Animals in the garden

We are fortunate here in Pasadena, California, to have so many native birds and animals around us. Click on the thumbnails to see larger images. Click here for a separate page about birds.

This mule deer is seen through the railing of our back deck. We interrupted his meal of fruit from our fejoa, or pineapple guava, tree. (Photo September 2003)

A whole family of mule deer lives on the hillside behind our house. Most years we see little ones, such as this fawn. Sometimes there is more than one. (Photo October 1996)

There are plenty of raccoons in this area. This is one of two that were wandering back and forth on our back deck one evening. Raccoons can be very inquisitive, and the more I backed away, the closer this fellow came to me. (Photo February 2004)

Everyone in southern California knows the smell of skunk. Occasionally a skunk is seen meandering on its way. It was especially nice to see this mother skunk with three babies wandering around our back hill. (Photo May 1999)

The most notable animal in our garden is undoubtedly the bobcat, which is very shy, and seen only occasionally. We've found them sunning themselves right outside our bedroom window, snoozing in the shade under the neighbor's trees, or just passing through our property. From inside the house we saw this one coming, so had time to grab a camera. The bobcat stopped when it reached the base of the canyon, and was photographed sitting still for a few seconds before it headed off into the trees. (Photo October 2004.) Click here to see more bobcat photos.

We see rabbits only rarely. This one was around the house for quite some months, but has disappeared again. We never see more than one rabbit at a time, so we don't know whether there were more. (Photo August 2002)

At times the yard seems overwhelmed with lizards. They look different from the sleek skinks that I grew up with. Instead, they are virtually miniature dragons! The western fence lizard, although not large, looks appropriately fierce sitting on a rock, or in this case on a garden stake, soaking up the sunlight. The lizard at the right is about 25 cm long. (Photos March 2003)

At the left we see a Pacific Gopher snake crossing the path that leads down to the creek at the back of the house. If you look carefully in the shaded area of the far bottom-left corner of the picture, you can see the snake's head (Photo August 2002). At the right is a Pacific Gopher snake on the path at the front of our house (Photo May 2008). We've seen these snakes only a few times. The smaller garter snake is much more common.

On one occasion in the summer of 2010 I disturbed a rattle snake in the shrubbery along the path down to the creek. The rattling sound is unmistakable. The shrubs there are thick, and I didn't stay around long enough to actually see the snake.

The one in the photo is a baby rattle snake, no more than a couple of feet long. It was on the pile of wood at the side of the house, and it wasn't interested in me. Eventually it disappeared into the stack of wood. This was in late summer. I saw the snake again in the next spring, when it was coiled up nearby in the sunshine. As it was so small, I used a shovel to scoop it into a large bucket, from which it was unable to escape. I carried it far out on to the hillside above our house, which is coastal sage scrub, and released it. The day was cold, and the snake wasn't keen on going anywhere, so I left it to its own devices. (Photo October 2010)

The great horned owl is the largest owl in North America. While we hear them only occasionally, there was a time when we heard and saw them almost every day. That was before the large grove of eucalyptus tress next door was cut down as a fire precaution. At the left we see a great horned owl on the electricity pole at the back of the house. (Photo August 1985.) The photo at the right is from one of our immediate neighbors. (Photo August 2005.)

We are fortunate to have so many native birds in the garden. This one, the California Thrasher, is very shy. It disappears almost instantly when it sees a person. (Photo August 2002)

Coyotes do not seem to be as prevalent as they were when we moved here in the mid 1980s, but we still hear and see them from time to time. A chorus of vigorously barking coyotes coming down from the hillside almost gives the impression that we are about to be invaded by them. This one is seen from the window of Mary's study, walking across the back hill in the shade of the neighbor's oak tree. (Photo April 2009)

The mocking bird is one of the most common of the birds resident in the neighborhood. Most years they nest in the small trees or shrubs around the house. This one was was perched on the crossarm of the power pole at the back of the house. (Photo July 2009)

Both of these photos were taken from our kitchen window, looking out on the roof of the neighbor's garage. They show the California quail, male (left) and female (right). In the late spring these birdsw are noticeable around the yard, — breeding season. Quail are often seen in a family group, parents with multiple chicks, and they make a racket when they all take off together if disturbed. They spend virtually all their time on the ground. These birds are common in New Zealand, where they were introduced from 1865 onwards. They were also introduced in Europe. Actually, it's a bird that is highly adapted to living in arid climates, and it avoids the wetter areas of New Zealand. (Photos April 2009)

The hooded oriole is a a migrant that resides here only in the summer months. This one is the male, sitting on the fence in front of our house. The female is an olive green. (Photo July 2009)

There is something cute about squirrels, which are so prevalent in North America. In fact, they are not all the same, California having nine distinct species. This one is the Fox Squirrel. It's not native here, but was introduced about 1904 when residents at a veteran's home in western Los Angeles brought fox squirrels from their homes in the Mississippi Valley. It has gradually increased its range, and now occupies much of the Los Angeles basin. Studies are ongoing to determine whether the fox squirrel is displacing the indigenous western gray squirrel. At the left is a fox squirrel seen from our kitchen window (Photo January 2010). At the right are three baby fox squirrels (Photo May 2010). The fox squirrel is a menace to people who have fruit trees, eating everything but citrus.

Bears live in the nearby San Gabriel Mountains. People living immediately adjacent to the mountains commonly report bears pawing through their garbage cans looking for tidbits to eat. Our neighborhood is 3-4 miles from the mountains, and no one remembers ever seeing a bear in the the area. However, 2012 was different. The mountains had a shortage of food for bears as a result of the devastating Station Fire of 2009, which burned 160,000 acres. This, coupled with a dry year, saw the bears wandering further into urban area in search of food.

During July and August, 2012, bears were reported on multiple occasions in our neighborhood, mostly just a single bear, sometimes two bears. Late one Sunday evening, our immediate neighbor discovered a bear in his driveway, which is right beside our house. Probably the bear was headed for the neighbor's garbage can. It quickly scampered off when the neighbor appeared, and unfortunately we don't have a photo of it.

The photo here is from a bear sighting on 5 August 2012 at a house just down the street from us. The photo is taken from the front door of the house, as the bear heads up the adjacent driveway. These bears typically weigh around 400 lb.

All of the bears in California are black bears, even though they are not necessarily black in color. The brown bear, also known as the grizzly bear, lives much further north.

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