Saturday, November 22, 2008

Ahhhhh.... Back at Mugu this summer to next spring. I sure miss this place! I have been hired to look for endangered insects and to write an assessment of the marsh and lagoon's insect populations. I have set up five trapping suites in and across the marsh and salt pannes.

At Mugu there are birds (shore, chord grass, fresh water, riparian, pelagic), and mammals (besides people, are sea lions, seals, coyotes, rabbits, mice, rats, voles, bats, and shrews) reptiles (snakes, lizards, only the bones and parts of a shell from one California tortoise), and insects and other Arthropods (two species of crab and snails). Snakes eat insects, and small mammals. Small mammals eat insects, too but the coyotes eat the small mammals - rarely birds (from the scat). Seals haul out not to eat but to sun bath and mate. Some birds eat the crabs, but many eat insects.

The salt tolerant insects, that feed on kelp and fungus in huge numbers may be, I believe, the cinch pin for terrestrial life in the marsh. It has been said that God must have loved beetles because there are so many of them in the world... But, I think Poseidon loved .... Diptera.

In the photo above, it must be noted that the size of these insects is important. The round stick in the frame, on the right at the bottom, is the tip of my mechanical pencil lead, 0.7". The flies are floating in alcohol 90%.

This is an image of three important flies in Mugu. This is not to say that the others are not as important, but these three are interesting because either of their great numbers all over the marsh or because of their unkown biology. Dolichopodidae are also vital and are in plenty of numbers in marshes and other wet (fresh and salty) areas. The Sarcophagidae, Calliphoridae, Muscidae, Otididae, Drosophilidae, Syrphidae, Platypezidae, Anthommyzidae, Diastidae, Tethinidae, Bibionidae, Scaridae, Chaoboridae, Ceratopogonidae, Chironomidae, Tabinidae, Staratiomyidae, Bombyliidae, Empididae, Chloropidae, Tachinidae, espcially, Psychodidae all can be in riparian, forest and urban backyard areas,too. Oh, and we can't forget about Simulidae, too... which are indicators of highly oxygenated water (good) but the females need a blood meal to lay eggs (bad, if they are not species specific in their supping of local mammals or birds - you). But, Simulidae, or Black Flies are fresh water insects.... how did this one find its way into Mugu???

There are fresh water inlets into the marsh from inland and from run off from the farms.... oh, and there are Culicidae - mosquitoes.

The top fly is an Ephydridae. You can always tell this Family by it's flat or frog like "lower jaw" - and this one has setae on its 'upper lip' so, I believe it to be Ephydra hians. Ehydridae are called Shore flies but some of this Family are called Petroleum Flies for their propensity to live, mate and eat around oil seeps like at La Brea Tar Pits. Most Ephydridae are capable of living in highly saline conditions, an environmental of evolutionary distinction. They are important because of their numbers in marshes, tidal pools and inland salt flats and lakes. They are food to the birds and vertebrates and invertebrates in those areas... One group of Native Americans, the Modocs, subsisted on the larvae of Ephydridae in the Great Salt Lake on a seasonal basis for hundreds of years.

The larvae of Ephydridae are filter feeders of microorganisms in shallow waters, some adult Ephydridae are parasitoids of marsh inhabiting spiders, and one group are predators of Chiromonidae.

The fly on the left is identified by its triangular spot on the top of its otherwise light colored head, where it sports three other 'eyes' or ocelli. Chloropidae fly in swarms of great numbers. Some are leaf miners, phytophagous, some are saprophagous (feeding on decaying plants, animals, and fecal matter, and a few have been bread on fungi). I am making a jab at its genus, Oscinisoma sp..

The middle fly with the mustache and goatee is a Phoridae. They are sometimes called Scuttle flies because of their jerky movements, walking. This is the first real find in a few years (I have either helped in identifying insects traped for UCLA's biological surveys for the Navy or been the sole insect identifier since 2001). The 1983 Los Angeles County Natural History Museum's insect study referenced past work done for the Navy and did not by all indications, find any themselves. Phoridae are attracted to the decomposition emanating from dead flesh and vegetable matter. There are a few genus that are interesting predators on other flies, bees, and then .... there is this ant decapitating fly.

This specimen is, Megaselia sp., identified by Dr. Brian Brown at the LACNHM (thank you!). Phorid flies may swarm in numbers, but VERY few are caught in the traps at Mugu. This year I caught 8 in drop and Malaise traps and 52 in the sticky traps.

It just seems a very interesting point that the most diverse and abundant group of multicellular organisms at Mugu, are Diptera. And many of Diptera are involved, in some way, with fungus, especially at the marsh. It has been found that the Salicornia sp (pickle weed) has a particular symbiotic relationship with fungus (Mycorrhiza)

Decomposition is all around you at the marsh. The smell of sulfur is in its many forms is all around you. And sometimes you get a whiff of the decomposing bodies of seals that wash up on the beach. AHHHHH! That's nature for you!

