Category Archives: Critters

Guess Who Came Back To Visit?!

It Doctor Lizardo!!!

I was taking trash out to the curb and there he was, in his usual spot under the Volvo, right where he can catch rays and be on the hot concrete, but also able to scurry to cover in a heartbeat if needed.

When last we saw our lizard hero, just a couple days before Halloween…

You can see that he’s re-grown that tail quite nicely!

How can I be sure that it’s the same lizard? Well I guess I can’t be 1,000,000% sure, but if you look at the October picture (and other earlier ones) and this one, it sure looks to me like the same markings.

I can’t count each individual scale, but if you look at the banding and patterns, as well as the pattern of green spots sprinkled in along his tail stump, my money says it’s him. Plus, he was in the same place he always sits, and most importantly, when I saw him and went and got my camera and started talking to him and getting close, he didn’t skitter away. All of the other lizards we’ve had in the yard, especially the little, young ones, will bail out in a hot second if they think you’re coming in their direction.

It was up in the 70’s and warm today, and there were a few days last week when it was in the 80’s. On the other hand, I haven’t seen the good doctor here since mid-November. I gave him a warning, which I hope he heeded – there’s cold weather & rain coming for tomorrow and at least the next couple of weeks. I’m glad he got some rays and probably some ants or a cricket for lunch, but I hope he’s now gone back into hibernation for a while.

I’ll keep his spot under the Volvo ready for when spring comes along. Sleep well, Doctor Lizardo!!

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What’s Wrong With This Picture?

A few days ago I mentioned a YouTube webcam site called “Hundreds of Hummingbirds.” Normally during the day it looks like this:

But I’ve noticed a couple of times that something’s wrong:

Over there on the right – that’s not a hummingbird. It’s a house finch, like the ones we watched build a nest, lay eggs, and raise fledglings last year.

I guess he figures if he can do the “carrier landing” he deserves a meal. Unlike the hummingbirds, which come in and hover to land, the finch comes in like a bat out of hell and just grabs on. Once in the area they’ll jump from feeder to feeder to feeder, each time going from hole to hole to hole. And I suspect due to the short, thick beak, it’s not getting any food at all since the holes are long and thin and designed for the hummingbird’s beak.

But they keep trying. I guess they figure if all of those other birds are there eating there must be something there to eat. Well… yes and no? Hope springs eternal – I see them there once or twice a day every day.


Speaking of hope springing… It’s about nine hours to go before the next era in American politics begins. Let’s hope that things go peacefully, smoothly, and we can get on with our lives.

Literally.

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Starting 2021 With A “Visitor”

Trigger Warning – If you’re creeped out by bugs & insects, you probably don’t want to read the rest of this. I hope you had a great New Year’s Eve and a wonderful start to 2021. We’ll see y’all tomorrow!

If you’re not creeped out by bugs & insects, scroll down below the filler.

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Happy New Year!

We were watching the live feed from Las Vegas (ugh!), hit the end of the year on the Left Coast, kissed, champagne, fireworks going off outside. We were going to go out into the front yard and watch the fireworks, but the sprinklers had turned on at midnight, so we went out into the back yard instead. As soon as the sliding glass door was opened, I saw something moving slowly away from the door across the concrete.

Too cold and late for any lizards (or snakes, which worry me far more) and way, WAY too slow for a mouse or vole, I thought it might be a beetle of some sort. We used to get them at previous houses , large beetles that lived on the oranges and citrus and would occasionally end up near the house. So, in the midst of the fireworks (and probably some gunfire) and a howling wind, glass of champagne in hand, I did what I would always do in any such circumstance.

I whipped out my phone to take a picture.

That’s not anything I had ever seen before. For scale, it’s probably at least two inches long.

I generally don’t mind bugs and spiders and tiny crawly critters as long as they’re not actually dangerous and as long as they don’t spook me. (Something crawls onto my arm when I’m not expecting it and I’ll scream like a little girl and squish the shit out of it.) Crickets and grasshoppers are fine, beetles, most spiders, and so on – no problem! (Black widow spiders and brown recluse spiders, both of which can mess you up? Kill them with fire!!!)

This not-so-little dude freaked me out.

After a brief “WTF??!!” moment, my rational brain got back in control, so rather than turn it into a greasy spot on the porch (and on the bottom of my shoe) I nudged it off into the bushes and went about watching the local explosions.

