16 January 2012

I've Known Them Longer Than You

I've known Them longer than you,
the Grassland.

- Said the being far younger in years than I.

I've known Them before. I know Them now. I'll know Them after.
Before? what? You.
Now? what? Close your eyes and look.
After? what? You.

Find yourself again! You are too close not to.
Don't waste it.
Waste? what? Don't waste being you. Should They have given it to somebeing else?

Let go again. Laugh again. Own it all over again.
You are too close to it not to!
Close to what? Close your eyes and look again.

You are not common.
Nor are You.

Now free me from this garden mesh.

21 October 2009


**An even newer, and given far more time toward biology (ornithology, lepidoptera, etc.) in the area we are now living, is bigbendnature.com**

I may have neglected to mention that Heidi and I are collaborators on another blog. All of my posting energies have been directed there.

Folks are welcome to move over there for awhile if they like.

I apologize for not officially posting this over here.

here is the site url:


If you haven't been over there at all, much has been posted over the past year. So, take your time and leaf through the archives. That effort will help familiarize you with what Heidi and I have been up to.

Thanks again.



09 October 2008

Crossing Lines

and taking time to notice, enjoy, and learn from the intersection of paths.

There are times when I get so busy in what I am doing, so ready, at times, to be doing something else somewhere else that I stray from the important task of living in the present. Paying mind to where I am now, and less about where I am going.

These past 8 months or so have been difficult at times; for a variety of reasons, none of which are unique to my life.

So once in awhile the Great Organism, call it what you will...no need to scream it, yanks you back from the there and elsewhere to the here and now.

The following is a brief account of one such happening, as a more elaborated account has been asked by a staff member of a publication of such things to be illustrated:

Migration is a wonderful effort by fellow beings to move from the cooling temperatures of where they have been toward warming temperatures of a different latitude. Birds, along with marine mammels, butterflies, and others make such journeys.

Our species used to.

Nevertheless I have been checking vegetated areas around San Clemente Island this late summer and early fall for migrating avifauna that I have not been made as familiar with; those that travel only the Pacific Flyway twice a year.

I have been enjoying what are generally fairly common migrants in this area. Actually, I've enjoyed common migrants in any of the areas I have lived. Nevertheless, living along the Pacific Flyway as an "aware" -ologist has been made quite enjoyable due to sheer novalty of the West Coast Passage seekers.

"Lemon Tank." This is a location on the island that was built to serve as a freshwater catchment system for the island, many years ago. For whatever engineering reasons, it never worked as it was supposed to; that is, supplying the Homo sapien sapien population here with usable and perhaps drinkable fresh water. Fresh water is actually barged in to the island, by the way. So this contruction of a water tank was a "lemon", never worked correctly. "Lemon Tank."

It is also the only year-round body of standing water on the island; granted the water is at varying levels during that year. Anyhow, as such, it is quite the attractant to migrating aves at times.

On the afternoon of Sunday the 14th of September, post-work, myself and three co-workers went to Lemon Tank to check out the silt, water, willows, concrete, rock, twisted metal, for any interesting migrants that might have stopped by.

I was still hoping to see MacGillivray's Warbler (Oporornis tolmiei); a familiar songbird of the Mountain West and Pacific Coast, making it to southernmost areas during migration on its way to other Americas.

I was on one side of Lemon Tank that held some willow trees (Salix spp.). It was in these willows that a pair of MacG Warblers were seen the previous trip out here.

During my traipse through the tallish forbs I could see out of the corner of my subconscience a co-worker running toward the direction of the two others on the opposite side of the tank. I felt for my radio in my pocket. Checked the other one. Checked my jacket. I wasn't wearing a jacket. Nor my radio.

It was an at once sinking and exciting feeling seeing my counterpart running on the opposite side from where I was. I knew that something "good" was spotted, but I also new I was a long ways away from them. Now Lemon Tank isn't that large a place. But I was on a precarious ledge and I was certain I couldn't walk on water, not yet.

So I clumsily and muddily(is that even a word) sauntered off that ledge as quickly as I could; though I am not sure one ever "saunters" quickly.

A few agonizingly slow minutes later, seed-covered, and realizing these were not running boots and wondering if they made running boots I heard these words over my labored breath:

Old. World. Species.

I wont bore with the details of the four of us methodically working together to properly document the bird we were seeing. It did happen with organization, and collaboration in spite of our giddy and nervous knowing that this was huge in a few circles of the science, both citizen and greater ornithological, world.

