Simple Thoughts

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about…


sunset abstract






Vashon water abstract




They both draw me in…

Shifting expanses of color.

Vastness beyond comprehension.

A place to become lost.

A place to find things.


Harsi / June 20, 2011 / skies, travel, water / 2 Comments

Hello Again, Old Friend!

In the still gray hours of early afternoon, I walked with a new friend up the fire road behind our cabin today. I mentioned that two years ago I had the pleasure of photographing a blooming Plummer’s Mariposa Lily (Calochortus plummerae) right near where we stood. Despite my best efforts, I hadn’t managed to find anything in the same spot last year, and even as I said all this, I was scanning for signs of the obscure plant. No luck!

That might have been the end of it, but on our return trip past the same little stretch I turned to point out something of interest and (lucky me!) found myself staring directly at one! A single flower washed in shades of pink and yellow, atop a spindly stem lacking any leaves. The Plummer’s Mariposa Lily is endemic to California and it is classified as endangered or rare by many sources.


Plummer's Mariposa LilyThis is an attractive flower when viewed from the side…

Plummer's Mariposa Lily
…but the real magic happens when you peer into its center!

Our long walk produced many wonderful sightings and lots (and lots!) of great conversation about the local plants and wildlife. But, I think for both of us, this encounter stood out as special. I am so excited to walk back up tomorrow and take a few more pics. And the day after that… and, well…. probably the day after that too!

Harsi / June 19, 2011 / flowers, plants / 0 Comments

The Tiger and The Coyote

Western Tiger Swallowtail, wing close-up


One of the definite highlights of my trip to El Dorado Regional Park a couple weeks ago was a beautiful Western Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio rutulus) which repeatedly landed on a close-by patch of Monardella sp. (commonly referred to as Coyote Mint) and then stayed there like someone was paying it to do so. For me and my fellow arthropod enthusiast (Chris), this was like hitting the jackpot.


Western Tiger Swallowtail on Coyote Mint


These butterflies are impressively large, but in my experience, they have a frustrating habit of flying around in large circles, then landing just long enough for you to lock in your camera settings and get them framed nicely. Then, you go to press the shutter and find that there’s no butterfly in the viewfinder anymore. Where did it go?! you mutter to yourself… You look around, spy it landing on another flower a little ways off, and the process starts all over again.

But… not this particular butterfly. It seemed quite smitten with this one small grouping of flowers and though it often flitted away for a few seconds, it reliably came back to the same spot over and over again, giving us both ample opportunity to get many photos in a row and even play around a bit with our viewing angle and composition. It was heavenly!!!


Western Tiger Swallowtail on Coyote Mint


Western Tiger Swallowtail on Coyote Mint


Western Tiger Swallowtail on Coyote Mint


As is so often the case when I sit down to closely examine my nature images, I discover things that would be very difficult (or impossible) to discern in the field. As I began preparing the photos for this post, I was definitely working under the presumption that I had only photographed a single butterfly. Somehow, the repeated act of it returning to the exact same group of flowers just made me (and I’m guessing Chris too) presume that it was the same swallowtail each time. Apparently… not so!! If you look closely at the images, you can see that there are several notches on the edge of the upper wing of the first butterfly (probably caused by a close call with a hungry bird?) that are not found on the butterfly in the remaining images. Also, if you check out the side-by-side comparison shot I put together below, you can see the subtle differences in the markings themselves.

Western Tiger Swallowtail, wing comparison


I am indebted to Chris for his help in providing me with an ID for the lovely purple flowers. Also, he has put up a wonderful post of his own about our day together at El Dorado — check it out!

If you missed my previous posts about my trip to El Dorado, you can read them here and here.

Harsi / June 18, 2011 / arthropods, flowers, plants / 4 Comments

I Miss The Owls

Great Horned Owl, immature in green


For 5 out of the 7 years we have been here, a Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) pair have nested and raised their chicks within very close proximity to our cabin. My experiences observing the little owlets, from their early days in the nest until long after they have fledged, have been priceless. This happens to be one of the years that they have nested somewhere further afield and I find myself missing them quite a lot. Not just the joy of seeing and photographing them, but most especially hearing the parents hooting back and forth to each other and the juveniles’ plaintive begging calls. As you can see in the above photo, the young bird’s first feathers are much lighter in color than those of adults… but, the eyes are certainly just as yellow!

