Thursday, December 15, 2011

American Kestrels

Dino has been working on the beginnings of a project to set up and monitor nesting boxes for American Kestrels.  He came up with the idea after reading an article in the most recent issue of Birding magazine, published by the American Birding Association, about the population decline of these birds, and after attending two presentations by Steve Simmons, who is a master bird bander.  The data from the Audubon Society's raptor run were presented to Steve, who noticed that no kestrels were observed during nesting season in the grasslands.  That pointed out the necessity of taking action and providing nest boxes for the birds in the area.

In addition to banding the birds, Steve also has built thousands of nest boxes and monitored the nests over the course of many years.  He's done this not just for kestrels, but also for barn owls, western bluebirds and tree swallows. 

This last Monday, Steve and Dino paired up and visited several areas where kestrels have been spotted and counted during the local Audubon Society's raptor runs.  They captured a kestrel, and Steve banded that bird.  To capture the birds, Steve uses a mouse as bait - but don't worry, the mouse is not harmed.  Instead, the mouse is safely ensconced in a wire mesh trap to which have been attached a number of small nylon loops (think fishing line).  When the kestrel swoops down to grab the mouse, instead the bird becomes entangled in one of the loops. 

The loop is then carefully removed from the bird's foot and the band attached.

Dino says that in this picture he is grinning internally.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Lunar Eclipse Saturday Morning

We both got up early on Saturday to see the lunar eclipse. We had a good view from 4:45 when it started till about 6:30 when clouds and the sunrise covered everything up.  Dino contributed the three shots on the bottom right - he did a much better job of capturing the interesting reddish color as the eclipse neared totality.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Acorn Time

We've been busy planting.  A while back, I ordered a bunch of wildflower seeds and spent some time over the Thanksgiving weekend getting those planted.  It was pretty easy, since the seeds were ones that I specifically know grow in this area (but not in our garden areas) and all they required was a general cleanup, some loosening of the dirt and a good mix-in with some compost.  Followed all that with a nice squirt with the hose and hopeful finger-crossing. 

Last weekend, Dino enlisted my assistance in planting some blue oak acorns in the area just below his big shop building.  I did actually do some digging, really I did, after I got the photos taken.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Over the Weekend

After our Thanksgiving repast and visit with Dino's elder sister, we headed out of the Bay Area to our evening residence, one of the top five worst dumps we've ever stayed in, not that I'm complaining mind you.  At least it was only one night and I am grateful that I only saw one bug, i.e. the earwig I shook out of the shower curtain.  (It wouldn't be an adventure if everything got to be perfect.)

We had a most excellent day Friday, strictly devoted to birding. We got up early and bailed out of the motel before seven.  I made Dino stop at the roadside so I could snap this shot of prototypical California farmland. 

After that stop, we headed for the San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge. This is one of the spots Dino went to last week for one of the field trips during the bird symposium. At the Beckwith Platform area, we were treated to the promised clouds of birds, mostly the Aleutian subspecies of Cackling Goose. There were Ross's Goose and some White Pelicans in the mix as well. This refuge offers a built up wooden platform so visitors can look out over the wetland area to see the birds. There was a man there who evidently works for whichever agency maintains the place, as he was doing some cleanup work around the area and was kind enough to spend some time talking with us. He estimated there were about 30,000 birds. It really was a sight to see and a noise to hear.

We stopped at the Pelican Nature Trail, part of the same refuge, before lunch.  There we didn't see so many birds - the noontime doldrums apparently - but took a nice 5 mile walk on the trail, enjoyed the scenery and ate our lunch following our perambulations.  After that we headed to the Merced Wildlife Refuge, stopping a number of times on the way to look at birds. On one of these roadside stops we saw some White-faced Ibis, which I'd never seen before; that was the most exciting one for me of the day. We were also visited by a Fish and Game warden while we were stopped at one point; I guess he wanted to make sure we weren't going to shoot anything. He was a fresh-faced young man (they all seem to be young nowadays), but I don't think I'd want to be on his bad side.

At Merced, we ran out of daylight and decided against doing the full five mile circle and put it on our to-do list for another day. We did spend about a half hour at one spot watching and trying to figure out what the heck kind of bird those little peeps were; small sandpiper types, difficult to identify unless one is really knowledgeable about shorebirds which we are definitely not, although Dino's working on it and studying assiduously.