One young man, who volunteered from UCLA as an undergraduate, said to the graduate UCLA crew who were contracted with the Navy to do ecological studies of the marsh habitat, when he first stepped into the marsh, ".... You know,.... it smells REALLY bad here...." He said this as if this was a very important piece of information that had to be said.... He was surprised when we all chuckled.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Animal Perenting

I had a very good meeting with a friend at Claremont College in the morning and decided to visit the most recent fire in the San Gabriel Mountains, above the town of Sierra Madre. It was in early May and there has been sufficient time for people to get their lives mostly in order. I hoped that the road was open so that I could photograph the grounds and the vegetation. I also wanted to take samples of the grasses that were around the burn area for a painting I have been working on of an area in the mountains that has had several consecutive fires. There have been several studies showing that the deposition of NOx from exhaust from cars contribute to nitrogen loading in near forests. Nitrogen increases the likelihood of invasive grasses which thrive in soils with high amounts of nutrients which contribute to the fires that start and burn so hot at the intersection of forest and urban areas. The USGS has some important studies rarely used by City planners, that urban sprawl causes forest fires. On top of all of that bad news is that the same pollution that causes destruction of forest habitat even from far away cities, the ozone which cars produce is in high enough concentration and fill so much of our world landscape that when people want to get away from it all can't, and may be exposed to higher levels of the lung destroying molecule when they visit the mountains.

Well, with all of that lovely information in my head - hey! I have to live with the Debby-downer brain everyday and it's not easy!!! - I traveled up Santa Anita until it turned into a single lane. When I finally came to edge of the burn I found a turn out where trucks had pushed debris into what was a small turn out.

I was at the beginning of the forest and I parked the car and took out my camera and lenses. There seemed to be trash about my car and plenty of beer bottles from after the fire (not shattered). What? Was there some sort of a party after the blaze?
Another vehicle drove up past me as I walked across the single lane road to listen to the cicadas sing and to inspect the partially burned, but still living oak tree.

What I find in burn areas is a lot of destruction of the surface soils from the water used to dowse the fire by the fire fighting crew. It is like a preamble to the coming winter rains which will continue to lubricate the highly disturbed soils and rock from the side of the mountain. Sands and small to very large rocks fill the gullies and undercut road shoulders, which are ready to move down the hill in a landslide all because the fire fight was to save housing. (See above for why we should not build so close to the forest)

I took these two shots and then turned to take a picture of the oak tree. I crossed the road and saw a bunch of different species of grasses all in one area - COOL! I opened the trunk of my car and started to take small clumps of grasses. One clump at eye height was sitting on top near a giant boulder. There seemed to be new deposits of trash about my car and not from the bulldozers....There was plenty of beer bottles from after the fire (not shattered). What? Was there some sort of a party after the blaze?

As I was pulling the clumps of grass when I heard a strange gurgling sound... coming right in front of me. I looked down - just a bit (why I did not see it before the sound, escapes me) what looked to me to be a DUCK!!!! It had its head in a defensive posture, trying to hide in the clump of grass I was pulling.

So, what does a good biologist do when faced with an animal in a defensive pose? I pulled on its tail and it gurgled some more... and I took it out and found it was not a duck but a chicken. Why in HELL was a chicken up here!????

I looked her over and found that her nostrils had some black inside probably from rooting around in the burn area. WHY FOR HEAVEN"S SAKE WAS SHE HERE??? She was actually quite a large chicken the size of a DUCK!! and obviously comfortable with a human examining her. She was someones pet! I decided to take her home and call my vet. This bird had a respiratory problem . .... She was dumped by some crappy person probably just before I got there.

Dr. Cauble came the next morning and told me she was an older bird, had some arthritis. She was sick with one of three organisms, two of which we could treat. I had her in quarantine in the garage and fed her and gave her water. She was very dehydrated. She had a good night's sleep in a safe place.... but we decided to put her to sleep and call the health department.

I can't watch the animals go. "Chris, I will be inside the kitchen." Dr, Cauble watched over her. The chicken went peacefully. Dr. Cauble took her body with him and he will tell me what the Department has found. They needed the exact spot and time where I found her.

This was a sweet bird. Perhaps she was past her egg laying days like my Miss Chicken. I could not put my bird out to be eaten by dogs, or coyotes, or raccoons. There is so much trust that my animals have in me to take care of them.

After Dr. Cauble left I got a call from my son's friends. Lisa and Gabe were coming over with Zoe. "Is 3 p.m. okay?" "Sure."

I took care of Zoe for two summers. She is a delightful Abyssinian. Last year, I was having work done on my house and decided to put her in the studio. She thought all the spaces under the easels were great places to hide and my son was making his own place in there, too. FRIENDS and PLACES TO JUMP! ZOE was such a happy curious girl.

On her second day in the studio, breakfast was as usual, she gobbled it all down and then returned to her duties at the windows and under chairs. I had an appointment before lunch and returned early after lunch to find Zoe sitting on the rug not moving. I touched her and found her to be HOT! She was lack-luster. My son looked up the address of the emergency animal hospital.

