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Friday, November 07, 2014

Bright Red-Orange Bird in Los Angeles

Wednesday, mid-day, I glanced out the window to see a brilliant orange and black bird in the backyard. I dashed for a camera because this was no typical bird. Hooded orioles typically nest in our neighborhood, and males are striking orange-yellow and black, but this bird was nearly “caution-orange.” It had a black cap, black vest and wings.

I had heard stories of a breeding colony of an African bird in the Sepulveda Basin, but I had never seen one myself. When I saw that coloration I knew an orange bishop had come to see me.

The orange bishop (Euplectes franciscanus), also known as the northern red bishop, is so extravagantly colored that at first glance it looks fake. My first thought was that one of my yard house finches had gotten brightly-colored trash stuck on it.

In a dark tropical forest this brightly colored bird might not stand out, but here in a very dry southern California, I feared he might be easily picked off by our local Cooper’s hawk. The female orange bishop is more moderately plumed. With a yellowish head and back, and a white tummy, she might blend in with goldfinches and sparrows.


The lone male orange bishop stayed just long enough for me to hastily snap a few photos. He must have just been passing through because I haven’t seen him again. Was he a descendent of the breeding colony nearly 10 miles away or is he an escaped caged bird? Admired for their fantastic coloring, the orange bishop is sometimes kept as a pet. However, this bird did not seem comfortable with a human approaching.

As a potentially invasive species, there is some concern about the orange bishop as there is with the nutmeg mannikin (Lonchura punctulata). As seed feeders they could become crop pests or negatively impact native bird species. Orange bishop numbers seem to be increasing in North America. Sibley reports that there are breeding populations not only in southern California, but also Phoenix, Arizona, and Texas. So if you see a bright red-orange sparrow-like bird in your yard, maybe the orange bishop has come to visit you as well.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Native CA Plants in a Hidden Garden - Pierce College Botanical Garden

Pierce College Botanical Garden
I had heard there was a native plant garden on the campus at Pierce College in the San Fernando Valley, but I had not been there. I'm doing a series on Hidden Gardens of Los Angeles on TheEarthMinute.com, so I went scouting for the garden at Pierce.

At first I was hesitant because of the temporary fencing put up around campus construction, but I kept following the directional signage and soon found myself in a transformed landscape.

red mountain sage (Salvia darcyi)
What once was a grassy quad is now a garden of California natives with specifically sectioned areas of drought tolerant plants from the other Mediterranean-climate zones around the world. 

Despite the drought, this is a place of green and flowering vegetation. It also is an amazing example of how native plants create habitat.

In the middle of the campus there are not only Anna's hummingbirds, but scrub-jays and even California quail. Butterfly and dragonfly species are numerous and the pond habitat had a variety of wildlife. 
Valley carpenter bee

Native plants are more suited to drought conditions and surviving occasional frost. They provide important nectar and pollen food for native birds and insects (like the Valley carpenter bee, video). The insects become food for lizards and other birds. Native plants are the foundation of habitat

This Hidden Garden at Pierce College is a perfect place to find inspiration in how to arrange native plant species and to find the specific names of flowers or foliage that you find attractive.

See a video of the Pierce College Botanical Garden and information on visiting this Free oasis in the San Fernando Valley.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Women's Vote and the Environment

Today is an important anniversary for American women and the environment–August 26th, 1920 women won the right to vote in the United States.

In those 94 years, women have been a powerful voice for the environment. Some have supported Clean Air and Clean Water legislation for the health and welfare of families and children. Others have supported the same measures to protect the plants and animals with which we share the planet. (Endangered Species Act) (Rachel Carson)

Whatever the motivation, the result is the same: a healthier landscape for living things.

Over the past few weeks I've been traveling and I've seen places that were inspirational and locations that are under siege due to human greed. This day reminds me that I have a voice to express my thoughts and concerns.

Women across our country, with different political ideals, came together to give generations of daughters a political voice. Some of these women gave their lives for a right many of us too often take for granted. If every eligible woman voted in the coming elections, we could change the course of the country.

The first year they had the vote, Democrat and Republican women pressured elected officials to pass the first federal program to assist women and infants–The Sheppard-Towner Maternity and Infancy Act. At that time more children were dying in infancy annually across the United States than the toll of American soldiers killed in World War 1. This single act saved the lives of many of our grandparents and great grandparents.

A healthy planet with biodiversity benefits everyone. Toxins and climate change have no respect for borders or political ideals.

Vote, it is a sacred right won for us by our grandmothers who did not have a voice. 




Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Touching Climate Change

Do you question climate change?

In my lifetime I have watched glaciers in Alaska retreat by miles. Check out the video we shot of Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, Alaska.

I've seen dramatic changes in the breeding of Allen's hummingbirds in my California yard and changes in the migration patterns of native birds that visit. Many of the animals are responding to impacts on native vegetation.

Rainfall in California has declined creating our current drought, but the truth is we haven't had a wet season since 2005. Flood years mixed with low rainfall years are normal for us, but the flood years are disappearing.

Small changes can sneak up on you as you ease into them. But if you are documenting daily events in the natural world, either in data, journal, or photos, the dramatic accumulation of change is undeniable. 

I remember when the Mendenhall Glacier covered most of the rocky outcroppings that are now completely exposed. I remember a 300 foot thickness of ice that nearly hid the top of the waterfall that is now completely free to tumble down a barren rock slope. Watch the video and see the beach beside the churning waterfall. I sat on that beach and cried, because when I was a child that beach was completely covered by a wall of glacial ice.   


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Success of Island Fox Conservation

San Nicolas Island fox, Keri Dearborn
In 2000, four subspecies of Channel Island foxes were on the brink of extinction.

I became involved with island fox conservation in 2002, first as an observer and then as Education Director for Friends of the Island Fox, a non-profit organization focused on education and informing the local California community about this rare animal disappearing on our doorstep.

Santa Cruz Island fox, Michael Lawshe
Friends of the Island Fox has worked with biologists and land managers across the six Channel Islands that provide habitat for this endemic California species. Today the island fox is the perfect example of how the Endangered Species Act should work and how scientists, conservation organizations, government agencies and an active community can save a species.

At the low point, only 15 individual animals survived on San Miguel and Santa Rosa Islands. Check out the annual update from the meeting of island fox biologists.  
2014 status of Channel Island fox.

You will be inspired. Individuals can make a difference.

Visit the Channel Islands and see island foxes.

Hear my interview about the island fox and how it came to be endangered.


Friday, July 25, 2014

Hidden Gardens of Los Angeles

red-legged frog sculpture at Malibu Legacy Park
Here and there in the corners of the city, there are wonderful public gardens.

I'm spotlighting a few of them on The Earth Minute (theearthminute.com). Each profile offers a one-minute video of the location and details on parking, accessibility, and amenities.

The Malibu Legacy Park offers native plants, a host of birdlife, and mosaic sculptures of California wildlife.

Orcutt Ranch Park is a quiet stroll through California history–complete with lemons, adobe, and an ancient oak tree.

Orcutt Ranch Park rose garden