THERE’S FROST on the SCAT. . .

 Frosty SCATFrosty mornings are becoming more frequent these days on the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve (SRP). I have been venturing out just after sunrise in search of wildlife along trails I haven’t yet tried on the plateau.    

The frosty mornings announce that winter has arrived at the SRP which is also being validated by the settling in of SRP winter birds including White-crowned Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, and others. The resident Acorn Woodpeckers have been actively caching acorns in their granaries while constantly challenging, contesting, and intimidating their fellow kind with their constant “waka, waka, waka, waka” calls as they establish and defend their acorn caches. White-tailed Kites have recently been observed exhibiting mating behavior on the SRP also marking the arrival of the SRP winter season. When hiking from the oak woodlands to the open grasslands the beautiful melodic song of the Western Meadowlark welcomes your arrival.   


Bobcat Tracks

The SRP scat producers appear to be in abundance. Their scat, tracks, and sightings indicate that there is a healthy population of coyote, bobcat, deer, skunk, raccoon, and numerous smaller rodents.   

Recent storms have crossed our area dropping 12+ inches of rain. These rain events unfortunately required the SRP to close the preserve due to the extensive damage to the trails and bridges which have caused dangerous conditions.   


You can still drive the northern and western perimeter of the SRP to enjoy the SRP from the outside looking in. I am sure the wildlife has enjoyed roaming their special place sans humankind. The rain has brought a winter coating of snow to the mountains to the east of the plateau (San Gabriel, San Bernardino, and San Jacinto mountain ranges) resulting in a beautiful back drop for the plateau.  

The rains have also filled the vernal pools that lie along the western edge of the SRP and the waterfowl have arrived to take advantage of the pools offerings. Winter has indeed arrived to the SRP. We are fortunate to have a second straight season where the vernal pools will be full. In drought years the pools often remain dry. 
We’ve been at our new home for almost a year now and are beginning to learn the subtle and magnificent seasonal changes in our area. 




 Jim, Judy, and VELCRO Travel is fatal to bigotry, narrow-mindedness, and prejudice. Mark Twain    

In late May I headed to the extended backyard (X-BY) for a hike. When reaching the X-BY from the path behind our home several crows were giving warning calls from a nearby tree. I thought there must be a predator nearby. I slowly moved in their direction hoping to catch a view of their concern. As I got closer the volume and repetition of the calls increased. That’s when I noticed one of their own was lying dead below a power pole. The calling crows left as soon as they realized I had located their concern.

Looking at the top pole, directly above the location of the dead crow, I noticed a matrix of uninsulated wires and concluded that the crow probably met its demise by electrocution. I felt bad, but then it was just a crow I thought, and I continued on my hike in the X-BY. On subsequent X-BY hikes I made it a routine to check the area below the pole . . . . . just in case. As the weeks went by no more bird electrocutions were noted and I began to feel that he crows electrocution was probably just an isolated incidence.

Just before sunrise on July 20, 2010 we lost power to the house for about 45 minutes. I didn’t think much of it at the time. Two days later I headed to the X-BY for a hike. My pole checking routine was now ingrain and I headed first towards the power pole . . . . . . just in case. As I came closer to the power pole I noticed something lying beneath the pole that blended into the ground. The closer I got to the pole the features of the bird lying below the pole became apparent. This bird was lying on some of the remaining crow’s feathers where it fell several months earlier. I was devastated to see this beautiful expired Barn Owl at the base of the pole. The Barn Owl had been electrocuted. I concluded that the power outage two days earlier was probably the result of the Barn Owl’s demise.

The crows had already warned me two months early to do something about the pole, but I didn’t heed their advice then. It took the Barn Owl to motivate me to see if something could be done.

During my X-BY hike that day I was not able to get the Barn Owl out of my mind or the crow’s earlier warning for that matter. I returned to the pole before heading home to view the tragedy again. I wondered if there was anything I could do.

Arriving home at mid-morning I looked for some place to report the problem. I entered the Southern California Edison (SCE) website and was impressed by its content and ease of use.  There, at the top of the website was an ENVIRONMENT tab. A power utility company with an ENVIRONMENT tab on its website was unbelievable to me having lived in the east coast power gird for the last 30 years.

I pushed the ENVIRONMENT tab! Listed there was a list of SCE’s environmental programs, including one for AVIAN PROTECTION. The contact list for the SCE Environmental Staff listed Archaeologists and Biologists, I sent an email to the Senior Biologists explaining my find and asking whether anything could be done.

That afternoon I received an email from the SCE Senior Biologist advising me that my report was a valid concern and that she was directing my email to Kara, the biologist in charge of the Avian Protection program. The following day I received an email from Kara asking for more information regarding the pole location and pole ID number. I provided the information to Kara and she responded informing me that an inspector would check to pole.

I received a message from Kara several days later advising me that the pole would be retrofitted to prevent anymore bird electrocutions and said a work order had been initiated. She would notify me when the work would be scheduled.

A couple days later I noticed a SCE vehicle parked on our cul-de-sac which overlooks the power pole. When I went out to talk to the individual he had already left. While hiking in the X-BY, later in the week, I encountered Kevin who was walking down one of the roads in the X-BY. Kevin was the SCE trouble-shooter who was parked briefly on our cul-de-sac earlier in the week. I introduced myself and he explained he was surveying ways to get the SCE trucks into the area to do the work. With two locked gates along the road he explained the possible difficulties of getting to the pole. He told me one way or another they would get the work done. He advised me that the work would be completed within 30 days.

