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.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Another Mountain Lion

A few nights ago we caught sight of one running across Lake Mathews Drive. 
We said in unison, "Did you see that?". 

See a previous post of my meeting with a Mountain Lion a couple of years ago:

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Good morning Mrs Owl

I leave for work before the sun is up.  My headlights catch her perched atop my iron gazebo almost every morning.  Her snowy white face is hard to miss against the dark hills. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

What's been in the garage (part 2)?

This laid out for about 6 months in the corner of the garage and we managed to "catch" a lizard, a scorpion, a nice sized spider or two, some crickets and various other small bugs.  YUM!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

California Black Oak

I found a group of oak trees nestled together.  There are about 8 or 10 trees in this picture.   These trees are native from southern Oregon down to Baja California.  They can grow from 30 to 80 ft.  They typically live 100 - 200 years but some have been found to be up to 500 years old. This tree is a critical species for wildlife and may be the most important food and cover source in the state for wildlife.  This tree occupies more area in California than any other hardwood species.  Cavities in the trees provide dens/nests for owls, woodpeckers, squirrels and the trees even are known as a preferred shelter for the Black Bear.  The acorns constitue up to 50% of the fall winter diet for squirrels and deer.  Fawns survival rates depend on the success of the acorn crop season.  Many animals cache the acorns and those that have been stored or buried are more likely to sprout than acorns that drop on the surface.  This Acorn was also the choice nut for Native Americans when making corn meal. 

This tree is highly adaptable to fire.  While the tops may burn, the trunk stores water and nutrients that usually allows the tree to live through the fire.  In addition, the fire activates the acorn growth.  Indians were known for burning trees to help the crop flourish. 

The picture below is of a string of trees that stretch about a mile in length.  They cross multiple properties and follow a soil line that the trees find condusive to thriving in. 

One last interesting fact, at one point back in the 1960's the state of California considered it a nusense and worked to eradicate the tree, after conservationists studied and provided data to the state they were able to save the tree from destruction.  The Cal Black Oak thrives in poorer quality soil and conditions that the conifers can't thrive in. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

cactus in the grass

This photo says a lot about the terrain when you look closely.  Note the budding green grass from just a few rains at Thanksgiving.   The same mature grass from last winters rains are the tall white grass you see blowing in the wind.  The picture was taken on a cool, clear and bright December afternoon.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

abandoned ranchers shack

The remants of this stone shack are one of the few reminders left that a large cattle ranch was once part of Gavilan Hills.  The shack is only one room about 10' x 20' in size.  On the same uninhabited property is an abandoned well, water tower, cattle loading dock, and some kind of ice or meat locker that is about the same size as this shack.

This house was inhabited by some questionable characters a few dozen years ago but I think they were just squatters.  After the squatters left, the roof fell in and mother nature is working on taking it back over.    The current neighborhood kids call this the "jail" and often play there. 

Friday, December 2, 2011


Yesterday while driving home my car startled a great horned owl sitting in a tree on the side of the road.  The owl took flight in the same direction my car was traveling.  The owl was within arm's length of my passenger window.  He kept pace with me for about 75 or 100 feet before he made a quick turn and was out of sight.  I was in awe of his size and the good fortune of being able to see him so close up.  What a treat!

On the flip side, when I drove into the garage I found a mouse caught on a glue board.  Yuck!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Mountain Bluebird

The Mountain Bluebird is a migratory bird that lives in Western North America.  It travels as far North as Alaska down to Mexico. They mainly eat insects and berries. These birds hover over the ground to catch bugs. They may forage in flocks in winter when they mainly eat grasshoppers. Mountain Bluebirds will come to a platform feeder for live meal worms, berries, or peanuts.  They are usually not disturbed by humans and can be easily banded because of this.  This picture is of a male, the females are grey with touches of blue on the end of their wings.  The bird's bright blue color is sure to brighten a bird watchers day.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Fastest member of the Animal Kingdom

I spotted a bird of prey on the telephone pole near my property line.  By using reference books I identified it as the Peregrine Falcon.  I'd never seen this bird before and I'd never heard of the name.

 I found some really shocking facts when I completed my research on this Falcon:

1) The Smithsonian Institue declared it the "fastest member of the Animal Kingdom".  It was clocked in NYC swooping down off building on some prey at more than 202 MPH !   The bird I just looked at out my window is the fastest?  Holy smokes.  Who would think they'd see that from their living room window?

2)  They feast almost exclusively on medium sized birds.  They grab the birds by the wings mid-air then land on the ground and rip their prey to shreds.  They will eat also an occassional insect when hungry enough. 

