Category Archives: Critters

The Lizards Return

Finally. The sun, and temperatures kinda sorta warm, in the mid 60’s at least.

It’s nice in the sun, so I’ve started to see some lizards coming out of hibernation. So far most of them have been the “popcorn” type, small (just an inch or two long), newly hatched, existing mainly to be eaten by other lizards or birds or cats.

This guy (can you see it?) was about four inches long and “basking” doesn’t even start to describe the attitude it had.

Right on top of this piece of edging was ideal for soaking up sun, and the width was perfect for it to straddle. Nice and stable, warm, relaxing – there was no way it was going to run away unless I was going to step on him or try to eat him.

I’m not as fast as the hawks or cats, so eating him wasn’t an option, and I’m not clumsy enough to step on him. At least, not today.

Later in the afternoon as I went out the front door I almost stepped on a slightly bigger one. It was more like six inches plus, so it might be a yearling. It had found a spot right by the front door and next to the planter it could hide under, while simultaneously being the perfect spot to catch the last of the sunset rays. I opened the door, saw it, didn’t step on it. It saw me, took off under the planter, and we called it even.

Let the 2023 lizards thrive!

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Not Little Bastard

You’ll remember that yesterday a hummingbird, presumably Little Bastard, was found semi-dead on the porch. After making him comfortable, he later revived.

Later, while I was refilling the hummingbird feeders, a hummingbird was perched right outside the kitchen window, near where the now-missing feeder was.

This is not Little Bastard. He’s an Allen’s Hummingbird. This one is (probably) a Rufous Hummingbird.

The whole time I was cleaning and refilling the feeders it sat there, looking at me.

I was thinking maybe it was thanking me for saving Little Bastard, or glaring at me for saving Little Bastard (he is pretty territorial, this one could have moved in on LB’s territory if I hadn’t revived him), but in the end I figure he had just enough brain cells to realize that I was going to bring food back out any moment and he wanted first dibs.

Still a stunningly gorgeous little critter. The way the colors change as his head moves around and the light hits it at different angles is just amazing.

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Unusual Growth

To recap (it might help solve the puzzle):

  • We normally had a normal, green, suburban lawn.
  • We got hit with a three-year drought, the worst on record.
  • Water restrictions got put into place and about 99% of the grass died.
  • We’ve now had one of the wettest winters on record.
  • Some grass is growing back, but most of what is now covering the dirt is some clover-like green stuff, with heavily shaded areas getting covered in a dense, bright green carpet of moss

Are we caught up?

Today I spotted something odd growing out there. “Odd,” you say? Well, for starters, it’s bright red…

The whole area is maybe 8×11 inches, the size of a piece of paper. Red stems, red leaves.

It’s ground hugging, not sticking up at all (yet??), so probably not red yucca, which does grow in these parts.

I spent a couple hours tonight trying to google what it might be. I downloaded a couple of “plant identification” apps and they all came up with no matches.

Maybe it’s a moss of some sort? “Red moss” or “red rock moss” pictures look a bit like this. Sorta?

I’m open to suggestions.

Maybe I’ve been watching too much “The Last of Us,” but I’m half expecting to go out in the morning and find a junco or squirrel caught up in those red branches and stems and tendrils, slowly being digested…


Filed under Critters, Flowers, Photography

Random Old Photos – March 13th

Ten years ago.

I was stuck someplace I didn’t want to be (Coalinga), trapped (car had died at the beginning of a holiday weekend), trying to make the best of a bad situation, trying not to do anything stupid that would make it worse.

This gopher was my entertainment, minding his own business in a local park.

Plus c’est la même chose, as the kids say.

Happy Monday!


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Soggy Critters

I did a quick check of several National Weather Service sites and a few local weather sites, trying to see if anyone has an exact figure for how much rain we’ve gotten. Couldn’t find one, I’m sure we’ll have a total in the morning. Let me just say, as a semi-educated amateur, it was A LOT! Probably as much as I’ve ever seen here in SoCal in almost 50 years here.

Surprisingly, we haven’t lost power. There have been a few flickers, but we’re still online, warm, dry, with a roof over our heads and the lights on. The wee wild critters can’t say the same.

