serenissima: banded sphinx moth (beauty/nature)
Fall is here. Equinox was yesterday. The nights are cool now.

[ profile] aristeros and I were heading out shopping last week when we saw two deer, a mother and fawn, run away from somebody's front lawn. This morning while walking the dog, I saw a [presumably wild] pig in the grassy area beyond the houses. The dog didn't seem to notice. Maybe I should bring a camera on these walks.

Our hummingbird feeder is visited by finches and woodpeckers. I don't think the finches can get anything out of it, but the woodpeckers certainly can. I bought a pound of sugar at the grocery last week; we'll see how fast that gets used up between woodpeckers, bats and hummingbirds!

Also, last Sunday [ profile] aristeros and I watched people catch, take measurements of, and band hummingbirds. We each got to hold one when it was time to release it. I could feel its pulse against the palm of my hand.


Sep. 16th, 2009 01:15 pm
serenissima: (Default)
I've been a bit groggy since last weekend, when we stayed up til midnight Saturday night.

On Monday night we saw a bat coming to the hummingbird feeder. Or rather, I saw a flying thing, about finch-sized, that repeatedly approached from below. It was too fast for me to get a good look, but [ profile] aristeros identified it as a bat. At first he thought it was hunting bugs attracted by the back door light, but it turns out nectar-feeding bats sometimes visit hummingbird feeders in this region during this season. Check out these photos, which I would never be able to match without better equipment and practice.

This week we may find out what will happen to us next year — where we move next and so on — so we are a little anxious.

We finally received our missing armchair and CDs yesterday.

On the house-tidying arena, I've found two thrift shops and at least one of them had Gladware for sale, so I expect to be able to donate most anything I care to.

I'm making another attempt at crocheting an afghan. With the boucle yarn, it was just too hard to count stitches, so I gave up on any pattern that requires me to make rows all the way across. I'm making granny squares instead, for the first time, with much better success. So far I have two and a half squares. I think I have 186 to go. I may not finish by the new year, but I will try.   :)
serenissima: banded sphinx moth (beauty/nature)
When I exited the house this morning to begin walking the dog, I was excited to find a sphinx moth or hawk moth taking breakfast from the lobelias or whatever those red flowers are in our back yard border.

I can see how these insects would be mistaken for hummingbirds. The size and general body shape are about the same, they hover to feed rather than perching, and their wings move so fast they're a blur. The eyes looked small, not like huge bug eyes, although that may just have been some kind of weird pale and dark color pattern. I had to watch for several seconds to assure myself that it was not in fact a hummingbird, but the antennae and the fact that it curled its proboscis when it paused feeding were giveaways. I could kind of see the pattern on the wings, striped forewings and pinkish hindwings, and I think it may have been the same kind of moth that I noticed on the outside wall of our hotel at the last place, right before we moved:
Moth (picture taken with crappy phone camera)

After staring for a minute, I moved toward the door to get a camera from inside, but the moth flew away. Still, that was a cool way to start the day!

About the hummingbirds: they've been at the feeder all morning. At one point, one was perched and feeding while a second one chased away a third. There has been much squabbling. An angry hummingbird is one of the funnier, and cuter, animals I've witnessed.
serenissima: banded sphinx moth (beauty/nature)
I filled and hung up the hummingbird feeder two days ago, as I had contemplated, and lo, they come! We've observed several hummingbird visitors today. Actually, the first hummingbird that I saw approach the feeder this morning was chased away by a second bird, with angry squeaking, but the second hummingbird did not partake at that time. I think it's been back since, though. I can't really tell individuals apart, so I don't know if we have several birds in the area or just two repeat customers. They have green backs and pale bellies, and at least one of them has a patch under the chin that sometimes looks red and sometimes black, depending on how he's facing the light. I hope I can take a picture of one, but the birds are fast and my camera is a tad slow, plus there's a glass window between us, so I don't know how well it will work.
(Our feeder is this model, btw.)

