Magic is all around us if we take the time to notice.
Hummingbirds are all over Carmel Valley. I see them and hear their clicking song often when I am out walking Rainbow or wandering around the neighborhood by myself. For years I have been looking for a nesting hummingbird who would be willing to pose for a few well-timed photographs.
Our little patio features a ficus tree that has gotten big and thick over the years. I noticed a spirited little bird going back and forth with little bits of fluff a few weeks ago, and it didn’t take too long to figure out what was going on.
OK, I know this isn’t a hummingbird. A few days ago in Ocean Beach I finally got one of the resident parrots to pose for a portrait!
My quick impression is that little has changed since I left, except for the addition of some medical marijuana dispensaries. Who says nothing ever changes for the better?
Zooming in from a good perch on the pier, I was able to snap a shot of my former front door, indicated by the little yellow arrow.
I still remember my first night there. It had taken me until well after midnight to finish moving in, and I had some corporate obligations that required I get up at a quarter to six. When I woke up, instantly I noticed the roar of the pounding surf a hundred yards away. That sound, and the immediately refreshing ocean air, are the two things I miss most about Venice Beach.
These days my place at Ocean Beach is quite reminiscent of my old haunts at Venice. I’m not quite so close to the water but still close enough to hear it and to enjoy the taste of the air.
It isn’t possible to witness too many sunsets at the beach. Here is the latest addition to our collection!
Patrick’s Point State Park is one of the most glorious places in Humboldt County, even though most of the trees are not giant redwoods. It is widely known for its stunning ocean views and spectacular essence. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more at home anywhere else; I wrote about it once before, in August, 2007, and included more conventional pictures.
This afternoon, Alexis and I hiked the rim trail of Patrick’s Point, which was cut by the Yurok Tribe hundreds of years ago. According to their tradition, the Dolphin Spirit took up residence here when humanity took over the surface of Earth. Personally, I suspect they’re on to something. Go there someday and see for yourself.
It was fairly late afternoon, and stretches of the path were brightly lit up by sunshine. Here is one of two snakes we saw during the hike. This one was about 18 inches long. Maybe somehow he knew the law protects him from human aggression, because he didn’t seem intimidated by a couple of people. No doubt plenty of other creatures are eager to have him for their next meal.
It’s hard not to notice that this is the second fairly recent serpent-related entry. Is there a symbolic meaning in this? Given my many lizard sightings over the years, (see this, and this, also this, maybe this, and this, and especially this), it’s hard not to see these snake visitations as some sort of escalation of the primal forces. Somehow it feels like a positive and somehow appropriate development.
Shinrin-yoku is the Japanese practice of forest bathing. Count me among the “early adopeters” of this therapy! Like many lawyers, I have a keen sense of what constitutes good medical practice — and I am 100% sure that hanging out in a forest has tangible medical benefits. If you’re into experimenting a little with shinrin-yoku, I recommend going to Avenue of the Giants.
Rainbow told me something was up. Dogs will tell you a lot if you are willing to pause long enough to listen.
She came to the sliding screen door that separates my home office from the downstairs patio with a nervous expression. At first I ignored her but she was insistent, raising her ears up halfway and wrinkling her forehead, occasionally shaking her head towards her right and pointing.
Imagine my surprise when I slid the door open, poked my head out and turned left – to see a huge snake, several feet long, trapped by a roll of garden netting! I jumped so quickly that all of my clothes were left in a pile behind me. Once I put them back on I went and grabbed my camera and Lana.
“Hey, Ms. May! You need to come look at this – it’s something you haven’t seen before in our yard, and I don’t think you’re going to forget this anytime soon!” She paused her preparations for the Del Mar Junior Lifeguard program to join me, grabbing her iPhone to snap the photo below a few seconds after I took the first one in this post.
OK, there’s a big snake in my yard, trapped by garden netting. Now what? Looking at 14 year-old Lana reminded me that I’m the grownup and ought to Take Charge, seeing as how I Know What to Do.
Carefully, gently, I grabbed the roll and slowly rolled up the netting as I raised the whole thing. The snake pulled back with remarkable strength, trying to get out of the net. As I started to raise a big part of the serpent’s body off the ground I noticed just how strong and heavy it really was. Suddenly the snake’s head popped free from the plastic netting and the snake was free and wholly back on the concrete. It slithered off as fast as it could!
Out of sight, out of mind. Great job! Well done!
Research discloses that this snake likely is a model representative of Arizona Elegans Occidentalis, otherwise known as the California Glossy Snake. For additional reptile coverage in these pages, see here, here, here, here, here, and especially here.
The San Diego Zoo is one of the great attractions in southern California. I still remember touching the Galapagos Tortoises at the SD Zoo during my first visit more than 50 years ago. When I was a kid, I spent most of my summers in various swimming pools, libraries and science fiction conventions. Not once did I attend a summer camp. Who needs camp in Hollywood if you’ve got good student discount movie passes and daily chances to swim? No, I never did go to summer camp and I can’t say I ever felt especially deprived.
The San Diego Zoo Art Camp actually is set up for all ages. I didn’t require any special dispensation to be able to attend. There’s a lot to be said for the experience; certainly it was a highlight of the summer for me. It is much different to go to the zoo for a day and spend an hour at a single exhibit compared to a typical visit where you’re trying to see as much as possible. It’s also cool to go to the zoo for several hours a day, five days in a row.
