Dead Blue Whale & Fetus

What is often lost in all the nature documentaries is that every critter must die eventually. More often than not, said deaths are generally brutal.

One of our favorite beaches is Bean Hollow State Beach south of Half Moon Bay along the northern coast of California. Dog friendly and abundant with wildly different environment ranging from sandy beaches to monumental rocks, to flats full of tide pools with the occasional freshwater pool.

While visiting, it was mentioned that the southern entrance to the state park — we have always stuck to the northern (but will head south because of the awesome beach) — led to an alcove where a dead whale had washed ashore.

This was, of course, far too tempting of a site for Roger to resist, so down the road we headed.

What we found, though, was absolutely monumental. And stinky. Very, very, stinky.

Dead Blue Whale

The creature that had washed up was huge. Hundred+ feet long and 80 feet long, 75 tons, and clearly dead for a while as there were bits and pieces here and there.

And the smell. We made the mistake of parking down wind. Doh!

Roger made it just about 2/3rds of the way to the carcass before heading back to the car.

After we hit the road, we drove upwind and found a path that we could walk upon to overlook the scene without having to smell it.

Regardless, the stench stuck with us on the drive home. Or not. It may have largely been Ruby’s (the Dog’s) wet doggy stench from having waded in a couple of swampy puddles.

Dead Blue Whale Fetus
Blue Whale Guts & Fetus

Sadly, it wasn’t just the one adult whale. On the shore was a whale fetus — I hesitate to say baby since it was so relatively small and pale — that was also dead.

Clearly, this was a mother whale and baby. Given the presence of the floating mass of intestines and the general destruction of the carcass, the whale likely didn’t die naturally. My completely uneducated guess is that it was hit by a cargo ship, an all too common death amongst these magnificent creatures.

I’m pretty sure this is a blue whale.

Sad though such a death is, I can’t help but consider — and explained to Roger — the unbelievable energy source such a carcass is to that particular coastal area. If the carcass were left to decay in that location, it would both take years prior to being fully decayed and those many tons of flesh and bone would likely grossly increase the population of crabs, birds, and other critters.

I’m going to try to contact the park services to find out what they might do– if anything. If the carcass is left to lie (or blown up to accelerate the process), we will revisit the site in the near future to see what the critter density looks like.

Apparently, this is the first blue whale to wash ashore in Northern California in more than 30 years. The Santa Cruz Sentinel has an article about the event.


I tossed this together tonight and, though simple and fairly obvious, was just too good to not share.

Heirloom tomato season is upon us and I’ve been grabbing some beauties from my community garden plot.

A simple use that makes for a good all in one meal:

  • Slice the tomato into 1/4″ thick rounds
  • Place on lightly oiled (olive oil works best) cookie sheet or pizza pan
  • Place a couple of fresh basil leaves on each
  • Add a bit of meat. I used pulled pork (as I had made some earlier), but I’m betting ham or bacon would work exceptionally well, too. Chicken works quite nicely, as well.
  • Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese. Good thick layer. Maybe grate a touch of parmesan in there, too
  • Lightly pepper and add a touch of salt. I used porcini mushroom salt.
  • Toss into a warmed pre-warmed oven at about 300 degrees.
  • Wait a minute or so, then turn the oven over to Broil on high
  • Wait until all the cheese is melted and starting to bubble/brown


Hummingbird (Trochilidae) On Pickerelweed (Pontederia)

Mid-Missouri is a hummingbird destination.

That is, these tiny, but incredibly energetic, birds treat mid-Missouri as a destination for breeding and, as a result, are extremely territorial in their presence (I’m still trying to grab a few good frames of the epic battle around the feeder amongst 4 hummers).

Apparently, other hummers aren’t the only territorial species in this particular area….

Hummingbird (Trochilidae) On Pickerelweed (Pontederia) Buzzed By Dragonfly (Anisoptera)

While watching hummers feed upon the shore line pond flowers, I noticed that the birds were quite commonly being buzzed by dragonflies!

That dragonfly in the upper left followed ever move of the hummingbird and, beyond that, dove in to seemingly tag the hummer regularly. This annoyed the hummingbird considerably and much aerobatics came with each buzz-by from the dragonfly.

Yellow Lotus (Nelumbo lutea) Taking Over Pond

We spent a good chunk of saturday wandering about mid-Missouri, touring the various homes and towns of my Mother’s family.

While wondering about Mom’s home town of Jamestown, Missouri, we found Cave Springs Road.

“Road” is a bit of an exaggeration; it is a rather winding gravel/dirt road through the hills and river bottoms of the area. It also happens to pass by one of my Grandparent’s old houses.

