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.



Room service
Thursday May 19th 2022, 9:39 pm
Filed under: Garden,Wildlife

That one looked a little different and caught my eye so I stopped what I was doing to watch a moment.

Nope, it wasn’t injured–it was just being a toddler. I don’t think it had ever walked on a flat surface before.

Mockingbirds do this thing where they bend down in front a bit and lift their wings up high and then out wide behind in a two-step dance, very formal and ritualistic, and the thinking is that they do it to flush bugs out so they can quickly skewer them.

Or they’re trying to mimic a DeLorean, but never mind.

So this little one had made it up to the fence–meaning it had flown up, not just fluttered down, this is good–and it was waiting for its parents to bring it breakfast.

One flew in, checked that it was okay as the baby started begging, or maybe just told it, hi, I know, I’m working on it, no I don’t have any yet, and flew off.

Hey!

So it started trying to hunt like its parents up there on that bugless fence but it looked more like uncertain jumping jacks while trying not to fall over on its face. Raise those wings more, kiddo, don’t fluff up your chest. Lift. Out. Lift. Out. Like that. Only bend this much.

It didn’t trip over its own feet walking in the direction Momma had taken off in but it looked like it came close a few times.

Suddenly she appeared again diving into the mango tree, grabbed an ant or maybe a nice big earwig (I saw them on top of the frost covers when I had to use them last week) and brought the kid a bite after all. Yay! She waited while he ate it, then flew to the neighbor’s tree across their fence.

A few more wobbly steps and wing gestures that really didn’t do it and then suddenly–our little one did it! It flew! It overshot and had to grab at the last just before it fell off the fence, but it made it there below her tree.

Just then Poppa showed up with an impressive whole beakful of bugs for the kid and stood there a moment as if stumped: Right here! The kid was just right here, I know it! Where did he go!

Eh. He looked around, gave up, and ate most of it himself.

This afternoon the sun was shining brightly off the new feathers of–that had to be our kid again. In the exact same spot between the mandarin and the mango. Waiting to be fed again, calling for food, finding and eating the one Dad had dropped.

I checked my Sibley’s: yup, the young ones have light brown speckles on their upper chests. So that explains that.

I wanted to see if a parent would come this time, too.  I know they do keep a close eye on their fledglings.

A minute or two and then our baby flew to exactly the spot its momma had this morning in that tree. Still overshot the landing a bit but the flying was definitely steadier and definitely better at going upwards. The parents flitted back and forth, all was well, and I returned to what I was doing.

My first few mango bud clusters this year and even the new stems supporting them were chomped to a total loss.

And then our mockingbirds noticed the buffet. The flowers that came later have been gorgeously bug-free.

I hope the mockingbirds nest here next year, too.



Fury flurry
Monday May 16th 2022, 7:43 pm
Filed under: History,Wildlife

The crows and ravens do not fly over my yard. They clearly still have institutional memory of the fake dead crow that was out there at harvest times a few years running, and crows do not go where another crow died. Which is why I put it out there. Ravens ain’t dumb either.

So it was quite the surprise that there was this big flash of black wings beating it hard across the back yard this afternoon.

With a mockingbird right at its back just in front of its tail, divebombing harassing right there on it and calling for the death of a thousand exploding suns on its enemy and I’ll rip your tail feathers off get out get out get OUT! as the raven dove down on the neighbor’s side of the fence and up on the other side of their yard, trying to escape its fury. AND STAY OUT! as the defender swooped up to the phone line.

Clearly the raven had earned that.

The size difference between the two was just astonishing.

I think my mockingbird pair just earned themselves names: Zelenskyy, and Ukraine. (Not, you: crane. Wrong bird.)

———

Edited to add, before I forget: I have been told this is verified as having actually happened, and now you know as much about that as I do. Watch out for hurling pineapples. To Mom: to read the story all the way through, click on See Replies each time and his next posts will show.



Watching, listening
Monday May 09th 2022, 9:31 pm
Filed under: Family,Wildlife

After a restless night worrying about baby birds I woke up just after dawn and ran to go check but it was of course the coldest point and too early.

But there was a mockingbird perched in the same nearby spot on the telephone wire as the night before–much fluffed up against the cold and his eyes looked closed but his head was upright: asleep but at the ready.

He was instantly all attention a half hour later when I came back and uncovered the tree.

There are to be four of these unseasonably cold nights and then that should all be over with. I will fold the frost covers up and out of the birds’ sight.

