Category Archives: photography|wildlife

Black-hooded Parakeets in Big Sycamore Canyon

Black-hooded Parakeets (Nandayus nenday) in Big Sycamore Canyon

Indigenous to Southeastern Bolivia, southwestern Brazil, Paraguay and northern Argentina, much of the information on the web about the Black-hooded Parakeet appears to originate from these papers by Kimball L. Garrett:

POPULATION STATUS AND DISTRIBUTION OF NATURALIZED PARROTS IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

POPULATION TRENDS AND ECOLOGICAL ATTRIBUTES OF INTRODUCED PARROTS, DOVES AND FINCHES IN CALIFORNIA

The raucous calls of these parrots can be heard throughout Big Sycamore Canyon. This pair was near the Danielson Multi Use Area.

From yesterday’s run from Wendy Drive to the Chamberlain Trail.

Update March 28, 2017. Here’s another pair of the Nanday Conures photographed on a recent run in Malibu Creek State Park along Crags Road east of Century Lake.

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Big Bird, Little Bird

Red-tailed hawk and flycatcher in Blue Canyon, Pt. Mugu State Park

Running along the recently repaired Blue Canyon Trail, I stopped to photograph a hillside of poppies. The shrieking, piercing cry sounded like it was just a few feet above me, and reflexively I ducked and looked upward. A large red-tailed hawk flew from the top of a sycamore tree to another tree. Just as I started to relax, there was another shriek, and another red-tail flew from the same tree.

These were loud, aggressive calls and reminded me of an unusual encounter some years ago with a red-shouldered hawk and a bobcat. Noting the nest at the top of the tree I assumed the birds were upset that I stopped by their tree. I snapped a quick picture of one of the red-tails and headed on down the trail.

As with the encounter with the red-shouldered hawk, there was an edge to calls of the red-tails that seemed urgent, and it wasn’t until I examined the photos later I saw their ire might have been directed at something else.

The silhouette of the smaller bird looks like it might be a flycatcher — maybe a western kingbird. Red-tails are the star cruisers of the local bird world and it’s not unusual to see smaller birds harass them relentlessly like so many X-wing fighters.

According to Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds, “Western Kingbirds are aggressive and will scold and chase intruders (including Red-tailed Hawks and American Kestrels) with a snapping bill and flared crimson feathers they normally keep hidden under their gray crowns.” A search online found numerous reports of kingbirds harassing red-tail hawks.

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Deer Encounters

Mule deer near Trippet Ranch in the Santa Monica Mountains

Mule deer are common in the Santa Monica Mountains. I see them most frequently in Topanga State Park, near Trippet Ranch, and in Malibu Creek State Park.

This video snapshot is of a recent encounter with three mule deer while running down East Topanga Fire Road to Trippet Ranch.

My intent was to try and walk past without scaring them. One doe did not run, but the youngster and its companion were more skittish and didn’t quite know how to react.

In some situations a bolting deer can be a real problem. Two friends running in Topanga State Park rounded a corner and were suddenly confronted with a spooked buck running toward them. There was a steep hill on one side and a cliff on the other. In the narrow confines the buck collided with one of the runners, hitting his shoulder and knocking him to the ground. All things considered he was very lucky. The bucks head was up, so the collision only resulted in a sore shoulder and some trail rash.

Some related posts: Trippet Ranch Mule Deer, Musch Trail Mule Deer

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Crissy Field – Fort Point – Land’s End – Golden Gate Park Loop

Monterey pines in Land's End Park

What do a hilly marathon, a pair of cygnets, and a herd of bison have in common?

Why, of course, a run in San Francisco.

Crissy Field and the Golden Gate Promenade
Crissy Field and the Golden Gate Promenade

Brett wanted to check out some of the hills on the San Francisco Marathon course and show me more San Francisco sights. The result was a 14 mile loop that began in the Marina District and visited Crissy Field, the Golden Gate Bridge at Fort Point, Land’s End Park, Sutro Heights Park and Golden Gate Park.

The Palace of Fine Art swanskeep a close eye on their brood. June 4, 2016.
Blanche, Blue Boy and their cygnets

The run started with a visit to the Palace of Fine Arts to check on Blanche’s and Blue Boy’s new brood. Nature isn’t always nice, so it was good to see the remaining two cygnets are doing well.

