Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Something was visiting our yard last week and tearing up the lawn and parkway...

Upon closer inspection of the culprets paw prints, I suspected a raccoon.

This morning the parkway lawn was really torn up; they were back! I went on the county animal control website and lo and behold, read this:

"Raccoons causing lawn and turf damage may be encouraged to leave by controlling the grub worms or other subsoil insects that raccoons eat. Remember the safety of your pets when dealing with chemicals on your lawn."

When I was replacing divets, I did notice a very large grub, so this is definitely what they are after. This is going to be a real challenge to deal with. I don't want to put down any chemical control for the grubs unless it's non-toxic (which isn't likely), but I don't want the lawn torn up anymore either. Thankfully the major damage is the parkway area. They only tore up two divets in the front lawn enclosed by the fence. Pesky littel devils! But kind of cool knowing there is wildlife like this in the city!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


The leaves don't quite look like this yet here in Southern California, but the first sign we got was the return of Santa Ana winds, which sparked 5 brush fires. It's the time of year I dread, for it seems that we lose more and more of our precious wildlands every year at this time. It seems so unfair that the south gets a deluge and we are still in a drought. But there it is. Call it global warming, call it climate shift, but whatever it is, we need to start the rain dancing here now!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Mr. Pinchy Update

Mr. Pinchy, the crawdad I found about 6 weeks ago, is thriving in his new 10 gal. freshwater aquarium home. But he really goes through the plants! A lot of them he eats, but some I think he just tears up in his nighttime foraging around the tank. This photo shows the new plants I installed last night--some water wisteria, anacharis, and moneywart. I divided some of the wisteria and anacharis to spread it around a bit more. As of this morning, he'd left it alone, but I gave him 4 salmon eggs last night and I think that satisfied his appetite.

A nice close-up, showing the eye, antennae, and pincers.

Heading towards the "Craw Cave.'

A nice profile shot that shows the anatomy well.

Angus is still keeping vigil on the tank! He's fascinated by the bubbles from the airstone and the water flowing out of the filter. And when he sees Mr. Pinchy wandering around, he really gets excited.

SPECIAL NOTE: The crrawdad may have been free, but setting up and maintaining the "Craw Crib" has been pretty expensive. Like all pets, it involves time and money. If you don't have either, please don't take on a pet.

I will say that having this crawdad has been very interesting. I don't stare at him every day, but I do spend time now and then observing and photographing his behavior. Quite an education for an amateur naturalist.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


Someone posted a video on YouTube taken by some Mt. Wilson personnel being escourted up to the observatory by the Highway Patrol. I searched and found a similar video taken BEFORE the fire as a comparison. It is truly hideous what has happened to our forest.



It is way beyond words. Way beyond sad. It is a tragedy of huge proportions.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Mr. Pinchy peeks out from behind his rock.

Angus waiting for Mr. Pinchy to make an appearance.

One of my cats, Angus, has become quite curious about the new fish tank I installed to house the crawdad I found in front of our house about a month ago (hard to believe I've had it that long now). First he was just captivated by the bubbles from the airstone, then he discovered there was running water flowing in the back from the filter. He loves water and I have had a little trouble disuading him from climbing up on top of the glass tank top and light fixture to get a better look.

Last night he was very persistant and I kept moving him down and saying, "NO!" very firmly. When I went back into the room, Angus had taken up a spot near the tank where he could keep an eye on things. He minded, and yet continued to do what he wanted. Have to admire him for that!

Friday, September 11, 2009


Observations from trip into the Angeles National Forest

By Dan Abendschein on September 9, 2009 12:01 PM Pasadena-Star News

Yesterday, I got my first chance to get deep into the Angeles Forest after the fire. Like most people who hike in the area, I'd been feeling a lot of anxiety about what might have been destroyed up there.

