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Thursday, September 29, 2016

It's small, it squiggles across the floor, and it makes you jump back.

Wait! Before you do something drastic ! Take a closer look.

That strange creature that has wandered into your kitchen, laundry room or garage could be an important member of the local ecosystem. Don't panic just help it get outside.

This juvenile southern alligator lizard (Elgaria multicarinata) was trapped in our garage. It was looking for a quiet safe place, but instead found a food desert. Alligator lizards are important predators in the yard. Let them help you with insects and other garden pests. All you have to do is help them get back outside.

This guy was very docile in-hand. 
Watch for yourself: Rescuing an Alligator

Too many ants and other bugs in your yard? Embrace your lizard and amphibian neighbors. 

Western fence lizard - Backyard Superhero 
CA Amphibians

Friday, May 06, 2016

What's That Butterfly?

This butterfly was recently in our Southern California garden. Do you know what it is?

Look at the general size and shape of the wings. It is resting on a lemon leaf. Look for unusual markings. Note the color, but remember color can fade with age or vary regionally. Pay more attention to pattern.

Check your answer:

How to bring more butterflies into your yard.

Watch a variety of butterflies in Illinois on a summer day and butterflies in the tall grass prairie.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Baby Birds and Protective Parents

The California towhee is one of my favorite birds. They are the first bird we hear in the morning and the last species to stop for a nightcap each evening.

Watch a CA towhee vocalizing and guarding its chick.


CA towhee parents move their chicks out of the nest early to avoid snakes and other bird predators that might easily find their low-built nests. Baby CA towhee on the ground. Tiny Towhee in the grass. I've had numerous calls from people thinking that these chicks were abandoned. 

Nothing could be further from the truth. Most birds are excellent parents. Birds leave young chicks in a protected place and come back to feed them. From hummingbirds to hawks, I've had youngsters hanging out during the day while their parents are off looking for food. Before you try to "help," wait and let the avian parents do their job. You might even be rewarded with seeing a private moment between bird parents and offspring.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Science and Art Celebrating Birds

Here's a great combination of science and art. Spend a few moments experiencing the creation of the Wall of Birds at Cornell University's Dept. of Ornithology. It will bring a smile to your day.

I count birds for Cornell's eBird and Project FeederWatch. You should too. When you document the birds you see, you watch with greater detail and it opens your world to include your wild neighbors. Band-tail pigeons at the feeder.

This year my visiting ruby-crowned kinglet and hermit thrush left two weeks earlier than in the past. Do they know something about the weather that we don't?

Cornell's Global Big Day, where people all over the world count birds, is coming up May 14th. Join in and help document bird population dynamics on a global scale.

Monday, January 25, 2016

New Book On Women in American History

The role of women in history, science, and culture often goes unheralded. I'm proud to announce that I contributed to a new four-volume reference book now available from ABC-CLIO Publishing.

Women in American History: A Social, Political, and Cultural Encyclopedia and Document Collection 
edited by Peg Lamphier and Rosanne Welch
Available in the Spring 2016 catalog:

More than a standard encyclopedia, it brings together the women, movements and original documents connected with social change, court cases, science and culture. You might know the role Rachel Carson played in alerting the public to chemical toxins and inspiring the modern conservation movement, but did you know her earlier work The Sea Around Us sold more copies than Catcher in the Rye in 1951? She encouraged average people to be interested in science.

Did you know that your cell phone depends on science developed by Hedy Lamarr, a woman most known for starring as a sex kitten in Hollywood movies from the 1940s. Her beauty made it difficult for her to be taken seriously as an inventor.  

It's time to peel back the misconception of "women's roles" and understand the influential positions women held in pre-Revolutionary America, the true social status of Native American women prior to the erosion of their original cultures, and the influence of female French colonists in North America. How did women of all race contribute to politics, business, culture, and science help to build modern society? What can we learn from them and use to build a better future?

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Finding The Positive in Los Angeles - The River and Local Wildlife

Los Angeles River west of Balboa Blvd.
On a day like today, following another mass assault on our own humanity, it can be difficult to see the world as a positive place. But we all have a choice and I choose to reach out to people making positive differences in the world. 

Los Angeles River just above Sepulveda Dam
Walking the Los Angeles River we have seen the neglected waterway being embraced and re-imagined as part of our communities. The neighborhoods we have walked through so far have been as varied as the River. We all should step out of our own neighborhoods more often to understand the lives of people we think are different from ourselves. The L.A. River holds the potential of uniting disparate peoples across a large city.

The River also can connect disengaged people with the natural world. The section through the Sepulveda Basin is wildness contained, a place to experience wildlife in the city.


Channel Island fox
The non-profit that I work with, Friends of the Island Fox (a program of the Channel Islands Park Foundation) has just wrapped up a year of numerous successful efforts to support island fox conservation. The Channel Island fox has made a strong recovery from the brink of extinction because of the determined efforts of local people.

There is much to celebrate, but too often it is overshadowed by mindless tragedy caused by people. Today I reject fear and pledge to reach out and build connections with more of my neighbors. Safety doesn't come through weaponry, it comes through bonds of respect and understanding.

Monday, November 02, 2015

Walking the Los Angeles River

Water is life giving. The current drought should be making us more respectful of the naturally occurring water in southern California. Still many people laugh when Angelenos say we have a river.

The Los Angeles River was the center of human habitation in this area for thousands of years. When it created havoc and catastrophic flooding, people confined it to a concrete pathway in order to control its unpredictable ways.

Bridge at Tampa
Finally, fear is giving way to respect and a desire to allow the River to reconnect with its natural ways. The L.A. River officially begins in Canoga Park, less than two miles from where I grew up and I've always wanted to think of it as a river rather than "a wash" or storm drain.

Heron gates at Canoga Ave.
We've been venturing down to the L.A. River for the past nine years. Gradually, new parks and pathways are inviting the public to rediscover the River. See the L.A. River Headwaters walking path.

I've been birding the L.A. River in the Sepulveda Basin for years. It is a gem of wildlife habitat surrounded by suburbs. Wouldn't it be wonderful if the whole L.A. River could become a ribbon of life winding its way through the city? 

I've gotten this idea that I want to walk the River from its birth as a trickle of water in the surrounding mountains to its eventual arrival at the sea.

native wildflowers along the bikeway
So far I've walked sections from the trail along Bell Canyon Creek to the mid-valley at Tampa.

Exploring the River is also seeing the land change, the neighborhoods change, and thinking about the city in new ways. Today, friends joined me in walking the River from Winnetka to the footbridge at Vanalden St. We saw thirteen species of birds and a variety of wildflowers on the native plants landscaping the bikeway. Check out my friend Doug Welch's flower photos on his blog. 

There is a river near you and it is worth exploring.

Video of the Tributaries:
Limekiln Canyon Creek
Arroyo Secco
Watershed: Las Virgenes Open Space and take a hike there