The hospital staff took x-rays and found her food to still be in her stomach from the morning! And something like a blockage in her bowel!!! Her temperature was quite high and they said I should leave Zoe there for observation. I called after an hour and they said she was getting worse! I told my son to call or email Lisa and Gabe about their kitty.

HOLY MOLY! And on my watch!!!! Zoe was transferred to another hospital where they put her on intravenous fluids. She was going down fast! Lisa and Gabe came back early and picked up little Zoe at the hospital. I was devastated and so were Zoe's parents. I had no idea what happened to her. Zoe continued to go down and Lisa and Gabe spent a lot of money trying to save the little cat.... and called the next day and said that their doctor was considering to put her to sleep.... and asked if I would take her... and, I said I would an try to save the little girl.

Then, Zoe made a miraculous turn around and got better. We were all relieved and spent! I wracked my brains trying to understand what happened.. and so, indulge me in my take on what nearly killed this little cat...

Last year, I had two yellow jacket nests to contend with... one of which was out side the studio. I found the nests, of course, by walking near them and being attacked and stung multiple times. I used the safest methods for ridding them but I think what happened was this....

The studio had a ceiling but the people who were renting my house in the 90's while I was in Ohio, took the ceiling out to expose the rafters. This was a wonderful idea because the building was small and claustrophobic. The bad part was that there are ventilation holes between all the rafters. I suspect that a wasp came in and Zoe found it. Lisa said that Zoe is fascinated by insects and eats them. Cats are very sensitive animals and will develop high fevers quickly. This will also shut down the digestive system which looks like one of several serious conditions. Zoe may have even been stung internally by the wasp and the reaction put her in a tail spin. She was put on strong medication .... some of which may have acted like an antihistamine. This may be what saved Zoe....

Well, Lisa and Gabe are moving and cannot take Zoe with them. They asked if I would look after her and I said, "Yes." Zoe is now a new member of my household.

Meet Zoe.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The story that is becoming an IPISH

What is an 'IPISH' you ask? In Yiddish, it means bad odor and in some Jewish families, it means there is a flood of 'pig stuff' coming....It is clearly a David and Goliath situation....

But for now, focus on this wonderful place and look at the children... enraptured by the teacher and the beautiful surroundings. Where else can children learn of their world like this in Los Angeles? NO WHERE!

Children come to the Whittier Narrows Nature Center to see how Los Angeles looked before all the freeways, and all the cars, and all the buildings. This is the place where children get to see up close what birds do in 'real time' and not on the computer or on the television.

They walk with the Docents and their teachers in silence - the teachers and docents RARELY have to say anything about being quiet because the beauty of the open space opens their eyes instead! Cotton tailed rabbits scurry in the brush and the children squeal in delight! Big red ants burrow in holes in the dirt and there is laughter. Swallows shwoosh overhead catching flying insects and all eyes are at the sky. Then the Docent says, "...listen here..." and they huddle under the tall walnut tree (an offspring of walnut trees which Whittier supplied to the nation).

Just after the children come off their big buses they wait at the front of the Center. A docent waits with the owl on a tether and the children ask, "IS THAT REAL???"

It is expensive these days to rent buses for schools. Most schools are not going on field trips anymore. The Los Angles County Natural History Museum has eighteen wheeled trucks with exhibits inside so the kids can stay in school but still get some experience in hands on science. And, none of the Museum's trucks have living owls!

The Docent asks questions of the children to see how much they know and to adapt their talks to the children's educational levels. Some children of very young age have a lot of knowledge of the plants and animals, but most do not. The Docents are from a variety of backgrounds but their love of Nature and Education bring them together at Whitter Narrows Nature Center. When I was a docent at the Natural History Museum most of my colleagues were at least 30 years my senior. The majority of them retired from teaching, NASA, or other science based careers - they were a wealth of experience and knowledge. We all had special training by the museum from the curators of the different science "-ologies". And at the end of our training, we were expected to write a thesis just like in college, and present our work to each other. It was fun and difficult and we all loved it! We also trailed behind experienced docents to learn what to do and say to which aged group. FANTASTIC!

I have great respect for all docents.

All around the Narrows there are acres of open space where some of the most precious animals raise their young. This female black-chinned humming bird was not too keen having me take her picture as she sat on her nest of eggs.

After a walk on the trail, the children come in to see more animals! Grace Allen has in her hands in this picture, a California kingsnake that used to be everywhere in the basin. My mother used to see them slither in her parent's yard in the Hollywood Hills, but so many people equate snakes as "bad" and most have been extirpated from their natural habitat. The children, once again, cannot believe their eyes! "IS THAT REAL???" How wonderful and exciting to see their excitement!

Ed Barajas, who has been documenting the comings and goings of birds at the Narrows, asked me to follow him with my camera. We walked towards a ditch that is filled from runoff from the streets and choked with willows and walnuts and oaks. Ed makes the sounds, "swishes swishes swishes" looking for the Vireo. We can hear the bird calling back. The bird forages in the thick of the ditch where the water sits and duckweed grows. There is a buzz of small flies about but it is still 'in the cool' of the morning so we were not attacked by mosquitoes.

"...swish swish swish!" Ed calls again.

