Friday, October 20, 2017

Loreto Diving part 3

going diving

Here's the final batch of diving photos from the last four days of our 12 days of diving around Loreto, Baja, Mexico with Dolphin Dive Baja. Highly recommended!

lets go diving!

I recently read a book about octopus and squid so when we got to Loreto I asked Rafael if there were many around. He said "no" so I wasn't expecting to see any. But we ended up seeing three different ones. Often they are just a well camouflaged blob in the back of a dark hole. One did come out briefly but I wasn't in position to get a photo. This one was at least recognizable with its eye looking out.


Another good sighting was this giant Elegant hermit crab. This shell was the size of a football. When Rafael waved us over all we saw was a seemingly empty shell. But as we watched the hermit crab emerged. Quite a bizarre looking critter!

Elegant hermit crab

This just looks like bubbles - it's hard to tell what it is. But it's actually an anemone all closed up. It opens at night to feed.

Beebe's anemone

These coral hawkfish are fairly common but they're a bit skittish so I was happy to get this closeup. Love that top fin!

Coral hawkfish on orange cup coral

As always, I love the hidden details. Here's the underside of a starfish.

underside of starfish

Although the Sea of Cortez doesn't have a lot of hard coral it makes up for it with lots of sea fans and soft corals.

backlit sea fan

This next one is a basket star, a kind of starfish where the arms branch many times so it appears they have a lot of legs, although when they're all wrapped up it's another one where it's hard to tell what it is.

Basket star

One time Rafael waved me over to look at a scorpionfish. That seemed a little odd since they are quite common. But then he indicated that it was something small on the back of the scorpionfish. Sure enough there were tiny shrimp on it. I could barely see them unless they moved. I'm going to have to start carrying a magnifying glass like he does! Later, when I was looking at one of my photos of a scorpionfish I noticed what I think is one of the shrimp (look on the right side of the "forehead")


There aren't a lot of obvious anemones here. I spotted this one in the back of a crack in the rock. I'm not sure what kind it is.


We ran into a few Agassiz nudibranchs and I managed a little more interesting angle on this one:

Agassiz's nudibranch

We saw a few of these Mobula rays (related to manta rays, but smaller)  but mostly in the distance. This was the best shot I managed:


Usually what we saw was more like this distant shot of a spotted eagle ray:

Spotted eagle ray

People that are only diving for a day or two here often like to go to see the sea lions, so we ended up diving at this site a few times. We didn't mind since it's always fun to see the sea lions and it's a great dive site regardless.

sea lion

On our last day of diving we were lucky enough to see another group of dolphins. Previously we saw bottlenose dolphins, these ones were common dolphins. (check out Shelley's video)

Common dolphins

If you want more, see all 77 photos in this album

See also: Loreto Diving part 2 and Diving in Loreto

Monday, October 16, 2017

San Javier

On our second day off from diving we rented a car and drove up to San Javier. We went for a short hike up one of the side canyons before it got too hot. The bushes (thistles?) in one area were full of butterflies of several different kinds.

Painted lady butterfly

Queen butterfly


I couldn't figure out what this last one is. Anyone know? The wasps and bees were also enjoying these flowers.


There were also small toads hopping around everywhere! They were quite small (1 cm, .5 in) so I'm assuming they had recently hatched, probably a result of the rain associated with hurricane season. I think they are red-spotted toads which grow to 7 cm (3 in).

Red-spotted toad

The one above looks quite plump despite its small size, but some of them were quite a bit skinnier, presumably more recently metamorphosed from tadpoles. There were also tadpoles in some of the pools of water.

The dragonflies were taking advantage of the water to mate and lay their eggs:

dragonflies mating / laying eggs

There were lots of turkey vultures around. Not the prettiest birds, but impressive fliers.

Turkey vulture

And a few great egrets. I didn't see them feeding on the toads, but presumably they'd make easy pickings.

Great egret

Surprisingly, we also saw an owl. We could hear some noise in the trees ahead and when we came around the corner two birds flew out. This one flew a short distance and perched on a rock outcropping where we got several photographs. I think it's a great horned owl, except they are supposed to be nocturnal. The other bird flew away and I couldn't tell if it was another owl or something else. The photograph isn't great but zooming in, it almost looks like the owl has something fluffy like a chick in its claws. Perhaps it had raided another bird's nest?

Great horned owl

This vine was flowering all over the place, adding a lovely splash of color to the desert. I was told the name but didn't pay attention, assuming it would be easy to identify something so common. But I couldn't find it in a quick search on-line. Can anyone identify it?

flowering vine

Cactus and flowering vine

Even without flowers, the desert here is quite a rich environment. (Although it's not always this green.)

hillside with cactus

Interesting exposed tree roots along the arroyo:

tree roots

We did make it to the actual Mission San Javier, although that's less important than the scenic drive.

Mission St. Javier

And we visited the 400 year old olive tree (part of the mission gardens).

400 year old olive tree

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Loreto Diving part 2

More diving photos from Loreto, Baja, Mexico from our second four days of diving. We've had some great long dives. The other day we did two 90 minute dives. Great to have so much time to look around, but 3 hours underwater is tiring!

I'm afraid there are a lot of photos. Because I don't dive that often I get excited about all the new (and amazing) subjects.

One of the recurring themes is the abundance of the fish.

Shelley and bigreye jack/trevally

Sergeant majors

The first few sea turtles we saw were in the distance and it was hard to get good photos, but we finally found one that let us get a little closer.


