Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Solstice Ouzel

For our winter solstice activity, we decided on yet another long birdwatching walk (surprise!) We got in a good four hours tramp, the latter half while being rained upon. Nevertheless, since we had adequately prepared with rainslickers, hats and gloves, we carried on. In honor of the new season, we were blessed with extra good fortune in our birdwatching, and spent some time watching a water ouzel (current "official" name American Dipper) bobbing, swimming and catching morsels at the bottom of the river which he gobbled up with relish. The ouzels seem to show up around this time of year, having migrated not north to south but from higher elevation to lower. Although as I am sure is quite obvious, we love birds, there are certain kinds that bring an extra spring to our steps and the ouzel is one of them. There doesn't seem to be a gloomy bone in their little bodies. John Muir wrote a wonderful essay about ouzels, and lo and behold, it can be found here, if you have a few spare minutes, it's worth the time reading.

We've gotten some semi-decent rains the last weeks and the river is starting to fill in a bit. We ended up having to cross the river twice, and not at the bridge as originally intended because we realized that we'd never make it there and home without getting completely drenched. So we rockhopped across at a shallow spot - Dino hopped, I ended up splashing because I missed. But the water didn't go up over my boots so it wasn't too horrible squishy walking home.

Here is a pretty spot on the Chowchilla near where we often see ducks - mallards or wood ducks or both. We saw the mallards further down river, on the big bend just past the ouzel, a flock of 50 or more.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Thanksgiving Bear (Only a Little Delayed)

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, on one of my walks, I hadn't gone more than a quarter mile from, when I saw these tracks in the road. Bear! Oooh, excitement! I scurried back to the house for my camera and also hubby so he could see them too.

The tracks were visible for a good way down the road, and then it looked like the bear headed down the hill toward the river.

The only bears in California are black bears, as the last grizzly was killed nearly a century ago. Bear hunting season ends on December 28 this year, or earlier if it's determined that 1700 bears have been killed. I wasn't going to post about this until after the season's ended because we are in favor of bears and there are a few of our neighbors that might take it into their heads to get a bearskin rug. Since I ran into one of said neighbors yesterday on my walk and they'd also seen the tracks, I guess it doesn't matter now. I did some researching and found out that since 1980, the California Department of Fish and Game has recorded only 12 bear attack incidents, and in fact they put "bear attack" in quotation marks on their web site. One of the descriptions of the attacks reads: "Mono County, April 1996 – A man received a bite on the buttocks from a young bear. Further details are not known." I wonder if alcohol was involved in this one, ha ha.

We do make doubly sure that our garage door is closed at night, as that is where the bird seed is kept and we don't want to encourage mooching.

We got a little rain Friday night, but didn't get any additional yesterday in spite of wishful thinking. What we have gotten has done wonders for the grass and the fungi though. We're seeing what probably amounts to dozens of different species of mushrooms from tiny round white ones to humongous things a foot across. There are some that are about a half inch long at most sticking up out of the crack of a split log, looking ver much like little orange fingers - very weird.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Dryad Ranch for Thanksgiving

We had a lovely Thanksgiving day and weekend at Dryad Ranch (when is it NOT lovely to be there?) We continued with the task of improving the fire perimeter around the ranch house. We had a rushed massacre of some manzanitas this summer when the fires were so bad, but further evaluation of our homestead area and additional research of recommendations made us come to the conclusion that we had to do more. So the Dinosaur got out the chain saws and started the task of taking down some small oaks in the garden area as well as most of the remaining manzanitas within the perimeter area. We do feel very bad about cutting down living trees and of course we will be finding ways to propitiate the spirits of the oaks that get cut - this IS Dryad Ranch after all and one must not offend.

The Friday after Thanksgiving we worked off our meal by moving the oak logs toward the wood shed and hoo boy, wet green oak can be heavy, as I'm sure some of our neighbors can attest! We also moved some winches and other metal thingies - that's a technical term - to a new resting area close to our storage containers so Dino could even out the slope toward the house with the Kubota. Oak and heavy metal parts - great weightlifting workout!

Dino did have a close encounter with vermin as he prepared the ground for the thingies. He wanted to put down some roofing paper and as he picked up the roll, a black widow fell onto his shirt. After he gently and carefully placed her in a safe place (snort!), he picked up the roll again and out scurried a rat! Since I didn't see any rat carcasses around, I'm assuming he or she made it to safety.