The power pole in question is the last overland pole before the power is directed underground into our development. We were heading into the hottest time of year when we received a POWER OUTAGE NOTIFICATION mailer from SCE on August 3, 2010. It announced that a power outage would occur on Tuesday, August 17, 2010. The notice included SCE preparation tips for the long outage and stated that the power to our neighborhood would be shut-off between 9:00 AM and 3:30 PM . . . . . . Oops!  

The SCE Power Outage Notification listed the reason for the shut-off as:  Upgrading aging infrastructure or completing other repairs to make needed improvements.” Fortunately SCE didn’t reveal the real reason by stating:  Your new neighbor at 23045 Sweetbay Circle found a couple of : dead birds below a power pole and we are interrupting you creature comforts for 6.5 hours during one of the hottest days of the year!”

It was already HOT at 9:00 AM on Tuesday, August 17, 2010, when the SCE trucks rolled towards Pole Number 4061682E. I told Kara, the SCE biologist, that I would take some photos of the retrofitting operation. I went to the X-BY as the trucks began setting up. I introduced myself and mentioned to the crew to please don’t tell the neighbors that I was responsible for the power shutdown. I stated that I wasn’t sure all the neighbors would understand the reason for the inconvenience. Fortunately for me, the crew indicated that they were unable to get the power shutoff. They were going to complete the job by working around the live wires. The SCE crew was great and after 2.5 hours had retrofitted the pole working around live wires with temperatures in the mid-90’s.

Click on photos for a larger image

The next day I received a call from Kevin at SCE who wanted to let me know that the job had been completed. He said they almost canceled the work because of the heat but decided to get the work done.

Pole # 4061682E is now hopefully bird safe as of August 17, 2010.

Will I still maintain my routine of checking the pole when starting my X-BY hikes?  Yes, I will, . . . . . . . just in case!

I have been totally overwhelmed and impressed with the rapid response and timely action of  SCE to address and correct a seemingly small problem in the context of their entire responsibilities. Everyone I came in contact with at SCE, from my initial contact regardng the problem to the crew who retrofitted the pole, were highly professional, courteous, and friendly. They are a dedicated and passionate group of people. Many thanks to all! 

Jim, Judy, and VELCRO

Travel is fatal to bigotry, narrow-mindedness, and prejudice. Mark Twain


Coyote Trail – Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Preserve – Late Summer

Realizing that the next several days would be creeping towards three-digit temperatures, I decided to head to the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Preserve (SRP) yesterday morning since the temperature was still reasonable.

It was 68 degrees at 8:00 AM when I headed towards the SRP.  During the five minute drive, YES it is nice to live so close to the SRP, I passed the fire station going up the hill to the plateau – Fire Conditions Warning sign read, “HIGH!” 

I had decided to hike a nice 3-mile loop in the center of the preserve which I last hiked in early June. I pulled in to the Hidden Valley parking lot and headed out on the Coyote trail. This was my first summer visit to the SRP and the bunchgrass prairie was very dry reinforcing the message on the Fire Conditions sign. Rounding a corner in a shady spot on the trail I encountered a wonderful creature just off the trail. Judy and I had learned several weeks ago from one of the SRP rangers that the tarantulas were quite active on the plateau during the night (SRP is only open to the public from dawn till dusk). I didn’t expect to encounter one of these wonderful creatures during the day, but there it was. Not the most handsome hairy creature allowed me to photograph him at will. I left him undisturbed and we parted our ways as I went on.  At the junction of the Coyote trail and the Trans-reserve trail I continued my hike on the Trans-reserve trail.

The Trans-reserve trail runs through a beautiful riparian oak woodlands ravine. It is a beautiful stretch of trail with lots of vegetation. The Poison Oak leaves were displaying their fall colors and the Holly-leaf Redberry were showing off as well. This is also a spot where signs of wildlife abound. Animal tracks, scat, scratching, bedding areas, and animal trails are everywhere – watch your step! This surely is one of the preserves major watering holes for wildlife. Now in late summer the water source is dry. I plan to come back to this area to just sit (inconspicuously) with hopes of observing the wildlife activity. I suspect the best time will be spring to early summer when there is an adequate water supply in non-drought years.

Click on photos for larger image

Climbing out of the beautiful ravine the trail rises back up to bunchgrass prairie and leads to a trail junction. The Historical Adobes can be seen only .5 miles away from that junction. I continued on the Trans-preserve trail passing one of my favorite scenic spots – the wooden trail bridge in the bunchgrass prairie. At the junction of the Trans-reserve trail and Hidden Valley Road I took Hidden Valley Road back towards the parking lot.

Prairie Bunchgrass wooden bridge – Spring and late Summer

The change of seasons in Southern California is certainly different and much more subtle from what we were used to in SE Pennsylvania. I am finding however that they are just as impressive if you take the time to take notice and observe. Unfortunately, most people do not take the time to enjoy and learn from their immediate surroundings.

I arrived back at the car a little after 10 AM and it was getting warm. In just two hours the temperature had risen from 70 degrees to 85 degrees. I took the time to read the EXCESSIVE HEAT warning at the trail head, it would probably have been better if I read it before I started my hike. However, I was carrying the suggested amount of water (1 liter for short hikes, 1 gallon for longer hikes) for my hike and headed home feeling refreshed and happy. Oh, it is so nice that my therapy is only 5 minutes away from home – We are blessed!


