Chopped stick
Monday July 06th 2020, 10:26 pm
Filed under: Friends,Life,Wildlife

Lots of sawdust and sound today.

It’s so strange to look out the skylights and not see the silk oak a.k.a. grevillea tree anymore. There will be no murder of crows next spring when its weird orange flowers would have come on. It won’t be dropping any more major limbs on us. The new owner wasn’t risking it, and besides, whatever it may have looked like 70 years ago, it sure didn’t now.

The workers dropped large enough chunks of trunk to make the house jump, and sitting on the couch it felt exactly like the first jolt of the 5.4 quake that happened while I was in the same spot some years ago. I got up and took this picture through the leaves of my Chinese elm of the last nine feet or so of it (the yellow dead center there) before it too thumped down hard.

The old guy behind us breathed a sigh of relief and emailed me that he’d been cleaning up a bucket’s worth of leaves from that messy tree every single day for all the decades they’d lived here and now he won’t have to anymore.

My pear tree will have a much greater chance of finally blooming next year with all the new sunlight.

They took out the weed trees that were about to grow through the fence along our front walkway, too. I had had no idea just how shaded we had become until suddenly it was brilliance out there. My roses can make a comeback now; I’ve missed them. That fire hazard growing towards the sun and over my house that the insurance company was so upset over is gone. I miss them, but I don’t, and I won’t ever have to shell out big bucks to trim them straight up from the fence line to keep them happy anymore. Which, as I showed the new owner, would over time make them liable to fall on her house.

Gone. Done. Her yard will start over.

The tall ash in the background is in the yard next to Adel’s. It had a large nest this year, and I wondered if the hawks had moved there after the redwood vanished.

Last night, a Cooper’s swooped over our heads and up into that ash tree near that nest. Its young have surely fledged by now but territory must be announced–and youngsters like to stick close to home the first few months.

So they’re okay after all that came down today.

The owner of that house walked around the corner, talked to the tree crew a minute during their break, and got their business card. Hopefully for a different tree.

Put that down you know where it’s been
Sunday July 05th 2020, 9:53 pm
Filed under: Wildlife

Something I had wondered about all my life.

How on earth do you get fish showing up in every body of water you pretty much ever heard of? When the places are not connected at all? I mean, it’s not like fish fly.

The Washington Post reports that a carp, to take one type, can release a hundred thousand eggs.

So: some researchers fed 8,000 carp eggs to eight mallard ducks, and 18 eggs, it turned out, were still viable after passing through the ducks’ digestive systems one to four hours later.

By which point the birds could be miles away from where they ate that meal.

It’s as simple and logical as that.

Scientists are little kids who grew up and still wondered about duck poop.

Sometimes a little space and a little time to itself can let the magic happen
Friday June 12th 2020, 10:45 pm
Filed under: Garden,Wildlife

I stumbled across an old photo while looking for something else: four years ago with the late, much-missed Coopernicus, the people-semi-friendly Cooper’s hawk.

Several weedy-looking trees were taken out two years before because they were starting to damage the fence, and although they were not the most glorious looking they did offer greenery and it felt bald and bare with them gone. If you click on that link (scroll down, the first picture is from my visit to my sister in Atlanta) that’s where the mango went in a year later.

The hawk’s spot now: for nearly thirty years those coffeeberry bushes had stayed small; I thought it was just the variety they were. But once the sun became unobstructed and they had the root space all to themselves (I got rid of that I think buckthorn upstart in the foreground, too), look at it now.

Two years ago a friend gave me a miniature hydrangea from a florist so I planted it in a spot beyond the coffeeberries, and now they shade it. It has naturalized and blooms freely all summer just the same.

And to their left, the tart cherry, which for three years refused to grow higher than my waist as I fought off Japanese beetles and it fought off old olive roots, has finally come into its own and has in the last month topped the fence. Its flowers fed the white-crowned sparrows, its fruit has been feeding us.

Things are looking up.

Lockdown day 50 tops it
Tuesday May 05th 2020, 9:19 pm
Filed under: Life,Wildlife

Glancing next door from my kitchen this afternoon, there was a fire extinguisher.

On the roof next door. Just sitting there, nobody in sight.


A little while later I went to get the mail and heard a man arguing loudly but saw no one. Came back inside and looked out the window again.

The extinguisher was gone. His back was to me, his phone tight to his ear. I decided that given that he was not having a good day it might be best *not* to stand on a chair nor to open the door in order to get a better photo as the heated conversation clearly continued on, I mean, c’mon, leave the poor guy alone.