I covered the mango again tonight just after sundown, hoping that that was late enough, and when I had the first layer halfway over, out flitted a mocker from the apple tree. Not coming straight there–no, you don’t give it away, you zig zag and head there kind of sideways in fits and starts when you’re a nesting parent.

But which nesting parent? And was one in there already?

I stopped, pulled things back to make room for it to dive down in the branches, went inside, and when that didn’t work, went out of sight inside for a few minutes (knowing the last of the light was fading fast.)

Nope, s/he’s sticking to that spot. Okay, so I came back out and finished the job as it maintained its and we will both do the best we know how and I know where to find him in the morning.

The other thing I wanted to mention: Spencer, who is three until September, the grandson I played Chase Me! with last month while his siblings played Legos–his daddy started Facetiming me for Mother’s Day at a moment when his youngest was far across the room and down the hall.

Spencer saw my face on that screen and instantly came running! He was so thrilled to see me! (I adjusted things on our end so he could see Grampa too because that level of enthusiasm just has to be shared.) They’d gotten doughnuts for Mommy, and he’d done this and this and this and this! and he was so excited to get to tell me every detail of his day! Everything. Not that I heard all that, but I could throw in a, That’s cool! and a, Yay!

I had never heard him talk that much in his life and I was loving it, while his older siblings grinned and yeah okay’ed and little kids gotta little and waited their turns quite nicely.

Doughnuts for them all and stories and love. Life is definitely good.



Bless the beasts and the children
Sunday May 08th 2022, 10:01 pm
Filed under: Garden,Wildlife

It’s going to be cold tonight. The mango tree is in full flower, and those flowers die below 40F and somehow the Christmas light strings had gone out. Not wanting to risk the entire year’s crop, I pulled one of the big frost covers out there.

Then another just to be sure. It’s always easier to get the second one over because it’s sliding over fabric rather than all the dips and bumps and little sticky catches of the blossoms that are individually so tiny and that you so much don’t want to break.

That’s when I noticed it. The mockingbird on the telephone wire watching me from above.

The mockers hadn’t even allowed the cottontail to get near that tree today–turns out if you chase aggressively enough a rabbit will run fast enough to be quite satisfying to the one with the beak. And stay away! I mean it!

The second mockingbird was nowhere to be seen.  I stayed and watched awhile, but no, there was just the one, and as far as I could tell it was silent.

There had to be. There were babies under that frost cover. I should have remembered sooner that I’d been thinking that’s where their family must be, I need to bring someone out there who can actually hear them, oh goodness. I lifted a corner, wondering if the tree would be warm enough, wondering if the silent parent above would find its way back in there and be able to maneuver to wherever under there it needed to go if I left it like that, but I was pretty sure the answer was no.

I went over to the house, almost too dark now to see, because maybe the power to that line had somehow tripped? It was either that or the rabbit had bitten through the cord.

There’s the red button. I pushed it and hoped and went to check.

The Christmas lights were back on. Oh good.

Hopefully a parent was already brooding the nest for the night. The fact that both were often in the air this past week going after the squirrels suggests that there were babies, not eggs, and that they were far enough along to be able to maintain their own body heat to some extent. Now I’d added mine to the mix: the warmth that had been there when the parents had chosen the spot.

I said a prayer to the G_d who knows every sparrow, the one who taught mockingbirds how to sing new songs as well as my own loving mother taught me hers, and wishing them all a happy Mother’s Day night, hoped hard.



Bulldog birds
Friday May 06th 2022, 9:11 pm
Filed under: Garden,Wildlife

There’s a pair of mockingbirds whose nest is either somewhere down in the dense tangle of my mango tree or else close to it.

They know what squirrels do to eggs and baby birds and they are not having it–they take turns divebombing them, this one from this direction and then when it turns tail, that one from that, so as always to be attacking from behind and in tandem any time one comes towards my yard in that corner of the fence line.

I watched one squirrel today try to cautiously sneak in on the upper telephone wire and then drop down at the last to the lower one on the approach.

Here they come! He was out of there, away from my yard, my cherries, my peaches, and for that matter the garden next door. Those beaks and potential fur-grabbings were not worth it.

It’ll be awhile before my August Prides get ripe but the earliest ones, now up to ping pong ball size, have begun to take on some quite premature pink. This is usually when they start getting raided.

Swoop! Swoop!

Go mockingbirds go!

Wikipedia says that they live up to 8 years in the wild but 20 in captivity (compared to the single year of your average squirrel out there.) And that they remember where their nests were the most successful and return to that spot the next time.

