Monday, October 25, 2010

A Squirrel Named Scooter

Summer went by so quickly, and kept me so busy. This poor blog has sat here neglected and unloved, so it's time to post a little something.

May marked the appearance of more baby round-tails than I ever expected. Four litters in close proximity to one another. There were two litters of four, and two of nine. A litter of nine is rare, but not uncommon following the heavy rains we had during the winter. More vegetation/food supply results in more babies. Sadly, large litters have much higher mortality rates. The babies are smaller, and it's much harder for mom to keep track of so many little ones scurrying about. One mom, in particular, lost three in the first few days. The first was seen with a broken back, probably attacked a rival adult female guarding her territory (and her own young). The little one crawled into the family burrow and never came back out. A second baby simply disappeared, probably taken by a predator.

A few days later, I saw a third baby with a broken back, but this one was determined to survive. He dragged himself by his two front legs, and struggled to get in and out of his burrow. It was heartbreaking to watch. So, rather than leaving him to die a miserable death, I made the decision to bring him inside. He wasn't likely to survive either way, but I couldn't bear to see him pecked to death by birds, rats, ants . . . all the things that prey on an injured baby rodent.

I named my new friend Scooter, and he stayed with me for two months. At first I fed him formula, then weaned him on a mix of native vegetation and squirrel food sent to me by a friendly rehabber. He loved to snuggle in the fur pelts and torn T-shirts that that I gave him, and play in the dirt "digging box" that I made. He seemed unaware of his disability, climbing and playing like any other squirrel.

Scooter grew to his full adult size before he passed away. One morning he was weak and lethargic, and I knew he was ready to go. He died that night, slipping away peacefully in his sleep, on his fur bed, on my lap. A little piece of my heart went with him that night. Squirrels have a way of wrapping themselves around your heart and never letting go. I'll always treasure the time we had together.

My vet believes that Scooter died from a blood clot, probably caused by his initial injury, that dislodged and went to his lungs. It was inevitable. He didn’t suffer, but I cried for weeks, and cry still, whenever I think of him.

Rest in peace little Scooter. I hope you are running and playing with your two brothers on the other side of the bridge.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


Spring has sprung, and the round-tailed ground squirrels have emerged from hibernation, and are preparing for their spring litters. Thanks to a large litter born on my property last year, there is now a good sized population, and it's been quite interesting to watch their antics.

In the first few weeks, the males were aggressively engaged in turf wars, pursuing the females and chasing off their competition. The battle-scarred males (below) have now dispersed, and are seen only on occasion foraging for food. If they come too close to the females, they will be be run off immediately.

For the females, the work has just begun. As far as I can tell, there are four of them who are preparing for young. They are definitely siblings, probably the babies who were born here last year. They are living in a sort of colony, each with her own burrow, but spaced less than ten feet apart from one another. This is a strong indicator that they are related. One has re-excavated the natal burrow from last year (which I had filled in, along with many of the other holes, during the winter). Once the burrows were dug, the nest building began. Leaves and feathers are a favorite item, though they'll drop those items quickly if a nice soft Kleenex is offered to them.

Fast forward two weeks, and the nest building is complete. The little ladies are now quite visibly pregnant, and are spending their days basking, foraging, and waiting for mother nature to call (which by the looks of things, should be any minute now).

The litter size of a round-tailed ground squirrel depends on the amount of winter rainfall and resulting food supply. With this winter being unseasonably wet, I'm expecting to see some large litters. So in a few months, when the little fellas emerge from the dens, there will be . . . a LOT of them. My property will look like Swiss cheese through most of the summer, but no complaints. When I bought this house, the previous owner had removed most of the native vegetation, and there was little wildlife here. Thanks to some conservation efforts, the animals are returning. It's a joy to see nature thriving once again.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

"That painting looks just like a photograph"

The feedback says "Beautiful. Looks just like a photograph." That's because it IS a photograph.

This fraud technique, often referred to as "water painting" or "computer art," isn't new to eBay, but lately it's becoming far too commonplace. More and more of this fraudulent art is popping up as scam artists have discovered a way to literally print money. This fraud has become a particular problem in the area of ACEOs, small format art that can be produced and shipped inexpensively.

So how is it done? There are several ways of digitally altering a photograph using software like Adobe Photoshop, but the most prevalent technique seems to be the watering down of inkjet prints. The "artist" downloads a photo from the Internet, prints it on watercolor paper, wets it down, and smears the printer ink around with a brush. Often, a few details (like whiskers on an animal) are added with some white acrylic paint so that there are visible brush strokes. Colored pencils are also used in the same manner. An acrylic medium or varnish will also leave brush strokes and help to further the illusion of a painting. The video below beautifully illustrates how the process is done.