One of two lion statues at the entrance to Sutro Heights Park.
Sutro Heights Park Lion

Most of the run between the Golden Gate Bridge and Golden Gate Park was on the California Coastal Trail. Near Sea Cliff we left the marathon course and continued on the Coastal Trail to Land’s End Park and Sutro Heights Park, eventually entering Golden Gate Park on its northwest corner at 47th Avenue.

Bison in Golden Gate Park
Bison in Golden Gate Park

Larger than New York’s Central Park, Golden Gate Park’s many attractions draw millions of visitors each year. That one of those attractions is a golf course isn’t particularly surprising. And you might expect a major city park to have a botanical garden, aquarium and a museum. But would you expect a park in San Francisco to host a herd of bison? I know when I put on my running shoes this morning I wasn’t thinking, “Hope we see some buffalo!”

Bison have been present in Golden Gate Park since the 1890s. According to this Huffington Post article by Fiona Ma the herd was repopulated in 2011 and, “The City and County of San Francisco would excitedly welcome 6 more urban bison members.”

The title photo is a black and white image of Monterey pines along the Land’s End Trail.

Some related posts: San Francisco Sights Trail Run, Golden Gate Bridge Run, Miwok Wanderings

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It’s Raining Mountain Lion Tracks!

Mountain lion tracks on Temescal Ridge Fire Road #30, north of the Hub. March 12, 2016.

Like dust reveals a sunbeam, rain reveals the presence of our elusive Santa Monica Mountains mountain lions.

I first noticed the tracks on Temescal Ridge Fire Road #30 more than a half-mile below the Hub (running from the end of Reseda) and then followed them past the Hub on Fire Road #30 to it’s junction with the Backbone Trail. After a short detour up Temescal Peak (no tracks), I returned to Fire Road #30 and followed the lion’s tracks back to the Hub, then down Eagle Springs Fire Road to Eagle Springs and past the fire road’s junction with the Musch Trail.

It looked like the tracks were made sometime between yesterday evening, after the rain, and early this morning.

The total distance I was able to follow the tracks was around three miles. Although I had to turn around a little past the Musch Trail, I’d guess the lion was headed down to Trippet Ranch.

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Kingsnake Along the Garapito Trail

California mountain kingsnake along the Garapito Trail in the Santa Monica Mountains

The patterned colors of a mountain kingsnake are hard to miss. The snake’s white-black-red-black-white triads attract attention in just about any habitat. (The amount of red can vary in an individual as well as subgroup.)

San Diego mountain kingsnake along the Garapito Trail
San Diego mountain kingsnake

Traditionally California mountain kingsnakes (Lampropeltis zonata) have been grouped into several subspecies according to subtle and variable pattern characteristics.

The kingsnake in the title photograph appears to belong to the San Diego mountain kingsnake pattern class (Lampropeltis zonata pulchra). The broken white ring on the head is common in this subgroup in the Santa Monica Mountains.

San Bernardino mountain kingsnake on Pleasant View Ridge in the San Gabriel Mountains
San Bernardino mountain kingsnake

This mountain kingsnake, photographed on Pleasant View Ridge in the San Gabriel Mountains, likely belongs to the San Bernardino mountain kingsnake pattern class, Lampropeltis zonata parvirubra.

Study of California mountain kingsnakes’ mitochondrial DNA (E. A. Myers, et. al., 2013) conservatively supports separate northern and southern species and potentially two lineages within the southern group.

California kingsnake in Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve
California kingsnake

Mountain kingsnakes aren’t the only kingsnake found in the Los Angeles area. This California kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula californiae) was photographed at Ahmanson Ranch a couple of weeks ago. When I approached the snake, it immediately became defensive and started rapidly vibrating its tail. This behavior is often described as mimicking a rattlesnake, but could also predate the development of rattles in rattlesnakes.

For more info on the reptiles and amphibians of California see the californiaherps.com web site.

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The Rattlesnakes Are Blooming

Rattlesnake on the PCT east of San Francisquito Canyon.

Although we are still experiencing a record-breaking drought, this rain season did provide a little short term relief to plants and wildlife. Compared to last year rainfall is up 27% at Los Angeles, 39% at Santa Barbara, 57% at LAX and 63% at Camarillo/Oxnard according to NWS data.

The increase in rainy season precipitation dramatically increased plant growth, the abundance of wildflowers, and temporarily increased the availability of key resources to wildlife.

