Blink and you’ll miss it
Thursday June 08th 2017, 11:00 pm
Filed under: Friends,Garden,Life,Lupus,Politics,Wildlife

While I watched the Comey hearing…(full YouTube video.) There is nothing like observing their faces along with their words and intonations. (What on earth was Cornyn doing with his hands the whole time he was talking?) I kept half-hoping someone would call John McCain an ambulance–he   s  p  o  k  e    in slow motion, made no sense, (the ex-FBI chief is not addressed as President) and looked like he was having a serious medical event like a transient ischemic attack or a diabetic crash.

So. Five (!) hawk sightings today, including one I got to see coming straight towards me, its neck not so white, its chest solid and buff: an adult.

However many there are in its young family, it rules, and the crows and ravens have disappeared from my end of the block as of late.

What’s completely new is a mockingbird that has suddenly decided that the larger scrub jay has no right to my back yard–and the surprise that the bossy overdressed blue corvid loses every time. After being the bully of the bird feeder forever, threatening the songbirds while stealing far more than it needs to or even can eat, it was quite surprised at getting its comeuppance and having to run for it, not casually but for real, with the smaller mocker twirling around in serious chase above the elephant ears. Not learning a thing, the jay had to dash for cover again and again, the other right at its back. A brilliantly-colored tanager on the other side of the fence took courage for the first time and gave it its own “And STAY out!” over there.

Tempted to name the mocker Comey.

Meantime, two days ago when the sun was safely low–the lupus/UV exposure thing–I knocked on the door of the little kids across the street so they could get a chance to come see the doves in the nest. I was sure if we waited a few more days the fledging would be over and I remember how much my kids loved to be lifted up to see the baby birds back in the day.

But the family was probably out in the back yard and didn’t hear me.

Yesterday we had those two doves side-by-side up there, the one no longer attempting to hide from me under momma’s wing, but again no one was home across the street till the sun had sunk altogether.

Today there was no one home on top of that ladder and no dove in sight.

Oh well. Next year.

I looked again shortly after, though, and there the two were, fluttering upwards in no particular alarm at my coming around the corner, rather as a matter of teaching the young What One Does while telling each other about me. (Old enough to fly: check. Good.) One stayed in sight about six feet past the young pear tree and I took its graduation portrait.

And when I blinked, like all good mourning doves it felt compelled to blink back. It’s one of the most charming things about them.



New kid on the block
Wednesday June 07th 2017, 10:49 pm
Filed under: Wildlife

Four, count’em four fly-bys in front of or around the patio, the last one finally snagging a snack. I didn’t ever quite see it head-on and I’m not even sure they were all the same one. But I think the one that got the finch at the fourth go-round had some brown in his upper chest. His neck was definitely a brighter white than our previous Cooper’s hawks–I’d guess those are fresh feathers.

Such a chest would make it a juvenile, and a fairly newly fledged one at this time of year. Cool!

It hunted like it, too. I watched it, thinking, nah, you gave that thing a huge head start, you’re not going to get that one. It didn’t.

It did not find the two doves I’ve been watching nesting under the eaves on the other side of the house and I’m okay with that.

Immediately after I snapped this it took off with its finch at foot. One does not eat where the ravens can see and steal from you (hoping it wasn’t the movements re the camera that scared it off, but if so it’ll learn to mostly ignore that.)

And so the new season begins.

 



Blessed are the peacemakers
Tuesday June 06th 2017, 8:01 pm
Filed under: Politics,Wildlife

Two in sight, for the first time! (Wikipedia on mourning doves, here.) You can only see the two of them from this angle; the smaller one disappears from view in walking around to the other side (where there isn’t anything to step higher onto.)

Meantime…

I thought the concept of the collegiality of the Senate had gone extinct in the last ten years.

But here’s Al Franken, championing that phrase and the whole idea of it, reclaiming it for our common good. In trying to explain it to Trevor Noah as a real thing, he offers an example just past the 15 minute mark of being friends to and befriended in a big way by one’s political opposites.

The wife of then-Senator Jeff Sessions, whose nomination for Attorney General Franken voted against, had knitted a baby blanket for Franken’s new grandchild. He marveled at it: a baby blanket! It was clear he got what a labor of love that was, and he held up the thought to the whole world as an example of how it could be. It had taken time, it had taken thought, it had taken work, though he didn’t quite spell that out in long form.

A baby blanket as a symbol of peace. I’m sure the doves won’t mind having company.



