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

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

Harsi / July 6, 2011 / artwork, birds / 0 Comments

My July Sky II

More images and thoughts from my walk at sundown yesterday…


sky, tree & moon triptych


Everywhere I looked the sky was doing something different.

Washes of color and fast-moving clouds.

Swallows dancing through it all.


Western Fence Lizard, sunset profile


Tearing myself away from the views above, I found plenty of interest down on the ground.

Fence Lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis longipes) — such beautiful creatures.

After approaching slowly and gradually, I was duly rewarded with an amazing series of shots.

I made sure to say “thank you” when we parted ways.


Phainopepla & branches


The Phainopeplas (Phainopepla nitens) are so numerous this year.

Everywhere in the bare branches are crested pairs — I imagine their nests are hidden in the foliage below.

Quail sputtered loudly from the stands of dry thistle and brush as I passed.

The shrill begging cries of a newly fledged hawk demanded my attention over and over again.

I think (as I have thousands of times before) that birds are pure magic.


plants & sunset


Even after the sun had set from view, the sky remained drenched in lovely shades.

I took the opportunity to photograph some stunning plant silhouettes.

From left to right: Black Sage (Salvia mellifera), California Sagebrush (Artemisia californica) and White Sage (Salvia apiana).


rattlesnake, soft focus


It was almost 8:30 PM when I neared home…

Just enough light to still make out the potential dangers while wandering around in the hills.

Not quite enough light to get the camera to achieve focus though.

  Not to worry… I like the soft, brush-stroked look of this rattlesnake rendering.

Harsi / July 4, 2011 / birds, hillsides, plants, reptiles, skies / 2 Comments

Rambunctious Ravens

Have I mentioned the family of Common Raven (Corvus corax) that have decided to be our neighbors this year? I’m still uncertain as to where the actual nest was located, but the now fledged juveniles and parents have included the area around our home in part of their daily foraging activities. Ravens (like hawks and owls) invest a lot of time in the raising of their offspring and continue to feed them well beyond the time they can fly and have reached their adult size. So, imagine if you will, the entire family of seven jet black birds — each about two feet long with a wingspan of a little less than four feet — hopping around on the ground, flapping, begging and croaking loudly at one another. They have a rather dependable schedule of landing in front of our cabin just as the sun is setting. As far as I can tell, they then proceed to forage on the ground for the small fruits that have been falling from the heavy-laden ornamental plum trees. The clamor is impressive and the spectacle is well worth watching.

Now that I am feeling better (FINALLY!!), I’ll do my best to get some decent pics to share with you guys. In the meantime though, I had some fun creating this bit of digital art from various in-flight images. **Be sure to click on the image to see a larger version.** I think I was imagining polka dots when I first started creating, but looking at the finished piece I find myself fantasizing about a sky filled with countless moons as ravens wing their way home to roost for the night….


Common Raven & moons, artwork


Harsi / July 2, 2011 / artwork, birds / 2 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

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

Green Heron & Blue Damsels

Green Heron pano


For anyone not familiar, the Green Heron (Butorides virescens) is a small (16 – 18 inches) wading bird that can be found throughout much of the U.S. along creeks and rivers or at ponds, lakes, marshes, swamps and even pastures. Finding the immature bird in the above photo probably isn’t too hard… but at a distance they are extremely cryptic and even up close they can be hard to spot if they’re standing still.


photographer & hidden Green Heron


Now, why would I include this photo?  Well, because I thought it was amusing. This woman was diligently taking photos of a turtle sunning on the edge of the pond in front of her. Unseen from her vantage point was the stealthy heron lurking in the foreground several feet away. Can’t see it? *Click on the image if you’re in need of some assistance.*

Of course the heron has good reason to skulk quietly and slowly in the partial shadows at the water’s edge… Much of its diet is comprised of small fish. Actually, it is one of the few bird species known to use bait in order to capture its fish prey. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s website: “It commonly drops bait onto the surface of the water and grabs the small fish that are attracted. It uses a variety of baits and lures, including crusts of bread, insects, earthworms, twigs, or feathers.”

The Green Heron is also known to eat frogs, insects and other invertebrates. While hanging out at El Dorado Regional Park last weekend, it was my extreme pleasure to get to watch one immature heron hunting damselflies. The vegetation around the ponds was rife with bright blue and pinkish damselflies. Rarely can I recall seeing so many damsels in one location. Time after time we watched this bird snap at the air and at plant edges. From what we observed, it had a pretty high rate of success, catching damsel after damsel and gulping them down. The fact that I caught a few of these captures on film was just marvelous! *Be sure to click on the images to see more detail.*


Green Heron searchingSearching… searching…


Green Heron & damselsHmmmmm… damselflies above and below…


Green Heron nabbing damselGot one!!


