Monday, February 28, 2011

Mini-Gardens or Fairy Gardens

Sometimes you just need to have a little fun. My sister and I took a class to create “Fairy Gardens” or mini-gardens in a pot.

In my mini-garden, I landscape and create my own little manageable garden. 

I made little hearts to decorate for Valentine’s Day and a Tramp character to go with the cocker spaniel Lady that my sister had given me.

Even if you have a confined space or limited mobility, a mini-garden in a pot is a growing living environment that can reconnect you with the beauty, wonder and constant change of nature.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Arrow-Headed Flatworm in Zone 1

I’m still entering all of the data for species in Zone 1 for my Backyard Biodiversity Project. But there is an unexpected resident in this small Zone of stairs, cement and a narrow planter. Zone Map

This is an arrow-headed flatworm (Bipalium kewensis) a species of planarian. These are the kind of creatures that you may have experimented with in biology class dividing their bodies in a variety of ways to see that they can regenerate themselves if they have some part of a head.

The arrow-headed flatworm is an exotic species thought to be an Indo-Malayan import that came to the U.S. via Europe.

How did this creature come to be in my planter? How long have its ancestors frequented my neighborhood?

I found it under a brick in the planter. Interestingly, when I looked at the photos I realized that it appears to have some nasty gashes along its sides. And actually it seemed to be regenerating most of its head. How did it come to have these injuries? Did it encounter some kind of a predator? And what was that predator? Was it the resident of the cave?

It amazes me the stories you can discover when you look under a rock.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Climate Change and Hummingbirds

Again this year Southern California experienced abnormally warm weather in December - January. The Allen’s hummingbirds in our yard set about breeding.

The female who has staked out her territory in the driveway, DR, built a beautiful nest in a native Catalina cherry shrub. DR's territory.  Last year, DR had the earliest successful chick reported to NestWatch in North America. But the consequence of the early nesting was that only one chick survived when winter weather returned.

This year, DR once again responded to early days of warm weather and began nesting. Just a few days after laying her two eggs strong winter winds came up and lasted for several days. She rode out the first day keeping her eggs safe in the nest, but on the second day she must have gone off to get some food and wind tossed one of the precious eggs out and onto the pavement.

The remains of the tiny hummingbird egg were smashed on the driveway.

The next day she was on the nest, but the weather turned and became not only windy but cold. DR abandoned the single egg. After several days it was clear, she had decided to cut her losses and build a new nest in a more protected location.

Unusually warm winter weather patterns convince the female Allen’s hummingbirds that spring has arrived. They begin nesting and for the second year, those early nests are unsuccessful. For the tiny hummingbirds it means reproductive opportunity wasted.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Great Backyard Bird Count, Los Angeles

I was out bird watching this morning in the heart of Los Angeles. The rain was fairly steady, not pouring, but soaking. The humans were few but the birds were many.

Birds enjoy a gentle rain and actually so do I.

Why would seven adults tromp through puddles to count birds?

I can give you several reasons:
  • There is always the thrill of the unexpected, like the great blue heron we spotted flying low through the mist,
  • The opportunity for discovery, we watched a pair of red-shouldered hawks putting the finishing touches on a new nest,
  • Moments of peace and beauty like the female Allen's hummingbird taking a bath in the rain and the elegant nest she has built edged in bright green moss,
  • There is always something new to learn, today I learned how to identify a male acorn woodpecker from a female,
  • There are smiles and laughter, and real human friendship
  • And the 35 bird species we counted will be reported to Cornell University through so scientists can track changes in bird populations
Friday Feb. 18 - Monday Feb. 21 is the Great Backyard Bird Count an opportunity for you too to go out and count birds for science. You can count in your yard, walking to school, in a park or a parking lot. For four days people across North America will be taking a snapshot of the birds across the continent. Everyone is invited to participate. Click the button to go to the Great Backyard Bird Count website for more information and to enter your data.

Me, I'll be counting again on Saturday Feb. 19 at the Los Angeles Zoo.  Zoo members are invited to join in on a bird walk before the Zoo opens. We will meet at the glass doors north of the main entrance between 7:45 and 8 AM. To make reservations please phone 323/622-8114 or e-mail (including “Bird Walk” in the subject line) with the following information: your name, membership number, members in your party, age of attending children, and your phone number.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Here Be Dragons?

Zone 1 always surprises me. Zone Map

If I asked you what wildlife I might find in this small area of the yard, you might say a few ants and a spider or two. In the past this strip of cement walkway, stairs and a narrow planter has revealed numerous species of spiders. Zone 1 in summer 2007.

So far this February the variety of species has been down, probably due to the season. But the winter-blooming berginia is looking lovely, see blooms.

This short retaining wall at the edge of the walkway has an intriguing little cave. At the left side, where there is a triangular opening, a pile of debris is stacking up. Are these the remains of someone’s meals?

It is an interesting collection that the cave’s resident has pushed out its door. There are empty brown garden snail shells; some fragmented by strong jaws. Could the owner of the lair be a southern alligator lizard? A foot-long individual was seen in this area last summer.

But there are also holly-leaf cherry pits that have been gnawed open and the seed inside eaten. Is some kind of native mouse living in this dark dwelling?

Some animal is living in this tiny cave and if you are snail, you might just consider it a dragon.