Category Archives: Critters

Return Of The Juncos

It was actually Saturday the 22nd, but I haven’t had a chance to get a picture of them yet. They’re small and zippy!

Even these pictures sort of suck since they’re just cell phone zoom photos shot from 15-20 feet away through a double sliding glass door. It’s the best I could do today – these little clowns spook easily.

As I’ve reported in the past, we have two who seem to live here year around. (“Uno Junco” and “Dos Junco” because creativity isn’t my strong suit?) The others all vanish overnight in the spring, then come back in late October.

I think there were between 15 and 18 out there tonight, but again, “small and zippy.” They’re in those bushes along the fence on either side, up in the trees, on the gutter, in the bushes beside the patio, munching on bird seed, flitting, flying, fighting…

I was never able to get more than six in a picture at one time (like this one) but there was a crowd of them. They’re cute little clown birds and it will be fun to watch them every day for the next few months!


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Fine Feathered Friends – October 22nd

My first clue was the song. I hadn’t heard it before and I couldn’t see any new birds around, but I could hear them (probably two, at least) flitting around in the trees off the back yard. The Cornell Lab Merlin Bird ID app (which is wonderful, highly recommended if this is your thing) now has a “Sound ID” feature which is fantastic. Whipping it out, it immediately ID the song as a Cassin’s Kingbird. A photo showed it to be bigger than the juncos and house finches, smaller (maybe) than a mockingbird, with a yellow breast.

An hour or so later, out in the front yard, I heard the song again and saw these guys.

Mockingbird-sized, yellow breasts, same odd song.

Bingo, a Cassin’s Kingbird. Actually, a pair. The yellow breast can be seen easily, despite the lousy, cloudy lighting.

Different body shape than the mockingbirds, smaller tail.

The beak is short and pointed, almost like a woodpecker’s.

And their song is quite distinct and interesting.

So, another new bird friend for the neighborhood. Hooray!!

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LOTS Mo’ Lizards!

It seems obvious to me that we’ve had another clutch of lizard eggs hatching in the back yard.

On Friday I was taking a lap around the back yard (my watch had bitched at me) and I stopped when I saw this guy sitting on the side of the garden edging surrounding the big tree.

He seemed to have a greenish tint which I don’t recall having seen recently. Most of the newer lizards are either black or a light sandy tan color.

Just as I was starting to move, I spotted this guy as well.

Also with that green tint, this one off to my left instead of my right.

You can see them both here, their heads sticking up and “eclipsing” the brightly sunlit top surface of the edging material. One’s just in from the left edge of the picture, the other just before the right.

Leaving them to their peace and sunshine, I took just two or three steps to get to the other side of the big tree and found two more on a different piece of edging. Can you see them both?

Exhibit “C” is on top of the edging at the left in the bigger picture.

Exhibit “D” is on the side of the edging, right where the shadow from the roof cuts across the yard.

Still not moving, I looked over toward the patio, near where the trash cans are.

There’s Exhibit “E,” another of the Sandy Tan Clan.

In addition to all of these, when I shifted my feet two others darted from the dirt right by my feet and off into the tall desert grass growing there. That’s seven that I saw, which makes me suspect that there were more that I didn’t see.

These guys are all maybe two inches to two and a half inches long, tops. Out in the front yard, Gandalf and his siblings or sidekicks are all about twice that size. In turn, the driveway lizards that used to hide under the car (haven’t seen them in a few months) were about twice that. Of course, out in the garage (one sighting last year, with another siting in the garden by the front door once) is the household alligator lizard, who’s at least three or four times that, pushing 18″ or more the last I saw him. (The “popcorn” lizards, Gandalf and friends, and the driveway lizards are all Western fence lizards.)

Thinking about the hatching of the little guys, I’m surprised that it’s happening now. It’s going to be getting cooler very soon, and while it’s not snowy here at 1,050 elevation in SoCal, normally the lizards find a hole and hibernate through the cloudy and cool months until it’s time to warm up in spring. These little dudes will have very little time to put on some weight and size (assuming they don’t get eaten themselves) before it’s time to hibernate.

Time for “Fat Lizard” Week!

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By His Deeds Shall You Know Him

I went out in front to get the mail yesterday and there were four tiny “popcorn” fence lizards lined up along the sidewalk. I froze but two of them were already scurring for the bushes. One waited a few seconds, long enough for me to take out my phone.

By the time I moved my arms enough to widen out the zoom, he was off into the bushes as well. Only one of the four stayed out in his chosen warm spot in the sun.

Gandalf, who stood his ground even as I walked out about five feet in front of him and then inched in to get a good photo.

The only time I’ve seen him bail and scurry off was today when the phone rang just as I was going out the door. I was so preoccupied with answering and talking that I wasn’t watching where I was going at all, almost stepped on him.

He’s fine, made it to the bushes with room to spare. He may be fearless, but that doesn’t mean he’s stupid!

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Meet Gandalf

It started after I had brought in the groceries. Carrying bags in I had cut straight across the grass, but then I had to come back out and move the car a bit. (Not my best parking job – I blame the COVID vaccine. Because I can.) After that I was going to walk to the front door on the sidewalk, but found my way blocked.

I don’t know if it’s one of the new batch of “nature’s popcorn” from the back yard. It’s the right size, but god knows there’s enough of them around so the front yard lizards and the back yard lizards might have totally different populations.

Most of them scatter if I get within ten feet, but this one wasn’t budging, even when I got within five feet or so and pointed out that it was extremely exposed should the raven up on the telephone pole spot it.

