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Monarch Tagging

Our brightly colored  “Migrating Monarchs,” are a common sight in Southern California. But the real question is how far do they actually go?

MONARCH. THE LITTLE BLACK SPOTS SHOWS THEIR GENDER

Male Monarch. Photo Credit: Sandor Havasi

With so much food available locally and the milkweed along the route being less frequent, it is a high possibility that Migrating Monarchs may be more Local Los Angeles or Southern California Monarchs. But they would not be the first animal to stop its migration because of the climate. Canadian Geese have been observed to remain year round instead of migrating because of the available resources and the warm weather, and certainly many people feel the same, considering the population of California!

Migrating Monarchs

What does a flash of orange and black wings in the sky, a chubby white and black and yellow lump on a leaf, a delicate light green translucent jade container with flecks of iridescent gold trim, and a microscopic light green cone on the underside of leaves have to do with one another? If you have ever seen any one of the three then, you have seen one of the unique life stages of a Monarch Butterfly, an intricate and

Monarch Butterflies taking a rest on their long migration. Photo Credit: Sandor Havasi

fragile California Native Insect. While the different life stages of a Monarch are fascinating, it is the endurance and incredible distances that this lightweight insect travels that is truly astonishing.

 
Monarchs are a common site in California, and if you’ve ever been outside on a bright spring day in a garden surrounded by flowers, you’ve probably seen one of these taking a sip from a flower, hovering and then gracefully floating on and over the wall aimlessly. But in reality these insects have a greater sense of direction than you would expect. Monarchs have been known to travel from Mexico to Canada! Technically it is not the same individual Monarch butterfly to make the entire trip, but each generation of Monarch picks up where the last generation left off. Talk about a family purpose and vision!
 

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Delicate Definition-Breaking Decomposers

 The mushrooms were covering an old stump in their backyard. Photo Credit: Sandor Havasi

The mushrooms were covering an old stump in their backyard. Photo Credit: Sandor Havasi

This past week we received a call from some friends who had a nature story to share with us–they had discovered an entire stump full of mushrooms just outside their home! The mushrooms were crowded together, varying in size and stages of growth. While their tan color wasn’t particularly impressive, their sheer number and clustering was fascinating. Seemingly overnight these brown umbrellas had popped up for the world to see.

While mushrooms appear to pop up out of thin air, they actually have really unique ways of becoming a full grown mushroom. Many mushrooms start out underground and pop to the surface only after the “fleshy-fruiting body” is fully developed from the spore. That sounds like a lot of scientific mumbo jumbo, so what exactly is a mushroom and how do they work?

First we will have to break it down a bit, a mushroom is a fungus. That means a mushroom is neither a plant nor an animal–it is it’s own unique creature. Scientists commonly describe mushrooms as being composed of a “fleshy body” that spreads spores. What that essentially means is that the mushroom is capable of making more mushrooms without another mushroom (spores = baby mushrooms or mushroom “seeds” if you will). Continue Reading →

Nature Walk: Predator and Prey at Work and at Play

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Western Gray Squirrels are able to thrive in human impacted environments. Photo Credit: Sandor Havasi

From the park bench, I could easily watch the two Eastern gray squirrels fake fighting and playing. These squirrels tend to be more solitary and less playful than ground squirrels but these two squirrels were bouncing around as if they could defy gravity. Eastern gray squirrels are actually quite impressive jumpers, and can easily leap up to fifteen feet horizontally and free-fall twenty feet or more. These squirrels have especially thrived in human environments where they have easy access to food (including many decorative plants) and where people feed them.

It was a pleasant little scene and I looked down to check my phone. When I looked up, the scene had changed. The bouncing squirrels had disappeared. Where did they go? I saw one motionless in the dirt and one had scurried even further away from the tree. What had changed? Had it been a territory battle? Continue Reading →

Nature Walk: Something to Hoot About

Happy Holidays! We have entered into the season of thankfulness and lots of sweet treats; which means I need to get out more. Not just because being outdoors is amazing but if I want to be able to stay healthy and enjoy the winter wildlife I need to make an effort to be outdoors. Thanksgiving was wonderful but with all the heavy and delicious food eaten I really needed to get outside and walk some of those calories off.

Owl Photo Credit: Sandor Havasi

Owl’s have incredible feathers. Photo Credit: Sandor Havasi

A good friend of mine (who also loves getting outdoors) joined me for a late night nature walk. We started out sometime after 7 pm for a night walk in the neighborhoods near the Bolsa Chica Wetlands. It was quite dark and damp–the air was misty and cold from the ocean and the oncoming winter, as we walked we kept an eye out for nocturnal animals. Most of the nocturnal creatures I’ve seen lately have been spiders but we saw none that evening as we walked. Occasionally we have seen a racoon or a coyote on this same walk, but they must have been nice and warm inside sleeping off their Thanksgiving left-overs because we didn’t see any. Not even a single rabbit was out on their front porches. . . It seemed like we were in for a quiet and uneventful nature walk.

We were chatting away when we were interrupted by a call. Four who who whoooos and then silence. We froze and looked at each other grinning. . . Had we imagined it? Just when we were beginning to think we were hearing things we heard it again! And looking up on the top of a chimney three stories up we saw a silhouette of an owl. We called back to it. “Whoo whoo whoo whooooo!”

