Category Archives: photography|wildlife

Under a Falcon’s Eye

An American Kestrel (female) at Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve.

I was in that other-world you can reach when running, lost in thought and dreaming of dreams. As I approached the valley oak on the western edge of Lasky Mesa, I wondered if the tree was going to survive. Even though last Winter had been wet, it had been a hot summer, and this once-elegant star of TV and film was still struggling with the deleterious effects of five years of drought. Leaves grew in clusters along its spindly limbs as if it had been burned in a wildfire.

Nearly under the scraggly valley oak, I slowed to a walk to look at it more closely. Glancing upward I did a double-take… Perched on a bare limb at the top of the tree was a small raptor. So small, that it had to be an American kestrel.

Kestrels are extremely wary birds with acute vision, and I was surprised it had not flown as I had run toward the tree. I’ve seen and heard kestrels many times at Ahmanson Ranch, but never this closely. The diminutive falcon was only about 15′ above me. My camera was in my pack and just about any movement was going to spook the bird.

Ever so slowly, I turned my back to the bird and walked a few steps away from the tree. Wishing I had eyes in the back of my head, I carefully removed my camera from my waist pack, turned it on, made sure it was set correctly, and partially extended the zoom lens. Turning back toward the tree, I expected the falcon to be gone, but it had not flown.

I took a set of bracketed photos and then another. I needed to be a little closer. I took two or three slow steps toward the tree. As I raised the camera, the female kestrel — burnt orange across the back and upper wings — had had enough. With a powerful stroke of her wings she turned and leapt to flight, once again leaving me to my thoughts.

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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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