Wednesday, February 27, 2008


BOBCAT Lynx rufus (copyright free image from Wikipedia)

This brief video clip shows a bobcat slinking down the trail in the Hollywood Hills. Nature persists and endures--even in the bastion of the rich and pretentious!

This is a good clip from the fish & game department:

[I found it interesting that some of the people commenting on the above L. A. Times blog post about the bobcat considered it "non-news." These are probably the same folks that litter, don't recylce, drive gas-guzzling SUVs, and think global warming is a hoax. When you stop caring about nature, you've lost your humanity. I find nature infinitely more fascinating than people, but then I tend to be curmudgeonly misanthropic anyway.]

On early morning hikes in Topanga State Park I have observed bobcats, including one that sat in some tall grass, its eyes and ears just visible, that watched me for some time before moving off for cover. I have also seen them in Malibu Canyon.

When hiking in areas such as Topanga and Malibu, it pays to walk quietly. Most of the critters are naturally skittish. Silence improves your chances for spotting one of these "big kitties."

For those that care about nature--get out and hike!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


"The world today is sick to its thin blood for lack of elemental things, for fire before the hands, for water,
for air, for the dear earth itself."
--Henry Beston, 1928

Monday, February 25, 2008


The welcoming committee.

Ken walking up the oak forest path--lost in contemplation...

Oak meadow and sunlight.

Forest path lit by the sun.

Path to another oak grove.

This area made me feel like I'd just walked into The Shire!

Oak branches lean towards the ground like a woody veil.

More oak forest.

Double deer print in the mud.

Prints: Deer & hiking boot.

Oak path--muddy but fun!

Memorial bench. A nice place to take in the view of the canyon that lies below it.

Meadow & clouds.

Pond at the lower reaches of the park. It looked a bit silty--but I hope it clears up and lasts long enough to allow the tadpoles a chance this spring!

Moss & lichen.

Mossy rocks.

The Musch Meadow Trail. This was a really muddy one!

This area made me think of the English countryside.

My friend Ken.

My friend Ken & I went to Topanga State Park on Saturday morning [2/23/08]--it was terrific! The weather was cool, which is nice at this park, since summers can be blistering hot. It's also prettier this time of year, espeically with all the rain we've been blessed with lately--everything was lush and green.
As soon as we started hiking we spotted four deer lying down in the grass on a hill near the trail. The trails were really muddy from the rain the day before, but that just added to the adventure--muddy boots & pants! Yeah, baby--we're talking real little kid stuff! But we really had to watch it though because some places were slicker than snot & neither of us old farts can afford a fall. We also saw deer prints in the mud on the trails and what were possibly coyote prints.

After we turned around from a particularly nasty area where both Ken and I almost slipped and fell (the Musch Meadow Trail), there was a large contingent of teenagers being led on a 'nature hike' right towards that area. The first thing I noticed was that none of them had hiking boots on (all tennis shoes), which meant someone was going to be eating mud shortly. Hiking boots at least helped us keep our footing better. And sure enough, as soon as they down the trail and out of sight, we heard shreiking and yelling and laughing--a sure sign that someone went down. I just it didn't dampen or ruin their enthusiasm for the outdoors.

The following birds were spotted during our 2 1/2 hour hike:
  • Acorn Woodpeckers (lots of these!)

  • Nuttall's Woodpecker (2)

  • Oak Titmouse (numerous--they almost sound like Chickadees)

  • Western Bluebirds (male & two females)

  • Red-shouldered Hawks (pair)

  • Dark-eyed Juncos (several pairs)

  • Spotted Towhee (several)

  • Calif. Towhee (several)

There was also a small flock of Gold-crowned Sparrows, the largest sparrow, with long tails, and that ran across the grass crouched down like Robins. Weird! And they seemed to be eating not bugs, but the weeds in the grass.

If you plan a visit here, arrive early in the morning before too many others get here because that is your best chance for spotting deer and possibly bobcats. Once more people start coming and talking loudly, it spooks the critters.

As you look at the photos, please keep in mind that this is one of the state parksthat our dear Gov. Terminator wants to close in his misguided attempt to balance the California state budget (he wants to close 48 total—thanks, Arnie!) It would be a crime to close this beautiful park. If you have the time and inclination, please write letters to the governor and to Boxer & Feinstein and express your outrage at the proposition of taking away our precious recreation areas. Not only will this give us less places to go to enjoy nature, but it subjects these areas to neglect, vandalism, and sets them up for purchase by developers.