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Moth Eaten

I don’t know about you but the fact that the sun sets so early has been confusing my internal clock. I’ve been taking longer to adjust, so several days ago when I got home from work in the dark and clicked on the light switch in the

Moths come in different shapes and sizes

Moths come in different shapes and sizes. Photo Credit: Makena Crowe

kitchen, it took me several minutes to realize something wasn’t right. There was a fluttering and a movement that I don’t normally see inside my house. . . Moths. The kitchen had moths fluttering around, walking on cabinets and sitting on the walls and fridge. I was horrified. I love animals, insects, moths. . . but I really do not like it when they are in my house. And I especially do not like to be surprised.

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Surprising Nocturnal Animals

In the growing dark of the evening, there was a rustling in the bushes and a small black shadow scampered across the path. We slowed down. Were our eyes playing tricks on us? What was that? We were almost home from an evening stroll when we stopped, surprised. The motion  detecting light of a neighbor’s house flashed on and the yellow glow illuminated our little black shadow. It was still black but in the fluffy blackness a thin white stripe gleamed. It was a skunk! 

 

Skunks are known by their unique markings

Skunks are known by their unique markings.

We froze. It froze. We began slowly to back away keeping our eyes on the black furry skunk. For such a small animal, we treated it with a great amount of respect and personal space, backing away quietly and quickly without making any sudden movements. Perhaps you’ve had a similar encounter with this shy nocturnal creature. They are small, roughly the size of a small cat or dog and usually solitary and prefer to dig for grubs and worms in the dark of night. 

 Geology of the Santa Monica Mountains

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Hiking through the Santa Monica Mountains

The Santa Monica Mountains Education Consortium and the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains worked together to prepare a field trip about the geology of the Santa Monica Mountains. On October 18, about 35 interested individuals met at 9:30 AM at King Gillette Ranch. Stephen Vodantis greeted everyone and introduced the guest speaker retired Professor William “Bill” Selby.

Professor Selby gave a brief overview of what to expect during the field trip and introduced us to a number of well-written books that would be excellent follow-up reading material on geology as well as other wildlife topics. We then boarded the bus for the daylong event.

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Learning about the rocks of Santa Monica Mountains

We discovered that the Santa Monica Mountain range is one of the youngest in the world and encompasses 344 square miles. It seems that each rock, crevice, and layer tells a story packed with millions of years of history. Professor Selby discussed climate and temperature changes, how that affects erosion, and how various land mass form. The field trip included a bit of hiking where he talked about the various types of plants and trees and explained why some mountains facing certain directions are almost barren while other mountains are full of plants. Everyone learned a great deal of the technical terminology associated with geology. Various types of rocks were passed around during the bus ride as well as at several stops along the way. Sometimes he would quiz the group and at other times explain the composition of each rock. It was all so interesting and exciting to learn. Continue Reading →

Sticking to the Mountains: Nature’s Tiny Actors

Hiking back, a bit breathless and winded from the crisp mountain air and altitude, my eyes were drawn to a light tan stick on our window. We had just hiked through mountain trials and there was plenty of sticks and leaf litter everywhere but there was something about this particular twig . . .

This little guy was on our window

This little guy was on our window

For one thing it was vertical on the window screen and the oddness of it made me stop to take a closer look. Quickly looking around for a source plant, I noticed that there weren’t any trees nearby that would match that type of thin light tan stick. The closest trees where more evergreen and oak-like than this reedy looking tan twig. As I drew closer, I grinned. I had fallen for the illusion–it was not a dead twig as I had originally thought. It was not even from a plant. It was a living moving and incredibly fragile stick insect!

This wild “stick bug” was almost as long as my hand and was just hanging out on our screen. We had walked through forests and trees for hours earlier and had only heard some bird calls from a distance. I had been a bit disappointed that we hadn’t seen much of anything interesting or unusual on our hike. But now here I was right back at our cabin and here was an animal I had never seen in the wild. And it had never even crossed my mind to think that stick insects were native to Running Springs, California. Did you know that stick insects can live in most of the world? They are found (in different shapes, sizes, and colors) from North America to Southeast Asia, the tropics to the subtropical regions of our world.

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Along Came a Spider

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A large spider clung tightly to her web

The morning was bright and cheerful and very few people were out when I went for a nature walk this morning. The green grass and the blue sky were inviting and the shimmering shaking of the golden aspen leaves were delightful. Everything was peaceful. It couldn’t be better. Nothing could go wrong in this kind of beauty.

And that was when I saw it. Out of the corner of my eye a slight flash of light. A warning. It instantly triggered hundreds of similar warning messages and memories. . . SPIDER. It was the white of the early October sunlight reflecting on a thin strand of web. But it was too late!

I already had broken the thread and shuddering I stepped back. Hesitating, I looked up wondering where the rest of the web was. Above my head and to the left wobbled a loosely hanging web, it wobbled and swayed as a bulbous red brown body clung for dear life in the center. Only a few moments had passed but the damage was done. The beautiful web had been destroyed by my carelessness and a large orb weaver’s world was rocked. Continue Reading →