July 11, 2011

I never see nuthin'

Aside from dozens of busy, vocal Pygmy Nuthatches and a sky full of Violet-green Swallows sailing in and out of their nests, there weren't many birds along the trail a few of us hiked Sunday morning.

[W]hen you go into the woods, even on the dullest of days, you never see nothing. [T-FB]

Not many birds — but a whole lot of other things to see. Exhibit A: thousands of ladybugs milling around their hibernating place under the pine needles. I snapped a picture of a handful of them, and got some Sticky Cinquefoil [Potentilla glandulosa, a member of the rose family] in the photo as well. Is Sticky Cinquefoil really sticky? Glad you asked: "It is usually coated in hairs, many of which are glandular, giving the plant a sticky texture." [Source.] Yes. Click the photo to embiggen.

This particular ladybug is Hippodamia convergens, correctly known as the Convergent Lady Beetle, thank you very much. "In the western United States, adult convergent lady beetles typically spend up to nine months, from May to February, hibernating in large aggregations in mountain valleys," sez Cornell. Check out these terrific photos at Cornell's Lost Ladybug Project. The Lost Ladybug Project is quite wonderful, and looks a bit like an eBird for ladybugs. From the home page:
Across North America ladybug species distribution is changing. Over the past twenty years several native ladybugs that were once very common have become extremely rare. During this same time ladybugs from other places have greatly increased both their numbers and range. Some ladybugs are simply found in new places. This is happening very quickly and we don’t know how, or why, or what impact it will have on ladybug diversity or the role that ladybugs play in keeping plant-feeding insect populations low. We're asking you to join us in finding out where all the ladybugs have gone so we can try to prevent more native species from becoming so rare.
If I'd known about the Project beforehand, I'd have taken better photos and sent them in. Next time...

Also check out this, from Cornell's site on biological control:
Commercial insectaries distribute beetles that have been "harvested" from natural winter aggregation sites. If lady beetles are collected in this dormant state and transported for field release, even among aphid infestations, they usually migrate before feeding and laying eggs. This migratory behavior before feeding is obligatory. Releases of such "harvested" convergent lady beetles could be a waste of time, money, and beetles. Insectaries may feed the adult beetles a special diet after they have been collected to minimize their migratory behavior. Only such preconditioned beetles should be purchased. Additionally, these harvested beetles may be parasitized.
More here. Food for thought before purchasing that bag o' beetles for your organic garden.

The trail to Sugarloaf Mountain, unlike the ladybug hike, was crazy with birds. More on that trip [with ossum photos by Pam Kling] soon.

[The title of this post was swiped liberated from this great entry over at Two-Fisted Birdwatcher.]

July 8, 2011

Suet craftiness. Also: Flickr Friday

For those of you who put out some version of suet or Zick Dough or Bark Butter for the birds, and are too broke and/or too cheap to shell out $$ for a feeder, well... walla, as we say here in California.

Step #1. Find a gnarly old piece of wood. The more canyons and craters, the better.

Step #2. Scrounge around in the garage or the pantry or wherever you keep little containers of small, used and useful items until you find an old screw eye.

Step #3. Put screw eye into one end of the wood. Fill canyons and craters with your preferred suet mix. Hang the thing in a tree. Done!

Took my gang here at the cabin about ten minutes to discover the new food source. Now it's popular with nuthatches, chickadees, grosbeaks, jays, woodpeckers, flickers... all the usual suspects.


If you are in Big Bear this weekend for the PaddleFest or the Corvettes West Big Bear Bash or just to escape the down-the-hill heat for a few days, swing by the Discovery Center on the north shore and check out the swallow nests. (Great [dog-friendly] gift shop, too.)

There are nest boxes scattered here and there, and a few nests in trees like this defunct juniper:

Going in...

