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Thursday, May 30, 2019

Not a seal

I was doing a Harbor Seal (Phoca vitulina) survey today, slowly scanning across the shoreline to count individual seals hauled out on the rocks.

Then I did a double-take.  Hold on.  That's not a seal.

A River Otter (Lontra canadensis) was eating a fish.  The seal was more interested in napping, but two Western Gulls (Larus occidentalis) were wondering if they might snatch some of the scraps.

Eventually the otter finished eating, left the rest of the fish to the gulls, and walked down to the water's edge:

I liked being able to see its front and hind feet.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Guess who?

This is an extreme close-up.  Do you have any guesses about what type of animal it is?

The next photos show zoomed out views that might provide more clues. Hint: The phylum that this animal belongs to is known for being spiny.

Any ideas yet?  

You can see lots of small rounded spines.  Scattered among the spines are tiny claw-like pincers called pedicellariae.  The large white spot is a special structure called a madreporite (or sieve plate).

One more view before I show the entire organism:

Okay, here you go...and the answer is: 

It's a Six-armed Sea Star (Leptasterias sp.)!  It was fun to photograph close-ups of this species in the field.

I mentioned a few different structures above.  To learn more about the pincers or pedicellariae, check out these posts:

And if you're interested in learning about madreporites or sieve plates, you can start with these posts:


Monday, May 27, 2019

At sunset

Sunset clouds on 23 May 2019.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Not so dusky?

A few years ago, I shared a photo of a Dusky Turban Snail (Tegula pulligo) shellsee the post called "Dusky Turban" on 23 March 2016.

We don't see this species that often in northern California, but yesterday (25 May 2019) I photographed a live snail, so here's the view from below showing the head and foot, eyes, and tentacles:

The eye stalks are yellowish with blue and black pigment at the tips.  

The two cephalic (head) tentacles are long and emerge from between the eyes.  

The large foot is retracted in the photo above, but note the dramatic black and white (and brown and white) stripes.  

You can also see the epipodial tentacles arrayed around the foot (on the left side in the photo below).  These tentacles help the snail sense its environment.

Although its shell might be considered "dusky" by some, the snail itself is quite boldly patterned!

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Nearshore blues

We were working up north again this morning.  It was a bit windy and the swell was up, but once we finished our surveys and had a chance to look around, the colors and views were pretty spectacular.  [You can click on the images for larger versions.]

Here's to living and working in such a beautiful place!

Friday, May 24, 2019

Exploring stars and waterfalls


Whew!  It's been a busy spring with lots of field work.  Today we were working farther north in Mendocino County.  It was nice to see this mottled sea star, Henricia sp.

I can't help showing a few more images.  We were a little salty by the time we finished several hours of work in the rocky intertidal zone.  In the photo below, can you see Eric's solution? 

While walking back, we noticed a little waterfall at a small pocket beach.  After some discussion, Eric decided to take a quick shower!

P.S.  Do you think Helly Hansen will see this and offer us a free set of rain gear?  One can only hope!  ;)

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Fowl weather

After stormy weather during the past week, I've heard of several local reports of Red-necked Phalaropes (Phalaropus lobatus).  Here's one from Bodega Bay on 23 May 2019.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Passing shower

We finished our field work this morning before it started to rain, but there was faint evidence of a rainbow and a passing shower on the horizon (21 May 2019).

Monday, May 20, 2019

Splash and curl

Sharing a few wave pictures after trying to do field work this morning (20 May 2019).  We were working farther south today south of Point Lobos in the Big Sur area.

The offshore buoy was reporting a 14-foot swell this morning, which meant pretty big waves near shore.  (The waves were a little too big for what we needed to do, but they were fun to watch.)

We're crossing our fingers for a little less swell tomorrow.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Western beauty

Western Azalea (Rhododendron occidentale) photographed at The Cedars on 11 May 2019.

To learn more about this beautiful flowering shrub, see "Western Azalea: Beauty and Fragrance" by Roger Raiche at the Pacific Horticulture Society's website.

Friday, May 17, 2019


I haven't shown a mystery close-up in a while.  Can you guess what this is?  (The answer is revealed below.)

Michelle noticed these stellate (star-like) hairs.

Here's a zoomed out view which will help identify the type of organism this is:

The dense stellate hairs make this flowering shrub look fuzzy.  The first photo was a close-up of the surface of a flower petal.  Below you can also see the stellate hairs on the leaves and stems. (Note that these hairs can be irritating to human skin and eyes.)

And here's an open flower:

Meet California Flannelbush (Fremontodendron californicum)!  It's a native evergreen shrub that tends to grow in sandy washes near seasonal creeks or on well-drained slopes.  I'm not that familiar with this species, but it appears to be uncommon in Sonoma County.  Photographed in The Cedars on 11 May 2019.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

In the sun and the shade

So many interesting pictures from The Cedars, it's been hard to choose which to show!  Here's another view of a creek surrounded by the dry, rocky landscape:

And Sagebrush Lizards (Sceloporus graciosus) in the sun (Check out those toes!):

And back to the water, with some columbine, too:

More to come! 

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Land of contrasts


The Cedars (near Cazadero) is a land of contrasts extremely dry and rocky cliffs along with incredibly clear creeks and pools:

Below are examples of two orchids that grow along the stream banks.

California Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium californicum):

The amazing leaves of Purple-leaf Stream Orchids (Epipactis gigantea f. rubrifolia):

I'm so glad so many people have worked so hard to protect this beautiful landscape.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Plane to see

I'll show some more photos from The Cedars soon, but we recently encountered a rarely observed marine invertebrate and Eric created a short video clip for the record, so we thought it would be fun to share it with you.

