juvenile great horned owls and venus in background at sunset / contra costa county CA
some of these birds are molting, so they are looking a little ragged – but still beautiful
Briones Regional Park * Contra Costa County CA
juvenile Western Bluebirds * Sialia mexicana
These four flew into the tree above me and huddled together in the shade, taking refuge from the hot afternoon sun together. It was pretty adorable.
when you see this wild eye, it can’t be anything else but what it is … and it is beautiful
great-horned owl (adult female) / contra costa county CA
last nap before the night
This pair has been around for a number of years – why no young? Theories to come …
The red foxes have returned to the den I found last year, and they have three kits this year!
I have spent some time out photographing them at night, but because of the poor light the photos are rough. But still adorable!! It’s been so fun to watch these kits over the last week. I’m guessing they are about six weeks, maybe seven.
More to come soon …
This evening I debated about doing my almost daily walk/wander/hike in the hills. I was feeling kind of lazy. It was a warm and clear day, and despite being thankful for all the rain of late, I was happy for some sun after almost 10 consecutive days of rain. The light was sublime out there, and I was content to just stay at home as it illuminated my house with golden yellow light warmed by a slight orange hue. I started doing some mundane tasks, and I randomly started watching a classic movie in the background, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. Great flick. It was right at the part of the movie when he enters the map chamber and the sun shines through the amulet on top of the staff illuminating the location of the holy grail.
Soon I noticed that the sun was setting outside, and the rays were coming through my window reminding me it was soon time to go walk if that was to be.
And thankfully so.
After a bit, I walked outside to watch the sunset from my backyard in the warm, still, March air. As I looked West, towards Mount Tam, I realized that the sun was setting almost perfectly behind the peak. But just to the left.
Then I thought, wow – I wonder if the sun will set exactly behind the peak on the vernal equinox, March 21st (four days from now)? Suddenly, I remembered the petroglyphs on the chlorite schist rock just 20 feet from me in my yard (that I blogged about over two years ago) …
Could they be related?
My mind continued on a virtual wander, as the sun illuminated the sky behind the Sacred Mountain across the Bay from me. What if the other petroglyphs- similar to what are in my yard, but just to the south in Canyon Trail Park – lined up with another celestial event? Perhaps the summer solstice? And what if I searched to the north, along a north/south line from my current position – would I find more rocks with similar markings that aligned that position with Mt Tam and the winter solstice? Do they exist, or did they (it’s totally possible that they have already been destroyed or covered over by development – so proof could be hard to find)?
Maybe watching Indiana Jones had me fantasizing too much. But, what if?
As I looked at the rock with the petroglyphs, I realized that with some level of imagination the rocks actually looked like the silhouette of Mt Tam! Maybe that part is a stretch of the imagination, yes. But, the equinox alignment, at a minimum, seems too obvious to discount as coincidence. But why this rock? Why here, where there are higher elevation points that would seem to my modern mind more “appropriate” as a place for something like this? Perhaps the topology or plant cover at the time they were carved might have yielded more obvious clues about that.
Regardless, I think Dr. Jones would be proud.
As I watched the light fading behind the Mountain, standing by the Rock, I looked up. Above the Rock that has a half-moon carved into it, and over the juniper tree beneath which it lies – there was the half-moon shining through. Magical!
Tracking is not just about animal track and sign. Tracking is a 24/7 part of our existence, something we all do to one degree or another in almost every aspect of our lives – but each of us with different levels of consciousness around it. We can track animals, water, stars, moods, stock markets, traffic patterns – everything, really. It is about awareness. Practicing awareness. Taking a moment to observe, instead of always “doing.”
To finish the evening, I stopped at a restaurant called Jupiter and sat down in the courtyard by the fire. As I looked up into the sky in that courtyard, above the hanging sculpture of Jupiter, there shined a bright thing in the sky … the actual planet Jupiter!! Aha!!! Good stuff.
I asked the server if she realized that Jupiter was shining above their Jupiter sculpture above us – she did not, and really didn’t seem all that impressed to know. She was tracking other things I guess.
The adventure and questions go on, hopefully more to come on this …
some pictures from a few weeks ago that i am late to post, taken with my mobile phone – great-horned owls and venus
contra costa county ca
same night, another great-horned owl with venus and mount tam in background with city lights
It’s been amazing to hear all of the vocalizations that the great-horned owls make, especially now during courting time. One of the pair seems to greet the other after they leave their roosts with a croaking screech sound from a nearby tree, then when the pair comes together one of them makes a repeated chirping sound, something that you’d expect to come from a plush toy or something similar. It’s a fast series of soft, muffled cooing-chirp-toots. Even the common “hoot” changes in frequency, cadence, and number of hoots in a grouping when they are addressing each other. It’s very endearing.
