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Saturday, February 16, 2019

Our Local Gray Foxes

Gray Foxes (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) seem to be very common animals here in the Cuyamaca Mountains.


Dense chaparral is attractive to Gray Foxes, and we have quite a bit of this habitat, especially after the regrowth following the Cedar Fire. The high number of downed trees, boulders and dense cover must provide good denning sites for foxes in this area.

The San Diego Mammal Atlas (Tremor et al. 2017) suggests that these foxes are likely monogamous, although it is not known if they remain so over consecutive years.

The trail cam photos that we got last summer regularly showed TWO foxes visiting the water sources that I have out on the property! Perhaps a mated pair?

This image clearly shows the black stripe down the tails of the foxes, a character distinguishing the Gray Fox from the kit fox.


In this image, there's some interaction at the bird bath! The date is incorrect - this was also in the summer of 2018 (I did not reset the clock after changing the camera batteries).

Another image with a pair visiting for water. September is a very dry time here, especially as we had almost no monsoonal rain this past summer.


One day last summer the bird bath that the foxes like to climb up on had a mark in it! Foxes often mark their territories by placing scat on high points like boulders, or even small rocks on the ground. To a fox, the bird bath probably seems like a boulder with a large depression in it.



In late July we had an odd sighting of a fox snoozing on a rock about 100 feet from the house. It was a hot day, and apparently this fox was unconcerned about the activities around the house that day. The jays gave it away with their usual raucous mobbing behavior, triggered by almost any predator in the area. The fox clearly just wanted to sleep in a shady spot, but eventually moved off in to the landscape.





Crop of the photo above.


The fox on the ground before exiting the scene. Another good shot of the black stripe on the dorsal surface of the tail.


A fox or foxes also regularly visited the ground-level bird bath on the patio over the summer.

Approaching...


Leaving, in the late afternoon, after the bath was dry...


There are a fair number of natural springs in the area, but wildlife still will come to these sources placed out by local residents - a good incentive for us to keep up the practice.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

A Year of California Scrub Jays


What formerly was known as the Western Scrub Jay has since been split into two species, the California Scrub Jay and Woodhouse's Scrub Jay. The California Scrub Jay resides here in the western portion of the former range of the Western Scrub Jay, so it is the jay I see on my property here in the Cuyamaca Mountains. It has a darker, richer blue color than the interior western Woodhouse's Jay.

I've been photographing the jays from the blind I set up periodically. Their patterns seem fairly consistent throughout the year, with the appearance of juveniles in the summertime.

Here are some photographs with comments of various jays seen between February, 2018 and January 2019.

One of the first images from the blind, facing east on a cloudy day.

Portrait, April 2018

A juvenile, August 2018. Mostly gray where blue will appear later in the adult plumage. Some pink at the corner of the mouth indicates its youthfulness also. This one looks a little disheveled overall, too! 

Portrait of a youngster, August 2018

I kept seeing what looked like a jay with a skull for a head in the trail cam images from the property! Eventually this bird appeared when I was in the blind and I could get detailed images of it. The scabbiness suggests disease rather than a simultaneous head-feather-molt, which jays sometimes experience.

A grainy crop from the trail cam, August 2018. This bird hung around the area for a couple weeks and then seemed to disappear. It was typically on its own when a group of jays was present.

Portrait, late August 2018

I wonder if this bird is older? It's bill seems more rounded than the bird in the previous portrait, and than most of the birds photographed. Wear and tear with age? August 2018.

The blunt-billed bird, ready for take-off, with nictitating membrane deployed. August 2018.

Young bird, September 2018

November 2018

November 2018

January 1st, 2019, after the New Year's Eve snow (only about an inch). 

New Year's Day, 2019 (note the drop of water on the bill from the damp post-snow conditions).

On one of the small re-sprouted oaks, late January 2019.

One of my favorite shots to date, on what will hopefully become a "hummingbird perch". Late January 2019.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Chipmunks, chipmunks, chipmunks...

We have two species of chipmunk that could realistically be found in San Diego County, Merriam's Chipmunk (Neotamias merriami) and the California (or Chaparral) Chipmunk (Neotamias obscurus). Apparently these two species are very difficult to distinguish in the field, but based on habitat type and behavior, I assume that the chipmunks in my area are Merriam's Chipmunks.