So get out there and go to your closest State Park as soon as you can. Support them or lose them! You will be rewarded by some of the last oasises of natural beauty in California.
[This missive composed while listening to Green Isac's "Strings and Pottery"]

Thursday, February 21, 2008


American Robin - Searching through the duff for a meal.
(O'Melveny Park)

Bluebird Houses for Rent. (O'Melveny Park)

Oak Titmouse - (O'Melveny Park) very secretive & a lovely singer.

Say's Phoebe - Hansen Dam.

Say's Phoebe - Another view.

The man-made lake behind Hansen Dam. Plenty of water this year, due to more rain. The island in the background was a roost for Double-crested Cormorants.

Another island, with the top of the dam visible in the background.

Ruddy Ducks. All of them were resting with their heads tucked back between their wings.

Three weeks ago, on Feb. 2, Paula and I went to a couple of places around the San Fernando Valley. The first stop was in the north valley, to O’Melvaney Park. The morning was dark and cloudy, and a chilly wind was blowing down the canyon as we hiked up from the car. It didn’t look all that promising for bird watching, but we kept going.

Finally we spotted some activity in the trees: Yellow-rumped Warblers and American Goldfinches. Farther on we saw a Robin scurrying across a lawn area, searching for worms. We finally ended up at a point on the trail that had a sign that said it was closed. So we turned around and headed down along an area where some bluebird nesting boxes have been put up. No bluebirds though.

A little farther on I heard some curious singing noises from a tree nearby—a song I didn’t recognize. When I finally glassed it, I was looking at my very first Oak Titmouse! What a lovely song it has, too.

The air was really getting chilly, so we decided to drive to the southeast to Hansen Dam, thinking it might be warmer away from the foothills. Sure enough, as soon as we arrived there, the clouds parted and the sun came out.

As we hiked down to the water, I spotted a bird I’d never seen before, which turned out to be a Say’s Phoebe—another first for me. We then hiked along a path that skirted the lake. On the water there was a small flock of about twenty Ruddy Ducks, all of them snoozing with their heads tucked back between their wings, while a Ruby-crowned Kinglet flitted around in the bare willow branches, searching for small insects. We spied a Kingfisher perched on a broken branch near the water, but it soon took wing in search of a fish.

Around the far side of the lake we came upon an odd congregation of birds: three Great Blue Herons and four Cattle Egrets, all standing together. It was like they were having some sort of meeting. They scattered when they saw us though—apparently the meeting was private.

On the way back to the car we were treated to the sight of an Osprey flying very close by, that made a few passes over the lake, then flew off.

It was a good day of birding and a fun adventure going to places we’d never been before. Some of the trips we have been taking were recommended on the L. A. Audubon Society’s website. They have a list of local ‘hot spots’ for birding that have turned out pretty good for Paula and I so far. This is a good way to find out about local birding spots near your own home!

[Composed while listening to Tangerine Dream's "White Eagle"]

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


Originally published in 1989, Bill McKibben's predictions were surprisingly ahead of his time. This edition was published in 2006 with a new introduction by the author. It is an eye-opening, jaw-dropping, thought-provoking book, one that belongs on the reading table of everyone concerned about birds, the environment, or the future of life on earth.

McKibben argues that ‘The End of Nature’ is not the actually cessation of the natural world, but instead shows how, through global warming, nature is now a thing wrought by humans. It illustrates with chilling clarity how we have interfered with the natural order of things to the point that the very weather itself is no longer a ‘natural phenomenon’ but a man-made event that has no seasons or cycles, nor has any bounds for its intensity and capability for destruction.

McKibben’s writing style is accessible and pleasurable to read, even though the subject matter is sometimes depressing or disturbing. Neither scientifically dry nor particularly witty, it is nonetheless a voice well suited to the topic. Books like this need to be accessible and hold one’s interest, and he does a masterful job.

I highly recommend this book to anyone that wants to know how we got in the mess of global warming without all the scientific jargon, stats, charts, and graphs. McKibben tells the plain truth and tells it well. It is the first book I've read on the subject and I'm glad I started here. I feel well prepared to read others now, with a good basic background to help me assimilate more information on it and also receptive to suggestions on how I can change my lifestyle so as not to be a contributer to the problem.

Go buy it. Read it. Share it with your friends and family. It will make you want to become more personally involved in trying saving the future of our world.

For those who like to know more about the author, pleas visit his website:

And be sure to check out his extensive listing of links to orgs and groups dedicated to combating global warming—it’s so amazing that it’s almost intimidating!


