Wednesday, August 25, 2010

SMILE - You're on the Critter Cam!

Last year, Gil bought an outdoor camera with a motion sensor to set up in the orchard after his favorite Haas avocado tree and my veggie garden were being ravaged by some unknown critter or critters. Maybe the camera was not correctly positioned, but we never did manage to get a shot of the offending ravager back then (camera appeared to be shooting blanks, literally). So, we put that camera away in the garage for awhile and almost forgot about it, until about a month ago. I had some zucchini, eggplants, tomatillos, and assorted peppers growing nicely in a raised bed since spring when, over the course of less than a week around mid-July, all the leaves, flowers,  and budding fruits of EVERY SINGLE plant was consumed. This, despite the fact that I had chicken wire surrounding all of my raised beds. There was no way the rabbits could be jumping over, so what the hell could it be? I was soooooooo mad!! Anyways, we decided to set up the critter cam again and this time around, we got him! Heh, heh...the camera never lies:

As you can see, this very, very bad squirrel was digging away under the planter box (since he couldn't get through the mesh wire fencing) and would tunnel up through the other side to reach the goodies. 

Back again, later in the afternoon for round two.

A squirrel's work is never done. Not to be outwitted, Gil eventually ended up pouring mortar around the base of the planter to fortify it against this industrious little digger. It ain't pretty, but it's worked so far. 

With the squirrel now unmasked and temporarily deterred, we moved the camera over to our next unsolved mystery: the partially gnawed fruits on our Scarlet Robe peach tree. I was inclined to think it was the work of more squirrels. But, after about 3 days and a couple hundred shots from the critter cam, we had an interesting revelation about what goes on after dark around the grounds. First and foremost, we discovered that there's a non-stop bunnypalooza in the orchard that carries on from dusk till dawn. Looking at the time stamps on all the pictures, it is quite clear that rabbits don't sleep at night, AT ALL! 

These shots indicate that the bunnies are out in force, every hour on the hour, from 8:00pm to 8:00am:

After an all-nighter, still bright-eyed and bushy tailed at 8:02am.

Well, clearly, the rabbits were grazing on the fruits that had fallen on the ground and on some of the lower leaves of the peach tree. They certainly weren't climbing like monkeys or jumping like Kangaroos to gnaw on the fruits in the upper branches. On closer scrutiny of some of the photos, however, we believe we found the culprit.

If you look closely, you can see what looks like a rat on the irrigation tubing near the base of the peach tree. 

There's the rat-like critter scuttling past the base of the peach tree again.

And there he goes, up into the peach tree (see tell-tale naked tail).

Case solved! The rat did it. We ended up picking all the damaged fruit and just leaving them on the ground for the rodents, rabbits, and whatnot to eat at will. This worked to distract these guys from rest of the fruits on the tree until we were able to harvest the remaining crop.

In the mix were some incidental/accidental shots of some other critters:


Another coyote, upper right.

Ok, this guy (to left of peach tree) does not look like a rat rat. That tail makes me think of a Kangaroo rat, and the hind legs look kinda longish. But then again, the picture is not clear enough to confirm the ID.

So hard to see, but there's the backside of that Kangaroo rat-like rodent (look to the left of the head of the bunny in the forefront). That tail just looks like it has that crest of longer hairs at the end, which could be indicative.

In the meantime, we've reset the camera to a trail near a chaparral stand at the front of the property to see what passes by. Last Monday, there was a notice taped to our mailbox  warning that a female mountain lion and two cubs were spotted several times in the vicinity of our property. Just gotta use common sense and take the normal precautions. Would be so awesome if they sauntered past our critter cam for a cameo!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Well I'll be a Flittin' Butterfly...and other cool critters

Summer has been somewhat AWOL in Southern California, as our temps have been on average about 5-10 degrees below the norm these past few weeks. Not complaining, but just wondering what the hey is going on with our weather. 

