Saturday, December 26, 2009

The new baby

The newest addition to the Zoo - Kikuyu Colobus baby. Quite unexpected, it says on the sign, and there is a naming contest going on. All these things aside, just watching this little baby clinging to his mother, nursing and poking its head out with those huge eyes gazing at the world... so much fun!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The wonders of the Central Coast - A Merlin's Breakfast

This picture merits a separate post for two reasons. First, I like it a lot; in fact, I think it's the best picture we took this trip. (Roxy snapped it from the car window, so the credit goes to her.) Second, it's gory and not very appetizing, though true to nature, so if you are squeamish, don't look! On the other hand, if you like gory stuff, clicking on the photo will bring up the original size.

That being said, what we have here is a merlin enjoying an early morning meal near Highway 1 in San Simeon.

The wonders of the Central Coast - chapter 2

The Central Coast is a bird-watcher's paradise. I didn't say that, it's from one of those free brochures they give you at the hotels and tourist information centers. It's true, though. The lush vegetation and the varied habitats, from beaches and creeks to forests and meadows, with everything in between, all crowded along the 300-mile or so stretch of coast make for a dazzling variety.

So, even though our trip wasn't strictly a bird-watching one, we were lucky to see many beautiful birds, both familiar, and those we have never seen before.

Here are some of them, the ones we saw in Santa Barbara and around Santa Ynez valley.

This white-breasted nuthatch with a few of his buddies were making a racket in the trees by Santa Ynez Mission early in the morning. I snapped this one photo from the car window. By the time I parked and went back, they were gone!

Same time, same place - these birds looked and sounded a lot like woodpeckers from far away. The close-up revealed that they were, in fact, Red-naped sapsuckers, which is a kind of woodpecker.

Also in the mission garden, the bluebirds were stuffing themselves with berries (or was it fruit? it was high up in a tree - just don't ask me what kind of tree it was.)

It seemed every bird in that garden was busy with some sort of food... like this oh-so-common scrub jay...

or these common crows... or are they ravens?

The red-shouldered hawk was eyeing us from a pole in one of Santa-Barbara's residential neighborhoods.

The red-tailed hawk was less inquisitive - as soon as it saw us stop and point the camera, it just flew off.

This osprey - and a few more just like it - were patrolling the heights around Cachuma lake. The photo is taken from VERY far away, with a maximum zoom, so don't tell me it's bad, I know it!

A pelican-covered rock by Shell Beach - I am at loss to say how many birds were there, but thousands is not an exaggeration. Most of them were California Browns...

...looking at us down their noses...

A very common black phoebe at Pismo Beach. Did you know they feed entirely on flying insects, mostly flies?

This last photo is not so much about the bird (which is an acorn woodpecker) but the pole on which it sits. Or rather, what's left of it. Those round little things in the holes are acorns, in case you were wondering.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Guys will be guys...

African Wild Dog male was feeling rather well that October morning...

Sacred Ibis male knew it was spring and he must do something very special...

And the Madagascar Radiated Tortoise male was very busy one summer day...

Monday, December 14, 2009

The wonders of the Central Coast - chapter 1

Did you know monarch butterflies are capable of crossing the ocean? More often, though, they migrate up and down the coast here in the Americas.

Clusters of monarchs make a small eucalyptus grove at Pismo Beach their winter home. One by one they fly south from as far as Canada to seek shelter from the elements and land in the tall trees, forming shingles for further protection from rain and cold. Some of them don't make it, and we found quite a few of them "left behind" farther North.

Those that make it to the grove will remain there until spring, venturing out on warmer days to feed. In March, they will take off and fly North, though it will take a few generations to get there.

Read more about these amazing creatures here.

These photos are taken with an approximately 450mm-equivalent lens, some with a tripod, some without. And, it was windy. You may click on them to enlarge.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Notes on evolution, adaptive radiation and extinction

Our recent expedition up California's Central coast revealed some interesting, as yet undiscovered facts that might change some of the accepted viewpoints of the modern science.

Here is one. It is commonly accepted that zebras naturally occur nowhere but Africa. The photo below is a proof that it is simply not true. Apparently, millions of years ago some prehistoric zebras crossed the land bridge between then connected continents of Africa and South America and had been moving up the coast since, until they found a suitable niche in San Simeon, CA. There they have been observed grazing and keeping company with local bovines for the last 50 years or so.

This could easily be the missing link the scientists were looking for. The photo below proves that the ancestors of modern birds are not dinosaurs, as it was believed before, but mollusks! Right before our eyes the giant clam in Pismo Beach mutated into a giant turkey. What more proof do you need?

And if you thought dinosaurs were extinct, you were just as mistaken as everyone else. A small herd of them can be seen peacefully grazing along highway 41, not too far from Morro Bay. Who knows, what other ancient creatures are lurking by the back roads of the wine country?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

All that screaming wasn't for nothing...

Crested screamers have eggs!

I snapped a couple of (horrible) pictures during the tour today.