While continuing on said road, I caught something out of the corner of my eye and asked my sister (who was driving) to stop the car.

Upon seeing this pond, our cousin from Austria exclaimed, “This pond is being invaded by Doctor Seuss plants.”.

Yellow Lotus (Nelumbo lutea) Seedheads

The plants do look a bit Seuss-esque. Especially the seed pods.

They are American Lotus or Yellow Lotus. While considered a native species, they are extremely invasive and can easily entirely consume a pond in vegetative growth within a few years (depending on pond depth).

While “native”, the working theory is that these plants are not really naturally propagated nearly as widely as they are without human intervention.

In particular, much of the plant is edible. As far as anyone can determine, American Indians would carry seeds and/or roots of the plant as they moved about, planting any random ponds to establish a food source if the tribe happened to pass that way again.

Light with Bug Infestation

Now, as you look at this particular photo which isn’t that good in the first place, you might ask yourself, “Why the heck has Bill posted a photo of a random outdoor light?!?”.

Well, look closer. See that pile of what looks to be wood shavings or something inside the light?

Yeah. No. Not so much.

Light with Bug Infestation

You see, that is a gigantic pile of dead bug larva.

I have no idea what kind of bugs they were. Look kinda like ants, but I have never seen white ants before.

Termites, maybe? But why would termites take up residence in a seemingly all metal and glass light fixture!?!

In any case. FREAKY!

The light post is in front of Apple’s De Anza 6 building. The photos were actually both taken with the Camera+ app (using the image stabilization feature) on an iPhone 4. I’m very impressed with the camera. Sure, can’t compete with my T1i. Often, though, the best camera is the camera you have. That it also happens to be a really good camera is bonus!

Human blood cells

Roger has always excelled in math and sciences — no surprise given lineage — and is of the age (9) where the science education is moving into bigger and smaller areas of study.

So far, he has gotten by with a QX-5 Digital Microscope
and mixScope. While the QX-5 is great for looking at money, the veins in leaves, bits of mushroom and tiny critters, high magnification is pretty much useless because the construction makes focus impossible.

Thus, the desire to get something more like a real microscope. In particular, I really wanted a microscope that allows for live viewing on a computer screen (like the QX-5). While, there were some good ones for less than $500 — 3MP digital camera model microscopes that included simultaneous use binocular eyepieces, even — their software is pile of Windows only crapware.

No, thank you. Next!

Close-up of cross section of spinal column.

Enter the Celestron 44340 LCD Digital LDM Biological Microscope. It replaces the normal eyepiece with a 2.1MP digital camera and a color LCD screen. More importantly, the build quality is actually quite decent such that focusing at, even, the 400x maximum optical zoom is quite smooth!

Unlike the QX-5, the Celestron 44340 is really only for use with proper microscope slides (The QX-5 still has a purpose!). blank microscope slides and slide covers are cheap, so I picked up a bunch of those, too.

The slide table includes a very nice set of caliper style adjusters for moving the slide around in a highly controlled fashion. Slides are held in place by an easy to use spring loaded caliper.

The microscope can illuminate the subject from either the top or bottom and the bottom illumination includes a variety of color filters that can be quite useful. Intensity of illumination can be adjusted.

The top illumination is nearly useless at all but the lowest magnification (otherwise there isn’t enough distance between lens and subject).

The digital controls include an EV adjustment, a digital zoom, and the ability to take snapshots. Digital zoom only works when the snapshot resolution is configured for less than 1600×1200. Digital zoom works by interpolating data across the sensor into a lower-than-sensor resolution image that provides a higher-than-optical zoom factor. It actually works fairly well (unlike most digital zooms).

Pollen. Evil, evil, pollen.

The unit also comes with a really nice hard sided carrying case, a dust cover, and power adaptors for global use. A surprisingly complete kit — I was completely blown away by the quality of the case for a device this relatively inexpensive.

My only real complaint is that the LCD is effectively physically attached to the camera & lenses. That, combined with the relative stiffness of the buttons means it is hard to take an image that isn’t blurry. However, it seems that the unit has a slight delay between button push and recording such that is isn’t as big of a problem as it could be. But, still… stupid design — just move the damned shutter button to the base. I’ll probably hack the unit to add an external shutter button.

All in all, I’m thoroughly impressed by the build quality and feature set of this microscope. I would still have been impressed if my $180 had purchased a microscope with this optical performance, sans awesome case and really nice slide table.

All of the images in this blog post were taken with the microscope, no surprise. It is a boxed set of prepared slides that I also picked up from Amazon.

Ants & Aphids on Oleandar Blossom

This year was mostly a great growing season for our garden. We got lots of beans, squash, tomatoes, and other goodies.

However, this year was also the year of aphids.