Sunday was an absolutely gorgeous day, with temps allowing short sleeved T shirts, one of the occasional perks of the California fall. As we were sadly leaving just after sunset, we were awed with the beauty of the crescent moon, Jupiter and Venus in conjunction in a crystal clear sky. The Milky Way was clearly visible along with so many other stars that Dino was wistful about the good old days of observing the heavens without so much light pollution.

Monday, November 24, 2008

78 and Still Counting

New species movin' in - we counted our 78th this past weekend, through grueling toil up hill and down dale. Actually, we just looked out the kitchen window and spied some Steller's Jays moving into the spring area below the ranch house. These jays aren't exactly strangers to California, but we hadn't seen them around here before, so hot diggity dog!

We'll have to see if they become permanent residents or not, because that spring was already claimed by some scrub jays, so we were listening to an amazing amount of jay-talk over the weekend. An interesting tidbit - these jays imitate the calls of hawks, particularly red-tails, so that red-tail I thought I heard yesterday upon waking may have been a jay. Alternately, it could have been a red-tail because one of those was observed on top of the big pine above said spring. Don't you just love a mystery?

Photo: US Fish and Wildlife

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Tromping Around the Fall Landscape

We'll be headed to Dryad Ranch tomorrow for more fun but thought I should catch up from the last couple of weeks first. With the last couple of rains, we are finally starting to see some green peeking up through the old tar weed stalks and golden brown dead stuff. And the river is up enough that on our last walk, we had to do some rockhopping to get across. I think with the next rain we won't be able to even do that and we'll have to be content with staying on our side of the river or walking all the way down to the bridge to cross. That's not a complaint by the way, we are happy for it - nice to see and hear water in the river again.

On the slope just below the ranch house, Dino noticed this fungus. At some point, we'll have to look it up because he couldn't remember the name of it. It was a good foot across and sort of oozy. I took some closeups and ended up deleting them because of the ugh factor.

There was a huge gathering of blackbirds at the old schoolhouse on the other side of the river - at least a hundred or more of Brewer's and red-winged blackbirds along with starlings. They were making an amazing amount of noise so that we heard them long before we saw them.

We noticed that an installation of beehives had been placed on one of our neighbor's property across the river. I guess it's a seasonal thing and the bees needs a nice place to spend the winter before they are trucked off to their spring and summer jobs pollinating stuff. These bees evidently "belong" to the Allen Bee Company. Quite the buzzing noise in this vicinity.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Side Trip Home from Fresno

We decided to take the back roads on our return to the Bay Area from Fresno where we attended Adeline's memorial. Our original thought was just to head straight back to the Bay Area and then to do boring stuff like grocery shopping and cooking and all that went straight out the window. But then Dino has never been one for getting on the freeway to go somewhere if we have an extra couple of hours.

We headed west out of Fresno on a little two-laner, and drove through prototypical California farmland; these miles were filled with raisin grapes, already harvested and the vines looking pretty shabby for the winter, interspersed with acres of almond trees.

We spied a promising pond on the side of the road and stopped to see what we could see. A bird-filled goldmine! Great blue heron, great egret, snowy egret, and will wonders never cease, a black-crowned night heron! Neither one of us had seen one before, so this was exciting.

From there, we got on the freeway for about two miles, then took another detour through an area known for wetlands. These are wetlands that have been there for millenia, I guess, but of course are highly manipulated now to accomodate agriculture. Nevertheless, they remain a haven to wildlife, and especially birds. We spent a couple of hours driving very slowly down a gravel road looking for spyholes through the reeds and brush on the side of the road for open areas of water. We saw lots of birds of prey, of course; red-tailed hawks which are the most common, but also white-tailed kites and northern harriers (aka marsh hawks). I thought I saw an osprey but wasn't able to spend enough time watching to confirm. Also, a loggerhead shrike which aren't so common anymore. Plus, we saw gobs of the usuals: house finches, white-crowned and house sparrows, three different kinds of blackbirds, coots, mallards and well, Dino's got the whole list.

We ended up popping out around Santa Nella, so went to Andersen's for some delicious pea soup. To cap off the wonderful side trip we were treated with the most glorious sunset ever.

Another shot of California farmland.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Remembering a Great Lady

This past weekend, we attended the memorial gathering for Adeline Smith, the beloved aunt of the Dinosaur, who passed away in August. Because she was so much loved by so many, a large group of family and friends gathered in Fresno to bid her farewell.