The news is not good. The lower end of the forest, up to the intersection with Big Tujunga Canyon Road, is absolutely devastated. There are stretches where there is almost no foliage left anywhere in sight. Guard rails are laying on the side of the road, the wooden posts that held them up burned to ashes. Without any trees left for wind break, yesterday's slight breeze felt very strong, sending up little dust devils whirling around the charred landscape.

There are few bright spots left for outdoors enthusiasts. Hiking trails off Big Tujunga Canyon Road will be useless. The trail up to Strawberry Peak that starts near Mt. Wilson is burned.
The backside of Mt. Wilson is one of the few exceptions in the area. Firefighters did an amazing job protecting the area, and hiking trails down in the canyon next to it could still be intact. Another bright spot is Switzer Falls, an extremely popular picnic area low in the park. Though the fire burned hillsides on either side of the canyon it sits in, the canyon itself is still mostly intact, especially right in the picnic area. The hiking trails in the area may not be open for a while, though, as trees and boulders have rolled down the hills into the canyon.

Further up in the forest is a different story. Firefighters are still battling the blazes up there. One side of Mt. Waterman is burning, but the fire does not appear to be out of control. Higher peaks are still outside of the burn area.

The area below Waterman is a mixed bag. In the Devil's Canyon area, where there are several popular campgrounds, there are some trees left standing, and some burn areas. It looks different around every curve up on Highway 2. There are still smoky hotspots in the area, and it is hard to tell exactly what has been preserved and what hasn't.

It's hard to say exactly what the future of the forest holds for recreational users: some areas will be reopened, some may not be, at least in the near future. But even in the best-case scenario the loss of great wilderness areas is very staggering, and a little hard to take once you see it with your own eyes.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Hazards to Urban Birds: Death and the City

This Great Blue Heron died by hanging after becoming entangled in discarded fishing line.

Birds are miraculous creatures. The product of millions of years of evolution, they have survived as a species through various adaptations to changes in their environment due to natural causes. Life is harsh, but birds do thrive if left alone. But they have one huge obstacle: human activity. Humans have survival and life needs, too. But many are also selfish and self-serving, and they often do not take nature into consideration before they act.

Everyone immediately focuses on global warming now as one of the chief causes of bird declines and to some extent that is true. But what gets lost are the insidious dangers, the ones that are overlooked because they are so pervasive that most people don’t even see them anymore, let alone see them as a problem.

The earliest threats to birds were quite obvious. The ladies hat fashions at the turn of the century nearly caused the extinction of Great Blue Herons. The heron rookeries in Florida were being decimated by hunters who were killing them for their beautiful plumage, which was in turn sold to millinery operations in the North, until T. Gilbert Pearson brought it to the public’s attention (and founded the first incarnation of the Audubon movement).

Another lethal (and incredibly cruel) activity was the annual Christmas bird hunt, where shooters went out and killed every bird they could find in one day. It is hard to fathom the type of person that would find this sporting or even fun, but cruelty seems to be an unfortunate characteristic of America’s psyche.

The 1950s ushered in the age of plastics and pesticides; a lethal one-two punch that has been plaguing birds ever since. These seemingly innocuous, yet perfidious products have caused much death and near extinction of birds in modern times.

Plastic six-pack rings were one of the first really serious threats to birds, especially gulls and waterfowl, when they became ensnared and strangled in them. Since then, plastic, whether as bags or micro trash, are killing birds by the millions. National Geographic even did a feature story not long ago on how albatross are picking up everything from plastic bottle caps to disposable lighters, ingesting them and feeding them to their young. Both adults and chicks are dying from malnutrition as a result. The small careless gesture of flipping that bottle cap or empty disposable lighter into the gutter rather than the trash is wrecking havoc in the lives of birds thousands of miles offshore.

In the 1960s, the first serious urban sprawl began to claim natural habitats for human homes. Hills were graded, fences erected, cement poured—all with reckless disregard for wildlife. This continues today--with devastating results--as we have lately seen in Rossmoore, CA. Residents there badgered the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service into issuing a permit for the killing of Acorn Woodpeckers that had been using homes for granaries after the native oak trees were cut down to build a retirement community.

