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Nature Gardens at NHM: LA's Urban Nature

Showing posts with label : Blog

February 17, 2012

American Goldfinches Find Feeders and Get Counted

American Goldfinches, Spinus tristis, have found our bird feeders! Flocks of them have been visiting the nyger seed feeders that the Museum's live animal caretakers fill on an almost daily basis.

American Goldfinch (upper left) and
Lesser Goldfinch (lower right) feeding on nyger seed

Like most finches, American Goldfinches are primarily seed eaters, making them some of the most readily-attracted birds to feeding stations. They are fond of the small seeds of grasses and annual plants, especially a type of thistle seed called nyger. Within 24 hours of putting up our first nyger feeders, we recorded both American Goldfinches and the very closely related Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria. Of the two species, Americans are slightly larger and more numerous, but are usually only present in Exposition Park...

February 11, 2012

Blooming Agaves

More plant news from the North Campus. Recently some of our blue lotus agaves, Agave ceslii 'Nova', have begun to bloom. This is an impressive sight as these plants send forth long spikes, (between four and six feet long), that look a lot like giant asparagus stalks. This type of agave is monocarpic, meaning that it only flowers once, and this particular selection happens to flower at a relatively young age compared to other species. Incidentally, the genus is commonly called century plant because it can take decades for them to flower. The entire stand of this agave (approximately eight plants) is flowering at the same time, because they were all propagated from the same tissue culture, which is a common nursery practice for certain landscape plants. Although flowering signals the end of the plant's lifespan, we can expect to enjoy the flowers and fruits for the next several months!

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February 2, 2012

First Baby Oaks Sprout Up in the North Campus

The North Campus is the proud parent of some baby oak trees!

Baby coast live oak sheltered by wall

Carol Bornstein, our new Director of the North Campus Gardens, discovered a couple of oak saplings on one of her recent outdoor forays. The babies are coast live oaks, Quercus agrifolia, of which we recently planted several trees. We've also planted another species of oak, the Engelmann oak, Quercus engelmanni (we planted only three of this species). Both species reside in the section of the garden called the urban wilderness which is composed of several kinds of California native trees and shrubs.

This might be the mother oak!

Oak trees provide amazing habitat value,...

January 28, 2012

Unusual Bird Sighting: Common Yellowthroat

Sam Easterson has caught a relatively unusual occurrence on camera. On New Year's day Sam's camera trap discovered a Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas) skulking behind one of our sheds (I should add that this is the same shed the opossums have a den underneath). It is relatively unusual only because of the season, this is only the third time a Common Yellowthroat has been sighted here in winter!

New Year's day sighting of female Common Yellowthroat

According to Kimball Garrett, our Ornithology Collections Manager, the Common Yellowthroat is a widespread North American wood-warbler, breeding in marshes and wet meadows and scrublands over most of the continent. In Exposition Park, Kimball usually observes yellowthroats in the Rose Garden, where the dense beds of roses provide good places to hide...

January 20, 2012

Aphid Eating Flower Fly Found in North Campus

There are over 150,000 species of flies in the world! Most visitors who come to the Museum can name only a few of these flies (house fly, horse fly, or mosquito for examples) and many hold the belief that we would be better off without flies in our world. On Wednesday, January 18, we found a fly that I am sure will help you realize that all flies can't be cast as "bad" characters I introduce the humble aphid eating flower fly, Eupeodes volucris.

Female Eupeodes volucris
Photo taken by Jerry Friedman

Why do people like these flies and not others? This isn't an easy question to answer, but I'll have a go... First of all, these flies eat aphids and as any gardener will tell you, aphids are a serious garden pest....

January 5, 2012

Walking Sticks Mysteriously Appear in Museum

Last Friday two Indian walking sticks, Carausius morosus, mysteriously showed up inside the Museum! They didn't escape from the Insect Zoo (we've never kept this species of walking stick before), and we haven't been able to find out exactly how they got here. What we do know is that the insects were discovered after a visitor felt one "fall" on his arm, and then promptly reported it to a staff person.


One of the Indian walking sticks found in the Museum!


Indian walking sticks, a.k.a. laboratory walking sticks, are one of the most common walking sticks around. They are often kept as pets and classroom teaching tools, and their eggs can even be purchased on eBay for fish food! Surprisingly these insects have recently established themselves in our area through...

December 28, 2011

Opossums Love Tin Foil!

A few weeks ago, Sam Easterson followed a trail of tin foil and discovered the den of a Virginia opossum, Didelphis virginiana, underneath one of the Museum's storage sheds. Since then he set up camera traps around the den to see what was going on. This is what we found...

A night of tin foil escapades.
What on Earth are they doing with all the tin foil? Tin foil hats to ward off alien thought control maybe?


All kidding aside, it seems that this opossum has extracted a tasty morsel from inside the shiny package and is taking it down into the den.



Afternoon stroll?
The next day, one of the opossums...


December 16, 2011

First Raccoon Recorded in North Campus

Last week, while I was away in Costa Rica finding amazing bugs of all varieties, Sam's camera trap discovered a new species of mammal for our North Campus list!

Raccoon found under bridge in North Campus

Opossums, squirrels, dogs, and cats have all been spotted in the North Campus since we planted the space, but until recently we had only suspected that raccoons were part of that mix too. Raccoons, Procyon lotor, are common urban mammals often found in the urban core. These nocturnal mammals are notorious for destroying new lawns as they try to reach the tasty grubs and other insects that come to the surface after heavy watering. They are clever little creatures and will neatly roll up the new turf to get to the tasty invertebrate morsels they are craving. Another pestiferous trait is their proclivity for dumpster...

December 6, 2011

Piranhas Found in L.A.!

Piranhas are the stuff of B-movies, sensationalized nature television, and the tropical rainforest. Most would think they have little bearing on life here in L.A., however as I learned last week, this is not the case.

Taxidermied Red Piranha, Pygocentrus nattereri 
"lips" removed to accentuate teeth


Piranhas are here in L.A.! They are sometimes confiscated from pet stores and, on occasion, they are even found in our waterways. The Museum's Ichthyology collection houses over 30 confiscated piranha, and at least one that was caught in the "wild." According to the collections record, this Red Piranha (see below) was netted from "Simi Valley Public Golf Course, Lake B." It was collected on April 28, 1988 and measured 275mm (almost 10 1/2 inches)! Most interestingly the...