He was sitting on a very large canister.

Of gas.

On the roof.

To his left, that mostly-dead very tall tree.

These things do not play well together.

But it has a very large nest in it so you can’t cut it down right now.



Lockdown day 16: moose edition
Tuesday March 31st 2020, 10:38 pm
Filed under: Wildlife

Lockdown extended to May 3, they announced today.

Outside my daughter’s favorite Fire Island Bakery before she moved out of Anchorage there were these gorgeous trees with berries in clusters ranging from bright red and matte to shiny and black. I took pictures and tried to find out what they were and wondered if the bakery ever put them to use? Were they edible? I saw no sign of them except outside on those trees. I thought you weren’t supposed to plant fruit trees in town for fear of attracting brown bears? (Fun fact: Brown bears are not quite grizzlies: genetically they are, but they’re the ones living off salmon near the coast and they’re 25% bigger than their inland kin.)

I finally got curious to go look hard enough–ie, thank the lockdown for that. I don’t know if these are the May Day variety or a less invasive one, but, they are chokecherries. Good for attracting birds for the customers in the cafe to watch while munching their incredible tartes.

Repels moose. (And surely doesn’t attract bears either, though they didn’t mention.)

Except the ones who are winter-hungry enough or young enough not to know better around a nasty-tasting plant that is by no means native to Alaska and crowds out their favorite willows that are.

Those limbs and leaves are full of cyanide and those ruminants in particular are perfectly designed to get the fullest effects quickly.

Chokecherry trees are popular because they stay pretty and unchomped there–until the day you wake up and have to figure out how to get a huge Agatha Christied moose off your lawn.

If you want moose sausage, stick to roadkill.

Lockdown day 15: work from home edition
Monday March 30th 2020, 10:52 pm
Filed under: Family,Friends,Lupus,Wildlife

This actually happened last week but I had to decide to tell it on myself.

The suet cake holder is hanging from the underside of the middle of the porch awning; no squirrel has so much as attempted to reach it, ever (if you don’t count the one that bounced a little going across up there, peered over the edge and gave up.)

There is a tall metal toolbox directly below it which no rodent can climb. A mover put it there last year after his dad’s estate settled and trying to wrestle it into a better place is something we would have to hire someone younger to do, so there it has stayed; it was that or the living room at the time and no thank you but at least it wouldn’t get rained on there.

So this is how it has been for six months now, with me feeding only the birds and nothing else so much as sniffing in its direction. Still, I tended to buy the chili-oil-infused cakes just to be on the safe side. I draped a thick but old 3×6 wool rug over it that is no longer quite nice enough to be at our doorway, giving the birds a better surface to hop around on and nibble fallout from while protecting the box. Every now and then I shake it out over whatever in the yard maybe needs some fertilizer. What else you guano do, right?

When the initial quarantine order came down I only had a few cakes left and the bird center was shut down–I was stuck with ordering from Amazon, but at least I was going to buy the same brand, not some knock-off that had who knew what. (Later, the bird center would be deemed Essential Functions and allowed to deliver to your car in front of the shop. Which I have yet to do.)

The ones mixed with peanuts seemed like a good thing for nesting time of year and to attract more types of birds, right? So I ordered a case of those.

I put the first one out there: one big fragrant four and a half inch square of come-and-get-it. Somehow my husband made himself a peanut butter sandwich shortly after.

I heard something and looked over to see a huge gray squirrel that had made the massive leap successfully and was gauging how to get from there up the rest of the way to that suet. I hadn’t so much as seen one cross my yard in awhile and I was just astonished to see one right there!

I burst through that sliding door after it got caught and noisily didn’t want to open as immediately as I wanted it to, while I yelled, YAAAH!!!! GITOUTATHERE!!!

It took a flying leap and away. I set up something I hoped would be a barrier along the far edges and came back in, not wanting to spend too much time in the sunlight–lupus and all that.

To the sound of my husband in the middle of a work conference call right then, and having just apologized and explained to his co-workers, the familiar voice of one of them, chuckling. At both me and my husband’s embarrassment and totally understanding. A couple of others were chiming in, laughing.

Oh… Hi, Gary…

The next time I put a suet cake in I broke it and put the two halves side-by-side in the holder so that from the phone lines through the trees over yonder it doesn’t look like there’s much left in there worth bothering with, much less falling over backwards with a cinnamon broom landing on your head like the second time it had tried. Into the stored frost covers. It was cushioned.

No more squirrels.

