Category Archives: Critters

Golden Hour Backyard Lizards

You’ve seen plenty of the front yard lizards recently, hanging out under the Volvo or the van, eating ants, living their best lives (except for all of the missing limbs and mutilations). But what about those in the back yard? I think the last one I showed you there was probably Tux.

Can you find that lizard? (That’s not original – watch on Twitter for the #FindThatLizard game to return in a few Wednesday nights. Earyn McGee [@Afro_herper] runs the game and she’s been successfully completing and defending her doctoral dissertation!)

It was one of those times when my watch had whined at me to get off my ass and walk a bit, so as I often do, I took a lap around our backyard sidewalk. This time it was just before sunset, the “golden hour” for photography due to the light. As I walked, almost every step had one of these little guys darting from the grass or bushes or dirt off into the shrubs that border the yard.

This dude didn’t make it to the shrubs, but made the smart move of freezing and hoping his natural camouflage would save him. It didn’t, but the fact that I wasn’t interested in killing and eating him (not necessarily in that order), did.

These skitterish backyard lizard dudes need to chill!


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Lizard Diet Conundrum

As you all remember since you’ve been following this deluge of daily diatribes, Monsieur Badass (a partially crippled Western fence lizard) hangs out under the Volvo when it’s parked in the driveway. Aside from the protection from birds and other predators, I also suspect that he hides there because there are ants to eat.

It’s also been hotter than Hell here in Southern California, and one side effect is a sharp increase in the number of black widow spider webs around the yard. Including one that keeps rebuilding under the Volvo, very near where Monsieur Badass hangs out. Now, I’m really not a fan of arachnids of any kind, but I’m really, REALLY opposed to the venomous arachnids. My first immediate reaction is to shriek and run away, but my second, more thoughtful, more mature and considered reaction is to rain nuclear fire on them (preferably from orbit). Or at the very least, soak the area in insecticide.

But doing that stands a good chance of also poisoning Monsieur Badass, which would be very bad.

Then on a hunch I checked out what Western fence lizards eat in the wild. There are ants, crickets, other small bugs and spiders…including black widow spiders.

As a result, I’m not going to scream, nor nuke, nor soak the web and car in poison. I’ll leave the widder spidder’s web there for now, on the off chance that it’s another food source for Monsieur Badass.

The things we do for our friends and pets… 🥴

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More Freakin’ Lizards

California may be officially “open” again, but some of us are still about 99.99% up to our eyeballs in work between this and that and the other thing, so while I’ll be looking for new and different things to start sharing after 15 months of birds, flowers, lizards, and various celestial objects, that may take a few days to get to.

Again I’ve changed my nickname for the semi-tailless, completely left feet-less, dude on the left. I think “Warrior!” was the last thought I had, but it doesn’t just roll off the tongue when I’m chatting with him, so currently I’m going with “Monsieur Badass.”

Normally he’s more hiding near the tires rather than out in the open.

I don’t think this is Doctor Lizardo. My gut feeling is that this dude’s smaller, younger, different markings, and he looks to be still on his first tail. But it could be him and I might be clueless and making this up as I go along.

Then Monsieur Badass made this face right after sucking up a half-dozen ants that were foolishly trying to scoot along that groove between the bricks and concrete in front of him. Okay, that explains why he’s here instead of next to the tires. It’s dinner time!

Mmmm… Ants. There are lots of them around and they’re not real bright about changing course when the ants in front of them are running full tilt into the gaping maw of a tiny dinosaur relative.

That also explains the faceoff in the driveway between the two of them – those are Monsieur Badass’ ants, go find your own! And, in fact, about two seconds after I took this last picture, M. Badass did chase this dude away.

It’s a lizard eat ants sort of world out there.

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Bird Pictures In Mind Only

Two experiences today where I was either without a camera (and it happened really fast) or I had a camera and something happened too fast to move, focus, and shoot.

