Category Archives: Critters

Scolded By My New Mockingbird Overlord

The birds come, the birds go.

Some of them are seasonal-ish. Take the juncos. Back in the spring I noted that all of them seemed to have vanished, except for one. “Solo Junco.” Then they were back last fall, a dozen or more. Now they’re gone again – except for Solo Junco. I like to think he’s the smart one who’s figured out that there’s food here 24/7/365 and he doesn’t need to fly to some other continent to spend the summer.

There were bluebirds in the spring, more this year than last, until the neighbors’ trees got pruned within an inch of their lives. I was out in the front yard this evening, being scolded by my new mockingbird overlord, when I realized that I hadn’t seen a single bluebird in June or July after that tree trimming.

This evening while out in the back after dark, listening to the mockingbirds (again), I realized that I hadn’t heard the owls in at least two or three months. There are times when I’ll hear them three or four nights a week, at least a pair, sometimes more, hooting through the canyons. I hope they’re back sometime soon. I love listening to them. And occasionally seeing them.

It’s all cyclic, I guess, although I’m not doing a good job of tracking the data to record the cycles. I do remember in the spring, about the time that the juncos left, also noting that I was seeing relatively few mockingbirds. We often had dozens of them, especially noticable when there was an owl or a hawk around. They do tend to sound the alarm and make a racket. But I had only seen one or two in months.

About a month ago they came back in force, and again we have dozens in the neighborhood. One pair in particular seems to be hanging about our house, with the male being noticeably aggressive in the last few days. They might be building a nest in the rain gutters over the front door, or he might be getting worms and bugs out of the leaf debris in those gutters. Either way, when he gets interrupted by me going in or out of the front door, his displeasure is vocal and energetic.

This is what led me to today’s scolding. He was on the gutter’s edge right over my head, then flew down by the garage, then to the top of the garage where he could assert his dominance. Well, in theory. I wasn’t backing down, instead choosing to open a dialogue with proposals about how we could share the space like two reasonable critters.

I’m not sure that we made much progress. There are some translation and communication issues, to be sure. Perhaps I’ll see if he’s interested in taking food offerings of some sort.

If that gutter is being claimed by him, we’re going to need to figure out something in the next three and a half months. Christmas light season is right around the corner. Sort of. Given my recent encounters with gravity, climbing ladders to put up lights will be extra “special.” The last thing I’ll need is getting dive bombed by a pissed off mockingbird, treating me like he treats a hawk or owl.

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Buzzing Demon

Welcome to August, where I finally vanquished my nemisis of the last three days!

No, not the monthly financial reports, although I did get those done. I’m talking about this not-so-tiny buzzing demon from Hell!

It’s truly amazing to me that an insect so relatively tiny can cause such chaos for me for days on end. He was in my office, and once I knew he was there at least I was able to keep him quarantined in that one room. If he had gotten out and was buzzing around my ears at night I might not have survived the war that would have had to follow.

As it was, every time I was in my office, which was a LOT the last few days (oh, who are we trying to fool, it’s ALWAYS a lot!) every ten or fifteen minutes I would hear that high-pitched whine as he buzzed my ear and tried to take some blood from my jugular vein. Then he would dart off, my work would be interrupted, and the madness would repeat.

The other thing that I noticed is that he was biting me repeatedly on my arm where I have a large bruise. (I fell off of a small laddar while refilling the hummingbird feeders a few days ago. The good news is that the “Have you fallen?” feature on the Apple Watch works just fine. I’ve set it off plenty of times while just minding my own business and being a bit rambunctions. It’s nice to know that it also goes off when I actually need it.) Where the bruise lies under the skin I’m guessing it’s that purple color because there’s a pocket of blood, or at least more blood in the tissue than normal. Can a mosquito sense that somehow and know that a bruised area is a target-rich environment? Google doesn’t say.

Starting the week and the month with the usual issues I was annoyed that this guy got me again. Then he vanished while I stalked him when I should have been downloading bank balances. But when he came in for another pass he was silhouetted against the monitors and my cat-like reflexes whipped into action. (HA!)

On closer examination, I note that this is one of those Asian Tiger Mosquitos – the black & white stripes on the legs are a dead giveaway. The issue is that these guys can spread the West Nile virus and other nasties, so I’ll be keeping an eye out for any symptoms.

There may be a viral load in my future, but for now, VICTORY IS MINE!

