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:

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