SRP WILDFIRE VIDEO  – Time-lapse video, CHECK it out – Watch out for the hummingbirds!

While preparing to pay bills, a task that I thought was supposed to end when you retired, I was working on the computer and casually listening to the news. I heard a newscaster thanking an individual for sending photos of the “WILDFIRE ON THE SANTA ROSA PLATEAU!” “What,” I thought and immediately recalled the FIRE CONDITIONS WARNING sign at the fire station earlier in the day.

I jumped up from the computer and ran to the family room where I saw smoke billowing from the plateau. I thought, “OH NO,” the beautiful place I had visited earlier in the day was now going up in flames.

As it turned out the fire was actually across the road from the SRP.  It burned 85 acres and was put out quickly. The fire suppression response to these wildfires is very impressive. The response to this fire brought: 2 Helicopters (still working today), 1 Air Attack, 6 Air Tankers, 10 Fire Crews (280 fire fighters), 4 Water Tenders, 2 Bulldozers, 33 Engines, and 6 Overhead Personnel – Source: Riverside County Fire Department Incident Report.

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Clinton Keith Road is the main access road to the SRP and has been closed since the fire began yesterday (local escorted traffic only) while they continue to do the clean-up work.  This is a simple sacrifice to deal with while allowing our wonderful public servants protect those things that our precious to us.

The CA Settlers
Jim, Judy, and VELCRO

Travel is fatal to bigotry, narrow-mindedness, and prejudice! 
Mark Twain

 The Marine Layer 

Marine Layer Lifting


  While growing up in Southern California (SoCal) I was always interested in the weather. As a child I built a weather station in our backyard and monitored it daily recording all the data and plotting graphs and charts. One of my friends at the time gave me a subscription to the US Weather Service daily weather maps which arrived by mail several weeks past the real time dates. The weather in SoCal hasn’t changed much in all those years. It is still pretty boring for weather enthusiasts (weather weenies).  

What has changed is the technology and tools. NEXRAD radar, satellite imagery, forecast models, and the Internet now provides real-time weather reporting, maps, and warnings. The other change that I have noted is the terminology used by today’s network weather oracles to describe the often mundane weather in SoCal.  

I recall when growing up in SoCAL during the early summer months we would often wakeup in a FOG (meteorologically speaking, of course) which is now referred to as the Marine Layer by the SoCAL weather oracle community. The fog would usually burn-off before noon just late enough to ruin plans for an early beach day. Of course this fact isn’t revealed by SoCal natives to the outside world for fear of diminishing the tourist traffic. Much like the Seattle, WA natives seldom speak to the outside world regarding the traffic on Interstate-5.  

The other day I was actually startled to hear one of the weather oracles utter the word fog. I had never seen this oracle before, nor have I seen him since.  Obviously he was new and now no longer, most-likely being punished for uttering the banned weather word. Today this marine layer ebbs and flows along the coastal communities and sometimes reaches over the Santa Ana Mountains into the Inland Empire just the same as the fog did 40 years ago. We have had a number of foggy mornings; I mean marine layered mornings that have made their way over the Santa Rosa Plateau and into our backyard. They do provide for a nice cool day.  

Marine Layer Burn Off  (VIDEO) Click to veiw time-lapse VIDEO of Marine Layer (a.k.a. FOG) lifting (dots are birds-hummingbirds and finches).  

Gray May – June Gloom  

The SoCal weather oracles have developed meteorological terms to describe the marine layer phenomenon. Gray May describes the flow of the marine layer in the month of May and June Gloom describes the same event in the month of June. June Gloom was actually extended into July this year which locals tell me never happens. The forecast for later this week is for the marine layer to make several more appearances along the coast and Inland Empire a – August Disgust, I imagine!  


Spring 2010 rainbow from the backyard of our new home.


During a winter visit to SoCal several years ago there were a lot of nice cumulus clouds while we were there. At the time Jason was fascinated by the clouds and repeatedly photographed them. I must admit they were impressive but they were just clouds commonly seen on the east coast throughout the year. I asked Jason about the fascination and he told me that winter was the only time they got clouds like this. I had forgotten that fact having spent the last 40 years living in the mid-west and east coast.  

When we arrived in SoCAL in mid-November we had clouds on a regular basis which continued through the rainy season and into spring. I was impressed by the beautiful sunrises and sunsets that the clouds provided and took advantage by photographing a lot of sunrises, sunsets, and rainbows. Becoming busy with settling into our new home there was always more work to do and as the clouds drifted out of sight with the changing season, they drifted out of my thoughts as well.  

The Southwest is currently in the monsoon season. I never thought there was such a thing until I attended a conference in Phoenix, AZ years ago. I was expecting nice dry heat and couldn’t believe how humid it was. I awoke the other morning and when opening the blinds and curtains to welcome the new day, I observed CLOUDS! “Wow,” I thought, “clouds, neat little popcorn cumulus clouds, VERY COOL!” Some of the monsoonal moisture had moved in from the east overnight. I now know the feeling that Jason was having with his fascination of the cool clouds. I hadn’t missed them until I saw them again, and they were impressive. I was rewarded that evening with one of the more spectacular sunsets we have seen since we have been in our new home.  

