Category Archives: Critters

Fine Feathered Friends – February 08th

The finches are getting frisky again – spring must be near.

The males are getting their red feathers in, looking vibrant and hot for the females.

Pairs have been flitting around up under the eaves, checking out the remnants of the old nests from previous years – it’s avian Zillow!

The males are warbling up a storm and fattening themselves up on the free bird seed – if this COVID thing doesn’t get under control soon, this may be the second year in a row where watching the finches is the most entertaining option available!

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Fine Feathered Friends – February 07th

So, there’s no celebration or champagne tonight. You know who doesn’t care? The birds out in the yard and the trees, that’s who.

The Cornell Merlin app identifies this mid-sized bird (the size of a robin, bigger than a wren, smaller than a jay or crow) as a California Towhee.

Left profile.

Right profile. Very cooperative, almost like it’s modeled and taken direction in the past…

Not funny? Sorry.

There are not a lot of distinctive markings or coloration, although there is some cinnamon brown coloring around the face and some gray stripes on the wings.

And they play well with others, in this case the rat bastard squirrel who keeps eating the bird seed.

 

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Fine Feathered Friends – February 02nd

These guys have probably been around a while but I’ve considered them to be pretty generic – maybe not so much!

The Cornell Merlin app IDs all of these photos as a Yellow-Rumped Warbler.

There’s definitely some yellow on those rumps.

Now that I know what to look for, it’s really obvious when they’re flying – that yellow patch is really prominent.

This guy, however, wants to give me the stink-eye for talking about his butt. Sorry, dude!

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Someone Hates Rainbows – Or He Hates Me

My money’s on me…

Just after the rainbow pictures from yesterday, I noticed a woodpecker out in the neighbor’s tree, then in ours. I was trying (with marginal success) to get some pictures and in the process suddenly noticed that someone was LOUD and appeared to be seriously pissed off with me (sound up!) –

The way he started circling made it clear to me that he didn’t like me being in the yard – what have I ever done to him?

The video stops when I shut down the iPhone to try to get some pictures of him with the good camera in the other hand. He kept squawking at me for another 10 or 15 seconds, but as soon as I brought up the camera with the telephoto lens, he was outta there!

Crows can be very smart – I wonder if he saw the device with the big snout pointed at him (my camera, not my face…wiseass) and thought that it might be a weapon. Unless he stops by again to yell at me and deigns to chat, I guess we’ll never know.

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Fine Feathered Friends – January 27th

So, now that we have some time to breathe, and even more importantly, breathe OUT and not just keep inflating ourselves and building toward a point where we pop like a balloon (a horrible, bloody, gory, ‘splody meat balloon), I’ve noticed a few new visitors to the yard. Or, at least, I’m getting better at catching them on camera and the Cornell Lab Merlin app for IDing birds is a pretty neat tool for making the identification.

This guy was in the front yard last week (you can tell it was last week, because the sun was out) and while I knew he was some sort of sparrow (probably)…

…the markings on his head made me think that he wasn’t a common sparrow.

Merlin ID’d him as a White-crowned Sparrow. See, he looks impressed that I figured it out!

Actually, I think that these birds only have one thought when I’m taking their picture, and that’s, “LEAVE ME ALONE, I’M EATING! Do I bother you when you’re trying to catch or find your dinner and eat it?!”

Fair point.

But it’s my yard, so get over it.

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Guess Who Came Back To Visit?!

It Doctor Lizardo!!!

I was taking trash out to the curb and there he was, in his usual spot under the Volvo, right where he can catch rays and be on the hot concrete, but also able to scurry to cover in a heartbeat if needed.

When last we saw our lizard hero, just a couple days before Halloween…

You can see that he’s re-grown that tail quite nicely!

How can I be sure that it’s the same lizard? Well I guess I can’t be 1,000,000% sure, but if you look at the October picture (and other earlier ones) and this one, it sure looks to me like the same markings.

I can’t count each individual scale, but if you look at the banding and patterns, as well as the pattern of green spots sprinkled in along his tail stump, my money says it’s him. Plus, he was in the same place he always sits, and most importantly, when I saw him and went and got my camera and started talking to him and getting close, he didn’t skitter away. All of the other lizards we’ve had in the yard, especially the little, young ones, will bail out in a hot second if they think you’re coming in their direction.

It was up in the 70’s and warm today, and there were a few days last week when it was in the 80’s. On the other hand, I haven’t seen the good doctor here since mid-November. I gave him a warning, which I hope he heeded – there’s cold weather & rain coming for tomorrow and at least the next couple of weeks. I’m glad he got some rays and probably some ants or a cricket for lunch, but I hope he’s now gone back into hibernation for a while.

I’ll keep his spot under the Volvo ready for when spring comes along. Sleep well, Doctor Lizardo!!

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What’s Wrong With This Picture?

A few days ago I mentioned a YouTube webcam site called “Hundreds of Hummingbirds.” Normally during the day it looks like this:

But I’ve noticed a couple of times that something’s wrong:

Over there on the right – that’s not a hummingbird. It’s a house finch, like the ones we watched build a nest, lay eggs, and raise fledglings last year.

I guess he figures if he can do the “carrier landing” he deserves a meal. Unlike the hummingbirds, which come in and hover to land, the finch comes in like a bat out of hell and just grabs on. Once in the area they’ll jump from feeder to feeder to feeder, each time going from hole to hole to hole. And I suspect due to the short, thick beak, it’s not getting any food at all since the holes are long and thin and designed for the hummingbird’s beak.

But they keep trying. I guess they figure if all of those other birds are there eating there must be something there to eat. Well… yes and no? Hope springs eternal – I see them there once or twice a day every day.