We identified 41 species: American Crow, American Kestrel, Belted Kingfisher, Black Phoebe, Black-crowned Night Heron, Black-necked Stilt, Brewers Blackbird, California Quail, Canada Goose (Aleutian Subspecies), Cattle Egret, Common Raven, Coot, Double-crested Cormorant, Eared Grebe, Golden-crowned Sparrow, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Greater Yellowlegs, Killdeer, Lesser Goldfinch, Mourning Dove, Northern Flicker, Northern Harrier, Northern Mockingbird, Northern Shoveler, Red-shouldered Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Red-winged Blackbird, Ross's Goose, Sandhill Crane, Say's Phoebe, Snowy Egret, Steller's Jay, Turkey Vulture, Western Meadowlark, Western Scrub-jay, White Pelican, White-crowned Sparrow, White-faced Ibis, Wrentit, Yellow-billed Magpie, Yellow-rumped Warbler

Monday, November 28, 2011

Never Too Many Dippers

Dino took this series of photos of one of our favorite avians, the Dipper, aka Water Ouzel.  He confirmed for me the other day that we do indeed have a pair.

And something special for your reading pleasure, The Water Ouzel by Harriet Monroe:

"Little brown surf-bather of the mountains!
Spirit of foam, lover of cataracts, shaking your wings in falling waters!
Have you no fear of the road and rush when nevada plunges -
Nevada, the shapely dancer, feeling her way with slim white fingers?
How dare you dash at Yosemite the mighty -
Tall, white limbed Yosemite, leaping down, down over the cliff?
Is it not enough to lean on the blue air of mountains?
Is it not enough to rest with your mate at timberline, in bushes that hug the rocks?
Must you fly through mad waters where the heaped-up granite brakes them?
Must you batter your wings in the torrent?
Must you plunge for life and death through the foam?"

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

It's Part of the Price We Pay

This last weekend, while Dino was at the Central Valley Birding Symposium, I spent yet another few hours planting the last fifty or so bulbs.  Recent rain showers didn't do enough to soften anything up, so it was more pick work.  I kept at it until it was all done, even though it turned my arms to jelly.  I sure do hope those doodads actually bloom come spring. 

Monday, I finished up a bout with jury duty.  It was the first time I ended up actually serving on a jury, and a fascinating and also frustrating process it was.  The first day was devoted to picking the folks who were able to serve and were not: actively working for law enforcement or hopelessly biased in that direction, nursing mothers, ill, or for whom missing work would cause a financial hardship.  I didn't fit into any of those categories, so serve I did.

It was a criminal case, and in the end, we found the defendant not guilty.  The whole case boiled down to a neighborhood relationship gone bad. The evidence was virtually nonexistent and the main prosecution witness was a convicted felon and otherwise not believable. We were left with not only "A" reasonable doubt but any number of doubts. Something happened, but whatever it was, was not what he was charged with.

I got back that afternoon with just enough daylight left to go for a little walk down to the river, where I was pleased to see my little dipper bird and some of these mushrooms that like to grow in the moss on rocks. This particular rock was on a hillside overlooking the river which made for a bit of a challenging setup.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

We had our first fire of the season last Friday night. It's getting chilly enough now. We've also had two smallish soaker rainstorms since Thursday, which is great because that means there's less runoff than when it's a bigger storm.  Dino told me the other day that the weather people think this area will be colder this year and rainfall projections promising "normal to wet". I will endeavor to keep the whining about the mud and the drive up the hill to a minimum over the next few months.

Dino is on the light duty list at the moment, recuperating from hernia surgery.  All went fine and Dino was feeling perky enough last weekend to head out on an Audubon Society field trip to look at birds. That left me with some alone time at the house, which I filled with the usual weekend chores. I picked the remainder of the quinces, cut those up and put them in the freezer. Also, I picked the first pomegranates of the year - a half dozen had spontaneously split open, triggered by the rainstorm. Got the seeds out of those and we'll be enjoying them in our morning yogurts.

Saturday, I headed out to the orchard and planted two long rows of tulips along the fence. We've now run out of bulbs even though there are still a few semi-dug areas around some of the trees; Dino has promised to buy some more when he's in town this week for his follow up Dr. appointment.  So far, between the two of us, we've planted in the neighborhood 250 daffodil bulbs this year, plus this smaller batch of tulips.  The hope is that the daffodils will contribute to our anti-gopher efforts, as we've read that these bulbs discourage the little beasts.  Link.

We had a sad moment last week as one of our neighbor's horses, Geronimo, had to be put down.  Dino got a call mid-afternoon to let him know that Ger was in terrible pain with his right front leg; he'd had a badly cut foot, which seemed to be healing, but had taken a turn for the worse and Ger couldn't walk. Geronimo, also known as the World's Most Perfect Horse, was the favorite horse of Karla's daughter Hilary, who was riding Ger the first time I ever saw her. I always said about Ger that he had the soul of a wise man; it was really not like being around a horse at all, he had that kind of presence. We of course agreed to go up to our goodbyes. After the vet got there, we said a few words and Ger was released with care and gentleness and no small measure of sorrow.

