The closest stop sign is over a mile away and the first traffic light is 5+ miles down the road. A visit to the grocery store is almost 30 miles round trip. It's quiet here; just the sound of toads and coyotes at night. It seems very still, but when you look close there's always something happening. Read on about a few things we've noticed over the past few years.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Babies in the dirt - my dirty little secret

When I was a kid anytime I saw a Potato Bug I might have let out a scream or at the very least my skin would crawl.  Lots of people find these bugs pretty disgusting.  As I've come a cross a few over the past year I've been doing a closer examination and I've independently decided they look human.  After coming to this conclusion I went to work one day and mentioned this to my friend and she rattled off something in Spanish in response to my remark (niƱa de la tierra).  When I asked for a translation she said "Babies in the dirt".  She is of Mexican heritage and she said that's what her culture calls the potato bug.  I'm amused to find I'm not the only one who thinks these bugs look human.
The potato bug is also known as the Jerusalem cricket, although they are not from Jerusalem.  And they don't eat potatoes.  Active usually at night, the insects use their mandibles to feed primarily on dead organic material but also eat other insects.  Their highly adapted feet are used for burrowing beneath moist soil.  I've discovered they usually appear after a rain, they crawl out of the grass onto the patio to dry out.  Let me admit to my sickness now - the first time I saw one up here in the hills, my first thought was "would my chickens eat this?".  I scooped up my baby from the dirt, carried him over to the coop and the chicken fighting began.  They pulled this bug apart leg by leg by arm and devoured him in 5 seconds.  This seems to be their favorite treat so far.  Often one chicken will grab the baby and take off running FAST to escape from the other chickens.  I know, I'm a sicko.  Each time it rains I circle the house looking for babies in the dirt.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Merry Christmas Everyone

Took this picture a few years ago from the back patio. 
We are only lucky enough to get a dusting of snow every couple of years. 
We'll be back in January with lots more new pictures. 
Happy Holidays to all!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Bye bye birdie

We have glue paper down in the corners of the garage to catch bugs or whatever else might try and sneak in.  I heard some noise and turned around and found this pretty bluebird stuck to the paper.  She must have mistaken it for a bug buffet.   When I gently pulled her off the paper she lost a few feathers.  She hopped out of the garage, shook her head a few times, rested for a few minutes and then took off like nothing was wrong.  Bye bye birdie.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Empty nest syndrome

Found this empty nest in the hedges on Sunday. 
So sweet to think some cute baby birds were chirping for their Mommy to bring them a fresh worm.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Pine cones

We have a large pine tree in front of our home.  The tree is healthy and is loaded with pine cones.  I bet there must be hundreds of cones on this tree.   Here's the funny thing...the tree has zero cones below it.  It must drop cones at one time or another but I never-ever find them.  Could it be a ground squirrel scurrying off with this booty? 
I'd like to find out, this is quite puzzling. 

Thursday, November 18, 2010

California State Bird

I'm pleased to find that the "California Quail" is my state bird; and due to their plentiful existence its easy to see why.  The bird pictured above is a male.  As in much of nature, the male is significantly more colorful.  Below is the female.
Quails live communally with at least two adult females and two males along with all their young.  They call this a "covey".  Females typically lay 12 eggs once (sometimes twice) a year.  All adults in the covey care for the young.  Nests are found on the ground under or near bushes. 
Quails like to take daily dust baths and feed on seeds, insects, and leaves.  Adults are just a tad smaller than a pigeon, and the babies only look to be about the size of my thumb when I've seen them in the yard. They don't make much noise, just a soft gentle chirp.  They mainly travel by foot and only fly when frightened.  Quail reside here year round, and the California Quail is only found along the Western Coastal States and British Columbia.  My bird feeder is visited daily, I love watching them feed.  Often in the late afternoon, a male will come out of the brush and jump up on top of a rock.  He studies the surroundings for safety and then calls/chirps to the rest of the group to come along.  They climb over the rocks past him and take their dust baths or walk the grass looking for insects.  The male keeps his post and continues standing guard watching out for his group.  When the group is done they head back in the direction that they came from and when the last one has passed the male he will take a final look around and then join the group. 
They're very sweet birds to watch.

