Wednesday, November 24, 2010


It was 49-degrees this morning, and with a breeze blowing out of the north, it felt even cooler. Now before you folks who live in colder climes start laughing, let me tell you that it felt cold to this native Californian with thin blood! But bundled in my new Carhartt jacket with hood, I was toasty warm. The clouds were magnificent and I went up to the roof of my building on campus to enjoy the show. (photos taken with my Droid phone)
The view to the SE--the sun was glowing there behind the clouds.
View looking West.
View to the SW. There was a flock of Cedar Waxwings circling around, but my camera could not capture them.
When I was walking to my office, I came across this sculpture near one of the buildings. In my four years here, I've never noticed it before! Looks like a bird to me!

Speaking of birds, I didn't find too many this morning. I am sure the weather put them off. Yesterday there was a pre-Thanksgiving cornucopia of birds, the most species I've seen in a single morning in a long while:

Black Phoebe

Nuttall's Woodpecker
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Mountain Chickadee
Allen's Hummingbird
Yellow-rumped Warbler
California Towhee
Dark-eyed Junco
Cedar Waxwing
American Crow
Bewick's Wren
Rock Pigeon

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


I usually pride myself on being on top of environmental issues, but this one had totally escaped me. It is a truly frightening scenario, one that every person on Earth should be aware of and have some say about what is being done. Our demands on the environment for energy are oout of control.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Hidden Owls - Camouflage in Nature

In this short video from Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Northern Screech Owls show how their cryptic plummage makes them nearly invisible to all but the seasoned eye.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


A pair of Common Mergansers ( Mergus merganser) jet across Puddingstone Lake at Bonelli Park (San Dimas), leaving quite a wake behind them!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


I love, love, LOVE this artist's work!

The Singing Life of Birds

I attended a workshop this past Sunday: "Describing Bird Sounds" by Sylvia Gallagher and hosted by Pasadena Audubon Society. It was held at the beautiful Eaton Canyon Nature Center in Sierra Madre. The class was well attended (about 30+ showed up) and PAS provided a lovely spread of food both in the morning and at lunch.

Of course I arrived very early, and had brought my binoculars, so I went out on the nature trail to look for birds. I heard two California Thrashers singing back and forth and finally located one of them. It was a treat to watch the bird sitting atop a bush, head back, singing its heart out. And a perfect intro to the day's workshop!

If I had any doubt that the subject would be overly-technical or hard to understand, it was dispelled immediately; Sylvia was both personable and down to earth. She made the subject easy to learn and provided good examples to help get her points across.

Her lecture relied heavily on a software program called Raven Lite, which is available free at the Cornell Ornithology Labs website. With it, one can listen to the songs and calls of birds and see them on a wavegraph and sonogram, which helps to understand how the various notes, trills, and buzzes make up the total sound. The song can be manipulated in a variety of ways, too. It can be slowed down, various sections teased out for study, and sound samples can be archived for later use.

She gave us a very good handout which outlined the course enough that very little note taking was necessary (but of course I did anyway as that's they way I learn best). In the handout was a list of words that are used to describe the various aspects of a birds song or call, which is the standardized method used to describe what one hears in the field, and also enables a betterunderstanding of the various aspects of a particular sound. (It's not just 'loud' or 'soft', 'high-pitched' or 'low-pitched'.)

I have always been fascinated by bird song and how it is that birds create such beautiful melodies and unearthly cries and calls. Their secret lies in the magical and wondrous organ called the syrinx (pronounced "cy-rinks"). This organ, located at the base of the trachea, is where bird sounds are produced. Prior to the workshop I spent some time looking through my Ornithology textbook and researching the topic online. The results of my study yielded some amazing factoids and information, though I still find it hard to read stuff that comes from the results of animal experimentation.

All in all it was a worthwhile way to spend a Sunday. I learned a lot and have already spent some time playing around with Raven Lite. I also ordered one of the recommended books, "The Singing Life of Birds: The Art and Science of Listening to Birdsong" by Donald Kroodsma, who is one of the foremost experts on bird song. The book includes a CD of birds songs, which can also be used in conjunction with Raven Lite.

I already know a lot of birds by hearing their song or call, but I still get fooled once in a while. Studying this aspect of bird observation can be very helpful in the field when ID is difficult in other ways.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


Now that the move is done, and even though I haven't quite put everything away yet, I feel an outdoor adventure calling to me. I haven't been to the mountains in so long that I'm starting to feel homesick. I hope to get up to "the high country" before the first snow falls and makes it more difficult for access (I don't own a 4-wheel drive).

One of my special places is Mt. Pinos. It's not too far from home and there are some lovely spots to set up a 'sit spot' to watch and observe birds. Not sure what birds will remain in the higher elevations this time of year, but it would be interesting to find out! I know from last year's trip in September that there are loads of nuthatches, flickers, and woodpeckers; but the nuthatches are already migrating.

It is good to get to know the mountains in its various seasons!

Sunday, November 7, 2010


Crows at dawn

 Cooper's Hawk in Sycamore

Hairy Woodpecker

Crows in Sycamore with Crescent Moon

A selection of photos from the old homestead. You don't live in a neighborhood for 20 years and not feel a pull of sadness at leaving! It was a swell place, but we saw it change over the years, growing more congested and noisier. It never stopped the wildlife, however; there was always something wonderful to see.

Saturday, November 6, 2010


After living in a small unincorporated city within Los Angeles County for over 20 years, circumstances necessitated a move elsewhere. Our landlords unexpectedly decided to sell the house we were renting, so finding that we were now priced out of the house rental market, we managed to find a lovely large apartment in the Westwood area. Not only do I have a five minute drive to work (which is going to turn into a 10 minute bus ride come January), we have loads of big, mature trees right out front. (As I type this I can hear the wren singing!)

I have already seen a large flock of Cedar Waxwings that are feeding on the fruit of an enormous ficus tree, but I've also seen two species of warbler (Yellow-rumped and Orange-crowned), numerous crows, and heard a Bewick's Wren singing from a nearby yard.

One thing I always loved about the old place was that there were always interesting birds to see. We lived near a wetlands area and there were many birds that showed up around our neighborhood by extension (either heard or seen flying overhead): Cooper's Hawk, Crow, warblers, owls, herons, swallows, and various shorebirds.

There was a gigantic sycamore tree in a neighbor's yard in back, and it was a favorite gathering place for crows, and hunting perch for Cooper's Hawks, and a foraging spot for the resident Nuttall's Woodpecker.

There are many things I will miss, but there are new things here that I am already enjoying. I look at it as the start of a new adventure in the urban wild!