Dino relayed a couple of his favorite Adeline stories:

She was still teaching at Auberry then, and early in the season would drive up to the lake in her MG and in her school clothes. Then go across the lake late Friday nights and go into the ranch. I believe she had her horse there the first year or so to ride into the ranch. She would point out birds and flowers along the trail and I wished I was interested in them then to be able to learn her full extent of the environment.For the first few years I was running the boat and store by myself until late in the season, when I’d get a helper. One of the times Adeline came down for a week or so, and this was when the store was the old bunk house, and we lived in a dirt-floored tin lean-to behind the store. One meal I had cooked up a bunch of spaghetti, and was using the faucet across the road to cool off the cooked spaghetti when the spaghetti slipped out onto the ground. Adeline’s comment: “just rinse it off, it will be fine.”

Then there was the time when I had probably hiked into the ranch for a quick meal and hot bath before returning to the boathouse, and was drying the dishes Adeline was washing. Now to set the stage, my sister and I had to wash dishes from an early age at Church and Masonic lodges dinners, and did so under the careful eye of a bunch of old biddies who were clucking and harrumphing over any minute imperfection in our technique. I remember noticing a bit of food still on the washed plate. Adeline’s advice: “just scrape it off with the dish towel.”

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Another Fall Update

We saw the first tarantula of the season Sunday. 'Tis the season for spider luv! The male tarantulas go out searching for that special gal. We haven't seen so many this year as in previous years. Here's a clicky thing that describes lots more about spiders in California.

Dino has been spending the last couple of weekends cutting and splitting wood and arduously preparing our wood shed. Praying Horse is ever so grateful for this preparation and looks forward to hours spent in front of a toasty fire.

A lovely fall morning in the foothills.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Fall Harvest Season

I haven't kept up to date very well, so this will be a bit long but hopefully I'm forgiven. Fall weather is starting to nip at us a bit, requiring an extra blanket and spurring Dino to start cutting more firewood. He's informed me that we have two year's supply put up already, so the fallen oak he worked on this last weekend puts us pretty well "ahead" of the game. My cold little tootsies thank you Dino, in advance, for some toasty warm fires!

On our walk yesterday, we headed toward the river but were distracted by these wild grapes Dino spied twined high in an oak tree. Looks like harvest time - but only for those that can fly or climb up! There were birds all in among the fruit, plucking and eating - mostly western bluebirds but we also saw a ruby-crowned kinglet in there. Dino saw a red-headed woodpecker that I missed while I was busy trying to get a good shot of the grapes. I was flat on my back with the camera on the tripod shooting straight up - fun! I was surprised when I started looking at the pictures on the computer when we got back that in amongst the grapes were also some lovely ripe acorns! Smorgasbord - something for everyone!

We are also seeing some of our old winter friends of the avian kind: we've had confirmed sightings of a good number of spotted towhees as well as yellow rumped warblers, golden crowned and white crowned sparrows. No juncos yet.

When we got to the ranch Friday night, Dino saw a male house finch huddled up in front of the garage door - good thing he saw it because he was getting ready to open it up and the poor thing would have been swept away. Anyway, he called me out to see and we decided to pick it up and put it on a better perch. When Dino went to pick it up the bird fluttered up, and landed on my arm! So I stood there stock still and just watched it for a bit (how neat!) and then started to walk over to the porch swing to see if the bird would get on top of that. But he got a little burst of energy and flew/fluttered to another part of the porch. We just left him like that, hoping that he would find a better place to rest for the night, also hoping that he wasn't badly ill, but figuring there must have been something wrong with him. No carcass in the morning.

Oct 4 Woke to the sound of rain. And it was raining Friday night coming into the ranch, the smell of the rain on the tar weed was great! It was like a totally different place. Nice, what a welcome relief.

Sep 29 We went for a nice long hike to an old garnet mine, although we took a side trip around Saddle Mountain. Let me say that Mountain is a very overblown name for the hill we went over - and we took the lowest route through the Saddle. We found the cutoff for the mine after only one wrong turn. Anyway, the mine entrance is a hole in the ground that's now filled with water and of course fenced off with barbed wire. We did root around a little bit in the tailings hoping for a sparkle of gem, but it's been well picked over.

