Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Charismatic "Mesofauna" of Bolsa Chica

Spermophilus beecheyi
Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve
Huntington Beach, California
May 29th, 2010

On my way back to the car from my birding trip to Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, I came across this very charismatic Beechey Ground Squirrel. I couldn't resist stopping and taking a few photographs. The squirrel was so photogenic I had to insert another memory card to finish the shoot. I couldn't believe how tame this squirrel was, normally they are quite shy and run into the scrub as soon they see you.

There are 23 species of ground squirrels and 119 recognized subspecies in the United States. Throughout California there are at least 5 native species, with one source listing as many as 18 (including subspecies). The Beechey Ground Squirrel (or California Ground Squirrel) is the most common species observed in Los Angeles and Orange Counties. 

Since this squirrel was so charismatic I have included a few bonus images below.

Nesting Terns at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve

Sterna antillarum browni
Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve
Huntington Beach, California
May 29th, 2010

This weekend I went birding at one of my favorite Southern California locations, Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve. The reserve is located just east of PCH and is bordered to the north by Warner Avenue and to the south by Seapoint Avenue. The reserve consists of approximately 1,200 acres of wetlands and several miles of trails. It is an amazing place to bird. Historically over 320 species of birds have been spotted here, with many, including terns, plovers, and herons nesting in the reserve. I have personally observed over 50 species between the months of February and May this year alone. If you would like to learn more about the ecological reserve or plan your own birding trip click here.

The California Least Tern (Sterna antillarum browni) is one of three least tern subspecies that breed in North America. All three of which are listed as endangered under the Federal Endangered Species Act. One of the reasons they are endangered is that they nest along the sandy shoreline and have to compete with humans for territory. As their preferred nesting locations disappear, they have been forced to nest on  flat gravel roofs of building, or in mudflats. Unfortunately these nesting locations are not ideal, a roof can heat up causing tar to seep through the gravel sticking to fledgling birds, and mudflats can make the birds more prone to predation. Additionally, over-crowding of ideal nesting locations can also make the birds more vulnerable to predation. 

Since 1970, when the California Least Tern was listed as an endangered species, conservations efforts have been somewhat successful. The population has grown from 225 nesting pairs to over 6,561 pairs recorded in 2004. Biologists though, are still worried that the distribution of the species is limited and without future management may not be viable. With an increase in public awareness and future conservation efforts maybe these little terns will have a better chance. 

Saturday, May 1, 2010

A Flock of Skimmers

Rynchops niger
Stearns Wharf
Santa Barbara, California
April 24th, 2010

Last weekend my wife was overnighting in Santa Barbara, so I decided to surprise her and I drove out to take her to dinner. I left a few hours early so I could stop along Stearns Wharf and photograph the human activity along the coast. I wasn't expecting to photograph the wildlife, but when I saw this flock of Black Skimmers I couldn't resist. 

The Black Skimmer (Rynchops niger), is a unique bird among American birds, making its identification unmistakable. What sets it apart is it's red and black bill that is noticeably uneven (the lower mandible is approximately 2-3 cm longer than the upper portion), which it uses to skim the water looking to catch small fish. One interesting fact, is that skimmers are born with their upper and lower mandibles even in length, but by the time they fledge, the lower mandible has grown longer than the upper half. 

The Black Skimmer's traditional North American range has been the Gulf Coast and the Eastern Seaboard, but in the early 1960's, a few were spotted along the Southern California coast. In 1968, a few were spotted nesting at the Salton Sea. Since then, their range, in California, has expanded to include the Coast from San Diego to Monterey County and San Francisco. Today, it is estimated that there are over 1,200 nesting pairs at the Salton Sea and along the coast.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Out on a Limb

Rhacodactylus ciliatus
RNA (A.K.A. Ribo)
Glendale, California
August 6th, 2007

I took this photograph of one of my male crested geckos a few years back. I own several crested geckos, as well as a pair of viper geckos, several bearded dragons, and an anerythristic corn snake. Of my collection of reptiles, I think the crested gecko has one of the most interesting natural histories. 