Another component of urban sprawl is the planting of greenscape and landscaping that is not carefully chosen. Developers often choose fast-growing, exotic trees that have problematic roots, and messy leaf and fruit fall that residents cannot live with. The result is ill-timed and careless tree and hedge trimming during the spring and summer nesting season, which results in many bird deaths and loss of suitable nesting sites. Audubon has just published its first “Guidelines for Tree and Shrub Trimming and Removal” in hopes of mitigating some of this preventable destruction.

The latest danger that has come to the attention of Los Angeles Audubon is discarded monofilament fishing line. Monofilament fishing line, though it may look harmless, is deadly to birds. It is designed to be invisible to fish, but it is also invisible to birds. Entanglements with fishing line have led to the deaths of thousands of birds, as well as the amputation of limbs of many others. Shorebirds and waterfowl are particularly susceptible to entanglement with fishing line when they forage for food. Birds may also become impaled with hooks, and if they are hooked in the neck or swallow the hook it will prevent them from feeding and they will die of starvation.

Several recent incidents have raised the awareness of this problem. The first was on March 18 and involved me personally when I found a Royal Tern along the Ballona Creek bike path. The bird was standing just off the path, shaking its head involuntarily. A woman nearby said that she and her boyfriend had removed a hook from its neck (kind, but not the smartest thing to try on your own) and some fishing line that was wound around its neck. Eleanor Osgood rescued the bird, but it died that night.

A second incident was on March 30, reported in the LA County Birds listserve. David Chadsey of Etiwanda reported seeing a “gull tied to a white buoy directly out from the little green pier. It appeared to be caught in a long loop of fishing line and was struggling to get airborne.” This lucky bird was saved by the lifeguards at the lake, who went out in their patrol boat and rescued the gull.

The third incident, reported by Judith Raskin of Echo Park, involved the near-strangulation of a Double-crested Cormorant on April 10. Barbara Jarvik found the “hapless cormorant dangling from fishing line in a eucalyptus tree.” The LAFD was called and fortunately was able to cut the bird down before it strangled to death. This bird likely survived; others are not so lucky.

Many people are surprised to hear that it takes fishing line 600 years to break down in the environment. That's six times longer than tin cans and batteries, 17 times longer than fishing nets, and 40 times longer than plastic bags. This makes fishing line a real danger that does not go away, making clean-up and recycling of this lethal waste material a critical issue.

All these hazards to birds due to human activity are preventable. With education and raising the awareness of the public, these threats to birds can be managed and even eliminated. Birds deserve as much of a chance to survive as human beings do. We at Audubon believe in being good neighbors and sharing the environment with birds rather than usurping it from them.

If you would like to become involved in our conservation efforts, we would welcome all the help we can get. These problems won’t go away on their own; it takes people to undo the problems created by people. So do something nice for the birds for a change and volunteer on one of Los Angeles Audubon’s conservation projects today!


As an addendum to this post: As of Sunday, 9/06, they've saved the McMansions in the canyons, so now they have their full resources and attention to fighting the fire. It is now approx. 51% contained. I heard a report that they were finally making an attempt to save Big Santa Anita Canyon and Chantry Flats from the fire, the area with the historical cabins from the early 1900's and the oldest and last pack station in the United States.

I was out in the San Fernando Valley yesterday and the air quality was really horrible. It's bad enough for humans, but I imagine people's pets and smaller wildlife will be suffering from the smoke as well. Another side effect of the fire that most folks rarely think about.

I live about 30 miles west of the fire and about 8 miles from the ocean. We've had ash on our cars for days and I have developed a wet cough that reminds me of what used to happen when I smoked, even though I have avoided heavy exercise outdoors. I hope I don't develop some health problems from this sometime down the line. That arsonist should be held accountable for any smoke related health problems and deaths, too.

