Spring begins
Thursday February 16th 2017, 11:56 pm
Filed under: Garden,Knitting a Gift,Wildlife

Finished the last multicolored, multi-yarn row tonight at long last. Plain edging to go. My thanks to the elderly volunteer at the clinic who watched me work as I waited for a prescription to be filled this afternoon and told me, appreciatively, That’s a big project!

He made my day. It’s funny how much unexpected little moments like that can help.

Meantime, some peach flowers: the August Pride tree and its wide-petaled blossoms just starting to open and the Tropic Snow with its deeper pink, slightly frilly ones.

And looking at my phone, I forgot to post this! I had some of my friend Kathy‘s dog’s fur out on the patio for nest-making material and snapped this Bewick’s wren right after it gathered a beakful.

In the shape of a heart. It was on Valentine’s day. I couldn’t believe it when I looked at my phone.



On the day the first peach bud showed the first bit of pink
Sunday February 05th 2017, 11:10 pm
Filed under: Garden,Wildlife

Those huge wings doing a tight u-turn right in front of the window across the patio–even I heard the whooshing air from inside, a split second after the panicked dove hit the glass. The Cooper’s coming in caught it before it could so much as fall to the ground among the elephant ears and somehow then still headed out the other way again within that same space.

A cloud of prey feathers drifted into the yard as the hawk clutched its dinner tight and away. Those will disappear quickly, and have already started to. Nests must be built and babies must be cushioned.

Judging by the peregrine falcon reports coming in, our Cooper’s should be starting to lay and brood very soon.



Only took me 30 years to find this out about her
Tuesday January 31st 2017, 11:25 pm
Filed under: Friends,Wildlife

A friend stopped by and chatted for awhile, and as we talked, she was facing the bird feeder.

“You’ve got a nuthatch!”

“On the feeder?”

“Yes!”

I turned around to see, and sure enough, there it was. The thing was almost empty so the finches had given up squabbling over the seed and all but one had gone somewhere else and with their aggressiveness out of the picture, the nuthatch had flown in. The one house finch seemed to question its presence a second but the nuthatch shrugged it off. Hanging upside down, it reached in and fetched itself a safflower seed and flew off in success.

Karen picked up my Sibley’s and went straight to the page–Nope, not a Pygmy, that’s a… Turns out Karen’s not only an avid birder and has a feeder, too, she’s led birdwalking tours. Knock me over with a pillow’s worth of feathers. She regaled me with squirrel stories, like the mutual friend who once asked Al Jensen what to do about the squirrels in his fruit trees. Not knowing that it was illegal to relocate them, the guy then proceeded to trap one–one squirrel, ever, that was it–and drove over to the entrance to the Stanford Dish to let it go, thinking it could have a whole oak tree all to itself on that undeveloped hillside. (Never mind the mountain lions occasionally spotted below.)

He opened the cage and that squirrel made a mad dash away from the oak, straight down the hill, across the busy road, and scrambled at long last into a comfortable suburban backyard like where he’d come from. Okay, that didn’t work.

Walking out the door a few minutes later, I wished out loud that she’d gotten to see the Cooper’s hawk to get the full experience around here. Dang if right on cue, looking at the big pine across the street, guess what flew upwards and then started kiting right there above the neighbor’s house? We laughed at the utter randomness of the timing. Well, there you go! Wow!

Wishing for it to come on over for a close up was a little much. It tipped its wings at an angle and disappeared into the wind.



Look! Squirrel!
Sunday January 15th 2017, 11:32 pm
Filed under: Wildlife

Side note: 35F vs 67F under the frost cover layers: a new record for those Christmas lights tonight.

The day we got word Al had passed, I was outside setting up the covers over the mango tree for the evening when I looked up: two hawks were courting, soaring, circling on the wind together above my next-door neighbor’s and the home beyond. I hadn’t seen one here in awhile but I knew it was about time for them to start preparing for a family and there they were.

I wished for a closer look. I got my closer look. I just had to wait a little.

Yesterday a black squirrel was just starting to climb the fence not far from the bird feeder and my window view when he realized what was perched right there right next to the top of that board and he suddenly froze where he was.

It was pretty clear to me it wasn’t Coopernicus, the male Cooper’s that had tolerated my presence for years. I know that featheration changes over a year’s time, but this one seemed, if I were to guess, to be the young juvenile of last summer with its stripes faded out to the white chest of an adult. But at that size, male, definitely.

He let me watch him awhile. He wasn’t skittish about it. I remembered to blink and occasionally turn slightly away so I wouldn’t be challenging him, while thinking, just like your dad? He was, right? Raptors like to come back home to the territory they grew up in to claim as their own when they can.

