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Friday, July 13, 2012

Tarantulas are Out and About

A nice, mellow-tempered tarantula revealed itself yesterday, in an unusual way. As Gary opened the door to the solar shed, if fell down from a high perch onto his shoulder, and proceeded to slither down to the floor. Then it hid itself among some tools in a dark corner. I went out with a bowl and gently encouraged it to climb in, then relocated it to a good spot for a photo shoot.

This spider should belong to the genus Aphonopelma, as the majority of North American tarantulas north of Mexico do, but at the moment I have not identified it to species.

A dark, almost black tarantula.

A close-up, showing the fangs (smaller, medial) and palps (to the sides of the fangs and leg-like), as well as the tiny eyes.

With photographer's finger for scale!
A few tarantula hawk wasps (genus Pepsis) have been seen around the property in the past weeks, and the large females will seek out tarantulas to sting, and then story in an underground burrow as a food source for the wasp's larva. On a couple occasions, I've stumbled upon a wasp-spider showdown and the wasp must be very nimble to manage to deliver its massive sting while avoiding being bitten by the fairly massive fangs of the tarantula! This photo was one I took in the mid-1990s at the former NAS Miramar of a female Pepsis with its paralyzed tarantula prey, just at the split second before the spider was released into the wasp's burrow. By the way, our local tarantulas do not have venom as potent as, say a Black Widow spider, or even close. If a local tarantula bit you, it would be somewhat painful, but not much worse than a bee-sting (for a non-allergic person!).

Probably Pepsis mildei with tarantula prey. NAS Miramar, San Diego County, California. Mid 1990s.
Although all the tarantulas that I have observed in southern California over the years look somewhat like the one in the top three photos, there are other more colorful and larger species in neighboring Arizona and beyond. Below is a Desert Blonde Tarantula (Aphonopelma chalcodes) that I photographed south of Tucson, Arizona last summer. A spectacular spider, to day the least!

Desert Blonde Tarantula, rest area along the I-19 corridor, south of Tucson, Arizona. Summer 2011.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Last Day of June

The highlight of the day yesterday was another visit from the resident bobcat, which ventured onto our property from the north a short time before sunset. It was accompanied by a frenzied, raucous bunch of crows, which had been frantically cawing for at least 10 minutes on the neighboring property. Then when the crows moved their noisiness closer to our property, Gary and I looked in that direction, and sure enough, there was the bobcat on the fence-line. I was able to get a couple distant photos as it moved across our slope. Even the Black-headed Grosbeaks were agitated as it passed below them, giving regular "check" warning calls.

A heavily-cropped shot of the bobcat, which kept a close watch on us, as we did the same back. It's tail was almost continuously "lashing" (as much as a stump can lash).

Earlier in the day, Gary and I took a little walk down into the meadow, and slightly beyond, and encountered some female turkeys with young. This seems to be a better year for turkey reproduction than the past couple summers, as there have been several families roaming around the area for the past several weeks. We also saw all four White-tailed Kite fledglings, so they have all made it so far.

Two females with young. Is one of the females an "aunty?" Or two broods merged together?

Turkeys in the dry grass.
The milkweed that I planted from saved seeds a few years ago is finally attracting quite a few native insects now, including this carpenter bee. Up to three Monarch Butterfly caterpillars have been seen at once on this plant, but yesterday we could not find any.

Looks like the Valley Carpenter Bee, a common local species.

At the end of the day, we were amazed to see CLOUDS forming to the south, a sight we have not seen in far too long a time. Maybe the very beginnings of monsoonal moisture? Let's hope for some nice, wet thunderstorms soon (without too much fire-inducing lightning)!

No chance of rain from these, but they did make for a nice sunset.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The White-tailed Kites are Fledging!

After many weeks, the White-tailed Kite nest saga is almost over, as two of the four nestlings left the nest yesterday, a couple hours before sunset. One took a pretty long flight, with one of the kite-parents soaring in close to the young one, as if to provide moral support! This morning, at least three of the young kites were seen taking short flights from the nest, and perching here and there in the area of the big meadow. What must be the least developed nestling was still hanging in at the nest!

