The Dry Beauty of Summer


sun breaking through the fog, sepia

eucalyptus leaves & grass, sepia


Black Sage, sepia


thistle, sepia



From top to bottom:

sun burning away the morning marine layer
eucalyptus leaves & grass
Black Sage (Salvia mellifera)
thistle (Silybum marianum, I think…)

(OK, so it’s not quite as brown out there as these photos imply! Ha!  I’ve added a sepia cast to all the images to heighten the effect, but it is looking pretty arid and brittle out there in places. Nevertheless, the cooler morning temps we’ve been having did allow for a nice, long walk yesterday up the fire road to the water tanks and then down to the creek for a little exploring. More photos to come…)

Harsi / August 11, 2011 / flowers, plants, weather / 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

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

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

Some Like It (a little less) Hot

Much of the country experienced record high temperatures today. While we’ve been fluctuating between low- to mid-90s, I know it has been much hotter than that for some of you.

I found myself thinking about the temperate island we visited off the coast of Seattle at the beginning of March. Vashon’s high for today was 72 degrees. The average temperature there for this time of year is listed as 78 degrees.

I tried to imagine myself in the midst of all that cool, green loveliness. It was hard… Fortunately, I have a bevy of photos from our trip to assist me in my fantasizing. You’re welcome to join me!

Moist, overgrown and incredible! From our walk around Christensen Pond…


Christensen Pond, Vashon, Washington

Intoxicating blue and a breeze along the water’s edge at Fisher Pond…

Fisher Pond, Vashon, Washington


Is it working? Do you feel any cooler? Maybe a degree or two?

Well… I tried!  *GRIN*


Harsi / July 22, 2011 / plants, travel, water, weather / 4 Comments

Epic Battle

In the last few days, all of our lovely, unseasonably cool weather and cloud-filled skies have started to evaporate. Those who know me will understand my disappointment. I am just not a fan of the “blue sky” days that are so common here much of the year. What I mean by “blue sky”, is exactly what it sounds like — nothing but blue… not even a hint of clouds to break the monotony of that wide expanse. The light is constant, bright and glaring. Ugh!

I like movement in my skies… I like the way that clouds change and shift the light so that from one moment to the next everything you view is transitioning… making new shapes, new colors, new moods. In order to console myself a bit I decided to do some vicarious cloud-watching by sifting through my ENDLESS stack of sky images. (Seriously, I could have a blog devoted to nothing but showing pics of the sky every day and I would currently have enough images to last me years and years.)

I picked this one out to share with you guys. So, come on… join in the fun! What do you see in this wonderful sky? What can your imagination turn these fantastic shapes into? (Don’t click on the image or read any further until you’ve got it all worked out in your head!)


cloud shapes


What I saw was an epic battle between a Great White Shark and a mythical fire-breathing dragon! Can’t see it for yourself?! OK, go ahead… click on the photo to see my (barely) artistic interpretation. *GRIN*

Harsi / May 25, 2011 / skies, weather / 12 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