We had our picnic lunch just below the mine near a deep pool of the river, we saw a turtle floating which of course hid itself as soon as I headed for the camera. Some day, my turtly friends! After we ate, we walked downstream for 100 yards or so through the dry riverbed - the river at this time of year is mostly underground with a few deep pools. Wow, the rocks through this part were fascinating and beautiful. We also saw some rocks that had what looked like tiny barnacles, and also some miniscule fresh water snail shells. The shell in this photo is perhaps 3 - 4 millimeters long.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Where Old Hats Go To Retire

The Dinosaur's old Stetson finally gave out, after 30+ years of faithful service shading and sheltering. Having developed an affection for the old topper, Dino wanted to appropriately and reverently memorialize it. Hence, a new work of art chez nous:

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Wood Ducks

We met up with one of our neighbors on Saturday to take a long walk around her place and enjoy some new sights. She took us to a gravesite on her property- she's tried to take rubbings from the headstones but evidently has only gotten letters, not entire names yet. It was all very interesting to hear more history of this area.

We had a nice picnic lunch by the river where there was a deep-ish pool and then Dino and I headed for a particular spot in the river where we know the ducks hang out. I was also hoping to see the turtle I scared off the week before while trying to get close enough for a picture. No turtles, but we spent a good half hour watching a large group of wood ducks swimming about. This was the closest we'd been to these ducks, which are very wary critters, but for some reason they decided not to fly off immediately as they usually do. We counted 27 of them. The males have really beautiful plumage and make the oddest sounds,not at all like what you would think of as a duck's typical quack quack. (Wood duck photo US Fish and Wildlife)

And finally, the following is so ridiculously off-topic, that I can't even dredge up any embarrassment about it. We just both were fascinated by Dolphin Rings:

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Into the Vortex

Just as fair warning again to the arachnophobes, there are spiders in this journal post. It's just that this web was so amazing and the photo of the spider herself came out well and so I'm afraid I just have to share.

Our long bird walk was, as usual, a great one. We saw 18 different species of birds, and we're starting to notice that some of our old standbys for summer don't seem to be around any more. Season's starting to change I guess, and that means we get to look forward to some of our winter favorites showing up in the next several weeks. Yay!

We took the road to the red gate to check the mailbox, which had nothing for us. When we got to the river, we stood on the bridge looking down into the pools underneath and watched the fish swimming around. There's not much water left in the river this time of year so all the fish are concentrated in these pools. We haven't been able to identify the exact species of these, but they are some kind of large minnow - the bigger ones can get up to about 18 inches or so.

We crossed the river and continued on the road, following the path of the river headed upstream, stopping to watch for ducks and hoping to catch a glimpse of the great blue heron that we see from time to time. No luck on the heron, but we did scare up 24 mallards and a lone wood duck. (We think, we do need to hone our skills at identifying ducks in flight.) We also saw two separate coyotes; the second one shot us a dirty look as she took off running. I guess we woke her up from her midday snooze. We finally re-crossed the river and found our summer picnic rock which is shaded and had our lunch, for which we were by then famished.

And so, for spider talk. We see a lot of these spider webs - these particular spiders (family agelenidae, although we've given up on identifying species) build funnel shaped webs which are quite interesting, but yesterday we saw the mother of all funnel webs. The web was at least three feet across at its largest - a very impressive web. The Dinosaur took this shot of the web, which was the best of the shots we both attempted. The second shot is the spider herself, waiting in her lair. Reminds me of Shelob from Lord of the Rings, except this little old gal is only about an inch and a half across.

Here she is:

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Dinosaur Clarifies - SMUFs and Drip Tubing

The second-to-last time I discovered problems with the SMUFs (small mammals underfoot), I replaced my new soaker hose with fresh hose. That was so exhausting it wasn't until the following week that with the weather's help (two drops hit me) I was able to use the tractor to deposit dirt to bury said drip hose away from SMUFs. When I returned from a week's effort of making money from the Rechtel partnership where I'm employed, that is ripping off the tax payers, I found a dead plant, and many holes in the buried tubing. For the non-technical readers, one week is 7 days x 24 hours x 60 minutes x 60 seconds equals 604,800 seconds. I only observed 580,028 bites in the tubing, so either the SMUFs weren't fully engaged in their task, or maybe a Red-Tail or bobcat made an appearance.The next obvious step is to connect a PLC to an IR sensor and then to some miniature Claymores. That can't happen until I get the water tanks in operation to limit the damage from the ensuing conflagration.

Small bamboo whip traps might also be employed.

Now if the gentle readers are aghast, I'm a kind and benevolent soul and have no quibble with what the critters (this doesn't include pigs) do with the remaining 99.8% of our land.
(Note from Praying Horse: photo is Reggie, the famous ground squirrel, aka a SMUF. Since he lives a mile away from us, we are certain he is not the perpetrator.)