While assisting with a mussel bed survey, Sarah's sharp eyes found a couple of these tiny yellowish gastropods.  They're somewhat similar to sea slugs, but they're in their own group — Order Runcinida (formerly included in the Order Cephalaspidea).  Sometimes you'll see them referred to as Runcinid slugs.

We hadn't seen one before, but that's probably not surprising.  They're only 3-5 mm long, so hard to spot, especially if living among mussels or seaweeds.

Meet MacFarland's Runcina (Runcina macfarlandi)!  In the photo above (and the video below), you can look for a few different characteristics:

- elongate oval shape without many features obvious at first
- yellowish-brown coloration overall
- darker coloration in the center of the body
- head shield flattened in the front, giving it a squared-off appearance (at the right side in the photo above)
- two small black eyes (barely visible on the right side above)
- a fairly long foot, often trailing behind the body
- two rounded, flattened gills at the posterior (back) end

Terry Gosliner (at the California Academy of Sciences) described this species in 1991.  The description was based on observations from only two sites in Oregon and two older records from Pacific Grove.  It sounds like there might be a couple of recent records from southern California, but in general this species has rarely been reported from the West Coast.

You're likely among the first to see a video of MacFarland's Runcina!  Watch for the active foot, two dark eyes (at the left side now), a close-up of the two semicircular gills at the tail end (at about 20 seconds into the video):


P.S.  Many thanks to Sarah's spotting and Emily's project for documenting this species locally and to Eric for providing the photo and video clip.

P.P.S.  I was curious about the name "Runcina."  I'm not totally sure, but it might refer to a carpenter's plane?  If so, maybe the first person to describe a species in this genus thought it looked like a hand plane (perhaps due to its squared front end)?  Fascinating to name a sea slug after a tool!

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Wavy margins

I've run out of time tonight, but here are two close-ups of Hoffman's Bristly Jewelflower (Streptanthus glandulosus ssp. hoffmanii) photographed on serpentine outcrops at The Cedars yesterday:

P.S.  I was wondering about the name "Streptanthus."  According to The Jepson Manual it means "twisted flower"after the wavy margins of the petals (visible in these photos).

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Jewels, streaks, petals, and rocks

I felt lucky to join a LandPaths' hike to The Cedars (near Cazadero) today (11 May 2019).  Lots of wonderful scenery and observations...and many photos to sort through.  Here's a previewjust a few pictures that caught my eye on the first time through the photos.

Hoffman's Jewelflower (Streptanthus glandulosus ssp. hoffmanii)

Muir's Hairstreak (Callophrys muiri)

Black Petaltail (Tanypteryx hageni)

Rock Wren (Salpinctes obsoletus)a distant photo, but this is my first Rock Wren photo from Sonoma County.  It was singing at the top of an open rocky ridge.

P.S.  I first went to The Cedars in April 2015.  If you'd like to review some of those photos, you can start with the post called "Among the rocks" on 25 April 2015 and continue forward until 1 May 2015.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Just like sand

I've encountered these amphipods a few times now and they're just magical!  It's amazing how much they look like sand.  

Not only because of the individual color patterns, with flecks to match the local sand grains, but also because they form dense aggregations and when nestled together they look just like a patch of sand.  

This is especially true when they're resting on a rock or a piece of seaweedit's like "group camouflage"!  The background substrate disappears and you think you're seeing sand instead. Pretty impressive.

Here's an example (this time with a bryozoan in the background):

I'll be working on their identification, but for now it's fun to appreciate their remarkable color patterns.  If you have any ideas about which species this is, I'm very curious.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

A rosy glow

Eric spotted this beautiful Moonglow Anemone (Anthopleura artemisia) along one of our transects this morning (9 May 2019).  It was in a tough place for a photograph, but we persevered and ended up with a couple of pictures to share.

A couple of close-ups of the tentacles:

We hope you enjoy it, too!

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Red, white, and orange

Three-lined Aeolid, Orienthella (formerly Flabellina) trilineata on coralline algae.  Photographed in a tidepool on 8 May 2019.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

A close call

After finishing our surveys this morning, we walked past a few boulders with large aggregations of Sand Castle Worms (Phragmatopoma californica).  (For a sense of scale, the mounds were ~5 feet across.)

When we looked more closely, Eric noticed some Purple Ribbon Worms (Paranemertes peregrina) hunting among the worm tubes:

We could see the ribbon worms extending into the openings of the tubes (they're active predators), but we didn't know if the ribbon worms were interested in the Sand Castle Worms themselves or other animals that might be living among the tubes?  We suspected the latter, but we weren't certain, so we kept watching for a few minutes:

And then we saw this:

This ribbon worm had just everted its proboscis in an attempt to capture the small polychaete worm that had emerged from a tube.  (The smaller worm is not a Sand Castle Worm, but a different species that was justing hanging out in a tube.)  The ribbon worm's proboscis is stored internally, but when contact is made with potential prey, it's everted dramatically and used like a lasso.  There's a stylet (a short spine) at the tip of the proboscis.  The ribbon worm can injure the prey with the stylet and also release a neurotoxin to paralyze it.  After that it swallows the prey whole!  In this case, the little worm evaded the lasso and escaped unharmed.

I'm glad we stopped to appreciate the Sand Castle Worm tubes.  It was fascinating to watch these ribbon worms hunting!