Sunday, May 11, 2008

Life overhead and underfoot

It's easier to take a photo of one eagle than it is of a half-dozen.

We got to the beach at lunchtime, earlier than usual. The tide was low, but still going out. The wind was chilly, in spite of the bright sunshine. We walked south, facing the wind; it would be easier work coming back, when we were tired.

Ahead of us, a pair of eagles called to each other, a high, skittering ee-ee-ee-ee-ee. They were too far away to consider getting a photo, but we walked faster, watching them. Others showed up, soaring in low circles, dropping to sit far away at the water's edge, then rising to make another lap of the beach. When they flew closer to us, we started clicking.

The problem with a bunch of eagles is that, while you're tracking one that seems to be coming your way, another always shows up, just barely overhead, coming from behind you. You spin to take the photo, too late. When you look back at the first one, he's headed for the stratosphere. Eagle # 2 is now hidden in a tree.

Laurie takes his photos carefully, getting the frame right, but in this case, I just snap away any time I see a black shape on my screen. He usually gets better photos.

I like this shot.

The eagles had paired up; when they landed, they sat two by two at the seaward side of the last sandbar. Once, when I had more or less given up, two of the eagles rose, screaming, to tackle each other with wings and talons. The argument didn't last as long as the duck fight at Reifel a couple of weeks ago; by the time I had the camera aimed at them, they had sorted things out, and were settling again to sit with their mates.

Looking around the web at eagle sites, I found the way to distinguish between the male and female eagles:
Another way to tell them apart is to measure the height of their bill. The female’s bill is always deeper than the male’s and usually has a larger hook than the male’s.
Simple. All you have to do is convince the eagle to come over and sit still while you measure its beak.

It might help to know that the female is bigger and has a deeper voice. Or not. At least I can tell a young one from an adult; the adult has the white head.

We'd come quite a ways south. That pillar, on the far right, just beyond the low tide line, marks the American border. I'd never seen it that close before.

On the way back, now with our backs to the eagles, we looked down rather than up. I poked in a few tide pools, looking for crabs.

Molted crab shell. Good thing he doesn't need it any more; somebody stepped on it.

In one pool, I saw these things, all about an inch long, and very squirmy.

Something that looks like a tiny eel. In another, very fuzzy photo, I got a side shot; he's like a narrow ribbon rather than a tube.

The "eel" and some sort of segmented worm.

And another worm, a spiky creature. I can't tell if he's the same species as the previous one.

I've worn out my eyes looking at worm photos. Is he a polychaete? I'm not sure. Kozloff has a photo of Ophidodromus pugettensis that looks very similar, and lives in this area; that would be my tentative guess.

On a barnacle- and mussel-covered rock, I found a family of a snail I'd not seen here before; it has a green or blackish mottled shell, much shorter and fatter than the usual Batillaria.

Red and black mussles, white and beige barnacles.

Laurie found this one: a convoluted knot of tubeworm tubes.

And at home, sorting out tiny clamshells and sand dollars, I discovered that I had a snail shell less than 1 mm. across.

The snail is the red-brown dot in the centre of the photo. I don't know how I managed to notice that this was a snail. It's about the size of the grains of sand I was washing away.

I probably had snails and clams in my shoes and didn't know it.


  1. Is the "eel" a penpoint gunnel,
    (Apodichthys flavidus)?

    This site shows a picture:

  2. Hugh,

    It could be. Penpoint gunnels are usually green, or at least the colour of what they are feeding on, (in this case, green algae) so the black and cream colouring seems a bit off.

    I was also looking at Anoplarchus purpurescens, the cockscomb prickleback. The spiny back seems to match.

  3. Yes, I think you're right. The coloration matches prickleback. The fins are lying flat because it's half out of water.

    A neat fish.

  4. "The fins are lying flat because it's half out of water."

    Oh. Of course. I was wondering about the fins.

    I had flipped it out of the water with a bit of shell to get the photo.


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