Today I did some research – it’s a “Jerusalem Cricket!” (I’ll name this one “Jiminy.”) They’re native to the American Southwest and Mexico, somewhat related to crickets and grasshoppers, but don’t fly and don’t jump. They’re actually nocturnal and slow (confirmed) and generally live underground and eat animal droppings. They don’t sting, they’re nonvenomous, and while they will give you a bite if you’re stupid and pick it up and bother it, the most likely outcome of picking one up is that it will “play dead” and wait for you to get bored.

So, good choice to re-locate it to the bushes and not squish it! Starting the year with good karma.

As I hope you are as well. We’ve got a couple of days to get into the 2021 groove before the full work week starts along with all of the political bullshit in the US, as well as watching our British friends come to grips with the reality of their Brexit “adventure.” Keep breathing, wear your masks, stay home as much as you possibly can because no matter how well-intentioned or well planned you think your gathering might be, it’s not, and the consequences can be truly terrible.

So a l

 

 

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It’s War

Not on the clouds – they’re winning, no Great Conjunction again tonight. I could barely see a bright-ish spot where the Moon was.

No, this is an ongoing war against the gophers or whatever critters are chewing up the back yard.

First of all, I’m not the one fighting. It’s the landlord’s battle. I’m just a scout.

Secondly, I understand the problem and sympathize. It’s not just the lawn. Lawns come and go, and given the choice I would have one of those low-water, desert, drought-resistant. But the tunneling these critters do can destabilize the hillside if left unchecked. So they need to find another yard to destabilize.

I remember as a kid we had similar critter problems in Kansas City. My dad would solve it by sticking garden hoses down the holes and just letting the water run for a few hours. Water was cheap and plentiful, I guess. I don’t remember if it worked.

Water is neither cheap nor plentiful in 2020 Los Angeles, so I’m guessing that other methods are used. I’ve asked that they not use poison, since poisoned critters tend to get eaten by raptors and turkey vultures and in turn get them poisoned. Beyond that, I’m just a scout, a non-combatant.

It does occur to me that an alternate method of extermination I could get behind would be to get a pet owl or hawk. THAT would be cool! But the landlord doesn’t allow pets, and if we get an owl to keep the gophers down that’s probably a loophole we would use to get a dog, so I wouldn’t hold my breath.

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Wild Turkeys

We just had THAT holiday and most of us had some sort of turkey – and most of us are STILL eating turkey.

Turkeys’ range is known to cover most of North America east of the Rockies, but west of the Great Plains the range is spottier. The map actually doesn’t show them much of anywhere down in Southern California – but I have evidence that they’re here, at least in the San Diego / Mount Palomar area as of 2007.

The Mount Palomar Observatory with the world famous 200″ telescope is extremely cool to visit. I recommend it if you visit the Southern California / San Diego area.

The problem with getting down the mountain is that our brakes started overheating, and when they heat up they don’t brake. This is bad.

There are pull-outs and rest stops for just this sort of thing, so we stopped for a few minutes to let the brakes cool. It’s a heavily wooded area and after a couple minutes, on the other side of the road, I noticed movement in the bushes.

Naturally, I grabbed my camera, crossed the road, and hoped it wasn’t bears or something hungry and fanged. It wasn’t, it was a flock of wild turkeys.

They were off in the bushes, moving in and out of sunshine, so it was tough getting a good photo. There were seven or eight total, and the coloration on them was astonishing. Their feathers were iridescent when the sun caught them.

So believe it or not, there are wild turkeys in the Southern California mountains. I have proof, and now so do you!

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Filed under Astronomy, Critters, Photography, Travel

Hummingbird Song

What do hummingbirds sound like when they know the words?

The “humming” sound that hummingbirds make comes from their wings beating at 50+ strokes per second. Many (most?) folks think that hummingbirds to not have a song like other birds, but that’s not true. I’ve often heard them – it’s a sharp, almost electronic sounding, clicking noise.

Normally I hear a couple of clicks at a time – today, even inside the kitchen with the screen door open, I could hear one hummingbird just going nuts, emitting just a constant barrage of clicks. I could see it darting around the fruit trees and figured that by the time I got outside it would have stopped or it would have flown off, but that didn’t happen.

Warning: you’ll have to turn it up a fair amount, I couldn’t get too close and it’s not that loud of a sound.