This photo was taken at this year's roundup:

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Two Favorites

This post is about two of my favorite birds, and it also announces species number 90 for Dryad Ranch!  Last weekend on our walk, we saw a flock of birds that I was pretty sure were Cedar Waxwings, mostly based on their calls as they flew by.  I doubted myself for a day or two, and then Dino was able to confirm.  There is a spring he likes to visit with birding in mind, as it has had a good offering of ripe grapes.  Evidently the Waxwings found those fruits to their liking, because he spotted some and that gave us our 90.  I just love Waxwings, I think they are one of the most beautiful birds.

This image is in the public domain from the US Fish and Wildlife image library:

Today, after a neighbor dropped by, we headed out on another bird walk and saw favorite number two,  American Dipper.  This is a homegrown image:

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Trundling Along

In between doing the usual chore-like items, we've been doing a lot of bird and Audubon related activities.  That comes as no surprise I'm sure.  (If only we'd get another couple of nice rains, we'd have some fungi other than puffballs to look at.) 

Last Saturday, Dino helped co-lead a beginner's birding field trip in Mariposa, sponsored by the Audubon Society.  I also attended that, as we were planning to take off directly from there on a jaunt south to one of those humongous theater monstrosities to see an Actual Movie.  It was bird related of course:  The Big Year.  Verdict:  it was OK, not great, but we got some good laughs and it was about birds so that gave it a few bonus points.  We both agreed that the mall and theater area were rather like a different planet;  we were almost as entranced with the people watching as with our morning bird watching.  We followed the movie with dinner at our favorite restaurant, Lucy's Lair, which serves delectable Ethiopian food. 

Alas, this weekend, it's back to the chores.  Dino is working on stocking up the wood shed and I've promised to help him tomorrow do some organizing in the storage container and shop building area.  I do love a good organization project.

Would it be fall without a good autumn colors leaf photo?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Ground Sloths

Yesterday, we took an interesting side trip to the Madera Fossil Discovery Center to look at old animal bones.  The fossils at the center were extracted from the landfill right across the street from the center. Some years ago, as one of the equipment operators was scraping up dirt, he saw bones. What's remarkable is that he stopped and told someone about them and paleontologists were allowed to swoop in and start collecting and analyzing. They are still doing it - as the dirt is being scraped off a new section, a scientist follows along and if bones are spotted in the scrape, a small flag goes in the spot. All of the fossils found in this area are Pleistocene era - around 700,000 years ago. These are all mammal bones: Colombian mammoth, camel, horse, dire wolf, short-faced bear (14 feet tall on hind legs!), peccary, smilodon - aka saber-tooth cat - and three species of ground sloth. They had created life-sized replicas of all of these skeletons and the one that I found especially intriguing was the Harlan's ground sloth. Those critters were big and the rib cage! We figure it was six feet across if measured at the greatest extent of the outside of the rib cage. It's estimated they weighed 3500 pounds - it was really impressive. Here's a link to a photo someone else took of this replica: Link.
The center didn't have very many "customers" when we arrived and after we saw a short introductory video, as we were coming out of the screening room, we got an impromptu invite to get a personal tour. So we got the whole spiel from someone who was working on the dig. It was great to be able to ask questions and get in depth answers.

I found out also that I can now get senior discounts. Evidently, I've been in denial that turning 55 means that I have moved into the senior range.  Dino was very amused by my reaction although I remain firmly convinced that I have not become fossilized yet. On the other hand, we saved four bucks on the admission fee.

Before we set out on our trip to town, we took our morning walk. There's a big spring up the hill where we lingered, hoping to see (and photograph) birds. We did see a flycatcher that would have been a new species for the ranch, but there are two species that look almost exactly alike and we just don't feel certain enough about the ID to call it. Either a Hammond or a Dusky. Dang those flycatchers can be tricky to identify. Was the head rounded or did it have a flat area?   At Dino's request, edited to add:  our available time for identifying the mystery bird was cut short by the sudden appearance of a kestrel, which naturally enough, scattered all the birds in the vicinity.

Here's this year's obligatory wild grapes photo. It doesn't have any grapes in this one, although at the moment the grapes are at peak ripeness and are delicious, and although very small and seedy, worth it.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


Yesterday, I accompanied Dino on his usual morning walk - we headed to the red gate, then headed upstream, then home. This was an excellent bird walk and gave us our 89th bird species for the ranch: Phainopepla. We also saw two blue herons and a second year juvenile bald eagle, plus our usuals. Flickers are starting to come back now that we're moving into fall.

