Dungeness crabs

During the summer of 2013 I got to know Dungeness crabs very well. (Also see my 2013 post.) For three months, small crabs (about an inch or two across) and crab molts (old shells discarded so the crab can grow) littered the beach I walk regularly. Some days there were a few and some days they were everywhere.



I started tossing them back into the water, but given the numbers, gave up. I found that when I rolled them off their backs and dug a little trench behind them, they would back into a hiding spot in the sand.

This was fun for me and probably better for them than being hurled into surf (I hoped).

I haven’t seen young Dungeness crabs along this stretch of beach since that summer. Populations of crab larvae naturally fluctuate with sea surface temperature, correlated to the Pacific Decadal Oscillation. Dungeness crabs prefer cooler waters and the lack of beached crabs recently could be related to a warm-water El Niño and the blob off our coast. Another explanation for the excess crabs on this particular beach that year could have been beach nourishment. [During the winter of 2012 – 2013, approximately 7,500 m³ of Monterey Harbor dredge material was used to nourish this critical south Monterey Bay erosion area, according to a Currents 2013 poster by A. Snyder et al.] Who knows for sure?

Why talk about 2013 now? Dungeness crab seasons open this month, and it takes the crabs about 3 years to grow enough to be part of the fishery. The crabs I saw in 2013 are now being harvested.

Last week (November 5), the recreational Dungeness crab season opened along the California coast. It was accompanied by a health warning to fishers catching crabs north of Point Reyes (Marin County) to not eat the viscera (guts) due to elevated levels of domoic acid (a natural toxin produced by single-celled algae). Domoic acid is a powerful neurotoxin and poisoning effects range from nausea to death in birds and mammals, including humans and possibly dogs eating sand crabs at the beach.

This week (November 15), the commercial season will open from Point Reyes (Marin County) south. However, according to California Department of Fish & Wildlife (CDFW), the CDFW Director is moving on state health agencies’ advice to close the commercial fishery between Point Reyes and the Sonoma/Mendocino county line (see CDFW website for related rock crab info). This is also due to domoic acid. (Most of last season was closed for the same reason.)

Update (as of Nov. 24) on open and closed areas from CDFW: https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/357812/posts/1234769465 



The good news is that the Dungeness crab fishery is considered sustainable according to CDFW’s 2011 status report. So as coastal waters cool this year during a La Niña, I hope little “dungies” will return this summer to my beach.


Wandering tattler

This name evokes an image of an inebriated medieval peddler hawking gossip along with his wares. From the first time I heard it, the name fascinated me, and hence the bird with this name does, to0.

wanderingtattler1The wandering tattler (Tringa incana) is a medium-sized sandpiper with a white eyebrow above a dark eye, yellow legs, beautiful gray flight feathers, and a white belly. In addition to the color pattern, this bird is easy to spot because it doesn’t just walk along the shore looking for insects and tidbits to eat — it bobs and teeters as it walks. It looks a bit inebriated.

Both times I’ve seen a wandering tattler it’s been in September, single birds migrating south from breeding in the mountains of northwestern Alaska and Canada. The good news is that its range is so widespread that its conservation status (IUCN) is Least Concern.

According to The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds, the “wandering” part of the name comes from its widespread occurrence over the Pacific ocean. The “tattler” part refers to its alarm call which alerts other birds to danger. In French, it’s called a “chevalier errant” and in Spanish, “playero vagabundo.”


All great names, and so apropos, for a shorebird that teeters along coastlines and into mountains from Alaska to Chile to the islands of the Pacific.wanderingtattler2

And, speaking of wandering tattlers, I’ll be walking the Coastside Trail along Half Moon Bay again with Slow Adventure this week and hope to post my best photos along the way.


Cormorant photo wins

X_BCormorant MBay3_2016 CMaParsonsJust sharing good news.

