Saturday, December 25, 2010

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Been Wet Lately

We took advantage of a brief respite in the rain the other day to take a bit of a walk around the place - Dino wanted to stretch his legs and get in his daily exercise and I wanted to see the Chowchilla run big (or at least bigger).  Naturally, I was unable to resist the call of a new image and got left behind to twiddle with the Canon at leisure.

That is the skull of Heather, whose bones we found in Lion Creek around the fungus-ridden area we call Chanterelle Knoll a year ago (maybe two years ago). The skull and the few bones still left there are moved around from time to time by the critters.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Dino has been focusing on the shop building the last couple of weeks, whenever it's not wet and/or windy. Weather has been cooperating fairly well: things are progressing nicely.

Oh heck, one more shot. Ladder against side of building:

Nature report: We've got Pine Siskins this year. They skipped our place last winter, but Dino tells me we've got vast quantities, this based on direct observation plus the fact that the seed is disappearing at a heavy rate.

Monday, November 22, 2010

This 'n' That

We got a lovely storm over the weekend, but evidently I have not gotten over my city girl driving outlook.  I had plans to head into Fresno yesterday to visit with some friends, but ended up canceling because I wasn't altogether comfy with driving up over Deadwood or even taking various alternate routes. I felt not so much like a total wimp about when I found out that the other two ladies that live in my area who were going to go to the get together also refused to drive over the pass.

(By the way, you've heard that no woman should marry a man who wants to take her somewhere with the words bad, death or hell in its name right? I have definitely done all - Anza Borrego badlands, Death Valley and Hellhole Canyon, the latter a truly beautiful hike as long as one heads down canyon. We saw a wild sheep skull there but I digress.)

We did have enough of a break in the rainstorm yesterday to get out for a nice walk, not a strenuous one although we were out for a couple of hours. We headed down to the river which is always fun to see all the water in it after a good rain. Dino had tempted me out of the house with a promise of seeing the Dipper, but unfortunately said bird decided not to cooperate. We did see a large group of horses (17) on our Northwest Territory and spent some time doing scratches and conversation. Our place is at a low enough elevation that we did not get snow, but the hills just above us did, which made for a postcard pretty view. Incredibly enough, the rain triggered a zillion or so fungi to pop up, including a couple of varieties that I haven't photo-d before (heh heh).

Including this one, the Jack-o-Lantern mushroom, Omphalotus olivascens, which is bioluminescent, i.e. it glows in the dark. Cool! Also evidently if it is eaten, it makes you sick (ugly gastrointestinal upset) but doesn't seem to kill you and, according to this mushroom web site, is hallucinogenic which supposedly is a plus for some, although with possible eruptions from both ends, I dunno. Being well past my experimental early college years, I'll just take their word for it.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Of Mantids and Hummingbirds

Dino noticed this hummingbird before the praying mantis did - this bird had evidently perished while securely perched on the fence wire.  Its little feet were still clamped shut and held the bird pendant.  Ever of a scientific bent, we left it. 

Some days after its demise, along came a hungry praying mantis.  We did not know that mantises would eat carrion.

We are still feeding huge swarms of hummers.  Dino has been tracking the number of hummingbird feeders we fill, and determined that in the month of October we put out forty two gallons of hummingbird nectar (1:4 sugar water solution).  This represents a 50% increase in hummingbird food over the months of August and September. 

Using a calculation of 500 birds/gallon/day, we figure that we are feeding 677 hummers/day.  On heavy days, we can easily see 50 or more birds at a time.  I'm not sure where Dino originally found that calculation, but the website Field Guide to Hummingbirds repeats a similar one:  "One fluid ounce of 1:4 sugar water weights about 35.5 grams (approximately 20% more than its plain water counterpart).  We'll average the weight of the birds to 3.5 grams, or about 10% of the weight of a fluid ounce.  Multiply that times by 265% for average consumption and we get 0.265 fluid ounce of 1:4 feeder solution per bird per day, which we'll round down to 1/4 fluid ounce per bird per day.  This multiplies out to around 32 smallish hummingbirds per 8 ounces of 1:4 sugar water, 128 per quart, and 512 per gallon."  Since Anna's hummingbirds are somewhat larger than "smallish", using 500 birds/gallon seems reasonable.

*Note - the author of the blog noted wrote the Peterson Field Guide to Hummingbirds book, so believe her info to be good.

Monday, November 8, 2010

New Outlook on Wild Turkey Behavior

Yesterday, as I returned from a town trip, I pulled into a driveway that was doubling as a wild turkey battleground.  Two males had engaged in battle and were so intent on their contest to establish dominance that they were in some sort of alternate universe - they paid me no mind as I stood there watching, mouth agape.  After a minute or two of watching, I rushed inside to make sure Dino saw what was going on.  Turned out he was well aware and that the battle had already been raging for well over an hour.  He'd been photographing and was only inside to grab another type of flash unit. 

