Convergent Emergence

The hillsides are looking increasingly brown and many of the plants that bloomed in Spring are now withered and dry. And still — they host new life!

While inspecting a small stand of dried-up mustard plants, I was lucky enough to find a Convergent Lady Beetle (Hippodamia convergens) that had just recently emerged from its pupa. Initially after this adult transformation, the beetle’s shell is fairly soft and its coloration much paler than normal. If I had been able to sit and observe for long enough, I would have seen the beetle’s markings and underside of the abdomen darken considerably and its elytral color mature to a deeper shade of orange or red (as demonstrated by this pair that I photographed mating last April).


Convergent Lady Beetle & pupal case


I know that everyone struggles with their fair share of pesky summertime critters — ants, ticks, mosquitoes, bitey flies. But, I’m curious to hear what some of your FAVORITE summertime insects are? Cicadas? Butterflies? Bees? Dragonflies?


Harsi / July 21, 2011 / arthropods / 2 Comments

Selective Color

One of the Photoshop techniques that I enjoy applying to some of my photos involves desaturating the image to remove all of the color and then selectively painting portions where I want to bring it back. It can make an artistic statement, draw the eye to a particularly lovely element, or help to make the primary subject matter stand out from a similarly-colored background. Here are a few that I’ve been playing with over the last several months…


Black Bear footprint & sycamore leaf

California Black Bear (Ursus americanus californiensis) footprint with fallen California Sycamore (Platanus racemosa) leaf in mud.

American Bullfrog & aquatic plants

American Bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus) hiding among aquatic plants in pHake Lake at the Robert J. Bernard Biological Field Station.


Aphid & Laurel Sumac leaf

Aphid on young Laurel Sumac (Malosma laurina) leaf.

Harsi / July 20, 2011 / amphibians, arthropods, mammals, photography, plants, tracks / 2 Comments

The Fox and The Ant

The title of this blog post reminds me a little of Aesop’s fables. Though, in this case, the two story lines are not related and you won’t find a moral at the end. (Well… okay, maybe just a little one!)

Sitting in my bedroom today, I saw a little movement out of the corner of my eye and looked up in time to see a Gray Fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) trotting down the path just outside my window. It looked very hot. (Weren’t we all today?!) Being mostly nocturnal, we don’t commonly see fox in the daytime and I wonder if this one was looking for water. I tried to follow it around to the other side of the cabin, but I lost sight of it. So… no photos to share with you. But, in celebration of the sighting, here’s a picture of another fox who made daytime visits to our cabin on several occasions in the Spring of 2010:


Gray Fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus)Don’t you just love the black stripe on their tails?


In other news… Somewhere in the early afternoon, I finished washing a big pile of dishes then sat down to have some lunch and work on a few things. When I got back and wandered into the kitchen I was amazed to see that the entire sink and counter top was crawling with ants. Where did they come from? How did there get to be so many so quickly?!

I have thought it before and I will say it here now: It is a very good thing indeed that there are not human-sized ants. It’s not just their incredible strength, ability to wage chemical warfare or formidable jaws and stingers that should be respected. It’s also their supreme skill when it comes to communicating, organizing and executing tasks. If you’ve ever spent any time watching ants, you’ll know what I mean. It is truly astonishing.

Back to the ants at hand… I always do my best to avoid killing unnecessarily. After all, the ants aren’t trying to make your life more difficult by invading your home — they’re just doing what ants do. Looking for food, or water or shelter from the elements. Often I find that a good cleaning of the area is enough to slow their numbers and then (if possible) I find the crack(s) or opening(s) that they are using and try to physically block them. For those ants that haven’t managed to retreat back from whence they came, I let them crawl onto a piece of paper or cardboard and escort them outside. (This is often the point where some people roll their eyes at me.) Don’t misunderstand me, I do have to kill ants on occasion. Sometimes their numbers overwhelm me, or they refuse to leave even after I’ve done all the steps I outlined. In those cases, I prefer to simply squish them. I don’t use any pesticides or harsh chemicals in my home if I don’t absolutely have to.

I was a bit thrown by the situation that presented itself today though because these were not the tiny black ants that I was used to dealing with. These were much larger and their mouthparts looked large enough to be painful if they decided to bite. I decided to just work around them carefully, removing everything from the counter and the sink, cleaning as I went. As they began to retreat, it became clear where they were coming in and I set about blocking the cracks and escorting the stragglers outside. I’m happy to report that within a couple of hours the situation was mostly resolved! And with only one ant death — an accident on my part.

So, what is the moral? Well, I suppose it’s that sometimes it’s not necessary to squish and spray the insects that find their way into our homes. Or, perhaps it’s that despite the inconvenience of having to drop everything and rearrange my afternoon, my kitchen has never looked better! *GRIN*

I really was quite impressed with the size of the ants we had today, but only in comparison to the size of the ones we usually get. I’ve watched enough ants out on the trail to know that they can get much, much larger. Check out this (as of yet) unidentified species:

very large ant speciesThis photo is just to show you a size comparison next to a penny. *Click on the photo to see a nicer image of this impressive ant.* I’m very relieved to report that thus far I have only found these ants traveling solo… I can only imagine what a large colony would look like!