Green Heron nabbing damselIt’s a bit tough to see in this photo, but if you click to see the bigger image you can just make out the blur of a struggling damsel in the heron’s mouth and one flying dangerously close just above its head.


Green Heron & shadowI love how long and tall this heron looks next to its squat little shadow…


Green Heron looking greenIn some lighting it can be hard to tell why the Green Heron is so named. Immature birds are not as brightly colored as the adults, but in this photo, you can get a feel for the iridescent greeny-blue head and wing feathers that gave this bird its moniker.

All of these photos were taken during our day trip to El Dorado Regional Park where we were quite entertained by our observations of one (or possibly two) of these immature heron. I leave you with this parting image…


Green Heron wading

Harsi / June 7, 2011 / arthropods, birds / 2 Comments


As we were driving out of the canyon on Sunday — on our way to our destination in Long Beach — we arrived at a flat area of open fields and low brush (same spot as in this post) where we have observed several quail couples regularly foraging for the last few months. It’s been my experience that in the late Summer, Fall, and Winter months, California Quail (Callipepla californica) travel in typically large groups (known as coveys), but beginning in early Spring, they start pairing off and the couples seem quite inseparable from that point on. As we slowed to allow one such pair to cross the road, I was delighted to see four little chicks scurrying between their legs! These are the first babies I’ve seen this season, and though I had to take these so-so pictures through the front windshield, the results are still undeniably cute! (Click on any image for a slightly embiggened view.)


California Qual & chicks

California Qual & chicks

California Qual & chicks

California Qual & chicks


Anyone have a recent story to share about baby bird sightings around your home?


Harsi / June 6, 2011 / birds / 2 Comments

Sometimes The Sky Calls…

Another night of unsatisfying sleep, my Inbox is full of e-mail awaiting responses, my household chores are steadily backing up. In light of all of this, I had decided that I would stay inside today and just post some remaining photos from yesterday’s walk. But… this morning I looked outside and it was cloudy. I cracked the front door and the weather was cool and breezy. Birds were singing… squirrels were zipping around… and, well, you know how it goes. I got dressed and put my shoes on. [insert sheepish grin] I figured I should at least grab a cup of juice before leaving and while gulping it down, I peered out the kitchen window. As if on cue, my favorite spotted-little-one showed up with its mom and gave me a glimpse or two as it snuck through the sage and olive trees.


mule deer fawn

There was a fair bit of blue sky showing, but the clouds that covered the rest of the sky more than made up for it. Wispy and whimsical. Puffs and arcs. Stretching, shifting and moving. Aaaah… action in the sky… just what I crave!


clouds sky trees

clouds sky hillside

cloud abstract


As if issuing some sort of homage to the little spotted fawn from earlier, the sky shifted yet again and produced this most wonderful pattern:


cloud abstract spots**Be sure to click on the image for a beautiful panoramic.**

A Cooper’s Hawk (quite likely the same one from yesterday!) soared effortlessly above me. Sharing the sky with the hawk were a few swallows swooping and diving at unseen insects. I heard the raucous croaking of the boisterous raven family long before I spotted them high over the hills. The juveniles are as big as the adults now and the family (6 birds total, I think) loudly travels together in search of food and perhaps a bit of mayhem.


Cooper's Hawk & Common Ravens


There were small arthropod joys to be had as well. Several bumble bees were working a patch of California Poppies. If yesterday’s photos were a matter of good luck and perfect timing, today’s images proved to be more a matter of supreme patience and diligence. For some reason, my camera repeatedly refused to achieve focus when I wanted it to, and countless opportunities for beautiful shots of the bees ended up as little more than blurry blobs of orange, yellow and black. But, it was a beautiful day to be out and I smiled despite my frustration, and stuck with it until I managed to come away with at least a few nifty shots.

bumble bees on poppiesI was kind of amazed at how long bumble bees’ back legs are when they let them dangle.


I knew I had been gone too long, and reluctantly I turned and headed for home. As I rounded the corner of the small work shed near our cabin, I slowed down to carefully watch my step and scan the ground… Why? Well, because there’s always the chance I’ll see this poking out of the abandoned ground squirrel burrow:


rattlesnake under shedIf you’ve got a heebie-jeebie-thing about rattlers, I wouldn’t click on this one for the bonus shot… (*grin*)

Hope everyone has had a truly wonderful day!

Harsi / June 1, 2011 / arthropods, birds, flowers, mammals, reptiles, skies / 2 Comments