Neither male showed any signs of backing down - they were using their beaks to grab the head of the other combatant and then twist the neck into horrible-looking contortions.  Occasionally, one would seem to get the upper hand, forcing the other into a corner (against the fence) and then the tide would turn again.  As dark fell, they were still at it.  We don't know the outcome - there were no turkeys about the place this morning (no carcasses either that we know of).

As we were reviewing the photos, I admit to feeling a tad icked out by the mess they were making of each other.  This is not at all one of the most gruesome looking pics.

Subsequent research found this charming quote:  "Turkeys also spend a lot of time establishing a pecking order in the flock during the fall which means there is a lot of fighting going on between birds to find out who is more dominant. This makes fighting purrs especially effective calls in the fall because not many turkeys will turn down a good fight" from The Wild Turkey Zone website, unfortunately a site devoted to turkey hunting.

Of course, we understand the concept of "pecking order", we'd just never SEEN anything like this.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Playing Catch Up

We had a lovely time hosting house guests from the Bay Area last weekend - don't we both just love showing off our paradise!  Not to mention enjoying the wonderful company and (of course) ye old food and drink. 

The oldest quince tree on the place - we have another planted not even a year ago that is not mature enough yet to bear fruit - took a bit of a rest this year and gave only about twenty or so fruits this year.  I was determined not to let a single one go to waste.   Last week on one of my days off work, I made membrillo, a very sweet quince paste/preserves number.  And, as I was pondering what else to make that didn't involve quite so much sugar, this month's Vegetarian Times arrived with The Answer:  Quince and Vegetable Tagine. 

In a shocking departure from precedent, I am posting the recipe on this blog.

Note: the original recipe calls for 2 small fennel bulbs which I detest so I left them out. If you want to use it, they go in with the cauliflower and zucchinis. Also, the chickpeas were something that I added to make this more of a main dish than a side. The original recipe called for 3 cups of water, but I found that to be too liquid-y so 1 or maybe 2 cups would work better.

Serves 4

2 tsp cumin
2 tsp coriander
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp cayenne
3 cups tomatoes, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
5 tsp sugar
4 cups cauliflower, cut into florets
3 zucchinis, halved lengthwise and cut into 2 inch lengths
2 cups chickpeas, cooked
1 medium onion, quartered and thinkly sliced
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp cinnamon
2 quinces , unpeeled cored and cut into eighths
1-2 cups water
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped


  1. Preheat oven to 450.
  2. Combine cumin, coriander, turmeric, ginger and cayenne in small bowl. Set aside.
  3. Drain tomatoes and set aside. If using whole tomatoes, slice in half. Transfer juice to small saucepan.
  4. Stir garlic, 2 tsp sugar, 1 tbsp of the cumin mixture and 2 cups water into tomato juice; bring to a boil Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 15 minutes.
  5. Toss together cauliflower, zucchini, onion, oil, tomatoes, chickpeas and remaining 1 tbsp cumin mixture into roasting pan. Move vegetables to center of pan. (They need not be in a single layer.)
  6. Combine 2 tsp sugar and cinnamon on plate. Coat cut sides of quince pieces with cinnamon sugar. arrange quince skin-side down around sides of roasting pan. Sprinkle remaining cinnamon sugar and remaining 1 tsp sugar over vegetables, and cover with foil. Reduce oven heat to 350 F and bake 1 hour, or until quince and vegetables are tender.
  7. Let stand 10 minutes.
  8. Sprinkle with cilantro before serving.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Starting Right Back Up Again

Hey guess what!  Fungi!  I saw four varieties on my walk Sunday, only one of which I hadn't photographed.  Since the world was waiting:

In wildlife news (you know I live for this):

  • The praying mantises finally ended their love-in, after five plus days of togetherness. We don't know if either of the males got eaten and we haven't located the ootheca (egg case) yet, but then we may never find it, which is OK because it's none of our business anyway. Dino has observed the, or at least, a female mantis in the asparagus fern and again on one of the h-bird feeders a couple of times in recent days.
  • I saw a skunk on the way home last night. They have a tendency just to run on the road in front of the car and they'll do that forever, so I stopped and waited for it to find its way down the hill. Don't want skunk smell on my car.
  • Watched six wild pigs on the way to work this morning - looked like a sow and five juveniles, or possibly one big and one small sow and four juveniles. One of the pigs was sort of brown, black and cream spotted; they others were black. I stopped the car and rolled down the windows to tell them, "I was just thinking about you as*****s.' And I had been - only the other day I mentioned to Dino that there hadn't been any pigs around for a while. See, it's my fault. They were rooting around under a stand of oaks for acorns; they are terribly destructive.
  • There were two ravens in the front yard under one of the main birdfeeders. We haven't seen them there all summer.
  • Dino told me that this month we've been putting out 50% more hummingbird food than last month. They've been double and triple stacked at the feeders waiting their turn.
  • Saving the best for last: It's Tarantula Season again! We've both been seeing the male tarantulas out and about now - this time of year they start on a trek looking for female tarantulas to make babies with. I had to take evasive action on the road yesterday to avoid a spider squish-o-rama.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

As Of This Morning, 48 Hours of Togetherness

The day before yesterday, Dino noticed these two love bugs on the side of our house enjoying each other or what passes for such in the mantid world.  They've been there for two days now, and as of this morning have been joined by a second male who is hanging around and (not to anthropomorphize) may be hoping for some of the same.

