Category Archives: Critters

Spring Returns – Day Eight

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”?) Today, since getting out of the house and walking around in the sun makes my watch happy, I did the front yard…

…and I’ll start showing those to you tomorrow. But in the back yard, we have new avian neighbors.

This wasn’t here last weekend. I noticed it when I opened the bedroom curtains and startled the occupants.

So, of course, I grabbed my camera.

Not five feet away from the door to the porch was this lady, who was having no grief from me at all. A female house finch, very common in these areas.

She was not taking her eyes off of me, and there’s no doubt in my mind that if I had taken steps toward the nest, I would have had her buzzing around my head.

I take no shame in admitting that she would probably kick my ass if I went for that nest.

Meanwhile, twenty feet away instead of five, behind the porch support post, ready to lend moral support if there was an actual physical confrontation, was the male.

Lovely, plumage!” as they say. But we wouldn’t want to get any of that messed up, so if I want to make an omelette out of his potential offspring, he has to make sure that none of that gets ruffled.

He at least had the decency to look sheepish and ashamed, not maintaining eye contact.

Mom, on the other hand, was showing off how buff she was and squawking at me the whole time so that I would know who was in charge.

Got it! I’m mostly harmless and would like to just watch and take the occasional picture. Perhaps a bird feeder of some sort would soothe your troubled mind? (Yes, that’s an offer of a bribe.)

I’ll keep an eye open and an ear cocked for the sound of teeny peepers in that nest in the weeks to come.

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Spring Returns – Day Six

Spring had arrived (officially, Wednesday, the day after my birthday), at least for a couple of days. After one of the rainiest and coldest winters recorded in Los Angeles, followed by extremely windy conditions for a few days, we actually got a couple of relatively calm days this past weekend where it got up about 80°F. (More heavy rain, thunderstorms, chilly temps rolled in mid-week, with more coming this weekend, and next week, and next weekend…) While it was nice and warm, I wandered out and noticed that the yard was responding to the warm up by coming to life, so I grabbed a camera – and apparently got enough pictures to fill up almost a whole week of posts! (I think this is the last of them.)

With the warmth, out came a couple of the Freds. I saw the Tree Fred from the kitchen, but he had boogied for cover by the time I went out. However, this guy was soaking up the rays on the sidewalk.

These guys won’t let me get anywhere near them, unlike the ones at the old house. Not a big enough sample size to know if it’s nature or nurture – are those pinhead-sized brains capable of learning that I’m harmless and enjoy looking at them, or are these guys just more skittish?

Yeah, sneaking up behind me isn’t going to work either. This was the point where I took about one-half step forward and he was into those bushes at Warp Six.

Farewell until the next sunny day in the back yard!

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Spring Returns – Day Five

Spring had arrived (officially, yesterday), at least for a couple of days. After one of the rainiest and coldest winters recorded in Los Angeles, followed by extremely windy conditions for a few days, we actually got a couple of relatively calm days this past weekend where it got up about 80°F. (More heavy rain, thunderstorms, chilly temps rolled in yesterday and today, with more coming this weekend, and next week, and next weekend…) While it was nice and warm, I wandered out and noticed that the yard was responding to the warm up by coming to life, so I grabbed a camera – and apparently got enough pictures to fill up almost a whole week of posts!

While looking at the big tree of unknown species with the exploding umbrella-like leaves (I don’t think that’s it’s official Latin designation) I saw a flash of yellow. Way up in the top of the tree was this guy who WOULD NOT STAY STILL.

This was a classic case of “if you shoot enough pictures…” Statistics were on my side even though the bird wasn’t. “Flitter” was the word of the day as he hopped and bounced and swung and burst and jitterbugged all over the tree.

But even with that I could see the fantastic black & white polka dot pattern on his breast and the bright yellow patches on his neck and shoulders.

But what kind of bird is it? I’m familiar with a lot of the local species, but this wasn’t a common house sparrow. And the occasional goldfinch I see are all bright yellow, not just little patches. Maybe the coloration varies by sex or mating season?

There’s this thing called “the Internet” which lets you go searching for answers to questions like that. In this case, it brought me right back home completely by accident. The San Fernando Valley Audubon Society website is where I found the best description that matches this guy, especially the part about, “Another bird that never seems to sit still.” I’m pretty sure my new neighbor is a Yellow-Rumped Warbler.

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The Squirrelpocalypse

Signs and portents, folks. Signs. AND portents.

Heading down the hill yesterday morning after a night when the power had been off for a couple of hours and it had been raining and cold, I came upon the most bizarre scene.