There is a lot to be said for hanging out with children, too. The kids ranged in age from 8 to 14. All of them were charming and most of them were accomplished young artists. It was a pleasure to spend the week with Elana, getting behind the scenes glimpses into the working of the zoo. We both enjoyed studying and practicing the art of drawing, too. The teacher was generous with her knowledge and patient with her students. Here is my elephant and Lana’s giraffes, to show you what we were up to.
When we were at Art Camp back in 2010, Elana got a great photograph of an outraged and hungry tiger. Maybe it was a little risky for me to dangle her over the protective barrier just to get a really good picture, but I figured it was a good way for us to bond, plus it’s invaluable for young people to face death and live to tell the tale.
This year it was my turn to get a spectacular picture of a deadly predator without the presence of bars or glass barriers in the way to mess up the shot. Here’s the picture – a furious and ravenous crocodile!
These animals are impressive killing machines, but they have a tender side too – they care for their babies with far more attention to detail than most reptiles. They have eyes as acute as owls and also superb hearing. Crocs can swim and run very fast, too. They tend to be ambush hunters, lying in wait for unsuspecting prey. This was my big advantage. Surprise was on my side. Most captive crocodiles are not used to guys with cameras making a hurried run-through in order to get a quick photograph!
As you can see, the picture was well worth any short-term danger. Sure, I know a lot of idiots get killed at zoos every year. They drop their camera into the tiger cage and try to retrieve it, or they want to pet the nice panda or polar bear. Those folks are Darwin Award candidates for sure. What the High Cabal doesn’t want you to know about are all the people who take less outrageous, more calculated risks for the sake of art.
OK, I understand that it is against the rules and generally accepted notions of common sense for an ordinary middle-aged clown to risk life and limb for a photograph. Still, nobody got hurt. It is true that the croc did go after me a split-second after I took the picture, but the fact that I’m writing this is proof that he didn’t get me. It’s also true that some of the zoo attendees were quite frightened by the sudden action in the crocodile enclosure. I admit that I didn’t expect to have quite such a close call, and it’s also true that I didn’t know that the croc would end up slamming into the glass so forcefully. I imagine a few of the folks were a little flustered by the experience. Well, I say that the picture was worth it. You be the judge.
It’s been too long since these pages featured a nice lizard.
Here is a fine example of Phrynosoma, the Great Horned Lizard. Native American cultures respected these creatures for being symbols of strength. You can find out more about ‘horny toads’ here and here.
I’ve been hunting these guys with various cameras for years. More than 15 months ago, I got a shot of several of these birds on a power wire, but that wasn’t exactly the nice nature picture I always had in mind.
“Birdsong” is not a word that comes to mind when a flock of parrots begins an animated conversation. I heard a loud parrot gossip session begin just as I was sitting down to work. I took three steps out of my office and looked up. Half a dozen of these fine birds were in the neighbor’s tree. I took this shot by leaning back and pointing the camera up.
It’s nice to see this blog leaning away from reptiles and focusing more attention on birds.
Most of us have seen video of hummingbirds flying in slow motion. In real life it’s amazing how fast they are. I’ve been hunting these guys with various cameras for years, and this is the first picture I’ve managed to get that’s vaguely worth sharing.
We think of these tiny birds as being little and cute, but in fact they are mean. Their call is a distinct clicking sound, and they aren’t shy about buzzing people, dogs, or much larger birds who get too close to a place the micro bird is defending. This year there are several active hummingbird nests within 15 yards of the sliding glass door to the back patio.
Yet another amazing creature showed up to pose for pictures early this afternoon.
It feels good to be getting back to taking pictures of dragonflies; maybe it means lizards are done following me for now. I’ve been hunting dragonflies with a camera for years, with some great results! Check out these dragonfly centerfolds from July 2007, July 2008, and September 2010.
Years ago when I started this blog, I did not expect that I would be spending so much time photographing and writing about lizards. Life is like that sometimes. It’s like I always say: “When life gives you lemons, sometimes you have to break some eggs.” I think it goes like that. Anyway, as far as I can tell, I have written about Elgaria Multicarinata here and here, and I have published a magnificent picture of what I think is a nice representative of Sceleoporus Magister Uniformis (the yellow backed spiny lizard).
No, I never did intend for this to be a Lizards of Southern California website, but sometimes you’ve got to go where life takes you. Probably you can relate to the sentiment – after all, I don’t suppose you started your day imagining how great it would be to read the observations of some guy who thinks lizards are following him.
I guess it’s about time for all those science classes I took at the USC Law School to pay off a little bit. It was a long time ago…but I do remember spending a lot of time at law school studying reptiles, although none of those issues turned up on the California Bar Examination.
San Diego is a nice place in January, warm and mild compared to most places, but nobody would argue that it is a tropical paradise. For example, this Gold Dust Day Gecko is not native to America’s Finest City. The picture was taken in the Kohala region of the Big Island of Hawaii.
It turns out that the gecko is no more native to Hawaii than I am. Here’s a nice action shot of me taken in a gentle undertow just a few days ago off the Kona coast. Somebody has to do it.