Unknown Fancies


With the wings of the birds, my spirit joyfully flies over unknown fancies everywhere.

Paramahansa Yogananda

I’m headed to Washington today! We’re spending a week on Vashon Island — hoping to find some cool wildlife, eat some good food and explore lots of new places. We’ll be traveling via the Coast Starlight train and I’m looking forward to being able to watch the landscape shift and change as we make our way northward. If all goes well, I’ll try and share a few pics and stories from my travels while I’m away…

Meanwhile, I was inspired on my last couple of walks through the canyon to capture some images of birds flying away from their perch. (I’m such a sucker for metaphor!) Be sure to click on the images to see a close-up of the bird on the wing!

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)

Cassin's Kingbirds

Cassin’s Kingbirds (Tyrannus vociferans)
*Look closely at the clickable larger image —
Just in front of the bird, you can actually see the insect it’s about to nab. How awesome is that?!*

American Kestrel

American Kestrel (Falco sparverius)

Acorn Woodpecker

Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus)
*Notice the acorn in its bill — they cache them in all the telephone poles around our place… and in the trees… and in pretty much any other place that looks like it will fit an acorn nicely. 🙂*

 

Harsi / February 27, 2011 / birds, quotations / 8 Comments

Canyon Art Walk

On my regular evening walk yesterday, I came upon these two wonderful scenes…

mule deer self-portraitMule Deer self-portrait?
Maybe it’s just me, but I think these hoof tracks really look like a deer face (well, either that, or a rabbit). Actually, the “ears” are where the two toes made an imprint, but it looks a bit different than the normal deer tracks I see. I gather that is because the cloven hoof is capable of spreading apart when it’s muddy (and it has been muddy!) or when the deer is running, in order to gain more traction. The “eyes” are actually dewclaw marks, which often don’t leave an imprint at all because they are located higher on the deer’s leg. But, again, because it’s been muddy they are showing up very clearly. For those who’ve never had the opportunity to view a Mule Deer dewclaw — be sure to click on the image above to see a close-up photo.

great horned owl pollockJackson Pollock in progress?
OK, some of you may be put off by this image. Sorry. I see the beauty in everything — even poop. This colorful spattering is the work of one (or possibly both) of the Great Horned Owl pair that reside near our home. The large Eucalyptus branch that arches overhead must be a favorite perching spot of theirs at night. It’s difficult to see in this photo, but there were actually several recently regurgitated pellets in the mix as well. Be sure to click on the image for a bonus photo of one of the potential artists! *grin*

Harsi / February 23, 2011 / birds, mammals, tracks / 6 Comments

Musing on Marah

marah & pine artwork

When I first looked up at this tall, dark pine and saw the vivid green vine of Wild Cucumber (Marah macrocarpus) reaching and spiraling upwards, it seemed like something truly magical. A verdant staircase of sorts that I wished I could somehow climb. The above image was the result of a bit of tinkering in Photoshop, but I think it’s a fair representation of how my mind first interpreted this beautiful scene. I must have spent a good 20 or 30 minutes circling the tree and appreciating the colors, trying to capture the details I loved most. Here are a few of my favorites…

 

marah & pine

marah & pine

marah & pine

marah & pine

 

If you live in this area, be sure to keep an eye out for this beautiful native which is currently blooming everywhere right now! Look for the attractive vine and leaves shown here… with the added bonus of sweet little clusters of white blossoms, which I will undoubtedly feature in future posts. (For more information, check out this Calflora page. An excellent resource for all things growing within the state of California!)

Harsi / February 21, 2011 / artwork, plants / 2 Comments

Tales from February

The thing about southern California weather is that it’s… well… VARIABLE. “Unpredictable” would be another good word that comes to mind. Yesterday, here in the canyon, it was foggy, cold, windy and the heavy, dark gray clouds unleashed some much needed rain. But, today, the sun is shining, hardly a breeze is stirring, insects and birds are winging their way through blue skies filled with puffy white clouds.

