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.”
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