Popcorn cumulus cloud sunset - early summer 2010


We were fortunate to spend nearly 40 years living in the Midwest and Northeast, areas where one can experience the change of seasons firsthand. It is nice however to be back in Southern California enjoying the uneventful, mostly sunny, weather and listening to the network weather oracles try to make the mundane same day-after-day weather into something it is not. But I suppose that isn’t really much different from the eastern network weather oracles competing to predict the exact time of arrival and the precise amount of snowfall the approaching storm will bring.  

Since everyone experiences the weather and you are in the business of talking about it you had better be prepared. You can either impress the masses with your meteorological knowledge and prowess, or you can be an attractive person of desirable proportions that will distract the viewer from whatever you are saying.  

CA Settlers  

Jim, Judy, and VELCRO  


"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness."   Mark Twain


The 46th Anniversary Day Trip

South to West Panorama from Palomar Mountain-FOG over the coastal areas.


On our 46th Wedding Anniversary we decided to take a day trip to where ever the roads might lead us. We were rediscovering areas we hadn’t been to in over 35 years. Our only plan was to head towards Palomar Mountain and the observatory and then just see where the roads might take us.

After leaving 1-15 we drove through the scenic back roads of the Temecula Valley to Pala. Along the way we passed the Pechanga Indian Reservation and Casino then the Pala Indian Reservation and Casino in Pala before heading south on SR-76. We headed towards the turnoff road to Palomar Mountain passing through many orange groves, orchards, and plant nurseries. Continuing on we passed the Pauma, Rincon, and San Pasqual Indian Reservations all sporting large signs trying to entice passing travelers to drop in and gamble a while or enjoy their fine buffets. We also passed the La Jolla Indian Reservation which did not have a casino yet, but they have a plan for one. The Mesa Grande and Los Coyotes Indian Reservations were also passed during our day trip but all they had to offer were campgrounds. The last three Indian Reservations were the most isolated from population centers as you as you might have guessed. The size of the casino, largest to the smallest, was also reflected by their relative distance from population centers. Pechanga was the largest casino, Pala coming in second, and the remaining casinos diminishing in size as the distance from customers increased. The traffic also diminished as we passed the last several casinos.  By the time we reached the Palomar turnoff the traffic was light, but that was all about to change.

 Reaching the turnoff road to Palomar Mountain Judy noticed a sign indicating that Julian, CA was only 33 miles away. She stated the she would love to go to Julian recalling it as one of her favorite places. We used to camp at Anza Borrego State Park and when returning home from Anza Borrego we would occasionally travel through Julian on our way home from camping. I said we probably had time but let’s check out the mountain first. As we started up the mountain we began picking up more and more motorcycle traffic traveling in both directions. We also noticed that this road had the largest concentrated number of California Highway Patrol (CHP) units that we had seen anywhere since our arrival in SoCal. The very windy road to the top of the mountain apparently is a favorite of daredevil motorcyclists speeding up and down the mountain as fast as they can while hoping not to go over the edge or hitting something. Using the turnouts to let the daredevils pass and staying away from the daredevils descending the mountain, while slowing where the CHP was ticketing or investigating a daredevil violation or accident we made it to the top of the mountain.

Up over the ridge and heading towards the Palomar Observatory we passed Mother’s Kitchen Restaurant where 100’s of motorcyclists were enjoying food and beverage. We continued on to the observatory. It was quite warm and a long walk for Judy but she made it to the observatory. She was however disappointed that she wasn’t able to climb the stairs within the observatory to the telescope. I made a quick trip up the stairs and returned advising Judy that she didn’t miss anything. She thought there was a great view of the landscape from the observatory but I told her that all you could see was the telescope itself and that was from behind a glass barrier.

CLICK on maps for larger and complete maps. Then CLICK again when
small map appears for the full-size map

Jim and Judy at the Palomar Observatory

We left the observatory and headed back passing Mother’s Kitchen Restaurant just as a large number of bikers were about to make their run down the mountain. At the intersection we chose to head south atop the mountain rather than compete with the motorcyclists on their downhill run. So we headed south to Lake Henshaw (17 miles away) and heading towards Julian. The road not being as challenging (lacking the many tight curves and turns) for the motorcyclist’s was a pleasure as we descended down the mountain. We reached the bottom and a junction with no signage. My guess was to turn left and soon we reached a junction that pointed to Julian just 7 miles away.

We arrived in Julian (population 1650, elevation 4,230 feet), a small mountain town famous for its apple orchards and apple pies. We hadn’t yet had lunch and it was already 2 PM, but Judy mentioned Apple Pie and I listened. After finally finding a parking place we walked to the Julian Pie Company and entered. Judy remarked that we should probably have lunch before pie. I responded by explaining that there was no way that I would be able to have lunch and then a piece of pie. We both chose pie a-la-mode for lunch and we weren’t disappointed.

The Julian Pie Company - CLICK on photos for a larger image. Then
CLICK again when single image appears for the full-size image.


Judy selected the Apple Pie a-la-mode, and I selected the Apple Mountain Berry Crumb Pie a-la-mode. The large portions made for a sweet lunch meal indeed. The pies were delicious and once Judy discovered the taste of my pie her fork kept missing her own plate and landing in mine. Judy’s fork never left my plate without a morsel of my pie. She did continually offer, “Would you like to try some of mine?” Eventually running out of my own pie, I succumbed. The Apple Pie was quite good as well, especially the crust.

