A recent phone call from Jeanne Dobrin brought out a short discussion about birds, specifically, a couple of pieces I wrote several years ago for another online publication. My residence in West Hollywood for the past 45 years has allowed me to see and record some of the many species with which we share space. Those of us who have a garden or some green areas will often see these creatures, but, I think, not many people realize the variety and impact they have on our city
Though I have seen only one coyote, which, I believe is actually from Beverly Hills, they do exist nearby, very successful animal that will eat just about anything it can chew. Not seen for years, two opossums crawled along the telephone lines to visit a neighbor’s avocado tree. These slow-moving, prehistoric marsupials were likely killed by cars. A neighboring grapefruit tree supplies reason for tree rats to come by. These creatures, actually sort of attractive, carry fleas that can be infected with plague. Traps are available from the county. We did have a visiting raccoon for a while, but he also probably had a fatal run-in with an auto.
By far, the most abundant visitors are birds. For a long time I have been feeding wild birds. Birdsong and the observation of these little critters, which have so much life packed into their small frames, have been a lifelong delight. However, maintaining a feeding station can get messy and the outfall attracts red squirrels and tiny field mice, rodents that can cause damage to plants and trees. Much of my meager allowance goes for bird seed. But, if you are a bird lover, I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s a small price to pay. Some years back, the Los Angeles County chapter of the National Audubon Society used to grace Plummer Park with a sanctuary and a book store. The reason for the sanctuary was, as is Audubon’s stated mission, to provide a place for the enjoyment and protection of avian wildlife. Here’s a partial list of the birds I have seen in my yard or nearby over the past 45 years:
Barn owl (on utility pole)
Red-tailed hawk (soaring high)
Rock dove (classic pigeon)
Robin (not since 1980)
Wilsons warbler (a yellow flash)
Parrot visitors from Mexico
During the short Summer nights, bats and swallows, voracious consumers of insects, can be spotted overhead. During the warm days, often following rain, our yards are filled with color of western fritillaries, western swallowtail, cabbage and sulphur butterflies, skippers and blue hair-streak all busily seeking nectar from flowers or a mate to fulfill the most urgent need of their short lives.
Our yards and gardens also harbor species of which we must be aware, such as female black widows and the brown recluse spiders. Preying mantis and katydids may also thrive in your garden, and they eat spiders – but, some spiders eat pesky bugs. Nature balances out.
My favorite spiders are several species of jumping spiders, small critters with fine eyesight who move crabways or leap great distances to avoid a probing finger. They are often found on flat surfaces near outdoor lights. Speaking of outdoor lights, in season many species of moths, including the impressive hawk or sphinx moth with wingspans up to four inches, flit about any outdoor light source. These large moths are the reproductive cycle of the notorious tomato hornworm, which happily devours many vegetable plants.
One cannot overlook our favorite non-human residents in WeHo. They would be the dogs and cats, birds, fish and reptiles for which we have made space in our homes. The joy and comfort of having an animal that can reciprocate affection and provide fun activity is beyond accounting. The fact that we outlive them gives them great power over our daily lives as we make sure of their safety and ease.
Other creatures have captured people’s affection and delight, but it is their mere presence which captivates, though they do not reciprocate in a recognizable fashion the care we exert for them. (It is even reputed that the infamous Roman emperor Caligula kept -for a very short time – a pet fly. The tale also notes that without his knowledge, it was secretly replaced daily by his servants.) It seems that humans may care more for other species than for their own, if one can judge by past and present events. The city has recognized the need, after much lobbying by residents, for the new Library Park to contain two off-leash dog runs. Cats will have no such amenities, but should be assured that they will continue to be spoiled, cuddled and entertained at home.
Our urban jungle is far more inclusive and crowded than most people realize. Color, sound, movement all abound in the city from the non-human residents. Noticing what else lives with us gives us an opportunity to pause, reflect upon how interconnected we are with the world beyond our usual daily chores.