Experience The First – Death From Above

I had done my usual Sunday morning COVID-based grocery run and pick up of breakfast. As I pulled into the driveway and got out, I saw a pair of red-tail hawks circling a quarter-mile or so down to the south, maybe 500′ above us. I locked the car and walked around to the trunk, popped it open, and for whatever reason I looked south for the hawks and couldn’t see them. As I looked, I heard the cry of a hawk directly overhead (exactly like the sound effect used in every Western since the first talkie hit the flicks), looked up, and saw one of them with wings tucked, in a full dive. “Death From Above” indeed!

Across the street, perched on a telephone wire, was a mourning dove. The hawk at the last second in an eyeblink extended his wings, hit the brakes, extended his claws, and that mourning dove EXPLODED into a cloud of feathers. Out of this fluttering mass of feathers emerged the hawk with its lunch, struggling a bit with the weight of its prey, but as the hill drops of pretty swiftly it made it off with no problem into the trees a couple of houses down.

As I was picking up my jaw from seeing that, the other red-tail hawk swooped in low from behind our house, crossed to where the kill had been, and perched on the power line transformer on top of the pole. I have to wonder if it went there since it was very close to where the kill had just happened, the hawk logic being that where there was one fat, slow bird, there might be others. This time I did grab my camera (as I took the cold food and hot breakfast into the house) and spent several minutes taking pictures as the second hawk scanned the neighborhood for its lunch. It finally flew off to look elsewhere, just as the memory card on my camera filled up. (RAW files will do that…)

Pictures will follow this week (probably) as I get time to process them.

Experience The Second – Buzzed By Fighters

After replacing the memory card with a new one, I was out taking pictures of the hummingbirds. There’s a whole drama thing going on with them (again, pictures to follow one of these days) but at one point the very territorial male Anna’s Hummingbird was chasing a Rufous Hummingbird away from one of the feeders.

I had been taking pictures of the Anna’s and through the lens saw the Rufous zoom through the field of view toward the feeder. The Anna’s took off like a Spitfire scrambling to take on fleet of German bombers during the Battle of Britain. The Rufous did a hard right and headed right toward my face with the Anna’s, neon red neck feathers on full display, right behind them. They went past my left ear just slightly under Mach One, just like a biological Top Gun dogfight.

It was awesome!

I don’t know if a newer, faster, better camera would have caught it (it might have – they’re pretty good these days, especially at the high end, while my two are like fifteen years old) but my didn’t even try, so no pictures for you, sorry!

“Pics Or It Didn’t Happen!”

Don’t even start with me…

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A Tale Of Two New Lizards

It’s getting crowded under the Volvo…

Last weekend I saw two lizards soaking up photons from the hot driveway, one of which is (I believe) the legendary Doctor Lizardo, and the other a darker, almost jet black lizard with a missing tail, who I was thinking of calling “Stumpy.” Then earlier this week I saw a third lizard out there, a smaller, light tan colored youngster, along with “Stumpy.”

Today was again a busy day for lizardkind on the hot, hot driveway.

I was going out to get the trash cans when I spotted this guy.

I was quite surprised that he didn’t bolt immediately as I retrieved the rolling trash barrels. My path from the street to the back yard gate goes within a couple of feet of him, and when they’re empty and being dragged across the bumps in the lawn and up onto the driveway, they make a LOT of noise.

Be he was cool – then he sat right there while I went back into the house and got my camera. Perhaps he’s been chatting with Doctor Lizardo who is also not an instant bolter.

His tan color is definitely lighter and more brown than almost all of the other lizards in the yard.

His look reminds me of a soldier in a desert camouflage uniform, so I might call him “Khaki.”

On closer examination of the pictures, I can see some bluish stripes of scales along his back. He also has a black patch behind each of his front legs.

Just before sunset, I was confused by this guy. He was out away from the car, not moving, not running away. My first thought was that he was dead, but then I saw the head moving.

I again went back into the house, got the camera, and found him still there when I came back out. Very odd. And he looked…awkward.

In looking back at the pictures from earlier in the week, it all became clear. He’s not just missing part of his tail – he’s missing his feet and part of his legs on his left side. I didn’t see it earlier, but in the pictures from last weekend, so is the second lizard there.

This is “Stumpy.”