I just need a few more days here
Thursday June 01st 2017, 11:00 pm
Filed under: Garden,Wildlife

Looking over at the sour cherry tree, when, Wait–those branches shouldn’t be wiggling when the wind isn’t blowing–Hey! (A sudden scramble of black fur.) OUT!

The birdnetting tent wasn’t enough. So I leaned old metal racks around it and bird spikes, with frost covers stuffing the spaces between and then spritzed the covers in grape Koolaid solution, aiming a bit at each fruit, too, as best I could. With apologies to the birds, whose lungs are irritated by the stuff, but the squirrels don’t like it any more than they do. I don’t mind feeding songbirds. I do mind destructive rampaging that leaves the crop (such as it is on my little tree) on the ground, wrecked and spat out.

Grape and only grape works.

And at that the squirrels’ search for a way in became fruitless.

(Edited the next day to add, well, that didn’t work–those cherries were ripe and they wanted in enough in the morning. So I uncovered the whole thing in the morning and picked all that was left. A pie just came out of the oven (multi-pitter, here.)



The main dish
Tuesday May 30th 2017, 10:42 pm
Filed under: Knit,Wildlife

That early stage when a project feels like it’ll never get done. When I know I just have to do one more hour’s worth of work and then it’ll totally take off. (If I could see from here who it’s to be for I would have whizzed through so fast from the get-go.)

Meantime, I wonder this every spring: I know that growing young and lactating squirrels seek out sources of calcium then.

But why are they so fixated on eating this part of this broom that they will absolutely pulse with chewy fervor as if they were digging into hardpack clay to store a nut for the winter–even in the face of my opening the door and walking towards them? They make a break for it at the very last (like this one did), reluctant to let go and clearly not wanting some other squirrel to take their place on the comeback. They have even fought over access to it, and territorial squirrel fights, not chases but actual yin-and-yang-look rolling-hairball fights, are (at least in my observations) rare and leave the vanquished marked to its peers as such by a bitten-off ear tip.

The rubber part of that push broom is looking pretty sad. So is that ear.

Pica? (Wikipedia entry.)



Parker
Saturday May 27th 2017, 4:58 pm
Filed under: Family,Life,Wildlife

Parker gently took my hand, not pulling me away from the grownup discussion but more as a request.

Sure!

He took me to the next room over to where there was a couch where we could look out the window and straight down all eleven floors. (Me at age six, I would have freaked. It didn’t seem to occur to him to flinch.)

Gramma, he asked. I want to see the falcons. Show me the falcons.

I had seen a peregrine fly below on Thursday but by the time my dad had stood up to see it was gone. There are signs down the block warning drivers to be ready to brake for them.

Well, I told him, I only saw it that one time here; I don’t know when it will fly by again.

That was okay. Where do they live, what do they eat, how fast can they go. He knew they go really fast.

I wasn’t sure how he would take the news that they eat pigeons and was a bit relieved that it seemed to be an okay part of nature to him He wanted to learn everything he could about them from me and I was so glad I’d let him bring me over to where we could look for them together and where he had my undivided attention, just the two of us.

I don’t know if he’ll remember those moments, but I know I will.



Coffeeberries
Thursday May 18th 2017, 9:17 pm
Filed under: Garden,Wildlife


There’s a row of plants against the fence that have been here since before us. They bloom in clusters of small white flowers in early spring and despite the fact that I didn’t water them through the drought, they hung in there just fine. The birds love darting in there and I’ve often wondered just how many nests I could find if I could actually get in there.

They’ve been growing like crazy after all this winter’s rain–and while I was pruning them back a bit tonight I looked down into the density.

I think I’ve seen a few random unripe berries a few times before, but wow, where did all these come from?!

So then I had to finally go find out just what those plants are. I’ve wondered long enough.

California coffeeberry. Found it. Named after the appearance of the coffee plant but not actually having anything to do with such a thing. It’s a native, sustaining the native birds, unlike the murderous alien Nandina/heavenly bamboo sold by nurseries everywhere whose berries kill cedar waxwings and robins. This is a prettier and far more useful plant. The deer don’t like them, the birds do, they’re beautiful and the flowers are sweet. The snails clearly avoid it, and since we are within thirty miles of where some idiot 49er released his French escargots into the wild during the Gold Rush to go do their thing, that’s huge.