Dino took this shot:

A couple of weeks ago, I took a photo of what could very well be the same female, although she's not wearing a name tag so confirmation is unlikely.  She was sitting on one of the hummingbird feeders, but during the time I watched her, she didn't make any attempts at snagging any of the birds as they came to eat.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Moving Dirt

The big excitement last week was getting the concrete poured for the shop building.  I was stuck having to attend my paying job that day*, so wasn't able to watch all the fun goings-on.  I did run into the contractor at the top of the hill as I was on my way to work - he was disappointed that I wasn't hanging around to help and claimed that he'd saved a shovel with My Name On It just for the occasion.  For anyone interested in action shots of that day, our up the hill neighbor Tom posted some great photos on his blog.

Dino has been working on more prep work at the site for the time we actually put up the shop building.

* I am not complaining, I am grateful for said job.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

One Never Knows What's Around the Next Bend

When I set out Saturday on my walk I decided to head to the old schoolhouse that's across the river and it would be quiet and contemplative, maybe I'd take a couple of pictures.  Turned out that a neighboring rancher was going to be branding some of his cattle - and that whole operation was in the pen right next to the schoolhouse. No one objected to me hanging around to take pictures, so I did.

One of the calves as he's waiting his turn in the squeeze chute.

All of the calves were males who got castrated at the same time.  The methodology for the latter task has improved greatly - it's more of a clamping and banding technique nowadays.  Not comfortable I'm sure but the calves didn't seem to be in pain.  No, I didn't take any closeups; it just seemed too personal.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Check Out This Bug

Yesterday, I got out for my walk around 2:30 or so and spent some time tramping about on our place enjoying the sunshine and early fall warmth. When I got back to the house I decided I needed to take a progress shot of the building site (which I'll post later - it's not just a patch of dirt any more.)  I got my camera out and set up when Whap! A big bug flew into my chest and then landed in my camera bag. It was a beetle with the most amazingly long antennae. It just sat there in the bag without moving so of course I had to take pictures. Look at the face on this thing.

I spent some time last night trying to identify it - the closest I could get was Monochamus carolinensis - Carolina Sawyer - but nowhere was I able to find what the range is of this species so figured it could be something else.  I found this awesome web site What's That Bug? and sent off these photos and an inquiry to them last night.  And they replied this afternoon!  I was semi-close and at least got the genus:  they believe it to be Monochamus obtusus.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Here's Some Dirt

Photo 1 in the shop building series.  The leveled area where the concrete will be poured next week:

Saturday, September 11, 2010

It's Not Nice to Laugh at Small Creatures

This afternoon, I decided to take a walk down to the mailbox.  As I was headed home, starting the walk up the hill, I approached the second gate.  Although I was making no attempt to be secretive or quiet, nevertheless I managed to sneak up on a ground squirrel.  He or she had evidently been snoozing or otherwise spacing out in the area a few feet away from the gate.  When the GS realized how close that big scary predator was, it leaped to its feet and took off at high speed, only to run head first into the gate post.  It staggered back for a second or two, gathered what was left of its senses, leaped over the low wire of the fence and hightailed it for safety.  The predator was helpless with laughter.

The following photo is just a rather nice snapshot of Washakie.  We feel so bad for him as his poor knees are so obviously painful.  Lately, he's been somewhat more amenable to human contact, allowing and possibly even enjoying the odd scratch from time to time.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

It's a Bit Embarassing

While going up the big grade on my way to work the other morning, my attention was drawn to the pretty wildflowers that are blooming now.  All I can say in my defense is that yellow is my favorite color.


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

No Reason Beyond Cuteness

Hey there Oak Titmouse, I'm lookin' at you too!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Dry Time

Last weekend, we decided to take advantage of a not-so-hot spell to go for (surprise) a bird walk. We took the red gate/bridge/upriver-on-the-west bank route although we did a variation about halfway and stuck close to the river where normally we would walk the bluff above. Harder walking but it turned out to be absolutely fascinating because of the wildflowers and various native grasses that we spent some time looking at. We also found a blackberry thicket where some of the berries were ripe - yum.

We saw 27 species of birds and 4 species of dragonflies and one of damselfly. Furry four-leggeds - we saw only the ubiquitous ground squirrel, but we did spend some time debating about some of the paw prints we saw in the dust of the road - fox perhaps?