Saturday, November 13, 2010


We see lots of coyote activity.  Some people see them as a danger or a nusense but I love them.  During the past couple of weeks I've found coyote scat outside my home several times.  I noticed it was loaded with some kind of wild berry.  This peaked my curiosity because I couldn't figure out where they were getting wild berries from - berries don't grow native here.  This very morning I saw four roaming around looking for breakfast.  Well, the berry mystery has been solved because these four coyotes were pulling the red pepper clumps off a wild pepper tree and were gobbling them up.  I had no idea they ate these.  One of the reasons I love the coyotes is because I'm a dog lover and I love the whole "pack" mentality.  So seeing the four of these pups together was great.  While our brushes with the coyotes have been frequent over the years, I've never experienced any danger of my own (not recommending anyone try and make friends with these wild animals).  I've found they usually run as soon as they spot humans.  One time we were sitting in our garage and a coyote trotted right by the front of the open garage door.  He went to our neighbors house and helped himself to the dog food.  He would take a bite and then position himself to watch us while he chewed.  Then he'd take another bite and turn to watch us again.  
Of course they often visit the chicken coop but have never been able to get in.  Once when I was pulling into my driveway I caught one trotting right alongside my car.  I stopped and rolled down my window and called to him.  He paused and tilted his head and then left.  It was pretty neat.  One of the biggest benefits of these guys is their help in keeping the squirrel, rabbit, and rodent population down.  At night when I hear them yap and yowl in excitement because they caught dinner I do a fist pump!  

Monday, November 8, 2010

Cricket with an attitude!

Found a couple of these on my back patio this weekend.  It's amazing how much they look like a leaf.  I've heard them chirping like crazy a few times and tracked them down by sound to find them sitting and munching on leaves in our orange tree.  When cropping this picture I noticed that this guy is flipping me off!  Can you believe it? 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

California Buckwheat

Here is a close up a very common plant in Gavilan Hills. The California Buckwheat.  This plant is native to SW USA and Mexico.  It grows on scrubby hillsides and dry river washes.  Our property is covered with them.  They bloom late winter through early spring with a white flower and as the summer goes on the flower dries into a beautiful rust color. 
This is my husband's favorite native flower.  It's popular among the bees because of it's nectar and I've even watched squirrels climb the stronger stalks and nibble the flowers off the bush.  Of course as a native, this plant is superbly drought resistant.  Some of the plants have grown 5' across and 3' high and can be quite dense.  We've weeded other plants away from this bush in designated areas of our property and used it for exclusive landscaping on certain hillsides.  It's really quite a pretty plant for all four seasons.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Great Horned Owl - what a beauty

I was working outside when I heard two crows making all kinds of racket.  I saw them dive bombing a big creature at the top of an old tree.  I grabbed my binoculars and saw it to be a very large owl.  I took the picture up above.   After watching for a while, I looked in my bird book and found this to be a GREAT HORNED OWL.  The grand-daddy of all owls.   Looking at the face, I think it kind of resembles a cat.   I was also surprised at the size of the claws.  These owls are 22" long and are found all over the U.S.  These owls eat the usual rodent, rabbit, snake, lizard, insect and are even known to regularly eat house cats and RED TAIL HAWKS.   They often take over a hawk's nest as their own to raise young.  They will pluck their own chest feathers to soften the bed.  The crow's weren't bothering the owl in the least, he/she was completely ignorning them and a few minutes later they left.  The owl hung out for about another hour.  Owl's like to perch in the same spot, so I will be watching for it.  The book said you can find regurgitated 4 inch rolls of waste of fur, feathers, and skeltons below their favorite perches.   Strangely enough I did find one recently that fit this exact description but I didn't know what to make of it.  Now I know where it came from.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Cute baby frog

Found this little guy on the grass while we were cutting the lawn.
He sure is cute!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

My good luck

Why is always me who finds something gross?  Why can't my husband find this stuff?   I looked down and found this dog toe next to my garage.  Bone, toe, and toenail all in one piece.   My dog's aren't missing any toes.  Coyote?  Could be...I've been finding coyote scat everyday lately around my house.   We did bury two dogs last spring but their graves don't look like they've been disturbed.  Anyway...enjoy the photo.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Red Tail Hawk

My very favorite animal is the Red Tail Hawk.  I find them fascinating.  A very large overgrown eucalyptus tree has made a perfect perch and nest for the two Red Tail Hawks that live on the adjoining property.  Because my home is higher up the plateau than their tree, I'm able to view the nest unobstructed from my living room window.  I knew NOTHING about hawks until I noticed "my" hawks one day circling their tree.  I started watching and doing some research.  I've found some really interesting facts about these raptors.  They mate for life.  They "own" a territory of approximately 1 square mile.  They raise young every spring and take turns caring for them.  They only visit the nest when the eggs are incubating or to feed the young, other than that they prefer to perch on a tree branch or a utility pole.  I have started a calendar and have recorded the days each year that they start repairing and occupying the nest, the days they start sitting on the eggs, the first sighting of the young, and lastly the day the young fly the coop.  Guess what?  While I've only been watching and recording these antics for a few years, each of these milestones have been repeated within 3 days of each other - year over year.  Isn't that amazing? 

