The little tree munchers
Friday November 04th 2022, 8:55 pm
Filed under: Wildlife

I grew up next to a watershed preserve, a creek surrounded by park extending ten miles as it flowed down to the Potomac River.

So to my eyes it was the weirdest thing in the world to see creeks in California that in the 1950’s had been turned into concrete-lined, sharp-angled corridors. You, water! You go here, only, and yo, developers, build hereandhereandhereandhereandhere to your heart’s desire.

I found this article today: beavers were gone from this area since the Gold Rush, 160 years ago.

In the 1980’s, two of them were being considered a nuisance in the Central Valley.

California has a strict law re relocating wild animals: you can’t. If you trap one you can kill it mercifully if it’s not endangered in any way–or you can release it right there where you found it, after, y’know, giving it a good scolding about trespassing or something.

They didn’t quite say Fish and Game got permission or whether they’re the ones who grant the permission anyway so they just did what they wanted to or what (the article made it sound like the answer to the reporter was just don’t ask, guys), but, what they actually did in this one instance was to trap that pair where they weren’t wanted.

And then release them in the mountains above here near a large reservoir to see what they would do when they had the whole mountain to themselves. Either mountain lions or coyotes would get them or we would get to see what it’s like to have an actual beaver dam in operation. Because, science! Plus a chance to right a historical wrong.

Beavers looked at that concrete dam and chortled, Hey, let us show you how it’s done! Went right around it at some point.

The creek below there feeds into a river in San Jose, and it turns out they can manage the saltwater of the Bay just fine as a way to find their way up new creeks. Which, slowly, gradually, they’ve been doing.

San Jose Water Department went, Since when do we have beavers?! and wanted to get rid of them. They got told no, and that the beavers would do far more good than harm.

They are a keystone species. Where they’ve shown up, all kinds of things are making a comeback already.

But they don’t touch those concrete creeks. That would be slapping an Eat Me sign on their backs. Also, Starve Me. Which means that to expand further they have to find the one further north where the two counties couldn’t agree in the post-War era as to which one would have to pay for all that, with influential people fighting it anyway, and the officials threw up their hands and left the banks in their natural state.

We’re talking the richest part of town on the south side of that county line, with bigger house lots with great views of the creek and lots of trees near the water line that those beavers might find tasty and which might soon upset some people.

Maybe Mark Zuckerberg could take up wildlife photography.



How long had that been there?
Wednesday October 26th 2022, 9:23 pm
Filed under: Garden,Wildlife

There was a small flock. That was the tell.

Given the water restrictions, I only planted one tomato this year, and a Costco plant at that–meaning you take what they’ve got, and all they had was a determinate-type: they grow, they produce all at once, they die.

Personally, I’d prefer a few at a time across the summer, but lazy is as lazy buys.

It gave it its all, though it did space the ripening out just enough. See those dead yellow and brown leaves hanging down?

But since it was right there by the apricot pots I gave a little water to it each time, too. It was still alive. You never know.

It started with the surprise of a small new leaf after weeks without change. Then a few more.

And now it’s a whole plant full of bright little yellow blossoms dressed up for Halloween. Cool! (Let’s see if I can protect it from frost for the winter, but my back isn’t moving that thing quite yet.)

The flowers attracted the attention of a house finch, which clearly hopped in under a wobbly lower edge but couldn’t fly out at bird level but just bounced into the netting, and the more it panicked the more it wanted to go upwards to be safe.

None of which I noticed until I was surprised to see a bunch of finches out there where there was no particular reason for any of them to be–so I stood up and walked to the window to get a better look.

Ah, I see it, yes, they do that. Okay.

I walked outside and lifted the cage. Escape at last.

I came back in grateful once again for the example of simple birds, and at that, a type that’s famous for squabbling at birdfeeders.

But they are unwilling to see their fellow suffer alone. They feel compelled to be with it in its extremity. For as long as it takes.



They only come out at night
Sunday October 23rd 2022, 8:50 pm
Filed under: Wildlife

While all we’ve seen on our property is possums and a skunk at the front door. Oh and the bunnies.

It does help that we’re not up in the hills.



