Friday, September 18, 2020

The Beauty and Mystery of Owls

 Nearly everybody loves owls in one way or another and it's clear why. They are beautiful birds, they possess uncanny hunting skills and we rarely see them as most are nocturnal. They show up in mythology with great regularity and they're one of the few raptors that has never been domesticated. They're both enigmatic and incredibly common. Apart from their beauty, they are one of humankind's most helpful hunters, catching an amazing quantity of rodents. 

So, in honor of our silent flyers, here are photos of some of the more common owls. It wasn't until I began searching for photos that I realized how many species were immediately familiar to me in some manner. I suspect that's also true of many bird lovers. 

Barn owl. One of the most immediately recognizable and common of North American owls. Its coloring emphasizes its already pronounced disc face, used to hep it tune into the movement of prey.

Barred owl or also Northern Barred owl, this large owl is also known as a Hoot owl. It is smaller than a Great Horned owl but larger than a barn owl.

Bay owl. This spooky looking guy kind of reminds me of a vampire. Wikipedia says they are a genus of Old World barn owls. They are mostly found in southeast Asia.

This rather odd looking fellow is a rare Blakiston's Fish owl. It is the largest existing species of owl. It is in a sub-group of eagle owls and does indeed hunt for fish.

Buffy Fish owl. This one really slays me (okay, bad joke, Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Another owl that lives primarily on fish.

This eerie looking guy is a Burrowing owl. They do indeed build their nests in ground they have burrowed out. A friend hs seen them out by the Oakland airport, among other Bay Area places.

No that's not the flash camera, this expert hunting Eagle-owl really does have orange eyes. Known as the Eurasian Eagle-owl or Eagle-owl for short, it is one of the largest and most widespread of all owl species, covering all of Europe and much of Asia. It features very distinctive ear tufts.

This pint-sized guy packs a vocal wallop and is commonly known as the Eastern Screech owl. He's only the size of a robin but makes up in hunting acumen what he lacks in size.

The above and below photos are two shots of the Great Grey owl. One of our largest owls, with an impressive wingspan, it is widespread in North America.  Like the Barn owl, it also features a pronounced disc face for expert sound collection.

Great Horned owl. One of the most widespread of owls, it is also recognizable by its prominent tufts. It is completely nocturnal but can sometimes be spotted at dusk or dawn. Its coloring varies depending on the region it is found in.

This handsome gal is a Horned owl. I don't really have info on him but I loved this photo!

There's a Short-eared owl so naturally there must be a Long-eared owl (this guy). They are nocturnal hunters that live in dense forests. Their singular tufts sit straight up, like two exclamation points one birder has noted.

This somewhat rare owl is the Mexican Spotted owl. Conservationists have been hard at work saving this species from extinction.

Northern Spotted owl. Another nocturnal bird, it builds its nests in tree tops, from which it makes night time hunting runs.

Saw-whet owl. Northern Saw-whet owls are mottled brown birds with a whitish facial disk and white-spotted head. They are also distinctive for not possessing ear tufts. Small, the size of a robin, they are one of the more unusual looking of the many owl species.

Here's our Short-eared owl. Short-eared owls are medium brown spotted with buff and white on the upperparts. The face is pale with yellow eyes accentuated by black outlines. Definitely one of the cooler looking owls.

Everybody recognizes this guy - the elegant Snowy owl. Found mostly in the Arctic, these large birds can sometimes be a mottled brown and white, other times pure white. They too lack ear tufts, giving the round head a sleek look. Their flight over snow is virtually soundless.

One of the more curious looking owls, the Spectacled owl has distinctive eye markings that resemble glasses. This colorful guy is found from southern Mexico all the way down to Brazil and Argentina.

Here's our Western Screech owl. A small owl closely related to the Eastern screech owl, it is native to North and Central America. They are superbly camouflaged birds with a base color that can be grayish, brownish, or reddish-brown. The upperparts are flecked with white; the breast and belly are pale with dark, spidery streaks. The face is pale, outlined with dark arcs. 

 Hawaiian Short-eared owl. Found only in Hawaii,.it is known there as Pueo. They are easily distinguished from the introduced Barn Owl by their piercing yellow eyes and the mottled brown patterns across their head, wings and back.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Surviving the heat

 No need to comment on the oppressive heat this week. Scorching. Apart from how it impacts other parts of our lives, it certainly is tough on our gardens. It's at times like these that the value of mulching is brought to the fore. Mulching protects roots from burning and it also preserves water. It also helps to diffuse the heat, even absorbing some of it. All of which protects our plants.

Okay, enough. Hope you're staying cool. Here are some recent garden photos. Enjoy.

Cypella peruviana. One of the most gorgeous of all bulb flowers.

Erica speciosa. This heather blooms nearly year round.

Calibrachoa variety. Million Bells are always a great way to add color to a sunny spot.

Oregon White Oak (Quercus garryana). Still small but already displaying handsome leaves.

Rudbeckia Indian Summer. This variety has especially large flowers.

This mixed succulent bowl is coming along nicely.

For those of you who grow Eriogonum species, it's a good idea to leave the flowers on the plant. This allows seedheads to form and they will attract a variety of smaller songbirds interested in that seed.

Here's a new Calluna (C. Amethyst). As you can see, it's in full bloom, attracting both bees and hummers to its flowers.

Not the best photo but wanted to share the lovely butter yellow flowers of my Mimulus 'Lemon Yellow.'

Speaking of seedpods, here are the curious ones on my bottlebrush shrub (Callistemon viminalis).

I'm not sure which Oxalis this is, other than it's one of the shamrock leaf types.

A new addition to my garden, this Agave pygmaea offers up a lovely steel blue color.

Meanwhile, this Echeveria species showcases lovely red, orange and green tones.

Though not showy yet, here's the developing fruit on my Buddha's Hand citrus tree. It will double in size, develop more pronounced 'fingers' and get a bright yellow.

Chamaecyparis variety. I can't remember now which Chamaecyparis this one is. Perhaps 'Snow.'

My young Japanese Black pine (Pinus thunbergii) has produced its first tiny cone. Here it is. I have begun to collect pine trees, especially any dwarf varieties.

There are a number of plants called 'plumbago' but one very popular ground cover one is Ceratostigma plumbaginoides. Here is mine, showing its brilliant blue flowers.

Here's another photo of my floriferous Snapdragon Chantilly Peach.

Today's 'name that plant' quiz is the plant pictured above. Any guesses? If you thought it to be a Salvia you are close. It's a type of Pitcher Sage, this one Lepechinia bella. 'Bella' indeed!

Lantanas are common but that doesn't mean they aren't pretty.

Begonia odorata 'White.' Though it's not fragrant like many B. odoratas, this variety still produces a large and lovely flower.

Pelargonium 'Claire.' A gift from a friend, this flower features two luscious shades of red.

Coleus variety. A real workhorse, coleus will often last until January in milder zones like Oakland.

Begonia rex Festive Celebration. Like many rex types, it features a curving pattern and a darker center mirrored in its edging.

Asplenium trichomanes. This dwarf fern seems happy in its shady location.

Here are three recent tiles. The two in the back are Turkish Iznik tiles and the front one is of a Celtic knot.

My Firewheel tree (Stenocarpus sinuatus) is healthy but I'm waiting on the showy flowers to appear.

Neoregelia 'Pink Debbie.' Pink indeed, the new leaves on this bromeliad are a vivid orchid pink.

Begonia 'Irene Nuss.' Sought after more for its colorful scalloped leaves, this begonia's flowers are nonetheless a lovely light pink.

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