Friday, June 27, 2014


As I led a group of kids past the pond at work yesterday, I was surprised to see a couple of people hip-deep in the water (at exactly the same time that a kid toward the back of the line was surprised by a Garter snake). It always surprises me when somebody other than me gets in the pond. It turned out that they were employed by the County and were doing a pond survey to make sure that there were no species of concern living there. The plan is to drain the pond to do some repairs. This will also wipe out the various aquatic plants and animals. Most of the pond life is invasive (duckweed, bullfrogs, etc.), but lots of other creatures will be inadvertently eradicated, including California Newt larvae and countless insects. I think that next week I'll scoop some out and move them. I'm sure I'll be able to find some kids to help.

An now, a lament for the pond, played on the trombone:

Monday, June 23, 2014


This Fence Lizard wasn't born with a forked tail. At some point, a narrow escape or accident caused the tip of its tail to break halfway off, which caused the lizard's regenerative powers to kick into gear. The end result: bifurcation.

I caught this lizard last week. Today, a kid caught the same lizard. It doesn't learn from its mistakes.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Summer Camp, Summer Solstice

Happy belated Summer Solstice to all. The days stretch a little long for my liking this time of year, so I'm glad that daylight time will once again be shaved off the mornings and evenings.

The first week of camp came and went with a minimum of hiccups. We all slipped right back into our Summer grooves without having to think about it. Midweek, as I stood half-immersed in the pond while singing a made-up song and holding a turtle, I had another one of those frequent moments where I suddenly stopped and said aloud, "I'm getting paid to do this right now!" It is indeed never too late to have a happy childhood.

My favorite camper quote of the week comes courtesy of a little boy named Fox, who said (and I paraphrase here), "you guys always fix my problems. That's why I sign up for this camp!"

In the yard, the unharvested artichokes are blooming, and so is pretty much everything else.

Here are some photos from the first week of camp.

Friday, June 13, 2014


The neighborhood resounds with incessant chirping and twittering as birds do their springtime stuff. Our yard sees more birds now because of the chicken food. The chickens are pretty efficient eaters, but there is always some left over for the other avians. The lawn is usually hopping with feathery little bodies. It's also dry and covered in avocado leaves at the moment. Drought conditions still prevail.

My favorite visitors are the crows. They never land in the yard, but they often perch nearby. These two visited yesterday:

The trick to photographing crows is to pretend you don't see them while you get into position, and then shoot quickly. Crows don't like being looked at. These two were no exception, flying away over the roof almost immediately.

Thursday, June 12, 2014


Willow is no longer an elementary school student. Today, along with over a hundred of her classmates, she graduated. Each student got a chance to step up to the mic and make a promise to his or her parents. Willow's promise was that she would always be true to herself and be kind to others. Very nice. I'll hold her to it. Many of the boys (as well as a few of the girls) made weak promises about trying to be nice to their younger siblings. A few of the promises were funny, some were poignant, and some of them had loopholes you could shove Rush Limbaugh through (the ones that had words like "try" and "attempt" in them, for starters...).

They grow up so quickly. It really is true.

They also played a slideshow of pictures taken while the kids were at science camp. One of the photos was of me making a dirt angel, which is sort of like making a snow angel, except in the dirt. I'd forgotten I'd been photographed doing that. Some of Willow's classmates, perhaps forgetting that Willow was my daughter, asked me what I was doing at their school. My celebrity status is amusing sometimes.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Crows Crush Squirrels

I often see crows eating roadkill. They seem to prefer the flat squirrels to the other types of two dimensional animals. Based on the lack of dead crows in the road, they also seem to be pretty good at avoiding cars.

A couple of days ago, as I watched a crow chase a squirrel into the road, it occurred to me that crows probably take a more active role in the roadkill process that I previously thought. This was the second time in less than a month that I'd witnessed this particular type of interaction. I think this is how crows prepare lunch, using cars as huge, rolling meat tenderizers. After all, crows are known tool users, and their use of vehicles to crush acorns and other nuts is pretty well documented. Crows have long been witnessed dropping acorns and other hard nuts into crosswalks at intersections, waiting for traffic lights to turn green so the wall of traffic will roll forward and shatter the shells, and then walking out into the crosswalk to obtain their prizes.

Our avian overlords await.

Check out a short clip of a crow preparing lunch here.

Endings and Beginnings

The school year is over for me now. I had originally expected to go back to working nights for the last couple of weeks but I ended up staying in the field instead, which is fine by me because working nights in late Spring is kind of a pain in the butt because the sun wakes the campers up nearly an hour before their official wake-up time. The problem with that is they're supposed to be quiet and I'm supposed to enforce this. It's very hard for fifth and sixth graders to stay in bed and be quiet for any amount of time. Most of them can't handle 5 minutes, let alone an hour.

My two final weeks in the field for the season went by in a blaze of sunshine and dust. The first week, I was impressed by the kid who chose to carry a car tire all the way back from the reservoir so he could throw it away (he carried it for probably around a mile), and the last week was notable for the number of bats we saw on the night hike (not really a night hike, but more of a crepuscular crawl, since it stays light so late this time of year) and the fact that Lake Ranch Reservoir is so low that we could walk all the way around it (usually, the far side is more or less impassable due to the water level and the lack of a trail). It was the first time I've done that. Several of the kids sunk in the mud near the shore, but they all managed to get out again. We found Killdeer eggs too, as the mom pretended to be injured so she could lure us away. At one point, I turned around and one of the boys was holding a Killdeer egg. At first, I was upset with him because I thought he'd taken it from the "nest" (in quotes because Killdeer don't build nests, they just lay their eggs on the ground), but he claimed he'd found it by itself in a shallow depression nearby. I put it down close to the other eggs, and the Killdeer looked confused as she returned to sit on the other ones.

Before these two weeks, I spent a few days in Baltimore for Maryland Deathfest, a 4-day music festival. I'm working on a report/review for my other blog, and I'll add a link here when it's up.

Tomorrow, we start summer camp set-up week. Thursday, Willow graduates from the fifth grade, and next week summer camp begins.