You can see in this photo a great example of the understep walk that these awesome little creatures move in, with the five-digit rear feet landing just behind the four-digit front feet. So cool to see them walk. Note also the tail drag in the middle.
Some photos and updates from the last few weeks. Spring seems to have started in the beginning of February this year, the buckeye trees (usually the first to bud and the first to lose their leaves) were budding in some places as early as the end of January. Since then, the warm and sunny weather has drawn out flowers and buds all around. Fortunately, as I write this, the rains have started again – and we are due for much more.
Two weeks ago (week of Feb 15th), on two different nights, I saw the Wildcat Canyon “Bottomhill” great-horned owl couple mate. The timing coincides almost exactly with when I saw another pair mate last year – I thought maybe the weather would affect the pattern, but apparently not. It’s somewhat odd as most literature indicates great-horned owls being an early breeder (compared to other raptor species), and in many areas are on nests in January in the snow. I guess owl culture, like human culture here in the Bay Area, is different in these parts as well (I joke – probably the Mediterranean climate is a factor, though I’d be curious to know how breeding behavior here compares to other warm areas). As I get deeper into my own observations of the world and its critters, I realize how little we actually know. Scientists in the past seem to have been content to generalize regarding behavior, and while there are patterns and a spectrum of those behaviors that are “typical,” often in reality it may be different based on local factors. That’s what makes it fun to be out there. Personality and local flavor.
The female always seems to initiate the act, and she starts by chasing down the male on the occasions that I’ve witnessed it. She lands close to him, and starts to do a vocalization very similar to a juvenile owl. When the male flies towards her, she starts a repetitive “hoo hoo hoo hoo” sound that reminds me of a monkey. As the male mounts her, flapping for a few seconds, she lets out a high pitched vibrato whistle and then its over. It will be interesting to see what happens this year, as last year many of the nests didn’t appear to successfully raise any young (drought related?). There are four pairs whose territories I regularly walk through, with a possible fifth – then another not far away. Of all those pairs, I only confirmed one successful nest last season.
Despite the very dry February, the vernal pools are deep and wide from all the rain in January, and have been extremely active with tree frogs and California newts. The newts migrate from their hiding spots under leaf litter back to the area from which they hatched to mate and lay eggs. The frog chorus, if you can sneak up on them, is incredibly loud when nearby. Nights of wandering under warm skies and no winds to a live symphony of frogs, and owls flitting around, is pizza for the soul.
I caught a few interesting moon shots this month, one was a moon halo and the other was an interesting rainbow effect on clouds as the full moon rose last time.
I couldn’t help but smile in the dwindling light tonight, as my footfalls fell softly on the soft wet ground to a chorus of water drips falling from the leaves around me. It hasn’t been often this year to feel the rain drops on my face – hopefully we continue to get some more before the usual rainy season ends in a month or so.
As I reached the high ground on my short wander in Wildcat Canyon, the winds started to pick up and the rain became heavier. I gave a couple of hoots at a spot where I usually see one of the pairs of owls, and after a few steps I saw one of them perched out on a branch in his “transition” spot where he goes just before heading out to hunt. He was hunkered down in the direction of the wind and rain to the west, leaning over to allow the gusts to flow around his feathery coat. But after a few moments, he seemed to think it a better idea to go back to bed, and he returned into the deeper woods of Monterey Pine and Douglas Fir where he took a few moments to give a few hoots.
As I hopped down the side of the hill, I noticed a number of newts were also out enjoying the rain. Towards the bottom near the parking area, I found one of them enjoying some breakfast – an earth worm!
It only took the newt about a minute or two to finish the worm, which didn’t seem to struggle all that much. After it was done, it walked off into the canopy of some milk thistle on the side of the path.
I love newt feet.
The newts I saw tonight are likely the California Newt, Taricha torosa – hard to differentiate from the rough-skinned newt (Taricha granilosa) which is also found in this area.
Let it rain!