{urban wildlife on the grand and small scale}

Just a couple of weeks ago I shared my concern that coyotes were coming too close to our rabbit cage. This week’s story of celebrity mountain lion “P-22” invading the Los Angeles Zoo grounds and eating one of the koalas–read HERE if it isn’t too upsetting for you–is one of the reasons I’m reluctant to do much hiking in our local mountains.

The Santa Monica Mountains and the San Gabriel range are home to thousands of species, many very large, and our drought conditions have certainly enticed them to come down and prey on whatever food source they find available. I don’t put myself in positions where I might become that food source, so my wanderings in the natural world are confined to more public places. I’m only pretend to be John Muir in my imagination.

These past few weeks I’ve been sharing some of the beautiful settings at the Huntington Botanical Gardens, but recently I headed back with no purpose  other than to wander and just enjoy some quiet. There are usually large crowds, but the grounds are such that I can always find places to be entirely alone.

One aspect of being away from the crowds is  tuning my attention to the little sounds I might otherwise miss. I often hear the rustle of leaves or a little chirp I don’t recognize and it’s pure pleasure searching to find the little creatures going about their daily routines.

These little partners were foraging in the underbrush, camouflaged in the dirt and leaves. I heard them scratching and digging and only an occasional little chirp. I would have missed them entirely if I hadn’t been listening.

But what most caught my attention was the very fascinating “dance” going on between two Monarch butterflies.


You might have to look carefully to see that this is two Monarchs. I wasn’t at first sure what I was observing. Okay, I’ll be honest. I thought they were dead!


They were so still I thought someone had harmed them! Once I saw movement I was relieved, but then curious as to how we had monarchs so early in the spring. Where was their food source?


Watching this mating process was quite fascinating. My rapt attention drew a crowd. We watched with such delight. Given all the concern about declining monarch populations this one small act was hopeful.


The act can take a long time, so I eventually moved on and left them to do what nature tells them to do. But I had questions. I was told by my local garden center to cut back my milkweed and not to encourage monarchs to “linger,” rather take away their food source and encourage them on their migratory path.

I use my walks at the Huntington to increase my gardening education.

And sure enough!


I found several milkweed plants right behind where I had been standing. These had obviously not been cut back in the fall as I had been instructed, and here we have evidence of mating monarchs.

Feels like spring to me!

I am including my Monarch butterflies in Jude’s March challenge to photograph backyard wildlife.  These little butterflies are very small examples, but I suspect they’re as important as our hungry predator mountain lion, Mr. P-22.

I’m trying very hard not to think about the koala.



41 thoughts on “{urban wildlife on the grand and small scale}

  1. Ann Koplow March 11, 2016 / 5:39 pm

    I’m trying hard to think about your amazing photos instead of the koala.

    • Debra March 17, 2016 / 9:20 am

      I’m so glad you stopped by, Ann. I read in the newspaper today that the Los Angeles Zoo is making changes to accommodate both zoo animals and also to protect the mountain lion. I think it will be a better situation. 🙂

  2. Slow Happy Living March 11, 2016 / 5:58 pm

    Dark-eyed juncos! I didn’t realize they got that far south. I don’t ever recall seeing them before I moved up here, when I promptly fell in love with them. They are ground feeders and it’s always fun to see them skittering about, especially when there’s snow.
    Cougars frighten me. Whenever I hike I always keep glancing over my shoulder. I have never seen one, but CFL has and he says they run VERY quickly. Scary. I don’t even want to read about that poor koala.
    I don’t believe we have monarchs here; I certainly can’t recall seeing any.

    • Debra March 17, 2016 / 9:25 am

      I wonder if the dark-eyed junkos are “at home” now in SoCal, or if this little pair is just spending time on vacation! Thank you for identifying them for me, Lori. They were really unknown to me! I do think it takes a great deal of caution to be running on paths that go right through “cougar territory”–or bear, or rattlesnake…LOL! I know from other friends who hike a lot through the Santa Monica Mountains that they feel alert and somewhat prepared, but every time I see the signs posting the warnings I just get weak-kneed! I guess my hiking is mostly confined to the “bunny trails.” LOL!

