Category Archives: Critters

Not Stopping To Smell The Flowers

It’s not that I don’t stop to smell the flowers – god knows there are enough pictures of them here. But as a comment on how you should slow down in life and take the time to enjoy the little things, my preferred activity would be to stop and listen to the birds.

And there are few as entertaining to listen to as the mockingbirds.

I understand that not everyone appreciates them, especially when they’re singing all damn night at top volume outside your window. My first wife in particular sort of hated them, while I look at it as Nature’s lullaby.

We’ve got several pairs in the neighborhood. While they’re not sounding off every night, 365 days a year, right now seems to be a prime time for them. (I know that it’s only the bachelor males who sing all night long.)

The other night I wandered out and recorded a few minutes of one particularly noisy (and presumably particularly horny) male, along with a passing motorcycle down on Valley Circle Drive and all of the neighbors’ air conditioning units rumbling in the background:

Enjoy! The range and variety of song just goes on and on and on! (Whether you’re trying to sleep or not…)

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Found In A Driveway In Vermont

We had come out of a store. It had been raining. This guy was in the driveway, still fluttering.

I don’t know from butterflies – well, for all I know this guy’s a moth. Either way, I didn’t know if it was hurt, just trying to dry off from the passing shower, or preparing to go for the throat of the next Rottweiler that passed by. So I just took the picture.

I also notice that the asphalt driveways in Vermont are MUCH more colorful and rocky and interesting than our plain, dull, black ones here in California.

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Be The Hawk

I found this in the back yard this afternoon – something violent happened here.

Lots of grey and white feathers, most of them not all that small.

Maybe some avian forensics could determine what species of bird it was, but my guess would be one of the mourning doves that inhabit the area. As to the perpetrator of the attack, my money says hawk, but it could be my friend the owl or a feral cat. We’ll never know.

Either way, I hope at the end of the day you feel more like the (presumed) hawk and less like the (presumed) mourning dove.

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During dinner there were two mockingbirds out in the back yard making quite a ruckus. I thought that it might be a mating or territorial thing. I grabbed the camera and headed outside. And noticed something in the tree on the hillside just below our back yard…

Oh. My. God!

She is spectacular! A Great Horned Owl.

I was moving slowly, not wanting to spook her – every time I moved that head would swivel, but the body never twitched.

She was sitting in this one patch of sun as the sun set behind the house in back of us, her feathers illuminated perfectly, her “horns” making her easy to identify. (Well, that and the fact that I’ve heard them ever since we moved in here.)

It’s truly astonishing how far around that head can swivel, probably 270° or more!

I kept shifting toward the right and closer to the edge. By this time I was only about fifteen feet from her. And then…

…I saw the other one! (I might have squeeeed just a little bit.) At first I thought it was just a rug or coat or something thrown across the fence. THEN THE HEAD SWIVELED AROUND TO LOOK AT ME.

I had heard the male hooting a couple times while I was out there. I’ve heard them calling back and forth many times and when I’ve done some research it seems the call of the male is deeper, more bass. That was his call.

I’m guessing that this is the male and the one up where I could see her was the female. In part it’s the size difference, but also the calls. This one was about fifty feet away and down in the shade, where it was hard to get a good picture as it was getting dark.

I’m also struck by how different his coloration seems. Might be the lighting. (Might not be – see the picture below of the female in this same spot a few minutes later.)

The mockingbirds were still out there, taking every opportunity to dive bomb her. At one point she hopped down onto another branch.

From there, just as the sun was setting, I got a good view of the feathers on her breast and tail.

I was lucky enough to be ready when another mockingbird strafing run came by and she hopped down another branch.

That’s a large wingspan! The white tips to all of her feathers when deployed are quite a sight.

The male finally got sick of the mockingbirds and flew off down the hill. I saw him a few time gliding from tree to tree, but the female soon went down and took his spot on that fence corner. (Compare her size to the male perched at the same spot a few pictures above.)

As it got dark I watched her and listened to them occasionally calling back and forth. The mockingbirds continued to be pissy and loud, but their attacks were all no-hitters. Meanwhile, a few straggler butterflies were wandering by, the hummingbirds were hitting on the feeders and buzzing the ice plant flowers near me, and the house finches were flitting all over the bushes for a last snack for the babies back in the nest as it got dark.

