Adventures in Ethics and Science

Dr. Free-Ride: Hey, can you guys draw me a picture with some of the wildlife you’ve seen in the last week?

Elder offspring: Sure!

Younger offspring: But … I haven’t seen any wildlife in the last week.

Dr. Free-Ride: What are you talking about? We see wildlife every day when we walk to school.

Elder offspring: Yeah, the squirrels and the different kinds of birds and the snails.

Younger offspring: That counts as wildlife? OK, I can make you a picture.

i-6ba549ae1ffff6ce40f3bcd9ab29311d-PillbugWeb.jpgAs mentioned last week, the sprogs and I tried to undertake some noticing-of-wildlife as part of the First Annual Blogger Bioblitz. As a transplant from the East Coast to the San Francisco Bay Area, I figured we’d have an easy time of it, given that the weather here is already pretty conducive to being outside and that our proximity to both the bay and a major creek means there’s lots of nature close to home (since between work, school, soccer practices, homework, and the like, we turn out to be pretty busy).

What I didn’t count on (but discovered from the conversation transcribed above) is that the constant presence of wildlife in your daily life can render it invisible. Wildlife where? You’re soaking in it!

Luckily, the sprogs are quick on their feet. When asked to re-examine their week, they were able to help me compile the list of critters encountered in our regular territory. (We’ve not included the Linnaean binomials — feel free to share if you know them!)

Canada geese a-plenty. They like the field at the elementary school. Elder offspring suspects that they are “on dates” when we see them grazing in pairs (“because it might be goose mating season”).
Seagulls. (If they mostly frequent the bay, are they more properly baygulls?)
Sparrows (including one that got into the elementary school lunchroom).
These little birds with yellowish heads that are always gone by the time I find my camera.
Turkey vultures (flying overhead).
Hawks (flying overhead).
A pelican (flying overhead, and not something we see every day).


We didn’t actually observe any ultraviolet sparrows. I suspect that requires special equipment.

Bugs and other crawly things:


Numerous ladybugs. (Yay ladybugs! Bring your friends! Our garden always has room for more ladybugs.)
Spiders of various sizes and colors. (At least one might have been a Golden Garden spider, but it was on its way someplace and seemed to be in a hurry.)
Pillbugs (including the unfortunate pillbug pictured above, caught in a spider’s web).
Light green larvae of some sort that were in the ground (uncovered during a weeding jag).
Little black beetles.
The vaguely diamond-shaped black bug with red spots pictured here on a rose:


Lots of slugs (from tiny baby slugs to honking big slugs).
Lots of snails, including these two snails “on a date”:


We did not observe any coddling moths, so maybe our apples won’t be too wormy this year.


Squirrels in profusion.
Also, a neighbor saw a skunk who, apparently, hadn’t gotten the memo that skunks are largely nocturnal, since it was broad daylight.
The raccoons and possums that we sometimes see at night apparently celebrated National Wildlife Week by taking the week off.


Feel free to report any interesting critters you may have encountered this week in the comments.


  1. #1 parkrrrr
    April 27, 2007

    Poppyseed baygulls are the best kind.

  2. #2 Warren
    April 27, 2007

    The only truly interesting critter I encountered this week was a medium-sized wolf spider on the wall inside. I caught it in a Pyrex dish and took it outside where it could chase after the stuff it wanted to eat.

    You have to be quick to catch one, by the way. Those little buggers are fast when they get startled.

    Eventually it’ll be the season for sun spiders and scorpions too, during which time I’ll have to keep the front door closed. The screen’s got jut enough of a gap to let their flat little bodies through, and I don’t view them with the level of tolerance I show their cousins.

    Sun spiders don’t envenomate but they’re blindingly fast, astonishingly aggressive and carry a nasty bite, and I can’t distinguish at a glance between bark scorpions and their less-deadly relatives, so they’re all off limits.

  3. #3 Jeremy Bruno
    April 27, 2007

    Wow, you guys had quite the adventure.

    I love the alternate universe Isaac Newton illustration at the end, btw.

  4. #4 abby
    April 27, 2007

    The black bug with red spots looks like a ladybug larva.

  5. #5 Natalie
    April 27, 2007

    I think the “vaguely diamond-shaped black bug with red spots pictured here on a rose” is a larval ladybug – always good to encourage the ladybugs!

  6. #6 Hairy Doctor Professor
    April 27, 2007

    When my own sprog was about four, we were having a discussion about duck coloration, and I got silly: “Well, there are white ducks and yellow ducks, and I suppose there should be red ducks and green ducks and ultraviolet ducks”.

    Her immediate response was “But, Daddy, you can’t SEE ultraviolet ducks!”

    They must be from the same universe as ultraviolet sparrows! Thanks for the howl!

  7. #7 Jongpil Yun
    April 28, 2007

    That ultraviolet sparrow one made me laugh too. Maybe some largely invisible infrared ferrets are responsible for stealing my socks and guitar picks. That would explain quite a bit actually.

  8. #8 Wendy
    April 28, 2007

    LOL! I love the ultraviolet sparrow.

    We haven’t seen one of those (my 8-year-old and I are doing the bioblitz, too), but he has spotted several faeries and sprites. Sadly, they’re always gone by the time I get my camera, too. 😀

    I’m trying to figure out your yellow-headed birds . . . goldfinches, maybe, although they’re yellow on more than the head. OH! Or they could be golden-crowned sparrows. Fairly big for sparrows, with a small gold patch on the forehead? I live in the East Bay, and I can’t think of anything else off the top of my head that’s a likely candidate. Oh, and really they’re just “gulls” – not “sea” (or bay :D) – just gulls. The ones you’re seeing are probably Western gulls, although there are a few other options around here.

    The thing I’ve noticed most this week is the variety of insects, and how clueless I am about so many of them. I, too, found those weird-looking bugs like the one on your rose and was amazed to discover they were ladybug larvae. Plus, I’ve seen some things I’ve never seen before – like a snakefly, and these tiny bees or flies with red heads. I’m sure they’ve been there all along, but I spend so much time looking at the birds and lizards that I never paid attention before. That part has been really interesting. And I, too, am missing some of the usual suspects from my list – there are a few birds that I see EVERY SINGLE DAY, except, of course, this week. And no deer or coyotes, either (none of which are daily visitors, but are usually seen at least once a week). Ah well.

    I need to get my son to do some artwork, too. That stuff is way cooler than photos. 🙂

  9. #9 potentilla
    April 28, 2007

    Hmmm, maybe you could get a bird book and have a go at some more detailed identifications than “seagulls” – here are some likely suspects.

    As I type there are several pipistrelles whizzing around outside in the dusk.

  10. #10 MJKelleher
    April 30, 2007

    The black and red bug looks like a box elder bug. I see them on my back porch every summer, in big bunches.

    My most interesting wasn’t seen, but heard: a peregrine falcon that nests on an office building across from where I work.

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