And coming out. Yep, a Violet-green Swallow ;~)

Here's a much, much better photo of a gorgeous Violet-green by Donald Metzner on Flickr.  He writes, "When this guy turned and the sun came out from behind the cloud, it was like he just lit up, amazing colors[...]" And those wonderful long wings. A beautiful bird:

See more of Donald Metzner's terrific photos here, at Flickr. Also on Flickr, Larry Jordan of the most excellent Birder's Report has a series of photos of an adult Violet-green feeding a nestling. See Larry's post on the Violet-green's cousin the Tree Swallow here, with wonderful photos.

July 7, 2011

Great and Gray

Found a beautiful video by Sparky Stensaas of my favorite owl, the Great Gray. Saw one hunting at dusk in Yosemite National Park while I was birding with Gene Cardiff and a group from SoCal, years ago. Just as I looked through the scope, the owl raised his head and looked straight at me. I felt some of what Mole experienced during his encounter with the Piper at the Gates of Dawn: "it was an awe that smote and held him [and] he knew it could only mean that some august Presence was very, very near." This will give you an idea:

Saw that Great Gray Owl — my first — in a meadow near Crane Flat, and another hunting in a different meadow the following morning. Unforgettable.

Found this video via Birdchick on Facebook, after she linked to the latest cool vid on Sparky's excellent blog: baby Brown Thrasher versus baby Garter Snake.

Related snake/bird post:
Killing at Arrastre Creek

July 5, 2011

Evening linkage

To the left is one of a series of alternate, for-promo-only posters for The Black Swan, created by design group LaBoca. See all of them at Scott Hansen's site.

The Zen Birdfeeder has a post on Juvenile Purple Finches and their antics, which reminds me of these photos of a good finch dad, taken here at the cabin last year by an L.A. Audubon member. Sweet ;~)

Loons and lead: read it and weep. Then surf over to Phillip Loughlin's The Hog Blog, and read a thoughtful hunter's commentary on this issue.

"We had another bird that went almost down to I-15 in the San Gabriel Mountains." That's an hour away from me [faints]. My sis, who lives up in San Jose, was the first to send me this news about wide-ranging California Condors. [Devastated by lead ammunition, the condor.]

Bryan D. Hughes's site Fieldherper.com has a gorgeous shot of a Black-tailed Rattlesnake in New Mexico's Guadalupe Mountains.

The Reptile Rescue Squad: Ashwin Baindur's daughter Aditi chronicles the rescue of a Russell's Viper, one of the most dangerous snakes in India.

Speaking of which: in The Truth About the Speckled Band, legendary venomous-snake authority [and Baker Street Irregular] Laurence Klauber reveals the identity of the... creature that killed Julia Stoner and Dr. Grimesby Roylott of Stoke Moran [shudders]. It wasn't a Russell's Viper, people.

More science news: Scientific American introduces its new blog network, with a stable of impressive bloggers [and Bora Zivkovic as Blog Editor, which bodes well]. For science geeks [like me] who love science blogs, this is very cool news. No such thing as too many outstanding science blogs these days, as far as I'm concerned.

Independence Day: nests, loons, coyotes, and Cactus Flats

Nice spot for a nest. That's a Steller's Jay nest atop a spring off Forest Road 2N10. I'm told the babies grew and fledged just fine, if a bit damp. Click to embiggen.

A friend from down the hill drove up yesterday, and we spent some time checking on a few species around the lake. Near the spring above, we got a good look at a Golden-crowned Kinglet. [More info on this species here.] Note that I linked to a photo of this tiny bird, since I'm much better at taking pictures of things that hold still. Nests, for example. Here's a Robin's nest near that same spring, discovered by birder Linda Gray of Lake Arrowhead.

In the meadow south of the old I-S Ranch we spotted a familiar face tail. First coyote of the summer! [Saw another one about ten feet from the cabin earlier today, big and healthy-looking. Teach me to worry about our song dogs.]

Think he sees us?


On the north shore we stopped to check out the Common Loons near Grout Bay.