The squirrels don’t like the smell of the mango, probably for the latex in the sap, and even when it has ripening fruit they avoid coming too close to it. The mockingbirds may well have figured that out.

This could be a trend. I like it.

All I need now is to teach them barking bulldog sounds. They’ve earned that addition to their courting repertoire.



The pits
Thursday May 05th 2022, 10:25 pm
Filed under: Food,Garden,Knit,Wildlife

Newborns! (Falcon video.)

Meantime, the sour cherries on the bottom of my tree are about halfway to ripeness while the top of the tree has finally come into full bloom–and the result is, I’ve really been wanting sour cherry pie again.

There was one last bag of them in the freezer.

From the last of the season, when I was so tired of pitting all. those. cherries. that I didn’t. I simply picked them, filled the largest ziplock as full as it would go and that was it for the year, knowing full well I’d wish later that I’d pitted them but also knowing that that was way better than tossing them after waiting too long to get around to it.

Today was the day. I was motivated. I found them. I covered four dinner plates with them to let them thaw fast.

For the record: pitting them from fresh is actually, probably, I think, easier.

But there is a 10″ pie in the oven from those hundreds and hundreds of small tart cherries and it smells divine.

And then, fingers dyed a bit pink, I realized what I’d done.

J’s white afghan, having needed the mill oils scoured out of its yarn so it can be its best, softest, half-cashmere self, is soapily soaking in the tub.

Daring those fingertips to come anywhere near it.



Babies! Almost
Wednesday May 04th 2022, 9:36 pm
Filed under: Life,Wildlife

There were reports of two pips spotted among the three peregrine falcon eggs on San Jose City Hall. These are the tiny holes where a baby beak begins to do its first job. White fluff was spotted on the first, video was taken, and I am told that you can hear the tiny sounds of the eyases (chicks) as they are slowly showing themselves out.

I don’t think I can–there might be something at the very edge of my hearing with everything turned full blast, possibly–but maybe you can hear it.



I love spring
Saturday April 30th 2022, 9:46 pm
Filed under: Garden,Wildlife

Try to say ‘Pretty pre-pomegranate’ six times fast.

Next to it, the English Morello started blooming a month ago at the bottom and has been slowly working its way towards the sun: the top had stayed so bare that a friend had asked me if it were dead, but a few days ago it burst into blossom.

While the early sour cherries below are already well on their way. Spacing out not just the picking but the pie-making. Nice.

Every time a squirrel goes near the sweet cherry tree, which is much more to its taste, one of a pair of mockingbirds dive-bombs it and it high-tails it, literally, down the fence line. Mrs. M over there might get mad at it for eating her roses but she doesn’t move at the speed of wings.

I’m not sure, but I think the mockers’ nest is tucked somewhere down in the dense tangle of the mango tree. I’m trying not to disturb it.



Eight legs
Friday April 29th 2022, 9:29 pm
Filed under: Wildlife

Did you know that spiders produce different types of silk and it depends on what they’re using it for? That wrap-the-prey silk is different from wrap-the-precious-eggs silk is different from spin-the-web silk? That there can be seven different kinds?

Did you know spider silk is used in bulletproof vests?

I didn’t either.

Seems to me that on the latter all you really need to do is train the spiders to leap out at the bad guys. The jumping Wolf ones might be good for that. The perps will stop right there throwing their hands through their hair over and over screeching, NO NO GET IT OFF ME GET IT OFF ME!

I’m just trying not to look at the pictures too close to bedtime.



Don’t go out the back door
Monday April 25th 2022, 8:27 pm
Filed under: Knitting a Gift,Wildlife

Tonka truck for scale, sort of.

If I hold it up, the weight drags it to being slightly taller than me, but the recipient has about 5″ on me. It should cover her feet and go up to her chin which means the person’s height plus a bit extra for wiggle room.

Factor in that it’s 50/50 cashmere/cotton and I’m going to deliberately preshrink that cotton a bit when I scour the mill oils out before handing it off.

So I figure I’ll simply keep going till I finish that big cone and call it good. I’ve got about 175 yards to go. Today’s her birthday and she got a note and an IOU for now.

Oh, and just because: I’ve got to show you the renter near Tahoe who couldn’t figure out where the purring sounds were coming from till he finally called in a volunteer group to check just to make sure it wasn’t…

There were five bears hibernating underneath the house.

Who knew black bears snore like kittens?