Category Archives: Critters

There Was A Bug

A ***BIG*** freaking bug!

Okay, so it wasn’t a huntsman spider from Australia or a camel spider. But it was far, Far, FAR bigger than I was expecting. Especially since I wasn’t expecting it at all.

I was driving at the time. I felt something on my left hand, on the steering wheel, and looked down to find SpiderZilla crawling across the back of my hand.

I used words my mother would not approve of at truly astonishing volume.

I did not lose control of the car. But not for lack of trying. My attention was definitely elsewhere, despite my speed and the number of cars and trucks surrounding me.

While screaming like a little girl expressing my dismay, since I couldn’t really use my right hand to swat at it, I shook my hand and it fell off.

Which is not necessarily better.

You see it, right?

SpiderZilla is now down on the floor. Or on the seat. Or on my leg. Or crawling up my pant leg. Or…

Should I pull over? Stop in the middle of traffic? While that would no doubt be my first move if it had been a rattlesnake, it wasn’t clear that blocking a lane in rush hour was called for. Not for a…

…a what? What kind of spider had it been, besides **BIG**? Was it actually a spider? It had looked…

I had only seen it for half a second as I was freaking out. Yeah, it was a bug, it might have been a spider – but it might have been a cricket or something else, I guess. Maybe.

It was brown. If it was a spider, was it a brown recluse, a “brown widow”? Did they get that big, and if so, why am I still living in this part of the world?

And then…

There it was, crawling up from below. Fortunately, not on me. It was coming up the side of the center console.

Yes, it was that big, probably at least four inches long. No, it probably wasn’t a spider. But no, I had no freaking idea what it was.

My best guess is some sort of mantis or “walking stick” bug. Not like anything I had ever seen before around these parts.

But now I wanted it dealt with. Permanently. Before I did lose control of the car and be without a decent excuse about why I caused the accident that was going to happen  if I didn’t deal with it.

So with a clear shot, while holding my lane and watching out for traffic ahead, I squished that little bugger into next week’s protoplasm.

Not what a good entomologist would do, but I was a physics major, so screw that!


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Filed under Critters, Distracted Driving

The Nest

We’ve got a couple of bird nests on the back porch. We’ve seen the adult birds flying in and out, but I haven’t been bothering the nests or trying to peek in there to see if there were eggs.

Then it got noisy this weekend. REAL noisy.

By my account, there are at least four babies in there. Sometimes I think that I can see a fifth, but I never got pictures with all five, so we’ll call that fifth one Schroedinger.

There’s the troublemaker, who was already out and down on the vines. I’m not sure that’s a good career move at this stage of life, but you do you, dude! Then there’s the one above them, not in the nest by out on the 4×8 beam. They must have gotten tired of being in that crowded nest, where the two “good kids” have stayed where they were told to.

That was yesterday.

Today they were quieter, but I only saw three of them early in the day.

Later today, when I caught them being fed, there were just two.

Then this guy was seen hopping around on the ground

He wasn’t flying, he was hopping. I opened the door and he took off like a flapping little bat out of hell into the bushes. I let him go, despite my doubts about his life expectancy out of the nest.

He didn’t look close to being ready to fly, and out of the nest he wasn’t going to get fed. It was well over 100° out there, so that wasn’t going to help.

We put out some water and bread crumbs. We never saw this little guy partaking, but the mockingbirds and a squirrel were grateful.

Does anyone know what the mortality rate is on house wrens? I’m guessing about 50/50, but it’s a small data set. Either way, there seem to be plenty of them around. They’re hardly endangered.

We’ll see how many are there tomorrow.

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Filed under Castle Willett, Critters

Not Stopping To Smell The Flowers

It’s not that I don’t stop to smell the flowers – god knows there are enough pictures of them here. But as a comment on how you should slow down in life and take the time to enjoy the little things, my preferred activity would be to stop and listen to the birds.

And there are few as entertaining to listen to as the mockingbirds.

I understand that not everyone appreciates them, especially when they’re singing all damn night at top volume outside your window. My first wife in particular sort of hated them, while I look at it as Nature’s lullaby.

We’ve got several pairs in the neighborhood. While they’re not sounding off every night, 365 days a year, right now seems to be a prime time for them. (I know that it’s only the bachelor males who sing all night long.)

The other night I wandered out and recorded a few minutes of one particularly noisy (and presumably particularly horny) male, along with a passing motorcycle down on Valley Circle Drive and all of the neighbors’ air conditioning units rumbling in the background:

Enjoy! The range and variety of song just goes on and on and on! (Whether you’re trying to sleep or not…)

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Found In A Driveway In Vermont

We had come out of a store. It had been raining. This guy was in the driveway, still fluttering.