I took a second walk mid-afternoon. I wanted to go to the spring by Altar Rock and see if anybody showed up there - birds often go there to drink - but that was a bust. I gave up after a bit and walked down Lion Creek's dry bed to the road, stopping to look at milkweed fluff and found these on one of the plants where the pods hadn't fluffed out yet (warning insect shot): Large Milkweed Bugs, Oncopeltus fasciatus.

I was having a heck of a time with the wind and count myself lucky the bugs are in any sort of focus at all. Yes, there are Small Milkweed Bugs too.

I decided to try some fall vegetables. After being thoroughly disgusted by my lack of planning earlier, having no seeds, and being completely skunked at finding any vegetable seeds at all anywhere in Oakhurst, Dino came through for me by bringing home some seedlings from his Thursday trip to Mariposa. Broccoli and beets. And he found some snow pea seeds. All that got planted in the two available cinder block beds yesterday. The cucumbers are putting in a very spirited second effort now, both the Armenian and the lemon, and we had an excellent cuke salad last night again. The bees are very busy in that bed again, which gives me hope we'll get a few more weeks of cukes. 

Check out the web site I did for the local Audubon society:

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Snakes. Bugs. And a Triumphal Ha! Fungus!

Ha.  Another wildlife update. 

I had an excellent opportunity to observe a healthy specimen from the reptile kingdom on the way home from work the other day.  As I was making the approach to the abandoned houses, I noticed a large rattlesnake in the middle of the road.  It was not in a hurry to get out of my way and since I rather like snakes as long as they are not trying to bite me, I had no intention of simply running over it.   Never one to rely entirely upon rationality, I honked the horn.  Amazingly, that caused the snake to begin the slow process of moving off the road into the grass.  It had just barely gotten its tail to the edge when it stopped and allowed me to pull up to look closely and admire.  It had a good sized midsectional circumference, but maybe there was a meal in there? 

Sunday morning Dino and I took a lovely walk up the hill, then down along the river, observing birds.  American Robin and Western Bluebird were particular highlights.

Dino also pointed out a big group of these water striders (Gerris remigis) in a river backwater. 

A bracket fungus of some sort.  Wow, it's September, how did this grow this time of year.  Granted, it was not far from the river.  This one was quite firm, with a slimy surface.

Monday, September 5, 2011


Last weekend was the joyous occasion of my son's wedding. We journeyed to the Bay Area to celebrate the event, staying with my folks for a couple of nights.  Oh, a good time was had by all and the happy couple are on their honeymoon - Munich, Vienna and Prague.  Not sure what the exact itinerary is, but the Munich leg evidently included a beer hall and oompah band.  I thought the most fun part of the whole shindig was the jam session at the reception - I hardly ever get to hear my son playing, so really enjoyed that.

The happy couple:

A scene from the jam session:

A fun shot:

A slideshow of the photos taken by me and Dino at the wedding and reception here.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Really Neat Bird Video

Dino found this great high speed video (1000 frames/second) of an Eagle Owl landing on a perch.  Here's a short youtube version, but you can see a longer version here.  I am entranced by how the feathers move as it lands.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

When Is a Bug True?

On my way back from a walk several days ago, I was greatly distracted by the creek we have to ford on the way to our house. It's still got some water in it, not much but enough to attract all sorts of critters.  I watched flame and widow skimmer dragonflies and took a picture of a wildflower I haven't been able to identify yet. Then I saw these bugs - ha! You should have known there would be insects.

I sent off a query to the excellent What's That Bug web site and I got a wonderfully detailed reply a few days later.  Turns out, they were: "...two immature individuals of a species of Giant Water Bug in the genus Abedus, based on this image of Abedus herberti posted to Bug Guide. The yellow individual in your photos and the BugGuide image are newly molted nymphs in the teneral stage, meaning that their exoskeleton has not yet hardened and darkened. Insects are especially vulnerable immediately after metamorphosis. We believe the dark individual in your photos, also a nymph, is taking advantage of its weaker coeval by preying upon it. Of course, your photos do not reveal the final outcome, and the teneral individual may have actually been the victor in this food chain drama."

Cannibals! The reply went on to describe typical habitat, which was quite accurate for where I found the bugs. And these are what is known as "true" bugs, not that I know why some bugs are true and others are not. The males carry the fertilized eggs on their backs and pictures of this behavior look absolutely disgusting and fascinating at the same time.  Yes, these are of the Toe Biter clan.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

First August Update

The vegetable garden is starting to die down - the cucumbers are tapering off heavily, and the green beans are done.  The delicata squash is still ripening.  Tomatoes have been disappointing overall, although we are getting enough to have in our salad every day.  I had grand thoughts of having bushels that I would have to make into sauce and so on. 

