lunar experience!  Super moon, blue moon, and blood moon, all at once!

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Laying low

Channeled Dog Whelk (Nucella canaliculata) laying egg capsules in the low intertidal zone, 29 January 2018.

Monday, January 29, 2018

A perfect match

Another well camouflaged sculpin.  It's a perfect match for the surrounding coralline algae!

Here's a close-up (below).  I can't get over the beauty of their pectoral fins!

ADDENDUM (30 January 2018):  P.S.  A reader wrote to ask about the fish's pink coloration.  So I'm adding a close-up photo so you can look at some of the details:


Sunday, January 28, 2018

Field of bubbles

This afternoon I was looking into a tidepool and was intrigued by all of the bubbles attached to the surfgrass (Phyllospadix sp.).  I decided to try to get a picture from an underwater perspective.  Here's the first shot:

That was pretty fun, so I decided to try another from a little further away to show the extent of this "field of bubbles."  [I was kneeling next to the tidepool, holding an underwater camera below the surface, so I couldn't quite see what was in the frame.]

Wow!  It worked pretty well...and there was a bonus!  A nice Surfgrass Limpet (Lottia paleacea) was in the center of the photo near the top.  This limpet is remarkably well adapted for life on a surfgrass blade.  [For an introduction to the limpet, see the post from 7 June 2012.]

I kept taking pictures from different positions, and I ended up with one more image of the surfgrass blades, the bubbles, and the limpet:

I'll definitely keep trying to capture this beautiful underwater scene in other surfgrass meadows!

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Moon over sunset

Crescent moon at sunset, 20 January 2018

P.S.  Remember to watch for the "Super Blue Blood Moon" (big and bright; 2nd full moon in January; with a lunar eclipse!) early on Wednesday morning, 31 January 2018.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Visitors from offshore

Remember these snails?  This is a Purple Sea Snail (Janthina umbilicata).  I wasn't expecting to see them right now, but I found a few while doing a survey on Salmon Creek Beach tonight (25 January 2018). [Those are millimeter marks on the ruler, so the snail was ~10 mm across.]

During the 2015-2016 El Nino, many Purple Sea Snails washed ashore in Bodega Bay.  I wrote a post introducing this species on 20 January 2016 click here to review that summary (including a nice video!).

Purple Sea Snails are often associated with By-the-wind Sailors (Velella velella).  Sure enough, there was a handful of Velella washed up today.  Here's one:

I'd be very interested in hearing about any other Purple Sea Snail sightings.  So if you see one, take a picture, and let me know!

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Find the Flatworm

Recently, I was trying to photograph a bryozoan (Tubulipora sp.) under a microscope...when I noticed a tiny flatworm nestled among the tubes of the bryozoan!  

I'm not which species of flatworm this, but I thought you might like to see it.  The main body color is white, but there's a nice orange color on the dorsal surface, and you can also see the two black eyes:

Can you find the flatworm in the next photo?  It blends in amazingly well.

One more "Find the Flatworm" photo.  Can you spot it?  Click on the photo for a larger version. 

What's it like to live within a bryozoan colony?

Not sure if anyone out there knows the identity of this flatworm, but if you do, let me know!

Tuesday, January 23, 2018


Lately, reading or listening to the news can be depressing and disheartening.  But today I heard part of a story about Hugh Masekela.  He passed away today, but it was inspiring to learn about him and to listen to some of his music.  Although he's known for many different songs, tonight I was drawn to a more recent video that was available on his website.

If you'd like to see the video, you can watch it here.  (When it opens, just hover over the Mercedes-Benz banner and then click on the "X" to close the banner.)

Here's what I thought while I was watching this video:

Celebrate your world

Celebrate your music

Celebrate your voice

Celebrate your spirit

Now that's much better than most of the news these days!  

P.S.  Thanks to Marco Werman and PRI's The World for reminding us of Hugh Masekela's story today. 

Monday, January 22, 2018

Winter sun

Not necessarily surprising, but it was nice to see a few Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) basking in the sun on 20 January 2018.  Although there was frost inland that morning, air temperatures reached about 55°F in Bodega Bay during the afternoon.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

A visit by the local team

We were doing some chores at home today (and watching some football on the side).  There was a steady stream of birds visiting the bird bath in the backyard.  I couldn't resist taking a few quick pictures of these Bushtits (Psaltriparus minimus):

A male (note his dark eyes):

 A female (note her pale eyes):

And a male and a female side-by-side:

I'm not exactly sure why, but we tend to see lots of activity at the bird bath when it's cold outside (there was frost this morning), and when it's raining (it started early this evening).

Friday, January 19, 2018

On the western horizon

Western horizon near sunset, 19 January 2018

Thursday, January 18, 2018


I kept checking the wave heights last night and they remained at ~10 feet.  But when I checked again when I woke up today, I was impressed.  Early this morning the wave heights shot up to ~24 feet!  Click here to review the wave height graph from the offshore buoy.