Spent some time trying to find out what these are by looking in our Grasses of California book.  No luck there, but a friend of mine clued me in:  rattlesnake grass (Briza media), also known as great quaking grass.  I guess it wasn't in the book because it's not native.  Now that I know what it is, I've been finding it other places as well.

We feel sad that our equine friend King moved to the Great Grazing Land this last week. I hope Pelton doesn't miss him too much.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

After breakfast Sunday, I did the dishes (did them about four million times this weekend, no dish can loiter as it's ant season), did a couple of other tasks and then booted up and started on my morning walk. Got up the hill to the neighbor's gate, then back down past the site of the bones of a long-deceased horse, followed the top of Deer Ridge and dropped down past Altar Rock, then home as I was running out of water and getting hungry. Directly after lunch, I didn't feel "done" so I went back out and did a full loop around the Northwest Territory including a swing down to the river.

Early(ish) August nature report: the manzanitas are producing a good crop of berries and the coyotes are eating them, judging by the red pebbly nature of the coyote poop around. (Yeah I know sorry, but you can't help noticing.) Was able to confirm an identification of the White-belted Ringtail dragonfly as two of them held still long enough and allowed me close enough to really observe. Saw a kestrel, a red-shouldered hawk and three wood ducks. About every two hundred yards or so, I would cause another ground squirrel alarm call - a sharp chip chirrupupup. The ground squirrel population is robust as usual.

I wanted to see if the turpentine weed was growing this year, so was careful to take a look in the area where it's grown in the past and it's doing well. It's an interesting plant - not much to look at but it smells strongly like turpentine. While I was looking at those, I noticed a white something or other on a tarweed plant and went over to take a look.

The white was an egg sac of a good-sized very green spider. She was really guarding that sac - as soon as I bent over to take a look, she wrapped her legs round it and made sure it was secure. Post-walk research shows that she is a Green Lynx spider, Peucetia viridans, a fairly common spider in the southern half of the US. Evidently they are very good at pouncing on their prey, hence the "lynx" name. It was quite windy so I'm surprised any of these photos came out at all - here's a record shot of this little ol' gal:

I got back from that walk around 3, about an hour later Dino proposed that we go take another swim in the river, which sounded like a good idea. We ended up not swimming much; we found it more interesting to watch the fish. We got into one of the deeper pools (not very deep, maybe waist high to me, but if you squat a bit, you're all in). The water was clear enough for us to see the fish checking us out - there seem to be two kinds. One is some sort of split-tail minnow, although which species we haven't figured out. The other we haven't come close to identifying yet at all - these had a long dorsal fin, all fins with white edges, tail fin with an additional brownish stripe, and a dark spot behind the gills. While there at the river, we saw a large yellow and black butterfly, a speedy flier which we've identified in the past but couldn't remember. Didn't get around to looking that one up yet; it may be marked in the butterfly book. The other interesting find were several stands of pennyroyal.

I had a very difficult time yesterday morning getting myself in the proper frame of mind for going to work. I felt very wistful and found myself wishing that I could just wander around every day looking at interesting critters and plants and taking pictures.

Friday, July 30, 2010

HIgh Summer Wildlife Report

It must be high season for bringing babies out because as I was getting ready to leave for work this morning, there under the big seed feeder were three hen turkeys and about a dozen juveniles. I watched them for several minutes but then it came time for me to leave so I greeted the mamas (Good Morrrrning Ladies!) while they hustled the little ones back down toward the spring.

And, I saw a bobkitten on the way home day before yesterday. He or she scooted across the road just above the ford and below the second gate and ran down the creek bed toward the waterfall area. This probably explains why I've been having so many bobcat sightings recently - I suspect that I've been seeing the mama bobcat hunting for her babies/baby. The area I saw the kitten is riddled with ground squirrel burrows, and at the moment there are vast quantities of ground squirrel babies, which are undoubtedly viewed as perfect hunting practice.

Photo has no relation to the topic, it's one I've been waiting to work on because I wanted to try the HDR feature of the latest version of Photoshop, which upgrade arrived on my doorstep this week. 

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Whole New Outlook on the Chowchilla River

Why didn't we think of it before? Mid-morningish, I was puttering around, sweating, wanting to get outside if only to move around a little bit. (OK I also did not really want to scrub the floors and other low-interest tasks.) I got to thinking about a certain river, not too far away from this very house and realized that in the years since we bought the part of the property that has river acreage we never went swimming. For some reason, we never connected the dots. Upshot: we put on our suits, hopped on the ATV and went down to the swimmin' hole! It was awesome! Aside from just feeling excellent in terms of cooling down, it was a good enough hole to actually swim in! And on top of all that, it was a way to learn about the Chowchilla River from an entirely new perspective. We saw a new kind of dragonfly - we think it's a White-belted Ringtail, but we didn't have our binoculars so it was just naked eye. We'll have to go back later and hope to see it again.

