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.
Site Meter