Gayle Madwin (queerbychoice) wrote,
Gayle Madwin
queerbychoice

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Garden Bloggers' Wildlife Day

It's supposed to be Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day tomorrow, but although I do have some flowers flooming, they're all the same flowers that were blooming last month, and it's not all that interesting to photograph them all over again right now. Especially when I have something more interesting to photograph instead: wildlife! Wildlife of various sorts, but one sort has been especially prominent. My yard has been taken over by squirrels!

I'm not entirely sure how many squirrels I have, but I know I have at least one male and at least one female. It seems like I may have more than that, because lately I nearly always see at least one of them in my pecan tree whenever I go into the back yard. I've also seen them in the southern magnolia, in the columnar cypresses, and running along the fence line around the entire perimeter of the property, and I see Boston charging at them multiple times per day whenever they venture onto the ground. They don't venture onto the ground very much, because of Boston. I hope she doesn't actually catch them, but if she didn't chase them, they'd probably venture onto my patio and steal birdseed from my bird feeders. So it's helpful of Boston to keep them confined to the trees for me. Now, let's just hope they don't catch on that Boston comes indoors at night.

The squirrels are here for the pecans. They're eating every pecan in the entire top half of the tree, while I'm eating every pecan in the bottom half of the tree. I don't mind sharing with them. They usually trade me two or three walnuts each year for several hundred pecans. I have no idea where there's a walnut tree anywhere near me, but the squirrels know, and they bring me walnuts. Or at least they did for the past couple of years. This year they haven't paid up yet, but I'm trusting that they will.

I'm pretty sure my squirrels are Eastern gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis), which are not native to California but have become the most common squirrel species from Northern California to British Columbia. So they're an invasive species. But they're not an easy species to resent.

Sciurus carolinensis (Eastern gray squirrel) female


This is the female squirrel - definitely the same one as above, photographed on the same day and in almost the same place.

Sciurus carolinensis (Eastern gray squirrel) female


Here are two more pictures of her.

Sciurus carolinensis (Eastern gray squirrel) female

Sciurus carolinensis (Eastern gray squirrel) female


Over here is the male squirrel.

Sciurus carolinensis (Eastern gray squirrel) male


This is the same male squirrel on a different day. I can recognize him by the notch out of his left ear.

Sciurus carolinensis (Eastern gray squirrel) male


And this is a different view of him within a few minutes of the picture above.

Sciurus carolinensis (Eastern gray squirrel) female


I've also been counting birds for Project FeederWatch. This is a white-crowned sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys). I was surprised to see it, because I'm only providing safflower seed, nyjer thistle seed, and suet right now, none of which are supposed to appeal to white-crowned sparrows. I'm trying to avoid feeding the invasive house sparrows, which belong in Europe, not here, and which are aggressive and hostile to the native birds (sometimes even killing them). White-crowned sparrows are native and very welcome here, but they typically eat exactly the same foods as house sparrows do, so I don't know how to offer them anything without attracting house sparrows. I'm glad to see them, though.

Zonotrichia leucophrys (white-crowned sparrow) adult


This is a juvenile white-crowned sparrow. The brown stripes on its head will turn black and white when it's fully adult.

Zonotrichia leucophrys (white-crowned sparrow) juvenile


This is a juvenile golden-crowned sparrow (Zonotrichia atricapilla), eating a safflower seed. Unlike white-crowned sparrows, golden-crowned sparrows are known to like safflower seeds. The yellow smudge on the forehead of this bird will turn into a more defined yellow stripe, with black stripes on each side of it, when it's fully adult.

Zonotrichia atricapilla (golden-crowned sparrow) juvenile


Here's another view of the same golden-crowned sparrow.

Zonotrichia atricapilla (golden-crowned sparrow) juvenile


Today it rained. After the rainstorm, I glanced out my kitchen window and saw a murder of crows in my pecan tree. (A murder in my own back yard! I know, mariness: the squirrels are probably behind this somehow.) There were about a dozen of them, but when I ran to get my camera, almost all of them flew away. This one remained behind and posed for me. This is an American crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos).

Corvus brachyrhynchos (American crow)

Corvus brachyrhynchos (American crow)

Corvus brachyrhynchos (American crow)


The pecan tree is really an ecosystem unto itself. I see so much more wildlife in my back yard because of the pecan tree than because of any other single plant. Some of the wildlife is not entirely friendly, like this leaf-footed bug (Leptoglossus zonatus). It isn't a terrible menace really; it's a native bug and is therefore kept in check by the ecosystem, specifically by native parasitic insects whose larvae consume it from the inside out. But the leaffooted bugs that survive like to pierce pecan hulls with large sucking mouthparts, inserting their digestive juices into the nut and essentially drinking bits of the nut through a straw. This doesn't actually do a huge amount of damage; it just puts tiny stains on the nuts and subtly changes the flavor, not necessarily enough for most people to notice the difference. Also, it doesn't seem that the leaf-footed bugs get around enough to damage all that many of the nuts; this one remained on a single pecan for three days in a row.

Leptoglossus zonatus (leaf-footed bug)


It didn't much appreciate my taking its picture, though; the flashbulb scared it, so it kept trying to crawl around to the opposite side of the nut to get away from me. They can also produce an unpleasant scent to fend off predators, but either I didn't upset this one to a sufficient degree for that, or its scent wasn't unpleasant enough for me to notice.

Leptoglossus zonatus (leaf-footed bug)


I've been making something of a reputation for myself in the insect world as an annoying paparazza. I go out around sunset, when insects of all sorts seem to congregate on the pecan tree in maximum numbers, and place my camera within an inch or two of them, and flash the flashbulb at them over and over until they get annoyed enough to fly away. This green darner dragonfly (Anax junius) tried to outwait me, but eventually it couldn't stand me anymore.

Anax junius (green darner dragonfly)


But the pictures are so worth annoying the insects!

Anax junius (green darner dragonfly)


That's all the wildlife pictures I have for you right now. I'll end with a few other types of pictures. I have, of course, been busily harvesting some pecans for myself before the wild animals eat them all. I've half filled my wheelbarrow with them.

pecans


The oranges on my orange tree will be ripe in another month or two. The tree has never produced so many oranges before! It produced only three oranges in 2012, the year I moved in. In 2013 I researched ways to make it bear more fruit (mainly: water it more in the spring) and coaxed ten oranges out of it. But in 2014 I did nothing differently than in 2013, and I have something close to 50 oranges this year! I have no idea why my orange tree has suddenly decided to feed me enough oranges to eat nothing but oranges for a month.

oranges


The weather has been weird, though. See the plant in the foreground below, with lime-green leaves and dark brown seed spikes? That's basil (Ocimum basilicum). Basil dies whenever the temperature gets much below 45 degrees. It's mid-November; the basil ought to be dead by now. The basil is still looking quite healthy. So the weather is not working right.

Ocimum basilicum (basil)


I'll end with flowers of a sort: grass flowers. Here are my pink muhly grass (Muehlenbergia capillaris), alkali sacaton grass (Sporobolus airoides), and deergrass (Muehlenbergia rigens) after today's rainstorm, drooping from the weight of the water droplets on their flower spikes.

Muhlenbergia capillaris (pink muhly grass)
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