The wild wild Wests
Friday September 30th 2022, 8:49 pm
Filed under: Family,Wildlife

Berkeley Breathed, the guy who wrote Bloom County and does again intermittently on Facebook, posted a video recently of him walking out his front door as noted by his security video and later watched by his horrified wife.

Either that young western diamondback rattlesnake pulled back really fast–or (as it appears) he kicked it in the head and walked on, completely oblivious as it recoiled fast. From there, the camera shows the snake gathering itself up and moving forward again after a moment, jaws very wide this time and tongue flicking, going across the front of his doorway and beyond.

While you see some of the guy’s shadow as he’s presumably getting in his car having no idea how close he just came.

So of course that was the first thing that came to mind when the kids up north sent a picture of their five and three year olds staring at the 18″ or so long snake slithering across the pathway right in front of them.

It was pretty.

Their parents let them respectfully hold still and observe this benign new bit of nature–but told them that if they were at their grandparents’ houses (Arizona/CA) and saw one, it might not be the same kind and they were to move away from it right away.

Love nature first of all, a healthy respect for what it could do after that. I was so proud of them all.

(And here I’d thought the skunk on our doormat had really been something.)



Mind the gap
Wednesday August 31st 2022, 8:18 pm
Filed under: Wildlife

There is a single tomato plant, in a large pot, kind of spilling over the side but that’s okay because there’s a birdnetting cage over the whole thing with the pot helping to keep it in place.

Turns out if you go to just the right spot there was room for a finch to bop in under there at ground level in its search for weed seeds.

And then it tried to fly up to leave but that didn’t work at all.

There seemed to be a bit of motion going on out there and I looked up to see a small flock of finches coming in: some landed on the ground, several landed on top of that bird netting and then on the strawberry pot next to it, and my thought was, sorry, no crop pecking for you.

Incoming!  Another one.

Only then did my eye catch the flutter of wings that were somehow not on the outside of that netting like they were supposed to be, and I headed out to rescue the poor thing before it mashed its feathers against things any more than it had.

As soon as I got close enough to reach to lift the thing away our intrepid bird suddenly saw its way out before I’d even made one–freedom!

Yay!

I went back inside thinking about how house finches always squabbled at the bird feeder, always tried to get the uppermost perch, always believed the sunflower seeds up high tasted better than the ones down low and no amount of real-life experience could disabuse them of that silliness nor make them believe there was always enough for them all, right there in plain sight.

And yet.

Here one was in trouble, and its peers, rather than abandoning it to its fate, went out of their way to be with it, to cheer it on, to offer comfort by their presence even if they couldn’t do a thing about it. They anti-Darwinned it, really: they came to where their fellow finch was overcome and powerless instead of fleeing the danger themselves.

We should all be such birdbrains.



After the kids have flown
Friday August 26th 2022, 8:02 pm
Filed under: Wildlife

Empty nesters. Maybe they’re talking about going out for a nice Friday night dinner?



Squirrelocity
Wednesday August 24th 2022, 9:32 pm
Filed under: Garden,Wildlife

Squirrels do not get going at the crack of dawn and I hoped that at 7:30 a.m. they were still all nicely tucked in bed.

As if.

I came around the corner of the house yesterday to where the fig tree was, knowing they’re sweetest picked earliest in the day.

There was only going to be one ready. I had a clamshell snapped over it. There aren’t a lot this year. I had a bird netting tent sideways on the ground covering that lowest branch because it was too flimsy to safely hold the tent’s weight up, but at least it was something and there was a tea rose right to the side there.

Not that all that would do anything other than Rube Goldberg the access a bit. I am no Mark Rober.

It saw me before I saw it. The fig was knocked off the branch but inside the clamshell it hadn’t pried open yet as the squirrel tried to leap away–hitting the top of that tent from the inside.

Then the netting on the left, where the rose thorns were.

Then the netting on the right, and all three times it leaped for it as only a squirrel can: they can do seven feet from a standing position. So you know those whiskers were getting a little bent out of shape and its nose was feeling this.

Poor thing. I had certainly meant it no harm other than fig deprivation but it did occur to me that squirrels don’t learn from fear (or they would cease to be able to squirrel) but they can from, Well, *that* wasn’t fun.