[Oh, and for anyone that’s interested, this was one of the original photos I started with when doing the digital artwork for the post “Bubo in Black-and-White” — 3rd image on the page.]

Harsi / June 17, 2011 / birds / 2 Comments

Squirrel Squiggle

Last month, I wrote about my desire to create more artwork and also about some of the hurdles I expected to encounter. I was thinking that though it has been more than a little difficult at times, I’ve been so proud of myself for sticking with my “one blog post per day” plan. So, today, I’ve decided to try something similar and have challenged myself to create one new piece of artwork per day. Knowing that this will feel uncomfortable at first, and also knowing my tendency to get “stuck” when I don’t know WHAT to create or I don’t think it’s going well, I’ve decided to set down a couple rules:

#1 – The artwork must not be computer generated. (This is an arbitrary decision, but lately I’ve been wanting to spend more time away from the computer and just do something with my own two hands.) 

#2 – Consistency over quality. (One new thing every day… no excuses!)

#3 – Spend no more than 15 minutes creating.

Now, don’t get me a wrong… I don’t expect anything stellar to come from such minimal effort. I won’t have much time to really think about what I’m doing, make it look nice, or perfect any concepts. But, then, that’s sort of the point. A very good friend of mine sent me a link to this short video which pretty much summed up the troubles I’ve been having. [If you’re not up for watching the video, the basic message is to STOP getting hung-up on all the things that can distract and discourage you from creating art and just DO IT!] My hope in putting strict limitations on myself — odd as it sounds — is actually to make this a more freeing and playful experience than it might be otherwise. After all, it’s only 15 minutes a day and there’s no pressure to create anything super-impressive. I want the artistic process itself to become an inherent daily part of my existence — and I want that more than I want to create one or two awe-inspiring things. After only about a month of continuous writing for this blog, I am already finding it’s getting easier and more intuitive. I have high hopes that I might have equal success with this new experiment.

Gosh, with all this build-up, my little daily doodle of a Gray Squirrel might be kind of a let down…


(I hope not.)


Gray Squirrel, daily doodle



Harsi / June 16, 2011 / artwork / 6 Comments

I’ll Believe It All

Band-tailed Pigeon on a wire


Two birds on a wire
One tries to fly away
And the other watches him close from that wire
He says he wants to as well
But he is a liar

Regina Spektor, “Two Birds”


As I was driving home a few days ago, I saw a small group of Band-tailed Pigeon (Columba fasciata) flying by and a couple landed on the wires paralleling the road. These are some good-sized birds and I stopped the truck to sit and watch their impossible teetering — tipping wildly back and forth, but somehow managing to stay upright. I did a balancing act of my own and leaned waaaaay out the car window to take some backlit images of these two. The trick was trying to time the shots for the few seconds when its namesake tail would be illuminated by the Sun’s rays.

[For those of you that don’t know who Regina Spektor is, I highly recommend that you check out her music!]

Harsi / June 15, 2011 / birds, lyrics / 6 Comments

Harsi / June 14, 2011 / amphibians, poetry / 0 Comments

Whiptail Wishes Granted!

As you may recall, last week I was wondering where all of the Coastal Whiptail (Aspidoscelis tigris stejnegeri) were and hoping that my blog post might serve as a lizard “rain dance” of sorts and bring some my way. Well, I still haven’t seen any here in the canyon, but I did get my wish…


Coastal Whiptail, on the move


I had the pleasure of accompanying some of my out-of-town relatives on an afternoon walk at the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden today. This lovely botanical garden is entirely focused on the native plants of California and is a wonderful destination for any nature lover. We actually saw several (at least 3 or 4) whiptail, which is far more than I can ever recall seeing at the garden before. Mostly we saw them scurrying off the side of the main path, busily foraging in the leaf litter. But, the spectacular lizard pictured here was coming right down the path towards us. Everyone stopped and stood very still — possibly due to my bossy instructions for everyone to stay put and please let me try and get a few photos before it hurried off. Apparently I needn’t have worried, because as if on cue, the lizard stopped directly in front of us and then pressed its belly down on the warm earth and calmly rested for a minute or so. More than enough time for us all to get a good look and for me to get a few nice images!