The street is windy, so I was blind as I came around a curve. In the street before me were probably a dozen squirrels, all intent on something they were eating. I braked (of course) and expected them to scatter but they did nothing of the sort. A couple of them looked up, but most of them ignored the two tons of steel Mom-mobile death about to plow them over. And NONE of them moved.

I started to inch closer figuring they would get the hint.

They didn’t.

The nearest one just sat there, even as my wheel got to within a couple of feet. I was pulled way off to the right, practically scraping the curb on that side, and couldn’t go left because there were more squirrels over on that side.

This first little bastard finally moved about six inches so that I could get by and slowly the others on that side of the road did as well as I approached, although I could swear that one or two just ducked down enough to pass under the van as it rolled over them.

After the initial dismay over what I was seeing I was too far into the group to back out. It did occur to me that this is the way Hitchcock movies and King novels start. There was no freakin’ way I was getting out of that car to try to shoo away any of the little rodents.

I kept waiting for one to leap onto the hood and press its frenzied, rabid, furry face against the windshield, like the mynocks that Han & Leia and Chewie ran into.

I don’t know if it was related to the heavy rains. Or to the power outage. Or if someone just spilled a bag of pot out on the street and the squirrels were high as a kite on some epic wacky tabaccky.

But I do know that in the new house (unlike the old place a mile away where they littered the trees and yard) I’ve rarely seen any squirrels at all, and never more than two at a time.

So where did a dozen-plus of the little monsters come from all at once?

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Tree Fred

Faithful readers will remember that at the old house we had all sorts of California alligator lizards living in the yard. We named them all “Fred.” (Pictures here, here, here, here, here, and so on.)

When we first moved to the new house in May, I was delighted to see some living in the yard here, some of which were “Freds” and some of which were “Bubbas”. It has however been weeks since I’ve seen of of our reptilian yard dwellers. I was starting to get worried.

Today it was warm and sunny and while doing dishes I noticed the large “Tree Fred” out sunning himself (herself? how does one tell?) on the trunk.

When I first came out Tree Fred scurried and hid.

But patience is a virtue and he came back out.

I was moving very slowly so as not to spook him. (And I had my big, 300mm telephoto lens.)

Tree Fred kept a close eye on me, but allowed a few photos from about ten feet away.

I was happy to see that the birds & other critters haven’t eaten all of the lizards! Circle of life and all of that, but I like having Freds and Bubbas in the yard!

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Kids These Days!

“Can I bring my kids to the Wing Christmas Party?”

“Sure! It’s a family event! Why not?”

“Wait, what?”

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Owl

After all of the “excitement” (i.e., stress, adrenaline, and existential terror) of the last few weeks, it was time for some “domestic down time” today. Groceries. Changing the sheets. Cleaning up some crap in the yard.

I was folding clothes this evening when I heard this guy again:

I’ve heard “him” (I’m assuming – I don’t have a clue if it’s a male or female and the Audubon Society website says they both hoot) a dozen or so times over the past month or two. By his call (identified here) I’m betting he’s a Great Horned Owl. (I would also note that by their call, we also have Screech Owls. I’ve heard that sound on several occasions as well.)

One of the coolest times I’ve heard him was last Friday night after the worst of that evening’s fires had been put out. I went out just to get a sense of what was going on with the fire. It was much quieter than it had been. I was listening and still hearing sirens and helicopters and jets coming out of LAX and jets coming into Burbank and it stank of smoke but all the while our owl friend was calm as can be, marking his territory with his hoots, across the street and down the hill about half a block.

He’s loud. The first time I heard him he was in one of the trees in a neighbor’s yard and I could hear him inside, even over the television. Tonight I didn’t have the television on (had to concentrate on folding those socks, couldn’t afford the distraction!) and when I heard him I figured he was back in our yard or the neighbor’s yard. Nope, he was five or six houses down the street and I could still hear him in the house.

He’s big. Once or twice when he’s been in our tree or one of the immediate neighbors’ trees I’ve gone out to listen and spooked him into flying off. I only see him by moonlight, but he’s got to have at least a five foot wing span, maybe six. I’m obviously no owl expert, but I would think at that size he’s not looking for rats, mice, or squirrels, but more likely rabbits, stray cats, or baby raccoons.

I’m happy to have the owl in our neighborhood and hope he stays around. His hooting is a sound that brings me joy and calm.

Probably not so much for the rabbits, stray cats, and baby raccoons.

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