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

A Moment with the Mule Deer


Mule Deer, female & fawnNice to see you out my kitchen window, Ms. Deer. I wonder why you look so alert? And who is that hiding in the sumac behind you?

Mule Deer, female & fawnWell, hello there little one!


Mule Deer, female & fawnBig and little bookends.

(I fear this once burned and then felled olive tree will never manage to grow much larger. The deer come through and nibble on its tender new growth every day.)

Mule Deer, female & fawn

The intense number of bitey flies these days means that their large ears are in constant motion, flicking back and forth, almost as steady as their breathing.


Mule Deer, female & fawn

Whoops! I was so busy photographing that I didn’t even notice your sibling hanging back in the foliage.


The Mule Deer have been a daily joy to watch. Sometimes, when I’m wandering around outside photographing and I see a group of deer staring at me, I wonder if they don’t find some amusement on their end as well. *GRIN*

Harsi / July 10, 2011 / mammals / 3 Comments

A Picture Worth 501 Words

Moments after our awesome bear sighting on the 4th, we were cresting the top of a steep rise further on down the same road…

“Deer”, I said.

“To the right.”

This is my typical shorthand way of informing my husband of impending wildlife on the road as he drives. It’s usually not necessary as he’s just as good at spotting the critters as I am, but I figure it doesn’t hurt to have two sets of eyes looking. Especially at this time of year, we encounter so many deer, rabbits, and ground or tree squirrels that you really have to drive slow and be mindful in order to avoid the unthinkable.

The deer around here seem to have any number of ways of reacting to our oncoming vehicle. Sometimes, they will bound swiftly off the road, boing-boing-ing their way off into the brush or up a steep hillside. Other times, they seem uncertain of what to do, meandering in the middle of the road or crossing one way then back the way they came. Then, there are those times when they freeze and just watch our slow approach.

The deer we were nearing at the top of the hill had a choice to either go down a very steep embankment behind her, cross the road and go up an equally steep embankment on that side, or run up the middle of the road in front of us. But, as she was a little ways off the road and (perhaps) imagined herself somewhat concealed in the high grass, she chose the option of just standing very still and waiting for us to pass. As we steadily inched our way forward, my camera still in-hand from filming the bears, I hatched an idea. I have photographed at the spot we were nearing on so many occasions and I could see in my minds’ eye the position of the deer relative to the view behind it. A view that overlooked the property where we live and beautifully showcased the canyon and the foothills beyond. I rolled my window all the way down, and as we moved past the deer, I managed to take this photo:

Mule Deer & canyon overlook


I have many, many images taken from this point on the road, looking out over the same view. But, none of them makes me quite so happy as this one. The Mule Deer in the foreground. In the distance, glimpses of the trails behind our cabin. Trails that I have walked thousands of times.

Some photos are more than the sum of their parts. They are a feeling that cannot be explained and may very well not even exist for anyone but the photographer. They capture not only the visual information of what the camera sees, but also somehow find a way to capture the essence of what it was like to witness the scene for yourself.

Well, anyway… sorry for the rambling and philosophizing.

Mostly, I hope you enjoyed the photo.

It’s better than my words.


Harsi / July 7, 2011 / hillsides, mammals / 4 Comments

The “4” in My July 4th

We were driving out of the canyon around 7 o’clock last night. No holiday plans, just running over to my parents’ place to take care of their dog. We rounded a blind curve that turns onto a straight portion of the road which parallels the seasonal creek. (I shared a picture of this lovely spot in a previous post.) My husband slowed the truck to a stop… There, standing squarely in the middle of the road — looking like a large, shaggy road block — was an adult California Black Bear Ursus americanus californiensis). Always an amazing thing to see at such close range, but our delight grew as it became quickly apparent that she was not alone. One. Two. THREE! Three incredible little cubs! A typical litter is two cubs and it was our first time seeing more than that. I had my camera with me and there was ample opportunity to photograph out the window as the adult first crossed to one side of the road and then thought better of it and padded back towards the creek with her cubs trailing behind. Unfortunately, it was late enough that the tree canopy was not affording much light and I could quickly see that my slow shutter speed was going to mean somewhat blurry images. I decided to switch to shooting video and ended up with a lovely little film clip to remember the moment. Despite the technical imperfection of the first few images, I ended up really liking the surreal, dream-like feel of them. But, they didn’t tell the story of the bears crossing the road, so I put together a series of still images from the video too.