We walk about the parameter of the ditch. We can see swallows above our heads diving in and out of the taller trees catching insects 'on the fly'! "Did you see him?!!" Ed asks. I keep my camera poised, the long telephoto lens is in automatic focus - just in case. Down in the ditch, we see a gray bird flying about and then landing at the edge of the water with the duckweed. The bird is eating things at the surface of the water! The insects that would be there are mosquito larvae and adults and midges and maybe some water striders.... The bird jumps into frame and then ducks behind the brush! I snap as much as I can.... but I got only the image below for you.... The Federally Listed (Endangered) Least Bell's Vireo is hiding and giving us the eye!

Click for a larger image!

Monday, June 09, 2008

It's always somthing isn't it?

or.... SOME things are just born to fail...

I love museums. I spent my first trip to London as a young adult, scouring the halls of the British Museum. I looked at every mummy, every hand painted scroll, every stuffed mammal and bird I could. Much earlier,as a kid, I spent many hours at the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum because the summer 'camp' where I went, dropped us off so that the counselors could do what ever they did during that time (I did not care!). My own children spent time exploring the back rooms and libraries of LACNHM and spent every week at the Page as well. They learned my 'talk' when I was a docent. One time my daughter, after memorizing what I said, found some sightseers from England and took them on a tour of her favorite hall, the dinosaurs, when she was four years old! (She was fantastic!).

The people I know who are scientists and who work at the LACNHM were like me, they loved the museum as kids and all the dusty corners and lovely, knowledgeable older (folks with gray hair) people who worked there. Like me, they could not ask enough questions, could not soak up enough information. It was all there! We learned more there then at school. And, we took that knowledge outside when there was an outside.

The LACNHM had a jewel named Miss Gretchen Sibley, who I met when I took docent training in the late 1980's. Gretchen, in the 1950's, brought together businesses to the museum in a different way then they do now - not just for MONEY but to participate in the education of the high school kids.... like they did in Chicago. The Field Museum created hands on exhibits before anyone named them 'hands on' and they built them out of beautiful wood and glass with money endowed by the big companies of the time. Gretchen taught many of the Ph.D.s that worked at the museum and elsewhere.

But what is that horrible picture above, you ask? That, my friends, is the Los Angeles Children's Museum.

After struggling for seven years to raise enough money for a new facility, the Children's Museum of Los Angeles marked a milestone last fall when workers put the finishing touches on the angular building nestled in the Hansen Dam Recreation Area's easternmost corner.

But the modern structure, surrounded by a chain link fence, still sits empty. Its entryway is choked with weeds. And there's not enough money to pay for ambitious exhibits meant to fill the 57,000-square-foot museum .

Funny how all the lights were on and no one was home! the air conditioner was running full tilt which we are all paying for....

See all those weird tube things at the top of the wall.... I think that is where the air from the air conditioner blows cool air in.... creepy...

The question comes to mind, "Why wasn't this finished? or Why is it closed?"
I took my children to the original Children's Museum downtown. It was in the heart of the City and we even took the train (the old train a year later was removed and only recently replaced with the Gold Line). It was a favorite place for kids of all colors. And it was fun. For some reason the folks who ran it or who funded it or maybe it was someone looking for a Gold Plaque with their name engraved on a building (or street) that decided the museum needed to be BIGGER and MORE EXPENSIVE.

Given the scope of this project, the museum closed its facility at 310 North Main Street on August 27, 2000 to focus its resources on developing expanded mobile community outreach programs, and to work on the design and construction of the two new campuses. The budget for the design and construction of each of the campuses excluding exhibition design, is between $12 and $16 million.

The Children's Museum plans to construct an "urban museum" at the Art Park site. The exact size of this museum has yet to be determined, but is expected to be in excess of 60,000 square feet. The Museum will focus on the urban experience, as well as on the performing arts, graphic arts, film, and television. The Art Park site will include the administrative staff for both campuses.

A major focus of the Hansen Dam site will be the natural environment. The 60,000-square-foot building will have an indoor-outdoor feeling and visitors will be able to move easily between the environments. The building itself will serve as an exhibit of sustainable architecture, encouraging visitors to understand new ways to construct and maintain buildings. The site will also take advantage of the surrounding landscape by including a garden of flora and fauna native to the northeast Valley environment.

I think basically, there was a lot of money in this for a lot of shadow people. I think that there was a lot of people wanting to show how wonderful they were. I think that putting it out in the boonies, though, destroyed it for the children.The trees planted around the area look sick. The grass is dying. It's too expensive to drive a car out to these places. No one wants to go out there. And, even with the beautiful weather today, I saw no children playing in the park.

There is another 'museum' in the works and it's called the Whittier Narrow Discovery Center. The proponents of this project have been told by City biologists that their project does not abide by the Rules Set by the County of Regional Planners, who are responsible for the design of this City (there was a DESIGN???? Were they DRUNK!!???). SEA-TAC members decide whether a design fulfills the ideals and upholds the boundaries of EPA and regional laws to protect the Significant Ecological Areas set by the Technical Advisory Council (SEA-TAC)(many areas have Endangered species and rare ecosystems).