Hooray! I just read a press release on the Whole Foods webiste that says they plan to phase out all plastic bags from their 275 stores worldwide by Earth Day, April 22. Well, that's my birthday, too, soo Mother Nature & I will be getting a swell present this year!

Thank you, Whole Foods, for continuing to lead the way to a 'green' world!

BTW--I ordered some reusable bags yesterday and will be buying more for friends and family to encourage them to 'go green' as well.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


(Photo © Paula Raissner 2008)
The lovely gate that leads to the San Gabriel River path...

(Photo © Paula Raissner 2008)
...and the view that awaits within...

(Photo © Paula Raissner 2008)
...a view bespoiled! A habit fouled. A SHAME!!!!

I have a backlog of trip blogs to do, but I wanted to start with this one since there is an aspect to this particular trip that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later (which I’ll get to in a moment).

Whittier Narrows is a large recreation area located in El Monte. A portion of it has a small nature center and a wonderful area of trails that goes through some scrub and oak habitat and another that skirts the San Gabriel River. It is listed on the Audubon website as a ‘hot spot’ for birding, so Paula and I decided to check it out this past Sunday.

As soon as I got out of the car I noticed an abundance of birdsong emanating from the trees and bushes--this was encouraging! The Yellow-rumped Warblers, that seem to be everywhere this winter, were here as well—and plenty of them. But the Song Sparrows were particularly lovely. I watched several of them through the binoculars, their little chests heaving up and down, singing like little Pavarottis.

While looking at the sparrows, I kept hearing a most unusual bird sound and finally spotted the source: a Great-tailed Grackle. I noticed about five of them eventually.
When we reached the entrance that led into the river area, there was a beautiful wrought-iron gate. Unfortunately this man-made beauty was followed by the sight of some man-made ugliness: hundreds of plastic bags hung up in the willows in the river bed. Not a pretty sight. I often wonder how people would like it if every time it rained, their houses would fill up with this white scourge. Perhaps if it did, they would think twice before tossing them to the ground rather than recycling them responsibly. But we’ll come back to this shortly…

Here’s the other birds we saw on this trip:

Great Blue Herons (6)
Black-crowned Night Herons (both mature & immature) (1 of each)
Snowy Egrets (4)
Kingfishers (2)
Pied Grebes (2)
American Coots (lots)
Common Moorhen (1)
Mallards (lots)
Western Kingbird (1)
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (1)
Killdeer (1)
Red-tailed Hawks (a pair, doing aerial acrobatics)

Now—back to the trash bags. The photos above don’t really do the scene justice. When you have the entire panorama in front of you however, it’s another thing entirely. It hits you between the eyes, stops you in your tracks. This is not what I (or anyone else in their right mind) wants to see when they are out for a nature walk: a fairly pretty riparian environment fouled by white plastic trash.

And it made me want to do about doing something about it. So while doing a bit of research online the next day, I ran across an announcement on Heal the Bay’s website that there was going to be a public meeting with the Santa Monica City Council to propose a ban on plastic grocery bags in Santa Monica. It also asked people to submit letters to the council in advance of the meeting in support of it. I thought, “Hooray! Something I can do!” But as I read further, I realized that even what they were proposing wasn’t enough—they merely wanted to insist that shoppers purchase the bags, in a misguided attempt to make people less likely to throw them away.

So why not a complete ban? Simply charging a fee for their use is not enough. People already pay a ‘recycling fee’ on plastic bottles, cans, and glass alcohol containers, yet these items continue to litter the environment. There are many safer and environmentally friendly options, including reusable bags that consumers can purchase for themselves. If they must pay for a bag, it should be a reusable one, not just another piece of potential trash!

We consumers need to take responsibility for our actions and habits. It is better to make small sacrifices now by having to buy our own reusable bags than have to make bigger ones in the future when the mountain of waste will be impossible to manage and species of wildlife go extinct from ingesting our trash.

I do not need to cite the litany of other evidence surrounding the huge amounts of plastic waste jettisoned onto our lands and oceans, as I am sure you are already aware of it. But make no mistake: unless plastic bags are completely banned, our landfills, waterways and wildlife will continue to be fouled by this white menace.

Now is the time to make bold, precedent-setting changes that are positive for all living things. The public and businesses need to take responsibility for their actions as consumers and sellers. We need to act now and not delude ourselves like the City of Santa Monica is, that merely ‘buying a bag’ will solve this problem.

