Category Archives: Critters


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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Spring Returns – Day Thirteen

For the second Sunday in a row it was nice and warm and sunny this last weekend. The previous weekend that warmth and wonderful weather inspired me to go out and shoot pictures of the back yard as it bloomed and budded and woke up to the warmer temps. (You can go see those earlier posts by looking in that box over on the right that says “Recent Post” – after reading this one, of course. There will be a quiz.) This last Sunday, since getting out of the house and walking around in the sun makes my smartass watch happy, I did the front yard. (For the record, wandering around the front yard on your knees with a camera taking pictures of “weeds” and bees will make the neighbors look at you oddly. This is to be encouraged. And is anyone actually reading this first paragraph or just assuming it’s the same every day?)

The neighbors might look at you funny for crawling around on the lawn taking pictures of weeds and bees. This guy is much more paranoid. And vocal. And aggressive.

We’ve been in the new house a bit over ten months now, and long-time readers will remember numerous mentions of the crows when we first moved in. Every time we came out the front door there were a couple of them swooping over the yard and being very noisy. “Every time” as in “Every! Freaking! Time!”

I wondered if all the attention we were getting wasn’t due to the one that started living on the front porch for a few days. I figured it had to have been sick or injured or afraid of flying and I always wondered what happened to it. We never found a bunch of feathers in the yard or on the porch, so if it went off and got eaten by a cat or coyote or hawk, it did it in someone else’s yard.

After Edgar (the sick/injured/psychotic crow on the porch) disappeared, within a week or two the crows disappeared as well. At least, the ones from the nest in the palm tree across the street that were harassing us. There are still plenty of crows around all over – but OUR crows were noticeably absent.

Until about two weeks ago. Now they seem to be back, or at least a similar group with similar habits. Do crows have a pattern of migrations over an area throughout the year? Our baseline is a little small on this data sample, but at least at first glance it seems possible.

The telephone pole by the driveway is their favorite perch. It gives them a good spot to see and be seen, and to squawk at great volume and with splendid agitation. I’m glad that I gave them something to feel threatened by, I guess.

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Spring Returns – Day Ten

For the second Sunday in a row it was nice and warm and sunny. Last week that inspired me to go out and shoot pictures of the back yard budding and blooming and waking up to the warmer temps. (See that box over on the right that says “Recent Post”?) This Sunday, since getting out of the house and walking around in the sun makes my watch happy, I did the front yard. (One must keep one’s watch happy!)

Down by the end of the driveway there’s another type of sage bush. My current best guess from internet image surfing is that it’s a Cleveland sage.

I’m guessing that’s not the Cleveland in Ohio – not a lot of desert plants there the last time I drove through.

As with the Mexican sage by the front door, this one is often covered in bees. It’s a good thing.

Interesting commute. With all of the bees, I wonder where the honey is stored around here.

Does someone actually have a hive in the area? Or is there something hidden in the walls of a neglected shed, just waiting for an accident?

Either way, as long as I don’t have to deal with the stinging and buzzing, I’m glad to have the little guys around.

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Spring Returns – Day Nine

For the second Sunday in a row it was nice and warm and sunny. Last week that inspired me to go out and shoot pictures of the back yard budding and blooming and waking up to the warmer temps. (See that box over on the right that says “Recent Post”?) Yesterday, since getting out of the house and walking around in the sun makes my watch happy, I did the front yard.

Right outside of our front door is this sage bush with purple flowers. We have a lot of “drought resistant” landscaping, including a number of different sage varieties. From some internet image surfing, I’m guessing this is a “Mexican Bush Sage” – put I’m probably wrong.

One thing it always has, 365 days a year, no matter the season, is bees.

I know some people get angsty around little buzzing things, but these guys have never bothered us at all.

Just like your mom said – you leave them alone, they’ll leave you alone.

They’re actually pretty calming to watch. I’m thinking that none of them is lying awake nights thinking about audits or cash flow or work comp liability.


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