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Door Dragon

Today the door dragon was on guard.

Can you see him? I mean, the clouds were gorgeous just before sunset, the view over Castle Peak as lovely as ever. But there’s a dragon there.

So he’s a relatively tiny dragon, but he’s on guard nonetheless! He’s not just there for the warm sidewalk and near infrared radiation.

He’s also there to eat! He doesn’t do this for his health. The presence of hawks, mockingbirds, and various other predators have a bearing on the odds of surviving the afternoon out there somewhat in the open. But right there along the far edge of the sidewalk… See it? Dinner on the hoof!

Even under the best of times there are ants everywhere here. With it as dry as it is now, the worst drought in decades and threatening to become the worst in recorded history, the ants are everywhere.

And while that sucks for us, it’s a feast for the fence lizards! So let him sploot out there on the porch, I won’t bother him. Let him eat his fill of ants any day.

Just watch out for the hawks. And the mockingbirds. And all of the other critters higher up on the food chain in that whole circle-of-life thing.

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I Found The Secret Base

Some comings and goings over Friday and Saturday evenings had me wondering. The good news is that I’m seeing an influx of hummingbirds.

In the past we’ve once seen a hummingbird nest out where I could see it. Normally they’re off in the hedges and since they’re very small, they’re very hard to find. But while looking at the bougainvellea over by that side of the house, I noticed a lot of hummingbird activity where there isn’t a feeder.

So this morning I went out to take a look, and there’s something in there in the vines behind this drain pipe. Could it be another hummingbird nest?

It’s really hard to see through the vine leaves, so I took another half step closer to get this picture…

…and in seconds I had at least two hummingbirds buzzing my head like a couple of F-18’s driving off a Russian destroyer that gets too close to their aircraft carrier.

Hmmm. I’m thinking that’s a confirmation that there’s a hummingbird next in their. Since I’m not willing to have an angry, energetic, viscious humminbird impaled in my ear like an errant lawn dart, we’re not going to do anything further to confirm that and just take it as a given.

Maybe I’ll put up another feeder over there as a peace offering.

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Non-Splooting Lizard

I found this handsome specimin out in the yard today.

He loves being on this bit of wooden trim or edging. It’s got enough sun to keep him warm, but when it’s really hot it’s also got some shade.

I’ve seen him before a number of times, and I often stop to talk to him. I don’t know that it’s helped in getting him used to my presence, but he does seem relatively calm and allows me to get within maybe seven or eight feet, sometimes less.

He even lets me move around and shift angles without fleeing.

The tricky part today was getting down on my knees near him, which I haven’t done before. He even didn’t freak out when I went through the gyrations and exertions necessary to stand back up while holding the camera, shooting pictures, and trying desperately to not lose my balance and fall on top of him.

The detail and colored spots on his back are spectacular and beautiful!

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Splooting

Some days you get a teeny, tiny bit of knowledge or trivia and it’s enough to declare victory and quit for the today.

Today’s one of those days.

A few days ago I posted about how the squirrels in our back yard will lie on the concrete porch, spread eagled. Long-time reader & contributor & author & purveyor of her own site Jemima Pett commented that it was to cool off in the heat.

This evening I ran across a random tweet which I might normally ignore. But it had a picture of a squirrel, spread eagled, and a local television/news station article about this very phenomenon.

It’s called “splooting!” (I think the “!” is optional, but hey, with a goofy looking squirrel layed out on the pavement like a bearskin rug and a word like that to describe it, how could anyone not include the exclamation point?)

I was tempted to leave well enough alone and just go with the silly, funny word, but decided to check other sources. I was afraid that I might find that this was a made-up thing from that Texas television station. Then I would have to quickly find something else to write tonight, or at least a different spin.

But, no! It really is a term, particularly in reference to dogs. (Google an image search for “splooting puppies.” You can thank me later.) I remember our Lucky Puppy and Jessie doing it from time to time. But lots of critters sploot.

Now you know!

 

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Video From The Back Forty

There were critters about, despite the heat!

This guy wasn’t so much scared as he was annoyed. He had been in a nice, sunny spot out on the back wall at the lip of the hill and when I had the gall to walk by in my own yard, he felt compelled to hop down, jump up onto the sidewalk, and glare at me. And I do mean “hop” and “jump” since he did both. I’m not sure I’ve seen other lizards do that, usually they just run and skitter and slink and scramble. But this guy I’ve seen jump several times, including twice today. He’s not much on height, so I’m not worried about him going for my throat, but he’s pretty good on distance.

