Good morning? Nope… Great morning!!

pre-sunrise hills


I had to get up really early this morning in order to see my husband off on his annual trip to Minnesota for a work-related conference. As I was heading back home, enjoying a leisurely drive through the canyon, I spied a perched Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) silhouetted against the still gray sky and decided to pull off the road to take a few pictures.


red-tailed hawk solo

I walked a bit futher out onto the flat, open area which used to be a fenced pasture area for horses; now, overgrown with dense chaparral on all sides. The hawk was sitting at the top of a large eucalyptus that I knew was a regular nesting spot in previous years. Sure enough, the lone hawk was soon joined in the tree by its mate. Every few minutes or so, one of the hawks (the female, I’m fairly certain) would let loose with a loud, piercing cry — keeeeeeeeee-yah! — then fall silent again. Several times in a row, the female hawk would take to the air and do some brief circling just above the tree, then as she came in for a landing, the male would flap upward as if to greet her before they both settled back into their proximal perching positions.


red-tailed hawk landing

red-tailed hawk pair landing

I so enjoyed capturing these images of them… they were an absolute joy to watch!


red-tailed hawk pairNot a great photo, with houses and whatnot in the background, but I’m fascinated by how different their plumage looks. Red-tailed Hawks come in many, many color forms, from very pale to very dark and every variation between. I believe that the slightly larger, reddish one is the female…

Eventually, I turned away from the now quiet, stoic hawk pair. I started back to my truck, but as I walked over a small rise, I found myself staring into the eyes of a somewhat startled looking Mule Deer (Odocoileus hemionus). As is often the case when they are approached slowly around our place, the deer seemed more curious about my presence than frightened. I stood very still, moving minimally to take these images…


mule deer emerging***Be sure to click on this one to see the detail image — smiles await!!***


The deer crossed to the other side of the road…


mule deer crossing

…but then actually moved closer, nearing to 40 feet or so.
The expression on her face was one big question mark — WHO are you? WHAT are you? Whatcha’ doin’ standing in the middle of the road there?
Aloud, I said, “Hello, there. How’s it goin’?”
Her only response was an even more intense stare and a twitch of her large namesake ears.


mule deer & chamise

Could she be any more beautiful with the flowering Chamise (Adenostoma fasciculatum) in the background?


I watched her disappear behind my truck and then down into the sloping brush. How can you not feel like a million bucks after an encounter like that?! Quail were calling from hiding places in the dense foliage. A rabbit scampered past. I picked out the calls of California Thrasher, Phainopepla, Wrentit, Common Yellowthroat… just a few of the voices in the busy morning chatter. The sun was now cresting over the hills, its warmth and light spreading over the dark, chilly parts of the canyon.


sunrise hills


I was so incredibly glad to be up early!! Happy and blessed. And maybe a little silly from lack of sleep… *grin* This last photo of me heading home is an homage to my friend Ro, who has made an art form of rising early and sharing her morning walks. (I don’t have a great dog like Banjo to pose with me, but I did my best!)

shadow walking

Did this morning hold any wonderful surprises for you?

Harsi / May 11, 2011 / birds, hillsides, mammals, skies / 6 Comments

Squirrel Stare Down

gray squirrel stareWestern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus griseus)
The other day, before I even got to the steps and discovered the rattlesnake, I stopped to take this picture. There are at least two tree squirrels that live just around our cabin and it’s typical when we’re exiting the front door for them to scamper half way up a tree and then stop to stare at us with dark, unblinking eyes and a wary posture that says — I can run up this trunk faster than you… but I won’t, unless I have to. The look of this particular one just made me want to bust out laughing! That hairline on its head where a new coat of fur is growing in conjures up images of TV sitcom stars from my youth. At first I thought of Squiggy from “Laverne & Shirley”, but then I decided that Eddie Munster was probably a closer match. HA HA!

Seen anything in nature that’s made you smile recently?

Harsi / May 10, 2011 / mammals / 2 Comments

Spring Snakes (Part I)

rattlesnake digesting mealSouthern Pacific Rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus helleri)
This past Friday afternoon, we were leaving the house to run a few errands. I scanned the steps before walking down them (as I have learned to do) and quickly spotted this immature rattlesnake. It was on the small size at about a foot long, though I have certainly seen them smaller. It was perfectly still and — despite being relatively out in the open — its cryptic coloration made it difficult to pick out from the background. After grabbing a long stick that I keep on the porch (for just such reasons), I carefully walked past it, making sure to lead with the stick. I have NEVER had a rattlesnake try to bite me or be in any way aggressive, but if I have to get this close to them and for some reason the snake were to feel threatened, I think it’s smart to give them something to strike at (other than my foot). As is often the case, this snake didn’t seem the least bit concerned by me, and once I was a few feet passed it, I stopped to have a good look and take some pictures. The first thing I noticed was the obvious bulge in its abdomen. According to my favorite website, California Herps, Southern Pacific Rattlesnake eat “birds, lizards, snakes, frogs, insects, and small mammals, including mice, rats, rabbits, hares, and ground squirrels”. Knowing what’s readily available around our porch and the size of the snake, I would not be at all surprised if its last victim had been a fence lizard (a Great Basin Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis longipes, to be exact). That’s just speculation, of course, we also have good-sized populations of several of the other prey animals on that list. A mouse would be entirely plausible too.) I had never observed a snake in the process of digesting a meal before and I was tickled to be able to get a few photos. Fortunately, when we returned home an hour or so later, this little one had moved on to a less trafficked area.