The crested gecko, Rhacodactylus ciliatus, is endemic to southern New Caledonia (Grand Terre and the Isle of Pines). It was first described by Alphone Guichenot, a French zoologist, in 1866. The gecko was thought to have been extinct until it was rediscovered in 1994. A few individuals were taken back to the United States and Europe were the gecko was found to be a prolific breeder, and easy to maintain. Today they are one of the most popular geckos to keep. 

Unfortunately, the in the wild, the crested gecko has not been so lucky. This species is threatened by human encroachment on its habitat, and by the introduced little fire ant. The little fire ant (Wassmannia auropunctata) was introduced to New Caledonia sometime between 1955 and 1972. It was most likely brought in with ornamental or agricultural plants. The ant competes with the gecko for food (insects and other small arthropods), and preying on the gecko itself. 

Saturday, April 10, 2010

A Towhee Poses for a Picture

Pipilo crissalis 
Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Reserve
Los Angeles County, California
March 28th, 2010

This little California Towhee (Pipilo crissalis) posed for a few pictures on a recent birding trip to the Selpulveda Basin Wildlife Reserve. This trip will be memorable because it was the first trip I took with my wife. She was great for her first time out, she often spotted unique birds before I did, and she makes a great companion. Hopefully, she will join me on future outings as I had a great time with her. 

The California Towhee is a common bird of the chaparral and scrublands of California and Southern Oregon. They are uniformly brown, with a reddish brown eye-ring and under-tail coverts. They essentially look like a big brown sparrow. They tend to live in the dense shrubs along coastal slopes and foothills, but they are also resident visitors of backyards and city parks. One interesting bit of information on this towhee is that they often make their nests in poison oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum) and feed on the plants berries. 

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Basking in the Sun

Sceloporus occidentalis
Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Reserve
Los Angeles County, California
March 20th, 2010

I found this little western fence lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis) basking in the sun during a recent outing to the Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Reserve. He was nice enough to sit and pose for a few pictures before scrambling out of sight into the undergrowth. These are one of my favorite native reptiles, and I love to watch them and capture them on film.

Not only are the western fence lizards beautiful to look at and fun to watch, they are beneficial to the ecosystem as well. In areas with a population of western fence lizards, the incidence of Lyme Disease is significantly lower than in areas without these little reptiles. Apparently the lizard's blood contains a protein which kills the spirochete bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi that causes Lyme Disease. 

The Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Reserve is located just North of the 101 Freeway and West of the 405 Freeway. The  225 acre park is home to a wide variety of wildlife including California ground squirrels, cottontails, coyotes, California red-legged frogs, Pacific treefrogs, western fence lizards, side-blotched lizards, and over 200 visiting (migrating) and resident species of birds. There is a path that winds through the reserve with several viewing areas that overlook the lake. When visiting please stay on the path and leave your pets at home. The native scrub land is beautiful, but can also be fragile if not taken care of. 

Monday, March 29, 2010

A View from the Top

A Unique View of the Rainforest
La Selva Biological Field Station, Costa Rica
July 14th, 2009

This photograph was taken from atop a research tower at the OTS La Selva Field Station. The total height of the tower is just over 40 meters. On a clear day at the top, you can see the chain of volcanoes that run like a spine down the center of the country to the west, and the Caribbean to the east.  It was partly cloudy on the day I climbed the tower, so most of the view was obstructed, but what I did see was amazing. After climbing to the top of this tower, I climbed part way down and crossed a bridge to the second tower. From here, I made my way down to the ground. I will say the whole experience was a little tense, but well worth it. I would not have wanted to miss out on this experience; one that few visitors get to have. 

The towers themselves are part of a long term project to study the Carbon Cycle and climate change. The towers I climbed are only two of several scattered throughout the forest. Our guide was telling my group that there are plans to add additional towers to this site and monitoring equipment that will make it possible to collect data remotely. 

