Category Archives: Critters

The Fungus Among Us

In the cool, damp morning light, the humongous organism living under our yard poked up a few scouts to see if it had really, really rained the other day.

When I first saw the yard covered with mushrooms decades ago after we had first moved in, I did the usual all-American thing and tried to figure out how to kill them. After all, they destroyed that putting green look that I wanted for my yard!

I found out that all of the various fungi and similar fauna and flora are interconnected underground and it’s almost like one huge organism that’s far larger than any elephant or whale. I also found out that my yard looks just fine when it more closely resembles a salad than a carpet.

And, yes… That makes it the humongous fungus among us!

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I could hear it, but couldn’t see it. But the sound was unmistakable to someone who knows it.

Being way up top in the tree made it tough to focus the camera. (Different kind of focus than what I ranted about on Sunday.)

There it is! No sign of a red patch on the head, so it must be the female. I’ve seen the male around from time to time and they form monogamous pairs, so it makes sense.

This tree’s started to die off in the last six months or so, just like the matching one did about ten years ago and the birch tree did three or four years ago. In each case, I always saw the woodpeckers pounding away as the trees turned brown. I don’t know if the trees get sick and the bugs move in on the weakened tree, or if the bugs move in and are the primary cause in making the trees get sick and die. Either way, it’s a meal for the woodpeckers.

What, better hunting up there? Okay!

Even though it’s fall, much of this tree is still covered in leaves. Except for the parts that have turned brown and brittle. The sound from her hunting and feeding wasn’t tremendously loud – I only heard it because I was standing under the tree. I’ve heard woodpeckers in the neighborhood “drumming” in the spring (I’m guessing it’s these two, they’re not that common here) and they can be quite loud, heard from a couple blocks away.

Hunting for dinner at the very top, just before she flew off. As you can see, this tree might not make it to the end of the year. It’s a “city street tree,” planted by the city in the median strip between the sidewalk and the curb back when the houses were built. I suspect this whole housing tract had the same species of tree used everywhere, but now about 2/3 of them are missing. Instead we have quite a variety of trees that have been chosen to replace them.

The woodpeckers don’t care. They’re just here for the bugs.

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The Return Of FredZilla

“…once I flushed, I just kept flushing. And running the tub. And flushing the other toilets. I wanted enough volume going down that sewer pipe to keep FredZilla headed toward the LA River and Pacific Ocean at a significant fraction of the speed of light.”


Yeah, great plan. Except of course for it being based on complete ignorance of the situation.

In retrospect, it probably went far more like this:

FredZilla got caught in the sewer system by accident. He fell into one of the vents or clean-out ports or something. Then he started starving.

Trying to get out any way he could, he found an exit. Into our toilet.

When I flushed him back down, I sent him right back into his prison. There’s no way I put in enough water or pressure to send him more than a dozen or so feet down the pipe before he was able to crawl out. At which point he’s still starving and stuck.

Tonight he showed up in the toilet in the other bathroom attached to that sewer line.

He’s getting smarter – at least this time he tried to hide up under the rim!

To her credit, The Long-Suffering Wife did not scream nearly as loudly as I did earlier in the week. In fact, I don’t think she screamed at all! All I got was, “He’s back!”

So he was.

Being what I hope is a bit more knowledgeable about the situation (while recognizing the odds that I might still be 100% clueless and wrong) I decided to not try to flush away the problem this time. I got a container to put him in, some salad tongs, and tried to capture FredZilla.

Piece of cake.

Really. I was expecting all sorts of struggle and commotion – got none of it. I just reached in, grabbed him (gently), picked him up, and dropped him down into the plastic bin.

Part of it might have been the cold water and not particularly warm porcelain environment. Out on the sidewalk in the sun, these little dudes skitter around at about Warp Five. Here in the bin, the only thing that made me think he wasn’t dead was the tongue flicking in and out. Or it could have been a lack of food in the sewer. Or both. Or neither. (It should be blatantly obvious that I’m making wild ass guesses and making shit up as I go along here!)

But, as with some of the other lizards in the yard, he’s got some beautiful markings.

I took him out in the back yard to the bushes next to the hot tub. There’s lots of dead leaves and pine needles there, similar to under the bushes in front where most of the rest of them live. He should have a decent chance of making it there.

Live long and prosper, FredZilla! Just, please, do it outside, not in our sewer system.

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Early Morning Adrenaline

The alarm clock rings. I rise, still better than half asleep, stagger into the bathroom to start the day the same way that most of us start it. I lift the lid and seat on the toilet…

I’ve mentioned from time to time that we have something of a menagerie her in our little slice of Heaven along the Rama-lama-ding-dong River in the heart of suburban Los Angeles, right?

I’ve shared pictures. Rabbits. Raccoons. Hawks. Owls. Lizards. Coyotes. Praying mantis. Peacocks.

Sometimes the critters want to share spaces with us. The rabbits are under the house sometimes. The raccoons are on the roof almost every night. The lizards live in the bushes all around the house.

The cute little lizards. The “Freds.” Mini-Fred. Micro-Fred. Clinger-Fred. Mega-Fred. Plain old Fred. In the bushes. On the sidewalk. Sunning on rocks.

