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Nature Journal: Ice and Elegant Eagles

This past weekend I was able to see an American icon! It wasn’t at the Superbowl or on the streets of Los Angeles, but at a frozen and snow-covered Big Bear Lake I saw the famous bald eagle.

Bald eagles are American Icons. Photo Credit: Sandor Havasi

Bald eagles are American Icons. Photo Credit: Sandor Havasi

The San Bernadino Mountains were perfect that weekend. I was there for a retreat and the snow had built up perfectly. In the early mornings, you could hear the sounds of the ice cracking on the lake and as the day went on little miniature streams broke open in the ice on the lake and flocks of geese and ducks could be seen far off in the distance paddling around in the frigid water. These birds have amazing insulation and feathers which help to keep them warm and allow the water to roll right off their backs. When I stepped outside to get a closer look, I went downward up to my knees suddenly finding myself in three feet of snow! 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 →

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.

Continue Reading →

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 →

Braving Nature

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Often times we engage in nature just by looking through a window

With the Pokemon-Go Craze going on right now, many people are getting outside and walking around who would rarely spend extended time out of doors! While this is exciting for many, there can also be some misconceptions about what kinds of animals are outdoors and even how to engage in nature.  And this phenomenon isn’t just limited to the Pokemon-Goers but do we really look up and engage in nature in a positive way?

From my own personal experience I would have to say somedays yes and somedays no! Why is that? Just the other day I went to the park after work to try to relax and be in nature (because I love nature). But for some reason I was uneasy and I had my own personal apprehension about wearing my work clothes. I found myself worrying about getting them dirty and instead of wanting to enjoy and engage in nature I was not wanting to go off the path or even sit in the grass! I eventually convinced myself that it would be good for me and after walking through the meadow for a bit I noticed birds. Lots of swallows swooping and flying everywhere! Continue Reading →

Wilderness Journal: Turtle Invasion

red ear

We were visiting The Commons, in Calabasas the other day when we stumbled upon a wonderful koi pond! The little pond was teeming with life! It was fun to see that this pond, in a shopping center was home to koi and TONS of red eared slider turtles. The red eared sliders get their name partially because of the red spot behind their ears and because they “slide” very easily off of rocks. . . Pretty creative! Turtles are from the Chenloian Family, which also includes tortoises. What is the difference between a turtle and a tortoise? Turtles are aquatic animals. They live in the water and have webbed feet and a streamlined body which helps them to swim easily. Certain types of turtles rarely leave the water, like sea turtles, while other turtles (like red eared sliders) live in ponds and lakes, and will climb out onto logs or rocks to warm themselves. Continue Reading →

Wilderness Journal: Visiting Bald Eagles at Lake Casitas

Our Eagle Sighting Group, ready to go!

It is June and some members of the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains, their families, and friends accompanied us to Lake Casitas to visit and see the bald eagle parents and their offspring. Luckily we had a caravan of three cars on a gorgeous bright sunny day with minimal clouds and light traffic. We started out from Agoura Hills, California at 7:30 AM to be sure to arrive early to see the wildlife and hopefully see the baby eagles (eaglets) getting fed.

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A bald eagle’s messy nest, high up in the trees.

Upon arrival, we could see the giant eagle’s nest high in the Eucalyptus tree and one of the parents on a branch adjacent to the nest. When entering Lake Casitas, the road to the left follows around so one can park quite near to view the nest and with binoculars can view the two little baby eagles. The mother eagle could be seen high in the sky carrying towards the nest a “duck roast.” We were just in time to see the baby’s breakfast banquet. Continue Reading →

Guest Blog: Tom Follis’s Nature Adventures

ojaiI am going to tell you about a lovely, unique, remote area, the location of which shall remain unknown except to say that it is approximately 70 miles Northwest of Central Los Angeles and about 10 miles inland from the sunny surfer’s beaches in Ventura County. For about 34 years I lived with my wife and a dozen other residents, who were the only people fortunate enough to live in this valley. A valley surrounded by hills, oak trees and in the winter, meadows with knee high wild oats— where no one was ever seen except the occasional hiker. There are no trails, only dense brush, chaparral and rough steep hills.  My granddaughter when she would visit would ask, “Where are all the people?” Because there were no cars or people who she’d seen that morning!

Every species of animals and many kinds of birds that normally inhabit California have at one time or other passed through our 3 acre homestead. Two of these 3 acres were thickly covered by oak trees. I remember some coyotes yipping and howling around at night — sounding like there were hundreds out there in the total darkness (but probably only 3 or 4 were really out there). During the day sometimes a coyote would sneak into the yard and we could see them from the kitchen climbing up the apple trees. They would climb up, seize an apple and trot off to devour it in peace. Continue Reading →

Birding: Lake Casitas through a Lens

During a recent trip to Lake Casitas Alex, Winkie and Panda discovered an amazing amount of birds and other wildlife. Pictured below are some of the unique and wonderful local species and several visitors for the season!

Wilderness Journal: Finding Flora and Fauna in Urban Areas

Lately my wilderness explorations have been relatively local, to my work and to home. But that has created a new challenge in strengthening my new nature eyes. Even though I am definitely looking forward to another adventure into a more rural and “natural” area, I have found that even in the busy weeks and in the everyday grind there is wilderness all around us. All it takes is an awareness, open eyes and open ears, and you might be surprised.

Vultures flying high above

Vultures flying high above

Just this past week I was surprised by many different wildlife moments. While driving home from dinner on a quiet suburban road, my headlights shown on a plump rabbit. The rabbit immediately bounded away to safety. . . but it was there and it called this place home, just like me. Later when I was unpacking my groceries I was enchanted to hear a chorus of ribbiting and croaking and hearing the frogs croaking nearby. During my lunch break at work I took a pencil and a pad of paper and in less than ten minutes I’d encountered several cheerful phoebes, some quick flighty birds that were twittering up a storm (and which I wish I could have glimpsed better to have identified), and saw two huge turkey vultures riding the winds high high above. One of the vultures shook its tail mid-flight as it soared high above me, as if it wasn’t already an impressive sight. Continue Reading →