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Woman Who Talks to Pigs

The last two weeks have provided some interesting moments in terms of wildlife encounters. The Sunday before last, for fun and exercise, I hauled myself up to the top of a pretty good hill, and as I'm resting, catching my breath and starting to get out my water jug, I heard loud rustling in the underbrush about 75 feet in front of me. Cool, I think, deer, maybe I'll see them as they bound away. No bounding, more and louder rustling, from at least two places. Oh, it's cows. See a glimpse of medium-sized (not large cow-sized) critter, darkish. Starting to question why I'm there now, and then hear the grunting and squealing. "Oh goodness gracious, my heavens", I think, "wild pigs!" (Sure, believe that language.) Fear winning out, I slowly and deliberately started walking right on back down that hill, keeping an ear out and glancing behind me to make sure they weren't deciding that I was getting on their nerves.

Saturday last, I got to feeling antsy and took off on a walk. I headed back up the same hill where I saw the wild pigs last week, thinking surely they would have moved on. They weren't at the top of that hill, and since I was a little bored with my route, instead of going straight back down the hill, I thought I could do a little cross country to the next hill over and walk up that one. Meanwhile, I knew of a good spring on the way where I might see some good birds so I headed for that. As I made my approach, and got up to about 50 feet away from the spring, I'll be darned if I didn't hear that same scary squealing that I did the week before. This time I saw the pig plain as day - it didn't like me much and took off downhill through the creek bed. I waited for my heart to stop pounding and caught my breath and pondered whether I wanted to continue with my plan or again make a retreat. I have to say that I had a feeling that there wasn't just the solitary pig, but I wasn't hearing or seeing any more. So I called out, "Hey is it safe to go down there? Are there any more pigs?" Instant boilup of pigs - maybe 8 or 9, all coming up out of the spring area. One of them started running in the wrong direction, i.e. toward me, so I waved it off - shoo shoo pig! What else could I do? Anyway, that tactic worked and they all went one way and I went the other.

I always thought that wild pigs were wily and wary and it was hard to get close to them. It isn't as if my approach is subtle - I just tromp along in my boots, rustling dry leaves and snapping branches, surely you would think they could hear me. I'm sure if I had had ill intent, they would be a million miles away. And yeeps, two weeks in a row!

I did continue my walk which only had one more eventful moment when I woke up a snoozy bobcat who had been taking a siesta under an oak tree.

When I got back from that excitement I had my lunch and watched several minutes of hijinks a la acorn woodpecker on the bird bath. There were three or four of them tussling and I grabbed the camera and got this shot.

More wildlife doings: some weeks ago, the Dinosaur found an empty Western Pond Turtle shell and brought it back to the house as a point of interest. Evidently, he put some saddle soap on it in the hopes of preserving the turtle leather. Lo and behold, waiting for us this weekend: evidence of coyote tampering. Guess they don't like soap.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Tar Weed

One could say that the predominant smell of California range land this time of year is that of tar weed, notwithstanding the fact that this year it seems to be wildfire smoke instead. Nevertheless, during the summers here at Dryad Ranch we know we are home when we are greeted with the aromatic scent of the native yellow tar weed, Holocarpha virgata ssp. elongata. The variety with which we are blessed can get more than 2 feet tall and as its name suggests, is quite sticky and tarry. It sports small prickly burrs that attach to pants legs and that combine with the resin to make a mess of horses’ faces as they graze.

It is starting to bloom now, with small yellow blossoms appearing at the end of the stalk. It is very well adapted to the very dry conditions and seems to be one of the few plants that bloom this time of the year. In the photo below, pretty much everything in the meadow that has even the slightest appearance of green-ness (other than the tree leaves) is tar weed.

Some additional links to descriptions of tar weed:

And in case you were feeling left out and were really hoping your state could get some tar weed, according to this range map retrieved from the USDA web site, you ain't gonna be so lucky!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Quiet Pools and Lizards

It's been an embarrassingly long time since we've posted, yours truly had social and work obligations to attend to for the last two weekends and The Dinosaur was at Dryad Ranch alone. Although pictures were taken and activities were undertaken, alas, no posting.

Today we took our usual walk to the river, up around the Northwest Territory and thence to the Upper Spring. Our picnic lunch took place under our favorite Oregon Ash tree above a small pool of the Chowchilla, a tree the Dinosaur believes has familial ties to the bodhi tree, although neither one of us claims more than semi-enlightenment at best.

At the Upper Spring, when not meditating, er snoozing, we were rewarded by sightings of nuthatches, bushtits and this lovely couple: an oak titmouse and a sun-lazy lizard.

