In Celebration of the Autumnal Equinox

Mourning Dove feather
Fall Song

Another year gone, leaving everywhere
its rich spiced residues: vines, leaves,

the uneaten fruits crumbling damply
in the shadows, unmattering back

from the particular island
of this summer, this NOW, that now is nowhere

except underfoot, moldering
in that black subterranean castle

of unobservable mysteries – roots and sealed seeds
and the wanderings of water. This

I try to remember when time’s measure
painfully chafes, for instance when autumn

flares out at the last, boisterous and like us longing
to stay – how everything lives, shifting

from one bright vision to another, forever
in these momentary pastures.

Mary Oliver

Thank you, Mary, for the gift of your poetry… for having the words and the insight to write of things that seem fresh yet ancient, personal yet universal.

I find myself curious and eager to see what this new season has in store. Wishing a wonderful day to all of you reading this!

(For those that are interested, the lovely image is a wing feather from a Mourning Dove.)


Harsi / September 23, 2011 / birds, quotations / 4 Comments

Isn’t He Lovely…?


Western Tanager, male


I’ve been seeing several Western Tanager (Piranga ludoviciana) lately and their fiery colors never fail to please! Yesterday, I mentioned how much I was looking forward to the return of the White-crowned Sparrow and there will be many other well-loved fall and winter visitors arriving with them soon. But, this will inevitably mean saying good-bye to those species of songbird that arrived last spring and stayed to breed through the summer months. In addition to the Western Tanager, a few other familiar faces that will soon depart include the Bullock’s and Hooded Orioles, Black-headed Grosbeak and Phainopepla. I’ve tried to be especially conscious of this when out walking in the last few weeks… spending a little more time observing and admiring these guys before they take to the wing.


Harsi / August 16, 2011 / birds / 0 Comments

Crowning Glory


White-crowned Sparrow & branchesWhite-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys)


I love these sparrows… The smart look of their black-and-white caps and the dappled browns of their coat. The way their songs fill the air in the morning and evening hours. I’ll have to wait another month or so before they return to the canyon from their summer breeding areas. I’m looking forward to seeing them hopping around in the leaf litter and bushes once again!


Harsi / August 15, 2011 / birds / 0 Comments

Out of Sight

I continue to hear the calls of the juvenile Great Horned Owls every night… This has been so reassuring after the “summer of silence” last year. I continue to open windows and smile into the dark black night, imagining them in my mind.

For years now, as I took photo after photo after photo of the owls — roosting on a branch in the afternoon, grooming, hunting, incubating and feeding their young, learning to fly — I knew not to take it for granted. I was acutely aware of how precious and unique the opportunities were and I made the most of them. That being said, I suppose I hadn’t considered how hard it might be to find an owl to photograph now that they’ve moved their nest further afield. It can’t be too far away, but as I don’t know where the nest is exactly, finding an owl to view or photograph in the daytime is no longer as easy as simply scanning the large trees directly around our cabin. I do see them occasionally when we drive the road at night — silent, dark shapes flying across the sky. But I confess that I miss seeing their yellow eyes, their impressive talons gripping a branch, or the delicate tufts of feathers that constitute their “ears”. I decided to check my photo files to see when the last time I had the opportunity to photograph one and was surprised to find that it was as long ago as November of last year. Here’s the photo:

Great Horned Owl, most recent photo

Sometimes I take what I call “record shots”. For me, that means a photo that is simply meant to record the existence of something in my area, or perhaps to record a notable date or significant sighting for something. My intent is not necessarily to create a photo anyone else would want to see… just to take a mental snapshot (a “screen capture”, if you will) of what I am seeing.

Oddly, I can remember that when I took this photo, it was meant to be a record shot. At that point, we were still seeing the adult owls around the property and there wasn’t really anything notable about this particular sighting. But, perhaps I intuitively sensed their impending move as something compelled me to record this (at that point) fairly common occurrence of looking up and seeing a roosting owl. Well… in any event, I’m happy that I took the photo when I did. Also, I’ve decided to try harder to locate where the owls are currently spending their days so that I might get the opportunity to see them once again. Wish me luck!