Red Tail Hawks have a wing span of over 4 feet.  The female weighs up to 3.5 lbs and can outweigh the male by 25%.   When hearing a bird or eagle on TV it's almost always the cry of the red-tail hawk.  One of my hawks is so funny, she flys to the tree perch each evening for bed and if the male doesn't follow immediately she calls out or crys for him to come to bed.  I love watching the birds hunt for prey.  I frequently seem them catch a mouse...they fly up to the top of the utility pole and rip it apart with their claws and eat every morsel.  I've also seen a hawk carry a snake over head a few times and even carry a rabbit by the rabbit's two front paws.  I have a lot more facts and stories to share about my hawks...
watch for more to come!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Before and After....not for the faint of heart..........

Now if you are a bit squeamish, you might want to skip this post.  We seem to have a large colony of toads.  On nearly any given night I can look out my window onto the porch and find one visiting.  The following day I often find their poop has been left behind.  When sweeping it out to the grass, it often disingrates and if you take a close look you can find all kind of bug carcasses.  They seem to have trouble digesting wings.  I know, this is gross - but it's my duty to report what I see.  These toads don't hop...they crawl.  I leave for work when it's still dark outside and I often see them sitting on the curb soaking up water from the sprinklers.  They sit still when I watch them but if I take my eyes off them for just a few seconds they will quickly move out of sight.   Unfortunately, with so many toads we have unintentionally squished a few.  I was surprised to find the black blood. 

Friday, October 8, 2010

Egg anyone?

Why would a bird lay an egg on a concrete shingle?  I wish I knew what kind of bird it was.  I've found quite a few unbroken eggs in the yard over the past couple of years.  I suspect this one was a pigeon.  We've found blue humming bird eggs before too.  Unfortunately, a day later a wind came along and this one fell off the roof and broke on the ground. 

Friday, October 1, 2010


Every once in a while I'll catch sight of a roadrunner darting across the road or my yard.  They sprint and then stop suddenly to check things out.  Roadrunnders grow up to 2 ft in length from beak to tail and up to 2.5 ft tall.  They mostly eat insects such as grasshoppers, caterpillars, beetles, and an occassional lizard or snake (including rattlesnakes).  They also sometimes eat rodents, tarantulas, small birds, eggs, and fruits and seeds like prickly pear cactus. Roadrunners forage on the ground and usually run after prey from under cover.  Roadrunners are commonly solitary birds but sometimes live in pairs. They are monogamous and a pair may mate for life. Roadrunners also participate in bi-parental care. Both sexes incubate the nest and feed the hatchlings, but it's the males job to incubate the nest at night. For the first one to two weeks after the young hatch, one parent always remains at the nest.   One other interesting fact:  Roadrunners are the only natural enemy to the tarantula hawk (see the tarantula hawk post earlier this month).   I took the picture below from my bedroom window before we had a chance to landscape the yard. 

Sunday, September 26, 2010

It's a bug eat bug world....

Here's a pic of a praying mantis I found up by my front door the other day.  I've seen quite a few lately, all varying in size.  This one is the California praying mantis.  Mantises are exclusively predatory feasting on insects. They ambush their prey, waiting for it to stray too near. The mantis then lashes out at remarkable speed. Prey items are caught and held securely with grasping, spiked forelegs.  What I like the most about these creatures is watching their heads swivel when I slowly wave my finger side to side in front of's neat to watch them as they watch my finger move.  Of course, any harmless bug that eats other bugs is always a favorite in my book.
I found this green mantis is sitting on the bed of my truck today.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Mountain Lion!

