Just as the daylight was fading in the backyard, I spied a young fox chasing a very immature, small rabbit around the backyard. This young fox wasn’t interested in eating the rabbit, but certainly seemed to enjoy the chase. All the better to hone its predatory skills. The rabbit did what prey instinctively do when threatened — sat as still as a stone, until the fox turned its head, at which point the rabbit tried to escape. It was quite comical to watch!
I didn’t start the confrontation, but my husband and I both wound up in the middle of it. Here’s what happened.
I heard a Broad-winged Hawk screeching it’s piercingly high two-note call in the backyard and went out to investigate. Since the backyard is surrounded by tall trees, it was difficult at first to tell where the sound was coming from, but I eventually found the hawk that was doing the calling. Then it was joined by a second hawk, its mate I assume, and the two of them proceeded to move from tree to tree, swooping over my head and right by one ear. When my husband joined me to see what was goIng on, they dive-bombed him too. I assume the hawks must have a nest or perhaps fledged chicks somewhere close by. This made for some great photo opportunities, but rather difficult when the birds fly right at you!
Broadwinged Hawks are one of the most common raptors in North America. They are notable because they migrate together in huge numbers (tens of thousands of birds) in the fall at high altitudes over mountain ridges from northern North America to South America. They fill the daytime Barred Owl niche in the forest by preying on frogs and lizards, small rodents, and occasionally small birds. You might not even realize they are hunting in your backyard unless you hear their piercing screeches.
When I went out to pick raspberries this morning, I found something much more delightful than a bunch of mating Japanese beetles (the scourge of the berry patch!) — a couple of 1-inch Gray Treefrogs hiding in plain sight on the green leaves of the raspberries.
Although this species is named the Gray Treefrog, because they are quite gray with a dark blotchy pattern sometimes, in bright sunlight on a green background, they are well camouflaged as they match their background. In fact, this frog even matches the particular shade of green of the raspberry leaf on which it rests.
Frog skin contains a stack of color-producing cells called chromatophores, and many frog species like the Gray Treefrog, have 3 sets of them: a deep layer called melanophores that contain a black/brown pigment called melanin, an intermediate layer called iridophores that lack pigment but contain particles that can reflect blue light, and an upper (most superficial) layer called xanthophores that contain yellow pigment.
Now, it should be more obvious how a Gray Treefrog can transform quickly from its gray color that is produced by the dispersion of deep-lying melanin pigment to a bright green color, produced by the interaction of blue-reflected light from the iridophores passing through the yellow pigment of the xanthiphores (i.e., blue plus yellow equals green to our eyes).
The dispersion of pigment in frog skin is controlled by nerves and hormones, which act on the chromatophores to aggregate (condense) or disperse pigment. Physiologically, in a matter of seconds, when melanophores aggregate their pigment to uncover the iridophores and xanthophores disperse their pigment, a gray frog turns green!
In the Minnesota backyard, some of the summer blooms are in their full glory, particularly the purple coneflower. Butterflies and bees are drawn to these flowers…
It seems like when we’re not in the mountains, we’re at the beach. That’s the wonderful thing about California — the variety of places to explore. This time it was the beautiful sands of Pajaro Dunes, where the gently sloping shore allows you to walk far out into the waves and not even get your knees wet.
The grandkids enjoyed the ocean and the bird life, and especially skipping rope with a giant piece of brown kelp.
One of the landmarks of the Santa Cruz coastal area in California is the wreck of the concrete ship at Seacliff beach. When we visited the beach in the early morning fog, the ship appeared ghostly and mysterious, except for the hundreds of birds that have made the deteriorating framework their roosting area.
The cement ship, SS Palo Alto, (weird construction material for a ship!) was commissioned to be built as an oil tanker in WW1 in 1919, but the war ended before it made its maiden voyage. It was then towed to this area along the Monterey Bay coastline in 1929 and served as an amusement park/entertainment center, with a casino, dance hall, arcades, etc., until its owners went broke during the Depression in the 1930s.
It’s either the “flame of the forest” or “gleaming jewel of the mountains”, but there is no doubt that the Western Tanager male is a stand-out of brilliant color in its forest environment.
Western Tanagers, which are members of the Cardinal family (not the tanager family), range as far north as southwestern Alaska and western-most Canada south to Baja California during their breeding season, sticking primarily to western coniferous forests or mixed coniferous and deciduous vegetation. They build a nest in the open canopy and raise their brood of 3-5 chicks on a variety of insects, from wasps and ants to caterpillars and dragonflies. But in the fall and winter, they become fruit specialists in their neotropical wintering areas, like other tanagers there. In fact, they were considered to be serious pests of cherry orchards in the late 1800s.
it’s always a treat to see one of these bright, flame-colored birds, especially close-up!
While walking along the road down to Fallen Leaf lake from the cabin, we came across a mama White-headed Woodpecker feeding her babies. Her nest was right on the road, just 10 feet off the ground in a broken stump of a Jeffrey pine.
There are lots of trails to explore in the Lake Tahoe basin, and we took the grandkids on a “walk” from their cabin on Fallen Leaf lake all the way to a swimming beach on Lake Tahoe — an almost 7 mile hike. Naturally, there were a number of stops to rest and swim at places along the way, and there was a promise of ice cream at the end of the hike, and that’s all it took to get the kids there.
We took a drive from our campsite in the Ruby Mountain foothills up to Angel Lake about 2000 feet above. The saturated colors of green meadows, bushes, and grass, and deep blue color of the water were stunning.