This year I also planted some soup beans, i.e. beans intended for drying.  It was an interesting experiment and although we haven't eaten any of the beans yet, if they are anything like the beans I've gotten in the past from Rancho Gordo which sells these heirloom varieties, they will be delicious.  I bought the seeds from Seeds of Change, which offers organic and heirloom seeds of all sorts.  I planted one of the raised beds with two varieties:  Yellow Indian Woman and Tiger Eye. 

Dino has been working on the shop building - the electrician finished up last week (well nearly, there are a couple of minor details still outstanding.)  Some of the equipment we had in the garage got moved down to the shop, and we've been discussing how to reorganize. 

We've been greatly amused by the Acorn Woodpeckers, who seem to have a bit of a sweet tooth, as evidenced by their frequent visits to the hummingbird feeders.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Number 88! Also, Fun at the River

Last night, while seated at the supper table, we spied the lovely fast swoops and dives of a flock of Barn Swallows in the area at the front of the house.  I'd seen them a few days ago while watering my vegetables, but wasn't quite comfortable in my identification.  I believe I speak for us both when I say that we hope they caught a very large number of those dang grasshoppers, which are a plague again this year.  Although these birds are not uncommon by any means, this was our first ID here.  Dryad Ranch species # 88: Barn Swallow!

We had house guests last weekend, and a fun time was had by all.  Nothing like being able to head down to the river to dangle one's feet in the coolth:

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Hilarity Amongst the Tomatoes

Dryad Ranch was blessed last week with an overnight visit from my son, who was on the first leg of a cross country road trip to his new home in Washington DC.  His fiancee just started a new job with the Department of Energy and it's been just a tad stressful for them the last several weeks.  (Yours truly can hardly wait till August for the big matrimonial event.)  Of course, there had to be a photo op and what better place than the tomato patch? 

The raised beds that were built for this year's vegetable garden are proving to be ever so much more productive than our straw bale attempt last year.  We've been eating cucumber salad every day for a couple of weeks and have practically forced some of the overflow onto friends and neighbors.  (I still have a lovely freshly-picked selection right now as a matter of fact, if anyone's interested.)  We're about done with green beans, I think, maybe we'll get one more meal out of those.  I've also done the first picking of a couple of varieties of heirloom soup beans - they did well, but should really be considered more of a row crop I think, as we won't end up with a large quantity.  It's not the plants' fault, now we know how many need to be planted, meaning more than we have room for just now. 

Oh what the heck.  For the entertainment value, another insect photo.  (If not fungi, then bugs.)  I found a couple dozen of these tarantula hawks on some evidently delicious wildflowers down along Lion Creek.  I love how their antennae curl like that.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Sparkling Gem of a Driveway!

I could possibly go exclamation mark-mad but will somehow restrain myself to only one.  The other day, our neighbor Tom, who writes this excellent blog, came down the hill with his grader and did a superlative job on making our circle driveway Downright Spiffy.  Heaps of gratitude coming your way Tom for that assist.  The next day, a big truck arrived and now the driveway is all gravelly and really super duper.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Any Number of Complaints

Last Saturday afternoon, after a mini-cleaning and cooking frenzy, I blew off the rest of the chores and shouldered my camera bag and went for a walk. I decided to go down to the big ford on a neighbor's place and then walk downriver till I got to our place, then hop the fence and head home. This is where all those complaints I mentioned there in my title come in. It was hot, I had a 17+ pound sack of camera gear on my back, my right sock wasn't on quite right, I dropped my big water jug in a fetid backwater of the river and got some nasty scratches on my arm from a blackberry bush when I fished it out. From time to time, some salty sweat rolled down my face into my eye, which stung. The skeeters were fierce and the sun was bright.

And I realized that I had the biggest grin on my face. I love going for walks like that; that river is just the best. What a great few hours. I didn't get home till almost 6.

I was almost home, when I stopped for these wildflowers, which are on the slope just below the house near the spring. Dang, I just love pretty yellow flowers.

Arnica Cordifolia

Monday, June 27, 2011

Garden Update

The last couple of weekends have been pretty focused on doing stuff in the garden, mostly. 

Last weekend, I finished up Round Two of the weeding in the Upper Garden fence, and helped Dino with a few tasks in the Lower Garden. One of which included filling up that old claw foot tub we've got with good organic potting soil (almost five full bags). Also did some levelling to the left side of that tub, under the oak tree and put some of those faux brick 16" paving stones there. I rooted around the area near the big storage container where we put all the empty clay pots and came up with three more good sized ones, and hauled those down.  I haunted the nursery in town for a couple of lunch hours last week plotting and planning.