There was light rain this morning, but I took a few pictures for the record:

These were very big waves.  It's hard to judge the heights of breaking waves, especially when it's stormy.  But I have a few photos with gulls for scale.  [Click on the images for larger versions.]  In the first photo below, there are two gulls the one in the center (between waves) is the easiest to see:

And here's another where you can use the gull to estimate the height of the wave faceBased on known measurements, the gull's wing span is ~58 inches, or ~4.8 feet.  You can then use the gull to estimate the height of the wave:

It depends on where you measure, but my estimate for this wave face came out to ~435 inches, or ~36 feet (~11 meters)!  That might be a bit high, but it gives you a feel for how big these waves were.

Although there's a lot of winter left, this was likely one of the biggest wave events of the season.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Sea serpents

Well, I had a tough time making a decision about what to post tonight.  I promised an answer to a mystery photo from last night, so I'll address that first.  But I took a few nice wave photos today, so I'll include those, too, as a bonus!

First, the mystery close-up from last night:

Someone guessed trout, and that was an excellent guess!  

This is a small fish that washed up on Salmon Creek Beach.  Below is the entire fishit was only ~7 cm (~2.75 inches) long.

I'm not 100% sure which species this is.  The eel-like shape is distinctive, as is a basically continuous fin (dorsal/anal/ventral) running around the body, and note the "overhanging snout."  My best guess is a juvenile Spotted Cusk-eel (Chilara taylori).  They live in burrows on sandy bottoms, so the habitat off of Salmon Creek Beach is appropriate.  If you're familiar with this species and can confirm or correct the identification, please do!  [P.S.  Cusk-eels are in the family Ophidiidae.  "Ophis" means "snake" and refers to the eel-like or snake-like appearance.]

I think you know that I can't resist big waves.  So here are a few shots from 17 January 2018.  Pick your favorite!

"Sea Dragon"

"Sea Serpent"

"Sea Elephant"

"Lotus Flower"

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Geometric mystery

A bit of a mystery close-up for you:

I'll reveal more tomorrow night (at least as much as I can figure out!).  Maybe someone out there will be able to help?

Monday, January 15, 2018

Roaring in

The offshore buoy reported a 12-foot west swell today, but some of the sets seemed even larger.  I took a few photos and couldn't choose just one to share, so here are several different views of the waves off Bodega Head today, 15 January 2018:

Eric's always recommending that I include something in the photo for scale.  It's not always easy, but here are three examplesthe first with a cormorant, the second with a gull, and the third with a seal.  [Click on the images for larger versions.]

Here's one of the more dramatic shots of the morning.  Whenever I see a wave exploding against the shoreline like this, I have trouble understanding how anything living on the rocks (e.g., seaweeds, invertebrates) survives.  Amazing!

 To wrap up — a wave just starting to break:

Should be an interesting week for watching waves.  Stay safe!

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Building swell

Breaking wave on 13 January 2018.  It sounds like the largest swell this coming week will arrive on Thursday.  The National Weather Service is calling for a 16-19 foot west swell on 18 January 2018!

Saturday, January 13, 2018

High on the rocks

Well, I finally found a few minutes to look for the Rock Sandpiper (Calidris ptilocnemis) that's been seen near the southern end of Bodega Head.  Below are a couple of photos for the record, taken on 13 January 2018:

Here's the Rock Sandpiper (lower bird) with a Surfbird for comparison:

And one more, this time with a Surfbird (left), a Black Turnstone (right), and the Rock Sandpiper (bottom):

Today I almost would have called it a "Seaweed Sandpiper."  Although rock was the base material, the sandpiper spent most of its time feeding very intensively among the seaweeds (primarily Pyropia sp., formerly Porphyra sp.) high on the rocks.  I couldn't see what the sandpiper was eating, but perhaps it was finding amphipods?

P.S.  If you're interested in seeing this bird, it's been pretty easy to observe from the main whale watching area at the outer parking lot on Bodega Head.  Check the large sea stacks just offshore from the whale watching area (e.g., when you're at the whale watching area, look down and a bit to the north).

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Sun halo

I haven't had a chance to post this one.  An interesting sun halo from 30 December 2017.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Light on the ocean

I was getting ready to leave work tonight when I noticed unusual light out on the ocean.  I walked up to the edge of the bluff to take a look.

There was a bright band of silver on the surface about a kilometer offshore, with curtains of very light fog blowing along it to the southeast.

Above the bright patch, there appeared to be a reasonably large cloud bank:

 The conditions were hard to photograph, so I kept trying:

As the sun slowly set, the colors started shifting from silver to gold:

With shades of purple above:

And a very coppery reflection remained until the sun was gone:

I'm not sure what caused this interesting lighting.  Was the water in that area a different temperature?  Did it change the conditions on the surface?  Did it cause a fog bank to form above it?  Did the fog bank reflect the sunset down to the surface of the ocean?  What other ideas do you have?

Even after more than 40 years of watching the ocean, I'm so grateful that there's always something new to see and wonder about!