Black Bear with cubs


Black Bear with cubsBlack Bear with cubs

Black Bear with cubs


Black Bear with cubs


I called my neighbors later to tell them about the sighting and they responded that they had seen the same family much earlier in the afternoon at the same point on the road. (The creek attracts animals year round, but with the current heat wave the wildlife is even more keen to seek out the dense shade and remaining stands of water.) I am hopeful that I may get to see this family again as Summer progresses… But, you never know about these things, so we watched them until they had completely disappeared from sight and there was nothing more than the twitching of leaves where they had passed into the dense foliage. Aloud, I wished her and her cubs success and safe travels. I said a silent “thank you” and smiled to myself.

Harsi / July 5, 2011 / mammals / 4 Comments

Friendly Deer & Dear Friends

Sometimes it can feel so good to be alone on the trail. The quiet. The peacefulness. The time to myself.

Mule Deer, alone


But, tonight, I’ve been thinking a lot about how wonderful company can be. Especially when it’s the right kind of company.

Mule Deer, company


There are two very important people in my life who happen to both be celebrating a birthday tomorrow. (Actually, since they are on the East Coast where it is three hours later, their birthdays have already begun!) As they both read this blog regularly, I hope they won’t mind if I take this small opportunity to tell them what fantastic people I think they are and to thank them for their amazing friendship. I am so incredibly grateful to have each of you in my life and I wish nothing but happiness and joy for you on this special day!

Harsi / July 1, 2011 / mammals / 4 Comments

Seeing Spots

Counting animals in the field can be tricky. They have a habit of not staying still.

Oh sure, I’ve tried explaining to the newts cruising around the creek that it would be very helpful if they could just stay in the same place long enough for me to get past number 5 or 6 before I become hopelessly confused and have to start over again. But, well, you know how willful and restless a newt can be, right??! *GRIN*

One of the many wonders of photography is that it affords me the option of sitting in front of my computer to study images taken in the field that will give me accurate data. In many cases, far more accurate, than my attempts at eyeballing a large group in person. As I count, I mark each critter with a red dot so that I know if I missed anyone and to make certain that I don’t double-count by accident.

In spring of 2010, at the Robert J. Bernard Biological Field Station, several ponds were teeming with newly hatched California Toads. Here’s what SEVENTY of these tiny hoppers looked like:


California Toad juveniles, count

This past March, I saw a large herd of Mule Deer grazing in the horse pasture here in the canyon. I thought it might be the most numerous group I’d ever seen… turns out I was right! There are a total of NINETEEN in this image. I’m curious if anyone else has ever seen a larger herd of Mule Deer than that?


Mule Deer herd, count


Some of the numbers I come up with are less impressive, but the information still fascinates me… Bees and wasps are frequent visitors to any local water source, especially as temperatures go up and humidity levels start to plummet. I watched intently as several identical-looking bumble bees repeatedly returned to the same spot next to the creek. They were zipping in and out of there so fast though that I wasn’t sure just how many I was watching. The answer was SIX!


bumble bees at creek, count


Of course, at the end of the day — especially a really, really, long day when you’re more than a little stir-crazy from being stuck inside with the flu — you can even have fun counting to ONE.

Botta's Pocket Gopher, count


Final bit of amusement courtesy of one of the local Botta’s Pocket Gopher… I know that many people have nothing but contempt for these little guys, but I can’t imagine holding a grudge against this industrious digger… that expression melts my heart every time!

Harsi / June 29, 2011 / amphibians, arthropods, mammals, photography / 2 Comments


Just playing around a bit with dividing photos and how the placement of negative space can change the feel of the overall image….


sunset & clouds, sectional



bubbles on stream, sectional



ecualyptus at sunset, sectional



mule deer at sunset, sectional


Sorry for the simplistic post, folks. I was feeling pretty beat today… but I have high hopes for tomorrow.

Harsi / June 27, 2011 / mammals, plants, skies, water / 2 Comments

Waiting It Out…

Bobcat on front porch, digital art


I had been going back-and-forth on this all week, but now it’s really official… I’m sick again.

My first instinct? To throw a tantrum. But then… that also sounds like a lot of energy to be expending when everything from my shins to my cheekbones hurts. (What IS it about fever that makes you ache in the most odd and obscure of places?!)

No, instead, I’m going to endeavor some sort of zen-like approach where I simply accept that there are going to be a lot of catnaps and fluids in my near future. Wish me luck!

[The above image is a digital piece I created from an old photo of a Bobcat (Lynx rufus) who decided that our front porch was as good a place as any to take a snooze one day.]

Harsi / June 26, 2011 / artwork, mammals / 2 Comments

The Last Unicorn?


Mule Deer X Unicorn hybrid


Well… it just might be… if we can believe what a shadow has to say. *GRIN*


Harsi / June 25, 2011 / mammals / 0 Comments