His coloration appears much lighter and more brown in this lighting, where in the sun he appeared quite dark and more black. (Do these lizards have the ability to make short-term changes to their coloration? I didn’t think so, but now I wonder.)

He’s not missing just his tail, but also much of his left-side limbs. That’s got to be a serious survival disadvantage.

Yet, if it’s the same lizard I think it is, he’s the guy that’s been out several times over the winter and dashing to hiding through a crack under the garage door when I get too close. I noticed the tail problem but never the missing feet, so I can’t say if the foot issue is recent or I just never noticed it.

He never moved a muscle except to swing his head around to watch me, even though I was starting to get pretty close. In fact, I got so close that I couldn’t focus the telephoto lens. I was down on my knees about three feet away and stumbled when I tried to scoot back a foot or so. The he turned and took off under the car and down the driveway that I lost sight of him immediately.

I hadn’t at that time noticed his feet, but his almost completely motionless state made me think that he was hurt, right up until he took off like a bat out of Hell. Then when I saw the pictures, I was even more amazed that he could move like that with that physical issue.

I won’t call him “Stumpy.” I’ll call him “Warrior,” because he is!

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Lots O’ Lizards

There had been some minor confusion about the lizards that have been sunning on the driveway underneath the cars. Last year we had seen Doctor Lizardo, who had then lost his tail. Then this year, after they came out of hibernation, there was another, darker lizard there who was missing his tail but really didn’t look like Doctor Lizardo. Then there was a lizard with a re-grown tail that I thought might be Doctor Lizardo.

It was very confusing. It would be so much easier if they would wear the little name tags I made for them.

But this weekend there were two of them out there at the same time, which hasn’t ever happened that I’ve seen, so that’s brought some clarity for me.

This guy was out on the grass instead of on the concrete and brick, which was a trait of Doctor Lizardo. (I’m guessing, but I think it’s for temperature regulation – if it starts to get too hot then they’ll move onto the grass where they’ll rest on top of the blades, getting some air circulation underneath them?)

This guy is darker, almost black, and has no tail, so let’s call him Stumpy. (I say it with admiration, not a belittling attitude. If my tail got chewed off by a cat or bird, I doubt it would grow back any time soon.)

This guy has a full tail…

…where this guy is just starting to grow his back.

One step closer and this guy’s got an eye on me, but he’s holding fast (another trait of Doctor Lizardo)…

…while this guy has had enough of that shit. He didn’t run into the garage (I’ve seen him retreat under the garage door in the past) but he’s not going to stay out in the open. (I was probably still eight or nine feet away at this point, taking pictures with a 300 mm telephoto lens.)

Doctor Lizard lets me get another step closer…

…and another. Now you can see that the tail is regrown since there’s a break in the scale pattern where the new tail grew.

He’ll even let me crouch down to get a close-up. This is probably no more than four feet away. You can see some of the beautiful patterns to his scaling, but none of the brilliant green markings that showed up later last year. I suspect there are some color changes from time to time with the scales, depending on where we are in the mating cycle. Again – guessing.

This dude has moved away from the tire to give us a great view of that tail and his scales, but he’s not going to let me get anywhere even near to closer.

Standing up from a crouch (and potentially falling over and landing on top of him I guess) was a bridge too far. We’ll retreat to under the car and pray that the shocks and suspension are enough so that he won’t get crushed when I fall onto the car. (They will be. I’m not that out of shape post-COVID!)

So, evidence of Doctor Lizardo with a regrown tail, dark brown, beautiful scale patterns, co-existing with Stumpy, much darker, in the process of re-growing his tail. A little bit of clarity.

Of course, today I went out to get the mail, Doctor Lizardo wasn’t there, Stumpy was, and there was a third lizard, a light tan color, about half of Doctor Lizardo’s size. And none of that takes into account the five or six or seven different lizards in the back yard, or the two or three that live on the big tree…

Lots o’ lizards!

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Fine Feathered Friends – May 31st

As we put a stake in the heart of May and bid it adieu, another new bird showed up out of nowhere today.

Yellow birds stand out – we don’t get many of them. Which is why I was so surprised to see this one just a couple of days after the yellow-headed blackbird showed up here.