In other words, the County bureaucrats thought the RMC bureaucrats did not have a clue and they want to destroy animals and property of the People. You can learn more about the group that wants to keep the Open Space Open for birds and people....

One boon-doggel after the next...EH!? I also think we ALL need to be leery of anyone or any group who says that what they are about to do WILL BE WORLD CLASS!!!! I am sorry. You have to build it or make it first BEFORE that decision is made... by other people....
Q. Why did the Children's Museum of Los Angeles temporarily close?
A. The old museum, opened in 1979, was never intended to be the permanent home for the Children’s Museum of Los Angeles. As demand began to exceed the available space the Board of Governors began designing a NEW, BIGGER, WORLD-CLASS facility to the people of Los Angeles.

All this world class and the little pools of water behind the "Stay Out" signs on the chain link fence were filled with mosquitoes. CLASSY!!!!

(Update!) Here is another museum in California that is dead. It is the Metropolitan Water District Museum. Funny, these same guys are really excited about the WHITTIER NARROWS DISCOVERY CENTER.... I can't imagine.... their museum goes BUST and the Children's Museum goes BUST and they support (with the other water districts) another museum which will very likely go BUST ..... What is that? The Dead Museum Club?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Gentleman Fred

I am crying as I write this. Fred is gone. He was my good buddy.

He was given to us, my family in Ohio by a Chinese family who came to look after our kids while my husband and I were out of the country. The young woman was studying biology and was close to finishing her Ph.D. from the University of Dayton. Her husband had just received his and they were about to have their first child. The grandmother- to-be was living with them in anticipation of the baby and was also looking after their young cat, Tigger. This was 1990.

We had several other cats. We had Wat (she was very tiny as a kitten), Buggers (she earned her name), Coquette (a beautiful and sweet Abyssinian given to me by the owner at a cat show - "Here. Do you want her?") and PVP (my son named him Playful Velvet Paws... shortened to PVP). Should we take in another? My daughter loved the little tabby, but who wanted the tabby the most was our cat, PVP.

PVP loved tabby cats. I cannot say this enough. Before moving to Ohio, there was a cat also named Tigger who used to visit PVP. He had a collar and so I decided to walk to the house to let the owners know where their cat liked to come everyday. He lived about six houses down - quite a distance. I found that Tigger was not 'altered' and suggested they might do that especially since he liked to visit friends so far away from home. The owner said she did not believe in those 'sorts' of things... Well, not long after our conversation Tigger disappeared for two weeks. PVP was heart broken. He cried and cried for attention. So, I walked to Tigger's house to see how he was. He had narrowly escaped death and was hit by a car and lost his tail. His owner said her vet suggested neutering (as I had) and so she did. Tigger was traumatized and never visited PVP again.. and PVP was sad. There was a moment of happiness when a manx tabby, named "Shamus" came to visit.

I cannot emphasize enough, PVP loved red cats especially stripey ones. That morning we returned from our trip from over seas back to Ohio and the young man and his pregnant wife, holding the striped tiger tabby asked if we would take 'her.' "The next place where we are going will not let us have a cat." PVP said "MEOW!!! MEOW!!!" I took the tabby in my arms. "She is a very nice cat." said the young woman. As I looked down at Tigger I said, "Tigger is not a she. She is a he." PVP stood as tall as he could to see Tigger, "and I think we will take him to be PVP's friend." I later re-named him Red Fred.

When I returned to Los Angeles, Buggers and Coquette had been eaten by a coyote in Ohio and Wat passed away there, too. I found a kitten in Glendale which I named Mouse (he squeaked when he spoke and loved cheese).

I have always trained my cats. They sit up. They come when they are called and I had one cat that was especially good at fetching. This time I thought I should teach my cats how to behave well with company. My dear friend, Rich, and his daughter are in this silly video of PVP, Fred, and Mouse.... at the dinner table.

PVP developed kidney problems and he passed around 2002. Fred had always been the silent kitty but when PVP died he started talking. Fred did his best to be patient with Mouse, who has always had a hard time being calm. Fred was always a pillar of strength and a most thoughtful cat. He also, very adroitly demonstrated that cats have logic - a special type of logic. And in this lesson, showed that if I feel that perhaps a cat's logic may have 'holes' in it, then surely as there is light in a day, even our brightest and most logical humans are silly and illogical. Fred loved his friend Miss Chicken. And he loved to come and sit next to me while I read the news on line. It always worried me that he might fall. He would climb the tree to the tip of the branch next to the lip of the roof and the weave forward and backward and then... jump! Then he would 'MEEorawl!!!"

I always opened the window and let him inside. He loved to do this sometimes several times in a row.... kinda made me crazy sometimes... but he was such a gentleman...One time in Ohio, after Buggers disappeared, Fred was late coming inside for dinner. Then at the window over the kitchen sink, he appeared. I ran outside and collected him in my arms. I touched the side of his chest and he winced. Something had pulled a large section of his skin open and it was hanging. I took Fred to the emergency and they said he was the best patient they ever had.