To the trained eye, the fraud is obvious, but sadly, many art collectors do not recognize that their purchase is not an original painting, and believe that the "artist" has mastered photo realism. There are several sellers on eBay right now who are PowerSellers, with Top Rated Seller badges being displayed on their auction pages. This is only making the situation worse. Why would a buyer question the item when eBay says the seller is "Top Rated?" (The flaws with eBay's Top Rated Seller badge is a rant unto itself, so I'll leave it at that for now).

Red Flags:

- This type of art has a very distinct look to it. It may be photo-realistic, but is washed out, grainy, blurred, and devoid of detail. Colors are watery and drab, lacking the color pigment that would be seen with actual watercolor paint.

- The seller is listing in volume, perhaps 10-15 items a day. A true watercolor ACEO would take hours, if not days to complete. A fraudulent piece of art can be created in less than 10 minutes.

- Images may be stretched or distorted. This happens when the fraudster manipulates the photo in order to make it fit into ACEO size.

- The artist has no bio, and displays no work-in-progress photos. If you DO see WIP photos, they are usually not representative of the style of art that is actually being sold (in other words, you can also steal and/or manipulate WIP photos).

Think you bought a fake?

If you believe you have purchased a fake, scan it at high resolution or view it under magnification. If the work was generated from a computer printer, you will see a dot pattern, usually in magenta. The image to the right is a 1200 dpi scan representing a small section of a fraudulent watercolor. The magenta dots are clearly visible.

As they say, a picture speaks a thousand words. This video speaks volumes. Enjoy (or not).

Thursday, July 2, 2009


You may remember this little gal from a previous entry, back in May. It's hard to believe, but in only one month's time, she is now a full-grown adult, living on her own, and doing what squirrels do during the summer months - fatten up for the winter months.

I believe that she's a female because she has remained in the natal burrow with one other from the litter. This is normal behavior for female roundtails. The males have already moved on to new burrows of their own.

I'm amazed at how quickly small animals grow, especially rodents. She's nearly doubled in size, eating a diet that is almost exclusively vegetarian. They eat leaves and twigs, seed pods that drop from the native trees, cactus fruit, and the occasional carrot from the nice lady with the camera. I've read that they also supplement their diet with protein from insects, primarily termites. Thank you!

Anyway, just posting this so all can see the remarkable transformation that took place in only one month. Had I not been monitoring this litter of roundtails, I would never have recognized her (though her extreme willingness to pose for my camera may have been a clue).

Wednesday, July 1, 2009


Okay, technically it's "scat," but I love saying the word poop. I feel compelled to post this picture, so as not to be outdone by fellow artist and bio-nerd Ann Ranlett.

Last night it rained pretty hard, the first desert monsoon of the season. This morning I found what was left of this coyote scat - all fur and bone fragments. I pulled it apart a bit to check out the bone fragments, and found a dime-sized jaw bone with teeth intact (upper left of photo). You probably have to be a major nature lover to appreciate this, but I thought it was pretty cool. Whatever this coyote ate, it was eaten whole. I'm thinking small rodent, probably something nocturnal, like a mouse or baby pack rat.

I regret to inform you that this photo will not be available for sale anytime soon, nor will it be appearing on any greeting cards or refrigerator magnets (hmmmm . . . refrigerator magnets). If any of my fellow artists would like to use it as a reference photo, you have my permission. You're welcome. ;)

Monday, June 8, 2009


George Carlin did a fabulous routine about the importance of “stuff.” We all have “stuff,” and we store the stuff in plastic containers to keep our stuff clean and organized. When we have too much stuff, we move it to a storage facility to make room for MORE stuff. That’s why we need houses. “Your house is just a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get MORE stuff.”

Guilty as charged.

You don’t realize just how much stuff you’ve accumulated until you reach a certain age, and start questioning why you’ve had have all those Rubbermaid containers stacked up in the closet for, oh, a few decades or so.

If the economy cooperates, we’ll be moving back to L.A. soon. Every time I move, all this stuff moves with me, and goes from one closet to another. Not this time. I’m getting rid of all this stuff . . . plush toys, trading cards, old magazines, hundreds of CDs and DVDs that I listened to only once . . . it goes on and on. All the stuff is going. Okay, all the stuff EXCEPT my ACEOs and my South Park collectibles. Some things are sacred.

This is really a long-winded excuse explanation as to why I’ve been concentrating on my photography in recent months, and haven’t painted a thing. Somewhere beneath all the wreckage is my art studio. I’ll find it eventually. I hope. Then I can paint some stuff.

Five minutes of non-stop laughs: George Carlin on "stuff."

Saturday, June 6, 2009


I just couldn't stop laughing after seeing this poor momma squirrel, who apparently has some VERY hungry babies in the den.

She's going to make a great greeting card. "Motherhood looks good on you. Really, it does." ;)