Sunday, June 14, 2015

Mountain Lions in Marin County

Would you believe that prior to some recent efforts, the last published, scientifically verified, mountain lion in Marin County was in 1931!  This charismatic animal had accumulated many fleeting sightings in local lore in the following decades, but there was sparse verifiable evidence (e.g. a clear photograph or museum specimen) that could bump the sightings up a notch to merit a place in the scientific record. 

With the relatively recent increased availability of motion-activated wildlife cameras (camera traps), wary species like the mountain lion are more readily documented.  I highly recommend checking out Nature of a Man and Sebastian Kennerknecht to see masterful camera trap imagery of this species. 

Local biologist, Ginny Fifield, combined good, old-fashioned tracking prowess with the technology of camera traps, and did a lovely job of documenting our local mountain lions.  She has been consistently documenting one local male since 2010.  Her work was recently published, and is available here, including photos of this fellow and a description about what makes him unique.  He is still quietly living his life here, and photos and videos of him are continually being added to in the "Mountain Lions in Marin County" gallery.

There are now a number of other project which have also been documenting this species locally, and I look forward to learning more about this species in the coming years. 

And if news of this species occurring here is new to you, I encourage you to be excited and not concerned.  Mountain lion attacks on humans are VERY rare, in the past 125 years, (since 1890) there have been only 16 verified mountain lion attacks on humans in California, and few of those were fatal.  Taking a bath or owning a puppy is much more hazardous statistically.  Mountain lions really prefer to avoid people and enjoy their deer dinner in peace. 

For additional information on Mountain Lions in California:

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Ring Mountain Wildflower Hike

We went on a hike to Ring Mountain in Tiburon last weekend.  This location is known for it's native wildflowers, and the wildflowers are up!  And not only the early spring wildflowers, many later season species were already blooming also.  The drought seems to have compressed the blooming schedule into a quite a show.

Here are some of the beauties we saw.

 Calochortus (umbellatus?)

Achillea millefolium  and 


Platystemon californicus

Lasthenia (californica?)                                                       

Lasthenia and Layia platyglossa 


Quite a view these plants have

Nice bouldering also

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Juvenile Western Fence Lizard

In early August, I noticed this little fellow darting around the rocks.

I didn't recognize it at first, but the marking and toes looked rather familiar.  It turns out this is a juvenile Western Fence Lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis), also known as the Blue-Belly.  We are in the heart of it's range, and the adults are a common summer sight here.  As an adult, this little one will be about 20 cm.

This species generally hatches in August, and this photo was taken in early August, so it is possible this one is only a week or so old.  However, as JK over at Camera Trapping Campus pointed out, many species (plants and animals) were running a bit early this year, so it is possible that it is a bit older.  Still a fairly young one though.

I've seen additional juveniles this week. They are a bit more stretched out now, and a lot faster.   But I'm optimistic at least one was a sighting of this one growing up.

Thank you JK with the help on ID

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Playful Pups

My son really wanted to go fishing for his sixth birthday.  I hadn't actually done this myself, so we spent some time on Google, and headed up to our local lake (Alpine Lake for the locals), to enthusiastically pretend I knew how to fish.  When we got there, we were overjoyed to instead be greeted by a family of river otters (Lontra canadensis).
Which is my better side?  This one? 
Or maybe this one?
The entire family didn't greet us at once.  The first glimpse we got was auditory, a happy crunching sound as an adult made short work of crayfish.  We'd see a sleek brown head pop up near some reeds, and then animated noshing.  The otter would then dive back down, it's body curling up out of the water as it went, and a few minutes later it would pop up with another crustacean.


Crunch crunch

We had pulled the hooks off the lines, as we didn't want to catch an otter, and were watching the otter's antics for awhile, while flame skimmer dragonflies cruised by.  After awhile, the otter disappeared, and from a patch of reeds we heard a "unh unh unh" call, and were thrilled when that one otter became four.  I couldn't tell it was four until we looked at the photos later.  In the moment it was just one big wiggling, squiggling tumble of squeaks and splashes.

Looking at the pics, you can see that some of the otters are slightly smaller.  We think these are pups from this year (likely born around February).

We watched from a distance until the family made it's way down a creek.

After a few more practice casts, and jumps in the water after minnows, the kid was happy and ready to head home.  We submitted our Otter Spotter Report, and called it a day.

References and Additional Information
River Otter Species Info:
River Otter Ecology Project:
Crayfish Wiki -
Fun article on Non-Scientific Names of Crayfish -
David Herlocker on local dragonflies -

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Tired Turkey

This is just something cute to share.  Our local mother wild turkey brought her new brood by the backyard today.  The terrain is hilly with lot's of obstacles, like steps and vegetation.  This little one got tired of navigating the grass, and took a 30 second power nap in the sun on the way past. 

We can hear the brood making it's way around, constantly peeping at varies distances behind mom.  They are learning the ropes.  Click here to see some of last years crew, and here for 2011 (where I also learned to respect mamma turkey!).  

Monday, April 8, 2013


I heard on the radio recently that the east coast is about to be blessed with an abundance of Cicada "by the shovelful".  One brood there is about to reach the point in it's 17-year life cycle where it gets to take wing, and apparently get eaten by everything.  Although I regretfully won't get to see that cornucopia, I was please to get to see our own variety coming to the surface last week.  Although not a shovelful, a very fascinating little critter even solo.

Cicada Nymph Skin

"Fresh" Cicada
Wings More Developed

While we didn't get to see it break out of it's nymph phase case, we saw it right after, as the wings took shape.  It was cruising up the moss to higher on the tree where it broke out.  NPR currently has a great timelapse photo series of one breaking out.

Does anyone have any thoughts on the exact species this is?

Additional Information

Friday, September 7, 2012


I learned something yesterday.

Yesterday something that looked, out of the corner of my eye, like a large clumsy moth/grasshopper careened by us and landed unceremoniously and loudly on a jasmine plant.   I went over to investigate and found a large mantis looking back at me.

I say looking back, because as I moved around it taking pictures, it appeared as though it's eyes were following me.  At least it looked like there was a pupil always aimed me, but I couldn't otherwise figure out how it's eyeball would move, and didn't they have compound eyes?

That is when I learned about the pseudopupil!

"In the compound eye of invertebrates such as insects and crustaceans, the pseudopupil appears as a dark spot which moves across the eye as the animal is rotated. This occurs because the ommatidia which one observes "head-on" (along their optical axes) absorb the incident light, while those to one side reflect it. The pseudopupil therefore reveals which ommatidia are aligned with the axis along which the observer is viewing."

I imagine this effect is just more obvious in the mantis, because of the size and color of their eyes.  And their willingness to hold still.  It did also turn it's head to follow my actions, giving the impression of more presence of mind than most insect encounters.

Another interesting factoid from Wikipedia "All S. Californicas have sensors near their legs that allow the praying mantis to lose its head and still function. This is good if the head is devoured during mating."  So much for presence of mind...

This one maybe the native Stagmomantis californica, California Mantis, but possibly the introduced Mantis religiosa - there seems to be a dark spot on the bicep, but I can't tell for sure.  I think it is a he, based on the length of the wings in comparison to the torso (thank you RandomTruth for the guidance on this and species!).  I hope he hangs around and catches some of the horse flies.


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