This is an edited down video for filesize management, only ten seconds. He had been going on like this for several minutes before I went out, and the entire video I have is almost two minutes long before he finally flew off, still clicking.

I’m not sure what all of the ruckus was about. Mating? Predators? The feeders were empty? (They weren’t.) Ants in the feeders again? (They weren’t.) Thanks for keeping the feeders filled? (You’re welcome!)

Carry on, little hummer dude! Click away to your heart’s content!

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Hibernating?

If you read my babblings with any regularity, you’ve met the yard lizards. In particular, the one I’ve taken to calling “Dr. Lizardo.”

She usually hangs out all the time right at the edge of the driveway, underneath the car, where she can get to shelter (and shade if necessary) quickly.

She recently must have had a close call. (I’m starting to assume it’s a “she” since in my research about hibernation I came across several notes that the females tend to be larger than the males, and she’s the largest in the yard. It’s a guess. On the other hand, they also talked about males having the colored bellies which they display when they do “push ups” as a territorial dominance display, and we’re seeing that in these latest pictures, so actually, who knows?!)

After those last pictures were taken three weeks ago, I saw Dr. Lizardo almost every day for a few days before we hit Daylight Saving Time ending, Halloween, and a patch of much cooler weather (only into the 60’s and low 70’s) for about ten days. Since then we’ve had a couple of slightly warmer days (low 80’s) but mostly cooler and I’ve noticed that Dr. Lizardo has not been seen in the last ten days or so.

She’s always there if I go out to get the trash cans or mail, or just get up to walk around and get some sun and air during the day. Now she’s not.

I checked and mid to late November is normally when Western Fence Lizards will start to hibernate until February or March, although they can come out to bask on sunny days. So it’s entirely possible that it’s just a timing thing and she’s off sleeping away the rest of 2020 (like wouldn’t we ALL love to do that!) and we’ll see her when the days start to get longer again.

But given that missing tail, I worry. Obviously the hiding spot under the Volvo isn’t quite as safe as she thought it was. And there are an awful lot of crows about suddenly, and they would snap her up in an instant.

I hope she’s safe – I’ll keep an eye open.

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A Mass Murder

THEY’RE ATTACKING OUT OF THE SUN!!!

If a large group of crows is a “murder,” this must be a mass murder. There at least 42 of them here (that is the answer, after all) and it was hard to keep track as they were all wheeling about, some joining and leaving all the time.

Regardless of the exact number, that’s a LOT of crows.

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Dragonfly

With the change from Daylight Saving Time, it was dark when I went out to BBQ tonight. I had the porch lights on, which drew a visitor.

There’s a small wetland area not too far away from us, as well as the Chatsworth Reservoir area just a couple miles north, so it’s not that unusual to see dragonflies.

What was odd, or at least behavior that I don’t recall seeing before, was how it beat around the light like a moth or earwig.

After I bothered it enough it flew off and landed on the stucco wall, where its wings practically disappeared from sight.

If you blow up the picture you can still see them, sort of.

Beautiful, ancient creature, a genetic line far, far older than humans. Just a little odd to see it out at night!.

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Something’s Missing!

It was the first sunny and semi-warm day in a few and I noticed that the big lizard that hangs out under the car was out catching a few rays.

The usual attitude, and as I’ve mentioned before, this one tolerates my presence and doesn’t bolt at the first sight of me, so I can often get fairly close, within five or six feet.

Today there’s an immediate problem visible – our big dude (or dudette) has lost his tail!

He seems none the worse for wear, and it’s a known fact that they’ll shed their tails if captured, so he must have had a “close encounter.’

Just as interesting, however, once I looked at the pictures and blew them up on the screen (as you can do by clicking on the image) is that his belly has started to turn bright green!

Blow up this picture and the second one, and compare to the pictures here and here. No sign of that green streak on the belly.

Maybe it’s a coincidence that the color change is happening while the tail has been shed, maybe not. Maybe the two are related, maybe not.

But it will be neat to watch as he (or she) re-grows her tail. It will also be cool to see if there’s a slightly different scaling pattern on the new tail. (I’ve seen that before.)

Assuming he (or she) doesn’t get eaten in the meantime. Let’s hope not, I like this little guy. We have some really great conversations when I go out to get the mail or bring in the trash barrels.

Really.

 

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