 

One of my favorite occasional pastimes is to go back into my photo archives and see what was happening in my world on that same day in previous years. As I’ve been a bit busy lately and not able to find much time for wandering around with my camera, I thought I might share a few stories with you from a past February…

 

snow on the foothills

February 13, 2009: Dusting of snow on the foothills above our home.

 

Snow!!! OK, OK, I know many of you who live in cold-weather states are laughing at my excitement over this admittedly light dusting of the white stuff. But, these foothills just above our home are only about 2000 ft. in elevation and it rarely gets cold enough at that altitude for snow of any kind. In the seven years that I’ve lived here, I could count on one hand the days that I’ve seen snow in the hills. As I recall, there was deep fog and clouds blanketing the canyon for most of the day, obscuring much of anything from view. Near sunset (as is often the case), the light finally broke through the cloud layer and the fog rolled away revealing this beautiful backdrop. Needless to say, I immediately put on my shoes and set out for a nice long walk up the fire road behind our house. I took many photos and tried to absorb as much of this unique February afternoon as I could. As I headed home for the evening, the snow was already disappearing fast…

 

rattlensake on path

February 25, 2009: Juvenile Southern Pacific Rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus helleri) *Be sure to click on the image to see a close-up of this beautiful snake!*

Snake!!! Yup. For those of you who thought that late February was not “rattlesnake weather” — think again! It was a mere two weeks after the aforementioned snowy day and the sun was shining brightly, but temps were still quite cool (a high of 60° according to the weather archives I looked at). In any event, I certainly was not thinking about the possibility of basking snakes. In fact, I wasn’t watching the ground at all as I walked down the small path that leads behind our cabin. But, via some sort of sixth sense, I suddenly felt compelled to look down. With one foot still hovering in mid-air, I froze in that position, trying to process the realization that there was a rattlesnake head directly below the impending trajectory of my shoe. The juvenile snake had been stretched across part of the pathway, its tail end obscured in the grass. (So, it was not quite as glaringly obvious as the position shown in the photo, which was taken several minutes after the initial ordeal.) I literally hopped backwards a few times — balancing on one foot! — and then slowly made my way around the still motionless snake, giving it a very wide berth.

 

Some of you might be thinking, “What?! It didn’t strike at you?” or “What?! Didn’t you hear it rattling first?” After many years now of regular encounters with rattlesnakes, I have formed two distinct impressions… First, they are shy and not easily stirred to aggression. I do not believe that one would strike unless they felt they had no other choice. (Frankly, in this case, I think the snake had every right to try and bite me, considering that my foot was on a collision course with its head — but for whatever reason, it didn’t. Too cold for such a quick response, maybe?) Second, despite their reputation for rattling, I have rarely heard them actually do this, even when approached very closely. There have only been two times that I’ve heard them rattle. Once, when one was being cornered and then lifted with a snake handling tool to be relocated, and then another time when I encountered one half-way out of an abandoned mammal hole. (Ground squirrel? skunk? gopher?) It quickly retreated into the hole and then continued to rattle at me for a really long time… I’m still uncertain as to why. My guess is that it was feeling especially vulnerable. (Perhaps it was mid-way through digesting a big meal? In the process of shedding its skin?) Whatever its reasons were, I was especially wary and careful around that area for several days following, as I had no desire to startle that particularly sensitive rattlesnake again.

 

Southern California is sometimes an overwhelmingly hot and uncomfortable place to live, and, yes, we do have annual high winds, many devastating wildfires and the occasional earthquake. But, there is simply no denying the truly marvelous moments that I have had living here… especially the unexpected ones such as these.

 

(If you would like to know more about the local species of rattlesnake, please check out this great page of photos, videos, sound clips and fascinating info from the brilliant website, California Herps. I cannot speak highly enough about this wonderful regional resource for learning more about amphibians and reptiles!)