One of the two yellow lantana plants in the front border has grown quite sprawling and is a big draw for black swallowtail butterflies. I saw at least a dozen black butterflies on it while I was pulling out of the driveway on Monday, and that's part of what prompted me to put up the hummingbird feeder. I frequently see hawks circling over the area south of our neighborhood where there are no buildings. [ profile] aristeros is not impressed by seeing hawks, as they were common where he grew up, but I always like watching them.

While walking the dog in the mornings, I often see rabbits — the dog usually notices them after I do, if at all. A couple of weeks ago, I took him out for an evening walk, a rare treat for him, and we startled what was probably a deer. All I saw in the darkness was a patch of fluffy white at about shoulder level that quickly ran away. [ profile] aristeros and I saw a young deer out in daytime several days ago. The playground at the loop end of our U-shaped road has a length of chain-link fence backing it, perhaps fifty yards long to judge from my memories of long-ago PE class. As we drove past, heading out to lunch, we saw a deer running back and forth along the fence on the playground side. It didn't seem to realize that it needed to run only a little farther to get away.
serenissima: banded sphinx moth (beauty/nature)
We've noticed a lot more insect life here than at the last place we lived. Beetles, ants, moths, flies — an annoying number of the latter two enter the house, but I don't want to spray poison around in case I end up breathing it or swallowing it.

Here's a more unusual visitor we observed last Friday evening: a stick insect on the outside of our patio wall.
photo )

And, our rose bush with more flowers than in the last picture I posted.
photo )
serenissima: banded sphinx moth (beauty/nature)
A bonus that came with our house is the border garden in front and back. Actually, there's not much left in back, just a few sparse bedding plants, but the front looks a bit better. Most houses on our street do not have this. That means someone who lived here before took the time, effort and money to plant the garden. Also, there's a great big rose bush in the patio in front.

We were told that this neighborhood will be demolished next year to make way for new construction, just like at the last place we lived. That means all the improvements people have made to their yards will be torn up, including the large trees that some houses in this neighborhood have. One house up the street from us has a sizeable oak in its front yard. Such a shame, but I guess I understand the reasoning. People prefer bigger houses and central air conditioning. I hope to root some cuttings from our rose bush before we leave this house so it will live on in some form.

Anyhow, photos:
A brief pictorial review )

Monsoon season seems to encourage flowers.
serenissima: banded sphinx moth (beauty/nature)
(cross-posted to [ profile] urban_nature)
Last week, on returning from dinner out, we found a big hunting spider in the garage, next to the door to the house.

spider #1 )

Two days later, I found a big hunting spider in the bathroom closet. My husband thought it was the same spider, but I thought the one in the garage was bigger.

spider #2 )

At the end of the day, I trapped spider #2 in a cup and put it in the back yard. The dog followed eagerly, but I don't think he caught it.

The reasonably sized photos are linked to Flickr, where you can see huge versions for full detail.
serenissima: banded sphinx moth (beauty/nature)
The dog is snoring in his Port-A-Crate. Snoring animals amuse me greatly. :)

It's been four weeks since I potted up my seedlings. I regret to report that they are dead, except for one zinnia which will probably expire by the time we clear out of this house. I put them by the front door. Temperatures have maxed in the 90°s F most days; during the first week or two that the plants were out there, we had a few days nearing 100°. I guess watering twice a week or so wasn't enough. Actually, I didn't even try to save them once I noticed they were dying. Because they are outdoors out of my sight and I was preoccupied with school and packing, they haven't been much on my mind. I was thinking I'd give away the pots of plants to friends here, but instead I guess I'll be taking the pots of soil with me.

Now that I'm done with school, I've had the time and inclination (if grudging) to walk the dog in the mornings again, and I've noticed more insect activity than a couple months ago: grasshoppers and large ants. The other night when [ profile] aristeros and I returned from going out to eat, we discovered a great big hunting spider by the doorframe inside the garage. He took a picture of it, but I don't know where he put the camera; perhaps I'll post the photo later.
serenissima: banded sphinx moth (beauty/nature)
AP: Calif. aquarium blames flooding on curious octopus
SANTA MONICA, Calif. (AP) — Staff at the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium in California say the trickster who flooded their offices with sea water was armed. Eight-armed, to be exact.