My first thought was that it might be one of the yellow-rumped warblers that we have all over, which don’t have what *I* would consider to be exceedingly yellow rumps, but maybe this was a different sex or subspecies than I normally see. But the Cornell Lab app says differently.

The Merlin app at Cornell Labs identifies this bird as a “Pacific-slope flycatcher.” It also notes that they’re almost identical and difficult to distinguish from the Cordilleran flycatcher – but the Pacific-slope flycatcher’s range includes Southern California and the coast, while the Cordilleran flycatcher stays in the mountains of Arizona and down into Mexico.

Which makes me wonder. I haven’t been obsessed with seeing and IDing different birds – but on the other hand I have been watching and keeping my eyes open and living within a mile or two of here for thirty years. So is there some improvement in my observations that has multiple new species being seen here in just the last few months? Or are we actually getting more variety and newer-ish species of birds coming into this area?

Beats me!


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Finch Architect Failure

While last year we had a pair of finches that built a great nest underneath the porch awning right outside our kitchen window, this year we had at least three and possibly four or five nests being built. It was just never clear it was three (or four, or five) pairs or just one or two pairs building a couple of nests each to see which one they liked. A couple of the nest locations are up behind outdoor speakers, so it’s not clear if there are nests in there or just birds getting together for a quickie.

One of the pairs had built a pretty respectable looking nest, and for at least a week or two I was seeing “MomBird” sitting on the nest for hours a day. From this I started to think that there might be eggs and chicks coming.

Nope. This morning that nest was down on the ground.

There were definitely signs of occupancy (i.e., bird shit on the walls and beam) and some of it stayed up there, but most of it ended up on the ground.

No sign of any eggs in it, and I hadn’t seen MomBird in a few days, so this might have been a swing and a miss.

Maybe they’re off on the other side of the porch, up near the house where the speakers are. Or maybe they’re up in the gutters somewhere, or a tree of some sort.

Better luck next time!

On the other hand, the house finches are a long way from endangered around here. There was one point this afternoon when I counted over fifteen of them out there feeding at once, and I can’t even start to count how many are flitting around in the trees and shrubs at the same time.


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Doctor Lizardo Returns For The Summer?

You remember Doctor Lizardo, who always hung out underneath the van in the driveway? At the end of last fall she had apparently lost her tail but had gotten some very nice green scaly highlights. Then it looked like she had pretty much grown her tail back out and was seen a few times in the spring. Now I think she’s back, although there may have been another small bit of color change.

This was taken a week ago, while the van was still here.

There’s another lizard that’s been showing up here from time to time, much darker, almost black, and with a missing tail.

I thought that The Doctor was gone and a different color, but looking back through the photos and posts, I think this might be her.

The green shading is gone, and it was quite distinctive in November, but that might be seasonal or temporary.

I notice that the rest of the coloring is very similar to the previous photos.

But what I really notice is the re-grown tail on this lizard. I know that the Good Doctor had lost her tail just before going into hibernation in the fall.

Now this critter has the full tail, but it’s very prominent where it grew back. The scaling is completely different from that point back. In addition, this lizard didn’t get spooked at all by me, even though I was within five feet or so, and that was always a trait of Doctor Lizardo.

Is she back? Is this her? Maybe some of you can compare scale patterns and colors to the pictures from November and earlier last year and see what you think!

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Eating The Sweet Grass

I caught this Leporidiaeic friend chomping away on the tall, sweet grass at the side of the yard. We see them in both the front and the back yard daily, but they’re usually eating the regular green, lawn grass.

It was funny watching that long stem of grass disappearing as he nibbled it in, like a string of spaghetti being slurped up.

But then he went for the next mouthful.

It was too cute. And this was not a particularly small rabbit.

It looked like the top parts were the tastiest and he was stretching to get them.

Nibble, nibble, chomp, chomp! There goes another one!

Wait! Are you looking at me?

He must have been convinced quickly that either I didn’t exist on the inside of the kitchen window or that I was (mostly) harmless.

Back to lunch! (Given the hawk activity around here he was enjoying himself way more than I would have recommended, but I’ll have to assume that he know what he was doing.

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