Sadly, I’m still feeling sick… but, it was definitely necessary for me to get outside for a little while today. My husband (who’s also been a bit sick) was kind enough to join me on a mellow walk down to the creek and back. We checked up on the newts… listened to the birds calling… I occasionally stopped from time to time to peer at some small beetle or spider. Then, I saw a flash of movement in the creek bed, several feet below the height of the road we were walking on. A somewhat alarmed looking skunk hurried up the embankment on the opposite side of the creek and crashed into the dense foliage. We watched it until it went out of view and then I babbled on about what a wonderful sighting we’d just had. You see, though we’ve lived here in the canyon for seven years and have had a few skunk sightings here and there, mostly we are aware of their regular presence solely by the lingering odor that often wafts through the air. The few times that we have seen them, it’s always been while driving on the road (usually at night) and then we only a get a few seconds to observe them before they slink off out of sight. This was by far the best opportunity we’d had to really watch one of these lovely creatures! We were about to move on, but out of the corner of my eye, I saw another one emerge from the foliage a little distance behind where the last one had disappeared. Perhaps because we had not startled this one, it was more nonchalant and we quietly watched it forage and dig around for a much longer time before it too finally disappeared from view. It was near sundown and far too dark and shady by the creek for there to be much hope of good photographs, but I did take several video clips and I thought I’d share a few still images from that footage, just so that you all can share in the experience… even if it’s just a bit of blurry black & white. (*grin*)

striped skunk
Striped Skunk (Mephitis mephitis)

I think the fact that we live on such a large and undeveloped tract of land actually prohibits how much we get to see these guys… But, I know that skunks are often common visitors in many people’s backyards. Skunk stories, anyone??

Harsi / May 21, 2011 / mammals / 2 Comments

The Winged Energy of Delight

bird artwork


As once the winged energy of delight

carried you over childhood’s dark abysses,

now beyond your own life build the great

arch of unimagined bridges.


Rainer Maria Rilke

(from “Ahead of All Parting: The Selected Poetry and Prose of Rainer Maria Rilke”, translated by Stephen Mitchell)


Lately, I have been feeling the strong urge to CREATE… poetry, art, music, textiles… something!

But, again, the perfectionist tendencies that I have always struggled with loom large over the path I’d like to walk. I have to keep reminding myself that how good something is doesn’t really matter. (What does “good” mean anyway?) It is the daily process of creating that I am craving… not fame, fortune or approval. (OK… if I’m being totally honest, I probably am still craving approval a little… but, I’m trying to get past that one.)

So, I’ve been attempting to move forward by going backward. I’ve been looking at all the things I created as a child. Hoping to rediscover that freedom of expression that seems to elude me these days. I know there was a certain self-confidence I possessed then… an assuredness that whatever streamed forth from my mind and from my hand was as it was meant to be.

I hope to not only start creating again in earnest, but to share much of it here. For now, I’ve posted this painting which was done many, many years ago. (I’m not sure how old I was, but I suspect that I was younger than 13.) I love the flowing lines and open space. The primary colors. The organic sky and oddly geometric bird. Mostly I love the place it came from… a place I’m hoping to reconnect with.

Harsi / May 20, 2011 / artwork, birds, quotations / 2 Comments

On this date…

As I was stuck in bed again today, I decided to indulge in one of my favorite pastimes where I go back through my photo archives and check out what was happening on that day’s date in years gone by. One of the reasons that it is such a bummer to be sick right now is because this is a truly excellent time of year to be observing wildlife — especially in the world of spiders and insects. Apparently, May 19, 2009 was an especially good day for this, and I thought I would share just a small fraction of the arthropods I photographed.


frit fly on oleanderThis is a Frit Fly (Family: Chloropidae). Photographed on Oleander (Nerium oleander). These flies are tiny… about 2 mm… that’s the height of the letter “N” in the words ONE CENT on a penny.

flower beetle in oleanderThis is a Soft-winged Flower Beetle (Family: Melyridae). This one is exploring the inner depths of another Oleander flower. These beetles are also quite small.

cixiid planthopper
This is a Cixiid Planthopper (Family: Cixiidae). If you are looking for truly bizarre-looking insects, you need look no farther than to browse the superfamily of planthoppers. This one was hanging out on the side of a utility shed.


latrodectus undersideI’m fairly certain this is a male Black Widow (Latrodectus hesperus). Most people would not recognize the significantly smaller and more pattened males as widows from the top-side view, but as you can see they do still have the characteristic hour glass shape on their abdomen. (It’s also possible that this is a Brown Widow, but I think I got the ID right… I hope my fellow bug enthusiasts will let me know if you disagree!)

As if that weren’t enough critters for one afternoon, these discoveries were also made that day:

Trachusa perdita

Pagaronia furcata

Plagiognathus verticalis

Retocomus sp.

I know this post was a little on the “nerdy-insect-lover” side of things, but I truly hope to interest more people in learning about their local bugs, or at least to take a few moments here to enjoy the beauty and diversity of this amazing subset of life.