Here is Mouse. Mouse loves to eat grasshoppers. I understand why a cat would love to 'play' with one. I have never understood why he loves to eat them. He usually leaves the legs and wings somewhere I can see them...???? (video to come)

This is Magic. She lived with me for a period of time upstairs and Mouse was quite jealous. Magic was leery with Mouse and with good reason. If you ever wonder if you find your cat watching TV if he/she really understands what is going on, this little video will clearly show how much they truly understand... (video to come)

The last days of Fred's life was very difficult for me. I did not want him to go. He was having trouble with his kidneys and I gave him drip liquid into him under his skin. He fell off the roof in March and the vet came to the house to look him over we decided not to take his canine tooth, " may heal inside his jaw and it is probably too much of an operation for him, now..."

I had water bowls all over the house and the garden and as it became harder and harder for him to jump up on the bed I carried him about. I knew he was loosing his vision - his eyes seemed to always be dilated - and when I called to him he could not quite find me to face my voice. On Saturday, I was talking to my daughter on the phone and the back door was open. I went outside to find Fred and decided to walk down to the sidewalk. Off in the distance I saw a little figure talking - Fred was nearly down the entire block! I ran to get him and carried him home. He like to hold my fingers in his paws. That day he paced and paced trying to feel better. I gave him more subcutaneous water and he ate. The next morning he was stiff and I took him to the emergency in the morning. They called to tell me he was having seizures and put him on Vallium. I didn't think I would see him much longer, but maybe a few more days... I called the hospital, "can I come and see him?" "Yes" As I walked into surgery, the doctor stood away from his little body on the table. He was gone. I gathered him up and took him home. I keep seeing him here and there. He was such a fine Gentleman.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


On a trip with the California Wetlands Recovery Project 2008 Symposium, I chose the to go to the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve. This area had been a National Park and Preserve set aside, studied extensively because, for all the insults by people to the land, rivers, watersheds, ocean and ecology, the Tijuana Estuary was still a vital functioning system teeming with life not seen elsewhere in California or the Nation.

Now, Homeland Security has seized the land and is building the Boarder Fence. Homeland Security does not have to follow the law of the land... it has been given by Congress a privileged position, which allowed it the suspension of more than 30 laws that you, I and all other entities must follow to protect land, property and life, to build a structure to keep Mexicans from coming across the boarder. This 'fence' which is already starting to crumble from poor workmanship, will span from California in the Pacific Ocean to Texas, through the Gulf of Mexico, cutting sensitive ecosystems and communities... without vision or craft. Already, the 100 foot mounds of dirt are eroding, with boulders tumbling and soil swiftly washing down streams... Now, they are thinking of filling in a very large ravine that runs next to a city near the boarder. Filling the valley, using the same craftsmanship of the other developments and cement work, could mean disaster.

Underneath are a number of water pipes (there are people who LIVE in them) that are already below grade and the highway, and there is a stream that runs along the hillside over the filled ravine.... In a very rainy year, the hillsides could collapse causing an international incident killing many many people.

The largest number of people live just above the highway but their houses are constructed of this and that and sit upon layers of tires.

There seemed that day, to be a large fire near by.

Many homes are built with scraps of wood.

The political postures of building a fence to keep out 'the illeagals' only serves those people in power. Their shoddy ideas cause more environmental disasters and human tragedy then nature.

This estuary has millions of dollars invested in it to serve two countries' needs of fresh water and healthy near shore fisheries. But, because of this insane policy to demonstrate some sort of political will, these actions will not only destroy this wetland but the poorest of the poor.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

The Waxwings found the Ginkgo biloba!

Well, since the last update, I had waxwings sitting about in the Jacaranda...

Tonight, abound 6:30 p.m., I found them back in the ginkgo! There is a slight breeze so, the birds must hang on. One looked as if he was not too happy with all of the bouncing. The tree is full of birds! The still shows just how many per branch! They sing to each other until the sun is gone.

They are sleeping in the ginkgo, tonight.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Bombycilla cedrorum

I have been hearing high pitched whistles that sort of reminded me of Chimney Swifts that used to fly around my house in Ohio. They would nest in the two large chimneys and sometimes the babies would fall from the nests and their scratching and peeps could be heard from the basement... so, I would go down into the basement into the boiler room and find the little 'things' in the dust or clinging to the inside wall of the chimney clean out. For the most part, when the birds would fall from their nests, they were big enough to fly. I would gently pick them out of the dust and ash and let them grab my shirt with their claws (their legs are so short it is almost as if they only had feet) and wear them around outside like a fancy pin. Eventually, they would fly off.

However, those birds do not come out this way to California, at least that species. Cedar Waxwings come in flocks through my yard. One time in fall, my Ginko tree's leaves had turned all yellow. There was a lovely breeze and when I opened the widow, there were fifty or more little Waxwings 'blending' and waving softly with the wind.

So nice to see them in spring, too.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Looking Back

The hard part, for me at least, of moving to Ohio was leaving all the things wild in California I would never meet! Isn't that funny... That is what I told myself at the beginning.

