The Unexpected

So, when I last posted on the morning of the 23rd in honor of the autumnal equinox, I wrote: I find myself curious and eager to see what this new season has in store.

I didn’t have to wait very long to find out. About an hour later, I encountered this gorgeous immature rattlesnake just hanging out at the base of our porch steps.

Southern Pacific Rattlesnake, immature


My last rattler sighting had been back on the 12th of August (which feels like ages ago), so I felt rather satisfied by the sighting and pleased with the pics that I managed to get. It seemed like a truly auspicious beginning to the unfolding new season!

Little could I have possibly imagined that the very same morning would also bring THIS….


Mountain Lion


Yup. That is indeed what you think it is.

I tell you, it’s enough to leave a gal speechless… Well, almost anyway. *GRIN* This is a teaser post as there are other better photos and an entire story that still needs telling. I’ve been holding my tongue on sharing this news for a couple days now though and I simply couldn’t wait any longer.

Life is good. It may not always be easy. You may not always get things exactly how you want them or when you want them. But there are lions and snakes and birds and trees and spiders and moons and toads and rainbows and squirrels and clouds and all the other totally amazing things that make me wonder what tomorrow will bring and keep me hangin’ in there to find out!


Harsi / September 25, 2011 / mammals, reptiles / 7 Comments

Be Back Soon… I Promise!

California Ground Squirrel, tail


I had this notion that I would try and stick with doing a full year’s worth of blogging every day. Why a year? I don’t know. Just because it sounded good, I guess. It felt like a nice solid accomplishment to shoot for.

Well, it’s only been a little more than three months of continuous blog posts, but I’m gonna’ need to take a bit of a break. I’m hoping to only be gone about a week or so as I really do enjoy sharing photos and stories of the things I love most with all of you. My GI problems don’t seem to be resolving all that quickly and I really want to try and focus as much of my energy as possible on feeling better and getting back outside where I belong. I’m doing OK and other than being somewhat uncomfortable and very exhausted, I don’t think there’s anything to worry about.

(Though I chose a photo of a California Ground Squirrel for this post, I can’t resist mentioning that the fox family continues to come around regularly — several times a day now for the past 6 days! Watching them from the window or out the front door has been such a incredible and unimagined delight! In between foraging for dried olives on the ground they will occasionally romp and play, leaving me completely smitten. There are at least 4, and possibly 5 of them. We have seen more foxes in the last week than we have in the last 7 years of living here. I’m sure it’s entirely coincidental, but I can’t help but feel that the “nature gods” decided to smile on me just when I needed it most. Despite how crummy I feel, I can’t possibly say I wish this last week hadn’t happened or I’d have to give up all those wonderful memories in the bargain.)

Harsi / August 20, 2011 / mammals / 6 Comments

How To Melt My Heart


Gray Fox, funny face


OK, so I know this is an out-of-focus, improperly exposed and poorly composed shot… but, how could anyone not save and treasure this photo?! As I was saying yesterday, several foxes have been hanging out around our place lately. The amazing thing about our cabin is that it serves as a really nice blind for viewing wildlife. In general, (with Coyote being a notable exception to the rule) the mammals appear to view the cabin as just another element of their environment and as long as you don’t make any sudden movements, they seem to ignore slight movements at the windows, or else simply stare with a cautious curiosity. I have seen and photographed (or filmed) some truly astounding things through the windows of this place! There are downsides, of course. All but one or two of the windows in the house are screened and those photos are often very blurred or distorted-looking. The large picture window in the kitchen is my favorite place to photograph, but even those photos only come out well if I can shoot straight ahead. If I have to point the camera at an angle to the glass, the photos are once again distorted. Fortunately, while I do have very high standards for what I consider to be a beautifully-executed nature photograph, I also see plenty of value in those images that serve as visual field notes or simply to capture a happy memory or experience.

So… back to the photo! I shot this one as I crouched at the base of my smaller, screened kitchen window.  (The black on the left side of the image is actually the window frame.) The fox was busily gnawing away at one dried-up olive after another just beyond the ledge of the window (maybe 10 feet!) and seemed entirely oblivious to my presence. Though it looks as though it is making eye contact with me here, I’m pretty sure that it was just eyeballing the house itself. I’m assuming that the little bit of tongue sticking out is also incidental and not directed at me personally. *GRIN*

Harsi / August 18, 2011 / fun stuff, mammals / 0 Comments

Now Are The Foxes!