Just for fun, I thought I’d include this image I took before I headed down the steps. Can you see the snake? If you can’t, click on the image to see a highlighted version… Oh, but it would be so much easier if they were neon yellow! (*chuckle*) Well, easier for me! Undoubtedly much harder on the snake, who makes its way in the world by being difficult for both predators and prey to see.

cryptic rattlesnake
Anyone else have a good snake story or sighting?

Harsi / May 9, 2011 / reptiles / 6 Comments

Like Light Streaming

singing house wrenHouse Wren (Troglodytes aedon)
I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like if all our days contained only natural sounds. Would we listen once again to the wind and know what it meant? Would we hear as much as we see? There is, of course, no way to know — we closed that door behind us long ago — but listening to a bird singing touches something in our ancient past. Birdsong is like light streaming through the keyhole from a lost world.

Don Stap, “Birdsong: A Natural History”

The photo was taken a couple of years ago… But each Spring this scene repeats itself as several House Wren pairs go about the business of singing and nesting in various spots just outside (or in!) the walls of our cabin. Their calls are varied and repetitive, often dominating the soundscape of my daily activities well into late Summer. What bird calls are most commonly heard around your home at this time of year?

Harsi / May 8, 2011 / birds, quotations / 5 Comments

The Change that’s Coming…

monarch chrysalis

Monarch (Danaus plexippus) chrysalis

I had been such an avid reader for so many years of various excellent blogs that I had a pretty high standard of what I wanted to accomplish when I set out to begin my own. I definitely wanted a place to showcase my photography, artwork and poetry. I wanted to write about my observations and discoveries, to educate and enlighten people about my biggest passion — wildlife. I aimed to inspire readers, to entertain them, and to (hopefully) keep them coming back for more. Yet, if I’m being honest, more than anything else I was looking for an opportunity to share my life with more people. I spend a lot of time alone; partially by choice. I love the solitary hours I spend out in the field. Just me and the animals, the plants, the earth and sky. When I’m around other humans, I tend to be a bit frenetic and sometimes I have a hard time feeling comfortable in my own skin. But alone… outside… I am truly a different person. Life slows for me. I focus deeply. I breathe easier. I feel completely at home and content. I like who I am.

I suppose I thought that maybe I could merge those two worlds… the one where I’m alone (but the kind of person I’d like to be) and the one where I can interact with other people (but don’t always express myself as I’d like to). This blog seemed like a perfect opportunity to try to bridge the gap. It started out well enough… Nine posts in my first month! Then, there was only one in March — but I told myself it was because we’d been on vacation and I was just getting a slow start, easing back into the groove of things. But, here it is the first week of May, and it is hard not to see the writing on the wall as I acknowledge that I barely managed to eek* out a single post for April too. I have heaps of beautiful photos still to share of our exciting trip to Vashon. There has been non-stop Spring activity here in the canyon and every day seems to bring a new story to tell. My camera has been full of images and my head full of thoughts. So, what went wrong?

Well… I fell victim to my familiar weakness — perfectionism.

All my life I have struggled with my own unrealistically high standards. I have a vision in my mind of what I want to accomplish and sometimes I stubbornly refuse to settle for anything short of that. The upside is that when I actually do manage to complete something, I’d like to think that the end product is high-quality. The downside (and it’s a BIG one) is that I struggle over things that should be enjoyable and I often give-up on them entirely rather than settle for something “less than”. It’s not a trait that I like in myself and it’s one I’d like to change, if I can.

From this day forward, I’ve promised myself that I will post something every day. Sometimes, it may only be a single photo and a few words… still, it will be something. (I considered making this deal quietly to myself instead of broadcasting it, but old habits die hard and I feared I would backslide without some accountability.) I feel quite certain that it is more important for me to use this blog to share regularly about myself and the things that bring me joy than it is to have every entry be perfect. I’ve connected with so many warm-hearted, like-minded people via the Internet. They have brought so much camaraderie and contentment into my life. I’m happy and excited at the prospect of just focusing on making that connection and no longer getting as bogged down by limitations and standards that only exist in my own head.

So… I’ll be back tomorrow to share something wonderful… and the day after that… and the day after that… and the day after that… *grin*

[* EDIT: My husband just informed me that apparently the correct spelling is “eke”. Huh… you learn something new everyday! It seems cosmically fitting that there should be at least one typo in my post on abandoing perfectionism, doesn’t it?!]

Harsi / May 7, 2011 / arthropods / 6 Comments