  3. lifeonthecutoff March 11, 2016 / 10:21 pm

    How exciting; well, at least the Monarchs were. 🙂 Poor koalas. p:( Nature can be so savage.
    I love to watch Monarchs, and other butterflies, dance and dance and well . . . I wonder if next time you at the Huntington you will find some eggs on the milkweed, or even caterpillars.
    These are really amazing photos, Debra – and they are as important.
    Have a great weekend.

    • Debra March 14, 2016 / 9:51 pm

      I’m thinking that I will try to find someone at the Huntington willing to perhaps discuss milkweed with me, Penny. I just want to hear the rationale behind the decision not to cut it back. I’m so curious. My plants–the ones I cut waaaay back to nothing in September, are beginning to look quite healthy. I can’t wait to see how long before the butterflies come to it. It’s at least great fun observing and attempting to follow their trail. I’ll keep you posted on what I find. 🙂

  4. Jim Stewart March 12, 2016 / 5:55 am

    Those “little partners” you photographed look like juncos. Great little ground scratchers.

    • Debra March 14, 2016 / 9:39 pm

      Juncos! Thank you, Jim. I haven’t seen them before. 🙂

  5. Andrew Reynolds March 12, 2016 / 7:43 am

    Great photos. Our spring up here is delay a week by a late March rain storm.

    • Debra March 14, 2016 / 9:39 pm

      I’m so glad you’re getting some good rain. I’d like to see more down here in Los Angeles, but as long as it’s falling anywhere in California I’m just happy to hear about it! 🙂

      • Andrew Reynolds March 14, 2016 / 9:46 pm

        San Francisco and north got plenty. The reservoirs are filling. Not sure we’ll get any more, but hopefully there is one more late storm before the rain is over.

        • Debra March 14, 2016 / 9:51 pm

          I sure hope so!

  6. Heyjude March 12, 2016 / 12:25 pm

    Wonderful wild life you found there, and I won’t think about the poor koala, except to wonder how the mountain lion actually got in to the zoo! I hope I will see more butterflies this year, not many around last summer.

    • Debra March 14, 2016 / 9:33 pm

      From what I’ve understood, Jude, the koala did a little wandering, too. I think he was in the trees, but could venture a little out of the enclosure. I’m sure there are a lot of questions being asked in hopes of preventing a repeat performance! I’m glad you enjoyed my “wildlife” photos of birds and butterflies. LOL! I tried for larger animals, but they didn’t make an appearance last week. 🙂

      • Heyjude March 15, 2016 / 2:31 am

        Typical. When you want to photograph something it goes on its holidays!

  7. aFrankAngle March 12, 2016 / 4:55 pm

    Spring is in your air. On a walk today, I saw one blooming daffodil and one blooming tree … spring is trying to pry its way here. Meanwhile, it seems El Nino fell short of expectations in your area.

    • Debra March 14, 2016 / 9:27 pm

      I’m so glad you’re seeing some lovely signs of spring. I do love it when the earth shows signs of awakening! And yes, I’m afraid we’re in for another year of extreme water restriction. We’ve had a little bit of rain this past week, but not much! 😦

      • aFrankAngle March 15, 2016 / 4:47 am

        Temps today are almost 20 degrees above normal … so spring is launching. Of course some of us are waiting for that not-so-fast slap in the face that March knows how to deliver.

        BTW … Because you love history, my post On a Headstone’s Story is a must-read for you.

  8. nrhatch March 12, 2016 / 5:20 pm

    I’m sorry for the koala and for the mountain lion who can’t just pull into a drive through when he’s famished.

    Glad you had a chance to watch the Monarchs doing the tango!

