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.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

American White Pelican

Yesterday I spotted a group of these birds circling on the wind currents.  I counted 16 birds in the group and watched them float and drift about for about 10 minutes until they floated over the hilltop out of sight.  They never flapped their wings once, just floated gently in circles.  So peaceful to watch.  I ran to my bird book and found these birds to be the American White Pelican.  I thought pelicans lived by the ocean but found that this species of pelican perfers large fresh water lakes, especially during the spring breeding season.  I suspect they live at nearby Lake Mathews. 

Here are some interesting facts that I learned:
  • This large, plump bird has a wing span of up to 67 inches!
  • The beak reach up to 14 inches.
  • Females are smaller than the males.
  • Weight can reach up to 20 lbs.
  • Regularly lives up to 16 years, and one lived a record 34 yrs.
  • They eat 4 lbs of food every day!
  • They don't dive for fish like other pelicans or birds, they group together while swimming and herd the fish together and then skim the fish up with their beaks.
  •  They have a clutch of eggs in March/April of 1 to 6 eggs.  The usual number is just 2 or 3.  The clutch is in a nest found in grass near a water source. 
  • Natural predators are coyotes, ravens, and gulls.
  • Use of DDT and the draining of wetlands decreased numbers significantly in the 20th century causing the birds numbers to be in a "special concern" status in the State of California. 

Monday, March 28, 2011

Black tailed Jack Rabbit (Hare)

Do you know the difference between rabbits and hares?  Hares are larger, have longer hind legs and longer ears than rabbits. A young hare is called a leveret. Unlike true rabbits whose young are born helpless and without fur, the jackrabbit leverets are born fully furred with open eyes and plenty of energy.  Some hares look so large that I've mistaken them for dogs from the corner of my eye. 

The Black Tailed Jack Rabbit is normally shy but in spring it becomes frisky!  They take to day light activites like playing and "boxing".  The boxing is usally done by a female by punching the male in the face and about the head to keep him from trying to copulate.  Men!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Weird parasite

I spotted this from quite a distance because of it's brilliant color, density and size.  It's called California Dodder and also is known as Chaparral Dodder.  It looks like something that grows in the ocean.  Dodder is a vine-like, parasitic plant with slender yellow-orange stems. It appears leafless, and is in the same plant family as the Morning glory. The orange color makes it easy to spot - it has NO green on it at all so the green you see in the photos is from the host plant. Dodder is a parasitic plant and is completely dependent on the host plant for water, nutrients and physical support. It attaches to its host by means of haustoria root-like structures that grow into the host plant and allow the flow of water and nutrients into the dodder.  It is native to western North America.

There are many nick names for dodder reflecting its appearance such as strangleweed, hell bind and witch’s hair.   All seem appropriate. 
The strings of this plant feel like a rubber band. 
It's clean, no stickiness or scent.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Great White Egret

I've seen these from the window. 
Hard to miss considering they can reach more than 7 feet long! 
The Great White Egret lives in the sunbelt of the USA down to South America. 
Males, females, and juveniles all look the same. 
They are part of the stork/pelican family. 
They eat in shallow waters using their bill as a sharp spear to catch their
prey of fish, frogs, and small mammals. 
At the end of the 19th century their numbers were greatly decreased as they were killed for their feathers to be put in ladies' hats.  Conservation has been successful and their numbers are increasing. 
Pretty cool!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Gross or interesting?

Do you know what this is? 

It's the rattle off of a rattlesnake.  And yes, it really rattles. 
Unfortunately, I unknowingly ran him over on the road. 
This is all that was salvageable.  Would you save it or toss it? 

Monday, March 7, 2011

The feather in my cap - so to speak.

I sit here at my computer in disbelief.  I can't believe I saw what I saw.  I'm still shaking my head.  My husband watched me flip out yesterday in the car and he was repeatedly asking me if I'm OK.   Let me back up a little on this story and explain my situation.  I bought some books about the history of the region and a couple of books on bird watching.  The best book I've found is a book published by the National Audubon Society.  It's called Field Guide to California.  It's a tough little handbook that can be tucked in the back pocket that I always keep in my garage for quick reference.  I spend a lot of time sitting on my swing in my garage looking and listening to what's going on out there.  This has been the perfect place for me to find, learn, and circle (in the book) what I have witnessed.  I thought except for one thing I'm watching for (a bobcat), I thought I had seen just about everything the book has identified for my area. 

