Category Archives: Critters

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.



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Your Promised Mystery

It’s been a really, REALLY busy time at work (budgeting, Board meetings coming up, quarterly closings, all of those other joys of running an eight-figure accounting department) so in the interest of brevity, a few days ago I posted a “no context for you” picture and teased that there was a mystery because of something that wasn’t there.

(By the way, yesterday was my work-anniversary, one year with the ALS Golden West Chapter. For those who might conceivably be interested, while it’s almost always “really, REALLY busy” and that comes along with some “aggressive” deadlines and an “interesting” workload, I’m truly enjoying working there. I’m part of a wonderful team, we get an amazing amount of work done to help people who need it as well as funding research, my boss is the best I’ve ever worked for, and I’m very glad to be there.)

Then, the next day, I posted some pictures with a hint that it might be related to the mystery.

So here’s the mystery.

Two Sundays ago, after doing the usual “get groceries and pick up breakfast” routine, I noticed something out in the back yard. I was looking out the kitchen window as I am wont to do (it’s a nice view!) and there was something out there that hadn’t been there on Saturday. In fact, I was trying to figure out if I remembered seeing it earlier on Sunday morning, and I couldn’t remember seeing it. So, what was it and where did it come from?

First thought was that it might be a dead critter – god knows we get enough of them around alive, some of them might meet their fate out there. But it wasn’t.

Upon seeing it up close, I wondered if it might be something left by the gardeners, who are fighting an infestation of gophers that are ripping up the yard.

Did they fill something with bait or poison and drop it down the hole and the gophers just kicked it back up? Probably not, since this was a little big for that.

It’s bigger than a baseball, but smaller than a softball. It’s very hard rubber or some kind of synthetic material. There’s a hole going through it, and there was something plugging the hole in the center.

The stuff inside looked like a piece of granola bar or candy. Which made me think that this might be a dog toy or something.

While that might make sense as to its nature, how it got here was a mystery. The neighbor on one side has a little yapper dog, but everyone in that household is elderly and we almost never see them out, let alone out playing with the dog. I didn’t see this coming over the fence by accident from that direction.

Down the hill is a younger couple with a big, younger dog so it might be theirs, but again, how did it get up here? It’s a very steep hillside, multiple fences, covered with pine trees and debris (and I don’t even want to think about how many rattlesnakes), a good 60 to 70 yards from their yard up to ours. In my youth I might have been able to chuck this thing up that hill, but only after multiple deliberate tries. It wouldn’t be getting up here by accident.

My thought at the time, which I didn’t think to try to verify at the time, was that it might be a “Kong” dog toy, designed to have a dog treat stuffed into the middle and being semi-indestructible so that big dogs can go nuts on it to get the treat out and not destroy the toy. In processing this last picture for this post, I noticed the writing on the ball. If you flip it and enhance (think of me as Harrison Ford in “Blade Runner…”):

Yep, it’s a Kong ball. But how did it get here?

With all of that in mind, look at that “no context for you” mystery picture, taken on Monday morning, the next day:

The gopher holes are still there, as is the grass. The Kong ball is gone.

No one had been out in the back yard to my knowledge. The backyard gates were all locked. I had just left the ball there. So where had it gone?

First thoughts were that it might have actually been one of the neighbors, either climbing that steep hill while climbing over those fences (and then going back down) or else the octogenarians were climbing over the bushes and chain link fence on the side and retrieving it for the little yapper dog. Both were unlikely at best – why wouldn’t they just knock and ask for their dog toy back if somehow it landed here by mistake?

None of it made sense.

Then, a couple of days later, The Long-Suffering Wife reported that she had seen something weird in the back yard. A big squirrel had been other there, carrying some sort of big black ball around in its mouth. It had run across the lawn and headed down into the trees.

I think we have our suspect!

I’ll bet that there’s a thief squirrel in the neighborhood who grabbed that Kong ball out of someone’s back yard and carried it up to ours. It might be from the folks down the hill from us, but there are plenty of other folks with dogs around. It could have come from any of them within a block or so. The squirrel giveth on Sunday, and the squirrel taketh away Monday morning. But it’s still working on that treat, not going to be happy until it gets it all, and that may take a few days.

I don’t know if that’s a “mystery solved,” but it’s plausible enough so that I’m not going to be losing any more sleep about it!

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Mystery Muncher

Something (or someone, depending on how anthropomorphic you want to be) left a mess out at the edge of the back yard.

There’s a chair that I leave there, right on the other side of the sidewalk from where yesterday’s picture was taken, and on the next day there was a pile of debris there.

Not that a pile like this is necessarily unexpected given the critters that live about, but it is notable in that it’s the first time I’ve seen it in the 2+ years we’ve lived here. So, something new is happening, and that could be a clue to the week’s mystery.

Lots of pine trees here, and lots of pine cone detritus on the sidewalk. Who could our new suspect be?

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Back at the driveway…

This is the “driveway big guy.” (For those who have lost track, there’s a “big guy” by the driveway, one over by the front door, a clutch of new hatchlings in the bushes between the driveway and the front door, and a clutch of new hatchlings by the mailbox. I think. And then there are the backyard lizards, including those in the north, those in the south, and those in the trees.)