With our bellies full we left Julian and headed back towards home. We chose SR-79 to return home passing through Warner Hot Springs and the location of the Los Coyotes Indian Reservation, the largest Indian Reservation in San Diego County with more than 25,000 acres which includes Hot Spring’s Mountain (6,533 feet), the highest mountain in San Diego County. SR-79 took us rapidly through Oak Grove, population 100. A sign placed below the official highway town sign states that the community is home for 97 pleasant people, and 2 or 3 grouches. Oak Grove also has one of the few remaining Butterfield Stagecoach Line stops. The stagecoach line ran from Fort Smith, Arkansas running through the southwest and ending in San Francisco. The Butterfield Stagecoach Line operated in the late 1850’s to the early 1860’s and was an early venture of American Express and Wells Fargo. This little narrative took more than 1,000 times longer to write or read than it took to actually pass through Oak Grove.

We arrived home from our Anniversary Road Trip both fulfilled from a wonderful day and a wonderful treat at the Julian Pie Company. After resting up a little we topped off the day with a nice relaxing dinner at the Outback Steakhouse.

We have since learned that we can purchase Julian Pie Company’s pies at our local grocery store, delivered daily. But, Julian really isn’t all that far away and for some reason I think it probably would taste much better in Julian, than here . . . . . but maybe not, we will give it a test soon!

VELCRO is doing fine, but not being included in the Anniversary Day Trip he has been giving us the cold shoulder for leaving him home alone for the day.

The Adventure Continues,

Jim, Judy, and VELCRO



Fork-tailed (on branch upper left) guarding feeder complex

I’ve noticed the activity at the hummingbird feeders has recently dropped off dramatically. Rather than filling the six feeders on a daily basis, I am now filling them every two to three days.  Initially I attributed the decline of the feeder activity to the hummingbirds moving on elsewhere. However, the more I began watching the feeders I noticed that a single male Anna’s Hummingbird was taking it upon himself to chase the other hummingbirds away from the feeders.  He is very aggressive and has established three distinct perches created with mathematical precision forming a triangular perimeter to defend his claimed feeding grounds. I am quite impressed, but also somewhat discouraged as I watch the other hummingbirds being chases away from the feeders.


As it turns out I had photographed this hummingbird several times before. He was easy to identify since he is missing several tail feathers.  After one of his first photo sessions I named him “forked-tail” (FT).  It wasn’t until I started observing the feeders to learn the cause for the diminished feeder activity that I realized FT was the tyrant. Since FT was around during the heavy feeding activity, I’m still convinced that many of the hummingbirds have departed.  With fewer hummingbirds to deal with it is now just easier for FT to control the feeder activity.

It has been interesting to watch the strategies of the hummingbirds attempting to use the feeders. Some come in low out of the view of FT, while others would come in pairs. As FT gives chase to one the other feeds quickly. FT feeds occasionally in between chase episodes. He seems to be doing a good job of protecting his feeding complex.  FT most often gives chase to an incoming hummingbird before it reaches the feeders making it a real challenge to photograph the interactions.


There have been several other interesting FT encounters.  A Lesser Goldfinch occupied one of FT’s three mathematically placed perches. FT tried without success to chase the goldfinch off the perch by repeatedly diving and hovering over the bird. FT chose one of the other two perches until the goldfinch left. I have not been immune to FT’s aggression. While standing too close to the feeders FT flew over and hovered near my knees, while moving back and forth horizontally in front of me while making repeated clicking calls. Obviously FT is unaware of who is refilling the feeder complex he has claimed as his own. Or perhaps he actually did know who filled the feeders and was just scolding me for not keeping them filled. Several of the feeders were empty at the time.

I’ve thought about spreading the feeders out making it more difficult for FT to defend them all. Noticing that FT was also chasing hummingbirds off the oriole feeder located some distance away, I realized that would probably not be a satisfactory solution.

It is obvious that such aggression and control is not an easy job at all. FT is in constant patrol mode from dusk til dawn daily.



VELCRO (inside) and KARTER (outside)

Our cat VELCRO has befriended our next door neighbor’s cat KARTER. Our neighbor advised us earlier that KARTER had adopted them not visa-versa. They warned us that we should not let KARTER in our house or he would adopt us as well. VELCRO and KARTER have been meeting on a daily basis now through screened windows or doors. They usually meet nose to nose at the front window with KARTER on the brick ledge and VELCRO inside looking out.    


Recently other neighborhood cats have been showing up to visit VELCRO but usually stay below the brick ledge of the front window. Several days ago I heard VELCRO making a tender “cooing” meow and went to see what was claiming his attention. Looking up at VELCRO from below the brick ledge was a beautiful black cat with green eyes. Hmm, I thought surely it must be a female cat based on the way VELCRO was acting. Of course, VELCRO being neutered, declawed (he was a rescue cat), and an indoor cat . . . . unfortunately for VELCRO, only in his dreams. 