Another thing it seems to have increased is the number of rattlesnakes. Over the past two years I have seen maybe two rattlesnakes total on my runs in the Santa Monica Mountains, San Gabriel Mountains, and in the Big Bear area and on San Gorgonio Mountain. In the Ahmanson Ranch – Cheeseboro area I’ve seen none.

With the increase in rainfall this season that has changed. The title photo was taken on the Leona Divide 50/50 course March 28. That day I encountered two rattlesnakes and talked to a runner that had seen three on the course the previous weekend. From March 26 to April 2 I encountered rattlesnakes on three out of four runs. Two of those were at Ahmanson and it seemed everyone I talked to on the trail was seeing rattlesnakes.

Hard to see rattlesnake on the PCT a few miles west of Bouquet Canyon.
See the rattlesnake? Click for larger view.

There has also been an increase in the number of encounters with non-venomous snakes as well. I’ve seen a number of gopher snakes and a California striped racer. Friends have mentioned seeing a ring-necked snake and California kingsnake.

Since the weather has cooled I haven’t encountered any rattlesnakes, but have seen their tracks. When I run, especially on single-track trails, my snake radar is on and I’m definitely on the lookout for the hard-to-see beasts.

Some related posts: Southern Pacific Rattlesnake on the Burkhart Trail, Southern Pacific Rattlesnake, Big Southern Pacific Rattlesnake at Ahmanson Ranch

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September Snow Run

San Joaquin Ridge, September 2014

With this year’s El Nino developing in fits and starts and drought-plagued California clinging to hopes of an above average snowpack, a little September snow is a big deal, even if it’s just a dusting.

The first low pressure system of Fall resulted in significant rain in many areas of Central and Northern California, with amounts falling off quickly to the south. According to the NWS, Redding recorded over 3 inches of rain; Red Bluff nearly 2.5 inches; South Lake Tahoe 1.8 inches; Downtown Sacramento and San Francisco both recorded about 0.5 inch.

For a rain-starved, heat-desiccated Southern Californian it was great to get out and play in the snow. I had a window of about three hours to do a run and the run/hike up San Joaquin Ridge from Minaret Summit was superb!

Here are a few photos from the run.

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Tamalpais Trail Run

Running ahead of me at a brisk pace, Brett suddenly stopped and turned, gesturing for me to slow and be quiet. On the shaded trail ahead I could see something large and brown hunched over on the trail. It took a moment to realize that it was a big male turkey in full regalia.

We were on Mt. Tamalpais, and about a half-mile into an afternoon run from the Bootjack parking area in Mt. Tamalpais State Park. This scenic loop was the first of several runs over a too-short Bay area weekend visit. One of the innumerable loops and variations in and near the Park, our route included segments of the Old Mine, Rock Spring and Matt Davis Trails.

According to this November 2012 article in the Marin Independent Journal the turkeys were introduced into Marin County in 1988 by Fish & Game to provide hunting opportunities on private land. They have since become a nuisance and usurp resources from native species. During the birds’ mating season they have reportedly frightened hikers and bikers. (I might have scoffed at that statement before seeing the size of this tom.)

It was a warm in the sun, cool in the shade afternoon with the temperature in the mid-70s. Earlier in the week an offshore flow had pushed temperatures in the Bay area well into the 90s. The heatwave produced numerous record highs, with the temperature at San Francisco Airport reaching over 90 degrees on Tuesday and Wednesday. The remote automated weather station (RAWS) on Middle Peak can be used to get an idea of the weather on Mt. Tam.

Today the winds were onshore, but the visibility was still very good. The twin summits of Mt. Diablo could be clearly seen across the bay, about 40 miles away. Mt. Diablo would be the site of one of tomorrow’s runs. Rumor had it the rare Mt. Diablo fairy lantern was blooming, and Brett had planned a run on Diablo that included North Peak, Bald Ridge and Eagle Peak.

Here are a few photos from today’s run on Mt. Tam. More info can be found on the Mt. Tamalpais State Park and the Friends of Mt. Tam web sites. This State Park brochure includes a trail map.

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Celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the Acquisition of Ahmanson Ranch

Valley oaks and cirrus clouds near sunset at Ahmanson Ranch

Today those instrumental in the acquisition of Ahmanson Ranch and supporters of the open space area gathered at the park — now Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve — to celebrate its purchase. For more on the festivities see this article in the Simi Valley Acorn.

I’ve been running at Ahmanson Ranch for more than ten years and have spent hundreds of hours in the open space area. Following are a few photographs, stories and wildlife encounters from these runs.