Harsi / February 17, 2011 / hillsides, reptiles, weather / 6 Comments

A Love Poem

Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule)

 

nature loves you

~ just as you are and how you is ~

nature makes space for you

when the world feels narrow and tight

nature embraces you

with strong and timeless arms

nature inspires the heart

your spirit unfurls like a leaf

nature loves you

~ just as you are and how you is ~

 


[Valentine’s Day hearts are compliments of the pretty little non-native, Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule). This photo is from a few years ago… I’m eagerly watching for them to bloom any day now!]

Harsi / February 14, 2011 / flowers, plants, poetry / 2 Comments

There Will Be Bugs*

large milkweed bug

For those of you who don’t know already, I’m pretty fascinated by arthropods. Several years ago, I only really knew how to identify butterflies and maybe a few spiders and beetles. But, I like to photographically document all the creatures that I come across and once I have photos of them… well, then I really want to know what to call them. And as per so many things in nature, once I learned a little bit, I just kept on wanting to learn more.

After I had exhausted the few field guides that I owned, one of the first online resources for arthropod identification that I found was BugGuide — and I fell in love! This astounding site offers several resources: 1) A clickable field guide that offers high-quality photos, information, and distribution data for an ever-growing number of species within the continental U.S. & Canada. 2) Several forums for posting arthropod-related questions. 3) An ID Request page where you can upload your own images and contributors will help you ascertain the correct identification. This site is 100{1bc34eabd4104b17d01d7ba5e0e8813c7528ea5e3705e6cf11909ea20cbd680a} volunteer-driven and it is truly a melting pot of different people within the scientific community. Contributors range from well-respected entomology experts and students to dedicated naturalists and photographers. It is an excellent place for beginners to learn and participate in an extremely supportive and encouraging environment. About a year and half ago, I was very pleased to be allowed to contribute my time and energy by becoming a contributing editor on the site. I cannot say enough wonderful things about the website itself and all the incredible people involved, many of whom have become good friends.

So, getting back to the title of this post… “There Will Be Bugs”. Though this blog will most assuredly showcase plenty of beautiful flowers, scenic skies, cute mammals and magnificent birds — there will also most definitely be insects and spiders (and snakes!). I know some people find these creatures “creepy” or “icky”. It is my sincere hope that I can change a few minds in this regard, but if not, you can always just skip past these posts.

The lovely red-and-black insect in the above image is the Large Milkweed Bug (Oncopeltus fasciatus), a common and conspicuous find in this area of southern California. As the name would imply, they are often found feeding on the plant tissues of various species of milkweed (Asclepias). However, around my place, there is a very large and active population that resides rather exclusively in the non-native Oleander (Nerium oleander) bushes.

The following photo shows the same species of bug, but this one has just finished shedding its exoskeleton. This is necessary in order for it to continue growing to its full size. Shortly after this process, the new exoskeleton has not hardened or darkened completely and during this period the freshly molted insect is referred to as teneral. Typically when I see these pale individuals they are clinging to the underside of leaves, presumably as a means of hiding from potential predators while their bodies are still soft and vulnerable. (For a fantasic series of images documenting the emergence of a teneral individual, click here.)

large milkweed bug -- teneral


* While it wasn’t one of my favorite movies, for those who are familiar with the somewhat bizarre 2007 film “There Will Be Blood” — I hope you got my little joke! My husband rolled his eyes at my bad pun, but I sure thought it was funny. *big grin*

Harsi / February 12, 2011 / arthropods / 2 Comments

Bubo in Black-and-White

great horned owl on pine tree

 

There is a resident breeding pair of Great Horned Owls (Bubo virginianus) living right near our cabin. Over the years, this has afforded me wonderful opportunities to observe them up close and the unsurpassed thrill of watching them raise their chicks. Their hooting calls are often the last thing I hear as I drift off to sleep… “gratitude” doesn’t seem like a big enough word to express how I feel in those moments.

I wanted to share these special birds, so I selected some of my favorite photos and created this series by applying the Stamp filter in Photoshop. The finished product is simplistic, but hopefully effective in conveying their endearing personalities.