We walked to the tree that houses the Cooper's Hawk nest but it appears the hawks themselves have moved on. They were there two weeks ago but not since. However, the area around the nest tree is nicely coated with with a circle of splatterings that serve as a reminder of their presence. Now that we know that area is being used by these hawks, we will certainly remember to go back next year to see if the nest is reused.

Dino did some tidying up last week, removing some nasty mud wasp nests from behind the cushions of our favorite Adirondack chairs on the front porch and did a manly-man job of (how shall we say nicely) removing the threat of an inordinate number of black widows that had taken up residence in the garage. Praying Horse was extremely pleased that said chairs also received a nice coating of wood stain.

The Saurus also cleaned out the house finch nest in this lantern. We believe they raised two broods in it this year, although we are still stumped as to how they actually managed to get inside. There were actually three other nests, two under the front porch eaves and the other on a big oak tree not far away.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Luckily It Had Cooled Off by the Time We Got There

Unfortunately, yours truly was unable to attend the frolics at Dryad Ranch this past weekend, having other social obligations - talk about divided loyalties! However, one of us (The Dinosaur) was able to make the journey if for no other reason than to provide the sucrose solution as fuel for the aerial war games put on by the hummers. All the other bird feeders were appropriately filled with no hope at all that the offerings would last through the week. The Dinosaur noted that the minimum/maximum indicating thermometer had reached 46 C sometime during the week, but was relieved that he didn't have to sweat through that over the weekend, when it only got to 39.5 C. (Translating: the high was 114.8 F and it had cooled down to 103.1)

In addition, rubber drip tubing was freshly provided for the epicures among the rodent population - apparently the ground squirrels and rabbits find this stuff not only palatable but scrumptious. We have a suspicion that some other critter may be attending the banquet, specifically a pack rat, as there is evidence of nest building using iris and oak leaves. We took steps to discourage additional construction, an activity only one of us thinks may actually work.

A coyote hopped the fence into the upper garden, feasting on the berries left behind from the recent manzanita massacre. The ants were busy the next day removing the evidence said coyote had left behind. Ew, poop-eating ants!

The Cooper's Hawks and a Sharp-Shinned Hawk have obviously been busy killing and eating a goodly number of the other birds at Dryad Ranch, based on feathers left behind and what appears to be a healthy juvenile population of the hawks. We have consistently been seeing the group of Cooper's youngsters on the approach to Upper Spring.

A young alligator lizard snuck around the side of the house and took off, among a springing horde of grasshoppers, as if running for cover from the hopping crew. The little guy measured at most 5 inches, head to tail.

Monday, July 7, 2008

So Sad We Had to Leave for Now

After a perfectly glorious week here at Dryad Ranch with fabulous hikes and bird walks we had to leave to return to the Bay Area. Unfortunately, in spite of all our best intentions, we have failed once again to win the lottery or in some other manner become independently wealthy, necessitating our return to paying employment. We made it back to the Bay Area last night, after stopping off at our favorite roadside eatery - Andersen's Pea Soup in Santa Nella where we enjoyed a couple of yummy bowls of the aforementioned soup.

During the week, we did take one overnighter to the Kern River which was very enjoyable, especially the Audubon Society's Preserve. There's a full account of that trip here.

Yesterday, we took one final walk for the week to one of our favorite spots by a spring just where Lion Creek comes onto our property. It's near where the Cooper's Hawks are nesting and a great assortment of birds (and no doubt furfolks too) come down for drinks. The Nuthatch pictured in this post signed the guest book for us.

Monday, June 30, 2008

76 Trombones

OK, not actually trombones - bird species. We hit 76 today for the ranch list with the spotting of two juvenile Cooper's hawks. We also saw the nest, but did not catch a glimpse of Mom or Dad, although I'm sure we'll be going back soon to watch some more. We also spent some time at the river watching the bullfrogs and fish and also watching other winged critters such as this Flame Skipper dragonfly.

Since we will both be here all week, as we are taking some vacation time, we're hoping to get several more bird walks in before we have to head back. We've gotten all the manzanita cutting done for now - there may be more we'll end up taking out during the winter but we made a big dent in removing any that were within the defensible perimeter if we should be so unlucky as to have a fire get this close.

