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.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


We must be coming into skunk season around here. When I walked to the truck yesterday morning, I noticed a strong smell of skunk. Then twenty minutes later, as I approached the cattle guard near the top of the paved grade, one of the stripey numbers made me wait while he or she wended his or her way across the guard and finnalllyyy down off the side of the road. One doesn't want to alarm them with a honk or pee-yoo smelly truck. Patience is the best strategy. Also, I've been seeing smushed skunks on the road the last few days coming to work, so making the assumption that mating season is approaching if not already here. Nature note: California striped skunks are the species Mephitis mephitis and are a member of the weasel family.

Furthermore, I have no idea what's going on with that particular cattle guard but three days in a row critters stopped me right there. Monday, it was cattle. I've never seen them go up that far, but there they were staring at me stupidly. Window roll down - "move it ladies!" (Sorry, not a cow fan, although I know some folks love them.) Yesterday, a buck, a muscly good looking lad - I didn't have to encourage him to head off the road.

A certain friendly reader has requested regular river updates - herewith a photo of the Chowchilla, still running at a brisk pace, although greatly reduced from its mightiness of a couple of weeks ago.  This shot is of the river just upstream from the ford our neighbor uses.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Rain and the River

Even after all these years of living in California (since 1972 but who's counting?), evidently I must still be considered a mere transplant.  It's been a tad soggy of late, and yesterday morning while sitting in my cozy easy chair glumly looking at another day's promise of rain:

Me: "I'm sick of this stuff*."
Dino:  "We've only had about 20 inches so far this season."
Me:  "Not relevant."

A true Californian is happy and peppy when it rains buckets, stircraziness, mud and icky spots in the road notwithstanding.

At quarter to four yesterday, it looked like it had stopped and Dino proposed that we put our mud boots on and go out for a bit. I was pretty much springloaded by that point so that sounded downright agreeable. He took me out to the lower garden to show me where he's going to put more carpet roses and discuss a particular pathway and what we may want to do there. It was still sprinkling but just a little bit, so we kept going and walked up the road some so he could do a little inspection of water flows and how his culverts were doing. Saw some great fungi - didn't have the camera but suggested to Dino that if he felt inspired, I would not object at all if he were to take a few shots himself. There was one big conk in particular that caught our attention (species not yet confirmed). The rain continued to stay stopped so we ended up walking all the way down to the big river crossing on our neighbor's property to see the Chowchilla. Whoo, we were impressed with its High Muddy Thunder, although we could see that it was still not at the high water mark (evidenced by a visible area of detritus), which had been reached with the big storm of a few weeks ago. Then we walked back onto our place to see the river there, and the spot where we often take our picnic lunches and sit on the rock under the Oregon Ash - entirely underwater.

It was past dusk by then so we walked home in the near-dark. Some of our most memorable walks have been at dusk or later, including one gorgeous end to a long day hike in Anza Borrego Desert State Park, where the moon lit our way back to our camp site. I discovered that my mud boots aren't quite as waterproof as I would like, as tromping through the myriad little creeks introduced some cold trickles to the interior of said footwear.

A couple of short samples of the Chowchilla running big post-storm:


* Family friendly word substitution
Site Meter