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The Towhee Conspiracy

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

Usually I write about dogs, but this post is strictly for the birds.

One of my objectives on my recent Lake Arrowhead vacation was to get a better photograph of a spotted towhee that I saw last year.

On the first day of vacation I heard towhees several times, making their somewhat mechanical sounding very high-speed click click click sound. They sound almost like a cicada.

But I was never able to spot one of them. It seemed like they were always at a distance and buried in the bowels of an oak tree or on the other side of a tree.

This went on for several days. On the fourth day of my vacation, Barbara and I went for a long walk, and we heard the towhees calling, but they were always “over there” somewhere. I was never able to get a closer than about seventy five yards to one of them. I have a powerful telephoto lens for my cameral, but that’s still not exactly a clean shot

Several times when I spotted the towhees, I tried to get a little closer, only to have the birds fly away. They are obviously very skittish and not comfortable around people.

About a week into my vacation I started to get the idea that all of the towhees on the mountain were conspiring to avoid me. It seemed like, no matter what I did to get closer to one, they outsmarted me. Several times I thought I was in good camera range only to have the birds fly away just as I started to focus.

So now I’m starting to perseverate on these little guys. This is getting serious. It seems like they are really ganging up on me and avoiding me at all costs.

One evening, one of the towhees let his guard down a little and gave me a pretty clean shot. It was clean, but the bird was about one hundred yards away, so the image did not enlarge very well. I thought “well this is good enough for now, but I need a better shot.”

Several mornings later, I thought I finally had my perfect shot. I was practicing golf in a net, and all of a sudden I realized that one of the towhees was buzzing away in the top of an Oak tree about thirty yards away.

Obsessed as I had become with getting a picture of this little guy, I had brought my big camera and lens so I only had to walk a few feet, and I had a fairly open shot of the bird. He (the males have the fancy colors) was about forty feet high on a dead branch — with no obstructions. A very nice shot.

Unfortunately, the bird was facing away from me. I did get a couple of marginally acceptable shots, but I remained convinced that the towhee community was conspiring against me and alerting the the others anytime I got within fifty yards of one of them

So now I’ve got about a week left to get a good image of the towhee, and I’m becoming more and more convinced that he and his friends are conspiring against me. I say “he” because one of the birds lives in a wooded transition area adjacent to my property. I hear him every morning and every evening.

A few more days go by and I’m hearing the little guys everywhere. Buzz, buzz, buzz. But I never got a good shot. I walked out onto the street a couple of times because I heard a towhee near the street, but every time I got within about seventy yards the bird would fly to another tree.

On the very last day of my vacation, I had to pack up my golf practice net and carry it up to the house for storage. I had my large camera and lens with me, just in case, and as I approached the house I heard a “click-click” sound. Not the usual “buzz” — just a few clicks. It occurred to me that that the usual buzzing sound is made up of high-speed dozens of these “clicks,” and, sure enough, I looked up, and about forty feet away sat my spotted towhee friend — in wonderful, soft morning sunlight and looking right at me.

You only have a few seconds in these situations, so I quickly grabbed my camera, focused on the bird, and fired off half a dozen shots (using the “automatic shutter” feature). After about six shots, the towhee flew away.

Now the conspiracy thickens. When I looked at the images I realized that I had set my camera for multiple focal points which is great for in-flight photos — like a cooper’s hawk flying overhead. But in this case the camera focused on everything except the towhee, so the image was very fuzzy.

Now, in case there was any doubt, I am totally convinced that the towhee conspiracy is in full motion. But it gets better — or worse.

When I returned to Los Angeles, I went to the golf club for some practice, and I was totally surrounded by the towhee “buzzing” sound. This time, it wasn’t coming from a spotted towhee; it was coming from a biological relative — the black phoebe, which is abundant around my home. In fact, every year, several of them nest under the eaves of my house.

All of a sudden, their sound took on new meaning. So now it’s not just the spotted towhee who is out to get me, it’s also his buddies, the the black phoebes, who are slowly — or maybe not so slowly — driving me crazy. Paranoia to the max.

Finally, I decided the photograph I got last year wasn’t really all that bad.

As a post-log, I was back at lake arrowhead three weeks later, and I realized that I was not hearing the spotted towhees at all. After a little research on their migration patterns, I discovered that they visit the mountain elevations only in the spring and early summer. Then they return to the lower elevations and coastal California.

Maybe next year.

