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Archive for July, 2011

It’s a good time to go watch harbor seals along the coast

Harbor seals sunning along the Northern California coastline. Photo by Dave Harper, Oakley, CA
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A short vacation along the West Coast near Jenner and Fort Ross, CA, gave me a slightly different variety of animals to photograph. The harbor seals were in the area raising their young and though it was cooler the sun was out most of the time surprisingly. These were a few photos collected from our walks along the sea.

The seals seemed pretty content out on the rocks. The small seal (below) had a tough time getting the right wave to join the parents. It finally made it up between two larger seals.
Dave Harper, Oakley, California

Harbor seals, weighing up to 300 pounds or more, always remind me of overstuffed sausages. They are VERY common along the California coastline and occasionally even come into San Francisco Bay. They’ve also been spotted up the Sacramento River in the Pittsburg-Antioch area, usually following the salmon or bass.

Did you know they can stay underwater and go without breathing for over 20 minutes? /Gary

Young harbor seal trying to catch a wave and get up on the rocks with its parents. Photo by Dave Harper, Oakley, CA
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Posted on Friday, July 29th, 2011
Under: Harbor seals | 1 Comment »

Short-tailed weasel preys on golden-mantled ground squirrel

Short-tailed weasel (left) checks out photographer after killing golden-mantled ground squirrel (right). Photo by John Ratcliffe, Brentwood, CA
1weasel gsquirrel john ratcliffe brentwood

A couple of years ago I sent you a picture of an aquatic garter snake in the Jarbidge River (N.E. Nevada) with a captured bird.  Kind of a once in a lifetime occurrence.  We were back this year, and in the middle of town (Jarbidge, Nev., north of Elko and just below Idaho) spotted what we believed to be two small squirrels fighting/playing in the street.  As we got closer, we saw that one of the animals was some sort of weasel and there was no “playing” involved.  I’ve included a photo of the weasel after he had killed the squirrel.  I’m guessing it is either an ermine, or a long-tailed weasel.  All in all, another once in a lifetime adventure for us.
John Ratcliffe, Brentwood, California

The weasel (on the left) is a short-tailed weasel, also called an ermine during the winter months when its coat turns white. It is smaller and has a lighter-colored belly compared to the larger, more orange-bellied long-tailed weasel from around here in the San Francisco Bay Area. The dead squirrel (on the right) is a golden-mantled ground squirrel, a favorite prey of said weasel. Great photo! /Gary

Posted on Thursday, July 28th, 2011
Under: Golden-mantled ground squirrel, Short-tailed weasel | 2 Comments »

Valley Humane Society, Pleasanton, needs YOUR help!

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Dear readers: Valley Humane Society in Pleasanton, CA, is in trouble. We can’t afford to lose the valuable services of this special shelter. Please donate what you can to help them survive. Go to for information on how you can help. Thanks for caring (and helping!). There’s lots more details below, explaining this serious situation. /Gary


To Gary’s readers:
Valley Humane Society urgently needs your help. The poor economy and the increase in demand for our services bring us to the point where we no longer have the funds to continue operating at our usual capacity.

We have already reduced by half the number of animals we care for. If VHS doesn’t receive significant funding in the next 30 days, we will be forced to cut staff and programming, after which our final option will be to close the shelter. These measures will directly affect hundreds of cats and dogs in the Tri-Valley and thousands of residents who depend on our programs.

We are determined to save the shelter by raising $125,000. After 25 wonderful years in Pleasanton, Valley Humane Society has rescued thousands of animals. As an organization that receives no local, state, or federal funding we have always relied on community donations to survive.
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Wednesday, July 27th, 2011
Under: Valley Humane Society | No Comments »

Iggy (15-lb. iguana) & Taz (16-lb. cat) are best of friends

Iggy and Taz are best of friends. Photo by Mike Kelley, Pittsburg, CA
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These two are buddies. Taz (cat) is 16 pounds and 10 years old. Iggy (common iguana) is 15 pounds and 13 years old. Taz likes to take a nap in Iggy’s cage when I leave the door open in the evenings. Iggy has never shown any aggression towards his furry friends and, if I let him, he will eat the cat food along with the cats.

In the photo above, that is Iggy’s favorite sunning spot on the fence in my front yard.
Mike Kelley, Pittsburg, California

I’ll bet THAT causes people to take a second look as they’re driving past your house! Who gets to sit on your lap when you’re watching TV? /Gary

Posted on Tuesday, July 26th, 2011
Under: Cats, Green Iguana | No Comments »

Beaver Festival IV is Aug. 6 in Martinez


Beaver Festival IV Promises Dam Good Time!

Q: Why did Martinez keep the beavers?
A: Because they were Worth A Dam!

Actually the answer is a little more complicated and involves a civic uprising rivaling the last 10 minutes of It’s a Wonderful Life. You’re sure to learn the whole story if you join the Festivities on August 6 in downtown Martinez, CA.
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Monday, July 25th, 2011
Under: Beavers, Worth A Dam | No Comments »

Great blue heron captures HUGE bullfrog for dinner

Great blue heron capture huge bullfrog. Photo by Cathy Navarro, Livermore, CA
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I went camping at Lake Camanche, CA, this past weekend and took this photo of a great blue heron eating a bullfrog right in front of our campsite in the Peninsula campground. Thought you might like to run this photo.
Cathy Navarro, Livermore, California

What a great shot! People rarely get a chance to observe a great blue heron capturing a bullfrog, let alone get a photograph of it! Nice going!