Friday, September 4, 2009


The LA Times had an online article this afternoon that said they were working to find the perpetrator of the arson fire that has burned more than 230 sq. mi. of national forest. According to the Times:

"Investigators will pick through clues at the scene, try to establish a likely motive for the arsonist, then predict the characteristics and traits of the unknown offender as they look to make an arrest.

Timothy Huff, a former profiler with the FBI who has interviewed more than 100 convicted arsonists, said the typical profile of an arsonist is that of a white man aged between 15-25. The most common arson motivation is revenge, Huff said, with offenders seeking to harm individuals, groups, institutions or society in general."

Yeah, well--thanks a lot, arsonist! I don't care how mad you are at something, this is an incredibly selfish way to have your revenge.


With the Station fire at 147,000 acre mark*, my guts are twisted with anger, revulsion, and ultimately sadness as I realized the magnitude of devastation on the mountain’s wildlife. This huge amount of acreage that has been burned represents the habitat of thousands of animals, reptiles, birds, and insects. The ones that have not perished outright will have a tough go of it. The ones that are injured will hopefully not suffer for too long.

I have compiled a list of mammals that call these mountains home. After I did this, I just did not have the heart to go on to list all the rest of the wildlife. This list alone broke my heart to pieces:

Virginia Opossum
California Mole
Dusky Shrew
Ornate Shrew
Gray Shrew

Long-eared Myotis
California MyotisWestern PipistrelleBig Brown Bat
Red Bat
Hoary Bat
Pallid Bat
Mexican Free-tailed Bat

California Jack Rabbit
Audubon Cottontail
Brush Rabbit
Western Gray Squirrel
Beechey Ground Squirrel
California Ground Squirrel
Antelope Ground Squirrel
Lodgepole Chipmunk
Merriam Chipmunk
Valley Pocket Gopher
California Pocket Mouse
Pacific Kangaroo Rat
Western Harvest Mouse
California Meadow Mouse
Dusky-footed Woodrat
Black Bear
Ring-tailed Cat
Long-tailed Weasel
Striped Skunk
Spotted Skunk
Gray Fox
Mountain Lion
Mule Deer
Bighorn Sheep

--And remember—this is just the mammals.

I hope they catch whoever started this fire. I hope they catch them and make them pay dearly for this hideous tradgedy.

*To put this 147,000 acres into perspective, UCLA is 419 acres. You could fit a little over 350 UCLA’s in the area this fire has burned.

Thursday, September 3, 2009


A deer surveys the aftermath of the Station Fire.

I could hardly believe what I was reading this morning:

(on a discussion board of San Gabriel Mountain hikers)

From Greg Sweet. Chantry Flats pack station:

I have just received word from a Forest Service briefing that they are going to let Chantry Flat and Big Santa Anita Canyon burn. The Station fire is to the west and they have cut a fire break to the east. This canyon is home to 80 historic cabins, 113-year-old Sturtevant's Camp, and the last pack station in Southern California. It would be a shame to loose this piece of history, but to have no intention to defend it is disgraceful. This canyon is a living museum and as much a part of LA history as the Observatory.

Here's what they plan to let burn--like it's inconsequential:

You can bet if there were multi-million dollar homes or a judge living there, they'd be all over it. How they can let this valuable piece of history, not to mention a popular recreation area, burn to the ground without lifting a finger to try and save it is unconscionable. They could have done something to lay down protection earlier in the fire before it started moving in that direction. But hey, guess what? They were too busy trying to save the houses that were allowed to be built up in the canyons. I wish every one of those had burned instead.

I am sick to death of hearing people say, "Oh, that's what forests do--for millions of years forest burn and regenerate. It will grow back"

Well listen up idiots! Not in my lifetime they won't! It will take decades to regenerate--and I don't have that much time left. I was reading this sort of crap on a discussion board for hikers of the San Gabriel Mountains. Well, the joke will be on them soon, as the forest burns leaving no where left for them to hike. Discuss that, you morons!