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Thursday, October 01, 2015

CA Native Plants Standing Up to Drought

The drought continues to be a challenge for all of Southern California, but I was heartened this morning by the survival skills of some of my native plants. 

It is October 1, but these plants are looking well.

Video - Take a look at the variety of adaptations in their leaves.

San Nicolas Island buckwheat
Many of the Channel Island species, especially those from the southern islands, are thriving. The San Nicolas Island buckwheat (Eriogonum grande timorum) continues to bloom and to reseed itself, while the San Nicolas Island chamise (Adenostoma fasciculatom 'Nicolas') is a rich green.

Now is the time to plant California native plants so they can establish themselves over the winter. In October, numerous native plant growers are offering special sales:

Theodore Paine Foundation
Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

Now's the time. Plant those natives!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Ring-necked Snake in the Garden

ring-necked snake
Creating habitat in your yard means inviting in predators as well as prey. You can't have healthy equilibrium without creatures at all levels of the food chain.

One of our predators isn't large or threatening, but it is important. We happened upon this juvenile ring-necked snake (Diadophis punctatus) spending the day between rocks at the bottom of the fence. See video of this snake on

Though small in size (typically 30-90 cm) the ring-necked snake is an important predator of small creatures, notably salamanders and lizards in its western distribution. We have both, especially a growing population of western fence lizards. We noticed a couple of years ago that the explosion of young fence lizards had slowed. Around that time came my first observation of a ring-necked snake. Not long after, I found the remains of one that had been eaten.

This snake species is found across North America. The eastern population tends to be smaller with a yellowish belly, while the western population has a bright red belly. In both cases this bright coloration is flashed at would-be predators to scare them off. The color red is often found in nature as a warning color suggesting venom or poison. There are theories that the red scares scrub-jays which might potentially eat these small snakes if they found them in the leaf litter. 

The ring-necked snake is a member of family colubridae, the most numerous group of snakes. Most are harmless to humans. The large eyes indicate that this snake is a visual hunter and as a colubrid with a long thin, fast body, it most likely tracks down its prey. 

Lizards and amphibians can be tricky to catch and subdue. The ring-necked snake is one of many colubrids which is now known to have venom delivered by fixed fangs at the back of the mouth. The venom delivery system has evolved for prey like lizards. The snake bites the lizard, holds on and moves the mouth back and forth to work the venom into the struggling prey. The nature of the venom and the manner of its delivery makes most rear-fanged venomous snakes not dangerous to humans. This little snake does not want to use its valuable venom on a human or a bird predator, that is why it has the warning coloration on its belly. "I could bite you scrub-jay, but I really don't want to. Leave me alone."

We gently relocated the ring-necked snake to the other side of the yard while we were working on the fence. We hope that it stays and continues to live in our yard. Small, unassuming predators like the ring-necked snake are vital to biodiversity and habitat balance. Would you believe that a study of density, found a healthy ecosystem could have 719 - 1,849 of these small snakes in an area the size of two football fields? And most people would have no idea they were there.


Thursday, June 04, 2015

Make a Fairy Garden

Between pocket gophers and the drought, I admit I'm garden weary. 

I needed a garden success so I redid my mini-gardens.

Take a minute and let's redo a mini-garden together.

If you are garden weary too, you might also visit a public garden or local California wild place. 

Hidden Gardens of Los Angeles and other California wild places on The Earth Minute

Visit for inspiration or a bit of nature's calm and let someone else worry about the watering.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

The Rabbit that Sat on Dad's Shoulder & Other ANIMAL TALES by Keri Dearborn is there a rabbit perched on that man's shoulder? 

Where else would it sit to watch TV?

My family is notorious for its Animal Tales and I've just finished compiling them in this book.

From California desert tortoises to red-tailed hawks, there were always more furred, feathered, and scaled creatures in our home than people. Travel wasn't worth the destination if it didn't include a skunk, a black bear, or a day dodging cattle on my uncle's farm. I learned parenting from a grizzly bear and survival from a goldfish.

Have you ever wondered what gifts a love-besotted hawk gives to his beloved? Do you know the "truth" about hamsters? Have you met my uncle the goat?

Dogs, cats, goats, bears, tortoises, even teeny tiny rabbits can bring love, wisdom, and laughter into your life. 

The Rabbit that Sat on Dad's Shoulder &
Paperback edition BUY Now

Kindle edition BUY Now

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Diversity in Epiphytic Plants - Orchids and Epiphyllums

hybrid epiphyllum
People love flowers. We don't generally eat them. They don't provide us with shelter. Yet, humans are drawn to the beauty of flowers.