We've been watching twin Chinook helicopters fly over the ranch many many times a day going back and forth to the Oliver fire, which Bill tells me is 65% contained now. The air is definitely better, with even some blue sky showing through this afternoon.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Cutting Down Manzanitas

We've got quite a number of manzanitas fairly close to the house - close enough to make us want to do a little better job of clearing and making the house defensible from fires. We both are quite fond of these trees, as they have an attractive red bark and berries that the critters eat, but unfortunately, they also burn very hot and are a fire danger. So any that we find within the 100 foot required perimeter are coming out. We got out three groups today and it looks like we'll have another two or three sessions before we're done for this go round.

Here's yours truly with a big piece ready to load into the truck.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Nobody Can Prove that We Started This Fire with the Flames of Our Love

We celebrated our wedding anniversary by taking a leisurely walk to the spring where Lion Creek comes into Dryad Ranch. We spent quite a lot of time watching birds come down to drink and escape temporarily the heat of our 111 degree afternoon. Their bills were all open in the way birds do when it gets hot - evidently it helps them cool off. In addition to the usual acorn woodpecker and oak titmouse sightings, we were able to enjoy spotting another new addition to the ranch list - a wrentit! These birds have an unusual looking eye - yellow with a black center. And yes, they do look like like a wren and also like a tit! There were several juvenile ash-throated flycatchers there as well as a Bewick's wren family, making our luncheon stop ever so enjoyable. After our stop at the spring, we headed down to the river and during portion of our walk, the clouds gathered, the thunder roared and I'll be darned if rain didn't start rearranging some of the dust, sort of.

After getting back to the house and cleaning up, we headed to Mariposa for a lovely dinner, including a gooey and sinful dessert, and on the way home stopped to watch firefighters working this brushfire, which was started by a lightning strike during the aforementioned thunderstorm. We spoke to some other folks who were also watching the fire and assuming everything stays under control, no one's home seemed to be in danger. And we were reassured that it was traveling away from Dryad Ranch.

Our final interesting discovery of the day came as we were stopped to open one of the gates coming into the ranch and saw this Common Kingsnake. Good thing we didn't squish it with the car! It was a fine looking guy or gal and a good 4 feet long.

Wrentit photo in the public domain US Fish and Wildlife Service

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Last Weekend's Walk

If anyone's an arachnophobe, the spider photo will be at the end of the post.

We had one of our best bird walks ever yesterday - it was hot but not too hot for walking and we saw 26 species of birds. Our best ever one-day species count for here was 27 last fall sometime. We were able to add another new species for the ranch - a western tanager! Yes, of course, they are known to be around here, but this was the first one we've seen, so it was exciting for us. I do wish we had a better camera/spotting scope combo because this isn't the greatest photo, but it gives an idea of how pretty these birds are.

We saw our first fish of the season in the river - little inch long minnow type jobbers. Also saw many butterflies and dragonflies and the ridiculous European bullfrogs which go "Eeeeek!" and jump in the river as you walk by.

While cleaning up under the eaves, we found a little two foot rattlesnake tucked up behind a pile of something - it was making its music. We watched it for a bit and then went off to inspect a tarantula that had also scared up out of somewhere. Usually the tarantulas don't come out of their hidey holes until the fall, so this one probably wasn't too thrilled.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The wildflowers are still glorious - if you know what kind this one is, let us know as we haven't figured it out yet.

We got some lovely rain this past weekend – we measured 1.49 inches by Monday night when we left and our neighbor measured an additional .94 the next day! Normally we don’t get rain this late in the season, so this was very welcome, although may only be good for encouraging the tarweed to grow more. Lots of weeding in the upper garden got done, how well the weeds do grow! I was amazed at the huge heaps that my husband had gathered at the end of his weeding bouts.

In spite of the rain, we got out for some nature walks and spent some good time watching a wood duck family on the river. This mama had five ducklings (we think it may be the same family that used to have seven ducklings a couple of weeks ago, yikes.) A friend observed that it is just impossible to be angry or upset when watching ducklings, and that is so true. Good thing we’re vegetarians, or we might feel hungry though, poor things have so many things that want to eat them, the mama duck must be anxious at all times. This is a shot of the Chowchilla River, near our favorite spot by an Oregon Ash tree and where we have been seeing the wood ducklings. This shot is looking upstream.

We also spent some time getting distracted by a hole in an oak tree wherein, based on the amount of peeping noises emanating from it, were lodged a brood of acorn woodpecker babies. We sat on a log some distance away and saw an adult come to the tree, but we believe we were still too close for comfort so no one entered the hole. We gave up on watching and waiting because we didn’t want to disturb anybody to the point of not being able to visit their nest.