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Lonely Trail at Deukmejian Wilderness Park

La Mesnager Loop Trail
Deukmejian Wilderness Park, California
May 31st, 2009

Deukmejian Wilderness Park is one of my favorite places to hike in Glendale, California. I discovered this park about four years ago when I purchased the book Afoot and Afield in Los Angeles County by Jerry Schad. The La Mesnager Loop Trail is a 1.4 mile (2.2 km) hike with only a 420 foot change in elevation. It is easy to maneuver in a sturdy pair of cross-trainers but I prefer a pair of light boots. As you reach the top of the mountain make sure to take a quick 50 yard side trip up the La Mesnager Lookout Trail. On a clear day from the lookout you can see Catalina Island. Once back on the main trail, you might want to veer off once again and take the steep (1195 ft change in elevation) Rim of the Valley Trail, this trail will take you up the mountain to the Haines Canyon Road. I usually double-back down the trail and return to the La Mesnager Loop Trail. Another option is to stay on the La Mesnager Loop Trail and take the short jaunt the end of Dunsmore Canyon, before finishing your hike.

The photograph above was taken in the Spring of 2009 just three months before the devastating Station Fire. Unfortunately Deukmejian Wilderness Park was burned as part of the effort to save the community surrounding the 704 acre park. The park itself is closed for the time being, and hopefully it will re-open again in the near future. If you would like to see images of the park after the controlled burn, including one taken in almost the exact location of my photograph you can click here: City of Glendale: Community Services and Parks.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Night Walk Along the Camino Cantarana

Scinax boulengeri
La Selva Biological Field Station, Costa Rica
July 15th, 2009

This Boulenger's Snouted Treefrog was photographed along the boardwalk of the Camino Cantarana at the OTS La Selva field station. The Cantarana (frog song) trail was one of my favorite night spots during my trip to Costa Rica. The trailhead was only a few meters from the academic building and we would often take a quick trip down to the boardwalk before heading on the one kilometer hike back to the Cabinas. At night the Cantarana trail is alive with the sound of frogs calling and snakes hunting, every night was an adventure with new organisms to observe and photograph.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Poison-Dart Frog on a Walk Through La Selva

Oophaga pumilio
La Selva Biological Field Station, Costa Rica
July 13th, 2009

Here is another photograph from my trip last summer to Costa Rica. I captured this little frog during a solo walk through the forest. Although these frogs were ubiquitous in La Selva, I couldn't help but photograph one every chance I got. They were easy to spot in the leaf litter and on the roots of trees both because of their bright color and their resounding vocalizations.

The Oophaga pumilio (formerly of the genus Dendrobates) are an interesting species in that throughout their range they exist in several distinct color morphs. The blue-jeans variety, as photographed above, is the most common but they can be solid orange-red, as well as green, yellow, or even blue, all with or without spots. Another interesting characteristic of this species is the high degree of parental care from both parents. The male of this species, though less involved than the female, provides a degree of parental care by depositing water on the eggs and defending the nest. The females expend more energy and time into the care of her young. She will take the newly hatched tadpoles one at a time from the nest to a small water filled cavity, often a bromeliad axil. In these little pools her young are safe from predators, but have no food, so she will come back periodically and lay unfertilized eggs for her young to eat.

Frogs are amazing creatures, unfortunately across the World their populations are being threatened with extinction from habitat loss, climate change, and infectious disease (chytrid fungus). Hopefully with a conscious effort we can protect the species we have left.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

American Wigeon at Kenneth Hahn Park

Anas americana
Kenneth Hahn State Recreational Area, California
February 14th, 2010

I photographed this American Wigeon during the Great Backyard Bird Count at Kenneth Hahn State Recreational Area. This duck is easily distinguishable from other ducks by its cream to white colored forehead and crown and the brilliant green patch extending from behind the eye to the nape. The "bald" look of this duck has earned it the nickname baldpate.

If you've never been to Kenneth Hahn State Recreational Area, I highly suggest making a trip. It is located off La Cienega in Baldwin Hills. There are over seven miles of trails, picnic areas and a duck pond. Parking near the pond and heading across the main drive will take you to the Olympic trail, which takes you straight up into some beautiful chaparral where you can observe native wildlife and get some amazing views of Los Angeles. The pond has a population of domesticated ducks, but with careful observation you can often spot native species as well.