You water it the first year or so and it takes it from there.  It’s not a grayish desert plant like so many local natives: it’s actually green, something my East Coast-raised eyes crave.

I knew I had a nice row of plants. I appreciate them a whole lot more now, now that I know what they are.

I wish the previous owners were alive so I could thank them.



Raising peace
Wednesday May 17th 2017, 10:14 pm
Filed under: Knit,Life,Wildlife

After yesterday’s post, it feels good to be able to say, oh wow, look at that.

I’m suddenly realizing we haven’t touched the ladder since the Fuji apple was pruned in the winter.

I’d always been told mourning doves make the worst nests: as lazy as, drop two twigs and call it done, but this one went to a lot of effort to make the best I’ve ever seen one with. Maybe since it wasn’t in a tree or a bush it needed a bit of camouflage, I don’t know, or maybe it was the abundance of enticing material by the lacewood elm (which reaches to just to the right of this picture). After all, we knitters know that the way to get someone to stick with the process of learning how to do what we do is to share the best yarns for their hands to want to work with.

Not that I went close enough to try to get a good look at its details. She watches me when I go past and knows that I’ve noticed her now but she does not move. Nor do I stay in the way.



Young and grizzled
Thursday May 11th 2017, 10:33 pm
Filed under: Family,Wildlife

Missing this little guy.

Last summer I wished I’d gotten a picture of the taxidermied grizzly at Anchorage airport that warns incoming tourists that Alaska is dead serious about the size of its bears. So here it is, with an arctic fox at its feet on the right.



Peregrinations
Tuesday April 18th 2017, 10:26 pm
Filed under: Wildlife

Thank you everybody for the help on the shoes!

It’s been a number of seasons since I was on the peregrine falcon cam crew, but I thought I’d mention a video taken today by those who still are. There are three peregrine eyases in the nest outside San Jose City Hall’s 18th floor (and a bum egg that was finally shoved aside, just like last year.)

I have never seen crops that size–those are well-fed chicks! You see those bulges below their necks? That’s nature’s storage area to keep raptors nourished between meals.

Banding is tentatively scheduled for Tuesday.



Look up
Saturday April 15th 2017, 10:26 pm
Filed under: Amaryllis,Wildlife

Photos: apple, fig (still leafing out), apple, with irises in front and roses and pre-tomato holes behind, and Red Lion and Dancing Queen amaryllises. I’ve had the latter bulb for fifteen years now.

Not photographed: we both got to see it this time–the one that veered left and escaped, the dove that didn’t, the Cooper’s hawk suspending itself midair right there for a wingbeat waiting for the dove to fall backwards from the window, the grab on the second beat as it did and the instant vanish.

His children would be fed and safe against the night.

A happy Easter to all who celebrate it.



Trying to scare up a little dinner for them?
Thursday April 13th 2017, 11:03 pm
Filed under: Life,Lupus,Mango tree,Wildlife

That time before sundown, when the squirrels have turned in for the night and the birds have the feeder area to themselves. When the UV level is zero and the outdoors is mine. I really like it.

It’s also when the temps start dropping enough that it’s time to go cover the mango tree for the night.

There are two steps to this: the first, covering the top of the two stakes with bubble wrap rolled and taped together, both to protect the frost covers from tearing on the ends and to lift the covers above the close-to-budding parts of the tree–they are growing straight up now but will droop down later to support their (hoped-for) fruit as it grows. (No President’s Day storms to whip them all off the tree this time, okay?)

I opened the door to start the preliminaries, scattering a dove and a junco. As I walked across the yard, I saw a large gray wide-winged bird well overhead, flying from the direction of the redwood in Neighbor A’s yard across us to the silk oak in Neighbor B’s yard.

Several years ago my kids gave me a Cornell Labs book for Christmas that not only listed American bird species, it had a recording for each, and the one for the Cooper’s hawk was said to be of one defending its territory or nest. (From a researcher wielding a mic, no doubt.)

A prolonged protest as I neared the mango, which stands next to where the hawks like to perch on the fence: it let me have it.

And I *heard* it!!! It was pitched two notes higher than Cornell’s but that sequence and length were unmistakable. (From Wikipedia: the males are higher-pitched than the females. Curious.)

I walked back across the yard and likely out of its sight under the awning, then reappeared again with the first frost cover and walked back towards the little tree–and again it demanded I know that I was intruding and this would not do. And I imagine it wanted its dove back.

It was coming from the redwood tree, quite close. So there were two present, then. Cool.