After we'd had enough we sat on a log to dry off and ate apples. Some of the horses were hanging around near the salt lick not too far away, so I walked over and tried to call Bill the Mule over by showing him the core and clucking at him. No go. So I ostentatiously took a bite of what was left and smacked and chomped. That did the trick. Once he was done with that apple, he went over and pestered Dino for the other leavings. We are both fond of that mule; he is a very handsome animal.

On an unrelated note, Dino pointed out this spider on the garage door handle, so a record shot was required. This one is probably a Silver Argiope.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


The topic of "home" has been on my mind of late, for various reasons. The more I think about it, the more grateful I am that I've found my home - which isn't so much the house we're in, but the land and the area itself.

Proof of the point below. This lovely spot is someone's stock pond - I always slow down when I pass on my way to work every day because there are sometimes Canada geese visiting, as well as mergansers.

At supper last night, we watched a bobcat come up out of the spring area below the house and nose around the ground squirrel burrows around the outside of the orchard fence. He or she didn't find anybody to catch though. That bobcat looked like it had little black socks on all four legs, it was just beautiful - we always have binoculars on the dining room table so we can just grab them when a good opportunity arrives.

On the other hand, this morning while I was in the garage working out, a HUGE brown beetle came in under the garage door and scared the wits out of me; I'm surprised I didn't wake Dino up. That thing was at least two and a half inches long and I am not even close to kidding. We've seen them before, they're called California Prionus (Prionus californicus) and I did not run for the camera believe you me - ha ha I just ran. Between the bugs and the black widow I just know is lurking, I'm always on the alert in there.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Some Stages of Metamorphosis Are Butt Ugly

After doing some more chores and spending about an hour in the garden deadheading roses, I loaded up the camera and went for a solo walk. I did a sweaty uphill climb to a neighbor's gate and then headed down to the river. I wanted to see if the Bullock's Orioles were still around near last year's nest (no) and as I came up to the top of the little hill where I was going to watch for them, I scared up a wild pig from his afternoon siesta. It was just the one and I can't imagine how it was I got so close since I was huffing and puffing up the hill, tromping through dry grass, snapping branches and generally making noise. Off he went at a good clip.

When I got to the river, I saw a pond turtle make a movement and then hide next to a big rock. He then did a really good imitation of a rock himself - if he hadn't moved, I never would have seen him. I took some pictures, but oddly enough, it looks like I took photos of a rock.

Not far from the turtle/rock, I saw this big tadpole - it's a European bullfrog. Not a pretty sight. That sort of short stick thing to the left of it is actually a wiggly nymph of some insect - blech, there are certain life forms that give me the shudders.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Small and the Shed

The first thing that happened after I'd gotten the groceries unpacked Friday night was that my husband pulled me into the garage to show me these:

Baby spiders! A fresh hatch - there were easily a hundred of them and so small that they looked more like flecks of sawdust on the web. I'm surprised my camera captured anything at all. (Note to self - start saving for that macro lens you want.) Although we - well, Dino actually - just cleared out a huge black widow web with attendant BW, we are pretty sure these are not her babies, they are actually rather more of a light brown color pre-Photoshop.

After that, we took another mini-nature walk to the lower garden where there was a shed snake skin - a perfect shed with no fraying on the skin at all. Don't know what kind of snake, but not a rattler. This snake was long and thin; the skin was a little more than four feet long with a tail that tapered to nothing more than the thinnest pencil-lead width tip. Maybe a whipsnake?

Sunday, June 13, 2010


Yesterday, while clearing out an area of the lower garden where some "stuff" had been temporarily stored, we found a metal screen with diamond-shaped holes about 3/4" wide. In one of the holes was a fence lizard. It had gotten its head, one front leg and shoulder through the mesh but its belly was too plump and it got stuck. It looked dead. We set the screen aside and continued with our tasks. When the time came to find a place for the screen, I picked it up and while admiring the lovely blue belly of the lizard - since it's difficult to get a good look at them what with their ability to run fast - it started struggling! It was still alive! The lizard rescue team sprang into action.

We took the screen to the operating room, aka the picnic table. We gathered the surgical tools. The assistant (me) held the screen firmly while the surgeon carefully yet forcefully made several cuts in the wire and slowly moved the cut ends away from the body of the patient. The surgeon gently nudged the lizard back through the mesh until its entire body was free and we placed the mesh on the ground in the recovery area. The lizard stayed motionless for quite some time while we went about our other tasks. We were a little concerned that the lizard would end up as food for someone else, so I found a cardboard box top and assembled a little shelter. When I went to find a rock to prop up the top, that galvanized the lizard to find its legs and off it went at high speed to hide in the culvert. Long term prognosis: unknown. We're pretty sure it won't come back for a follow-up visit.

