This is the first installment of what will hopefully become a monthly or at least seasonal short newsletter attached to the Skunk Corner website. Here I will note the latest updates on good local wildlife viewing opportunities I know of, as well as seasonal tips for coexisting with wildlife.
For Those Who Give a Hoot About Owls...
Video above: A pair of great horned owls calling to each other at Ellwood recently.
If you're looking for Great Horned Owls to observe this season, you're in luck! They have been heard hooting at night in various neighborhoods, and also seen in local open spaces and parks. La Mesa Park, Ellwood, and the Douglas Family Preserve have all been good places to observe them lately. Stand outside a eucalyptus grove in one of these parks (or anywhere that tall trees border a grassy open area) around sunset with a good flashlight and wait for them to come out and start hunting for prey. Oftentimes you will hear their presence before you see them. Listen for them calling "who-who" to each other, or even the sound of other birds, such as jays, getting agitated because an owl is around. If you imitate the owls' calls with your voice or with a wooden instrument called an owl hooter, they may answer back!
Feasting on Acorns
The acorn harvest is in full swing, and that means good wildlife viewing opportunities in many of our local parks. Acorn woodpeckers, scrub jays, and fox squirrels are among the critters you will see enjoying the feast in an oak woodland. Stow House in Goleta, which is surrounded by oak trees and other greenery, is one ideal place to go (there seem to be woodpeckers everywhere you look!) but with many local parks and backyards having oak trees, you don't need to go very far.
Monarchs are Back at Ellwood!
Every year, monarch butterflies winter at Ellwood from approximately November through February as part of their migration, and they're back! They roost in clusters in the eucalyptus trees in the Ellwood Main grove, which is most easily accessed by a plank bridge between Coronado Dr. and Santa Barbara Shores Dr. For best viewing, go in the early morning as the sunlight is starting to shine into the grove, and you will see the butterflies leave their clusters en masse like bees coming out of a beehive.
Keep Wildlife Wild This Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving turkey is as delicious to raccoons as it is to us, so if you're cooking one this holiday season, make sure you don't let the scraps become an attractant. If possible, freeze all giblets, bones, and other parts you are discarding until trash day, and put them in your outside trash that morning in a sealed bag. Additionally, it's a good idea year round to:
Secure your trashcan to a pole or other sturdy object to prevent it from being tipped over by a raccoon.
Secure the lid with a carabiner, chain, or heavy weight at night.
Avoid keeping trashcans near heavy greenery or other areas frequented by nocturnal animals.
Double bag anything you discard that may be especially attractive to animals, and if possible, wait to put it out until trash day.
iNaturalist Comes to The Skunk Corner
iNaturalist, run by the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society, is a platform for sharing and identifying observations of organisms and contributing those observations as data for biodiversity research. Anyone, regardless of expertise, can use iNaturalist to post what they're seeing in their neighborhood or anywhere else they go (even if they don't know the name of the organism), or help identify other people's sightings. It is available as both an app and a desktop site.
I, the website author, have started an iNaturalist account (account name: theskunkcorner) that I am using to both upload my own sightings and also create pages that aggregate everyone's sightings for specific parks and open spaces. From each park/open space page on the website, you will be able to click on a link to an iNaturalist page that lists all the animals, plants, and other organisms that people have seen at that location, so you have an idea of what to look for. The screenshot above shows my Lake Los Carneros page, where you can see a map of all the observations people have made there, as well as a list of the most recent observations. From the main iNaturalist website, you can also search for particular species within an area (e.g. if you want to know where to find a great horned owl in Santa Barbara).