Harsi / May 19, 2011 / arthropods / 4 Comments

Layin’ Low

As I lay in bed with a sore throat, aches, pains and a nasty headache, I feel all the more grateful for the beautiful days I spent outside last week… Blech! I do NOT handle being sick well. I’m trying to be good to myself though and give my body the time it needs to rest and repair. Here’s a few pics of the local critters taking a break too… *grin*


western gray squirrel lounging

mule deer lounging

desert cottontail lounging


Harsi / May 18, 2011 / mammals / 7 Comments

Is it spring, is it morning?

hillside, sagebrush & clouds

I can’t stop thinking about my walk yesterday. It was the kind of day that makes you want to write about it with such perfection that everyone reading will instantly know just how you felt. I rarely posses that sort of talent… but Mary Oliver does. She is a true master. Her poetry never fails to speak what my heart is saying.


Such Singing in the Wild Branches

It was spring
and finally I heard him
among the first leaves –
then I saw him clutching the limb
in an island of shade
with his red-brown feathers
all trim and neat for the new year.
First, I stood still
and thought of nothing.
Then I began to listen.
Then I was filled with gladness –
and that’s when it happened,
when I seemed to float,
to be, myself, a wing or a tree –
and I began to understand
what the bird was saying,
and the sands in the glass
for a pure white moment
while gravity sprinkled upward

like rain, rising,
and in fact
it became difficult to tell just what it was that was singing –
it was the thrush for sure, but it seemed
not a single thrush, but himself, and all his brothers,
and also the trees around them,
as well as the gliding, long-tailed clouds
in the perfectly blue sky – all, all of them
were singing.
And, of course, yes, so it seemed,
so was I.
Such soft and solemn and perfect music doesn’t last
for more than a few moments.
It’s one of those magical places wise people
like to talk about.
One of the things they say about it, that is true,
is that, once you’ve been there,
you’re there forever.
Listen, everyone has a chance.
Is it spring, is it morning?
Are there trees near you,
and does your own soul need comforting?
Quick, then – open the door and fly on your heavy feet; the song
may already be drifting away.


brown-headed cowbird, lark sparrow & wrentit

For those that are curious, the birds pictured from left to right are:
A displaying male Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater).
A pair of Lark Sparrow (Chondestes grammacus) — they had literally just finished mating!
A singing Wrentit (Chamaea fasciata).


sky clouds grass

clouds that go on forever


Bliss. Peace. Beauty. Joy. Everything I want to have in my life! I hope that Spring is bringing all of these things to you too. We all deserve at least a little bit of this every day.

Harsi / May 17, 2011 / birds, hillsides, quotations, skies / 0 Comments

The Bird & The Bee

OK… so I’m really skating the edge of my “one-a-day post” promise with this one… but, technically it is still Monday… for at least 30 more minutes! *smirk* I confess that I had big plans for all the stuff I was going to get done today, including a fantastic blog post. But, it was so incredibly gorgeous outside this morning that I couldn’t resist slipping on my shoes and heading up into the hills. I always tend to lose track of time when I’m outside and if I’m really in the zone, hours and hours can fly by before I realize how late it’s gotten. Some days I go out and take a walk… other days I go out and the walk takes me! Anyway, here’s just a few of the friends I spent time with today:


hummingbird on oliveI was photographing the sky when this little jewel came and perched on an olive branch right in front of me! After studying my various birding books, I think this is a female or immature Costa’s Hummingbird (Calypte costae). It could also possibly be an immature Anna’s Hummingbird (Calypte anna)… the differences between the two are subtle.

bumblebee on poppyThe temperatures were a little too cool most of the day for many of the native bees to be active. (The well-known, non-native Honey Bee seems to be more acclimated to such weather and they were out in good numbers.) So, it was a real treat to get to watch this bumble bee methodically visiting one California Poppy (Eschscholzia sp.) after another along the side of the trail I was walking. I should probably double-check myself with my friends on BugGuide, but I believe this is a California Bumble Bee (Bombus californicus).

** Be sure to click on the photos to see close-up crops of the hummer and bee! **

Harsi / May 16, 2011 / arthropods, birds / 6 Comments

Sunday Sky

garden and clouds

Sorry for the late post… it’s been a busy weekend! I spent the first part of today in my mother-in-law’s impressively lush garden. We had a bit of rain, then some sun and the most amazing puffy white clouds that filled the sky in a way that couldn’t help but make a person smile. (I found a bevy of interesting things in her yard and hope to be sharing a few of those discoveries soon!)

clouds sky

Did anything make you grin from ear-to-ear this weekend?

Harsi / May 15, 2011 / flowers, skies / 0 Comments

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

moonrise over hillside

Yesterday, in the late afternoon, I headed out the door for a walk. I was feeling good and one of the first sights I saw was the faint outline of the moon rising above the hills, which are currently decked out with the pale orange blooms of monkey flower (Diplacus aurantiacus, I think). Usually, by the time I notice the moon in the daytime, it is already fairly high in the sky… it was cool to capture a few shots of it nearer to the horizon.