I got the cover over, then the second, but decided I would check the weather report and put off doing the third layer for now and let them be. (I did end up adding it later–it’s cold out there.)

After all this time I finally got to hear my Cooper’s hawks! And I think I know where they’ve moved their nest to this year, now. Away, at last, from where the corvids congregate when the silk oak is feeding them while the hawk chicks are being raised. Good.



Game on
Monday April 03rd 2017, 10:31 pm
Filed under: Amaryllis,Friends,Knitting a Gift,Wildlife

What on earth!?

It was a black squirrel, highly visible against the white floral background, twirling hard around and around a branch of the sour cherry and in the process stripping it of the flowers that had opened this morning. How that branch was even strong enough to support it I do not know.

I stomped towards the door yelling words I would only barely let my mother hear me say and went after it. It scrambled for the fence, its mouth stuffed to overflowing with cherry blossoms. Lots and lots of cherry blossoms. It would have been funny if it hadn’t been my future fruit.

The tent, which I’d taken off for yesterday’s picture and then thought, eh, they leave it alone, I don’t need this do I?–is back over that tree now with bird spikes around the base as far as they can go.

Now I know why the flower stems looked chomped off on the Stella cherry when I’d successfully coppered the snails away from its base.  It took those things four years to decide to taste them but then they did.

A few hours later, a black squirrel walked at just enough of a distance around that cage. Looking back at me. Hanging its head. Taking another step. Stopping and looking at me, lowering its head again. Then, unable to resist one more second, it sniffed upwards wistfully towards those flowers and then swung its head back towards me. My eyes narrowed and I was watching its every move and it knew it.

It slunk away. Slowly, regretfully, back up that fence and towards the redwood.

I added hot pepper flakes.

And then after dinner I clipped a red amaryllis stalk, put it in a vase, and took it next door to my wonderful neighbors of thirty years. (To, y’know, counter my crazy squirrel lady thing at least a little bit and who doesn’t need unexpected flowers, right? But no, really, because I had a lot coming up at once and they’re too good to hoard.)

Good times.

(Three more pattern repeats left on that blue blanket… Maybe four. I think.)



A nest to feed
Sunday March 26th 2017, 10:22 pm
Filed under: Life,Wildlife

The hawk swooped barely above a squirrel’s head on the fence to let it know who was boss and landed halfway down the birdnetting tent over the still-tiny sour cherry tree. The tent flinched but held and with a shuffle of feet so did he. I really need a decent-sized tree over there and rather regret having put in an ultradwarf, but the new pomegranate next to it is likely to put on some height soon to make up for it.

My phone rang and I reached for it, breaking the spell of the moment, and he took off.

Later, a solitary dove landed under the bird feeder when not even a squirrel was visible. I thought, that’s perfect for him–but for you, not so much. Don’t you know…?

I went back to what I was doing.

I looked up just as the enormous Cooper’s wings flapped wide in a hard turn right there as its feet simultaneously grabbed the dove falling backwards from the window. Bird yoga. The hawk flew hard with it, slightly wobbly as it made its grip sure, across the open yard swooping low then up at the last over the fence and steeply back downwards, whether to the ground or up again to the cover of the neighbors’ trees (which is more likely) I don’t know. The ravens would steal it in an instant if they saw and he would know where they would be and where they could see. I never took my eyes off him but I had no idea where he’d gone. He’s good.

He watches everything.

Chavez is coming at 7 am and we should have fully hot water in that tank by mid-morning.



Spring
Wednesday March 22nd 2017, 10:40 pm
Filed under: Garden,Wildlife

The hole the woodpecker made in the dead wood that ended up on the ground, leaving a tiny feather behind.

The tree with a bigger hole now.

The first peach of the season, on a tree hit by peach leaf curl despite my spraying copper; once was not enough. The first two were leafing out during the storms last month, and rain plus cold weather lets the disease attack the developing leaves.
The new healthy leaves are already coming in, and once they’re fully grown they’re impervious to it.

The other two vulnerable trees are leafing out and it’s been raining–but it’s also been warmer.

The Indian Free is happy as a clam, and should I lose one of the others I’m going to put in a Muir, which likewise is resistant and late-blooming.

The breba (spring crop) figs growing below the leaves.

And there are new flower buds today on the cherries and blueberries.

I love the happy anticipation at this time of year. It’s like a new knitting project with enough rows done that you can really see what it’s going to turn out to be.