When I went out to put out seed, this guy didn’t even wait until I was back in the house before he was charging the critter banquet table.

He was soggy and looked the worse for wear. I don’t know if he was grateful, be he sure wasn’t going to look a gift meal in the mouth.

While he attacked the seed that I had dropped on the porch, a gazillion birds descended to pick the rest of it out of the mud.

The hummers were also buzzing around both feeders. They need all the energy they can get when it’s this cold, and more so when it’s also this wet.

I topped off both feeders and they were put into use within seconds of me getting back into the house.

What kills me is the way they immediately come over and hover around the empty space when I pull the empty feeder down and take it inside to clean it and refill it. I’m at the kitchen sink looking right at this spot and they’re buzzing around like, “Wait! WTF! Where did it go? Man, it was RIGHT HERE! Now it’s gone!!”

Later this evening it got downright nasty. It’s warmed up about 10º over this morning (meaning that it’s about 50º instead of 40º) but the rain has just been falling in sheets and the winds have been gusting to over 50 knots. For the last several hours we’ve been under a flash flood alert. For about ninety minutes tonight we were under a severe thunderstorm alert. (Never saw any lightning or heard any thunder – RATS!) About four miles away, at Warner Center Park, the LAFD was doing a rescue of passengers trapped in a car after a big tree fell over on it.

Let’s hope all of the soggy critters stay warm and as dry as they can tonight. This rain and nastiness is supposed to last until Wednesday or so.

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A Quarter Gazillion Ravens

Again today, a LOT of ravens.

They were filling the sky when I was getting home with groceries.

In an interesting follow up to yesterday’s post, the red-tailed hawks were out as well. (This may again have something to do with why the ravens were carrying on.) I couldn’t see the hawks, but I could hear them – that cry that you hear in the soundtrack of every movie ever made showing the American West. Then, about 30 seconds after this video was finshed, I heard one again, much closer, and spotted one of them diving out of the sun. The cloud of ravens had shifted off a half-block or so down into the canyon, but there were one or two stragglers off by themselves…

*BOOM* Just a cloud of black feathers where the raven and hawk’s paths had intersected.

I don’t know if it was the hawk that had been injured yesterday by the mobbing of the raven pack, and it almost certainly wasn’t the raven who did it (I’m assuming), but the Wheel of Life took another turn right there!

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Ravens & Hawks

I spent much of the day outside, cleaning up the porch, washing down patio furniture, getting the telescope out and making sure it was working and properly aligned. While out there, there was a war going on overhead.

When I first went out I could hear what I thought was a “mass murder” or crows. There were a LOT of birds circling out there.

I was an idiot when I first went out. I could hear all of the activity, but I didn’t pick up my camera as I went out. Sitting out in the open in one of the pine trees just off the back of our hill, plain as day, were two red-tailed hawks. They were stunning, gorgeous, and it was the shot of a lifetime occuring while I didn’t have my camera. *sigh*

So, that explains why all of the birds are upset. I don’t know how many there were. There was one time when I counted 35 in the air above me in one spot, but there were also other groups in the air out over the canyon, as well as many roosting in the trees. I’m guessing 50 minimum, maybe as many as 75.

And to my surprise, they were ravens, not crows. I’ve definitely NEVER seen that many ravens in one group! I thought they were much more solitary. But the Cornell Merlin app positively ID’s their calls as ravens. And you can see that they have the distinctive wedge-shaped tail, where crows are flat across the back of the tail, like a fan. These birds were all soaring far more than flapping, another distinction between ravens and crows. These birds all have four long “finger” feathers (ravens) and not five shorter “finger” feathers (crows).

I have no clue what brought them all together, but there were something on the order of five dozen ravens circling over the neighborhood all day and making quite a racket.

Out of the sun cam this guy, the arch enemy of the ravens. One of the two red-tailed hawks.

And this one is obviously missing some feathers on his left wing. That’s a very large chunk of his wing that’s missing! He seemed to be no worse for wear, maneuvering normally, but obviously the ravens had won that battle.

