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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, 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 ( 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

Friday, July 18, 2014

Where Would You Spend Your Last Day?

Great Barrier Reef, Australia
The world is filled with beautiful places. 

I love Paris, London, and Istanbul. 

Walking along the beach is heavenly whether it is Maui or Malibu.

I love the Sierra Nevada Mountains with their big trees and the variety of both Alaska and Australia, from the Great Barrier Reef to the rainforest.

But if I had just one day left on this earth, I would spend it on Squanga Lake in  Yukon Territory, Canada.

We've posted two short videos of this slice of wilderness heaven on The Earth

Check out Squanga Lake and floating down the outlet stream

Stunning scenery and wildlife. I hope you have a place that fills your heart as this one does mine.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Encountering a Wild Lace Monitor

When we began our trek to the beach at Cape Tribulation in Queensland, Australia, we hoped to see wildlife among the exotic foliage. Butterflies were varied and numerous. A chorus of forest birds called out all around us. 

In the dim forest light, spotting this rufous night heron (Nycticorax caledonicus) was exciting. This was the wildlife we expected. Amazing how similar it was in appearance and behavior to the black-crowned night heron we frequently see in the Los Angeles area.

But our thrill came when a rustle in the mangrove leaves revealed a 5-foot-long lace monitor (Varanus varius). Monitor lizards are primarily predators, hunting birds, small mammals and other reptiles. Some species also eat insects and crustaceans. The lace monitor is the second largest monitor species in Australia, and Australia is the land of lizards. In a country where most of the marsupial predators have become extinct, monitors are important mesopredators (predators of small prey).

Southern California's equivalent mesopredators would be the gray fox, island fox, coyote, bobcat, and red-tailed hawk. Predators are much fewer in an ecosystem than prey species, making the sighting of one an unexpected pleasure. However, like our mesopredators, lace monitors are adaptable and with the decrease or extinction of large predators, mesopredator populations increase. The more resourceful species can sometimes get in trouble frequenting campgrounds and picnic areas, or even cities, where people create an opportunity for food. While this lace monitor might scavenge in the near-by park, we watched it exhibiting natural behaviors–using its forked tongue and Jacobson's organ to sense for food and other monitors. Watch the Video at

Monitor lizards have a deeply forked tongue like a snake and a keen chemosensory ability. As solitary creatures, they use this sense to communicate with others of their species. We watched this lace monitor mark its territory by rubbing glands, on the head and near the cloaca, on a tree trunk. Another lace monitor traveling this trail would be able to tell the gender, size, and probable health and mating status of this monitor from its scent marking. 

This behavior is very similar to that of wild felines, which also mark territory with chemical scents. (Your cat is actually marking you as its territory when it rubs its cheeks against your leg. Watch the lace monitor video and see if it doesn't remind you of your cat.) In Australia and Indonesia where there are no wild feline species, monitors are large lizards that fill the same niche. They are able predators, moving rapidly, tracking prey, climbing trees, and living in a variety of habitats.

In North America, our largest lizards are fairly small (under 2 ft or 70 cm, snout to tail tip) and the second largest, the chuckwalla is primarily herbivorous. There is no niche for a large predatory lizard because we have wild felines, bobcats, mountain lions, lynx, and the occasional ocelot or jaguar. I've only seen local bobcats on rare occasion and only felt the watching eyes of a mountain lion. Seeing this lace monitor was a reminder of the importance of predators in a healthy ecosystem and how special it is to see a mesopredator in the wild, especially when you are just taking a walk to the beach.

Cape Tribulation, Queensland, Australia