At over 4 feet tall (50+ inches) great blue herons are the largest (and most beautiful, in my opinion!) heron in the U.S. and with that long, sharp, sword-like beak, they can tackle just about anything, including this HUGE bullfrog. With their long legs, they wade through shallow water, spearing and feeding on frogs, aquatic insects and fish. They also commonly hunt on dry land, looking for small birds, mammals, lizards, snakes and anything else that moves, wiggles or crawls.

They are also frequently spotted in marshland areas around the San Francisco Bay Area. I regularly see one as I travel between Walnut Creek and Benicia, hunting in the large marshy area around the Marina Off-ramp off of northbound Hwy. 680, just before the Benicia Bridge.

Back in the days (1970s) when  I used to run the wildlife rescue center at the Lindsay Wildlife Museum in Walnut Creek, CA, I required all my volunteers to wear heavy gloves and unbreakable clear plastic face shields when caring for the occasional injured great blue that was brought to our center.

I didn’t want anyone to end up like this bullfrog! /Gary

Posted on Friday, July 22nd, 2011
Under: Great blue herons | 1 Comment »

White pelicans a beautiful sight around the Bay

White pelican. Photo by Dave Harper, Oakley, CA
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The American white pelican is one of my favorite birds. It’s amazing to watch them paddling along in the water, searching for fish. When they spot their prey, they open their enormous beaks, scoop up several gallons of water (and the fish!), let the water drain from their beaks (actually from the very elastic skin in the bottom of their beaks that stretches into a huge “balloon” to hold the water), then tip their heads back and swallow their wiggling meal. An unusual fishing technique, to say the least.

Years ago when I was curator of the Lindsay Wildlife Museum in Walnut Creek, CA, our wildlife rescue center got in an injured (bruised wing kept it from flying) white pelican. It was such a character. Totally unafraid of humans, it would stand a few feet away from me and play catch with a paper ball. I’d toss it the ball, it would catch it in the very tip of its huge beak and then flip it back to me in one quick move. He definitely could have been drafted by the Giants (2nd base?) if they’d have been willing to pay him off in fish. We released him back into the wild a few weeks later after his wing had healed.

White pelicans, often spotted here and there, flying above or standing in the marshlands around the Bay and in the Delta,  are beautiful as they sail above you, their white bodies outlined against the blue sky. I especially enjoy Dave Harper’s dramatic photographs. Thanks, Dave. /Gary

White pelicans sailing above the Bay. Photo by Dave Harper, Oakley, CA
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Posted on Thursday, July 21st, 2011
Under: Pelicans, White Pelican | No Comments »

Little kingbird tells BIG swainson’s hawk where to go (“get lost!”)

Swainson’s hawk vs. western kingbird. Photo by Dave Harper, Oakley, CA
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Small birds can get pretty aggressive when a bird of prey like this swainson’s hawk flies too close to their nesting area. Take this Western kingbird, for example. It is only 9 inches tall, compared to the 19+ inch tall swainson’s. And probably outweighed 15-1. But that doesn’t stop the little kingbird from telling the monster swainson’s where to go.

The power is in the heart. Bye-bye, swainson’s hawk. /Gary

Posted on Wednesday, July 20th, 2011
Under: Hawks, Western Kingbird | No Comments »

Hummingbird nest on a basketball net! Can you believe it?

Mama hummingbird and two babies in her basketball net nest. Photo by the Hartman Family, Moraga, CA
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We thought you might be interested in seeing where a hummingbird made her nest in our backyard. She picked out the net of my son’s basketball hoop. We first noticed it a couple of weeks ago. A few days ago we noticed that there are now two baby hummingbirds living there. We thought you might like to see some pics. Best,
Bob, Bobbie, Travis & Haley Hartman, Moraga, California

Hartman Family:
Great photos! I dare anyone to slam dunk the ball with those hummers guarding THAT net!

Just when you think you’ve seen it all, the hummingbirds come up with a wonderful new spot to build a nest. Those little characters are really special! /Gary

Two baby hummingbirds in a basketball net nest. Photo by the Hartman Family, Moraga, CA
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Posted on Tuesday, July 19th, 2011
Under: Bird nests, hummingbirds | No Comments »

This scorpion was found in Walnut Creek

Scorpion found in Walnut Creek. Note its size compared to the penny. Photo by Mike Gordon, Walnut Creek, CA
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We found this (see above photo) … under some sheet metal in my yard. I photographed it and set it back where we won’t meet again!
Mike Gordon, Walnut Creek, CA

It’s always kind of a shock when you discover a scorpion in your backyard, since most people don’t even know we have scorpions in the Bay Area, although they’re not common and rarely seen because they live under things. They are not very large, as can be seen in relation to the penny in the above photo, and their sting is about like that of a bee sting. I’ve been stung before and you’ll note I’m still around. They are not dangerous (unless you are allergic to insect/spider bites and stings). Nothing to panic about. Scorpions live in moist areas and feed on insects.

Mike did the right thing by putting it back where he found it. /Gary

Posted on Monday, July 18th, 2011
Under: Scorpion | No Comments »