Anyone else currently coping with ants in their house?

Harsi / July 19, 2011 / arthropods, conservation, mammals / 2 Comments

More Music to My Ears!

So, last night, as I once again was standing in front of the sink getting ready for bed, I opened the window and hoped I would be rewarded a second time. Not only did I almost instantly hear immature owl calls, but this time there were TWO voices clamoring away, occasionally overlapping notes and (perhaps) attempting to out vocalize each other. Two or three owl chicks per brood has been the norm for the resident Great Horned Owl pair, though they don’t usually all make it to adulthood. Sadly, the larger sibling will often push the smaller one out of the nest prematurely. This isn’t always a death sentence though as even when the young owls can’t fly yet, they are fairly good climbers and the parents will continue to try and feed and watch over the youngster on the ground. There are, however, a lot of potential predators for a young owl and I’m certain that they have not all survived. But, for now, there are two (from the sound of it) healthy owl chicks out there and all feels right with the world! You can be certain that from now on I will be throwing open windows and doors to listen regularly at night. (Occasionally, I get lucky and can also hear the rapid trilling of the local Western Screech-Owls! But, more on that another time…)

In the last photo I shared, the juvenile Great Horned Owl looks like a fuzzy ball of fluff. I thought it might be interesting to show you that looks can be deceiving. As you can see in the image below, its wings are nearly adult-sized and quite impressive. The flight feathers grow in considerably sooner than the mature body feathers. Though this little one was not ready to fly yet, it was starting to strengthen its wings and get some practice by holding on to twigs or foliage at the top of the eucalyptus and then flapping vigorously. Every once in a while, it would even get just a little bit of lift! Watching this particular owl learn to fly in the weeks that followed was one of those experiences that I simply will never forget.


Great Horned Owl, immature stretching wings



Harsi / July 18, 2011 / birds / 0 Comments

Music to My Ears

Last night, as I stood in front of the sink to get ready for bed, I thought I heard something. Something very good. Something I had been listening closely for on many, many nights now. I opened the window and strained to hear the faint noise again. Yes! There it was. No doubt about it.




An insistent and somewhat plaintive call repeating a few times each minute. Coming from somewhere close in the canyon, but much further away than it ever was in the past. Still, it was a familiar noise and one that I have gotten very used to hearing on summer evenings. What a relief and a joy to hear it once again!

A month ago, I wrote about how much I’ve missed the Great Horned Owls this year as they have chosen (for the first time in 6 years) to nest a bit further afield. This change has meant that I no longer hear the regular nightly duet of the adults hooting back and forth to each other. But, it has also meant that for the many months following the juveniles fledging from the nest, their distinctive and (in my opinion) endearing “feed me” calls have also been absent.

To be honest, until last night, I wasn’t really sure if the resident pair had actually managed to nest successfully this year. That one little voice calling distantly through the darkness allayed my suspicions and had me grinning away as I brushed my teeth.  In honor of this happy news, here is a photo from several years ago of one of the many owlets just after leaving the confines of the nest. Interestingly, all of the nests that I have observed here in the canyon have been in eucalyptus trees such as this one.


Great Horned Owl, immature in eucalyptus


Anyone else have the pleasure of hearing owl calls at night where they live?

Harsi / July 17, 2011 / birds / 4 Comments

Both Sides Now




People are sometimes described as viewing the world with either a “glass half empty” or “glass half full” perspective.


Do you see this as a “sky half cloudy” or as a “sky half clear”?

Harsi / July 16, 2011 / skies / 7 Comments

Philosophizing (and Phoebe)


“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry


Black Phoebe (Sayornis nigricans)



This is my favorite portrait of a Black Phoebe (Sayornis nigricans).

This flycatcher is one of “The Regulars” here in the canyon — a year-round resident and almost impossible not to see or hear every single day.

Familiarity most certainly breeds fondness. 


Harsi / July 15, 2011 / birds, quotations / 4 Comments

As Good As July Gets!

After hyping my fantastic walk on Wednesday, I promised I’d share it with you all today (Thursday), but as I’m not getting to posting this until midnight, no one will even read this until Friday! *sigh*

Sorry, everybody. It was cloudy and cool again today and (apparently) I have no will power when it comes to such matters. Now I’m about two days behind on other stuff that needed my attention. But, thinking over my memories of the past two days’ walks, I can honestly say I have no regrets! *GRIN*

And now, on to the good stuff…


Western Gray Squirrel, drinking


In the summer months, I keep a few containers filled with water outside our cabin. There are increasingly few water sources for birds and mammals as the seasonal creek shrinks and slows to a trickle in some spots.

In addition to several bird species (including a Cooper’s Hawk!), I have also seen deer, fox, bobcat, coyote, rabbit and squirrel availing themselves.