Friday after work, I finally bought what I'd decided on.   I should have gotten a sales commission while I was there because one of the other customers saw what I had in my wagon (I decided to get more of the salvia that the hummers like so much) and after I praised it heavily, he decided he wanted some too, so I showed him where they had it.  I also bought several pots of a trailing variety of thyme and some vinca.  

In the vegetable garden, lovely growth.  *Knocks wood and makes the sign against crop failure*  Some mornings, I've been cutting short my early a.m. workouts to go up to the vegetable beds and get the watering done ahead of the day's heat.  We've got big big tomato plants, and as of now a few small tomatoes and some cute little blossoms.  I am really hoping for a big 'mater harvest this year to make up for the pathetic yield of last year.  This weekend, we ate the first of the peas and the first pick of the Blue Lake green beans. 

If you must know,  I feel smug, as if I were the first human to discover that seeds will grow if you plant them in the right place and do good stuff to them.

Meanwhile, Dino has been kicking some major butt on getting the drip irrigation going in the Lower and Front Gardens, and I've probably forgotten something, so forgive me.  The shop building got its visit from the county inspector and received a thumbs up, so all of the trenches going down there got filled back up. The next big step is getting the electrical system going. 

These peas inspired not only hunger but the urge to close the shutter.

Saturday, June 4, 2011


Last weekend, I was scrunched under the big rose bush in the far corner of the lower garden hand weeding, when Bad Things started to happen. I'm a little unclear as to the exact sequence of events, but I think it went something like: I disturbed a bee, maybe two bees. One of them stung me on the arm (I think - at the time I thought it could have just been the rose thorns raking me again.) I started yelping and the other bee, maybe the same bee, flew into my mouth and stung my tongue.

This is when Dino said I started making some really "funny" noises.  I got the bee out of my mouth and backed up out of the rose bush pronto to go find Dino. I was a little worried that if I started to have an allergic reaction it wouldn't be great. He could see a big welt in there and suggested I go get an ice cube and work on that for a while, which I did and it helped. Obviously, no bad reactions, just a sore tongue - and how wrong is that I ask you?

After sulking about that for some minutes and sucking on the ice cube, I decided that all was going to be well and went back to the scene of the crime and my weeding task. I'll be able to finish up that Lower Garden today, and I'm pretty excited about that area because Dino's just about finished with getting the automatic watering system to a place where he can get all of that operational. I rearranged the potted plants, moved around some of the neat rocks we've collected from here and there. There's one large pot whose inhabitant died over the winter - I'm going to find something as a replacement sometime this next week, and find two or three other smaller somethings to fill in a bit. All of those will then go on the auto drip.

Mariposa Lily, Calochortus venustum, of which there are a near-profusion this year.  My favorite wildflower.

Thursday, June 2, 2011


Another inspiration from our uphill neighbors.  On the previously mentioned round up day, I split off from the group for a little while to spend some (photographic) quality time with Babe, a beautiful Steinway. 

Friday, May 27, 2011

Some Roundup Pictures

Last weekend was the annual horse roundup conducted by our uphill neighbors - it's been kind of a busy week for me at work otherwise these would be more timely.  Yeah, excuses excuses.  Said uphill neighbor, who blogs at Musings of a slowly rotting mind, has posted about this fun event in the past, and this year showed us a rather, er, intimate moment involving a mare's pregnancy check. 

It's always fun, with good food and company and lots of activity.  Here are a couple of shots I took that day.  This first one I swear Lepa (the palomino) is giving me/us the Stink Eye. 

The second shot shows some interesting tools, another one of my favorite subjects.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

What Kind of Spring IS This Anyway

I spent the weekend in the Bay Area visiting my folks, enjoyable time had by all of course.  I came home with a truck full of goodies, most notable among those were some of Mom's amazing chocolate chip cookies.  Dino, whose alternate nickname is Cookie Monster, was pleased.

I made a road side stop on my approach to the foothill area for this vista. 

We've had rain.  In fact, it hasn't been necessary for quite a few days now to do any handwatering of my precious little vegetable garden.  In spite of all of that, and some rather chilly days as well, I was happy with their growth rate as I did my morning inspection today.  Maybe we'll even have some decent tomatoes this year.

Friday, May 13, 2011

That Grade is a Treasure Trove

Every work day, I drive up a steep grade to get to the paved road that takes me into town. This year, the wildflowers are especially fascinating. I'm afraid I got in the way of one of our neighbors yesterday, as I thought it would be a nifty idea to stop right there to take pictures. She had a smile on her face, sort of, once I'd moved out of her way.

There are a couple of decent-sized patches of these, which I believe to be Madera Leptosiphon, Leptosiphon serrulatus. 