At left is a blossom on a red oleandar that I planted a few weeks before that photo was taken.

The ants are farming the aphids. That is, they herd and protect the aphids. In return, the aphids suck the plant’s sap and the ants carry off the waste product — the aphid poop — to store away in their nest for future feasting.

Two species acting symbiotically to irritate the hell out of me.

Ants Herding Aphids on Oleander

If this were the only infestation of this kind, I would be concerned that I had chosen a location for the plant that was sub-optimal and, thus, led to weakness that made the plant susceptible to such an attack.

Black bean aphid  (Aphis fabae)

But, not in this case. This is not the only massive infestation of aphids that I have seen this year!

The community garden was also plagued with aphids. And by plagued, I mean plagued.

This is a closeup of the blossom of a long bean plant. At a distance, the vine looked black because the aphids were this thick over the entire plant.

If you look closely at that photo, there are a handful of parasitic bugs attacking the aphids. Unfortunately, nowhere near enough to quell the infestation. The only solution was to remove the plant in its entirety.

Oddly, they only attacked some of the bean plants. No idea what made one plant more attractive than the next, given that the beans were in the same soil and climbing the same trellis.

Red-Eared Slider with Blossom

Every now and then, a critter will strike a pose for me.

This red-eared slider showed up a week or so ago at the landing site for the Smith’s Fern Grotto tour, a boat trip along the Wailua river with a short walk through the jungle.

They had been looking for the turtle to re-appear. Of course, Roger found it — he has 20/10 vision and finds life in the most surprising places.

Red-eared sliders have become ubiquitous the world over as they are the most popular aquatic turtle kept as pets. We found a rather much larger red-eared slider in Missouri.

Black Widow Top

For whatever reason, the black widow population in our neighborhood has skyrocketed this year.

They are relatively non-aggressive and harmless when left alone, but they are a nuisance and can be a hazard.

One of the toddlers around the corner got bitten earlier in the summer. 2 days of all over muscle cramping followed by 2 weeks of flu like symptoms. The spider had taken up residence in the stroller and didn’t like being sat upon.

An accident, assuredly. While black & brown widow are voracious consumers of pest bugs, I would much rather have some other species of spiders around.

This particular critter had taken up resident in an antique toy truck that had been rusting in the yard for a while.

Beautiful creature. I hadn’t seen a black widow with such distinct markings on its back. That’s because it isn’t a black widow, but a brown widow (thanks, Mark!!). If there were any doubt that it is a widow, the picture of the spider’s belly below will lay that question to rest.

Black Widow Underside

I do hate to kill anything, but this one met The Big Squish in the middle of the street.

Snapping Turtle Hanging About

Yesterday, Roger and I decided to wade up the creek in the valley behind my parent’s house. The creek is healthier than I have seen it in decades; full of wildlife, including fish, frogs, tadpoles (big fat ones!), crayfish and the occasional turtle.

“Hey, Dad, there is a turtle over there!”, Roger exclaimed. I looked and I didn’t see a damned thing. At first. When Roger makes such an observation, I know better than the doubt him.

Now, you might look at the picture at the right and think, “well, duh, it is obvious”. That picture is the product of modern technology! The reality was that said turtle was under some tree roots (seen at the top of the picture) in a deep shadow near the bank of the river. Not terribly obvious.

Moving a bit closer, fortunately not too close, the turtle became quite obvious. It was a snapper and a pretty good sized one, too!

Roger and I had talked about snapping turtles earlier in the week and I said that I knew how to pick one up. Of course, that meant that I was going to have to pick this particularly ornery beast up.

Can’t disappoint the son on Father’s day, after all!

Angry Snapping Turtle

Snapping turtles are one of the angriest of critters around. These are some seriously bad tempered critters. And they are well armed.

When something said turtle doesn’t like (or wants to eat) passes within about 6″ of its face, it’ll sit motionless until the target is within range. Then the turtle will shoot its rather rock-like head out with jaws wide open and then snap them shut. Flesh and bone is no match. Neither are shovel handles, if the snapper is big enough (this one wasn’t).

Given that they can also move side-to-side fairly fast and those are some really big/sharp claws on its feet, the safest way to pick up one of these is by the tail.

So, tail grab it was!

In the photo at left, I’m actually holding the turtle by the tail with my left hand and shooting the photo with my right. It is a little over a yard long from tail to snout.

Little did I know that snappers can flex their tails enough to swing a bit to get a bit of extra range for their head-thrust-and-snap attack. That was an exciting discovery.

I really need to teach Roger how to use my camera. It would have been easier.

One thing that is not conveyed in this image is just how bad the damned thing smells. Think stirred up sewage lagoon in the hot sun.