[Sandy's photo is much better.] Then we drove down Cushenberry Grade to Cactus Flats, spotted a Loggerhead Shrike and several beautiful Black-throated Sparrows, and contemplated the great variety of habitats around Big Bear. Here's looking at you, Arizona [from FR3N03]:

Finally, this:

Seriously, how can you drive up to the lake for the 4th of July, let alone live anywhere near the mountains, without knowing that personal fireworks are banned, banned, banned with a ban-hammer in the San Bernardino National Forest? It's the fire hazard, stupid. Snapped this photo of county sheriffs confiscating a ginormous box of illegal fireworks at Grout Bay yesterday. Only you can prevent wildfires...

July 3, 2011

Monsoon season

Every summer here in the San Bernardino National Forest we have stretches where the humidity rises along with the heat and there are thunderstorms in the afternoon: monsoon season. This is the beginning of such a stretch. It was steaming hot yesterday with no breeze at all, then cooled down late, after midnight, the night so still I could hear the flying squirrels as they navigated the trees outside. Right now the sky is slate gray and getting darker and the sun is behind the clouds for good. We're making ourselves comfortable inside. [That's my boy Smoke in the photo above.]

There used to be a giant white fir about twenty feet from our cabin, and a few years ago lightning hit that tree and hit it hard, all the way to the ground. Big parts of the tree — branches and trunk — were scattered over two acres. One jagged, javelin-shaped piece of wood about six feet long came through the cabin roof from the east, which was crazy because the tree was west of the cabin. What with all the other big trees nearby — it's the forest! — I tend to await thunderstorms with a certain amount of suppressed feeling, as T.H. White wrote once. The collies are edgy. Cur-dog Smoke is indifferent.

Some linkage:

Many falconers and birders, and falconers who are birders, know of the legendary falconer and ornithologist Frances Hamerstrom. [She used poison ivy to hide her adventure stuff when she was a kid. I love her.] On the right is a photo of Fran with eagle celeb Ithaca and James Grier with Ithaca's parents.  [More on Ithaca, and more photos, at Fran's granddaughter's blog.]

This isn't news, exactly — Frances Hamerstrom died in 1998, and Ithaca lost his battle with West Nile in 2009 — but a line from Wiki caught my attention: "Frances Hamerstrom was also known as a cook, publishing a wild game cookbook near the end of her life. Her secret for pie crusts was the use of bear lard, and her readers occasionally sent her bear lard as a by-product of their own hunting experiences."

Which made me think of Hank Shaw's new book Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast. And this: "The core of each stop on my book tour is a special dinner that highlights the wild foods of that region in that season." Note to self: Hank will be in San Diego August 18. Here are Hank's thoughts on hunting, and cooking, Ursus americanus, from his excellent blog Hunter Angler Gardener Cook.

Check these out:
Grand Theft Toboggan.
Bird Fight Club.
Awful time sink, that site. This one is too late for Mother's Day, and I know it's supposed to be funny and all, but it made my eyes puddle up. [Watch that bad kid make himself scarce...]

Sad science: Mange Is Linked To Squirrel Decline. For the record, I have not seen any gray squirrels in the mountains so far this year. Not one. Squirrelpocalypse [weeps]. "It is really a huge loss over a large geographic area," says David Myers of The Wildlands Conservancy.  I haven't seen [or heard] any coyotes, either. Two summers ago there were coyotes everywhere. Last summer, hardly any. This year, so far: nada.

Report a Dead Bird or Squirrel. Just what it says.

Cool science: People Keep Making Einstein's Greatest Blunder. I love Starts With A Bang. [The physics of fireworks!]

Politics: my homeboy James Fallows was [is] spot on:
[T]he laziest and ultimately most destructive form of political coverage came when journalists seemed to imagine that they were theater critics or figure-skating judges. The what of public affairs didn't interest them. All they cared about was the how.
Finally, a post from Dipper Ranch with some sorrow in it, and much beauty. Read Scales on My Sleeve and enjoy a rare encounter with the loveliest snake in California.

West wind just whipped through, and I can smell the rain now.