Thousands of years ago, when people began living closer together and sanitation was less effective, the fragrance of plants and flowers helped us mask our own stench. Roses were hybridized for their perfume. In the modern world, visual appearance is the main attraction to flowers and two groups of flowering plants have formed a mutualistic relationship with humans: orchids and epiphyllums.

Orchids are ancient flowering plants; species are found all over the world–typically with small flowers. 

The ancestral plants of epiphyllums live in the forest of Central and South America. While their flowers are fairly large, coloring is minimal because their pollinators are usually nocturnal creatures–bats and moths. 

Both orchids and epiphyllums are epiphytic plants. They depend on another plant host to provide  a safe location up off of the forest floor. Their seeds settle into the debris caught in the crouch of a tree branch and the epiphytic plant lives happily with little soil on the rain water and nutrients washing off its host. 

Living on the fringes of established plants seems to have required an ability to be flexible, to have genetic options. People admired the natural flowers of both these plants, but then found we could selectively breed these plants to create flowers with varying colors, sizes, and shapes. Growing epiphyllums

Both orchids and epiphyllums have amazing diversity.

See Orchid bloom diversity

See Epiphyllum bloom diversity

People have stepped in to replace the forest trees. We provide tended pots and protected patios. We have taken the place of host plants and the genetic plasticity of orchids and epiphyllums has enabled us to create a broad spectrum of hybridized plants with spectacular blooms.

Would these hybrid plants continue to exist in a world without human partners? It is a fascinating question. Could they adapt and attract another evolutionary partner? If there were no flowers, what would we find beautiful? What would take their place?

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Earth Day Weekend Events

Limekiln Canyon, San Fernando Valley
Get out and experience the world around you. Here are two family-friendly FREE events and local places to head out to this weekend in the Los Angeles Area.

April 23 - 26, South Coast Plaza
for more info

Display gardens, CA native plants, flowers, fairy gardens, bonsai, if it grows you'll find it at the Flower Show. This is a treat for the senses. Did you know there is an orchid that smells like coconut? No kidding.

Saturday, April 25  10 AM - 4 PM
at Paramount Ranch
for more info Science Fest

Hikes, presentations with live local wildlife, booths from LA County Natural History Museum, Friends of the Island Fox, National Parks, Del Air Rockhounds and much, much more. Explore the old Paramount Studios lot for filming westerns and discover local wild California.

Walk to The Getty
Take a Hike
Visit one of L.A.'s Hidden Gardens

Don't get stuck indoors!

Monday, April 06, 2015

Backyard Bird Journal by Keri Dearborn

The visiting winter birds are leaving, long distance travelers will soon be passing though and summer visitors will be arriving.

I know who to look for because I keep track in a Backyard Bird Journal. It is a spiral-bound book that lets me document four consecutive years.

Each calendar day has a space to write specific sightings and weather information. 

This is where I document nesting hummingbirds. March 3, 2014 there were two active nests: H1 and DR. The chicks hatched within 24 hours of each other. This year we found no nests in the yard. We have heard and seen recent fledglings, but they were hatched somewhere else.

The Journal also enables me to see patterns because four years of the same date are side-by-side. Here you can see that March 4th is typically when the Bewick’s wren are out comparing potential nesting sites. Bewick wrens build a nest

Entries for March 4, 2012, 2013, 2014 & 2015

You can also see that March 4 was a day that I noted winter visitors–the hermit thrush, Oregon dark-eyed juncos and white-crowned sparrows–were still with us.

There is space for additional notes on every other page and at the end of the month. June has been busy with Cooper’s hawk nesting for the past several years. (You can also see that I don't enter data absolutely every day.)

A species listing, with four years of monthly data, at the back of the Journal provides easily accessed information on each bird species.

At a glance I can see that since 2012 (the first row of squares) the hermit thrush has arrived in October and typically left by the first week of April.

Adding this information to the journals I have kept since 2002, I’ve documented gradual changes in hermit thrush migration. You can also see that 2015 (the last row of squares) was the first time in four years that we have seen American robins in our yard, and that was just flying overhead.

From small notations of observations, I know to expect the black-headed grosbeaks this month as they pass through my neighborhood.

While the hooded orioles should soon be arriving to spend the summer.

Occasionally, I have the thrill of noting something very unusual, like the sighting of an orange bishop.

I enter bird lists electronically through, but this Backyard Bird Journal allows me to casually note who I saw that day and keep four-years of information handy at all times. I put this journal together for my own use (focused on Southern California species), but I have a limited number available for purchase. Purchase Backyard Bird Journal