Gray Fox, running


For the past three days, we’ve had multiple Gray Fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) sightings around our cabin! I saw two running together one day and there is also a third who is recognizable due to a injured front foot. They’ve been showing up to get a drink of water at the containers, but at least one of them is also coming to chow down on the dried-up olives that litter the ground beyond our front porch. These creatures’ coloration is incredibly beautiful and they are so agile and dainty. It never ceases to amaze me how small they are (usually somewhere between 30 and 40 inches long, but their tail accounts for about half of that)!

I always feel blessed to have the opportunity to live in such close proximity to these foxes, but I have felt more intensely grateful of late. Being able to look out the window and view something so wonderful is a true gift. You see, I’ve been stuck inside (and mostly in bed) with some seriously nasty GI thing. I haven’t really wanted to clutter this blog with talk of that unpleasantness, but if by any chance you’ve been waiting on return correspondence for me — I’m very sorry for the silence. Just trying to take it easy and give my body time to heal and feel better.

Hopefully, there will be more photos and stories about our foxy neighbors (and also some more adorable deer photos) in the next few days… *grin*


Harsi / August 17, 2011 / mammals / 2 Comments

Good To The Last Spot


Mule Deer fawn, artwork



This season’s fawns are already down to their last few spots. There’s still a smattering around their hindquarters though, like an outfit they’ve just about outgrown. Every year it’s the same, the last hint of their juvenile patterned coat remaining on the back half of the deer. It makes me wonder… why?

Perhaps because the hair is longer and it just takes more time to grow out? Or maybe there is some actual purpose behind their tail-end remaining camouflaged for a bit longer? * Anyone else have a theory? *

[For those that are interested in the process behind my digital art creations, I thought I would go ahead and share the original (unaltered) image that this was based on… Click here to view. When animals come to take refuge in the shady areas around the house, one of the frequent photographic hurdles I encounter in trying to expose the shot is an overly bright background and loss of detail or sharpness in the darker foreground critter. Nevertheless, I am often still quite attached to these photos due to compositional elements or subject matter. As I discussed in my last post showcasing deer artwork, applying artistic effects and filters is one way for me to try and salvage less-than-perfect images or perhaps let my creativity take me in entirely new and fanciful directions.]


Harsi / August 14, 2011 / artwork, mammals / 3 Comments

The Unbearable Cuteness of Being


California Ground Squirrel, juveniles


California Ground Squirrel, juveniles


California Ground Squirrel, juveniles



I was looking through some old folders of images that I hadn’t browsed recently and came across this series I took back in July of 2006. A California Ground Squirrel (Otospermophilus beecheyi) raised her young under a little wooden bridge behind our cabin that year and I had the fun of seeing the whole family out together on several occasions. I’m not sure where the mother was on this day, but her spectacled brood sure was adorable as they cautiously ran in and out of their burrow.

I know at least one of my friends is keeping tabs on a couple of nests around his place and getting some nice shots of baby birds …

* Anyone else have juvenile animals visiting or growing up somewhere in your yard or garden right now? *


Harsi / August 6, 2011 / mammals / 0 Comments

Making it Work

I sat down today to work on prepping those Mule Deer images I promised. Several young males (last year’s fawns) have been hanging about lately. Adult females and their spotted little ones share their company as they make daily visits around the perimeter of the cabin. They stop to get a drink of water, nibble on the plants and bushes, and to lay in the cool, shady areas. In photographing them, I managed to capture some wonderful expressions and behavior. However, as is often the case (especially if I attempt to shoot through the kitchen window), I found myself unhappy with the quality of the photos. It’s not that they’re horrible, they simply suffer from various problems like soft focus, contrasty lighting, improper exposure or unwanted objects. Using a graphics program like Photoshop, there are countless ways to attempt to improve or fix these issues. Some times I go that route… But, other times, I find that if an image needs a significant amount of manipulation it’s just more fun to unleash my creativity instead of trying to make it look like the perfect photograph I had imagined. By playing with the digital filters and brushes, altering the color palette or lighting, it’s possible to create a myriad of artistic effects.

