We found and photographed this tiny moth a few months ago while attracting insects to a UV light in the GNG at night. It was quickly identified as being in the Superfamily Tineidae, or fungus moths. From there, we got to the Family Tineidae, then to the Subfamily Hieroxestinae and finally to the Genus Opogona. But, as so many times it happens, we stalled at figuring out what species it is. Then it came to light that this moth has yet to be fully described. It turns out that it has been known to science for at least 6 years, but is still waiting for its classification and Latin name. No need to travel to far-away places to find new species of animals; it just might happen in your own backyard.
A common and beloved year-round resident of the GNG is the long-tailed tit Psaltriparus minimus, or Bushtit (there are 13 Species of long-tailed tits worldwide, but this is the only species found in the Americas). These spunky little birds are always on the move and very social by nature; so much so that they will even cooperatively breed. This female hung-back briefly from its foraging flock - possibly to contemplate something important?
This raccoon just had to play with the bubbling water before it had its drink!
Only two species of hummingbirds are present in the GNG during this time of year, but that doesn’t mean it’s quiet around the feeders. Anna’s and Allen’s Hummingbirds can be seen in the GNG year round, with the latter being the most aggressive. At the 39-second mark on the first video clip, a male Allen’s makes room for himself by jabbing a male Anna’s in the head with its beak (watch the left side of the feeder). Hummingbird's DNA will never, ever allow them to "just get along".
More feeder activity at different feeder.
When first encountered, this small thin salamander might look like a worm - until you notice that it has tiny limbs! We found this individual while exploring the GNG at night after a steady rain. Slender salamanders are active during periods of wet weather, and do most of their foraging above ground at night. They retreat underground whenever the soil begins to dry out and will normally remain underground the entire summer.
In many Southern California gardens during the winter months, one can find a migratory bird that is considered by some to have the most beautiful song of all North American birds, the Hermit Thrush. Secretive by nature, they are normally seen at the edge of hedges and brush lines as they leave cover to look for ground dwelling insects. True to its nature, this Hermit Thrush cautiously checks-out the bath from below before coming up for a drink.
If you look closely in your garden, you may find drama on a small scale.
Warriors & Slaves
In this photo, Argentine Ants are herding their aphid slaves for food. The food source the ants are exploiting is the sweet honeydew substance aphids excrete after ingesting plant juices. In return for supplying this nectar to the ants, the aphids get protection from some predators.
Trying to penetrate defenders, this Four-spot Aphid Fly (center) is looking for an opportunity to lay an egg. This fly species lays a single egg on vegetation near active aphid colonies. This strategy gives the hatching larva an opportunity to find food immediately and begin feeding on aphids. Even though this fly did lay an egg, the ants will kill the larvae before it ever has a chance to consume any aphids.
Unfortunately this is a very good example of a non-native species (the Argentine Ant) disrupting the natural balance in a native garden by hindering a native pollinator (the aphid fly) and helping a garden pest (the aphid).
This Gulf Fritillary was one of the few butterflies seen in the GNG today. As winter approaches butterflies are becoming scarce and only a few species will be seen from now until early spring. Gulf Fritillaries can be seen looking for nectar on most warm days throughout the year and can be abundant near passion vines (Passiflora), the host plant for their larvae. Passion vine is not a native of California and not found in the GNG, but is most likely growing in someones garden near-by.
Pine Siskins arrived in mass a few weeks ago and seem to be sticking around the GNG. In California these birds are normally found in our higher local mountains and the High Sierra, moving down-slope in the late fall and winter in search of an easier living during the colder months. Some years these nomadic birds leave the mountains entirely and find their way into our area. When this happens in mass (like it has this year) it’s called an irruption - defined as a dramatic, irregular migration of large numbers of birds to areas where they aren’t typically found.
It’s always exciting to have a bird species in your yard that may not show-up again for many years!
The number of individual hummingbirds in the GNG has increased dramatically as of late. At any given time, there will be anywhere between 30-50 birds on the feeders. And as expected this time of year, Anna’s Hummingbirds and Allen’s Hummingbirds are the only species represented - but we always keep alert for something unusual!