Since the Cedar Fire (in 2003) the chipmunk population has increased quite a bit on our property and the surrounding region. On a typical morning 4-5 chipmunks might be seen foraging on the land near the house. We have a mixture of open "grassland, chaparral and oak/pine forest here, which is ideal for these chipmunks.

They forage most actively in the morning, so that is when I try to photograph them from the blind.

Here are the photos from this morning (this was a single chipmunk, which vocalized loudly before appearing).





Sunday, August 19, 2018

Birds of the Cuyamaca Mountains

After a little bit of an absence, it's a good time to shed some light on the mountain birds hereabouts. The avian fauna shifts with the seasons, but many of the species are year-round residents. In the past year-and-a-half or so I've been experimenting with photographing birds and mammals from a blind set up on my property. Slowly the results are improving. I am using a Canon Rebel T1i (an old camera at this point) and a Canon 400 mm fixed focal length telephoto lens to get close to them.

Here are some of the first images taken from the blind set up on a none-too-level spot near a convenient rock (a little peanut butter on the rock was employed too!). All of the images have a rusty background due to the old Eriogonum fasciculatum bushes that are in the background.

California Thrasher. Usually a shy species, but an occasional visitor to "The Rock". A year-round resident.

Acorn Woodpecker. There is a colony close by so these are regulars. This is a pink-eyed individual - a more rare eye color variant. A year-round species.

A first-year White-crowned Sparrow. This is a migratory species, most abundant here in the cooler months.

Spotted Towhee, another year-round resident. This is a male, with blacker plumage and brighter orange sides.

Oak Titmouse (formerly the Plain Titmouse). Another resident throughout the year.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Some Humble Rain-loving Organisms of the Region

We are getting an excellent wet season, with over 30 inches of rain so far since July 1, 2016.

The soil is deeply saturated, and moisture-loving organisms like fungi, slime molds and bryophytes are making many appearances in San Diego County.

I've managed to explore a bit here in the Cuyamacas, and also "down the hill", searching for fungi and other interesting things that will not be much in evidence in a few months when the dry season arrives.

Some delicate white mushrooms, to be determined. Felicita Park, Escondido (as are the other mushrooms below). Late January.

Mystery mushroom with upturned gills.

Possibly an Amanita sp.

Slime mold (a "protist", not a fungus). This one is Badhamia utricularis. Found close to our house, Cuyamaca Woods. Early February.

Badhamia utricularis, older sporangia. Found with the younger sporangia seen above.

Another slime mold, probably Leocarpus fragilis. Spotted by Gary on a walk near Stonewall Mine in the Cuyamacas.

Liverworts, which are relatives of the mosses. Non-vascular plants, they need to live very close to the ground, and usually don't reveal themselves unless it is somewhat moist out. This seems to be Asterella californica, and these may by male individuals. Found at Dos Picos County Park in Ramona in early March, as were all the remaining liverworts below.

Asterella californica archegoniophores, which contain archegonia, the female reproduction structures which produce eggs. The male plant's sperm must SWIM to these eggs; thus the need for moisture!

I think this is probably Asterella palmeri. It was growing right next the species above.

Fossombronia sp., tiny liverworts that I did not even see when I photographed the bigger, more spectacular liverworts above (if liverworts can be described as "spectacular!). I saw them in my photos, and luckily was able to crop out this image. The black "balls" are the diploid sporophytes (the green tissue is haploid).

Friday, January 6, 2017

A Quick Trip to Lake Cuyamaca for Birds

We had a clear sunny day after yesterday's raininess, so I made a quick trip to the lake to see what birds were out and about. Some made good photographic subjects.

A Snow Goose was also seen, but not photographed.

Double-crested Cormorant - one of the many that hang around by the dam.

Wing drying.

A fresh-looking Dark-eyed Junco.

Female Phainopepla. I was hearing sounds that were reminiscent of Phainopepla calls, but didn't think of them as being here in early January. But the San Diego County Bird Atlas points out that they are uncommon but not rare either, here and elsewhere W. of the deserts in the wintertime.

Male Red-winged Blackbird (one of many!).

Brewer's Blackbirds were abundant on the low dam-like walkway on the northeast side of the lake. This is a female.

Male Brewer's Blackbird. He was preening and fluffing and putting on quite a show.

He looks almost sinister here as he tidies up his wing-feathers.