Meantime, after awhile that little squirrel’s nose stopped pointing straight up. An oxalis plant that wasn’t quite blooming yet had caught its eye. Maybe it had a tasty bug in it. It completely forgot about the hawk right above its head and hopped down and buried its nose in among the clover-shaped leaves, sniffing around.

While the hawk craned its neck over the edge to take a good look at that potential easy meal and his good fortune.

Nahhhh… The big wings spread wide and sciurini tartare was off the menu for now.



Playing de-fence
Friday January 06th 2017, 11:13 pm
Filed under: Amaryllis,Wildlife

Yesterday I saw a squirrel racing down the fence line suddenly skid with a flip that threw it off into space upside down, nose and all four paws straight up and tail flailing hard to no avail as it dropped straight down like a roadrunner cartoon. It seemed as surprised as I was. And that was when it was just wet out.

I resisted the temptation to climb up to look down into the neighbor’s side: it was either fine, hawk-food take-out or crow sourcing.

This morning not a single squirrel was touching this. Not till it melted.

Meantime, inside, the latest amaryllis stem is no worse off for having toppled itself over.

And the baby afghan continues.



On opening day
Thursday December 01st 2016, 11:47 pm
Filed under: Mango tree,Wildlife

And so it begins.

You can almost see the little dots of purple in those tiny things.

It’s been colder, though, (37 out there right now, 59 under the covers) and I haven’t seen any honeybees on the frost covers in the morning this past week. But if they’re looking for flowers they surely know right where to go. Does it make any difference that the neighbors let the hive that set up camp in their backyard keep all its honey for the winter?

Meantime, the artificial vs real tree debate has been settled. By a beaver. In a dollar store in Maryland. Reaching up to the fake ones, taking a sniff, and declaring a definite opinion on the subject.

(Yes, but no allergies and no massive baby spider hatch-out like that one year. Time to roll ours out and set it up.)



They were bigger than he was
Monday November 28th 2016, 11:42 pm
Filed under: Wildlife

Three raptors approaching overhead and my Cooper’s hawk diving for cover in the upper parts of the redwood tree, vanishing instantly.

That wasn’t something I ever expected to see.



Make unto thee no raven images
Sunday November 13th 2016, 12:12 am
Filed under: Mango tree,Wildlife

The crows and ravens and I have an understanding: they do not land in my yard.

And they don’t. They tend at breeding season to test me as to whether this is still true, I chase them off when they try just once, and that’s that. Every year.

I’ve wondered if they had a sense of smell, and have often thought surely they would have to; how else could they scavenge? And so I found this really cool article on the whole subject of birds and smell and how oh yes they do, and why historically it was wrongly thought that they did not.

So. Two days ago to my great surprise a raven landed not only in my backyard but not at all far away from me and where I could see it out the window. Right there. Hey!

And it was staring at the mango tree while standing nearest to where the buds are.

I went outside to declare just whose territory this was in language I knew it understood and as it took off, two more–hard to tell if they were crows or ravens, their height was near the top of the redwood–were cawing loudly and flying towards me. That is definitely one type of bird I can hear.

I waved my arms and the closest veered instantly away over the neighbors’ just short of the fenceline.

Right. As if I could touch it from where I am. The second was coming up just behind where the first had, I waved my arms again and it veered sharply away, an instant replay, and they all went silent.

Mangoes have the most intensely scented, marvelous flowers of anything I’ve ever grown–mine bloomed just once a few months after I planted it and I’ve been wanting ever since to smell that glorious scent again.

The new, tightly closed buds have no smell–to me.

But as far as I can tell, that raven wanted to see what its nose said it had to have enough to risk my seeing it standing there.

Glad I saw it out there. Don’t know if it works on ravens but it might be time to start the fake dead crow at last.



Hanging out at the branch office
Thursday November 10th 2016, 12:08 am
Filed under: Life,Lupus,Mango tree,Politics,Wildlife

Slower growth than summer’s but still coming along there.

Meantime, the neighbors kept a compost pile for years near the other side of the fence from my mango tree.

They weren’t trying to be part of the amateur beekeeper trend, but one day a swarm liked that spot and moved right on in. I don’t think they try to harvest any honey, they’re just glad to be doing their part in supporting the population. Even if inadvertently.

Which, when they told me, explained why I get so many.

Now that the weather is chilly at night a few of those honeybees are getting their feet snagged on my frost covers again, not quite making it back to the hive for the night. Or sometimes it looks like they just got there when I arrive in the morning.

I can’t pull them off. Too close to the stingers and I don’t want to dismember the poor things. I don’t want to walk across the yard to put the cloths away and have a bunch of upset bees around me, either. So I give the underside of the cloth a good pat with an extra layer or three of fabric between us to free them, one by one; a flick if that didn’t do it.

It was good and sunny by the time it was warm enough for the day’s grand unveiling and I grabbed the big straw hat by the back door on my way out.