A photo that I took in March of a young Brandt’s cormorant at the Coast Guard Breakwater has won 1st place in the Sanctuary Life category of the National Marine Sanctuaries’ photo contest Get Into Your Sanctuary. I’m surprised and pleased that an everyday coastal bird (that I happen to like) won!

My thanks to the contest organizers and to everyone who has supported my sharing of Monterey Bay experiences.

Americans love to dine out. Each week 83% of us visit “fast food” restaurants and about 68% visit casual dining restaurants (2013 data). We like some variety, eating mostly “American” food, but also Italian, Mexican and Chinese, but we’re generally not adventurous eaters.

All wildlife — 100% — dine out daily. They have no other option. Many animals, especially those that live in close association with humans, eat a variety of foods, but some animals are very particular. These photos show a variety of animals photographed while they were dining out wild style locally.

This presentation was part of an assignment for a photography course I’ve been taking with Heather Angel  (Heather Angel Photography) through My Photo School. Hers is my second of their online courses. I’ve found the assignments challenging and tutors (the school is UK based) very helpful, and I’ve learned a lot from them, plus the course format and timing has been convenient. Since the course is finished, I thought I’d share this with all of you.
A note of caution: Not everyone is a dainty eater and some can be gross (last photo).

PaintedLady2Painted lady butterflies feed on the nectar of a variety of host plants, but they especially like Asteraceae (composite) flowers. Since they live only a few weeks, they have to get a lot of eating pleasure into a very short life. If you look closely, you can see the proboscis (tube mouth) sucking up the flower nectar.


SeaOtter CMParsons
Sea otters were thought to be generalists when it came to eating — dining on whatever local invertebrates were handy. Research has shown that individuals have specific tastes and choose their foods based on what they like (as well as what’s available). This sea otter at Elkhorn Slough is eating what looks like an innkeeper worm. I got this shot using a telephoto lens while sitting in a kayak. When photographing wildlife it’s good to mind your manners and not disturb them. Getting close enough to change behaviors is rude, and with marine mammals, it’s illegal.

Sanderling CMParsonsSanderlings eat the small invertebrates they find on or in beach sand. Their comical scurry up and down beaches following the waves is in pursuit of exposed sand crabs or sand fleas. This one seems to have found a meal too big for its bill.



CedarWaxwing CMParsonsCedar waxwings feed mostly on fruit year-round but also snack on protein-rich insects in the spring and summer. I photographed a group of waxwings dining on pyracantha berries across from my office on a cool November morning. The whole scene appeared fall festive.


Albatross CMParsonsThe seagoing black-footed albatross is a predator that catches flying fish and their eggs, as well as squid. However, like most of us, they don’t pass up a free meal. A group of albatrosses came upon (or were attracted to) a harbor porpoise killed by a group of orcas (killer whales). On a whale-watching trip, we happened upon the albatrosses. The orcas took only a bite out of the porpoise (you can see the porpoise’s blowhole). This gave the albatrosses access to a large amount of fresh meat, and the whale-watchers access to a feeding fest.

Dining out is different for everyone, as you can see.
If a photographer is diligent, patient and knows wildlife, she (or he) can capture great photos of locals enjoying a wild meal.

Artful sand dollars

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADuring low-tide walks this week sand dollars (Dendraster excentricus) have been the dominant life form. Everywhere dotting the exposed sand were white tests (as in dead shells), soft deep-purple disks (the healthy live ones), and shapely sand traces (from under-sand burrowing). The feeding must be good and the living easy on this beach. (I just learned that more than 500 individuals can crowd into a square yard!)
SandDollar CMaParsons
Sand dollars are often collected as souvenirs and used in art projects. The white tests are beautiful (although several people collecting the purplish shells didn’t realize these were living animals).

To counter the notion of sand dollars as art, I thought I’d post the art created by sand dollars. Don’t you think their living works are lovelier than those adorning our bureaus and walls?

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References & Resources
If you want to learn more about our Pacific coast sand dollar, visit this nicely done San Francisco State biogeography class post from 2005.