I don’t know from butterflies – well, for all I know this guy’s a moth. Either way, I didn’t know if it was hurt, just trying to dry off from the passing shower, or preparing to go for the throat of the next Rottweiler that passed by. So I just took the picture.

I also notice that the asphalt driveways in Vermont are MUCH more colorful and rocky and interesting than our plain, dull, black ones here in California.

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Filed under Critters, Photography, Travel

Be The Hawk

I found this in the back yard this afternoon – something violent happened here.

Lots of grey and white feathers, most of them not all that small.

Maybe some avian forensics could determine what species of bird it was, but my guess would be one of the mourning doves that inhabit the area. As to the perpetrator of the attack, my money says hawk, but it could be my friend the owl or a feral cat. We’ll never know.

Either way, I hope at the end of the day you feel more like the (presumed) hawk and less like the (presumed) mourning dove.

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Filed under Critters, Photography


During dinner there were two mockingbirds out in the back yard making quite a ruckus. I thought that it might be a mating or territorial thing. I grabbed the camera and headed outside. And noticed something in the tree on the hillside just below our back yard…

Oh. My. God!

She is spectacular! A Great Horned Owl.

I was moving slowly, not wanting to spook her – every time I moved that head would swivel, but the body never twitched.

She was sitting in this one patch of sun as the sun set behind the house in back of us, her feathers illuminated perfectly, her “horns” making her easy to identify. (Well, that and the fact that I’ve heard them ever since we moved in here.)

It’s truly astonishing how far around that head can swivel, probably 270° or more!

I kept shifting toward the right and closer to the edge. By this time I was only about fifteen feet from her. And then…

…I saw the other one! (I might have squeeeed just a little bit.) At first I thought it was just a rug or coat or something thrown across the fence. THEN THE HEAD SWIVELED AROUND TO LOOK AT ME.

I had heard the male hooting a couple times while I was out there. I’ve heard them calling back and forth many times and when I’ve done some research it seems the call of the male is deeper, more bass. That was his call.

I’m guessing that this is the male and the one up where I could see her was the female. In part it’s the size difference, but also the calls. This one was about fifty feet away and down in the shade, where it was hard to get a good picture as it was getting dark.

I’m also struck by how different his coloration seems. Might be the lighting. (Might not be – see the picture below of the female in this same spot a few minutes later.)

The mockingbirds were still out there, taking every opportunity to dive bomb her. At one point she hopped down onto another branch.

From there, just as the sun was setting, I got a good view of the feathers on her breast and tail.

I was lucky enough to be ready when another mockingbird strafing run came by and she hopped down another branch.

That’s a large wingspan! The white tips to all of her feathers when deployed are quite a sight.

The male finally got sick of the mockingbirds and flew off down the hill. I saw him a few time gliding from tree to tree, but the female soon went down and took his spot on that fence corner. (Compare her size to the male perched at the same spot a few pictures above.)

As it got dark I watched her and listened to them occasionally calling back and forth. The mockingbirds continued to be pissy and loud, but their attacks were all no-hitters. Meanwhile, a few straggler butterflies were wandering by, the hummingbirds were hitting on the feeders and buzzing the ice plant flowers near me, and the house finches were flitting all over the bushes for a last snack for the babies back in the nest as it got dark.

Not bad for the middle of a megalopolis!!

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Filed under Critters, Photography

The Running Of The Butterflies

Something unusual has been happening around Los Angeles this year – butterflies. Clouds of them. Swarms of them.

We’re not talking “blotting out the sun” swarms, nothing apocalyptic. But for a few days last month there were days at the house on the hill where we would see what I estimated to be several hundred per minute flitting by for hours at a time. It’s been quite impressive.

They’ve been notoriously difficult to get pictures of. For the most part they’re not stopping or refueling on any of those flowers in our yard that I shared last month. They’re just bobbing and weaving in the breeze, a half dozen here, ten there, a few more over there, coming past the house and being gone downwind in just a few seconds.

Then they were gone for several weeks and I figured that was it. Until they started showing up on Thursday and Friday. Yesterday while driving back home from the hangar in Camarillo I saw the largest clouds of them I had seen yet, easily ten times the rate that I had seen last month.

This morning they were flowing past the house at a pretty good rate and I finally got some pictures. I found a corner of the house with a good view of the sky where the butterflies were coming around the house at my back and then silhouetted against the sky. I got video from my iPhone, than did some screen captures of freeze frames.

The individual images are somewhat blurry and small – they’re just a tiny crop of a full frame with a picture of a small-ish butterfly, typically five or six feet away. The video is found at the bottom.


Filed under Castle Willett, Critters, Photography, Video