3)  They mate for life.  The female is 30% bigger than the male.  They live mainly in cliff edges but are increasingly found in the city making a home on tall buildings.  These birds live on the west coast from Alaska to Mexico.  In California they spend spring and summer in the Sierras and move to the desert and foothills during fall and winter. 

4) The Peregrine Falcon was an Endangered Species until 1999.  The ban of DDT in the 70's has helped them recover. Supposedly they are very popular in the sport of Falconry, particularly because of their speed.  In 2004, Professional Falconists were briefly allowed to take a limited numbers of Falcons from the wild for the first time because the population has recovered so well.

All this, just because I casually glanced outside my window. 
The next thing I knew, the bird was gone.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Sara Orangetip

The Sara Orangetip butterfly is also known as the Pacific Orangetip.  It ranges along the Pacific coast of North America from Alaska to Mexico.  They are abundant up and down the West Coast, making their home in fields and deserts. They are one of the first butterflies to appear each spring and their bright colors add a touch of sparkle to their newly emerging green environment.  Butterflies are generally categorized as one of two types, patroller or percher, depending on mating strategies.  Sara Orangetip's fall in the patroller category of butterflies. Males patrol, or fly up and down a particular territory, in search of female butterflies. 

Thursday, October 27, 2011


We have a lot of these.  They are usually about 4 inches long.  They love to get into the garage for some reason.   They are a slow moving insect known for eating decaying plant material and on rare occasion a small insect.  Their defense mechanism is to roll in a ball, hiding their underbelly and legs and/or to emit a caustic irritant to ants and other prey.  Each "section" is called a "segment" and has two legs.  Millipedes are known to have from 11 to over 100 segments depending on the age or type of Millipede species.  The genitals are always on the third segment behind the head.  Unfortunately we have stepped on a few and found that they have a dark red/black colored blood that stains whatever it lands on. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

American Crow

Crows are considered to be among the world's most intelligent animals. Recent research has found some crow species are capable not only of tool use but of tool construction as well.   These tools include 'knives' cut from stiff leaves and stiff stalks of grass.  Another skill involves dropping tough nuts into a street and waiting for a car to crush them open.  Crows in Israel have learned to use bread crumbs for bait-fishing!  

The American Crow has been affected by the west-nile disease, upon catching it they will die within 3 weeks. Though humans cannot generally tell individual crows apart, crows have been shown to have the ability to visually recognize individual humans, and to transmit information about "bad" humans by squawking.

American Crows are monogamous cooperative breeding birds. Mated pairs form large families of up to 15 individuals from several breeding seasons that remain together for many years. Offspring from a previous nesting season will usually remain with the family to assist in rearing new nestlings.   Crows engage in mid-air jousting, or air-"chicken" to establish their pecking order. American Crows do not reach breeding age for at least two years.  Most do not leave the nest to breed for four to five years.

The nesting season starts early, with some birds incubating eggs by early April. American Crows build bulky stick nests, nearly always in trees but sometimes also in large bushes and, very rarely, on the ground. Three to six eggs are laid and incubated for 18 days.

While I'm not a huge fan of the crow due to the noise they make and the harrassment they give the Red Tail Hawks (their natural enemy) I do respect their intelligence. 

Friday, October 14, 2011

spider with a person face

Take a close look on the face of this spider.  It looks like a chubby faced baby! 
He caught a bee and had it wrapped up like a mummy in seconds.   

Monday, October 10, 2011

Dear Neighbor,

Are you the person who has beautified the neighborhood sign?  You've added the iron (which is a striking addition), cleared the weeds, and have planted a good size peppertree behind each stone post.   Our sign had been neglected for years, but now it's something befitting to our area.  Beautiful work. 

I saw you(?) watering the trees with 5 lb buckets of water and I wish I had stopped to say thank you.  Next time I will.  As a proud resident of Gavilan Hills I extend a sincere thank you.  My family and I greatly appreciate it.

Now, can you just tell us who you are?

Mrs Wiley E Coyote

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

what's been in the garage

We keep glue paper down in the corners of the garage to catch whatever manages to get inside.  As you can see, we caught a small king snake this weekend. 

Friday, September 30, 2011

Coyote Den (east den)

o Here's a picture of a second coyote den.  The coyotes ran off as we approached the den.  The entrance is hidden in this picture and it's a bit tough to see here but an airvent/window is viewable to the left of the tree centered in this pic. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

lizard convention

I took this pic through the window from the inside of my house.  Three's a party.   