Anyhoo, work and other matters have been diverting me from the blogosphere, so I haven't had much time to check out my fav blogs or to post anything new recently. I miss doing that, and will try to catch up this weekend. 

In the meantime, I've made it a habit now to lug my camera with me whenever I'm in the garden, whether watering, weeding, hoeing or just hanging out. Of late I've noticed a lot of butterflies, bugs and other fascinating but flighty creatures around the grounds. They simply don't wait around for you to run into the house, find your camera, run back, and take their picture, so it's best to be armed and ready to shoot at all times. 

So here are some of those serendipitous shots, including a few taken earlier in the spring. And, as I've said many times before, I'm no lepidopterist. I attempt to ID the butterflies by crosschecking with several field guides (Kaufman's, Audubon, etc.), but if I'm off the mark and someone knows better, please correct me! I'll continue adding new butterfly photos to this post as I take them.

7/31/10 Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus) on Apple Mint blossoms.

8/22/10 American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis) on Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii).

7/31/10 Northern White Skipper (Heliopetes ericetorum), reposing on the garden hose.

7/31/10 Acmon Blue (Plebejus acmon). 

5/2/10 Acmon Blue (Plebejus acmon).

8/1/10 Female Checkered White (Pontia protodice) on Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea).

8/1/10 Male Checkered White (Pontia protodice) on Sticky Cinquefoil (Potentilla glandulosa).

7/31/10 Western Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio rutulus) on Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii).

5/31/10 Hedgerow Hairstreak (Satyrium saepium) on California Buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum).

8/22/10 Fiery Skipper (Hylephila phyleus) on Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii).

5/8/10 Sara Orangetip (Anthocharis sara). 

7/31/10 Marine Blue (Leptotes marina) on blossoms of Italian Oregano.

3/20/10 Bramble Green Hairstreak (Callophyrs dumetorum) on San Diego Viguiera (Viguiera laciniata). Reposted from my 3/21/10 blog entry

7/31/10 Funereal Duskywing (Erynnis funeralis) on Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii).

8/13/10 Mormon Metalmark (Apodemia mormo) on Longstem Buckwheat (Eriogonum elongatum).

8/13/10 And what in tarnation is this? Looks like a sphinx moth gone wild. It's not in any of my field guides, so will have to search online for an ID. Sipping nectar from the Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii). 

Here it is again. This guy is definitely in the realm of wtfery. Hummingbird/wasp/sphinx moth?

POSTSCRIPT: 8/15/10 Thanks to Rosie ( ), I've identified this bee-moth thingy as the Snowberry Clearwing Hummingbird Moth (Hemaris diffinis). 

"These day-flying moths are widespread in North America. In the Old World, there are several species of hummingbird moths. Some of these species are closely related and all belong to the same genus, Hemaris. The British prefer to call them Bee Hawk-Moths. There are four species of hummingbird moths in North America. The most familiar ones are the Snowberry Clearwing (Hemaris diffinis) and the Hummingbird Clearwing (Hemaris thysbe). They are both widespread throughout North America, with the former perhaps being more abundant in the west and the latter in the east. Like the majority of moths and butterflies, the adult hummingbird moths feed on nectar from a variety of flowers." 

8/7/10 Tarantula (Aphonopelmus reversum), scuttling across the brick pavers on our back patio. 

8/1/10 Tarantula Hawk? If it is indeed one of those Freddy Kruegers of the wasp kingdom, it looks like a young'un. If you don't know what they do to tarantulas, go to Wiki for the gruesome details: 

7/31/10 A lovely damselfly, perched on some dry herbage near the pond. 

8/7/10 Female Lesser Goldfinch (Carduelis psaltria). 

8/7/10 Hummingbird feeding on Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii). We primarily have Black-Chinned Hummingbirds (Archilochus alexandri) around here.

8/7/10 Hummingbird perched on a dried Clarkia stem (similar to the one that almost poked my eye out).