Learn About Animal Communication Tomorrow Night on the “My Doggie Says…” Talk Show

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

This Wednesday, on the “My Doggie Says…” show on KFNX 1100, in Phoenix: Janet Roper, animal communicator. Listen to live streaming at, at 8:00 pm California Time. To call the show: dial (602) 277-kfnx, or (866) 536-1100.

Call in and receive a free copy of the “Dog Appreciation Lessons” CD.

Everything You Need to Know About Rescuing a Dog

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

Tune in tonight to the “My Doggie Says…” Radio Talk Show to hear Barbara Davis, of the Golden Retriever Club of Greater Los Angeles Rescue,” and Heather Murphy, of the “Arizona Golden Retriever Connection, answer your questions about rescuing a dog. Listen Live at or on-air at KFNX-1100, Phoenix. To join the conversation, call (602) 277-KFNX or, toll free, 1-866-536-1100.

Dr. Aubrey Fine, "The Living Dr. Doolittle," discusses animal assisted therapy on the "My Doggie Says…" Show

Monday, June 21st, 2010

Dr. Aubrey Fine is a native of Montreal, Canada. He received his graduate degree from University of Cincinnati in 1982. Dr. Fine opened his practice in Claremont in 1987. His practice specializes in treating children with ADHD, learning disabilities, developmental disorders and parent child relations.

Dr. Fine has also been an active faculty member at California State Polytechnic University since Fall of 1981. His leadership among faculty and teaching excellence earned him the prestigious Wang Award in 2001, given to a distinguished professor within the California State University system, in this instance for exceptional commitment, dedication, and exemplary contributions within the areas of education and applied sciences. He was also awarded the Educator of the Year in 1990, from the Learning Disability Association of CA. He just was awarded the 2006 CA Poly Faculty Award for Community Engagement. He is the author of several books including the Therapist’s Guide to Learning and Attention Disorders as well as the Handbook on Animal Assisted Therapy.

Listen to how Aubrey uses animals in his human therapy programs.

My Doggie Says… Radio Talk Show

Thursday, June 10th, 2010

Host Fred Haney talks about dog bonding, dog communication, and dog relationships. Hear sound clips from the “Dog Tracks CD: Songs by Dogs” and the “Dog Appreciation Lessons” CD.

Tonight on the "My Doggie Says…" Radio Talk Show: Kelly Moyer, of "Tails of Hope Animal Rescue and Adoption"

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

Win a free copy of the “Dog Appreciation Lessons” CD; call the show tonight (8:00 PM to 9:00 PM Mountain Standard Time) with a question for Kelly Moyer. (602) 277-KFNX or (866) 536-1100 (toll free). The show is broadcast live in Phoenix and streamed live on KFNX 1100. Learn more about “Tails of Hope Animal Rescue and Adoption” here.

Callie Visits with the Golden Retriever Club of Greater Los Angeles — at Pet Expo OC

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

Callie had a terrific time visiting with her Golden Retriever friends and lots of people visitors at Pet Expo OC last weekend. She met lots of wonderful people — and dogs — and she was glad to support the efforts of the Golden Retriever Club of Greater Los Angeles.

Get a Free Copy of the "Dog Appreciation Lessons" CD

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

Get a free copy of the “Dog Appreciation Lessons” CD. Call in to the “My Doggie Says…” radio talk show tonight at 8:00 PM Mountain Standard Time (8:00 PM Pacific Daylight Time) and participate in the discussion about dog-bonding. Listen live on KFNX-1100 in Phoenix, or listen to the streaming audio at In Phoenix, call (602) 277-KFNX. Outside of Phoenix, call toll-free: (866) 536- 1100.

The Healing Power of Dogs: Sharon Sakson, Author, on the "My Doggie Says…" Radio Talk Show

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

Listen to Sharon Sakson, author of “Paws & Effect: The Healing Power of Dogs,” on the “My Doggie Says…” radio talk show. Sharon shares many examples of the amazing healing power of dogs.

When Sharon was on the show, she was in Phoenix to judge the whippets on the Fiesta Cluster All-Breed Dog Show and Agility Trial. Click here for more information about Sharon.

Get Answers to Your Dog Training Questions Tonight on the "My Doggie Says…" Radio Talk Show

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

Our guest, tonight on the “My Doggie Says…” show, will be Pam Johnson, founder of “Pam’s Dog Academy” and co-founder of San Diego Freestylers. The show is broadcast — and streamed — live at 8:00 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time, which is also 8:00 p.m. Phoenix time. Streaming is available at If you have a question for Pam, call, in Phoenix: 602-277-KFNX; outside the Phoenix Area: 1-866-536-1100. Callers who join the program will receive a free copy of the “Dog Appreciation Lessons” CD.