 

great horned owl on eucalyptus

Roosting on a eucalyptus branch.
(Many of the trees in the area were burned by wildfire which gives them a bare, but interesting artistic quality.)


juvenile great horned owl

This is one of the newly fledged juveniles — notice the almost non-existent ear tufts! (Their coloration and general shape at this age reminds me of toasted marshmallows. *grin*)

 

great horned owl on cypress

Perched on a burned cypress…
(I loved this tree, and so did the owls. Even though it had long ceased to be a living tree and was leaning at a rakish angle, it provided a good look-out spot for many birds and squirrels. I was sad when some high winds finally toppled it.
)

 

Harsi / February 11, 2011 / artwork, birds / 6 Comments

What Will I Become? (Part I)

This is the time of year when green stuff is pushing up out of the ground all over the hillsides in southern California. Up until several years ago, I was really only familiar with the local wildflowers once they had bloomed. Before that show of beauty and color arrived, they mostly seemed to blend in with the grasses and other small plants. But as my interest in the native flora has developed, I can now recognize even the very first young leaves. I like to take note of where the small clusters are growing and then visit them on my daily walks. Occasionally, I talk to them and compliment them on their progress. *grin*

 

So, I thought it might be fun to share a few images of just leaves… with a BONUS surprise! If you click on the plant image, you will see a photo of the flower it will eventually produce. For those of you who want to try guessing what the plants are, I’ve put all the photo captions at the bottom so I won’t spoil it for you. Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

Plant 1: Lupine (Lupinus). Identifying this one to genus would be pretty simple for anyone at all familiar with the group — the characteristic and endearing leaf shape is a dead giveaway. But, there are so many kinds (100+ !!!) in California, many of which look very similar, that I wouldn’t even want to venture a guess as to species.

Plant 2: California Poppy (Eschscholzia). Again, there are several species of poppy that are possible in this area, but I believe this is likely Eschscholzia californica. (I adore the subtle pink edges on these frilly leaves!)

Plant 3: Blue-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium). I’m almost 100{1bc34eabd4104b17d01d7ba5e0e8813c7528ea5e3705e6cf11909ea20cbd680a} certain this is Sisyrinchium bellum — someone please correct me if I got that wrong! Unlike the previous two, this plant’s leaves are not very showy, yet the beautiful little flowers it eventually produces are perhaps my favorite.

Harsi / February 9, 2011 / flowers, plants / 3 Comments

Backstory

golden clouds edged with light

 

I live my life in widening rings
which spread over earth and sky.
I may not ever complete the last one,
but that is what I will try.
I circle around God’s primordial tower,
and I circle ten thousand years long;
And I still don’t know if I’m a falcon,
a storm, or an unfinished song.

Rainer Maria Rilke, “Book of Hours”
I read this translation of Rilke’s poem for the first time several years ago at the memorial service for a family friend who had finally lost his battle with cancer. Along with the traditional array of photos on display, there were also several excerpts from his journals and some well-loved quotations. I was immediately taken by the imagery and sentiment of this passage and jotted it down on a little piece of scrap paper to bring home with me.

I wish that I had always made nature the focus of my life. I wish that I had always known exactly how meaningful and crucial it would be for me. But, I didn’t…

So, sometimes now I feel like I am racing to take it all in. To see and know as much as I can about… well, EVERYTHING! I am equally intrigued by all things in the natural world — rocks, clouds, water, flowers, trees, fungus, insects, mammals, birds, herps — it makes no difference to me. I find them all fascinating and equally worthy of reverence. I revel in the contemplation, study, and photographic documentation of nearly everything I come across. And for every experience that I have, for every bit of information that I glean, for every puzzle piece I place — there is always more. Every question answered leads to some new line of inquiry. The mysteries of nature never seem to diminish. Instead, they expand infinitely outward.

My journey of ever widening rings is one of joy and fufillment… I look forward to sharing parts of it with you.

Harsi / February 8, 2011 / quotations, skies / 5 Comments