I’m told they’re territorial – not sure if they’ll kill each other for territory, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they did.

Given the location (this is right by where the bushes are that lead off to the front door to the right, the place where the first new clutch of baby lizards showed up) this might be a parent of that clutch.

Either way, this seems to be a prime spot. If it’s cool, this big guy is out in the sun, with shelter under the car just inches away and the bushes just a couple of feet more. If it’s really hot, he can retreat to the edge of the shade, still catch plenty of heat from the whole driveway heating up, but not get fried by the direct rays.

He’s pretty calm so long as I don’t spook him, will let me get within a couple of feet. Blow up the picture to full sized (click on it), look at the gorgeous blue & green scales mixed in with all of the brown and tan scales, particularly on his tail.

I don’t know how big this guy or his kin can get, although we obviously know that some species in the area can get MUCH bigger. Being Godzilla kin but much smaller, I think this guy is more of a Hemidemisemigodzilla. But as long as he watches out for hawks and doesn’t sit under that tire for shelter when I have to use the car (I check before I pull out, but still…) he might make Demisemigodzilla in a year or two!


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Mailbox Lizards

I believe we may have a new batch of lizards!

I’ve never seen any yard lizards down by the street or the mailbox, at least not before today.

But when I went to bring up the empty trash bins from the curb, I was surprised to see at least three of these tiny guys scooting off into the flowers surrounding the mail box.

I waited for a while to see if they would come back out – only this one did, and he was deeply suspicious of my intentions.

He’s a different color, so I’m thinking there’s a new clutch of eggs from some neighbor lizard that’s moving in on our territory.

Let the Lizard Wars of 2020 begin!

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Twin Tree Lizards

I saw the big tree lizard out gathering some sun.

At this point I’m just at the edge of the porch, maybe fifteen to twenty feet away with a telephoto lens.

Two small steps forward, slowly, I don’t want to spook him. Another half step…

…wait, what’s that on the left that just moved?
I had failed to #FindThatLizard. There had been an assumption on my part, which was incorrect.

This guy was off on the left, ready to bolt.

The first guy was still holding steady on the right, but my guess is that a quick getaway wouldn’t be long in coming if I twitched.

Y’all are good – enjoy the afternoon sun and watch out for those crows. I’ll back away slowly and let you have the yard.


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Mourning Dove Morning

The mourning dove, sometimes known as a turtle dove, is pretty common just about anywhere in the US.

They’re incredibly common around here, unlike my mysterious Black Phoebe or the heard-but-never-seen Northern Bobwhite Quail.

I love hearing their calls in the morning, and I usually see them on the wires out front, occasionally in a tree.

This one leapt out at me because, to the best of my recollection (and I’m pretty good about noticing and remembering little details like this), this is the first time I’ve ever seen one down on the ground feeding, and it’s definitely the first time I’ve seen one in the back yard where it’s normally hip deep in finches and mockingbirds.

Timing is everything, I guess.

Wait – cheese it, he’s seen us! Run for your life before it attacks, these things are viscous!!

(No, that’s not a typo. It’s cheap, late, late Saturday night humor.)

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Lizard Right Outside The Front Door

I think this may be the same big guy who was on the grass the other day when it was REALLY hot.

It’s hard to tell with the high contrast setting he’s chosen (wisely) to hid himself in. Bright sunlight was right there, but inches away were shadows and the bushes to hide under and in if threatened.

In retrospect, I’m amazed that he didn’t take off like a bat out of hell the second I opened the front door. This spot is only about five feet away from the porch mat, not even social distancing!

This close up the depth of field on the photo sucks, but I do love seeing the texture and spines on his scales where it is in focus, as well as those long, agile toes.

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Yet Another Baby Lizard

Between the pandemic, quarantine, working from home, and all of that, as I’ve noted before, there are a limited number of things to take pictures of or write about. Unless of course you want me to start ranting about politics, idiots, evil GOP Death Cults, or how QAnon folk need to be rounded up and given massive amounts of psychological help. And those topics, accompanied by massive amounts of swearing, are what Twitter is for!

This guy is bigger than some, smaller than others, but it’s his coloration and tail that make him easily identifiable among the dozen or so scurrying about the front sidewalk.

He’s a tan or khaki color, which I haven’t seen before.

His tail is also shorter and thicker than normal – compare it to some of the others from a couple days ago.

Like most of these new guys, he’s extremely skittish. Try to take a half step closer and he’s already 2/3 of the way under that bush. I’ll never catch him under there!

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Mama Or Papa Lizard On The Grass

This is probably the same (potentially) Mama or Papa Lizard that we saw on Saturday. It would be so much easier if they would wear name tags…

Same spot, over by the driveway and the bushes by the front door that all of the micro lizards are hanging out in. Well, those that are still alive.

What was strange was that it (he? she?) was on the grass, propped up like this. That’s a first, I’ve never seen one of them out on the grass except to possibly scurry across it toward the bushes or a tree for safety.

Especially because of the way it’s using all of those splayed out, long toes to stay up on top of the grass, I suspect this was because it was 117° F (and we know what the “F” stands for!) degrees.

They like the sun, but let’s get real. There are limits!!


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