Last evening I noticed VELCRO and KARTER were engaging each other but KARTER was staring out away from VELCRO and VELCRO was looking intently out the side window. I approached VELCRO and began to pet him when he started hissing and growling while intently looking down out the window. Through the bushes I noticed an orange cat, then another. Out the front window two more cats arrived slowly walking across the grass heading towards KARTER and VELCRO. It was an amazing assemblage occurring all at the same time – like a scene from the movie Eclipse. All the time KARTER sat at the edge of the brick ledge overlooking the cats as they assembled on the yard below him. It was as if KARTER had called for the meeting to introduce VELCRO to the other neighborhood cats, or more likely to show off his harem and subjects to VELCRO. KARTER was also probably advising VELCRO to quit cooing with his green-eyed black cat lady friend. She was not present at this gathering.

". . Oh, those green eyes!"

I imagine keeping all the neighborhood cats in line is no easy task either. It is apparent that KARTER is the Top Cat in the neighborhood as we expected him to be the first time we met him. Now he’s proven it!

 The adventure continues . . . . .

 Jim, Judy, and VELCRO

* STONEHURST is the housing development in Wildomar, CA where our home is located.

 I noticed several weeks ago that the hummingbirds were showing a preference for the vertical feeders over the flat feeders with a perch.  With the garden beginning to take shape and plants being moved around I relocated the bird feeders to minimize their interference with the planting scheme. I took the opportunity to retire the flat hummingbird feeders and replace them with two more vertical feeders which bring the total number of hummingbird feeders to six.


I fashioned a new hummingbird feeder pole by binding two separate poles together using several self-locking plastic-ties. The result was a single stand with four hanging hooks. At the time I didn’t have a tool to cut the plastic-ties flush to the pole which left a 6 inch plastic-tie extension out from the pole. I reminded myself to take care of the cosmetic work later.

Several days passed and I kept seeing the plastic-tie extension and kept reminding myself to cut that thing and clean it up. As I was about to do just that, I noticed a hummingbird which had been feeding at one of the feeders flew down to the plastic-tie and promptly took a seat, looking around like he had just been upgraded to first class. “Wow,” I thought, “take a look at that!” The more I watched the plastic-tie I observed a number of hummingbirds taking advantage of the plastic-tie perch. Being a well-trained American with deep roots in, “more is better,” I had an obligation to add more plastic-tie roosts.


The plastic-tie in question is blue in color, so of course, I thought it would only be appropriate to add a plastic-tie in the hummingbird’s favorite color – RED! Instead of locating a pair of scissors to trim the blue tie, I located the package of plastic-ties and promptly grabbed a red one and headed for the feeder. The pole presently only has two plastic-tie perches. To date the BLUE tie is preferred over the RED tie by the hummingbirds. This could however be a placement issue rather than a color issue. The blue tie is located below the hanging vertical feeders whereas the red tie is located higher on the pole amongst the hanging feeders. I suspect that the red tie amongst the feeders is not an ideal location since every inch of that area is viable contested air space by the territorial hummingbirds. I speak from experience having been in the middle of such contested air space while refilling the feeders. My head seems to be a favorite gathering point for hummingbird conflicts with hummingbirds setting up on either side of my head while they determine their individual strategies.  It has become aware to me that the hummingbirds know who their feeder re-filler is. Now when I refill the feeders the hummingbirds merely work around me on the other feeders, unless of course, some kind of disagreement is occurring at the time. I plan on relocating the red tie to a closer proximity to the blue tie. I promise not to get carried away with, “more is better,” by placing a plastic-tie every three or four inches up and down the pole.

The hummingbirds have also been using the oriole feeder on a regular basis. A pair of Hooded Orioles are now making brief daily visits to the feeder. They are very wary but seem to becoming more comfortable with the feeder.


I spent several hours last Sunday morning doing a Father’s Day Backyard Bird Count. I had hoped to capture all the seen or heard birds with a photograph as well. In the two hours of counting and photographing I was able to record 25 species photographing 21 (List below).

BIRD LIST (Bold-faced font indicates photographed bird):
Snowy Egret, Great Egret, Turkey Vulture, Cooper’s Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, California Quail, Mourning Dove, Anna’s Hummingbird, Costa’s Hummingbird, Western Scrub Jay, American Crow, Common Raven, California Thrasher, Violet-green Swallow, House Sparrow, American Goldfinch, Lesser Goldfinch, House Finch, California Towhee, Black-headed Grosbeak, Hooded Oriole, Red-winged Blackbird, Brown-headed Cowbird.

Now, I’m not saying that all the photographs are post card quality, but in just about all the cases the birds can easily be identified. Below are some of the photographs representing the range of quality and representing 12 of the 21 photographed.


The Adventure Continues . . .

Jim, Judy, and VELCRO

CA Quail feather & Ant in our Extended Backyard

We are still in the settling-in process and have been working on the house and gardens. We are fortunate that there is no timetable or schedule for the completion of our settling-in to our new environment or for anything else for that matter. It is surely a nice feeling, I must say. I’m enjoying the casual approach while making new discoveries that draw me away from the daily unscheduled settling-in chores.

Our extended backyard (X-BY) has become a wonderful study area for my settling-in distractions. I’ve been visiting the area several times a week to see if I can locate any new critters or plants, and to note the changes that have occurred since my last visit. On my visit yesterday I was particularly interested in seeing if the Dudleya flowers had come into bloom since my last visit. The flower stalks had been developing for over a month and on my last visit earlier this week the buds appeared to be on the verge of blooming. It was nice to see on this visit that both the Chalk Lettuce (D. pulverulenta) and the Lance-leaf Dudleya (D. lancelota) flowers were in bloom and accepting the visiting Anna’s Hummingbirds harvesting their subtle reddish flower clusters.  