Tonight this pair was hanging out together as usual lately – and talking to one another – on their favorite tree, a big live oak. I felt lucky to watch and listen.
One night while watching one of the pairs of great-horned owls where I wander, I stumbled on what is likely one of the pair’s tracks – right in the middle of a cow pattie! Pretty awesome. Good substrate is hard to come by in this area for registering tracks, especially if there is no rain – you make do-do with what you got.
(I know, I know, bad tracking humor)
Likely one of the track makers from that same evening …
The last few nights, and once about a week ago, I saw a small flying creature flit about well after sunset up in the hills. At first i thought it was a large bat, then considered that perhaps it was a small owl – but neither option seemed to fit the behavior or size. The exposed area and hunting style didn’t match any nocturnal owls that I know of in the area.
Tonight I got my answer – in nearly the same spot as one of my other sightings, again well after sunset, it appeared. Actually, first, I heard it. It emits almost non-stop little squeaks, similar to a small little dog toy being squeezed over and over again. Very faint, but when the bird flies close-by, which it does, it was audible. Tonight I got out my small LED flashlight when I realized the bird had landed on the trail ahead of me – a common poorwill!
The last one that I saw was east of San Jose in the mountains back in the Spring, and I was able to get a much better picture of it at that time (see here). Very cool little creatures! I hope it (or they) survive(s) this area – it’s not easy considering all the great-horned owls who would be more than happy to make a meal out of this little one.
flock of cedar waxwings stopped to watch the sunset, kindly with a backdrop of the waxing moon behind them. hmmm.
some of the winter migrants have settled in, good to hear these birds’ high-pitched calling again.
got some good shots of this lady as she waited for her mate, who was dozing a bit longer in his palm tree refuge by which she had taken a sit after leaving her day perch. he has a much deeper hoot and a more elongated hoot sequence than her, sometimes beginning with a few subtle, almost grunt-sounding hoots that preface the “typical” great-horned owl hoot sequence. these owls that I have observed the last year have a lot more vocalizations that i have heard in addition to what is typically documented or described in the scientific literature. i suspect they have a larger vocabulary than humans realize, some of it very subtle.
some serious tools …. incredible crushing force in these feet in addition to sharp talons.
great-horned owl / Contra Costa County CA
I haven’t been lucky enough to see a jaguar in the wild yet, but I did see this fella (lady?) last Thursday at Los Vaqueros Reservoir in Contra Costa County just after sunset.
Hiding just out of sight was this little one, probably trying to avoid being a bobcat breakfast.
It is a surreal landscape here – large mountainous hills that grow out of the flat grassy planes East of Mount Diablo, south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin river delta. It is almost completely devoid of trees, other than a small riparian area at the dam outlet, but once atop any of the peaks that surround the reservoir, there must be thousands of giant wind turbines in sight. It’s staggering the number of turbines in view, for as far as the eye can see in some directions, over land that has been cleared for grazing.
Ironically, this general area has the highest concentration of nesting golden eagles in the world. It is home to many raptor and bird species, and has also been shown to be a main migration route for birds in the Autumn and Spring. It probably goes without saying that wind turbines and soaring birds don’t go well together (not for the birds, certainly). The mortality rate of golden eagles in this region is high due to collisions with the wind turbine blades, and is probably under-reported.
It’s hard to determine visually where the wind farms end or if they are part of different farms – to the north is the Shiloh Wind Power Plant, and to the south is Altamont Pass Wind Farm (of notorious history, for its vastly negative impact on raptor and other bird species). They are two of the four largest wind farms in CA. I’m not sure who owns the ones pictured above, I suspect it’s part of the Altamont Pass Wind Farm. The picture below shows a view to the north from above the reservoir – if you look closely you can see a LARGE number of turbines stretching across the horizon. I suspect these are part of Shiloh Wind Power Plant. It’s hard to differentiate where they start or end though because the turbines seem to be concentrated densely there to the north, then they sporadically run from that point far to the north all along the eastern edge of the Diablo range, then southeast towards Altamont Pass and out of sight.
Despite the jarring visual impact, these turbines are “green energy” and certainly have a lot of benefits over other energy production techniques. They are part of the compromise that we currently must make in our effort to satisfy energy demands while still attempting to minimize our impact on the environment – both to the creatures who live there now, and in a global capacity long term. No easy answers. No black and white.
Every day the sun rises though, and the cycle of life continues. Coyote doesn’t care so much about politics.