Green moray eels are quite common, but we didn't see as many of the smaller Jeweled moray eels:

Jeweled moray eel

This was the only giant jawfish that we saw. (Of course, Rafael was the one who found it.) It's amazing how they can build a stone lined hole in the sand with only their mouth. They tend to be quite shy so it's hard to get good photos of them.

giant jawfish

Another less common find. I think it's a tube anemone. I love the bright center color.

tube anemone

This stuff is everywhere. It looks quite attractive close up, but from experience I can tell you it's not a good idea to stick your hand in stinging hydroids when you're busy trying to take photos!

Stinging hydroids

I can never understand divers that only want to see the big stuff like sharks. There's so much other interesting stuff to look at. I thought I was taking a photo of the orange cup coral, and then I noticed this tiny red-head goby on it.

Redhead goby

The blennies in their holes are another good example. They are quite small and it's easy to overlook them, but once you start to notice them you realize that they are everywhere. They are another tricky one to photograph because when you try to get close they also hide in their holes.


Another small, well camouflaged fish that doesn't like you to get too close with the camera. Love the eyes and the "crown".

Lizard triplefin (?)

These guys are bigger and when they defending their "nest" (the cleared area on the rock behind) they don't run away, so they're a little easier to photograph. They aren't colorful but they have such bright blue eyes!

Giant damselfish defending nest site

The yellow-tailed surgeonfish are a bit more colorful.

Yellowtail surgeonfish

As are the lobsters close up:

lobster closeup

It can be difficult to figure out what someone is pointing at underwater. Rafael motioned me over to look at something in this soft coral, but I assumed it was going to be something tiny like a shrimp and it took me forever to see the fish. Thankfully it stayed put long enough to take its picture.

Long-nose hawkfish

Interesting shape and pattern on these sea stars:

Bradley's sea star

At some of the dive sites there are beaches nearby where we can land in between dives. This beautiful spot is known as Honeymoon Bay.

Honeymoon bay on Danzante Island

The water is so clear that the boat almost looks like it's in mid air.

dive boat in clear water

I happened to catch this guy as he flew by: (it looks blue underneath but that's just the reflection of the water)

pelican in flight

If you still want more after all these, see all 91 photos in this album.

Note: I'm not an expert at identifying all this stuff. If you notice any mistakes, please let me know!

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Slugs and Worms

Or more specifically, nudibranchs and Christmas tree worms.

Nudibranchs are, roughly speaking, sea slugs. That doesn't sound very exciting if you think of land slugs. But nudibranchs come in an amazing assortment of shapes and colors. A better equivalent might be the butterflies of the sea.

The word "nudibranch" means roughly "naked gills". That's the bushy thing you can see on their backs.

Blue-striped sea slug (Tambja eliora)

nudibranch (Tambja abdere?)

One good thing about photographing nudibranchs is that they don't move too fast. Although even a slow crawl can take them out of sight when you're fiddling with camera settings and trying not to drift away.

This one isn't as sharp as I'd like, but it's the best I got of this type. We didn't see many of these.

Ink-stain nudibranch (Polycera alibe)

It takes skill and experience to spot the nudibranchs, just like an expert birdwatcher will see more birds. Rafael (our dive master) is very good at it. We also had another guy diving with us, John, whose main interest was nudibranchs. Where I might spot one or two on a dive, he would see a dozen different kinds. (He had little interest in boring things like fish!) Rafael and John were also spotting ones that were tiny, e.g. less than a centimeter (half an inch) long. I didn't even try to spot (or photograph) those ones. The ones I have photos of were maybe 5 cm (2 inches).

The Tiger dorid (Roboastra tigris) below is one of the largest, growing up to 30 cm (12 inches) in length. The name fits both the coloring and its predatory behavior. It will even eat other nudibranchs, swallowing them whole.

Tiger dorid

I shared this photo previously from our earlier dives. This was the only one of this type that we've seen so far.

Nudibranch (Chromodoris marislae)

[update] We saw a couple more of these later. They were "flatter" than the first one.

Chromodoris marislae (nudibranch)

[update] We also saw a few Agassiz's nudibranchs. I tried to get a better angle instead of straight overhead or from the side.

Agassiz's nudibranch

These next ones are related but they have a partial shell - a cone shaped "hat". They are side-gill snails because they have their gills on one side instead of on top like the nudibranchs. The photo is not the clearest, but there are two of them together, possibly mating?

two Mushroom Sidegill snails (Tylodina fungina)

See all my nudibranch photos from this trip

"worms" doesn't sound very appealing, but Christmas tree worms are beautiful. You don't actually see the worm, just their feeding and respiration structure - a spiral that can be a variety of colors. If you get too close the worms retract this structure instantly, making it tricky to photograph them sometimes - if you get too close you end up with nothing to photograph. A bit of current seems to help, probably because it "hides" your movement.

This blue color is less common but stands out because there aren't a lot of things that color.

Christmas tree worm

They are often found in groups. Sometimes a rock will be covered in them.

Christmas tree worms

Notice that they always come in pairs. Each pair of "christmas trees" is a single worm.

Christmas tree worms

Fan worms are less colorful but the details are amazing when you look close. This one almost looks like feathers. (Some worms are called "feather dusters" due to this resemblance.)

Panamic fan worm

Hopefully the photos have convinced you to look for slugs and worms next time you are snorkelling or diving :-)

Note: color (white balance) is altered underwater and I have adjusted these (raw) photographs to look "correct" as much as I can, but the colors may still not be totally accurate.