Chalk Lettuce flowers, Lanceloate-leaf Dudleya flowers – Click on photo for larger image

Anna’s Hummingbird feeding on Chalk Lettuce (D. pulverulenta) flowers. Click on photo for larger image.

Now when exploring the X-BY I am hoping to hear a fire engine heading up Clinton Keith Road in my direction. Yesterday there were several distant fire engine sirens heard but none were close enough to elicit a response from the resident coyotes. After being surprised and startled during my first close encounter with the coyotes and their reaction to the fire engine siren, I have been looking forward to hearing coyotes up-close again. One morning last week as Judy and I were getting in the car when a fire engine with its siren blaring passed close by and we clearly heard the coyotes in the X-BY yelping and howling in response.

I have been spending more time scanning the hillsides and canyons on my X-BY visits now that I know both coyotes and at least one bobcat are residents. I’ve met several other neighbors recently and all have mentioned the bobcat which apparently roams freely in the neighborhood when it chooses. None of the neighbors had seen the two cubs that paid a brief visit to our front porch before being scurried off to safety by mom several weeks ago.

A pair of Costa’s Hummingbirds arrived at the feeders yesterday for the first time. They are now visiting the feeders on a regular basis after spending some time observing and learning the pecking order at the feeders. They seem to have overcome the constant intimidation by the surely disrespectful Anna’s Hummingbirds. It was interesting to note that the female Costa’s HB was the first to arrive and put up with the Anna’s HB abuse. Once she started feeding on a regular basis, the male proudly showed up and commenced feeding. . . . Go figure?  We also added another bird to our yard list this week – A Prairie Falcon flyover, a handsome bird indeed.

Female Costa’s Hummingbird – Click on photo for larger image.

Male Costa’s Hummingbird – Click on photo for larger image

Boreal Bluet Damselfly & Acmon Blue Butterfly – Click on photo for larger image

Our newest settling-in distraction is absolutely wonderful. We finally found someone to look at the above spa that came with the house. We know nothing about spas and weren’t sure it even worked. After checking the spa out, Paul from Breeze Pool Service, deemed the spa to be in working condition. Two days ago the spa was initiated as we watched our first sunset from the spa – Very Nice!

VELCRO is doing fine and beginning to return to a more comfortable level now that most of the major work on the house and yard has been completed. All the noises and activity that come with repairs and installations were keeping VELCRO hidden in the deepest part of the deepest closet in the house during those activities. VELCRO and KARTER seem very comfortable with each other though their relationship is an inside/outside – looking-out/looking-in situation – kinda like ying & yang, I suppose!

The adventure continues . . . . . .

Jim, Judy, and VELCRO


I had nearly forgotten about how impressive western dodder was when we moved east. The sight of chaparral plants slowly and methodically being consumed by numerous deep-yellow tendrils this spring jiggled my memory. As spring progressed, the density of the dodder increased and so did my curiosity. It was time to renew my acquaintance with dodder (Cuscuta sp.). Witches Hair, Devil Ringlets, Hairweed are amongst the many negative, but somewhat descriptive, common names of the plant dodder.

Dodder is actually found throughout the temperate and tropical regions of the world. I am sure that I came in contact with less impressive dodder species in both Ohio and Pennsylvania but it was the western dodder that  is so impressive and provoked my curiosity. Dodder was originally placed in its own family, Cuscutaceae.  Genetic studies since have concluded dodder is related to the Morning Glory family, ConvolvulaceaeDodder is now rightly reunited with its family.

It’s my guess that, some time way back when, a morning glory tendril was sent out to a nearby plant to secure its parents plant location. Once the tendril had securely snarled itself around the stem of the other plant and watched the flower and leaves travel on out of sight, the tendril probably wondered why it was being left behind. Getting together with other morning glory tendrils in the immediate area, the tendrils eventually decided that they could easily come up with a more efficient design. No chlorophyll factories, minimal root systems, no heavy flowers to maintain and support. The new design would be 91 percent tendrils, 3 percent roots, and 6 percent flowers. And after a certainly large number of dead-end models dodder was born. Today dodder survives in 100-170 different forms worldwide.


Dodder is a parasitic plant with only several species producing minimal chlorophyll. Dodder lives entirely off the nutrients of its host plant. The numerous tiny dodder flowers produce one seed each after blooming in late spring or summer. The seeds of dodder can survive 5-10 years. When a seed germinates in the spring the emerging tendril must find a host plant within a very short time or the dodder will die. Once a host plant connection is made the dodder’s minimal root system dies.


It seems obvious to me that the tendrils did come up with a very efficient system for sustainability and they made it all about tendrils. GO, tendrils! I still wondered how after the seed germinates the lone tendril finds a host plant. I expected that it was most likely “random floundering” by the tendril. Success would hinge on whether the tendril was lucky enough to hit the host plant on a lucky flounder. Little did I know that the Tendril Advancement Society (TAS), formed in the late stages of dodder development,  had already drawn up plans to solve this problem as well.  A report published in Science (Vol. 313; Sept. 29, 2006) demonstrated that dodder used airborne chemical cues to locate their host plants. Those darn tendrils are very clever – WOW!

