Readers’ wildlife photos

July 14, 2023 • 8:15 am

Today sees the return of Robert Lang, physicist, origami master and, today, photographer.  Robert’s narration is indented, and you can click on the photos to enlarge them.

More local animals

The Los Angeles basin is a vast urban/suburban metropolis, but its natural boundaries of ocean and mountains are abrupt with sharp transitions created by water and steepness. The northern boundary is formed by the San Gabriel and San Bernardino Mountains (collectively, the Transverse Ranges) and they rise steeply from many back yards along the range. My studio is about 20 feet from the edge of the Angeles National Forest; this gives rise to many wildlife encounters, both at the studio and on the trails that climb up from the back property line. Most of these pictures are fairly recent.

One from last fall that I’ve been saving for RWP is this California Tarantula (Aphonopelma sp.). Probably a male, because he was out and about; in the fall, the males go on walkabout looking for females (who mostly stay hidden in their burrows):

Then we turn to a couple of reptiles. The Western Fence Lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis) is one of the most common lizards around; just walking down the front steps, I’m likely to see one (although it’s rare that they stay still enough to be photographed). They are highly variable in color, and the same lizard can appear either light or dark. In the morning, they are dark to absorb the sun’s rays; then in the afternoon, after they’ve warmed up, they lighten their skin and their lovely iridescence becomes visible:

I was pleased on a recent hike to see a Blainville’s Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma blainvillii) at an elevation of about 4000 feet. They used to be more common in the San Gabriels, but earlier in the previous century their numbers were reduced by collectors gathering them for the curio trade, and they’ve never fully come back. I really should have taken a wide-angle photo of this one; it would have been a great candidate for the “Spot the …” series, as it was so perfectly camouflaged against the sand and gravel I nearly stepped on it:

Another reptile that I’m glad I didn’t step on was this Southern Pacific Rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus helleri), who was stretched out across the trail. He was pretty chill, though; didn’t budge as we approached, and so we gingerly stepped past. A nice set of rattles on that one!

We have three kinds of squirrels around; ground squirrels, gray squirrels, and the (introduced) Fox Squirrel (Sciurus niger). The local rattlers are happy to dine on any of them.

We also have both crows and ravens; crows are more common down in the neighborhoods, while ravens like this Common Raven (Corvus corax) dominate up in the chapparal. This one is perched on the top of one of last year’s blooms from the Whipple Yucca (Hesperoyucca whipplei):

Larger creatures sometimes come visit the meadow behind the studio. A not infrequent visitor is the coyote (Canis latrans). Although this one was (barely) within the National Forest, they come far down into the adjacent neighborhoods, where they find plentiful food in the form of dropped fruit, loose garbage, and the occasional domestic animal whose owners ill-advisedly allow them to roam free:

Another frequent large visitor is the California Mule Deer (Odocoileus hemionus californicus). This time of year, the bucks are in velvet, like this one. We had a very wet spring, so there is a lot of browse in the mountain canyons and not much to lure them into the meadow, but in the fall, when the acorn crop starts to fall, they’ll be visiting twice a day:

In much of California, the urban/wilderness interface usually exists in one of two states: (1) recovering from the last wildfire; (2) stocking up for the next wildfire. A year ago we had a relatively small wildfire just across the canyon; fortunately, it was a cool day with not much wind, and the fire crews held it to just a few acres:

I spent the afternoon watching the firefighters dragging hoses for hundreds of yards up the ridges while helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft dropped water and fire retardant. I am in awe of the firefighters, who were clambering up cliffs that I wouldn’t even try to scramble under the best of circumstances, while they were wearing and/or carrying 50 pounds of kit and dragging hoses. Within a few hours, they had things under control. The drifting smoke and red fire retardant gave things an almost surreal appearance as they were mopping up:

That was a year ago. One thing about the chaparral is it recovers quickly from fire (indeed, many plants rely on it), and after this spring’s wet rains, the formerly bare ground is covered in new growth, and the burned bushes have resprouted. They’re getting ready for the next fire, which is bound to happen sometime; it’s the nature of this bit of Nature.

8 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photos

  1. A very fine set! That is a male tarantula. One identifier are the visible spurs on the front legs which they use to hold back the fangs of the female during mating.
    In a former life, I lived for many years in San Diego (*Sigh*), and had come across a few S. Pacific rattlers. All very mellow, but it was always cool mornings when I encountered them.

  2. What wonderful photos of a wonderful place to live. You have a busy backyard.
    That is a healthy and beautiful coyote. It obviously makes a good living in it’s hunting job.
    I’ve seen some really straggly and very skinny ones.

    Between the rattler and the tarantula, I’d be walking with my face to the ground.
    Thank you for these terrific photos.

  3. What an interesting group of animals! I would like to see a horned lizard in the wild. To me they are so iconic of the southwestern US that I can almost feel the hot desert sun when I look at a picture of one.

    I dutifully clicked on the tarantula photo to enlarge—twice, to make it really big—and the resulting 18-inch spider gave me a bit of an adrenaline rush. (If I ever saw one that big in person, I’d hope it was an origami version.)

  4. You captured a lot of interesting animals. That is a large rattler…is it true that each rattle marks a year? I counted 12…

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