Coastal Whiptail, posing


As always, you can click on the above pictures to see a larger image, but I thought it was worth showcasing a few details that I thought were super cool…


Coastal Whiptail, front clawsWould you look at the length of the claws on the front feet!!!
Did I mention that these guys are very good diggers?

Coastal Whiptail, back clawsOf course, that’s nothing compared to the length of the back claws!!!


Coastal Whiptail, pregnant?Perhaps this lizard just ate a large meal, but looking at the photos I took, I couldn’t help but wonder if this might be a pregnant female? The abdomen seems awfully plump and the bulges on the sides look a little lumpy and… hmmmm… egg-like? According to, eggs are typically laid between the months of April and August, so it’s certainly within the realm of possibility.

Harsi / June 13, 2011 / reptiles / 2 Comments

Even The Sound of Your Voice

thickets tall photo art


Crickets call, courting their ladies in star-dappled green
Thickets tall, until the morning comes up like a dream
All muted and misty, so drowsy now I’ll take what sleep I can
I know that I miss you, but I don’t know where I stand

Joni Mitchell, “I Don’t Know Where I Stand”


I guess I didn’t really feel much like writing today… The house is so still. It’s just the sound of me typing and the crickets singing away. All I have to offer is a bit of art that I created from an image taken on our trip to Vashon and some lines from one of my favorite songwriters.

Have a peaceful night everyone. *sleepy grin*

Harsi / June 12, 2011 / artwork, lyrics, travel / 0 Comments


It’s nearing the end of a very long day… About an hour ago, I said good-bye to my husband as he departed for a week-long business trip to Australia. Sadly, he probably won’t get to see much more than whatever is visible from his hotel, but I still hope he manages to have a bit of an adventure and see a few cool sights during his travels.

On my drive home, I found myself thinking about Eucalyptus — a genus of tree that grows prolifically in Australia where it is a native. In southern California, these trees are planted so frequently and have thrived here for so many years that it’s hard for me to not consider them a permanent part of the landscape. And yet… there was a time when not a trace of Eucalyptus would have been found on this continent. Odd to think about.


Eucalyptus leaf


This leaf could have been photographed anywhere.

In truth, it was just one of the many in the canyon that decorate the ground along the trails behind my house… but, it could have been Australia. How would you know the difference? A leaf is a leaf is a leaf.


Black Bear claw marks on Eucalytpus


This is a photo that could never be taken in Australia.

The multicolored trunk and peeling layers of bark wouldn’t be much of a stretch, but this particular Eucalyptus stands near our cabin and it is beautifully etched with the claw marks of one of the resident Black Bear (Ursus americanus). Despite the misleading name often attributed to the Koala, there are no bears in Australia.

Around here, the bears appear to regularly climb and mark the Eucalyptus trees. From the evidence I’ve seen, I gather that at least some of the time they are searching for Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) nests to ransack. A bee species which, by the way, originates from Europe, Asia and Africa.

Hmmm… always so interesting to ponder the increasing convergence of introduced and native wildlife here in California.

Well, I wasn’t really going anywhere with all of this… Sorry! Just musing to myself and trying to share a little something with y’all before I crash for the night. Wishing everyone an enjoyable weekend and hoping that nature figures in your plans somewhere!

[EDIT: After doing a bit more reading, I thought I should probably clarify that while they may all be casually referred to as “eucalyptus”, there are actually three potential genera — Eucalyptus, Angophora and Corymbia — that make up this group of plants. I haven’t attempted to identify the various species of eucalyptus around my place…. yet! Perhaps that will be the subject of a future blog post.]

Harsi / June 11, 2011 / mammals, plants / 2 Comments