My spouse got a wonderful job offer. He had just been pounding the streets working for various companies after being fired by his own Board of Directors (he was founder and inventor). He had just met the CEO of NCR through a consulting contract. .... That was the BIG thing to do in the late 80's... get the inventor to get the patents, the people, the money to start the business, the first product out and then....get rid of the founder and stick a MBA to run the place....Business guys hate folks with Ph.D.s especially in science....but that's for another story... NCR liked him so much they made him an offer.

I was working in my dream job at the museum, doing art and science, making hands on learning exhibits for children and contributing a big part to the bread winning - that made me so very proud. My spouse said, "They offered me, Chief Scientist, and I said, 'YES!' I shook his hand and said, "CONgrat--u--lations....oh my god..."

This meant, I was leaving the job I loved, the people and the place that I loved, my grandparents and my mom, and was going somewhere for someone else.

There were positive things to think about, like... maybe the public school might be better and they will help our son learn to read - he had some learning disabilities like I had. Our daughter was in ballet, and my son and daughter did gymnastics, and loved their science classes, were playing music and had lots of friends that came over to put on stage make-up, costumes, and do plays for us and anyone who wanted to watch. Over there, we could fish together. Over there...

My husband and children left first for the new giant house... leaving me to get the Californian house ready for the renters - I refused to sell it. I sent all the cats, rabbits, chickens, geese, finches, tortoises ahead in carrying cases on the "red eye." When my husband and the kids went to the Dayton airport to pick up the pets, the guy on the tarmac said, "HELLO NOAH!"

Then, when the house was painted, a new roof was put on, sprinklers and a gardener to take care of my garden ... I said good bye to my grandparents and my mother. I turned and left on the airplane. And, when I got to Ohio, I tried so hard to be positive.

But, I painted California. The desert.

My little Californian desert tortoise died in the first few weeks living in Ohio, after eating a balloon that had lost its helium, from some party. I rushed him to the Cincinnati Zoo veterinarian who knew more about reptiles then the vets in Dayton. The little tortoise passed away on route.

My daughter loved snakes and the cleaning lady didn't. The snakes seemed to always die so soon. My son loved going to the desert with his school in Pasadena. After I finished this painting, I gave this picture to my husband for his big office. His secretary had a gold frame put on it to match the other pictures in the building. When we divorced, he gave the picture back to me.

In winter, the flies and beetles that got into the house, would somehow manage to get up to the 'ballroom' on the third floor, and die trying to get out of the house through the locked windows. The window sills were always filled with dead insects.

Most of the people I met through NCR were women (wives) who were expressly lonely - almost pathologically. One lady across the street told me at one of neighborhood get togethers, that she, "loved the color I painted my bedroom!" The master bedroom was on the second story and from her house, we were across the street and two doors down, through the trees.... I had never invited her or anyone from her family inside my house ... Another year she warned me that she could hear what everyone said when we left the windows open in summer.... We lived on an acre parcel! And set back from the street! The CEOs wife, who was when I met first her, found her to be a stout soul of competence - someone you could look to in any circumstance. She said one day in a proud sort of way, that when her kids were in school she would lock herself up in the attic to drink all day... and the kids and their friends would not see her.

What kind of a place was this? An enclave of wealthy corporation drones living in fancy houses. Fancy houses. Fancy houses by the score. Marching, marching eating, scouring, sucking....the gray of the sky. matched the gray of the skeleton trees, which matched the gray pallor of everyone's faces, which matched the gray that was building inside of me.

Here - OHIO!

I decided, after talking to wife of the CEO of the bank which had our loan... she was getting her masters at the University of Ohio, Columbus, going back to school was a good thing. I piled on the science credits and found that Wright State University had a program on wetlands. I met my first tardigrade in Invertebrate Biology and it was love at first sight.

This painting was from a moment in time when I went to walk about in the spring thaw of the Beaver Creek wetlands which, I had been studying for two years. I still have that frog.... WHY? you ask. Because, folks who work in natural history museums are like that.

Saturday, April 12, 2008


I have been once again distracted by an image, a thought, that must take form. The mountain is beautiful and terrible all at the same time. The fires that savage the living 'skin' of the San Gabriels leave behind extra ordinary forms of death and yet, without fire, nutrients would be locked up in the soils and water would run off and not soak through to the roots.

After the fires, non native grasses burst through making the blackness of the burned trees more stark and scary.

My little stilt painting is growing the salt filled plants, Salicornia sp. which we can eaten. In fact, the first time I ate the "pickle weed" was in Canada on a trip to the Queen Charlotte Islands or the Haida Gwaii. We had sailed from Vancouver with friends from the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum, trekked about the forest and needed to start thinking of dinner. We gathered the pickle weed at the splash zone on the lee side of the Charlottes, and sprinkled them on our salads, raw. YUM!

I have been asked many times whether I paint or draw from photos. Many times I do, but from my own. And many times I take images and put them together. And sometimes the paintings come from the dark recesses of my dreams. My paintings seem to follow my views, internally and externally.

Moments when life seems bleak...