Some are tiny:

Some are less tiny:

Some are pretty decent sized:

And now there’s the demon fucking monster from hell that I found lounging in the toilet this morning when I lifted the lid while half asleep:

There were a number of interesting lessons learned from this encounter.

  1. Fight or flight: Put me down solidly on #TeamFLIGHT!! You know how in the cartoons a character runs through a door and leaves a clean outline of their silhouette as they go through? I was just about there.
  2. Castrato: If you were expecting a deep, bass, manly warrior man’s voice saying, “Oh, look, there’s a demon monster in the loo!” you can forget it. I was screaming like a little girl at a pitch designed to only be heard by dogs. Jimmy Somerville would love to be able to hit the notes I was using.
  3. Final words: Surprisingly, nothing my mother would object to, at least at first. I guess it’s the final irony of my Catholic school upbringing, but “JESUS CHRIST!!” was all I had to offer. I’m assuming it was Him I heard laughing.
  4. Second reaction: Not surprisingly, after my adrenal gland had been squeezed dry of every molecule and my heart rate got back down into triple digits, my next reaction was to grab my phone and camera to go take pictures of the scary monster.
  5. Resolution: The monster was dealt with by…flushing the toilet, of course. I didn’t know if it would work, but it seemed a good first try. FredZilla flopped and swam for about two seconds and then was gone.
  6. Our water bill: Will no doubt be astronomical this month because once I flushed, I just kept flushing. And running the tub. And flushing the other toilets. I wanted enough volume going down that sewer pipe to keep FredZilla headed toward the LA River and Pacific Ocean at a significant fraction of the speed of light.

In closing, I would remind everyone that incidents such as this are extremely rare. (It says so, right there on the internet!) Despite my first thoughts, a little thinking about the problem convinces me that FredZilla doesn’t live down in the sewers. There’s nothing else down there for him to eat, and there’s really, REALLY not enough of whatever might be edible down there to allow him to grow this large. There’s just not a sufficient ecosystem.

In doing a bit of research it seems that he almost certainly got into the sewer system by accident, probably by either falling down into one of the clean-out traps that they put in when they completely rebuilt our sewer lines last year (remind me to check and make sure the caps on those traps are all on tightly) or falling down into one of the sewer roof vents (a slightly more common source of problems). Either way, once into the sewers, one of the only ways out is to climb back up through a toilet.

On the other hand, if it’s all right with everyone else, I’ll be turning on the lights and doing a precautionary lift of the lid to check for visitors every time I use the facilities for, say, the next couple of days? Weeks? Years? Lifetimes?


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Hawk & Crow

There was aerial combat over Camarillo Airport yesterday – but no airshow. This wasn’t simulated, it was as real as it gets.

The crow will gladly feast on hawk eggs, given the chance.

The hawk will gladly feast on crow, given the chance.

The crow has a bit of a size advantage, the hawk the advantage in speed, maneuverability, and weaponry.

But while you’ll occasionally see hawks in pairs, crows tend to mob hawks, three or four or as many as a dozen at a time.

Yesterday, at about 800′ above CMA (out of the landing pattern, fortunately for the big metal birds that could ruin everyone’s day) it was a draw.

The crow flew off (for now) and the hawk went back to looking for mice and rats (for now).

The battles will continue.

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CSI: Sidewalk

First we trimmed the crap out of the palm tree where all of the rats lived and fed.

Then, not surprisingly, a couple of days later I saw a couple of displaced rats in the yard, darting in & out of the bushes and feeding off some of the debris from the pruning.

Something else must have seen them.

I don’t know if it’s one of the neighborhood cats that found this guy (I suspect not – the house cats would take it home as a “gift” for their humans),

and a coyote or hawk or owl would have eaten it, not left it on the sidewalk,

or one of the dogs that people walk all over the neighborhood. I can see someone with a terrier walking along peacefully when the little yapper spooked this guy and took off across the yard, with the owner yelling, “PUT THAT DOWN!” and walking away as fast as possible after the kill. (If that’s the scenario, I want to let the little yapper know that there’s a bounty on these little bastards. I can be VERY generous with the treats!)

My fantasy scenario involves one of the lizards, outweighed 100 to 1, kicking some rat ass only to find that the carcass is too big to drag back to the lizard household. I want that to be true. Even if it does make me feel guilty about getting out the shovel and dumping this guy in the trash.

Our lizards are bad ass! (At least, in my head.)

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Leftovers For The Critters

After our date palm was “aggressively” pruned last week, the driveway was littered with the fruits.

I have no idea if these thumb-sized bits (dates?) are edible, nor do I have any idea how they might be prepared to be eaten if they are useful.

I’ll guarantee that the critters in the neighborhood found them to be edible – the squirrels, rats, and raccoons all were feasting on them pretty regularly.

Jemima Pett was correct with her comments last week – the critters (roof rats) which were put out by the tree trimming are now loose in the yard and looking for new lodging. With plenty of fruit trees in our yard and throughout the neighborhood, we’ll occasionally see a rat. This week I’ve seen them almost daily.

But at the time I was cleaning up the debris from the pruning I thought that the combination of dark purple and bright orange fruits was intriguing.

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