They blame the soaking they discovered Tuesday morning on the aquarium's resident two-spotted octopus, a tiny female known for being curious and gregarious with visitors. The octopus apparently tugged on a valve and that allowed hundreds of gallons of water to overflow its tank.

Aquarium spokeswoman Randi Parent says no sea life was harmed by the flood, but the brand new, ecologically designed floors might be damaged by the water.
Compare with Otto, the mischievious octopus at the SeaStar aquarium in Germany (scroll down to the section in English).
Edited To Add: Here's a longer article on the incident.

AP: 13,000-year-old tools unearthed at Colorado home
By Alysia Patterson, Associated Press Writer
DENVER (AP) — Landscapers were digging a hole for a fish pond in the front yard of a Boulder home last May when they heard a "chink" that didn't sound right. Just some lost tools. Some 13,000-year-old lost tools. They had stumbled onto a cache of more than 83 ancient tools buried by the Clovis people — ice age hunter-gatherers who remain a puzzle to anthropologists.

more details )

What researchers found on the tools also was significant. Biochemical analysis of blood and other protein residue revealed the tools were used to butcher camels, horses, sheep and bears. That proves that the Clovis people ate more than just woolly mammoth meat for dinner, something scientists were unable to confirm before.

"A window opens up into this incredibly remote way of life that we normally can't see much of," Bamforth said.

The cache was buried 18 inches deep and was packed into a hole the size of a large shoe box. The tools were most likely wrapped in a skin that deteriorated over time, Mahaffy said.

more details )
Only 18 inches deep! Imagine digging a hole in your yard and finding that!
serenissima: banded sphinx moth (beauty/nature)
This is not really news, being a month old, but it is amusing:
Otto the octopus wreaks havoc
A octopus has caused havoc in his aquarium by performing juggling tricks using his fellow occupants, smashing rocks against the glass and turning off the power by shortcircuiting a lamp.

Staff believe that the octopus called Otto had been annoyed by the bright light shining into his aquarium and had discovered he could extinguish it by climbing onto the rim of his tank and squirting a jet of water in its direction.
details )
"Once we saw him juggling the hermit crabs in his tank, another time he threw stones against the glass damaging it. And from time to time he completely re-arranges his tank to make it suit his own taste better — much to the distress of his fellow tank inhabitants."
(The aquarium has some commentary on the news article: apparently the light was not annoyingly bright.)

We drove up to the mountains last Saturday, some 100 miles north of here I guess, and went hiking for a couple hours. We followed a trail, making things easy on me. I don't care much for bushwhacking, and steep grades make me afraid of slipping. The terrain was similar to around here, rocky and beige, but there was more greenery — actual wild trees, if small ones, and more large shrubs. We had a picnic lunch on a boulder with a beautiful view.

It's clear that the mountainside there gets more moisture than here, even on the little mountain near us, because I saw a few spots of moss on the shady side of rocks, and plenty of ferns, even growing near to cactuses. There was lichen, not just the pale sea-green color I'm most accustomed to, but also lime green, rusty orange, and yellow. In fact, we crossed a little brook along the way, which fell into a steep ravine.

There were lots of grasshoppers in varying colors: dull grey-brown, black with scarlet wings, brown with yellow wings, bright green, even one with multicolored bands. I think we saw nearly as many lying dead as we did live ones. I guess it's the season when they die; temperatures probably drop below freezing at night there. Besides a couple of squirrels, a few birds, and two stray cows we met on the drive in, we didn't see any other animals. There were some really strange bird calls, though, like laughter or whooping. And herbivore droppings along the trail that seemed too small to be from horses or cattle. I know there are feral oryx in the region....

We did see a coyote a week previous, two Sundays ago. It ran across the road when we were driving to find lunch. It's nice to think we have a little wilderness around us, even if the animal probably dined on garbage.
serenissima: banded sphinx moth (beauty/nature)
The weather has been very consistent during the five weeks or so that I've been here: hot and sunny. The high temps were in the low 90s when I arrived, and have gradually moderated to the mid 80s and now the low 80s just this week. However, a day reaching 88F here does not feel like a day reaching 88F back east. The mornings are cool, in the low 60s, and the heat doesn't really start until around 11 AM. There is usually a pleasant breeze. Late in the afternoon it starts getting cooler again. Sometimes there is a brief rain shower after the sun goes down. So overall, it's not as hot as one might expect from reading the weather forecast.

