Turning to Terns

NOTE: Identifying terns can be tricky, and for this post I am indebted to Chuck Almdale who graciously shared his knowledge.  After an absence of several months, and newly returned from their wintering grounds in Central America, the Elegant Terns are back at Zuma Beach. With their distinct tufted crest feathers and yellowy-orange beaks, theyContinue reading “Turning to Terns”

Consider the Mussel

With a hat tip to M.F.K. Fisher, author of “Consider the Oyster,” why do California mussel shells change color over their lifespans?   It’s not unusual to see dozens of half-inch long, pale gray striped shells on the littoral beach, along with a few adult shells. Typically, the shells have parted with their other halves. Mature mussel shellsContinue reading “Consider the Mussel”

Garden Snails

Overnight rain brought a hatching of garden snails.  Normally active at night and at dawn, perhaps the rain beckoned them in their whorled shells to saunter over sidewalks in search of groceries. Their iridescent paths and meditative pace have always delighted me when walking after a rain shower. Garden snails are non-native to California. It is believed they arrivedContinue reading “Garden Snails”

Northern Mockingbirds

Today, a guest post from Bob Yates. If I could interview a mockingbird after one of its concerts on a power line near me, I think my first question would be: “Who are your major influences?” Admission to these shows is free. They feature medleys from lower registers to high in the same breath, from CarusoContinue reading “Northern Mockingbirds”

Cooper’s Hawk

We’ve had a feeder up since Christmas, and are attracting lesser goldfinches, house finches, fox sparrows, white-crowned sparrows, juncos, mourning doves and California towhees. And now, their chittering attracted the attention of the neighborhood Cooper’s hawk population. We’d previously seen one standing at the edge of and in the birdbath, and they’re frequently observed perching on utility poles during ourContinue reading “Cooper’s Hawk”

Love is in the Air

A mid-February visit to the Malibu Lagoon did not disappoint. The water level was quite low, resulting in fewer birds and species. At midday, California brown pelicans were preening on islets in the middle of Malibu Creek, surrounded by gulls and cormorants.  Several pelicans sported poppy red breeding plumage on their necks.   The light blue eyes are aContinue reading “Love is in the Air”

Western Monarch Butterflies

Solemn news this week from the Xerces Society: during the 2020 Thanksgiving western monarch count, only 1,914 butterflies were spotted in 250 observation sites. In 1997, when data collection began, 1.2 million western monarchs were counted in 150 locales in California and Baja California.  Habitat destruction and lack of access to milkweed plants (the sole sourceContinue reading “Western Monarch Butterflies”

Gray Whale

During an ordinary beach walk, a gray whale slipped into our sight yesterday, a benediction from the sea. Perhaps we should have known something unusual was happening in the Santa Monica Bay because several groups of brown pelicans were seen diving for fish, making a big splash before taking off in flight repeatedly. Known to migrate through Santa MonicaContinue reading “Gray Whale”

American Coots

American Coots were easily spotted on a recent visit to the Malibu Lagoon. A fresh water basin in Western Los Angeles County, the restored estuary once again hosts a variety of birdlife year around, fed by water draining out of Malibu Canyon in the Santa Monica Mountains. The level of the water was low onContinue reading “American Coots”

Fox Tail Agave

What appears at first glance to be a sad, droopy plant is actually a thriving life source for insects and birds. Sending up an arching, flower-covered stem after growing for ten years, the fox tail agave blooms starting in late summer through early spring.  It is a magnet for bees and birds including hummingbirds, commonContinue reading “Fox Tail Agave”