Other items on the beautification project to-do list: I got the upper garden weeding project done in substance yesterday - I'll do a second pass today through some of the original areas but it's looking good right now.
Dino has been extremely busy this last week - looks like he has plans for more next week - in continuing to knock back the dang thistles.

In other doings - last weekend a friend came for an overnight visit. We decided to play tourist and went for a steam train ride on the Yosemite Sugar Pine logger. The whistle blew, the wheels of the train went clickety-clack, it was grand fun.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Birds and Tubs

The other day when I was talking to a Bay Area friend on the phone, discussing her visit plans for next month, we got to talking about quail. She said she sees quail from time to time from her apartment patio and I bragged, saying I see probably 100 on any given day. I got to doubting myself and thought I'd better find out how close that estimate was. This morning, 54 of them. So, about the same going home, makes that guess about right. On the other hand, it could be just the same 54 individuals. I love those little dinglebops they have for a topknot.

A straw bale update: we bought a bunch of veggies last week and got them all planted on Saturday, except for one poor sunburst squash that got broken sometime during the trip home.

We also moved the tub. Somewhere along the line, Dino acquired an old fashioned claw foot tub - don't tell me we should install it in the bathroom because there is NO room, seriously. Anyway, he had it re-enameled and painted some time ago and it's been sitting in the upper garden. We decided to put it in the lower garden along the fence and fill it with flowers. Ha ha, the process of moving that thing was fun - it's cast iron and heavy. Of course, we first tried picking it up and although we were able to lift it, walking with it was out of the question. Don't you love the macho assumption that we could just bully it along? Snort. The problem was that it was behind the fence of the upper garden, so how to get it up and over. You already know where I'm going no doubt. Tractor to the rescue again. We got the big straps around the tub, hooked them all up to the various shackles and hooks attached to the tractor's front scoop attachment. Lifted it up, then had to scrunch the top of the wire fence down to get it over. Dino maneuverered it to the general spot in the lower garden and gently set it down. Then, more muscling to get it set on the blocks/bricks so it was level and voila. He's going to rig something up to improve the drainage. Now, I am just going to have to figure out what to plant - a lovely conundrum because of course one wants everything. Definitely something that will trail for the edges, but the rest is up for grabs.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Straw Bales

Trying a new method of growing veggies this year: Straw Bales. We saw this in Fine Gardening magazine as well as another gardening book Dino has.

We got the bales a couple of weeks ago and tractored them up to their spots in the orchard area, along one of the lower rows that Dino tractored out. Once the fertilizer settles in and becomes ready, which I'm not sure what the definition of ready exactly is, but probably pretty soon, we'll plant our veggies in the compost on top of the bales. The idea is the roots grow down into the straw. At the end of the summer, the bales are supposed to start turning themselves into compost also. We thought we'd try it this year since we knew we wouldn't have time to build the raised beds we wanted and if this works the way it promises, may just continue with it.

****Has happy thoughts of bell peppers, summer squash, bush beans. Etc. ****

We haven't been taking many birds walks lately, being more on a gardening kick, which to my mind is quite appropriate for this time of year. I've gotten all of the clay pots that we brought from the Bay Area - which had been under the patio at that house - and washed them out. I've already potted up some potentilla, shasta daisies and boxwood for one area. Oh! Also joined the Purple Petunia club - planted a dozen of those in an old compost box. Some gazanias and some geraniums added to the mix. There are another twenty or so pots ready to accept something - another trip to the nursery this week FOR SURE!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Just When You Thought There Could Be No More Turkey Photos

The other afternoon, , I decided to head down to the river and the second bridge where I went last week. I wanted to see if I could get a better picture of one of my subjects, which I still didn't but I had a lot of fun birdwatching through my big lens as there were birds going in and out of my subject area (Bullocks' oriole, yellow-rumped warbler, finches galore). Anyway, while I was fiddling around with one composition, I noticed this wild turkey walking alone upstream. Did you know that turkeys will wade? I didn't.

One of the finch couples - the ones in the higher status lantern nest - have had their babies hatch. There are at least three; I'm going to try to get some pictures which should be interesting given the height of the lantern. The other couple - the two who were so recently blatant in their passion for each other - have five pretty blue eggs in their nest.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

What Else? Birdwatching

Even with the rain currently pouring down, it's a fine time to watch some birds. There are still a swarm of hummingbirds at the feeders stoking up for the night. A few moments ago, I watched a pair of lark sparrows plucking bits and pieces from the greenery in the front yard, for their nest I suppose.

And this morning, I inadvertently got a display of house finch porn. While I was doing the breakfast dishes, I looked out the window at the planter where the Birdbrain finch family have their nest, and there they were - in flagrante delicto. It only lasted a second or less - a couple of wiggles, some wing flapping. Then the male gave the female a seed or some other delicacy to eat, as if to apologize: "I know the earth didn't exactly move for you honey - here, eat a little something, you'll feel better." I guess it worked because the female then settled happily into the nest.