I got some reasonably decent images (based on how far away they are), with the help of Bill Carter's excellent telescope and adapter for my camera. Thanks Bill and Susan!

A short hop of about 4 feet (right by the nest)!

Two hangers-on by the nest. The other two fledglings were nearby in other trees.

"Hey -- watch where you're flapping!"

A youngster contemplating life and flight.

Those wings are still a bit stubby.

The dark hood will apparently be lost in a few weeks.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

A Bobcat on the Patio (Again)

Today I noticed a bobcat near the front door of the house, which noticed me back and lashed its stumpy tail as it locked eyes with me (and I was inside the mudroom looking out, so it very aware of its surroundings).

It headed in the direction of the patio, so I quickly (and quietly) moved to the bedroom (which overlooks the patio) and Hayduke the Cat, lounging in the wicker chair by the screen door, meowed loudly twice, hoping for attention.

I expected that the bobcat would be gone after the meowing, but as I peeked slowly around the edge of the door, there it was, about three feet away from me (the spot indicated by the star in the photo below). It stared right back, for several long-seeming seconds, continuing to lash its stump tail, then casually wandered off onto the slope, and slowly moved towards the brush line. It indicated little fear, and seemed confident. Crows immediately kicked up a ruckus of cawing above it. It seemed a little bit bigger than Hayduke, who weighs about 18 pounds, but the bobcat had a lean, experienced look about it.

The patio, with door to bedroom on the right.
Hayduke apparently never figured out that a large predator was about four feet from him, but Jinx (the outdoor kitty) was nervous and took refuge high up near the roof in the garage.

Perhaps this cat was attempting to get a drink from the new bird bath that I made from some spare concrete we had left over from the greenhouse project. Beechey Ground Squirrels, Wild Turkeys, Acorn Woodpeckers and Western Scrub Jays have been visiting the bird bath regularly.

The concrete bird bath that I made about a week ago. It seems popular with the local wildlife, especially as the available water in the neighborhood decreases due to warmth and lack of rain.
NOTE AS OF JUNE 25 (the next day):

At 5:30 am this morning the bobcat returned and paid a visit to the bird bath. Gary saw if first and woke my up so I could get a quick look too before the cat moved on again (it knew it was being observed).  The crows went crazy again, just like yesterday -- with much cawing until the cat disappeared onto the Steeber property next door.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Screech Owls at the Patio Black Light

Last night, being a warm, calm and moonless night, I set out the black light and sheet on the patio. Many insects began to swarm, and upon going out to check while the evening was still young, I heard a strange chittering sound which sounded like it came from right behind the sheet. Taking another couple steps forward I saw a Western Screech Owl sitting on one of the large bricks that form the border of the patio, about a foot from the bottom corner of the black light sheet! It immediately flew away. Was it visiting to get some easy protein from the numerous bugs (including several large California Prionus and Polyphylla that were attracted)?

The next time I went out, I heard more chittering close by, and there was the owl, about 15 feet to the north, perched on a boundary stake. I encouraged Gary to come out and see, and the owl had moved to one of the barbed-wire fence posts a few feet down slope. Then we noticed another owl on the next fence post along the fence line! By carefully creeping, I got a few photos, and the best one is shown below. This certainly is a young owl, and the other was likely its sibling. Their "juvenile"(somewhat fearless) behavior supports this. 

Western Screech Owl (Megascops kennicottii)

The sheet, with black light, and the fence line, with one fence post barely visible to the right of and behind the round boulder

Friday, June 15, 2012

White-tailed Kites Nesting in the Meadow: Almost Ready to Fledge

For weeks we have watched a pair of White-tailed Kites on and around their nest in the big meadow below our house site. Today, one of the nestlings has apparently stepped out of the nest, and stood staring out at the world around it, looking quite mature and raptor-like. The characteristic reddish marking on the chest, typical of an immature White-tailed Kite, is clearly visible. My best photographic attempt is a very crude shot through a spotting scope, but at least it shows the young one well enough to identify it. Three nestlings in total were observed yesterday being fed by one of the parents.