On the other hand, there is no escape from the sunshine. I think I've experienced two overcast days here, and both of them were during my first week. There are no trees except those brought by people. Here on Moonbase Bravo, the residential neighborhood of the senior officers is lushly planted with mature trees, so it has as much shade as I'm used to back home. The other housing areas have fewer and smaller trees, and the areas for doing business -- office space, warehouses and the like -- have no trees or shrubs around at all. Most of the buildings are unadorned concrete boxes. In between is scruffy grass, dirt, or asphalt.

The dirt here is pale, mostly beige, more reddish in some areas. As I've mentioned, there are some modestly sized mountains a short distance to our west, only about a 15 minute drive. Horizontal stripes of various shades of beige, tan, and rust are clearly visible in the rock. There is another little mountain to the south and a few more mountains some distance off to the east, breaking up the horizon line. There aren't gentle, rolling hills leading up to the mountains as there are where I grew up, but rather more abrupt changes in the terrain, with the land being quite flat otherwise.

The landscape is not desert in the sense of bare sand dunes. There are little bushes of different kinds, grasses and weeds. All the plants that grow any higher than a foot tall seem to have spines and thorns on them. I've even seen one kind that looks like it's composed entirely of thorns. There are plenty of yuccas and prickly pear cactus growing wild. The yuccas had just finished blooming when I arrived here, and their shriveled, wilted flower stalks are still poking up, twice as tall as the rest of the plant.

We've seen bunnies around, both jackrabbits and the ordinary cottontails we're used to from back home. The jackrabbits are bigger and have noticeably longer ears and legs, and their ears are tipped with black. We haven't seen any squirrels at all. I'm guessing this is because of the lack of trees. There are grackles, which I'm familiar with from college; they act kind of like pigeons but are much more noisy. While walking in the nearby county park, we saw a flock of quail cross the road in front of us. We found a dead lizard behind the washing machine last week and haven't seen any indoors since, so perhaps that was the only one.
serenissima: banded sphinx moth (beauty/nature)
I went for a brief walk in the park last Sunday evening. A flock of geese crossed the trail, surrounding me on both sides, while I stood and watched them. I get an odd feeling being in the midst of a large group of animals, especially animals as sizeable as geese. It reminded me of the scene from "Jurassic Park" where Dr. Grant is explaining to the two kids about the dinosaurs' flocking behavior, and the boy says, "Uh.. they're flocking this way." There were a number of families with young children at the park that day, and some of the smallest children were about the same size as a goose. I wondered how the toddlers felt about being near these birds as big as themselves. I've been eye to eye with a flamingo once before, at Walt Disney World; in fact I think it was an inch or two taller than me. That was an odd feeling, too.

Monday morning, when I pulled back the shower curtain, I was startled to find a brown spider in my bathtub. I considered courses of action. I didn't have the heart to wash it down the drain, but on the other hand I didn't have time to capture it and put it outside. I decided to go ahead and shower while the spider was there. The poor thing looked so miserable huddled against the spray of water, occasionally trying to climb up the side of the tub but always slipping back, apparently foiled by slick porcelain, soap scum, and the steep grade. I felt badly for it. It was still there when I got home more than twelve hours later, so at that time I picked it up on a piece of paper and released it out the window.
serenissima: (Default)
AP: 'Goose Whisperer' bonds with park birds - Yahoo! News
At age 23, Martin Hof has developed an unusual approach to managing urban geese populations that is gaining adherents in the animal-friendly Netherlands — the first country in the world with an animal rights party in parliament.

"It's all about respect for the geese," he says.

The main problem at the Hof van Delft and most parks is that the birds have been allowed to overbreed and are clashing with the humans whose territory they share. But rather than destroying them, Hof finds new homes for the geese, dividing them along family lines to reduce the trauma of the move.

On the other side of the equation, he works with the humans who consider the geese as either pets or pests. That means discouraging feeding the birds and educating city workers on preventing the animals from overbreeding in the first place.