I feel very strongly that we have an opportunity to make a real difference in the direction we are headed environmentally. Every city is growing by leaps and bounds, but our trash should not continue to grow beyond our ability to control it.

Please take some time this week to write your city council, your state representatives, your governor, and by God, yes—even our President, George W. Dipshit—and demand that plastic bags be forever banned! Once you see the ease of the reusable shopping bag, you will hug yourself with joy. And not only will it help clean up the environment, but Mr. Heron and Mrs. Duck’s living room won’t be fouled with plastic bags anymore!

BTW--You can buy your resuable bags at:

[This rant was fueled (incongruously) by the calm music of Green Isac]

Friday, February 1, 2008


Yellow-chevroned Parakeet - UCLA - Feeding on seed pulled from pods on Floss Silk Tree

Common Ravens - UCLA - This is the mated pair that has been claiming territory between Moore Hall and Royce Hall for the past two months.

Anna's Hummingbird - UCLA - Sitting in Floss Silk Tree. It was pulling out fluff for a nest from the seed pods that the parakeets had opened.

Bewick's Wren - UCLA - Near shrubs in the Shapiro Courtyard of the Law School. There were a pair of them, and I saw one pulling bark fibers off the Coast Redwood Trees, no doubt for nest building.

Yellow-rumped Warbler (female) - Del Rey Lagoon - Sitting in Coral Tree. There were a few of these flitting around in the trees andit really surprised me to find them so close to the ocean.

Common Goldeneye - Del Rey Lagoon - There were several pairs of these ducks in the lagoon.

Greater White-fronted Goose - Del Rey Lagoon - There were seven of these rowdy geese, who have apparantly claimed the area as theirs! I had never seen these kinds of geese before--and they are HUGE birds! Not too friendly either.

Canada Goose - Del Rey Lagoon - There were four of these.

Willet - Del Rey Lagoon - This little guy was cruising along the shore near the geese--brave little fellow!

Belted Kingfisher - Del Rey Lagoon - I love these birds! This one had a nice vantage point on top of a pole at the far end of the lagoon overlooking the water.

This year I’ve decided to devote more time into my bird watching. With my friend Paula I will be exploring the many parks, beaches, and mountain areas that are within reasonable driving distance in and around Los Angeles. When I started this blog it was my intent to introduce people to how easy it is to find nature close to home and one of the ways I hope to do that is by doing some of the ‘recon’ myself.

Of course there’s no better place to start than one’s own backyard or neighborhood. Anywhere there are trees and bushes there will be birds—and often other wildlife. The key is to open one’s self up and let all your ‘real world’ stresses go. Tune into the sights, sounds, and smells around you; fine tune the senses you were blessed with! I often wonder how many people actually think about how the air smells and feels, or if they are aware of birdsong. It’s there all around if one takes the time to listen.

My immediate neighborhood has a real lack of suitable tree habitat for songbirds; there is a small stand of eucalyptus across the street but it’s a very seasonable spot. There are two tall Queen Palms in the parkway and a huge Twisted Chinese Juniper on the north side of the front of the house. But neither one seems to attract many birds. I do get some action at a Hummingbird feeder that I hang in the Juniper, but I’ve not had any luck with a seed feeder hung there. I even put a bird bath in one of the planters, but I’ve only ever seen a squirrel drinking out of it.

But I can walk just about anywhere else in the blocks around me and see all kinds of birds in the ficus, liquid amber, and elm trees. And I am also lucky to work at UCLA, which has many different kinds of trees and shrubs that attract various species of birds. The beach and the Ballona Wetlands are also close by, as well as several large tree-covered parks. So you see, if one just explores a bit, it’s easy to find a little piece of “Urban Wild!”

Last week I decided to try shooting some film in my Nikon N90S—it was a top-shelf model just a few years ago, now made a dinosaur by the proliferation of digital cameras. But I invested a good chunk of change on that camera and two good Nikon lenses (28-50mm & 80-300mm), so I just hate to see that equipment go unused. I have a late model Nikon Coolpix, but it’s capability for photographing birds isn’t great.

I went down to the Del Rey Lagoon last Saturday and Sunday and was treated to a riot of waterbirds. Then this past week I took the camera to work and took photos of some of my feathered pals around campus—the ‘usual suspects’ that I see on a regular basis. The pictures above are what I have so far. More on the way!
--No go get out and watch some birds!
[Composed while listening to Green Isac "Etnotronica" and "Groundrush"--a fine electronic band from Denmark--check them out at iTunes!]