Friday, September 23, 2011


I found him outside the garage.  Better outside than inside I suppose.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


The last few weeks a pair of Barn Owls have been hanging out around our house.  They frequently perch on our gazebo or on a nearby telephone wire.  One evening at dusk two of them were having a wonderful "conversation" of "whoooo'ing" each other back and forth.  It was so loud we heard it from inside our house over the sound of the TV.  What a wonderful sight to see when we stepped out to the patio.  Well we've been experiencing a bit of mouse traffic lately and I suspect that's why the owls are hanging out near the house.  These owls are excellent mousers.  They are nocturnal.  They work for us catching rodents during the night and the hawks work during the day.  It's quite a crew we have! 

I was out for a walk one day a few years ago and I spooked a barn owl from a small crevice in the side of  hill.  It was a neat sight to be so close and watch it take flight.

This last photo is some evidence that the owls were working diligently for us one night.  I found this poop (filled with bones) on top of my fence.  Kind of gross but I would rather find this than a mouse! 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

hummingbird in the garage

He wouldn't leave!   I left three garage doors open for three hours and he wouldn't leave.  Here he's sitting on a wire that is attached to the motor of the garage door opener.  My husband had to practically throw a blanket over him to get him out.  Check out his size in comparison to the standard electrical plug on the left.  He's tiny.

Friday, September 9, 2011

western screech owl

These birds wait on perches to swoop down on unsuspecting prey; they may also catch insects in flight.  I see them all the time early in the morning on fence posts and telephone poles.   Their diet consists mainly of small mammals, and birds, and large insects. They are active at night or near dusk, using their excellent hearing and night vision to locate prey.  We hear them every night as they screech in excitement when they find their prey.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Three amigos

Yesterday evening, about an hour before sunset, I was sitting quietly on my patio when I heard the cries and howls of coyotes break out.  Some were close and others were farther away.  I narrowed it down to three different locations that they were calling each other from.  I then spotted two of them about 100 yards from me and about 100 yards from each other.  One then trotted to the other while the third continued calling out from the farther location.  The two who were quickly near each other waited for the third to join them as he was on a distant hill and it took him about 5 minutes to make his way to the first pair.  What I found really interesting is that when the third coyote approached the first two he acted like a youthful puppy approaching a parent.  He wagged his tail in delight, he playfully jumped on the back of one, and then he fell off on to his back in a playful roll.  He was so happy to be reunited with his family that he couldn't hide his glee.  From the first howl to the reunion it lasted all of about 7 or 8 minutes.  This reminded me of footage one would see in a nature documentary. 

Friday, September 2, 2011

I call him Mohawk

I put up a hummingbird feeder and quickly figured out the following:  Hummingbirds are territorial. A male will guard a food source and chase others away (with the exception of breeding females).  I named this little guy Mohawk due to the scruffy feathers on top of his head.  

He guards this feeder by sitting on top of the pole.  The feeder is located between two trees and he will perch in the trees and chase off any "intruder" that dares enter his domain by crossing back and forth between the trees as needed.  While there is lots of chirping and squawking, the fighting may crest into a few pulled out feathers but it mostly just ends up with Mohawk chasing off the intruders.  I've enjoyed watching 3 to 4 other birds trying to give him the slip and drink his nectar.  He'll chase one away and the others will fly straight to the feeder for a 5 second drink before he returns to chase them off.

Hummingbirds guard a territory of about a quarter acre. 

Monday, August 29, 2011

No joke

I just heard a knock at my door and I looked out the window to find a roadrunner standing on my welcome mat.  He took off, ran down the path, and jumped up on top of my gate then turned to look back at the door.  The wild life out here is fascinating.  Just when I think I've seen it all a roadrunner plays ding dong ditchum on me. 

Friday, August 26, 2011


I like natures best pesticide - BATS!

We have an enclosed entry to our front door.  When we first built our house we noticed small bug excrement collecting in the outdoor entry way.  I didn't know what it was coming from. 

Then twice in one week we found a bat to be perching inside the entry way which explained the guano.  I talked to my exterminator and he said the easiest way to get rid of bats is to put in a small night light.  So now I have a sunlight sensitive nightlight plugged in at the front door and it keeps the bats away. 