Lockdown day thirteen: Uh, not quite
Saturday March 28th 2020, 10:52 pm
Filed under: Family,Wildlife

My grandson, turning three soon, was gifted a bird feeder by a family friend, and the kids sent us a video of all the songbirds flitting on and around it.

I said something about attracting hawks, too.

They sent this picture from their back yard.

Buddy, can you sparrow a time?
Tuesday March 10th 2020, 10:30 pm
Filed under: Wildlife

The sky was so blue, the clouds so white, and the flowers in the Bradford pear such soft cottonballs: I stepped outside several times today to see if my iPhone could do them justice but this is the best I got.

A small bird was at the end of a branch nearest me watching me, and it flew left as I came down the walkway. Suddenly from within the flowers and beginning foliage, a second one burst out of there after it, both of them too fast for me to see what they were.

The leaves are finally coming out and their young will finally have the safety of some concealment. I’d been worrying about the activity I’d seen when the trees weren’t ready for them yet. The warmth starting earlier in the year than it used to does not seem to be affecting flora and fauna the same.

There were two nests in plain view against the stark limbs last week. Now only one is easy to spot. And those two–sparrows, I think they were, appear to be ready to run with it.

A run to the grocer’s
Monday February 17th 2020, 11:15 pm
Filed under: Wildlife

No rain for weeks, and this is supposed to be the season for it. The long line of flowering pears by the cemetery have been in glorious bloom since the end of January; I have never seen them not wiped out by a good storm or five but not this year.

I imagine the bumper crop of critters from last year’s abundant rain are getting thirsty.

A squirrel managed to pick a large orange off the neighbor’s tree and haul it to the top of the fence but it was really too big to run off with. So he chewed off the top, jack o’lanterning away a lid, and was about to finally reach all that juice inside–when I stopped him.

He tried to run with it, really he did, but it dropped down my side of the fence and he was gone.

I don’t get many squirrels anymore and with my fruit trees I’d like to try to keep it that way. Since our three weeks of being gone in September for the new baby, I’ve only been filling the suet cage where the squirrels can’t reach (and with chili oil in it, they don’t want to.) We actually still had sweet Fuji apples out there when we got home.

So I tend to notice when one comes and why.

I picked up the orange, noted the dirt on the side it fell on and took a whiff. A lot of varieties don’t get enough heat here to really sweeten up.

Man, it smelled wonderful. I wondered what type it was, but looking at that thing, no way should I be touching squirrel-lipped stuff. I hadn’t wanted it to rot in my yard, but. Huh.

I put it under my birdfeeder, hoping the doves would come and peck at the top. No such luck.

Squirrels turn in for the night before sunset.

After dark, I happened to note that it was still there.

I stood up and went in the kitchen a moment.

Came back and there was no sign of it. Gone. That fast. Whatever it was had been watching and waiting for me to leave so it could grab it and run. It’s about a dozen feet to the edge of the shed that something’s been crashing around in every night of late so it wouldn’t have had a long way to go.

Someone’s probably feeding orange juice to their babies tonight.

And I need to refill that suet cage–but I forgot to earlier and I don’t particularly want to walk towards possibly skunks protecting their young. Tomorrow will do.

That was amusing, and I’m not doing it again.

Afraid of the dark
Thursday February 06th 2020, 10:38 pm
Filed under: Wildlife

Wow, this was all the way back in July? The skunk on the doorstep?

The reason I just checked: I heard–*I* heard–scritching, scratching sounds at the back of the house and went and told Richard in the other room that apparently our furry little friend was over on that side now.

It may or may not be relevant that I watered the mango before sundown, and watering brings tasty grubs to the surface–never mind that the greenhouse is in their way, they wouldn’t know that.

He said that oh yes he’d heard it a number of times of late. He was clearly pleased that I got to, too. He noted that whatever it was, it was a big one.

Which was exactly my take on it–it was definitely not mouse sized.

This being skunk mating season, there might be more than one out there and for that matter they could be setting up housekeeping in our shed.

But about an hour later it looked like the warming lights were out on the tree, and that’s something that had to be fixed immediately if they were. I had to go out there.


They were on. The leaves and lights had just gotten rearranged a bit when I unplugged things to do that watering. Yay.

But I’ve had “I Hear You Knocking (but you can’t come in)” ear worming relentlessly in my head.

Old enough for kindergarten
Thursday January 23rd 2020, 11:22 pm
Filed under: Mango tree,Wildlife

This is its year. There are tightly closed new buds everywhere and the tree is dense and wide. There will be fruit, (hopefully) lots of fruit. 2020 here it comes!