Note: they are referred to as the Birdbrains because this pair built their nest in one of the succulent plants hanging from the eaves. That makes it difficult to water. Competition for nest sites must be fierce this year.

I digress. We are the happy hosts of a rufous hummingbird, who spent the day guarding the hummingbird feeder on the back of the house, just outside the office window. Well, maybe it's a rufous. Maybe it's an Allen's - they are very similar, and the difference has something to do with the tail feathers, but of course this one refuses to let me examine his.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Getting Back to Normal (Whatever That Is)

After a week and a few days of recovery from some medical issues, including a couple of overnights at Fresno Community Hospital, Dino is feeling much improved. I am ever so grateful that things weren't worse and appreciate my wonderful husband even more than before.

Yesterday, we finally got out and about for a lovely spring walk. The wildflowers are still profuse and as usual we're stumped by some of them. The bird watching was pretty good, though no eagles of any sort this time. Saw some Canada geese, which aren't usual around here, and a male merganser. We're hoping his mate is sitting on eggs. Plus the usual wood ducks and mallards. We also saw a flock of lark sparrows, which seemed unusual - we typically see them only in pairs or as singletons. Closer to home, the house finches have been extremely busy building nests underneath the front porch eaves again, and one dumb pair built in one of our planters on top of a succulent. Sigh, it's going to be hard to water that one now.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Cool! Two Morbid Photos in a Row!

Before lunch last Sunday, Dino took me to a spot on the Northwest Territory where he'd seen a deer carcass in one of the dry creekbeds there. Our uphill neighbor blogged a few days ago they'd seen mountain lion tracks so the timing is just about right for this particular deer to have been cat food. It was already well picked over, but there was a certain je ne sais quoi when it came to odor. 'Course what with all of the carrion trees (or whatever those are called) in full bloom all over the place, it was hard to tell the difference. The insect life in the vicinity was vigorous as well.

Monday, March 8, 2010

It Wasn't This One

We returned from our journey to Oregon to attend the funeral and found a number of pig tracks around the house. I had left a pair of hiking boots on the porch to dry off and had forgotten to take them back in - one of them had been picked up off its perch and carried several feet and (luckily) dropped. I would have been highly put out if that pair had been ruined, they are my favorite. I stand warned. Dino also found that the dragonfly fountain had been molested as well. That will be moved tomorrow behind the fence.

At any rate, since this picture was taken from the truck looking down off the paved road, we are certain it wasn't this pig that did the deed(s). There were seven of these vultures lurking about.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

This is a photo from Sunday morning's early walk. Down on a neighbor's property, just off the road are the Abandoned Houses. These are two very small houses, both not much more than glorified cabins, along with an outhouse/shed - that are in the process of slowly collapsing. Every year they fall more into themselves, and one is nearly down.
We are both heavy-hearted this week, as Dino learned that his best friend, who he's known since childhood, passed away last weekend. I know that I am grateful for the solace of living in a beautiful place and for the daily routine that has kept us going.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Western Pond Turtle Redux

After doing a few necessary chores - like finally putting away the laundry I washed Thursday night - we started off on our walk, only to have it grind to a halt right away by the sight of the foals right above the circle driveway. That required some minutes for scratching and cooing. At first, the palomino colt was unhappy with the sound of Dino's slicker but eventually figured out that it wasn't a horse-eating monster.

We also spent some time watching a group of twenty or so Western Meadowlarks in one of the open areas on our neighbor's place, right next to the road. Several of them would sing together and what a lovely chorus that was.

When we got to the river, we spotted this Western Pond Turtle sunning him or herself on a rock. They seem to like this area - I took a picture last year of a pair of them, but I wanted to see if I could get a little closer and work with the big lens and what I could get. I started out pretty far back from the bank and worked my way closer. By working, I mean crawling on threes - the fourth was holding the tripod/camera. Crawl a little, stop, take a few shots, crawl a little more. The turtle let me get all the way down to the edge of the riverbank and for once, didn't leap into the water in alarm right away. I was so oblivious to everything else during this process I didn't even notice that someone had driven up on the other side of the river until he asked us what we were looking at. (Turned out he was working on a portion of the fence on that side.)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Can It Be? Spring-like Hints

It is very difficult to avoid feeling smug about living in California this time of year. Other than knowing that we really, really do need more rain and more snow in the high country, the warm and sunny past couple of days have been a real joy. The horrid muddy spots on the road going up the hill have nearly dried up (for now and until the next rainfall, which as already mentioned Must Be Hoped For) and the wildflower season is beginning.