In other bird news, the ash-throated flycatchers have returned and are very busy catching things. Hopefully whatever grasshoppers may be around. We also saw a killdeer just off the road on our way out of the ranch as we were heading back to the Bay Area. This is the first killdeer we’ve seen around here, so it was exciting to be able to add a new name to our ranch list!
Killdeer photograph in the public domain US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Attending the Roundup

Each year, our neighbors up the road gather all their horses and have an all-day event where basic horsy maintenance is performed. Hooves get trimmed, teeth get checked and rasped if necessary, appropriate vaccinations are given and everyone is given a general once over. There are some wonderful pictures of the day at our neighbor Tom’s interesting blog.

Only one of us was able to attend this year (sob sob, I had to stay behind) but it’s always fun, if often hot and/or dusty. We get to visit with the neighbors, catch up from last year and of course – see all of our horse buddies also!

The horses will be gathered up again soon and will make a journey to the High Sierra, where they live at Muir Trail Ranch, the guest ranch run by the aforementioned neighbors (and also relatives!).

And now for some strictly Dryad Ranch updates:

A tree frog was discovered lurking in the shower over the weekend, and was duly and appropriately moved outdoors, where evidently it took off like a shot to more appropriately tree-froglike terrain, i.e. the trees. He may have been waiting for one of us to leave so he could use the shower enclosure as an echo chamber like some of the 50's do-wop groups purportedly did. That would have really impressed the target audience, but we're not sure how he would have met his groupies.

The wood ducks have successfully brought at least two broods of ducklings into the world this year, and boy are they cute! One pair has seven babies, and the other pair has three surviving ducklings. No photos unfortunately, because wood ducks are nothing if not wary.

A juvenile red-tailed hawk has been spotted on numerous occasions and is very vocal about activity under its purview.

The grasshopper population is unfortunately and infuriatingly well ahead of the protein eaters, like the lark sparrows, phoebes and wild turkeys. Shakes fist at the grasshoppers! Stay away from our garden!

Shockingly enough, the weeds continue to grow. On the agenda for the upcoming Memorial Day weekend: hand weeding the gardens.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Working Week

My husband spent the week at Dryad last week, working on various springtime projects. We live behind four gates from the nearest county road, and the last gate for us needed shoring up a bit. One of the posts was removed, a new posthole dug, and new post put in.

The gardens of course needed a great deal of attention with weeding and trimming being the order of the day. Right now, the roses are absolutely glorious and I think deserve an entire post of their own - we have well over 90 plants of many varieties - climbers, tea roses, standards - and many of them have started blooming now.

Some of these roses are ones that have been grown from cuttings and are vigorous growers, others need more nurturing. We've been concerned about some of the plants that have had a hard time recovering from the grasshopper plagues of the last couple of years, but it looks like most have pulled through and are thriving again. The iris are adding some wonderful color as well - these plants have all been given to us by other iris lovers and have really come into their own the last couple of years.

Finally, the problem of thistle infestation was addressed. We have encountered yellow star thistle, but the primary culprit is bull thistle, a thoroughly noxious and non-native plant. We've tried various attacks, including hoeing it out, but really had not enough of an effect until we bit the bullet and went for the chemical route. It wasn't our first choice, but it does seem to be working, and each year it the volume of spraying is reduced and so are the number of plants. The Transline tank is rigged onto the back of the ranch four-wheeler and then taken to the infested areas. (The first couple of years, the tank was backpacked in - a cruel and arduous task!)

A great deal of research was done to make sure that the herbicide would absolutely NOT cause any harm to any of our beloved ranch critters. Also, passing classes in appropriate usage and getting a spray permit is required before you can purchase the Transline.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Mid-April Update

The gardens are starting to get lush - the iris are blooming wildly. All of our iris have been given to us, dug up from other gardens. The old bathtub in this photo will be used for a mini-herb garden, I need to get cracking!

The roses are starting to bloom also, although they won't come into their own until next month. They all got a good fertilizing before we left for the week.

The front garden got some motorized attention this weekend:

The mosquitoes have hatched, and I have a bite to prove it. The down side of spring!

All the dark-eyed juncos have flown north, but we are not yet seeing any of the flycatchers - Western Kingbirds or Ash-throated flycatchers - moving in yet. There are three house finch couples nesting under the eaves of the front porch. Two couples are in little lanterns that we set there a few years ago as decoration, but the finches have found these conducive to baby-making. I can see well enough into one of the lanterns to spy four little blue eggs; the other nests are either too high and tucked away or too jam-packed full of nesting material to see into.
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