The following is a grainy picture, one of our first(several better ones followed in the days to come) taken from a very timely pocketed point-and-shoot camera through a scope at who we were observing:

by Jason Fidorra
Bluethroat (Luscinia svecica) , first fall/winter female

AND first documented record of this species in the lower 48.
As illustrated above, this member of the thrush family breeds on the tundra of the high arctic in Alaska but mostly in Siberia.
It winters in Asia and North Africa.
It should be noted that "Lemon Tank" has also played host to a Stonechat (Saxicola torquata) and Red-throated Pipits (Anthus cervinus).
When I left the island, "Lemon Tank" held 3 Red-throated Pipits. I was lucky to be afforded, as I had been with the Bluethroat, long views with very few people around. Each instance, we left the bird. Meaning, the bird didn't flush and fly away never to be seen again. Each instance we left the bird foraging and otherwise performing normal behavior. From all appearances, not stressed nor bothered otherwise by our observances.
"'LEMON Tank'", hm?
Interesting what we label as lemons, or broken down, or not working correctly. Birds that travel thousands of miles, some over open ocean, and some of them thousands of miles off-course would not characterize it as so. Perhaps we should take a second look at some "LT's" in our life. Perhaps I should. Perhaps I have.
Remember that somewhat common, certainly expectant migrant songbird I alluded to earlier? Yeah, MacGillivray's Warbler? We'll I finally saw a pair. I saw them on THE day I learned the Bluethroat had not been spotted again.
That is 6 days after that historic Sunday when we first observed our Siberian visitor. I have to be honest, I got just as much enjoyment out of seeing those two warblers as I did being a part of the first group to have ever seen a Bluethroat in the lower 48. Heck, the first group south of that little range map I provided above.
Our little group of 4 people. So, I guess I was actually the Fourth individual to see it. Call me #4.
On second thought, don't call me anything. Perhaps lucky enough to be aware and alive, such an infintesimal happening really; this world - my existance. Call me grateful. Grateful for the common, the once-in-many-lifetimes, the Lemon Tanks.
How have you guys been, by the way?

03 August 2008

Faint Dashes

I saw a stream of shearwaters far out into the ocean,
below the horizon, this morning.

I saw an albatross, far out into the ocean,
beyond the horizon, this morning.

They took this moment to remind me how humans
normally view them, faint dashes through a scope,
if they are fortunate.

On the verge of tears, I silently thanked them.

Thanked them for sharing their home with me.
For the knowledge imparted,
and understanding conveyed.

Always a part of me they were, are, and will be.

But now, to my physical eyes,
they are faint dashes.
Only slightly less mysterious now.

again, faint dashes, if I am fortunate.

For I am only human.
And I am fortunate.

-MWYork, 08.03.2008
Too far into the Pacific on some days.
Not far enough on others.

24 July 2008

The 'Blog Has Been Sputtering..

... I have not.

So what's been happening with the island's shrikes?

Well, we are now to the point where every fledgling has reached independant status. In the 1990's, there were only 14 San Clemente Loggerhead Shrikes. As of the other day, adults and hatch-years combined, the island has over 170 known LOSH.

That number will go down in the coming months.

Still, not too bad, eh?

The shrikes are all pretty much in post-breeding dispersal.

After the adult pairs are finished nesting, egg-laying, incubating, caring for nestlings, and caring for fledglings and all other parental duties at the natal sites... the birds peace out to parts unknown.

Generally the adults split up, the fledglings(hatch-years) are now independant and must fend for themselves and biologists scatter to find out which birds are where, who's alive and who is not, etc.
One important exercise we have been up to recently is trapping unbanded Hatch-Years. During the course of the breeding season there have been nests that we could not reach in order to band nestlings. There have been a few nests that we have just flat out overlooked. There are also areas that we are not allowed into. With these shrikes nesting in the canyons(you guys have seen some pics) one can understand how having some unbanded Hatch-Years around the island is possible.

The trap we use was a new design to me so I was and certainly still am eager to help trap "--/-- HY" when one is found.
The trap (Santolo), made of a mesh hardware cloth, has a small compartment in the bottom, which we occupy with a mouse. The mouse is actually protected from the shrike as there is the mesh "floor" above its little holding cell.

There is then a door/lid on the top of the trap which is propped open. A dowel rod, or even a conveniently sized twig is attached and put within the trap, below the door and ceiling. It acts as a perch and then the trigger mechanism that closes the door/lid on the bird.
It's incredible to observe very well, just how far these birds can notice movement of a prized, choice, mouse scurrying around in a small square cell. Perhaps one day I will have the presence of mind, and luck of finding a "--/-- HY" that cooperates, while I have a camera set in "movie mode" and document with motion how this methodolgy works. For the moment, a few still shots taken by a co-worker.

It often takes the shrike a little while to find the entrance in order to get closer to this convenient prey-item. So the bird will go toward the trap from different sides. Hovering about, it hopefully, and does often enough, find the opening at the top and drops down to that dowel rod perch, near the mouse. Lid closes. Shrike isn't too happy about it. We sprint to the trap to extract the bird before it has the chance to even remotely injure itself. The bird is then put into a "bird bag" and it calms down a degree or two.
We work this bird as we would any other nestling that I have described in previous posts. A color band combination and metal service band, both to be unique to that individual bird is selected. The bird is weighed, feather samples taken for DNA analysis, etc.