    • Debra March 14, 2016 / 9:26 pm

      I feel sorry for the large animals in our foothills. I tell myself that they’re hungry, but I don’t really know that. This could have been one mountain lion who just couldn’t resist the zoo! As much as I cringed at the story and photos of a koala in the big cats mouth, it still serves as a good reminder that maybe we need to think about their habitat just a little bit? High density population is really creeping closer to their home. 😦

  9. Cathy March 13, 2016 / 12:26 am

    Mountain lions? Goodness, didn’t realise you had such dangerous wild animals nearby! I have heard that some birds and butterflies are no longer migrating due to climate change, so maybe this is the case here. We apparently have Hummingbird Hawkmoths overwintering in southern Germany now for example. This post about the recovery of the Monarch population by Jason in Chicago was interesting: https://gardeninacity.wordpress.com/2016/02/27/good-news-on-monarch-butterflies-for-now/
    So now you have the dilemma – cut the milkweed down or not?!
    Have a great week Debra!

    • Debra March 14, 2016 / 9:14 pm

      Thank you for the Garden in a City blogpost, Cathy. Very well researched, detailed and interesting! There are several places in Central and Northern California where Monarchs overwinter, but it’s new to me to think of Southern California being hospitable. It’s interesting about the Hummingbird Hawkmoths, too. It doesn’t surprise me too much to think that there are many changes, and will be many more, as climate change continues to affect food sources. In the longterm it should be a concern for all of us, but in the present, there is reason to be concerned for all these little species. Many dilemmas. We’ve had a little rain, my friend, so I’m feeling hopeful this week. LOL! I hope you have a good week, too!

  10. philipstrange March 14, 2016 / 4:20 am

    Beautiful photos of the Monarchs. Have you read “Flight Behaviour” by Barbara Kingsolver? I can recommend it but it wont solve your milkweed dilemma.

    • Debra March 14, 2016 / 9:00 pm

      Thank you for reminding me about the Kingsolver book, Philip. It is on my Kindle and I have yet to read it! Perhaps now is a good time to prioritize reading it. I have been thinking that maybe the Huntington could put me in touch with someone willing to share their knowledge with me. I am not exaggerating my confusion on the topic of milkweed! 🙂

  11. ChgoJohn March 14, 2016 / 9:28 pm

    Poor koala, I would hope that the zoo reviews their remaining exhibits to ensure nothing similar happens. I’m not sure if you’re aware but there was a puma here in Chicago some 6 years ago. It was eventually cornered and shot, unfortunately, and there have been numerous reports of large cat sightings in some of the burbs. There is much wildlife around us, even in the cities. All we need do is slow down and take notice. You were smart to listen, Debra, and were rewarded. 🙂

    • Debra March 14, 2016 / 10:11 pm

      I do remember about the puma, John. These stories always catch my attention. It’s a fascinating dilemma when we push our high density populations deeper into their habitat and then we’re always so surprised to see them come into our space. Poor things. I don’t know the particulars at the zoo, but I’m sure they’re scrambling to see what they might have prevented. Maybe it’s surprising there aren’t more incidents. I’d ask more questions, but it’s very possible I don’t really want to know too much. 🙂

  12. Otto von Münchow March 16, 2016 / 2:33 am

    That is quite something; a mountain lion going after a koala in the zoo. Like Chgo John say, I hope the zoo will make arrangements so that this won’t happen in the future again. But then again,one cannot probably foresee every possible way animals can find a way in. On the other hand you photos of the mating Monarchs are gorgeous, it must have been a lovely experience.

    • Debra March 17, 2016 / 9:32 am

      i just read today that the zoo is indeed making some good changes, and I was impressed that their accommodations were also showing concern for the mountain lion. There are many changes we need to make to preserve the wilderness, but I’m so encouraged by the effort and the way conservancy groups are working closely with governmental agencies. I appreciate your encouragement in my effort to improve my photography, Otto. I have never taken larger files or worked with RAW data…I’m about ready to jump into learning about that. I would like to see if some of my photos could be printed larger than 4 X 6! LOL!