And so the usual routine. Six this time–off you go. Sometimes they fly free, sometimes they plummet, needing energy and warmth or (I hope not) dead. But always, always, they are ever so polite about it to the big human thwacking around their feet.

Most of today’s simply fell to the ground. The birds would soon be checking for snacks.

Stepped just inside as I shut the door behind me while reaching for my hat.

I had just long enough to wonder what burr-type thing had fallen from where to have landed on my hat or was it falling apart? My favorite! But I had seen no such thing moments earlier and it didn’t feel like broken straw edges.

Nor do straw edges bounce up and down in your hand in agitation as one’s hand closes to grasp them. Mine quickly opened and I stared, and one upset honeybee, very much invigorated and very much alive, made its quick escape to parts still unknown within the house.

And still it hadn’t stung me for all I’d put it through.

May I be as forgiving and slow to anger against the stings of yesterday’s election. I can only pray.



A has-bin
Sunday October 30th 2016, 11:08 pm
Filed under: Knitting a Gift,Lupus,Wildlife

Three skeins per row today, four tomorrow.

I threw out some fruit that we hadn’t eaten soon enough and it was particularly sweet as well as having gone bad.

Our city-supplied composting bin is out the side door just off the kitchen and under the overhang so that I don’t have to walk out in the sunlight to deal with food scraps. Lupus and all that.

This morning: this.

Can a raccoon jump that high? Onto a surface like that? (Too big a jaw, too fast and too nighttime, I don’t think it was squirrels.)

Did it climb a tree, jump down onto the house, and then jump off the overhang onto the lid? We’ve had raccoon paw prints on the skylight so we know they can get up there–jumping off the roof, though, I’m far less sure of.

But however it got there, that lid would be so easy to lift, so easy to open, to reach right into that fruit, if there weren’t this…this…darn deadweight sitting on top of it.

Did it get in to all that delicious rottingness inside?

That one I can answer: not yet.

 



On a rainy day with a sick husband
Thursday October 27th 2016, 9:22 pm
Filed under: Mango tree,Wildlife

The Baby Crawford peach tree at nine months.

Saw the translucent outline of what was clearly the hawk on top of the awning, and as I watched his beak announcing he owned the place I thought, show me your beautiful self, c’mon.

A minute or two later he did a little swoop down right in front of the bird feeder and back up to the other side, a six foot leap for a thirty-one-inch bird but just enough for me to laugh in delight at his doing what I’d hoped for. As if I could tell him what to do. Right.

I watched a gray squirrel walking slowly across the near edge of my neighbor’s roof, turn to look our direction and suddenly race screaming away at the speed of life.

Listen, if the hawk were hunting it would have grabbed that cocky black squirrel on the fence that’s been trying to stare it down. Leap away into the orange tree? Nah, why bother.

The gray ones always seem to have more sense.

The Cooper’s headed off at last in the opposite direction, flying low and giving me a better view this time.

Meantime, a picture for Dani: my Alphonso mango, now 22 months old.

That single limb just to the left of the stake? (To which the tree is attached by pieces of old ace bandages, it outgrew the ties it came with awhile ago.) When I prune the new tip growth in the spring it’s going to grow a new limb for each one of those leaves, more or less. It will look like that cluster on the upper right and balance things out a bit.

The whole tree moved like a hula skirt in a Hawaiian dance with the wind that this storm came in on.

I’ll keep that stake there awhile yet. It does no harm.



The decoy
Tuesday October 25th 2016, 10:11 pm
Filed under: Garden,Wildlife

As the butternut vine grew it outgrew the birdnetted pop tent and so I had a series of them covering it along the way.

One had a single squash inside it apart from the others, and though the prickly acanthus stalks worked as a tent edging for some time, after it rained those turned soggy and the squirrels finally braved squeezing past them to get inside there. Chomp.

It was really too early to pick it then, and I knew if I removed it they’d go after the others. So this one became the sacrifice. But I made them entertain me for it–seeing a squirrel inside a cage while stealing the food I worked so hard for has a certain bemused karma aspect to it.

In the last two days they started in on the bulbous end and once they tasted that they went after it hard. Who knew squash guts were the best part? It looks halved and scooped now and the whole process fascinates me, seeing what they like and how fast they do what. Call it my science experiment.

The remaining three ripe butternuts were where the plant was basically over for the season and I picked them this morning. I left the mangled one uncovered now: Have at it, folks.

Meantime, this afternoon I filled the bird feeder, turning it upside first to shake out the last of the previous batch of safflower; you don’t pile seed onto that last bit again and again, for sanitation’s sake you always start over. It’s about to rain, the birds seemed to know it, let’s get a good meal out here for you guys, too.

McDonald’s for doves. No waiting for the finches up there to kick some down.