Late one afternoon I came home, walked to my mailbox to retrieve my mail and suddenly realized I could hear my chickens making much more noise than
usual. They sounded strange and my instincts told me something was annoying them.  The first thought was a coyote.  My experience with coyotes has been that they usually take off as soon as they see a human.  Not thinking (boy is that descriptive) I started to walk towards the coop.  The coop is located a few hundred feet from the main house, not in direct line of sight.  I started talking to the chickens, trying to calm them down and warn them and the "coyote" that I was on my way up to check things out.  As I approached the coop I could see the chickens in a panic.  They were flying around, making lots of panicky clucking noises, not being themselves at all.  As I got closer I couldn't see what all the fuss was about, I continued talking to them and suddenly I froze in my tracks!  I was standing outside on one side of the coop and the lion was sitting outside on the other side of the coop.  The only thing separating us was some chicken wire and a couple of stressed out chickens.  While it was only line of sight about 8 feet away, the lion only had about a 12 foot walk around the coop to come get me!  At first I thought to myself, that's one large dog!  And who's dog is it way out here on my property?  All of a sudden it registered that it wasn't a mutt, it was a lion!  And I was standing there, alone, empty handed. 

The lion was gazing sedately into the coop staring at the chickens.  While of course I was shocked at what I was looking at it struck me immediately that this lion was one of the most beautiful creatures I had ever seen.   It had a beautiful tawny colored coat.  It's fur looked smooth and soft, it's face was sweet and relaxed.  Well, I quickly came to my senses and realized I might become dinner if I didn't do something fast.  I raised my hands above my head, started jumping up and down screamed for the lion to leave.  "Get out of here! Leave!"  The lion slowly swiveled it's head and eyes off the chickens and over to me. It took one casual look at me and then it looked right back at the chickens.  It could care less what I was doing - I was no threat at all. 

This lion must have been about 90 lbs.  The males range in weight from 130 to 150 and the females from 65 to 90.  It must have been a female or an immature male.  Nose to tail they males can reach 8 ft, females can reach 7 ft.  I slowly edged away, never turning my back on it.  While we live in very rural terrain, I never expected to see a lion so close.  It's something I'll never forget. 

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Aligator Lizard

A few months ago I looked down in the yard and thought I saw a small snake.  I took a closer look and noticed this snake had legs!  I couldn't believe the size of this lizard so I grabbed my measuring tape and camera.  He measured in at 14 inches. 

He was a bit lethargic, not reacting to me getting close until I was about to poke him to see if he was still alive and suddenly he took off like a bolt of lightening.  I looked for pics on the internet and figured out that he is a California Aligator Lizard.  Here's some facts I found out about him:  Alligator lizards sport a flat, wedge-shaped head.  The legs are small, thin, and end in five fine toes.  Their scales are large for lizards which is what gives them the name of Aligator Lizards. Their color is pale to medium brown with darker crossbands. They shed in one piece, like a snake.  Generally they eat snails, other lizards, eggs or small birds.  I did find out that they can be fearless in self defense and will bite.  Pretty cool........

Friday, September 10, 2010

Our biggest fear............

Only a few years ago our biggest fear was swept through our property.  Fortunately, no one was hurt and no property was lost.  The firefighters did a terrific job.  In this last picture, the brush is still smoldering.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Human Tooth

I found this about 8 feet off the back patio.  Walking along, looked down and there I found a human molar.  I know it's human because it has a silver filling.  Kind of creepy!  How long has it been there?  Who does it belong to? 

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Taranutula Hawks - hunting for supper

No one likes a bee or a wasp ruining their picnic, but this is one wasp I find interesting.   The guy on the right is a tarantula hawk (aka T-hawk) a member of the wasp family.  I'd seen a few buzzing around the house a few times and I'd always steer clear - they are quite a bit larger than your normal wasp, more like the size of a small humming bird.  I hadn't paid them much mind til I spotted one in a book and read up on them.  I don't care much for tarantulas (aka Trannys) for a variety of reasons.  Now don't be getting your feathers ruffled and go telling me how harmless Trannys are and what good they do us.  I don't like them - period. 
Well anyhow, T-hawks sting the Trannys and drag the comatose prey back to their nests to feed their own larvae.  When I arrived home one evening I spotted two T-hawks tumbling around in the dirt fighting each other near the outside of my garage.  The Tranny had already been stung because it laid nearby in a complete stillness.  Finally one T-hawk limped off in a shameful defeat and the victor drug it's delicious dinner home for the kiddies.   I took the pic up top myself to prove it.   By the way, this Tranny measured about 4 inches across to give you an idea of the size of both these guys.  Now each time a T-hawk buzzes by I watch where it doubt hunting for the next family feast.