And many thanks to the Calflora web site, one of the niftiest sites ever for "looking stuff up". 

Saturday, May 7, 2011

While I've Been Chasing Wildflowers

Dino has been busy on a project that will provide water and power to the shop building as well as all of our garden areas and eventually will allow for setup of an automatic drip system.  At the moment, we have any number of trenches into which various pipes and pieces of conduit will go. 

I was able to offer a day's labor last weekend, which in spite of the fact that I'm in pretty good shape, had me whining about sore muscles.  However, it is a truth that I would prefer trenching to having a day job, however much I am grateful for the income.  My time for retirement is not yet, alas.

This  post's photographic offering is an image of Pretty Face, Triteleia ixioides, a member of the lily family also known as Golden Brodiaea.  (Note: there is an Elegant Brodaea blooming on the grade I drive up to go to work.  I may try to snap a photo of that before it fades.)

Friday, May 6, 2011

Hope You Like Fungi

As some of you may know, I seem to have developed a fondness for observing fungi.  Over the last couple of years, I have made it a mini-mission to photograph as many fungi as possible - at least those that we spy at our beloved Dryad Ranch.  I created a little book of my treasured finds:

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Loving Wildflower Season

Alas, looks like the fungi are done for the year.  But I'm not in despair, as the wildflowers are starting to go nuts again.  I found these last weekend on a little hike uphill a ways, in the lee of a big rock pile.  I don't remember having seen these before and it took a while to figure out what they are:  Caterpillar Scorpionweed, Phacelia cicutaria var. hispida.

Monday, March 28, 2011

More Fungi. No Apologies for It, Either

Some may not know that yours truly is a bit obsessed with fungi, with a sub-interest in slime molds.  In spite of the fact that I am really sick of this particular rainy season (acknowledging that is a very un-Californian type of thing to say), I cannot escape the fact that Rain = Fungi. 

Therefore, I am foisting off yet another lovely group photo of these little numbers found just below the shop building area.

And, and what about these?  Growing on the side of a tree.  From a distance, they look like noses.  Close up, like a weird mouth thing.  And the color - a friend who saw this shot thought they looked like the color of old lady support hose.

Monday, March 21, 2011

New Bird! Number 87!

All of Dino's raptor runs with the Audubon group (not to mention extensive studying of field marks) are really paying off in raptor identification.  Today, he saw a Swainson's Hawk (Buteo swainsoni) on his daily walk - that's a new species for us here.  Excitement plus!

I made it into town today through a bit of mushy snow only to find that there was No Power.  Drat.  Makes it hard to work on a computer in that situation.  Another aspect of the general discomfort:  building only has electrical heat, ergo, 53 degrees in the office.  I layered, indeed I did and toughed it out till noon, then decided that I'd had enough and headed home.  Dino headed out to work on the shop building, deferring to my need for quiet so I could get some paying work done, and I plugged away on the much slower connection.  The PG&E web site does not give much hope for tomorrow either, not to complain about days off which are always nice, but I'd rather not burn my personal days for this.  Ah well, make hay and all that - oh wait, the sun's not shining. 

Here's a fungus pic for your trouble.  I found these beauties on Saturday afternoon in an area I don't usually explore, in a spring on the area we call the Northwest Territory.  I had a heck of a time wedging myself and my gear under a willow trunk where I'd decided to go for a nice view of the spring and the water flowing downstream.  I was delighted to be rewarded by finding this mini-forest in a hollowed area of stump.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Rain to Celebrate Spring

Being stuck inside is prompting lots of sitting around, plus some vigorous reading and now!  Actual writing!  Good thing we both got out and about yesterday - Dino off on a birdwatching trip to Bass Lake and yours truly on some photo-ing.

One of my favorites for this time of year: the amazing green of the freshly minted buckeyes.  I've had my eye on this specimen for the last week or so on my way uphill to work.

You'll be happy to learn that I did not wield the camera for one of the more intimate moments so far witnessed among the turkeys that come to visit our front yard.  I can say that wild turkeys seem to have more fun than the mere couple of wing flaps and wiggle of the doves - although I did observe that instead of enjoying a post-fun cuddle and smoke, the male stood on the female's back for nigh on ten minutes before he decided to let her stand up again.

Friday, March 4, 2011

More Yosemite

One of my most faithful readers was alarmed at my reaction to Yosemite. I say no no, I will chose a blase attitude about a lot of things, a crusty even cynical attitude about others, but when it comes to flinging myself off the cliff of honest response to THIS beauty, I'll choose the fall. Look at those rock walls, the size of it all - that granite doesn't give a toss about my ridiculous little ego and its prattling.

And that is real liberation.

