Monday, March 20, 2017

Celebrating The First Day of Spring 2017

This year the Vernal Equinox finds Southern California lush from winter rains. The garden is flush with flowers. The Lady Banks rose has more blooms than leaves. While she isn't a native, the birds love this thatch of thorn-less climbing rose. The house finches and white-crowned sparrows actually nibble on the rose buds. It is a great place for small birds to hide when the Cooper's hawk is on the prowl.

Several natives are in bloom already. It has taken this ceanothus (snow flurry) years to establish itself, but this year the white blooms are stark against the deep green foliage. Typically our blue-colored ceanothus (concha) is more visible.

The native verbena have been strong bloomers throughout the years of drought. Several of the sparrow and finch species explore beneath them. They may be eating tiny seeds produced by the plants or be thinning out the native insects that are attracted to this flowering species.

Rising summer temperatures in our area have pushed us to incorporate more natives from Baja Mexico into our backyard habitat. This Euphorbia xanti, or Baja spurge, flowers in spring and has tiny green leaves year round. It can be invasive, but up on our hillside it helps with erosion, is drought tolerant, and provides another thatch for avian parents to leave their youngsters. It has served as a play pen for our California towhees and Bewick's wrens. The maze of tiny branches provides roosting and protection for young birds left on their own during parts of the day.

While native plants are a priority for me, I have to admit that two of my favorite flowers in the yard right now are decorative non-natives: the wisteria and the clivia.

Named in honor of Lady Clive, Charlotte Percy the Duchess of Northumberland, in the early 1800s, Clivia miniata, or Kaffir lily, are beautifully flowering plants from shadowy forests of Africa. They are incredibly sturdy. The hybrid individuals in our yard came with us to this house over 20 years ago. They were separated from ancestors in Pasadena about 30 years ago. Clivia are somewhat drought tolerant if planted in shady protected locations. And if they don't seem to be thriving, you can dig them up and move them. Some of my plants have been moved three or four times before finding a location with protection, but enough morning sun to inspire blooming. One huge plus: the gopher won't eat them.

The Wisteria sinensis is a Chinese import, but known for adapting to Southern California weather. My wisteria is doing fine in a pot on the patio. It is also drought tolerant, but in a pot requires closer water attention. Not only are the blooms natural art, the valley carpenter bees love to visit them. This surprises me, but I am thankful that such a beautiful flower plays an important role in my backyard habitat. The hummingbirds also like to sit on its thin vine stems.

On this first day of spring. Take a moment to refresh your mind and spirit with the new life around you. Our first hummingbird chicks of the year fledged on Friday and the Bewick wrens have seven eggs in their nest. Soon the yard will be filled with baby birds.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

L.A. Women's March Jan. 21, 2017 - Activists Should Come Together

Where were you on Jan. 21, 2017?

Yesterday was a historical day. You felt that in your bones if you marched in one of the Women's Marches and saw images of like-engergized people around the world. 

I've heard disgruntled people saying "The election is over, stop whining." To these people I say "You are missing the point."

The president, his administration, and ALL of our elected officials need to hear the voices of the democracy. The people have the responsibility to speak out.

  • We marched to support women's rights, from Choice, to equal pay, to health care, to civil treatment around the world.
  • We marched for a healthy environment for our children and the future.
  • We marched for justice and fair treatment for all people, ALWAYS.

In Los Angeles we experienced a respectful, joyous, merging of all ages, racial backgrounds, sexual identities, religious faiths, and political priorities. If you hear someone speaking words of fear mongering and hate, claims of violence at the March in L.A., you are not hearing the truth. Ask what that source has to gain from those statements? Are they trying to silence your voice?

If you want to know what happened at one of the Women's Marches, talk directly to someone who was there. So many people were involved, that someone you know or have a connection to, marched. Ask a participant, reach out to a primary source. Here's our video of the day.

As a white woman, active in women's rights and environmental issues, marching beside activists from other priorities was a moment of awakening. When Black Lives Matters activists or Marriage Equality & LGBTG activists are marginalized, I am marginalized. When immigrants or people of any religious group are marginalized just for who they are, I am marginalized. When women are treated as second class citizens, humanity suffers. When the environment is compromised, the future is threatened for us all.

Let's galvanize the powerful inclusion demonstrated around the world on Jan. 21, 2017. Let's come to the table to find common strengths and shared values. Let's open our minds and hearts to understand each other and work toward shared solutions.

Divided we are issue activists. United we are unstoppable.

Why is the Endangered Species Act important?

Thursday, November 17, 2016

How Can Conservationists Move Forward Following the 2016 Election?

The World Turned Upside Down - I think that is how most of us are feeling. This photo sums it all up for me. Do you know what it is?

This summer a wildfire roared through the hillsides west of our house. This is a coast live oak. It's trunk burned completely through and the whole tree tumbled onto its crown. It flipped upside-down. Destruction prevailed.

Unexpectedly, however, the downed part of the tree did not burn. The skeleton remains, an alien looking structure.

Destruction is a natural process and regeneration is its second chapter. Look in the left lower corner–green shoots sprouting. Ashes can provide nutrients and reinvigorate. 

If we believe in nature, then let's take heart in it's lessons. Let's listen, examine closely, and use the ashes to reinvigorate support for clean air, clean water, safe habitats, and action to limit climate change. 

And if you need a little uplift, try A Romp On The Beach

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.