Tomorrow I'll post more about who crested screamers are and why it's cool they have eggs. Maybe some better pics, too.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Snow cubs

You can read all about the new addition to the snow leopard family on LA Zoo website ( But watching the mom and the two cubs is a whole another story. Visitors have been glued to the exhibit for weeks, watching in fascination how the growing cubs learn to run, climb, growl and now – hunt. You can see them wrestling, chasing each other and playing, just like any other kittens, but the funniest part, I think, is when they stalk and chase their mom. The female snow leopard is quite a ferocious-looking creature, and the “predatorial” features of her face (narrow irises, dark streaks and a heavy jaw) make it look – to us, humans – very stern. That’s what makes it so hilarious when her playful cubs chase her tail, slap her around or “ambush” her from behind a rock.

Loud, green and exotic

Early one morning, on October 25th to be exact, I was wandering around the Zoo entrance plaza, looking at the birds that frequent the bird feeders. There are some large date palms near the entrance, and there was a lot of commotion going on them because the dates were near ripe and a lot of birds were in haste to feast on them. I recognized the jays and the acorn woodpeckers, but something green and loud up in the tree didn't look like it belonged there at all! Only looking through my zoom lens I recognized the noise makers as parakeets. With some Internet research we later identified them as yellow-chevroned parakeets (Brotogeris chiriri).

Earlier this year Roxy and I were hiking in Temescal Canyon and spotted some black-hooded parakeets (Nandayus nenday). They were too high up in the trees to take good photos, so we took some bad ones just for identification.

My friend reports seeing large green birds at her college campus in Pasadena. There are many other sightings all over LA...

So, what's the problem?

Parrots and parakeets don’t belong in Los Angeles area. Their home is far away in South American jungle. The only reason we occasionally see parrots in our backyards is because sometime, somewhere somebody released their pet parrots into the wild, either accidentally, or because they were no longer able or willing to take care of them. This happens only too often nowadays, and there are many examples of how this irresponsible introduction of new species has led to a disaster. Remember what rabbits did to Australia?

What can possibly be dangerous about such a beautiful bird? Consider this: most parakeets nest in tree cavities. In their native environment, this was their specialization, which allowed them to escape predators and probably no compete with other birds that nest elsewhere. But in Southern California there alredy were birds that nest in tree cavities. Woodpeckers are a good example. So, what happens when a large and agressive birds have already taken over the best nesting sites and are eating the best food? I'll let you figure that out on your own.

So, even though parrots and parakeets are fun, colorful, exotic and loud, having them in our area could be a problem. There are studies going on to determine how they are affecting native species. Here is a link to the one Museum of Natural History is conducting: You may report your parrot sightings there, too.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Here we go!

All the posts on this blog up to this point are old, they were pulled from our family blog, where they were interspersed with our other, non-nature related experiences. From this point on, we will be posting new material, unique to this blog only.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

See cheetah run

The cheetah run safari at San Diego Wild Animal park was fun-fun-fun. This was on June 19, so it took me a while to post these photos, but better late than never, right?

There he goes... just look at him. Isn't he magnificent?

The star of the show - cheetah Majani, one of the largest cheetahs in captivity. He made two runs that day, and the rest of the time was catching his breath.

Just for sake of comparison, they then brought out a serval, and explained to those who didn't know, that it's not a baby cheetah, but a fully grown wild cat. Cheetahs run - servals jump. They jump so well, they are nicknamed "the trampoline cat". And they are cute.

Cheetah is the fastest land animal - what about fastest, period? Voila, peregrine falcon. He dove after his bait so fast, we thought he is gonna make a hole in the ground.

Other animals at the Park weren't doing much... also, by late morning it got pretty hot. So, they were just snoozing.

Or checking us out.

Naturally, I got plenty more pictures... let's hope I can find time to edit them sometime soon.

Friday, June 26, 2009

San Diego impressions

Last week, I drove down to San Diego to meet a friend, who flew there from Canada. The detailed impressions are on my other blog, here are just some nature photos.

Cliffs at Point Loma. Not surprisingly, the place is called Sunset Cliffs Park.

A cormorant colony on a large rock by the cliffs. The white color of the rock is mainly due to their, ahem, by-products.

A view at the same rock with wide lens.

A fox squirrel in Balboa park feasting on a piece of apple I gave him.

Once my friend got busy with her conference, I took off and drove South to where the map said was a wildlife preserve called Chula Vista. Spent the whole day there, wandered around, almost got locked up inside the premises... it was fun! They have some really amazing representatives of the disappearing local wildlife. Of course, I would be much happier if these animals were actually roaming free in large numbers, but with coastal wetlands being developed, their habitat is shrinking and one by one the species end up on the endangered list.

Here is the oystercatcher doing a hokey-pokey. You put your left foot in, you put your left foot out...

Cooper's hawk eyeing me suspiciously...

This mockingbird just didn't know what to do with his huge trophy. He was running around this little roof, trying to find a place to eat his meal in peace.

Cottontails abounded on the grounds of the preserve. There were so many of them! I just hoped there were also enough hawks and foxes to keep the population in check.

These are not a mom and a baby - bugs don't have that. Just two stages of the same species, one immature and the other fully grown.

Argiope spider. These abound in Mexico, but I didn't expect to find one so far north.