Not bad for the middle of a megalopolis!!

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The Running Of The Butterflies

Something unusual has been happening around Los Angeles this year – butterflies. Clouds of them. Swarms of them.

We’re not talking “blotting out the sun” swarms, nothing apocalyptic. But for a few days last month there were days at the house on the hill where we would see what I estimated to be several hundred per minute flitting by for hours at a time. It’s been quite impressive.

They’ve been notoriously difficult to get pictures of. For the most part they’re not stopping or refueling on any of those flowers in our yard that I shared last month. They’re just bobbing and weaving in the breeze, a half dozen here, ten there, a few more over there, coming past the house and being gone downwind in just a few seconds.

Then they were gone for several weeks and I figured that was it. Until they started showing up on Thursday and Friday. Yesterday while driving back home from the hangar in Camarillo I saw the largest clouds of them I had seen yet, easily ten times the rate that I had seen last month.

This morning they were flowing past the house at a pretty good rate and I finally got some pictures. I found a corner of the house with a good view of the sky where the butterflies were coming around the house at my back and then silhouetted against the sky. I got video from my iPhone, than did some screen captures of freeze frames.

The individual images are somewhat blurry and small – they’re just a tiny crop of a full frame with a picture of a small-ish butterfly, typically five or six feet away. The video is found at the bottom.


Filed under Castle Willett, Critters, Photography, Video

Big Black Fred’s Friend

And by “friend,” I mean “potential dinner.”

(Typing up a little loose end, one of literally thousands on this site I’m afraid.)

About ten days ago I posted some pictures of one of our yard’s California Alligator Lizard friends, who I dubbed “Big Black Fred.” I also closed that post with a teaser – “Something besides the sun had his attention.” And then my muse went on her merry way and I completely forgot about the tease or where it was headed.

Until today.

This guy was fairly large, about three inches long.

One of the odd things was that he didn’t spook or jump away or fly up into my face – which would have made me scream and cry and possibly wet myself despite my intellectual knowledge that he’s 100% harmless.

I was still a couple feet away, shooting with a 300mm telephoto lens, but still you would think at some point that he would feel that I was invading his personal, insectoid space. Nope. He never moved.

Even when I got down on my belly on the concrete and was looking at him head on, he never took off or twitched. I was starting to think that he might be dead.

But when I stood back up he moved a few inches, so I knew that he was alive. He just wasn’t moving.

It was after I got back to my feet that I noticed Big Black Fred over by the trash cans, maybe eight or nine feet away. And I noted in those pictures that Fred didn’t seem too spooked by me, allowing me to get much closer than usual for the skittish lizards in this yard.

It occurred to me only later that I might have gone and lay down on the concrete in the middle of a classic reptile/insect version of a Mexican standoff. Fred didn’t want to move because he didn’t want to spook the grasshopper while he was sneaking up on it. The grasshopper didn’t want to move for fear that the motion would catch the eye of Fred. At some point Fred was going to hit the gas straight into fifth gear (unlike the new Corvette C8, apparently – sorry, couldn’t pass up that little bit of snark!) and go after the grasshopper before he could jump away.

Who was going to be faster? Who was going to be the victor with eating dinner or being dinner on the line?


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Big Black Fred

This guy was sunning himself next to the trash barrels when I went out this afternoon:

I’m actually surprised by what the photos show him to look like in detail. From where I was standing and taking the pictures (about ten to fifteen feet away with a big telephoto lens) he looked to be solid black.

As you can see, he’s got a much, much more detailed and not quite as dark scaling pattern.

He was also pretty calm about standing his ground – I’m guessing that he’s pretty comfortable with the environment around the trash bins and the ivy and bushes immediately behind them, so he knew that he could get to cover very quickly. Most of the other lizards I see in the “new” house sun themselves more out in the open and are pretty skittish. This guy let me step up to within about seven or eight feet on this picture before he boogied.

But he was back out quickly after I dropped off the trash – I saw him back out there just a couple of minutes later. Something besides the sun had his attention.

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