      • Otto von Münchow March 17, 2016 / 2:22 pm

        It’s not a big step to jump for from smaller to larger files as long as your computer can handle. RAW takes a little more work, but the effort is well worth while. 🙂

  13. Kristy March 17, 2016 / 7:30 am

    We had some milkweed pop up in our yard for the first time last year. I had no idea what it was at first. I haven’t seen monarchs in our backyard yet, but I keep hoping. They are so pretty. So happy to hear spring is arriving. Send it our way! 😉 Lovely photos Debra. I too like listening for sounds I don’t know or that would be otherwise unheard. So much fun – and very relaxing. 🙂 Have a wonderful week!!

    • Debra March 17, 2016 / 9:38 am

      If you have milkweed, it’s my understanding that they’ll find it! From what I’ve been learning, or I’d say trying to learn, each region offers something quite different to the monarchs. I think in my garden they just feed. They are all over the milkweed eating, but they don’t seem to lay eggs. And for years I wouldn’t grow the milkweed because it kept showing up on the “invasive species” list and that was discouraged. The fact that it just found itself showing up in your garden supports that invasive claim! But without it, the monarchs don’t have food. LOL! It’s pretty funny trying to understand something that probably even the experts don’t completely know at this point. Habitats are so threatened, how does anyone keep up? Warm weather should be catching up with you soon, don’t you think? This will be your first seasonal shift in your travels, isn’t it? Winter to Spring? I’ll be interested in your observations, Kristy! ox

  14. Karen March 18, 2016 / 8:55 am

    I’ll take the small pleasures over coyotes any day. 🙂

  15. rommel March 18, 2016 / 10:47 pm

    Something outrageous that is happening, and people just whipping out their cellphone for them to share on the web. Age of Technology. I kid, I kid! Thanks for letting us in to peek as well. 😀 Quite fascinating that you really get that close, and they don’t seem bothered at all. 😀

  16. restlessjo March 20, 2016 / 12:52 am

    What a fabulous entry for Jude’s challenge! I’m so glad I introduced you two, Debbie 🙂 It’s going to make my wildlife look a little tame. Thanks for sharing the Monarchs. Amazing experience!

  17. bruce thomas witzel March 24, 2016 / 9:48 am

    Fascinating about the milkweed, being in the wrong place for the monarchs. Who would have thunk? A couple of very thoughtful posts about wildlife, as it relates to urbanization. Thanks Debbie.

    • Debra March 24, 2016 / 9:19 pm

      I have had some frustration in trying to better understand how to support the monarchs and other small species, and at the same time our climate changes and the drought are making it really hard. I feel sometimes like the more I read the less I’m sure what is best. I think if I ever get it all straight I am going to offer myself up as an expert. LOL! Thank you for stopping by, Bruce. I’m glad I could share our local information.

  18. reocochran March 27, 2016 / 10:06 am

    Debra, so sad about gentle and slow moving koala call ng prey and losing its life. I like the monarchs and the sweet bird, Debra. 🙂

  19. 2e0mca March 31, 2016 / 6:18 am

    I’m not surprised you are wary of hiking with such a beast on the prowl. At least it’s really out there! There are occasional sightings of large cats and other critters in our countryside – usually believed to be escapes from private collections – but they seem to avoid humans and the photos that surface from time-to-time make the Loch Ness Monster shots look genuine 😉

    Great to see your Monarchs mating and the small birds which look like Dark Eyed Junco’s – neither species likely to grace my back garden anytime soon!

  20. Perpetua April 4, 2016 / 1:07 pm

    What super photos, Debra. I’m not surprised you almost missed the small birds. They were wonderfully camouflaged among the dried leaves and seedcases. I first heard of monarch butterflies on Penny’s blog and am interested to see them in southern California and learn they should have been migrating past you. I learn something new every time I visit your blog. 🙂

  21. thefolia April 11, 2016 / 1:17 am

    Oh Debra you captured some great glimpses of the wilderness. I too think about the wild and what I may encounter on my hikes…I try not to go too close to sunset when they like to chow and trek in groups. We delight in frolicking birds everyday in our nest…they have tucked away two nests…they are like family and we can’t wait to see what may hatch!

I always enjoy hearing from you!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.