Harsi / August 7, 2011 / birds / 2 Comments

Wading It Out

The sound of the air conditioner rattling away. The cicadas buzzing during the day; the crickets singing all night. The heat that smacks you in the face when you open a window or the door. Yup… it’s summer, all right.

While considering subject matter for this blog my thoughts have been increasingly turning to images of cooler weather or locales. Not surprising, eh? Join me as I recall a nice afternoon spent at the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary back in May of 2007. This graceful Black-necked Stilt (Himantopus mexicanus) was feeding in the shallow end of one of the ponds and allowed me to take several nice photos…


Black-necked Stilt wading


(For those of you who are new to birdwatching, these wading birds can be found in various wetland habitats throughout much of the country, searching for aquatic invertebrates and small fish.)


Harsi / August 4, 2011 / birds, weather / 0 Comments

A Tall Drink of Water


Acorn Woodpeckers drinking from sprinkler


Now that we have truly entered the long stretch of hot and dry weather typical for this area at this time of year, the animals in the canyon can increasingly be found seeking out remaining water sources. The seasonal creek still has water in a few places, but large portions are little more than beds of rock and sand now. In addition to the water that I leave in containers behind my house, there are also many troughs provided for the horses living in the adjacent pasture. Most of the local mammals can be found (at some time of day) visiting these or other unintentional water sources around the property. Birds are also frequent visitors — drinking, bathing and even hunting insects over the water. (And, of course, the insects themselves also have a great need for moisture in these months. In addition to their own requirements, many bees and wasps also require water in order to construct their nests.)

I thought I’d share the above photo because it’s a nifty summer/fall behavior that I’ve seen the Acorn Woodpeckers engage in every year that we’ve lived here. They can often be seen in numbers of three or more squabbling over the opportunity to cling to a sprinkler head and drink the small amount of liquid that sometimes seeps out.

(NOTE: This photo was taken on July 28, 2009 — two years ago to the date!)

Harsi / July 28, 2011 / birds, weather / 2 Comments

The One with The Crow & The Rain

I snapped the following series of images of this crow as it was sitting on the railing adjacent to the vehicle queue for getting onto the Seattle ferry over to Vashon Island. ** As always, click on the photo for an embiggened view. ** Just for fun, I’ve included a rough (very rough) facsimile of the accompanying dialogue between me and my husband…

“Roll your window down, hon.”
“Let me try and get a few shots past you, out your window.”
“We’re going to start moving any second now to get on the ferry!”
“I know, I know… so hurry up already!”

Crow + rain + the Seattle ferry

“Aren’t you a lovely bird? And posing so nicely for me too — thank you!  Boy, you look wet.”
“Hey… Speaking of wet… Me and the car are getting kind of soaked over here.”
“I know… sorry! Just a few more… and then you can roll it back up, I promise.”


Crow + rain + the Seattle ferry



“Are you getting anything decent?”
“Yup! These are pretty… The muted colors of the background and the water… the rain falling… the way light is hitting its black feathers. In fact, I’m really happy with these! Thanks for putting up with me, hon.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah… So, do you think it’s just an American Crow, or is this one actually a Northwestern Crow?”
“I don’t know, I’m still trying to figure out how to tell the difference exactly. I need to check the field guide again.”

Crow + rain + the Seattle ferry



“Oh, hey… Wow! It looks like it’s dancing in this shot!”
“Well, it’s doin’ something fancy with its feet…” *GRIN*

[NOTE: Differentiating between these two species of crow mostly involves geographic range and habitat, as well as some variation in call sounds. However, I gather that there is also a fair bit of hybridization between American and Northwestern Crows, which makes it all the more difficult to tell for certain which species you’re dealing with. I’m fairly certain that we must have seen at least a few Northwestern Crows (a new species for us) in the course of our more than week-long visit to Washington… just don’t ask me which ones they were exactly.]


Harsi / July 24, 2011 / birds, photography, travel, weather / 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

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