One of the nestlings, apparently perched right next to the nest, which has always been just out of our view in the highest point of this live oak.

A view of the meadow from the upper story of our house. It is rich in voles, deer mice, pocket mice and other rodents.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

More Insects and Arachnids -- Could There Ever Be Too Many?

Many little critters are out and about! Here are some more observed in Cuyamaca Woods in the past couple days (most at the house here).

Acmaeodera sp. on sunflower

Acorn Weevil (Curculio sp.)

Western Rose Curculio (Merhynchites wickhami), on California Wild Rose (as expected)

Eleodes acuticauda, a common darkling beetle in these parts

Latrodectus geometricus male (Brown Widow). Tiny -- only about 4 mm in length, in a miniscule web on the patio last night

A solifuge (wind scorpion) on my patio. An arachnid, but not a spider. This individual is MUCH fatter than the solifuge that I photographed about a week ago. The same one, after it found some good meals?

Snake Portraits

As it has warmed up now, various snakes are making their appearances in Cuyamaca Woods. Today, Gary and I saw a very fresh, juvenile gopher snake on our walk up Starlight Way. It was stretched out on the road, and allowed some close-up shots.

Most likely the San Diego Gopher Snake, Pituophis catenifer annectens.
The gopher snake stretched out. Not a baby, but certainly not a full-sized adult either (so a teenager!)
A few days ago we observed our first rattlesnake of the season, a Southern Pacific Rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus helleri -- formerly Crotalus viridis helleri). It was peeking out between two rocks lining our path between the house and the solar shed. It was also very calm and cooperative as I took photos. It slithered back into the bushes, and we have not seen it since.

Southern Pacific Rattlesnake
I have yet to see a Red Diamond Rattlesnake here in the Cuyamaca Mountains, although it seemed as common as the Southern Pacific in the foothills. And of course, the baby Speckled Rattlesnake observed by others in Cuyamaca Woods last summer was a real treat. Hopefully one will show itself this season, too!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Insects and Spiders at the Black Light

In the past few days, particularly with the couple really hot days we've just had, some nice little critters have been coming out at night and visiting the black light I put up on my patio.

Here are a couple of the visitors. The new Canon camera and macro lens is really helping with this close-up photography!

Hippodamia sinuata sinuata, a lady beetle.

Eleodes osculans (Wooly Darkling Beetle)

Zarhipis integripennis

Most likely Creugas bajulus. If so, a rare sighting, with few records in the literature of this species. Thanks to Jim Berrian at the San Diego Natural History Museum for help in identifying this spider, as well as those at Bugguide.net.

Herpyllus propinquus, the Western Parson Spider

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

One of the Local Mountain Lion's Doings

On May 15, I saw a Mountain Lion cross Engineers Road in front of my car at 9:30 pm, moving from the right side of the road to the left side as I approached Cuyamaca Woods from Cuyamaca Lake. I was within a couple hundred yards of the sign for Cuyamaca Woods at that point.

Cuyamaca Woods residents Terri and John Groth recently observed some signs that seem typical of a Mountain Lion's activities near their home on Grandview Way and further down the road, not far from where it connects to Engineers Road.

Closer to Engineers Road is an area with a lot of wood chips scattered about. There were areas scratched up in the chips, and one such spot contained some very impressive scat, suggestive of a large carnivore.

More compelling, closer to their house, was the remains of a deer, partially eaten and with one fore limb removed and lying to the side. Their photos of this evidence are shown below.

These locations are very close to where I saw my lion the other night, according to Google Maps.

Fairly good evidence that this cat has a home range incorporating this area.

Mule Deer, Angle One. Photo courtesy of Terri Groth.

Mule Deer, Angle Two. Photo courtesy of Terri Groth.

Scat in scrape. Members of the cat family which are advertising their presence in a territory generally do not bury their scat (as this animal demonstrates). Photo courtesy of Terri Groth.
The Groths will try to capture film evidence with a motion-activated camera in the days/weeks to come.