There’s the two of them. And as you can see in both pictures, it’s obvious why they’re called “red-tailed” hawks.

Meanwhile, back in the canyon, after the hawks were scared off, all of the circling ravens came to rooste in two or three tall pine trees.

Standing room only! In addition to this tree there were two others with smaller groups of ravens roosting.

Cue Tippi Hedron and Rod Taylor!

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Fine Feathered Friends – January 26th

Comets and other celestial objects aside, we had another visitor this week.

It was breakfast time, the birds had been fed, and the entire yard was covered with mourning doves, black-eyed juncos, and house wrens. The hummingbirds were at their feeder. And over by the tree was…something new.

It was bigger by about 50% than the mourning doves, a bit smaller than the ravens and crows that are constantly up in the trees.

It started out pecking at the roots of the tree, and when it picked up its head and I saw that short, sharp beak, my first thought was that it was some sort of woodpecker.

The markings on the body were quite distinctive, the black crescent on its chest with the black & white spots across its body.

Not caught in any of the pictures, but when it fluttered its wings there were red markings on the underside of its wings.

It took the Cornell Merlin bird app about half a second to ID this one. It’s a Northern Flicker, the “red-shafted” variety which is found in the western United States. And yes, it is a member of the woodpecker family.

I’ve never seen one before, most certainly not here, but I hope that it liked the bugs it was finding in the tree roots and will hand around! A gorgeous bird!

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Lizard In Fall Sunlight

A few weeks ago there were eight or nine tiny “popcorn” fence lizards out here. But it’s started to get cooler, the days are shorter, we’ve gotten some rain, and now it’s just the one I’ve seen in days.

Assuming it’s one of the same ones, it’s at least 50% bigger than it was, growing fast. But still skittish.

Can I take three or four steps forward, to where I’m maybe seven or eight feet away? Suuuuurrrreee…. Maybe…

Another half a step? Nope, nope, NOPE!!! Through the bushes and up the tree we go!

He’s still in the sun, but he’s not going to stay there if I move forward again. So I leave him be and back away. He needs all of the photons and bugs he can get before starting to hibernate.

Where did the rest of his pals go, the other six or eight or whatever who were hanging out on this garden edging? Maybe into hibernation, maybe they got invited to some critter’s lunch as the main course, probably a little of both.

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Big city, no wildlife, the paved over urban jungle. Right?

Yeah, if you’ve perused this site you’ve seen pictures of deer and raccoons and opossums and rabbits and squirrels and skunks and a few dozen bird species and god knows how many lizards and…

But me? I’m just an old Boy Scout from Vermont. I know that there are critters out there. So earlier this week, in the back yard, when I saw a couple odd looking piles of scat, it piqued my interest. (For those who weren’t Boy Scouts, “scat” is a fancy, semi-polite term for “animal shit.” It often has “things” embedded in it which will tell you what the critter has been eating.

Grizzly Bear Warning Sign Bells

So these small piles of dark scat have berries and nuts as well as fur, so probably something omniverous-ish. Smaller than a bear (probably), and there really are bears around, although more likely to be seen near the bigger mountains in places like Pasadena and Glendale, bigger than a feral cat. Yes, a curiosity. Also curious how it’s found in the back yard, which is surrounded on all sides by at least a 5′ chain link fence. So either something that’s coming from tree to tree or a jumper.

This morning, I found this on the front yard, well away from the sidewalk, which is where the rude folks walking their dogs let them leave a pile for me to clean up.

That most certainly wasn’t there last night – and it’s right where I should be able to see it on the front porch security camera. So let’s see what motion there was last night other than cars driving by…

(Click on any image to enlarge it. If you save all five temporarily, you can flip between them quickly and it’s pretty clear who our visitor is.)

Rabbits are a known issue in both the front and the back yard, so my suspicion is that this dude spooked a rabbit into the bushes and then came looking for him. Unsuccessfully, as far as I can tell.

I hear these coyotes a couple times a week, but they usually don’t come all the way to the top of the hill, preferring to stay down in the canyons. Of course, this also explains all of the shipping crates left around the yard for Acme equipment.

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