Speaking of hope springing… It’s about nine hours to go before the next era in American politics begins. Let’s hope that things go peacefully, smoothly, and we can get on with our lives.

Literally.

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Starting 2021 With A “Visitor”

Trigger Warning – If you’re creeped out by bugs & insects, you probably don’t want to read the rest of this. I hope you had a great New Year’s Eve and a wonderful start to 2021. We’ll see y’all tomorrow!

If you’re not creeped out by bugs & insects, scroll down below the filler.

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Happy New Year!

We were watching the live feed from Las Vegas (ugh!), hit the end of the year on the Left Coast, kissed, champagne, fireworks going off outside. We were going to go out into the front yard and watch the fireworks, but the sprinklers had turned on at midnight, so we went out into the back yard instead. As soon as the sliding glass door was opened, I saw something moving slowly away from the door across the concrete.

Too cold and late for any lizards (or snakes, which worry me far more) and way, WAY too slow for a mouse or vole, I thought it might be a beetle of some sort. We used to get them at previous houses , large beetles that lived on the oranges and citrus and would occasionally end up near the house. So, in the midst of the fireworks (and probably some gunfire) and a howling wind, glass of champagne in hand, I did what I would always do in any such circumstance.

I whipped out my phone to take a picture.

That’s not anything I had ever seen before. For scale, it’s probably at least two inches long.

I generally don’t mind bugs and spiders and tiny crawly critters as long as they’re not actually dangerous and as long as they don’t spook me. (Something crawls onto my arm when I’m not expecting it and I’ll scream like a little girl and squish the shit out of it.) Crickets and grasshoppers are fine, beetles, most spiders, and so on – no problem! (Black widow spiders and brown recluse spiders, both of which can mess you up? Kill them with fire!!!)

This not-so-little dude freaked me out.

After a brief “WTF??!!” moment, my rational brain got back in control, so rather than turn it into a greasy spot on the porch (and on the bottom of my shoe) I nudged it off into the bushes and went about watching the local explosions.

Today I did some research – it’s a “Jerusalem Cricket!” (I’ll name this one “Jiminy.”) They’re native to the American Southwest and Mexico, somewhat related to crickets and grasshoppers, but don’t fly and don’t jump. They’re actually nocturnal and slow (confirmed) and generally live underground and eat animal droppings. They don’t sting, they’re nonvenomous, and while they will give you a bite if you’re stupid and pick it up and bother it, the most likely outcome of picking one up is that it will “play dead” and wait for you to get bored.

So, good choice to re-locate it to the bushes and not squish it! Starting the year with good karma.

As I hope you are as well. We’ve got a couple of days to get into the 2021 groove before the full work week starts along with all of the political bullshit in the US, as well as watching our British friends come to grips with the reality of their Brexit “adventure.” Keep breathing, wear your masks, stay home as much as you possibly can because no matter how well-intentioned or well planned you think your gathering might be, it’s not, and the consequences can be truly terrible.

So a l

 

 

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It’s War

Not on the clouds – they’re winning, no Great Conjunction again tonight. I could barely see a bright-ish spot where the Moon was.

No, this is an ongoing war against the gophers or whatever critters are chewing up the back yard.

First of all, I’m not the one fighting. It’s the landlord’s battle. I’m just a scout.

Secondly, I understand the problem and sympathize. It’s not just the lawn. Lawns come and go, and given the choice I would have one of those low-water, desert, drought-resistant. But the tunneling these critters do can destabilize the hillside if left unchecked. So they need to find another yard to destabilize.

I remember as a kid we had similar critter problems in Kansas City. My dad would solve it by sticking garden hoses down the holes and just letting the water run for a few hours. Water was cheap and plentiful, I guess. I don’t remember if it worked.

Water is neither cheap nor plentiful in 2020 Los Angeles, so I’m guessing that other methods are used. I’ve asked that they not use poison, since poisoned critters tend to get eaten by raptors and turkey vultures and in turn get them poisoned. Beyond that, I’m just a scout, a non-combatant.

It does occur to me that an alternate method of extermination I could get behind would be to get a pet owl or hawk. THAT would be cool! But the landlord doesn’t allow pets, and if we get an owl to keep the gophers down that’s probably a loophole we would use to get a dog, so I wouldn’t hold my breath.

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Wild Turkeys

We just had THAT holiday and most of us had some sort of turkey – and most of us are STILL eating turkey.

Turkeys’ range is known to cover most of North America east of the Rockies, but west of the Great Plains the range is spottier. The map actually doesn’t show them much of anywhere down in Southern California – but I have evidence that they’re here, at least in the San Diego / Mount Palomar area as of 2007.

The Mount Palomar Observatory with the world famous 200″ telescope is extremely cool to visit. I recommend it if you visit the Southern California / San Diego area.

The problem with getting down the mountain is that our brakes started overheating, and when they heat up they don’t brake. This is bad.

There are pull-outs and rest stops for just this sort of thing, so we stopped for a few minutes to let the brakes cool. It’s a heavily wooded area and after a couple minutes, on the other side of the road, I noticed movement in the bushes.

Naturally, I grabbed my camera, crossed the road, and hoped it wasn’t bears or something hungry and fanged. It wasn’t, it was a flock of wild turkeys.

They were off in the bushes, moving in and out of sunshine, so it was tough getting a good photo. There were seven or eight total, and the coloration on them was astonishing. Their feathers were iridescent when the sun caught them.

So believe it or not, there are wild turkeys in the Southern California mountains. I have proof, and now so do you!

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