Tall trees at sunset have shadows that look like silhouettes of faces. And in the darkest of personal storms, the natural world has metaphors for our lives...

Since 2000, I have been studying California water systems, ecology, and policy. And I have been documenting the changing landscape of the mountains behind my house, the rivers that flow near by, and the policies that alter the ecology.

In 2005, the region had a hundred year storm event, mostly felt in the foothills and mountains. Trees in the upper watershed were ripped out by the roots and shunted towards the valley below. Most of the debris was caught by the first dam, San Gabriel Dam, and left to float to the sides of the reservoir. Now, after three years, the trees are visibly deteriorated.

In 2005, just after the heavy rains, Public Works and the Fire Department thought they could rid the dam of the mess by cutting the individual trees and burning them.... I, and so many others, are glad they understood (finally) the magnitude of that decision.... They decided, after trying to cut and burn the thousands of mature trees floating in the dam, to let them float... and pile up along the edges of the water like a bathtub ring. When the dam fills with water from the winter storms, the disintegrating trees, now lighter, float to the center taking the tree-chunks along with them. is a closer look at the tree slime.... in our drinking water. It's okay. The water is let to fill the percolating ponds in the City of Irwindale, and then pumped up and filtered again. About 2 million people drink this water.

My earlier studies of the mountains...

The mountains have lungs, you know, besides the trees. It is ocean that regulates the temperatures and the direction of the winds.

The sky above and what we humans do to our land, water and air determines our climate, the amount of water we have available, and how well we will live. Ecology and Public Policy are co-joined guiding how we do economically.

Here is the Rockface close up...

Finally, when I was a kid, I loved to hike the wild hillsides of the Hollywood Hills and the Santa Monica Mountains. I collected insects of all sorts and spent hours alone exploring. One time, I walked up the mountain barefoot for some reason. After hours of walking on stones my feet became quite tough.

Here is a painting of what it would be like if you, like I used to do, plopped into the grass on your back looking up into the sky. Everywhere around you the bugs would wonder, "Who invaded our territory?" and buzz and hummmmm..... Hold still and listen.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Evolution and the species Homo sapiens

Sapiens..... the Online English to Latin to English Dictionary reports back that it means wise, judicious as in, "a wise man, philosopher." However, one has only to read the newspapers to understand that this description of our species is at least over generous. The fight of bible thumping people over science and the evidence that life did not just pop out of the ether, is another indication that perhaps we should change our name to maybe, Homo plumbeus, or Homo bardus, or Homo profundus tardus.

I saw this video and wanted to share....

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Living out in the open

I am here in Oklahoma .... finally. It took more then 45 hours from Los Angeles.... A bit harrowing because of the long ride in Texas. And I DO think trains are the answer to much of our nation's problems (economically and globally as per climate change). However, I spoke to the conductor of the Oklahoma connection, and I need to check if the all the details are correct.... It is owned and operated and run moment by unresponsive moment by the Federal Government ......

Oklahoma pooled its money and upgraded and rebuilt
their interconnects and now they can run their trains above 100 mph ... Also, they modernized their switching stations so that they can monitor WHERE the trains are and were they are going.....

Most of the Texas Amtrak is in dire need of upgrades and because of that, trains are not allowed to go much faster then 45 mph (quite a difference). Most of the tracks are in very bad shape - broken ties, steel spikes sitting next to and not in the rails.... Texas is an accident .. and a terrible one... waiting to happen.

The train to Oklahoma runs along the border between Mexico and Texas. The Texas train sat at crossings, or poked along well below 15 mph, or spend nine hour lay overs in San Antonio. The train in San Antonio is there just to "switch this car to this train, and that car to that train, and the put this car back again...." Why? Because it would take to long to transfer the luggage...." Right. I could not find a single person at Amtract who could give a convincing reason for all that hullabaloo...

When the train moved in Texas it went 35 mph maybe 45 mph (like the cargo trains) and along the open stretch along the Rio Grande. The little towns and scrubby living conditions pepper the open space like my grandparent's old photographs of the turn of the 20th Century... or of the 30s Dust Bowl.

Ranches of cattle and sheep in the dry surroundings were isolated.

But the sky above the stratified mountains were beautiful.

What I liked about the train over other means of travel across the nation was the opportunity to meet and talk to so many different people. One couple from Michigan, who were a Mennonite, were coming back from Mexico. They were teaching German and learning Spanish. One lady was going to Fort Worth because of her sister, I think she said she was 36, and was dying of cancer. Another lady (about 66) was traveling to see her dying mother who was over a hundred. The first lady hated to travel by plane the second had burned her lungs. ~ The older woman had poured Chlorox into her new house's tub and then turned on the hot water. The chlorine wafted up in the hot steam and she breathed it in... She ended up in the hospital and then found out about her mother. Her doctor told her not to fly so she took the train. She had called Amtrak for tickets and to make sure there were no any lay overs - her mother had such a short time to be alive. The Amtrak Customer Service person said, "No." However, there was a lay over - a nine hour lay over in San Antonio. The conductor on that train said, "They never tell people about the layover. Everybody is told it goes straight through..."