It finally found its way out: it meant having to take a few steps actually towards me before it could get away from me. But if there’s a way to do something a squirrel will find it and it did.

That fig tasted pretty good.



Man alone shall not live by bread
Monday August 15th 2022, 9:36 pm
Filed under: Wildlife

You know how it’s a TV cliche, or used to be if it isn’t still, that if a character went to the grocery store there always had to be a French baguette sticking way out of the bag?

Someone by the hills near here was unloading their groceries when, yes, a baguette was suddenly in the picture. But it wasn’t stolen from inside the open car–but from on top. The neighbors’ trail cam busted the culprit.

One Roadrunner sandwich, coming right up.



They grow so fast
Friday July 15th 2022, 10:03 pm
Filed under: Wildlife

Over at San Jose City Hall, the female of our two young peregrines appears to have caught her own meal yesterday, which is the final task the parents have to teach their young before they disperse out into the world.

One of this year’s UCSC student falcon cam drivers offered a visual summing up of the season from newly hatched to post fledge in one quick video recap, and that last picture conveys how close the siblings have continued to be so far.

It almost made me miss being one of the camera volunteers. It’s been a dozen years. But it was knitting or cam time for my hands and after one intense season as other volunteers dropped out one by one and more and more fell on those of us remaining, it was my turn to go be creative again.

But I’m quite grateful for the experience. And so glad for the volunteers and the college kids who take the classes to be able to show those falcons’ world to ours.



Progress
Sunday July 03rd 2022, 9:10 pm
Filed under: Wildlife

The two young, Lupe and Tamien, are learning to transfer dinner mid-air, an essential skill. Lupe just got it from her dad without dropping it this time: her face is yelling “I got it I got it I got it!”

The day before, it had ended in this. (Click to see how enthused the guy is. Photos courtesy of a fledgewatcher named Don.)

Meantime, this was yesterday.

And this was today. (So far.) This baby blanket is definitely going to need an edging later.

 



Mockingbird, hey now everybody have you heard
Friday June 17th 2022, 9:57 pm
Filed under: Wildlife

(Earworm.)

We’re always new at something the first time we try.

There were strong winds yesterday and during a gust the other birds laid low, but one young mockingbird threw himself into it, not yet knowing air can do that, and drag-less raced. Whoosh!

Today it or its sibling was walking down the fenceline when, trying to be all mockingbirdy, it DeLoreaned its wings out like they do, trying to walk at the same time instead of holding still while you scare the bugs out from the ground it wasn’t standing on.

And it tripped. I didn’t know birds could trip.

Clearly it and I are kindred spirits.



Chocolate tea for it
Monday May 30th 2022, 9:53 pm
Filed under: Food,Wildlife

We just finished the tempering attempt and the pouring into molds and all.the.cleanup., and the Fiji Rakiraki is waiting to be pounced on in the morning. Making chocolate is the perfect two-person hobby for empty nesters.

A little hot water got the last of it off the melanger pieces but you don’t want that quickly-solid a fat going down your drain ever, so most of it came off by way of vigorous paper towel rubbing first while the thing was still warm and the chocolate smears weren’t set yet. But that last little bit. You just have to.

There’s the drought. Waste no water. Hmm. There’s that dog next door who got onto our side once, so only pour it where it can’t get into.

The azaleas.

I opened the front door and took a step–

–and as I tossed that faintly chocolate water in the bush, something out there rustled and made its opinion known with a snarly hissy sound. Loud enough for *me* to hear, such that my first thought was a startled!ohwaittheoakisgonethere’snomountainlionaboveme. Skunks don’t snarl, do they? (Has it really been three years? We’ll be teasing each other over that one forever.)

But they definitely do come right up to the doorstep, so, hey. Enjoy your chocolate out there. And get the heck away from my miniature apple tree.



The birds and the beans
Sunday May 29th 2022, 9:52 pm
Filed under: Wildlife

(Roasts the cacao nibs, sets to cool, throws in Cuisinart for the first stage. Chocolate with banding time is an old peregrine group tradition, I just add my own spin to it.)