A minute or two later I looked up again to see them scatter, in flight each a strong gray rib along a suddenly-opened, invisible Chinese fan in the air, the finches below playing the part of the more colorful paper linking them together as the points at the bottom of each segment–and there was the Cooper’s hawk, doing that familiar tight U-turn mid-air, not before the window but in the center of the yard. It pulled its prey in tight at the far end of the curve, and so once again it knew where the other bird was going to be for him to reach behind it with his feet just so even at the moment he presumably couldn’t see it: he plotted his trajectory against the dove’s perfectly. Those big talons would tighten and that would be it.

The only proof it had actually even happened in that tiny blink was a small poof of feathers settling down right below that point.

Squash. Served.



Coming along
Tuesday October 11th 2016, 10:07 pm
Filed under: Knitting a Gift,Spinning,Wildlife

I didn’t quite fill three bobbins before the white ran out.

Four-ply was surprisingly thick, so, two by two it was: 234 and 224 yards’ worth, with a bit left over on one bobbin that I then plied it with an end-of-bobbin of brown cashmere, making 78 yards. (Hmm. Baby hat?)

The yarns I was working from were very close in thickness and yet I used up 98 g of the merino/silk and only 67 g of the butter merino.

Now to go scour the mill oils out. The strands should bloom, fluffing out a bit with the wools felting together slightly. A little preshrinking is a good thing.

Meantime, yet another Cooper’s hawk sighting today–there have been several of late. Again it was one with its juvenile markings, which are starting to fade now; its chest kind of looked like that last hank. I think I’ve seen both a male and a female juvie in the past week.



Patronus
Tuesday October 04th 2016, 10:37 pm
Filed under: Family,Friends,Life,Wildlife

While we were back home.

Karen and Richard and I went to go see our old friend Scott, whom she and I grew up with. He’s an avid birder, and I often think of him while enjoying my Bewick’s wrens, favorites of mine and a life bird of his, wishing I could share my little flock and somehow help reestablish them on the East Coast: they’re extinct there but plentiful in this area. And only in this area. All those songs those tiny birds sing!

It is safe to say his health issues are more than a match for mine.

It was so good to see him and hard to leave when we had to later that afternoon, but Kathleen would be waiting and this was a time in her life when she particularly needed her friends present when she could see us.

We turned on Waze (which routed us around more than one accident in the rainy days we were in town), pulled the car away, turned a corner towards the left, another left–

–and there was a Cooper’s hawk. Fully in view, close to the street, an actual, perfectly-placed, of-all-the-things-it-could-have-been, a Cooper’s hawk on a large low stand-alone branch of a tree in someone’s yard.

It silently watched us as we continued on our way and away.

And everything was going to be alright.



Oh yes they call him the streaked (boogie-dy-boogie-dy)
Thursday September 22nd 2016, 10:41 pm
Filed under: Wildlife

Today is equinox, I thought, glancing up at the emptied bird feeder; if I want the Cooper’s hawks to keep claiming territory (if they were even still around) I’d better give them a reason to, and with that I got up and filled the thing.

Finches above, a small flock of mourning doves below, showing up out of nowhere almost instantly; that’s more like it.

Then this new guy did, very much to my surprise.  Yes! The harassing ravens were thwarted this spring after all! A successful fledge!

I have never seen his parents do what he did. It made me wince a little for the trees we cut down a few years ago–but we had no choice at the time.

If bushes are all there are there then bushes are where the prey is, and so after standing sentry up there awhile, the juvenile Cooper’s hawk suddenly dove straight down. Towhee tartare, anyone?

That’s a lot of bird to fit into a lot of small spaces. It was clear he’d judged the fit first.

He zigzagged around on foot back there, popping out then back in again. He circled the baby mandarin tree (the lighter green). He did actually flush out a cowering finch but it managed to get (or lucked out on having) nuisance branches in his way first and escaped. As he followed it, his attention fully to my left, a squirrel I hadn’t known was cowering under the picnic table to my right slunk carefully away towards the large fig and raspberry pots. The trees that direction were far enough away that it had no chance should it be spotted making a mad dash across the yard.

It was not.

We had a young’un here who needed a good meal to live long enough to learn better how to land a good meal. Late September? Maybe the parents were still keeping an eye out for it, maybe not.

He went back to the fence, staring, walking down it, looking for more. He seemed not the slightest afraid of me as I lifted the phone again and again, hoping for a shot that would at least show something, like those brown wavy streaks down his white chest that told the world of adult hawks not to bother him, that he’s just a kid. He flared his striped curving tail, clarifying his family for me once and for all: Cooper’s, not Sharp-shinned.

Whether he’s claiming my longtime Coopernicus’s territory or just hanging around where he grew up because he’s too young to have set out on his own yet, we’ll find out.

But he definitely made my day.