This Western Gray Squirrel (Sciurus griseus) was busy getting a drink as I stepped outside for my walk. *Be sure to click on the image for an amusing bonus shot.* You lookin’ at me??!


leafhopper nymph


In the active months of summer, it can be hard to get past the front of my cabin withougt being distracted by some new arthropod.

In this case, the wooden porch railing was hosting something otherworldy!

This is the immature (nymph) stage of some leafhopper (Family Cicadellidae) species. Up close, It’s very impressive looking  — with that spiked tail — but its actual size is all of about 2 to 3 millimeters.

bee sleeping in Oleander flower


One of the best parts about cool weather in the summer months is that many of these insects will slow down considerably.

Looking for resting bees hanging out in the center of flowers is one of my favorite pastimes.

I would have stayed longer taking more photographs of this bee (no ID yet!) resting in a white Oleander bloom, but one of my neighbors was apparently becoming quite agitated…


Western Gray Squirrel, on alert


Another gray squirrel had climbed high into the bare branches of an olive tree, twitching its tail and loudly alerting everything to my presence.

I tried to assure the squirrel that I was not even remotely worth all the fuss.

But the yammering continued and I decided to peaceably move along.


California Poppy, late in the season


One of the increasingly few remaining California Poppies still blooming this late in the season.

The eye-popping orange is even more startling amidst the browning backdrop of our summer hillsides.


Fence Lizard, looking up


I stopped to photograph this sluggish Fence Lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis longipes).

Every time the light shifted and became a little brighter, I would glance skyward to see if the sun was finally going to successfully break through the clouds. I held my breath, hoping the cloud cover would hold.

I glanced down and realized that the lizard was looking up too… I’m guessing it was eagerly awaiting that very moment.

Sun is like coffee for lizards… their day gets off to a slow start without it. 

Taile Copper on California Sagebrush, ventral


I turned to inspect a large patch of California Sagebrush (Artemisia californica) and struck gold… well, COPPER actually!

This female Tailed Copper (Lycaena arota) was insanely cooperative and let me get close to take some beautiful photos.

Then, she really outdid herself…


Tailed Copper on California Sagebrush, dorsal


…and turned to show off the pretty pattern on the top of her wings.

How do you say “thank you” in butterfly? *GRIN*

When I passed this same spot on the way home, I thought she was still sitting there. But, it turned out to be a male this time. Coincidence? Or was he also waiting, just hoping that she would return?


baloon trash on the trail


A frustrating moment at the end of my very lovely walk…

There on the ground among the brightly colored eucalyptus leaves was more balloon garbage.

I wrote about my rather strong feelings on this subject in this post from last May. Along with this item, I also picked up a latex glove (ewww…) and several other random bits of plastic.


Acorn Woodpecker feather?


I long for a world where we as a species create significantly less waste. Where we are all concerned about what happens to our trash as it infiltrates increasingly remote natural environs.

~ May we all find more feathers than trash on the trail. ~

This one belonged to an Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus), I think. Compare to image here.

Harsi / July 14, 2011 / arthropods, birds, conservation, flowers, mammals, not nature, plants / 2 Comments

A Spring in My (Summer) Step


Western Gray Squirrel, leaping


What could possibly be causing everyone to feel so… SPROINGY?!!

Well, we’ve been having some morning and early afternoon cloud cover. This has significantly reduced how brutally hot it gets later in the day. This morning, the cover looked particularly dense and even though I got a late start on the day, the conditions were still just perfect for a walk. The diffuse, even lighting was quite nice for photography and the critters were being incredibly obliging. Though it was still warm, a cool breeze moved through every so often making me almost forget that it was mid-July.

As is often the case on blissful days like this, I stayed out much longer than I had planned. I came home tired. You know, that good kind of tired? The kind that’s full of happy steps walked on familiar trails. But, as it’s only 8 PM and I’m already yawning, I think I will wait until tomorrow to share the highlights with you all.

[For those that don’t know, my exuberant friend is a Western Gray Squirrel (Sciurus griseus).]

Did you see anything today that made you feel like doing a little hop, skip or jump?… Even just a little? *GRIN*

Harsi / July 13, 2011 / mammals / 3 Comments

Feathers I Have Found

I don’t usually take feathers home with me when I encounter them on my walks. But, I almost always take at least one picture… my way of “collecting” them. With the assistance of The Feather Atlas — an amazing tool hosted by the U.S Fish & Wildlife Service, I’ve been attempting to make some IDs. Here are a couple of my favorites:


Red-shouldered Hawk feather?


I think this one belongs to a Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus). Compare to image here. I found it near the creek, under the dense oak canopy where we often see these hawks hunting low, expertly weaving through the branches. ** Be sure to click on the feather for a bonus image of an immature Red-shouldered Hawk. **


Great Horned Owl feather


I’m almost certain this must be a Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) feather. Compare to image here. I found this one at the base of a eucalyptus tree along a regularly walked path. I’ve never seen a Great Horned perched up there, but I have often noted the large amount of droppings under one of the larger branches and wondered if they might not be using it as a perch when hunting at night. ** Don’t forget about the bonus image — click on the feather! ** 

Harsi / July 12, 2011 / birds / 0 Comments