One of the lovely features of this particular form of media is that one gets to post pictures of whatever one wants to. The last couple of seasons I have been somewhat obsessed with fungi. This year, I made an unofficial goal to photograph all of the different varieties of fungus I saw. Sunday on our walk, we saw so many different/new kinds, I was beside myself. I was somewhat disappointed that I ended up giving up on the last two sightings. The first of those was a lovely bright red number, which Dino believes to be a type of bolete, the other was a horse poop mushroom, with a very white sponge-like cap. The bolete I passed up because that whole area was covered with big red ants that I recognize as having a nasty temper for humans sitting in the middle of their paths and the pooper was on the side of a steep-ish hillside and I could not figure out how to set up so both I and the equipment didn't tumble.

Here's one I spent some time with, though. Helvella lacunosa - Black Elfin Saddle. While I was noodling with this, Dino happily entertained himself by watching a flock of lesser goldfinches eating the seed pods of an Oregon ash.

In bird news, we participated in the Great Backyard Bird Count again. We counted 28 different species of birds, and I'm not sure how many individuals. Our favorites from this weekend: Hermit Thrush, Bullock's Oriole (yay for migration) and Yellow-rumped Warbler (ditto).
Wildflowers up: Indian warrior, baby blue eyes, shooting stars, those white belly flowers and a popcorn flower or two. Also, those tiny magenta numbers, I like those.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Orchard Continued

Over the last several days, we've been getting the new trees in the ground. Bill got the first ones in the ground by himself, then recruited my help for a half day or so over the weekend.

Midweek, the nursery in town called to tell us that the Honeycrisp bare roots had finally showed up and been approved by the agricultural inspector. I sneaked away from work to pick out a likely candidate and reserved a second apple, a Gala, to act as a pollinizer. I also succumbed to temptation and bought a good looking forsythia that has the appearance of producing some blooms this year, small as it is.

Dino finished up the last arduous tasks of the planting on his own. Still to come: installing the watering system.

He'd rented a backhoe to dig the holes, and magnificent deep holes they were. Note: the backhoe was declared a "very nice piece of equipment." Santa, are you listening?

Into the holes went a cage of strong wire to discourage those dreadful gophers, and two lengths of white PVC pipe. The holes were filled with a compost/soil combination that had been mixed in a wheelbarrow - about three bags of compost per hole. Then pea gravel went in the pipe and a protective plastic collar put around each tender trunk.

The weather is cooperating nicely, giving lots of lovely sprinkly moisture and not too cold temperatures.

Last weekend, we heard and Dino saw a glimpse of a Northern Pygmy Owl.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Naiads and Dryads Oh My

Now that we've gotten some decent rain, we've been enjoying the sound of running water in the creeks. The waterfall at the second gate coming in has also started up again. Yesterday, I walked there and found that the seasonal Naiad has made her appearance. Actually, Dino pointed out that there are two naiads in this image.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Orchard Fence

Dino spent a good part of last week getting the fence posts in around the area designated for the orchard. Saturday, we got a little more than half of it fenced, until we ran out of daylight. We've got a series of storms coming in over the next several days, but we'll get back to it as soon as we can. We're already tasting those apples.
I'm headed into the Bay Area tomorrow for a couple of days at work there, but also for some shopping and meeting up with friends.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Orchard In Progress

Dino has been working that poor tractor practically to death (bit of hyperbole there) getting the new orchard area ready for trees.

These are two of the rows, with stakes in to show where the new babies will be planted. All week I've left the house too early in the morning to see much of anything except fence posts along the outer rim (and fog) and too late in the evening for anything at all orchard related.

I believe next weekend, I'm being drafted for fencing duties.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Garden Planning. Fog. Number 84

The last few days, we've been treated to a ribbon of fog along the course of the Chowchilla. It sure is pretty to look at (but not drive in, evidence my trip home tonight.) It's fascinating to see this obvious delineation right at the river. This photo was taken early Sunday morning before it warmed up.

We are pleased to announce the arrival of the aforementioned 84th bird species to our ranch list. A few days after Christmas, we identified a Hairy Woodpecker. They look a lot like the Downy, but are larger. If you want to know the truth, getting us to actually place the binoculars on woodpeckers is a mini-miracle because we always think it's another Acorn, of which there is no dearth of supply. Anyway, we looked and were glad for it. If you know why they're called Hairy, that will win extra points, because I don't have a clue, they looked normally feathered to me.

Now that we have the building parts safely stored, we can work on other items on the task list. We've been figuring out an orchard, with special emphasis on yumminess. So far, we've picked out: 2 apples, 2 figs, 2 cherries, 1 quince, 1 pomegranate, 2 almonds, 2 plums, 1 mulberry and 1 walnut. Hoo boy, we're going to be busy in a few years when all these trees get going. We paced off the designated area the other day, and staked it and Dino's now busy prepping with lots of tractor work. We've scouted out a couple of local nurseries for the varieties we want, and the Honeycrisp apple bareroots are coming in sometime this week; the others next month. We lost a couple of cherries we started a few years ago to that awful grasshopper plague, and a quince this year to fire blight.

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