Remember shrikes have a beak that is specially designed to quickly sever the spines of their prey. They also like to chew off color bands. Do to that affinity, we continue to heat seal the color bands with a butane-fuel torch iron as seen below.

This biologist is particularly talented with this instrument.
Having a bird in hand is always an excellent chance to check out the feather tracts. Due to wear-and-tear, the molting of feathers, and other happenings, one can age a bird more easily. Now obviously, this is a HY bird, i.e. within year # 1 of its life, but knowing that helps reinforce what the feather tracts are to look like this time of year in a bird hatched this year. Here are some pics...

Say hello to 2008 Hatch Year, origin Unknown, Green-Service/Blue-White. Or just GS/BW.
GS/BW and some guy.

peace and good evening,
**photos by M. C. Cammarota

15 June 2008


"Land is immortal, for it harbors the mysteries of creation." - Anwar al-Sadat, (1918-1981)
This morning I took it upon myself to accomplish three things. Two of the three were not entirely in my control, the other would take time regardless of how long and hard I spent hiking in the chaparral-coastal sage foothills of this county.
This evening I'll write on One.
As you guys might have surmised, I am interested in many things. Certainly ornithology, for occupation as well as avocation. But it certainly doesn't stop there. The order Lepidoptera also occupies my mind, my energies, my wonder, my weekends. Lepidoptera = Moths & Butterflies.
The butterfly life cycle is the amazing process of metamorphosis. That is the transition from egg to larva (caterpillar) to pupa (or chrysalis) to the winged adult.
This process begins with the female lays egg(s) on or near the plants that the larva will like to eat. Caterpillars are quite picky, and most cannot survive on the wrong plant. This plant is called the host plant. Host plants can range from ancient, towering oaks all the way down to blades of a native grass.
Caterpillars skin can only stretch so far, and the larva passes through ~ 5 growing stages (termed instars); so it must shed its skin each time.
The final time it sheds its skin is infact the next phase of its life, the pupa.
Remember it is a majority of moths that spin a protective cocoon, not butterflies. Butterfly larva reach the pupa life stage as a chrysalis. When the development inside is complete, the pupa will split open and the adult will emerge.
Though much is known about butterflies' metamorphosis. It could still be regarded, and rightly so I think, as a miracle of sorts.
Ha, so that was the lesson.
I went hiking today in the chaparral-costal sage scrub of the western foothills of San Diego County. Near Santee. There is a large and quite beautiful park in this sprawling suburban area. A large, quite beautiful, and vitally important park.
"Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell" - Edward Abbey (1927-1989)
There is a butterfly that ranges only from a portion of San Diego county and a small part of Northern Baja California, Mexico.
Beautiful and highly sought after by lepidopterists of all persuasions, it is occasionally common at chaparral near stands of "Redberry" (Rhamnus), its One larval hostplant.
It is also disappearing. The chaparral. The Redberry. The butterfly.
Disappearing to "development". Housing. Sprawl. "Progress."
The adult of this insect favors nectering on One particular plant; flowering California Buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum).

This butterfly has always been scarce it would seem, even back in the '20s. Said early California butterfly enthusiast John A. Comstock, "It will always be a rarity, and may in fact someday become extinct, if San Diego continues to grow at its present rate."
Urbanization, wildfires, and other factors threaten their tenuous existance.
For me, this morning, it was hiking in the foothills; enjoying birds, looking out for butterflies, and breaking in some new boots. I knew this area had Redberry. I was aware that California Buckwheat was in bloom. In fact, it was in bloom all over this particular area.
Hours of carefully glancing at blinding white flowers of buckwheat, and fatigued from the hike, I was nearing the area where I had parked my vehicle.
Nectoring on these flowers for much of my morning had been a couple of species of "Blues". "Blues" are generally erratic flyers, about the size of a nickel to a dime.
As I neared the end of my trek I passed by some small "Blues" erratically flying in a corkscrew pattern up above the gravel path.
One, though similar in size, was of a different color.
I feel very fortunate. Time well spent. I only saw One.
I took a few pictures as well.
Hermes Copper (Lycaena hermes)

© M. W. York

© M. W. York

© M. W. York

© M. W. York

It is my hope that you all had as good a Sunday morning as I had.
I wonder.
Whether on pages or flowers, perhaps we studied the same....thing.. this Sunday morning.
I know I was attentive.

14 June 2008

Flutterbys along an estuary.

Lorquin's Admiral
(Limenitis lorquini) ©M. W. York

Marine Blue, female
(Leptotes marina) © M. W. York
Mourning Cloak
(Nymphalis antiopa) ©M. W. York

Tijuana River Estuary, south SD County.