During the last few nights the weather has been great so we've been out in the early evenings watching the bats chasing bugs in the last few minutes of sunset. It's really cool to watch their silhouettes against a colorful sky.  While we only see 1 or 2 bats at a time, I thought this pic was kind of cool.
While searching the internet to borrow some bat pictures I found the two strange pics below. 
While I think the bats are wrapped up cute and snuggly,
who the %&## is wrapping bats up like babies?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

bird head, beak, and spine

The husband says this is gross, but I think it's interesting.  Found it in the garden. The spine was only attached by one or two tiny remaining fragments of tissue and was ready to just come free of the skull.

Monday, August 22, 2011

quail family

Daddy is on the far right, Mommy is looking back at the babies on the other side of the fence.  There were about six little chicks following the parents out for breakfast in the grass one morning.  Dad always keeps the lookout while Mom herds the gang around.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

squeezing the bird

Late last night my husband asked me to retreive something from our back patio.  We had been entertaining the night before and a few items were left behind.  I picked up what he asked for and I noticed a crumpled party napkin sitting on the seat of a lounge chair.  Keep in mind it was quite a dark night outside.  As I grabbed the napkin, I told myself that it didn't feel like a napkin.  I dropped it and then tried again.  It still felt strange.  I decided to leave it and pick it up later during daylight. 

When I returned the next afternoon the napkin was gone.  I searched the yard to see if it had blown off the chair but there was no sign of it.  It immediately dawned on me that it was not a napkin I had grabbed.  It was a live bird that was snoozing on the chair.  I instantly realized that I had felt wings and feathers in my hand, not a napkin!   OMG!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Frogtastic - part deux

He napped all day up in the top corner of my front door entry. 
He's length is shorter than my thumb.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


This propane pipe in my patio floor runs to my BBQ.  Last night we found three little baby frogs coming out at dusk to hunt for their dinner.  Here's a picture of two of them. 

Friday, August 5, 2011

Blue Neck and Ribs

My nephew caught this guy in my garage. 
Check out the blue on him. 
So vivid.

Monday, August 1, 2011


The bees have moved into the floor of the chicken coop.  The enter through a crack between the boards under the threshold.  They aren't inside the coop, they stay underneath the floor.  There are thousands of them.  I'm not looking forward to having to deal with this. 

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Horny Toad

Despite the name it's not a toad, it's a lizard. 

It has a distinctive flat-body with a row of fringed scales down the sides and horns on the head.  It's shape reminded me of a turtle because of the round body and head.  This one, from head to tail, was less than two inches long.  Tiny and adorable!  He made a tiny little squeak noise when I got too close. Their favorite food is ants but they will also eat slow moving beetles, spiders, and some plant material.  These lizards mate in the spring and lay 2-16 eggs in June or July, which hatch in August.

They are generally a gentle species, but have been known to try to push their cranial spines into the hand while held. If provoked, they hiss and threaten to bite. When excited, they puff themselves up with air, making themselves look bigger. 

The giant "bolders" next to this lizard are bunny poop. 
That should give you an idea of his size.

And here's the kicker: if threatened, they have been known to squirt blood from their eyes as far as 5 feet as a deterent to cats and dogs.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Wild pink

I have no idea what kind of plant this is.  It looks to grow about 10 ft high.   They grow all over around this area.  The flowers turn yellow as they die.  The plant leaves, branches, and flowers are so soft looking I couldn't resist snapping this photo. 

Friday, July 15, 2011

scorpion in a can

The nephew caught it outside and threw it in this old can and showed it to me. The scorpion is kind of small - only about 3 inches
(yes, three inches is small, gentlemen)

Saturday, July 9, 2011

dead snake

We found and killed this the first few days we lived in Gavilan Hills.  It was before I knew the differences between snakes.  This is a "good" snake.  This is a California King snake.   It can grow to 48" with a girth of 5". Even though the name suggests they are common in California they're also found in Oregon, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona.  This snake species usually lives in a desert-like habitat as well as coastal areas and pine forests. The California King snake tends to hide away during very hot days despite living in the desert, and instead comes out at night.  When seasonal temperatures drop they become more active during the day. They eat small reptiles including frogs, lizards, small birds and rodents; however they are known to also eat other snake species. In addition, if they are surprised or get disturbed they can produce a similar rattle to a rattle snake.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Aloe Vera plant

Found this giant Aloe Vera plant growing wild out of the top of this rock.  The top of the rock was at least 5 ft, putting the plant up to about 10 ft in the air.   I wish I could transplant the rock and the plant onto my property. 
I think it's quite interesting.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Camera shy Egret

I looked out the window and caught this guy walking across my lawn. 
When I grabbed my camera he took off.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Only in California

Look closely.  Pine trees, cactus, and a palm tree all nestled together. 
No man made irrigation here, it's a natural phenom.