Saying Goodbye to Some Friends

I took a walk down to the creek this afternoon. At a certain point, I realized there was a lot more sunlight getting through the canopy than normal. I looked down and saw the newly cut stump of a tree. I continued walking and found at least two more stumps a little further on. I’m not even certain what kind of trees they were… I think they might have been Incense Cedar (Calocedrus sp.). You see, they had all been heavily burned in the major fire that ripped through the canyon in 2003. I do not believe that any of them had had any growing foliage and perhaps they were not long for this world. I honestly do not know the fine points of when and how to responsibly care for burned or damaged trees. I do know (from experience) that those trees that occur along the road are also a possible hazard in potentially falling on power lines or across the road itself. We do not own this property and I try not to presume the motivations and necessities of such actions.

All that being said… I was quite sad.

These trees were blackened and stunted, but they still held so much life as far as I am concerned. How many Gray Squirrels had I watched scamper up that one? When was it that I had photographed that interesting fungus growing at this one’s base? Remember the striking contrast of the red Poison Oak against the charcoal bark?

And just recently… Just recently, I photographed several of these trees in order to document the many bear claw marks I found. (This is the same stretch of creek as I wrote about in my recent bear post.)

Tree homage


This is my small homage to these once great fixtures along my regular walking path. I will miss you. 


Harsi / July 25, 2011 / plants / 1 Comment

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

A Most Welcome Visitor

When I put together my post, “Common Ground”, I was hoping that I’d get a little positive feedback or perhaps some discussion surrounding the concept. I honestly was not expecting to inspire anyone else creatively. So, you can imagine how pleased I was when my friend Ruth e-mailed me several of her own paired photos! Viewing her unique and wonderful interpretation of the overlapping themes in natural vs. man-made structures and scenes was a real joy for me. I loved the thought of this idea evolving into a community art project of sorts. I promptly asked Ruth if she would mind my sharing some of her images on my blog. She was gracious enough to agree and I am thrilled to present them here…

[NOTE: *Click on any of the photos below to see a larger version.* Quoted captions are excerpts from Ruth’s e-mails. All of the photos in this post (except for the ant) are the property of Ruth Gravanis. If you are interested in re-posting them or using them for any other purpose, you must ask her permission first. You may contact me via this blog if you wish to get in touch with her.]



Guest photos by Ruth Gravanis.

(top) “while waiting for the bus on a rainy morning on a street near my house”
(bottom) “looking across the Golden Gate, from the Presidio of SF to Marin County”



Guest photos by Ruth Gravanis.(top) “partially de-constructed aerial bus ramp in downtown SF”
(bottom) “polypody ferns on YBI [Yerba Buena Island]”


And last, but certainly not least, she sent me an image of hers to pair with one of mine from a previous blog post:



Guest photos by Ruth Gravanis.(top) “Transbay Terminal demolition, 10/25/10”
(bottom) big unidentified ant, foraging 5/27/10


I hope that Ruth will continue to send me her photo pairings as I truly do enjoy seeing them! All of her images were taken in the City and County of San Francisco. The added dimension of “place”photos taken in geographic proximity to where one lives — makes these all the more special I think.

Of the small (but very loyal) band of friends that read my blog, many of you are also naturalists and photographers. It would be great fun if anyone else feels like joining in and trying their hand at pairing some photos of their own!


Harsi / July 23, 2011 / arthropods, not nature, photography, plants, water / 5 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

Convergent Emergence

The hillsides are looking increasingly brown and many of the plants that bloomed in Spring are now withered and dry. And still — they host new life!

While inspecting a small stand of dried-up mustard plants, I was lucky enough to find a Convergent Lady Beetle (Hippodamia convergens) that had just recently emerged from its pupa. Initially after this adult transformation, the beetle’s shell is fairly soft and its coloration much paler than normal. If I had been able to sit and observe for long enough, I would have seen the beetle’s markings and underside of the abdomen darken considerably and its elytral color mature to a deeper shade of orange or red (as demonstrated by this pair that I photographed mating last April).


Convergent Lady Beetle & pupal case


I know that everyone struggles with their fair share of pesky summertime critters — ants, ticks, mosquitoes, bitey flies. But, I’m curious to hear what some of your FAVORITE summertime insects are? Cicadas? Butterflies? Bees? Dragonflies?


Harsi / July 21, 2011 / arthropods / 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

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

Both Sides Now




People are sometimes described as viewing the world with either a “glass half empty” or “glass half full” perspective.


Do you see this as a “sky half cloudy” or as a “sky half clear”?

Harsi / July 16, 2011 / skies / 7 Comments