I decided to take the road that parallels the seasonal creek. The oaks that grow down there are so magical. And the way it looks when the sunlight streams through the dense canopy is something that my camera never seems quite able to capture. It looked something like this…


oak woodland light

As I was walking, I heard a noise coming from the dense plant growth next to the creek. I looked down and saw this tiny bundle of brown feathers struggling to keep its balance and grip on the twig where it perched. It failed and tumbled down, disappearing into the foliage. I assumed it might be a juvenile bird and so I waited very quietly and patiently to see if it would return. I was delighted when this very young Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) reemerged!!

juvenile song sparrow (melospiza melodia)

The photos aren’t fantastic due to the heavy shade cover, but as you can see it is in the early stages of feather growth — the wings are nowhere close to their eventual full length and the tail is practically nonexistent! Sweet little thing that it was, it sat there and made the most endearing peeping noises over and over (and over!) again.


juvenile song sparrow (melospiza melodia)

Even though the juvenile didn’t seem to mind my company, I didn’t stay too long because I assumed that my presence was probably keeping the parent(s) from returning with food. [Sure enough, when I was walking by the same spot again on my way home, I saw one of the parents flying away from the clump of vegetation where the juvenile was still “peeping” away.]


balloon trashToday’s trash has been brought to you by the letters “G-R-E-E-N  L-A-N-T-E-R-N” and the numbers “6-17-11”.
The title and release date of an upcoming superhero film.

So, in this case, “the bad & the ugly” part of my walk were the same thing: TRASH. We live in a pretty remote area of the canyon and there is relatively little human and vehicle traffic. Nevertheless, every time I go out for a walk, I bring a bag with me and never fail to find new bits of refuse which I pick-up and take home. The constant winds in the canyon must blow a lot of stuff our way, some things get washed down the creek when we have heavy rains, and some of it undoubtedly gets thrown or falls out of cars traveling on the main road. I try not to get up on my soap box too often, but this issue makes me so disgusted. Balloons seem to push my buttons even more than other things… I think because they are just so superfluous. The epitome of a single-use, non-essential, impulse item that people don’t seem to think twice about. They are insidiously designed to escape and travel long distances, often ending up in the mountains or the oceans. Had I not picked it up, the best case scenario for this balloon would be that it continued to break down into smaller and smaller bits of plastic that scatter through the environment. The worst case scenario is that one of the many critters here in the canyon would mistake it for food and try to eat it — a situation which can have dire consequences for the animal.

For those of you who take regular walks in natural areas, I’d like to ask you to consider carrying a small bag in your pocket or with your gear so that if you run across these bits of garbage you can remove them. I know it’s only a very small solution to an overwhelming problem, but I truly believe that every little bit helps.

Thank you for putting up with my rant. May your Saturday be full of the “good” and none of the “bad & ugly”!

Harsi / May 14, 2011 / birds, conservation, hillsides, not nature, skies / 4 Comments

Allograpta obliqua

Have you ever thought of the words “fly” and “beautiful” in the same sentence? No?!

Well, let me introduce you to Allograpta obliqua

allograpta obliqua on pyracanthaNectaring on Pyracantha (Pyracantha angustifolia) flowers.
allograpta obliqua on brassicaNectaring on Mustard (Brassica sp.) flowers.
Allograpta obliqua can be found throughout much of North America and is a member of the family Syrphidae, collectively known as Flower Flies or Hover Flies. These names are very fitting as this fly visits a wide variety of flowers to collect nectar and is also an expert flyer with the ability to hover in one place, move sideways or backwards in flight. In addition to the fact that it is a joy to watch and is completely harmless to humans, this is a great fly to have around one’s garden. By visiting flowers it assists in pollination and it also lays its eggs on plants with aphid colonies, which are decimated by the fly’s predacious developing larvae.


allograpta obliqua maleThis is a male. See how its eyes come together and touch at the top of its head?
The females (as shown in the first and second photo) have eyes which are separated at the top.

allograpta obliqua feeding on mustardHere you can see the long mouthparts that the fly uses to effectively “lap up” the nectar and pollen.

allograpta obliqua on eriogonumNectaring on Buckwheat (Eriogonum sp.) flowers.

allograpta obliqua faceA face only a mother could love? *grin*
Well, I find them quite charming and they are a pleasure to photograph.

Check-out your garden or wildflowers along the trail for these endearing flies — they should be flying now!

Harsi / May 13, 2011 / arthropods, flowers / 7 Comments


imagination poemI’m guessing that I wrote and illustrated this around 3rd or 4th grade. It makes me smile to remember how I thought about things at that age…

If you can’t get outside today to be some place beautiful… remember, you can always go somewhere “behind your face”!

Harsi / May 12, 2011 / artwork, poetry / 4 Comments