So anyways we were driving along Cajalco (pronounced Ca-hall-co).  Cajalco is the two lane highway in and out of our community.  We were driving along the stretch next to Lake Matthews Reservoir.  I noticed there were dozens of flocks of birds near the lake's edges.  Lots of ducks, lots of geese, and lots of sea birds.  It made sense, the day was usually stormy and the flocks were probably landing here at this sanctuary to prepare for the bad night of weather ahead.  The weather was cold, windy and rainy.  We were talking about all these birds and the sheer volume we were seeing.  Just then I spotted an unusally large bird.  It's body was dark and it's head, neck and tail feathers were white.  The beak and feet were yellow.  It was just taking flight from a large boulder that was directly on the lake's edge.  The bird caught my eye because of it's size and my first thought was - I've never seen a bird like that around here.  I turned to take a closer look and then I noticed a second one also following the first by taking flight from about the same spot.  It was obvious, these two were a couple.  Then it hit me.  I was looking at two American Bald Eagles.  

I never expected to see these birds in this area.  I had never heard of them here and I've lived in the Inland Empire since '87.   I couldn't believe my eyes.  I started shouting at my husband to look at what I saw, then he saw them too.   Now I'm sure those of you who live in an area that has these birds doesnt think this is a big deal, but we dont see this bird in this area. 

As soon as we came home I ran to my books and read up.  This is what I learned:   The American Bald Eagle lives at the very top of the food chain.  It dominates all animals including bears and coyotes for food.  It has been known to drive established wolf packs out of areas due to competiton for food.    America sure picked a strong mascot. 

  • June 28, 2007 - The Interior Department took the American bald eagle off the endangered species list.   Once a wide spread nester, it had been nearly wiped out due to DDT. 
  • Color - Both male and female adult bald eagles have a blackish-brown back and breast; a white head, neck, and tail; and yellow feet and bill.
  • Juvenile bald eagles are a mixture of brown and white. They reach full maturity in four to five years.
  • Size - The female bald eagle is 35 to 37 inches, slightly larger than the male.
  • Wingspan ranges from six to seven and a half feet!
  • Bald eagles can fly to an altitude of 10,000 feet. During level flight, they can achieve speeds of about 30 to 35 mph.
  • Bald eagles weigh from ten to fourteen pounds.
  • Eagle bones are light, because they are hollow.
  • Bald eagles have 7,000 feathers.
  • Longevity - Wild bald eagles may live as long as thirty years.
  • Lifting power is about 4 pounds.
  • Diet - Mainly fish, but they will take advantage of carrion (dead and decaying flesh).
  • The bald eagle is a strong swimmer, but if the water is very cold, it may be overcome by hypothermia.
  • Hunting area varies from 1,700 to 10,000 acres. Home ranges are smaller where food is present in great quantity.
  • All eagles are renowned for their excellent eyesight.
  • Nests are built in large trees near rivers or coasts.
  • An eagle reaches sexual maturity at around four or five years of age.
  • Fidelity - Once paired, bald eagles remain together until one dies.
  • Bald eagles lay from one to three eggs.
  • The 35 days of incubation duties are shared by both male and female.
  • Nesting cycle - about 20 weeks
  • Today, there are an estimated 9,789 breeding pairs of bald eagles.
  • Eagles molt in patches, taking almost half a year to replace feathers, starting with the head and working downward.
  • The bald eagle became the National emblem in 1782 when the great seal of the United States was adopted.
So how did this bird get here?  A coworker tells me these birds have been seen up near Big Bear.  I've also read that they are rehabbed and released in various areas.  My personal opinion is the birds came here to escape the bad weather near the coast or from the mountains.  They probably returned to that area when the storm passed.   If the eagles could come here for a storm, maybe they could come here and live?  There's always hope. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

It's time again... start fighting the battle of the weeds.  The green we see are grasses and weeds.  Spring is the time to cut and pull the weeds.  It's too dry in the summer for anything that is not watered to grow and of course most grasses and weeds go dormant in the fall and winter.  If we spend spring season trimming, cutting, and pulling - we will be good until the following spring for weed control. 
One of the earliest seasonal weeds to pop up is called the Pineapple weed.  This weed likes to pop up on dirt that has been loosened;  any dirt that has been hard packed for more than two years does not suffer from the Pineapple weed.  PW grows from February to June.  It grows similar to green clover - easy to pull out, very soft to the touch, and is low to the ground - however it is much more heat tolerant than clover.  I've figured out that weed control sprays are not terribly effective; there's pretty much only two ways to get rid of it - pull it out by hand or let it die off in June.  This year I've decided to let Fathertime do it for me.  Because PW is so low to the ground it's not a fire hazard of dead brush which is one of my biggest concerns about living here.  This is kind of what prompted my decision to let it die out.   Two interesting facts about PW - 1) it's edible, and 2) when crushed between the fingers it has a pineapple smell which is how it got it's name.