Gerard Zwart of the Amsterdam's public health agency, which has hired Hof's company for several projects, says the city has been so influenced by his thinking it plans to rename its "Vermin Control Service" to the "Nature Management Service."

The cost of using Hof's service is about the same as the old eradication program, he says. A typical job of relocating 30 geese would be about $2,000-$3,000.

I think the most important point of this article is that the more humane method of controlling the geese population is just as cheap as the conventional method.

A few months ago, the large park across the street from where I work had some people with shelties or border collies (are those the same thing?) chase away the geese from the pond, and the geese stayed away for several days, but the dogs were only there for one week, and the geese are back now.
serenissima: banded sphinx moth (beauty/nature)
So, on Monday during my lunch break, I went for a walk around the pond in the park across the street. On my way around, I came across two or three smushed crayfish. I wondered where they had come from. They were pretty red, so maybe they were cooked and had been intended for a meal? Or had they actually crawled out of the pond?

Three quarters of the way around, I met this fellow strolling nonchalantly across the sidewalk.
Crayfish Crayfish close up
That settled the question.

It was about five inches long and was headed away from the water. I wonder what made them come out of the pond? I'm guessing it was something to do with all the rain we had on Sunday.

Other things I noticed about the wildlife:
There were two herons, and one of them was standing on the bank of the pond, right next to the sidewalk. I tried to give it plenty of space as I passed by, but nevertheless I came within some 12 feet, and it didn't seem bothered.

Also, I dunno if they're related to the half-breed drake I observed last year, but there are several ducks that look to be of mixed mallard-and-domestic parentage.
serenissima: banded sphinx moth (beauty/nature)
I've been neglecting to mention that it's cottonwood seeds-blowing-around season.
Informative link #1 | Informative link #2
- - -
EDIT: I'd been thinking about taking an explanatory photo at the park, but someone's done it already. See informative link #3 as referenced in the 1st comment below.


May. 26th, 2007 05:55 am
serenissima: banded sphinx moth (beauty/nature)
It is before 6 AM, and as I write this, there is a squirrel on my bedroom windowsill. The blinds are down and I'm trying to be vewy, vewy qwiet.

The camera's in the car, but even if I had it, there isn't really a good vantage point.
serenissima: banded sphinx moth (beauty/nature)
Here's something I never thought of before.
AP: Researchers: Baking impacts Puget Sound
SEATTLE - Researchers at the University of Washington say all that holiday baking and eating has an environmental impact — Puget Sound is being flavored by cinnamon and vanilla. "Even something as fun as baking for the holiday season has an environmental effect," said Rick Keil, an associate professor of chemical oceanography. "When we bake and change the way we eat, it has an impact on what the environment sees. To me it shows the connectedness."

Keil and UW researcher Jacquelyn Neibauer's weekly tests of treated sewage sent into the sound from the West Point treatment plant in Magnolia showed cinnamon, vanilla and artificial vanilla levels rose between Nov. 14 and Dec. 9, with the biggest spike right after Thanksgiving.

So far, the research has turned up no evidence that snickerdoodles are harming sea creatures, but their research does lead to some serious environmental questions. Fish rely heavily on their sense of smell to locate food, for example, and, in the case of salmon, to find their way back to their home stream to spawn.

Keil's findings present a light side of what scientists say is potentially a serious situation. Scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey and other agencies have documented that antibiotics, contraceptives, perfumes, painkillers, antidepressants and other substances pass through the sewage system into waterways.
(cross-posted to [ profile] urban_nature)
serenissima: (Default)
Another walk around the pond, another notable bird: I just saw a mallard x domesticated duck hybrid. He's considerably bigger and whiter about the torso than the other male mallards, and his head is not as green and shiny. Nevertheless, there was a female mallard next to him. I wonder if that will be a fruitful union.

EDIT: Apparently yes. "A surprising number of hybrid ducks are fertile, indicating that many duck species are closely related.... All domestic ducks, with the exception of the Muscovy (Cairina moschata), are thought to be descended from the Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)." So I guess "multiracial" ducks are not uncommon. :)