Even when I knelt down to get a better shot and wasn’t more than two or three feet away he wasn’t budging. He had his warm spot in the sun and that was that. I thought that he might actually be deceased, but his head kept swinging back and forth to keep an eye on me. THEN he started doing those “lizard push-ups,” which I understand to be a territorial display. Okay, duly noted!

I talked to him for a minute or two. I told him I admired his attitude and hoped to keep him in mind as a role model as Monday rolled around tomorrow.

Then I stood, walked back around the car and went to the front door via the lawn, leaving him still sunning himself and blocking the sidewalk, exerting his dominance.

Of course his name must be Gandalf. Which, I guess, makes me the Balrog.


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Nature’s Popcorn Dritter Teil

Yesterday, after I saw the tiny dude from the previous post, I went walking around the back yard and spotted another tiny dude.

This guy was not nearly as calm as the first one, skittering and running like hell when I was still twenty feet or more away.

He got off of the grass and onto the dirt very quickly, letting his natural camaflouge work for him.

If I hadn’t seen him skitter over there, I’m not sure I would have noticed him as I walked by if he didn’t move.

He only waited a few seconds before moving to make his escape over the edge and down the hill, even though I had frozen.

Not sure why he thought I was such a threat. I think it has something to do with the “popcorn” title and the idea that everything and everyone is trying to eat you.

And there he goes, just the tip of his tail left! Total time of the encounter, from first picture to last? Twenty-eight seconds.

Tomorrow, with luck, an adventure!

As many times as I’ve talked about going up the coast about 150 miles to Vandenberg to see a launch, it’s never quite worked out. But tomorrow, the final Delta IV Heavy launches from the west coast (there are two more scheduled from Florida before the rocket is discontinued and replaced with the Vulcan rocket) and my schedule is otherwise clear. No super critical work deadlines, no more Wing activities for the CAF, no travel, no Chiefs game – “no obligations.”

So, footloose & fancy free, I plan to wander up the coast to Lompoc, see if I can find a wide spot off of the road near the base entrance or on the beach if it’s open and not foggy, and watch a really freakin’ big rocket take off.

I’ll let you know how it goes…


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Nature’s Popcorn Part Deux

Here’s the same little guy as the other day but with the “big” camera and lens. (Canon DSLR with a 300mm telephoto lense instead of an iPhone 13 Pro Max.)

I don’t know if it’s because I was coming up behind him or not, but I got a lot closer than I did two days ago.

Or maybe it’s just that he had a really good, warm spot and didn’t want to leave if he didn’t have to.

Once he saw me, he kept me in his sights. Lots of side eye.

As long as I moved really, really slowly (and stayed at least seven to eight feet away) he was sorta okay.

That board he’s on is about a half-inch thick (maybe 1.5 centimeters).

That gives you a good scale. He’s not very big at all.

Still bigger than when I first saw him (and his siblings) a week or so ago.

Just hanging out, trying to learn to balance, both physcially on the edge of the board, and in terms of threat assessment, balancing the need to be in the sun and warm vs. being exposed to predators.

Ah, he’s lifting his tail, bringing it out of the shade and into the sunlight. For warmth, or as a prelude to flight?

It was flight. He was off in an instant into the brown grass and essentially invisble.

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Nature’s Popcorn

That’s a phrase I’ve heard Dr. Earyn McGee use more than once on Twitter referring to tiny baby fence lizards. (Also, tomorrow’s Wednesday, so a reminder that Dr. McGee runs the best “game” on Twitter on Wednesday nights. At 17:00 PT you can get her picture of the week with a lizard in there somewhere and try to #FindThatLizard. When you do, let folks know with the #FoundThatLizard hashtag, with the answer revealed at 21:00 PT. It’s fantastic!)

Well, we’ve had another hatching. We got back from Chicago two weeks ago and I’ve noticed them all over the dry dirt of the back yard. Most aren’t more than an inch or two inches long. You almost don’t see them so much as you see their shadows as they skitter for cover.

She calls them that (I believe) because they hatch by the dozens, but the vast majority of them don’t survive long. They get eaten pretty quickly by birds, other lizards, and anything else fast enough to catch them.

Don’t underestimate that speed. The reason these pictures are marginal is because they’re taken from 20+ feet away with my iPhone on full digital zoom. If I get any closer, POOF!! They’re scattering at Warp Nine.

Maybe one or two of them will win the Darwin lottery and make it to a spot in the front yard under the car, as front door dragon, or big boy of the back yard next year.


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Fine Feathered Friends – Chicago Urban Version

Sparrows, finches, and these guys…

The pigeons are the worst! If you’re eating and they don’t get their share, they’ll attack!

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Master Of Disguise

Not to steal any thunder from Dr. Earyn McGee‘s excellent and wonderful Wednesday evening Twitter game, but can you find the lizard in this picture?

Don’t sweat it if you can’t – I know where it is and I can only just barely see it by blowing the image up to full sized. (Click to enlarge it.)

A bit more zoomed, this is a “normal” view and you might see him now.

He’s stil a challenge, looks a LOT like the bark of the tree, but a fair number of you will be able to find him in this image.

There he is.

Pixelated as all get out if you blow it up to full sized, but he’s pretty obvious at full zoom. I suspect it’s this guy who hangs around the tree to begin with, but I didn’t get a positive ID. He said that he had left his driver’s license in his other skin.

Enjoy the sun, little lizard dude. Winter is coming.

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