The literature indicates that dodder seldom kills the host plant, albeit, dodder surely provides the host plant with a very miserable growing season. The host plant provides dodder all the room and board at no cost to the dodder. It’s kind of similar to having a non-contributing family member moving in to your home for a year and constantly complaining that the TV remote won’t work.

 I cannot attest to the non-lethal aspect of dodder on the host plant but have staked out a couple chaparral plants to check later this season and again next year.

Does this nasty plant have any positive benefits? It appears that it does. Chaparral Dodder (Cuscuta californica) is the preferred host plant for the larvae of the Western Brown Elfin butterfly. I will be interested to see how the TAS deals with this problem which I am sure is not a welcome event.

Photographs of the dodder species Cuscuta californica by Jim Lockyer

The Adventure Continues!

Jim, Judy, and VELCRO Lockyer

The Anna’s Hummingbirds have picked up their feeding activity in recent days as they introduce the newest members of their family to the feeders. It has been interesting to watch the adult/offspring dynamics with regards to the feeders. Occasionally a young bird failed to display its respect to the adults and would occupy a feeder when it shouldn’t have. The adult birds would promply chase the youngsters off the feeder scolding them as they vanished out of sight.

In one incident where a youngster fed out of order an adult bird chased the youngster off, but this time, the adult continued to hover over the youngster and kept the young bird well below the feeders. This action continued and as the young bird attempted to move towards the feeders the adult lowered and guided the young bird away from the feeders. I suspect that the adult and young bird were probably related. This appeared to be a case of mom teaching the youngster a few table manners.   


The adult  female Anna’s Hummingbird drinking water at the fountain almost appeared to be more for sport than necessity since a bird bath full of water was only a few feet from the fountain. The bird would position itself in various positions around the falling water seemingly to calulate the angle of attack and capture. After much analysis the bird finally made a number of passes successfully capturing the water.


One of the youngsters held at bay by the adults took refuge in Judy’s HarryLauder Walking-stick tree blending in quite well with the disruptive background of the tree.




A new combination take-out restaurant opened close to our home recently – Kentucky Fried Chicken/Long John Silver’s . . . . YUM, YUM!

After a long day today, Judy asked if Kentucky Fried Chicken sounded good to me for dinner. I gave my standard answer, “I don’t care!” A response which provides no answer or information to the question asked.

We have been very good about eating healthy since our arrival in California. When we first arrived we gorged ourselves on In-and-Out burgers and fries since Judy could order gluten-free items there. It is a great franchise  and we highly recommend In-and Out, we simply have burned-out from overuse.

I gave Carl’s Jr, Jack-in-the-BoxDel Taco, and Der Wienerschnitzel each a one time try soon after our arrival to California. All of those venues immediately fell into the YUCK! category and there will be no return visits.

I arrived at Kentucky Fried Chicken/Long John Silver’swith only one customer in front of me. She was taking an enormous amount of time ordering and I kept thinking here is another unorganized individual that can’t make up their mind and requiring a lot of coaching. As she finally finished her order she asked the clerk if they had a take-0ut menu so she wouldn’t take so much time next time. The stoic-faced young male clerk simply said, “No!” I mentioned to the woman that there was a menu online and she thanked me. After all, Icame prepared to make my order simply and quickly with my printed-out online menu. I had done my research – I was ready!

May I have your order please, here or take-out,” the expressionless clerk asked? “Ah, take-out,” I stated. “Order please,” the monotone personality asked? After looking up at the very confusing order menu, split down the middle, Kentucky Fried Chicken on the left and Long John Silver’s on the right with “SIDES MENU” bridging the two exclusive entities I realized that my printed-out online menu was going to be no help at all.  I crumpled it up and placed it back in my pocket.

Judy wanted some Kentucky Fried Chicken so I placed that order and selected the “sides” and drink and HAL(2001 Space Odyssey) spoke once more, “Anything else?” Since I hadn’t ordered my meal and was leaning towards the fish side I said, “Yes!” I explained that I would like to order a fish platter and what were the options? “Do you want to pay for this order first, and your next order separately,” HAL asked? “No,no one order please, and where do I find the sides for my fish order?” I was instructed that the sides were the same for both the chicken half of the menu and the fish half of the menu. That’s when I recalled that the sides menu did bridge the KFC/LJS selection menu apparently it had a purpose. Both the KFC and LJS menus offered chicken, but it wasn’t the same chicken. The KFC chicken looked like chicken, bu the LJS chicken looked like the fish, which really didn’t look like fish at all. I finally finished placing my order, after taking up just as much time as the woman ordering before me had, and paid for my order, HAL handed me my receipt, “YOU ARE ORDER #38, THANK YOU, NEXT!

Judy’s selection was typical KFC and looked delicious. My selection was “fried stuff” and once I found the fish and removed it from its encrusted case of fried stuff,  it was somewhat edible. I always thought Hush Puppies were shoes that I wore and had to buff up with a special little bag. I’m sure the shoes were named after hush puppies food item (similar color and shape?) and I don’t find the food version to be something I would go out of my way to seek, but then I don’t like hominy either. If there is a next time I will stick to the KFC side of the menu!

Perhaps simple sugar water presents the best feeding strategy but then that seems to come with its own complicated set of rules and hierarchy.

The Adventure Continues

Jim, Judy, and VELCRO