 – White-tailed Kite Turning to Strike

 – Moonrises and Sunsets

 – Sunset Shower

 – Ahmanson Ranch Moonrise

 – Red-winged Blackbird Song Spread

 – Racing the Sun, Catching the Moon

 – Coyote Tag and Coyote Tag II

 – Southern Pacific Rattlesnake and Big Southern Pacific Rattlesnake

 – Ahmanson Blue Oak

 – Astronomical Trail Running

 – Ahmanson Ranch Trail Runs

 – September & October are Tarantula Months!

 – Southern California Greenscape

 – A Sunset and Moonrise

 – Dealing With Drought

 – Lenticular Wave Clouds
 
 – Signs of Winter

 – King of the Hill
 
 – Comet PanSTARRS and the Crescent Moon
 
 The title photograph is from a run at Ahmanson Ranch earlier this November.

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September & October are Tarantula Months!

Tarantula at Ahmanson Ranch

Updated October 24, 2013.

Since 2005 these are the dates I’ve photographed a tarantula at Ahmanson Ranch (Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve).

September 05 (2012)
September 08 (2006)
September 13 (2005)
September 19 (2007)
September 15 (2009)
October 3 (2012)
October 9 (2012)
October 11 (2006)
October 12 (2011)
October 17 (2012) (2)
October 23 (2013)

Autumn is when maturing male tarantulas (Aphonopelma spp.) wander about in search of a mate.



I was beginning to wonder if I would see a tarantula at Ahmanson this Fall. The last time I hadn’t seen a tarantula in September or October was 2008. Yesterday I spotted this one on the main fire road in East Las Virgenes Canyon on a run over to Cheeseboro Canyon.

The title photograph is from a run on September 5, 2012. The raised abdomen is a defensive posture. Tarantulas will scrape their abdomen with their bristly rear legs, launching irritating (urticating) barbed hairs into the air. Most tarantulas I’ve encountered this time of year do not react defensively — they’re just interested in finding a mate.

Some related posts: Tarantula Time, Sting of the Tarantula Hawk, Tarantula Hawk

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Watch and Wonder

Crown-sprouting laurel sumac in Pt. Mugu State Park following the Springs Fire.

Trying to understand the behavior of wildlife can be perplexing, particularly when it involves human interaction. Sometimes I just shake my head and wonder what an animal is thinking.

I was in the middle of a 13.5 mile loop in Pt. Mugu State Park, chugging up the Old Boney Trail in the Boney Mountain Wilderness, about 2.5 miles past its junction with the Blue Canyon Trail.



From time to time I’ve been checking the progress of recovery in Springs Fire burn area. Ecologically the area is very complex and as a result of the varied terrain, habitats, vegetation patterns, soil moisture and burn severity, the rate of recovery has also been varied.

The recovery has been further complicated by the season of the fire — just before Summer — and by below average rainfall. Taking into account the unusual circumstances, the sprouting of sycamore, oak, walnut, bay, red shanks, laurel sumac, toyon, mule fat and other plants has been surprisingly robust.

The stretch of the Old Boney Trail I was on now had been severely burned. It was along a steep, rocky canyon that still looked quite barren. Many chaparral plants sprout from surviving roots following a fire, but some plants such as the bigpod Ceanothus in this area must regrow from seeds which sprout following Winter rains.

With the lack of vegetation I was a little surprised to see a California Towhee land on the rocky trail a few feet ahead of me.

The California Towhee lives in the chaparral and I see them frequently on trail runs. It is about as nondescript as a bird can be — gray-brown and little smaller than a dove. They have a peculiar habit of emerging from the brush, scurrying a few feet along a trail just ahead of a hiker or runner, and then darting back into the brush.



Inexplicably this particular bird carried this behavior to the extreme, scampering along the trail just ahead of me for more than 2 minutes, eventually pausing on some rocks along the trail and watching me pass. The time from the first picture of the bird on the trail to the last was 2 minutes 14 seconds. That’s one-Mississippi, two-Mississippi, all the way up to one hundred thirty-four-Mississippi.

I often see towhees in pairs and sometimes with rabbits when both are foraging. The rabbit acts as an early warning device for the bird and vice versa. Did the towhee see me as a really big rabbit? All I could do is watch the bird and wonder.

Some related posts: Chasing Towhees and Other Rainy Day Activities, Coyote Tag, Coyote Tag II, Hawk, Bobcat and Rabbit

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