I thought it might be interesting to start by showing you this image exactly as it looked after I downloaded it from my camera:

Mule Deer, male eating Toyon

This young male was so blissfully chewing away on the Toyon leaves, that he hardly seemed to notice me standing at the window taking photos. It was a beautiful few moments. But, the image looked so washed out and lifeless to me. I wanted to try and add more of the warmth and intimacy that I had felt. Also, the background was very bright and eye-catching, so I hoped to even out the light some, make it twinkle a bit, and highlight all the wonderful leaves.

Mule Deer, male eating Toyon (filtered)

I liked the way the deer fills this square crop and the painterly effect is very close to what I had envisioned. (If anyone is interested, I used the “Accented Edges” filter and then experimented with the color and exposure.)

I know it can be very hard to get a feel for the subtleties of the texture and brush strokes with the small size of web presentation. I usually do provide a larger version that can be seen my clicking on the image, but it is still a very limited view. So, here is a crop showing just a portion of the above image so that you can see more detail.

Mule Deer, male eating Toyon (filtered)


In this next instance, you can see an example of an original image which is really not very good. But, I so loved the composition and the delightful scene it portrayed that I wanted to try and do something nice with it.

Mule Deer, two males resting

These two young males decided to lay down near each other in late afternoon shade. They were just within view through my kitchen window and they weren’t going anywhere, but no matter how many photos I took, the glass distortion and lighting conspired to leave me with less than satisfactory shots. Additionally, there was that exposed (defunct) pipe jutting out off the ground next to the upper deer in every single image. It was the layered appearance of the background and the repeating shapes of the deer that had compelled me to take the photo in the first place, so I tried to focus on those elements when cropping and transforming it. (In this case, the filtering process also makes it very easy to seamlessly clone a portion of the background to obscure the unattractive pipe.)


Mule Deer, two males resting (filtered)


Though I don’t always succeed, it is always my goal to accomplish something that is better than the original photo. To create something that tugs at the essence of what I saw when I first lifted my camera, but then draws it out further… Exaggerating it to evoke an emotion or feeling that might otherwise have gone unnoticed.


Harsi / August 1, 2011 / artwork, mammals, photography / 2 Comments

Farewell to July

When I opened my eyes this morning, it took me a moment to reconcile the sound.


That didn’t seem very likely… I sat up and let the fog of sleep drift further away.

It is rain! What the heck? It’s raining!

Not a lot, mind you… Just enough to dapple the brown earth and make the air smell moist and alive. But, here in the canyon at the tail-end of July, any rain at all is a rarity and I was grateful for it. I’m quite certain that the wildlife shared my elation as well.

The sky was overcast and lovely for much of the day, but by late afternoon when I finally got clear of the “to do” stuff on my list and went out for a walk, the big clouds had mostly retreated and were accumulating over the peaks of the San Gabriels.

clouds accumulating over San Gabriels

I walked down to the oak woodland area that parallels the road. It was hot and humid and the bitey flies were out in force looking for a meal. (I’m not sure if we are as tasty as the main course — the local Mule Deer — but that certainly doesn’t stop them from sampling.) Fortunately, I had good company and was happy to be out despite the constant waving and swatting.

Previously, I had mentioned that our seasonal creek has completely dried up in several spots. I thought it might be interesting to illustrate this and so I searched through my photos to see what I could find. The picture on the left was taken in early February of this year. This spot along the creek forms a large, slow-moving, shallow pool that is always a favorite congregating spot for the breeding Coast Range Newts (Taricha torosa torosa). The picture to the right was photographed just last week, and as you can clearly see, the ground is little more than damp now.

creek comparison (February & July)

Tomorrow’s post will feature a bunch of pics of the Mule Deer who can (with increasing frequency) be found resting and browsing for food in the relatively cooler, shadier areas around our cabin. In truth, I meant to share them with you today, but (like the female pictured below) I ran out of steam and decided to take it easy instead. I hope everyone else is finding ways to beat the heat and still enjoy some time outside!

Mule Deer, female resting


Harsi / July 31, 2011 / hillsides, mammals, skies, water, weather / 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