Our lunch view the other day.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Lovely Day Trip

Recently, we were honored to host a friend of mine who was visiting from Moses Lake, Washington.  This was her first trip to California and since we are so close, we decided to visit Yosemite, truly a world-class destination.

I've decided that yes, Yosemite is best in the winter. Seeing that place again - so many times I felt like falling to the ground in wonder. I felt whacked about the head and shoulders with it all, my heart broke again and again.


Sunday, February 27, 2011

Birds Birds Birds

Over the last several weeks, Dino has become active in the Mariposa chapter of the Yosemite Area Audubon Society.  He's participated in several "raptor runs", where a group of interested birders follow a prescribed route and count the individuals of each species of raptor identified. 

A couple of weekends ago, as Dino was relating his interesting day raptor-watching, he suggested that we should do some birdwatching of our own "some time soon".  I suggested that since all I had on my agenda for the next day was some yucky housecleaning, perhaps that would be a good day to go birding and leave the kitchen floor to fester.  (Hyperbole there - hard encrustations don't actually fester, they merely stick and lurk.)

Come the next morning, we gathered up all our gear, filled up a lunch box and headed off.  It was a great day, with a good 30 plus species identified (not counting our usuals here at home of course), and a couple of instances of "we know that's a Scaup but don't know Lesser or Greater" so we couldn't count it. I also saw a few new species that I'd never seen before. Of course, since none of the birds we saw are uncommon, I may have seen them but just didn't know what I was seeing. I know it's a form of bird geekiness to keep lists, but we do anyway. And it's not really the listing that's fun it's the watching. Totally different terrains from where our place is too, just beautiful California interior valley grasslands with many ponds and vernal pools that attract water birds.

We took quite a few record shots of birds we weren't sure about identifying at the time in hopes that we could identify them later based on the photos.  I'll share just one of these with you, it's the best of the bird ones. A Northern Mockingbird:

Monday, January 31, 2011

Slime Mold and a New Bird

We went for one of our weekend walks yesterday, after the little rainstorm ended.  I always like to go down to the river after a rain, and we were blessed with a sighting of a pair of Northern Pintail ducks.  Our 86th species identified!!  We also saw a pair of Common Mergansers, the usual mallards.  The four-leggeds were represented by those scruffy and destructive hoodlums, the wild pigs, of which we saw two confirmed, but there may well have been more.

Dino pointed out the most interesting article in the January 22, 2011 issue of New Scientist magazine regarding the activities of certain slime molds.  According to the article (link), slime molds deliberately include their preferred strains of bacteria, i.e. their meals, into their spore capsules, which they use to reproduce.  When the slime mold colony move to a new location, the bacteria can then be "seeded" into the new spot, making it easy for the new slime molds to find a ready source of nutrition. 
In the below photograph, taken in the latter half of November 2010, the red bumps on the log are slime mold.

Mushroom and Red Slime Mold / Nov 21, 2010

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Mark Your Calendars - Birds!

The Aubudon Society recently sent a reminder email about this year's Great Backyard Bird Count.  This year, the count will be happening February 18 - 21. 

Each year, participants are encouraged to count birds - in their backyard, at work, on their daily travels and submit those counts to the Birdcount web site.  The data are used by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and the Audubon Society understand more about the continent's bird populations.   Anyone can participate - it doesn't matter if the only birds you see are the same couple of species that land on your back fence.

Find out more at the official Great Backyard Bird Count site.  It's fun!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Hey Weather! I'm Complaining About You.

Every weekday, I drive into the nearest town to go to work.  Not that I'm a big fan of the 45 minute commute, but since I'd already been used to that before we moved here, not such a big difference.  Most days it's no big deal and perhaps even pleasant, with lots of pretty views and relatively frequent wildlife sightings.  Sometimes I even get as far as Hwy 49 before I see another moving vehicle.  Lately, it's been nice in town; blue skies, vaguely warm temperature.  Yesterday, I got about a mile out of town on my drive home:  wall o' fog.  Not as bad as the horrible-est tule fog but still non-fun.  I'm shaking my fist at you, fog. 

In other work-related news, I had to employ an interesting methodology for getting into my office yesterday morning: climbing in the window of the bakery with whom I share a common access door. When I got to work, one of the bakery workers was outside talking to someone on the other side of the door, who was rattling the door knob and attempting to open it. The locksmith arrived well before noon to fix everything.  Glad I lost all that weight so I was able to fit myself through, because otherwise I would have been late to work, gasp and god forbid.

Below, a picture of the Chowchilla taken on Sunday afternoon - the one day recently where we got some sunshine in our little valley.  If I'd tried taking this shot on Monday, it would have been like taking a picture of the inside of a cotton ball.

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