These were the surprise of the day. They’re about 40% to 50% the size of the normal mourning doves, so I’m guessing their fledgelings. They didn’t fly away or even try to fly, but they also didn’t seem too upset about me being just a couple of feet away. I guess they missed that “OH GOD RUN FROM THE GIANT HUMANS!” lesson. I think that the nest is low to the ground in the hedges behind them that separate the yards, so I’m not surprised to see them here. I just hope one of the neighborhood feral cats or a hawk doesn’t see them as well.

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Squirrel Spa

We’re apparently operating a full-service spa resort for squirrels now.

Not only do they feed on all of the free bird seed that they can eat, I found this one waiting patiently for its full-body massage.

I’ll admit, there was a second when I thought that it might have eaten too much bird seed and died, spread eagled, content to have died doing what it loved most.

Then I saw the other one similiarly splayed out a few feet away. I’ve never seen other squirrels lie like this, but it must be comfortable because both of them do it on every hot day now.

Whatever! They’re weird. Sort of goes with the job description for “squirrel” I guess.

At least in this yard.

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The Feeders, Refilled

It sounds like I’m speaking Tamarian, doesn’t it?

The hummingbird food is disappearing MUCH faster than usual. Part of this is more hummingbirds now that Little Bastard is (sometimes?) allowing other hummingbirds to feed here. There were, for example, three of them at this feeder just before I took these pictures. The other factor, of course, is the presence of the orioles.

This afternoon I brought all of the feeders back in, cleaned them out, and then got ready to re-fill them. I got the first one refilled and hung up and went back into the kitchen to get the second. I came back out with the second feeder, not three minutes after I rehung the first, and started the two orioles who were about to make their move. They were lurking in the vines that spiral up the support posts on the patio right next to where the feeders hang.

They had an almost commical reaction, like, “Oh, HI! Don’t mind us, we’re just…just…we’re just here protecting, yes, that’s it! We’re here protecting this feeder from, um, um… From the squirrel! Yeah, the squirrel, you know that they’re sneaky little rat bastards. But now that you’re here we’ll just be flying off to the big tree. We’re going to go right over there, it’s not far, we can come right back if we’re needed. Yes sirreee, bob, yep, that’s us, protecting! Staying right here nearby. Protecting! Not stealing at all! Wouldn’t think of it! That thought never crossed our mind and to be honest, we’re hurt that you would think that!”

 

 

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Fine Feathered Friends – July 09th

So, when last we left our plucky hero, we had been dealing with a small, fluffy, quick little bird with a long tail that NEVER sat still long enough to get a decent picture. The fuzzy pictures and the birdsong positively ID’d it as a Bewick’s Wren (pronounced “Buick”). I finally got one to sit still and get some pictures. Although it did seem more brown than grey…

THEN there were a couple of very large birds hanging onto the hummingbird feeder, which ID’d as hooded orioles. VERY cool!

But while the orioles were decimating the hummingbird nectar (I didn’t think that was possible – surprise!) there was another larger bird hopping around on the vines on the back porch. It was just a foot or two away from the orioles, but obviously not an oriole. Not anything like the same color.

I didn’t recognize it at all, primarily due to its size. I’m thinking it’s some kind of mockingbird, maybe a juvenile?

It’s slightly smaller than a full-grown mockingbird, about the same size as a towhee.

What should have given it away is the tail. Long, thin, with those horizontal stripes.

Also the way he was hopping all over the place, pecking at ants on the vines. He never sat still for more than a couple seconds, but he was close to where I was standing in the house and he never flew off either.

Lots of great photos to feed into Cornell ‘s Merlin Bird ID app. And no matter which one I look at, the answer’s always the same. This is another Bewick’s wren.

What I do *NOT* understand is how this one is so much bigger and different looking that the tiny little fuzzballs that I’ve been seeing for over two years. They’re barely bigger than hummingbirds, while this one is three or four times that size.

Are the little ones juveniles and this guy (and probably the one from yesterday’s pictures) are adults?

Questions that are above my pay grade on the ornothology front. But now I know that there might well be two different groups of Bewick’s wrens, even if I don’t know why they’re different.

I’ll keep trying to catch pictures of the quick, little ones. I need more data!

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