There were two successful San Jose City Hall hatchlings this year, one male, one female on that HVAC ledge on the 18th floor. I almost miss my days being on the cam-op crew.

They got banded a few days ago. Video highlights here. (That’s an update; the original link broke and they fixed it.) Thankfully it doesn’t show the moments right when the biologists stepped off a perfectly solid roof, because rope or no rope, looking straight down from that high up is just not in my comfort zone.

The babies were adorable as they tried to let them know, We are fierce!–well, maybe not, as they got flipped over–You just watch out! Our momma and dad are mad at you!

(Checking the time here, it’s one hour into the conching, time to add the superfine sugar to the churning cocoa mass, runs to the kitchen and gets that taken care of.)



Nestmate
Saturday May 21st 2022, 9:44 pm
Filed under: Garden,Wildlife

Seed stitch, 251 per row for the border, and it is slow going but it’s going.

Meantime, part of me has been thinking I really should reapply the grape Koolaid to protect my cherries.

And yet. Let the baby mockingbirds finish learning how to fly.

This morning I saw one that was regressed two days from what I’d seen before: when the parent flew off it hunched down to try to pull off this wing/leg/leap thing; after all, it had managed to land on the fence, but again and again an almost, then a nothing doing. Hunch/unhunch hunch/unhunch. I stopped counting after ten of those. The six inch jump where the top of the fence banistered upwards was way more than it could see over or dare try to get up to.

Then a parent flew in to feed it, and as soon as it flew off the other came right in and did, too, none of this you’re a big kid now–they babied this one. And it seemed to have more down left.

Not the same fledgling. I was sure of it.

The question was settled for good this afternoon when I saw all four of them: the parents feeding the baby on the upper fence and the one I’d become familiar with standing in its usual spot on the slightly lower portion, watching and clearly hoping to get in on this, and a parent did fly over from the one chick to the other.

And then dove into my cherries. Even if they eat mostly insects in the spring while new bodies are developing and fruit in the fall, hey, a little fast food for the kids, right?

I got a couple of clusters into one of those Costco egg carton-ish mango containers for now because I want to get at least some of them turning darkest red for us. When I no longer have babies begging I’ll work harder at discouraging the birds–besides, those parents are doing a great job keeping the squirrels at bay and squirrels don’t eat a meal, they strip a tree. So incentive to keep the mockers hanging around is not a bad thing.

Bugs on the fruit are the best bird baby formula, though. Help yourself.



And a little chick shall lead
Friday May 20th 2022, 9:17 pm
Filed under: Knit,Wildlife

Same spot on the fence. It likes it there. The shrug–its shoulders went no higher–as it looked up at where it wanted to follow its parent to while doubting itself again and again. He tried wagging his tail like his parents, nowhere near as much but still a new thing from yesterday.

C’mon, you can do it. I’ve seen you do it. You know you can. C’mon!

Shrug. No.

Shrug. (Looking up wistfully.) No.

The wind was blowing; not hard, but how do you trust it won’t gust. It was a whole new set of variables and the fledgling had no idea what to do with it and was clearly reluctant to test how this whole flight thing goes when the air fights back.

Suddenly, with the outburst of hungry two year olds everywhere: ME DOOZ IT! It raised its wings to the height they were meant to reach to and took off into that not-holding-still sky. Totally overshot the first limb on the tree, stumbled, but grabbed the next and held on for dear life. Phew!

See? You *can* do it.

It suddenly dawned on me: I’d been procrastinating and procrastinating and procrastinating getting going on my latest project because I couldn’t decide whether to make the coral a three-dimensional effect with waves and wisps of it growing out of the fabric or just go for a flat pictorial version so I don’t have to try to make the fish somehow 3-D too and whatever all else ends up coming in after that, and picturing small grandkids pulling at protruding bits didn’t help–but when you come right down to it, part of me had just never believed I could pull the whole thing off anyway. If I knit it one way I’d probably wish I’d done it the other, and you can always see after the fact how you could have done it better when you’re making it up on the fly. I love my ocean afghan created by googling “pretty ocean fish” but I can sure show you where the mistakes are.

I was being a baby bird. Stop it. Now just go knit.