Assuming the cottontail rabbit (how did it get here?) that’s taken up residence in the bushes next to it doesn’t start to develop a taste for mangoes.

Which you know it will. And it can dig under the Sunbubble to get in.

Richard bought me not one but two new supersoakers, just to make sure I got one that was good enough.

31 tonight and heading down
Saturday December 28th 2019, 12:06 am
Filed under: Wildlife

Somehow the week between Christmas and New Year’s always has the coldest nights.

So this is what happened to my two pomegranates that were just above ground level: a classic Californian cottontail, trying to figure out this frost thing this morning. How on earth did it survive 70 years of dense suburbia and fencing?

I can only guess that the motion-activated water sprayer next door did not meet its approval nor the dog at the house past that.

I wonder how those sprayers hold up after freezes.

(Edited to add, and if we hadn’t gotten home from our friends’ house so late I would have mentioned that we found out about the neighbors’ zapping sprayer when they asked us to feed their fish while they were out of town. They forgot to mention that, oh, and please do it before 6 pm–the anti-raccoon-raider device timer starts then.


We have laughed about that for years now.)

Tuesday October 22nd 2019, 10:15 pm
Filed under: Family,Life,Wildlife

I wonder: how did the word “stoop” come to mean both the diving behavior of the fastest bird on the planet–and the posture of human great old age?

There is great strength displayed within both, though.

My folks kept a bird feeder at the edge of the woods right outside the living room as I was growing up, and there were always several paperback bird guides by the floor-to-ceiling windows there. If we kids asked what something we saw was, they’d tell us to go look it up and find out.

I remember thinking, But what if it flies away while I have my nose in this book looking at these pictures? I didn’t want to take my eyes off it or I’d lose it. The living version was so much more interesting than a sketch.

Downhill from where the folks–from where Mom lives now there are a couple of signs that I like and last week I finally managed to snag a picture of one of them: “Falcon bird watch area. Prepare to stop.”

Now, a falcon going after a pigeon can tuck its wings in hard and be stooping at well over 200 mph and seeing it, much less stopping a car in time, would be a challenge. But I love that the signs are there because they entice people to look up, to notice, to consider what they have right there near them whereas they might not have known at all but for that literal heads-up.

My father wheeled the car to the side of the highway somewhere in the Sierras on a long trip the summer I was ten, pointing out the bald eagle above us there in the trees. DDT was in rampant use and at the top of the avian food chain, the raptors were all close to extinction.

He told us to look, to never forget it, because it might be the last chance we would ever have to see one alive. I remember sensing his grief and how urgent his request felt to him and so I never forgot that moment.

Rachel Carson wrote “Silent Spring,” good people like Glenn Stewart committed their lives to the work, and now the raptors are back. The songbirds are threatened now, and we need to save them, too. We can. We have. We will.

Dad got a kick out of my volunteer work with the nest cam on the peregrine falcons nine years ago, watching the eyases hatch, grow, explore, and when they were ready, flying on their newly strong wings to places they had not been able to see but had known in their bones must be out there. Over that upper wall and the entirety of the view is suddenly before them for the first time, impelling them to spread their wings wide for what they were born to do as the wind lifts them upwards.

And now Dad has, too.

Bear and more bears
Monday September 30th 2019, 10:06 pm
Filed under: Life,Wildlife

Here’s the obligatory Anchorage Airport bear picture taken on our way out. Sweet little Walmart greeter, isn’t it?

Coastal brown bears are 25% bigger than the inland grizzlies who don’t have access to salmon.

Here’s the National Park Service’s take on the bears.

And here’s the Brooks Falls bear cam if you want to watch them fishing.

Go for the Golds
Saturday August 03rd 2019, 10:42 pm
Filed under: Wildlife

The transition away from safflower is complete now, and what a difference it has made.

I’m used to seeing mostly house finches, and house finches squabble and fight each other off and vie for the top spot on the feeder–even when there’s nothing up there for them but self-regard as the winner.

I’d never seen this before: two goldfinches sharing a portal. For several minutes, not just as a one-off, long enough for me to fumble with the phone to try to get it on camera. A third one flew in; that was fine with them.

They were a team. They mostly worked in tandem, going for sunflower together, straightening up to eat, going for another. Occasionally one would dive in while the other waited but mostly it was the two of them together.

Who knew birds in the finch family could cooperate like that?

It gave me a sudden irrational sense of hope for the world, our political differences and all.