Archive for May, 2010

Yesterday afternoon, while waiting for the arrival of our son Jason and his girlfriend Rita for a visit, I looked towards the plateau and immediately called Judy to come take a look. A smoke plume had just begun to rise above the La Cresta community which is adjacent to the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Preserve. I knew it couldn’t have been a prescribed burn since the humidity was too low and the winds were substantial. The plume was rapidly becoming larger as sirens began to be heard in the distance coming from all directions. The ground fire equipment continued to  roll towards the plateau.

As the fire plume continued to grow, the first plane flew overhead from the east heading towards the fire. It apparently was the scout plane which flew high over the fire plume assessing the situation. Then a fire-retardant tanker flew overhead at a lower elevation heading towards the fire, followed shortly by another. A water-drop helicopter soon appeared on the scene as well. The scout plane, now the command plane, continued to circle the fire high overhead directing the plane drop aircraft below. The fire retardant tankers made several test approach runs before dropping down and releasing the retardant on the fire. After dropping all of  its load one of the tankers headed back east to refuel. I soon returned with a new load of retardant. The fire was under control only after an hour and a half. It consumed only 10 acres and there were no injuries or loss of structures. After the fire was completely extinguished by the ground crews the road closures were reopened within five hours.

   
 
Click on photo for larger image

I was very impressed watching the speed, efficency and effectiveness of the air support operation in addressing the emergency. This positive public servant response by the Riverside County and CALfire personnel was inspiring. In contrast this comes at a time when the world continues to watch the ineptness of  BP trying to react to an emergency for which they apparently had no viable plan to solve should it occur. BP is obivously motivated to capture as much oil as it can (=money) at any cost . . . . . . any cost . . . . any cost! On the other hand, the public servants that we entrust to protect us and our properties are motivated to just that, our protection. It was pretty obvious to me that the public servants also had a viable plan for the fire emergency and executed it successfully, as planned,  in a very short time.

Jason and Rita arrived after all the fire excitement had subsided. They had returned earlier this week from attending our niece Suzanne’s wedding in Puerto Vallarta and we were happy to see them and anxious to see their photos. They had a great time and saw some pretty cool birds. Magnificent Frigatebirds were apparently everywhere. They also saw the Great Kiskadee (I haven’t seen one) and a mystery Shroud bird of Puerto Vallarta. Jason described the funny bird as “running, strutting” across the beach with a light spot on it’s forehead. Jason captured a photograph of the bird although it was a night photograph. The enhanced photo didn’t provide much more evidence.

The only bird, one that I have not yet seen myself, that I could think it might possibly be was the Northern Jacana. I located a photo of the bird I thought it might be on Wipikedia and showed the photo to Jason, His response was, “that’s it!”

My brother Steve whose daughter Suzzane was being married, and the reason for the Puerto Vallarta gathering,  has become a birder in recent years. Steve sent me an email telling me that he had observed the Magnificent Frigatebirds as well as others. He told me that he had once seen a picture of the Great Kiskadee in a bird book and thought, “Wow, how great it would be to see a Great Kiskadee!” Well, he did!” Puerto Vallarta sounds like a travel place that perhaps we should consider.

   
PHOTO CREDITS:Magnificent Frigatebirds (Jason Lockyer), Northern Jacana (Wipikedia)

We had a geat visit and time with Jason and Rita before they had to head back north to LA this afternoon to fulfill other commitments.

Jim, Judy, and VELCRO  – the Adventure Continues!

Yesterday I was snooping around our extended backyard looking for some possible areas where the bobcats might have a den. I was also armed with my telephoto lens in hopes of recording any other activity that might cross my path. The weather was cool and overcast, there wasn’t much activity. The motorized trail bike didn’t help much either but the individual controlling the noisy device was quite pleasant. He stopped and we chatted for awhile. He seemed to have an active appreciation for the nature and wildlife.  He asked me if I had seen any snakes, I told him unfortunately not. He then asked, if I saw one would I take a picture of it? I responded, “Absolutely!” I am still curious about the question and what other answer he thought I might provide.

I did come several unfortunate wildlife victims, a dead Western Fence Lizard frozen in the position at its time of demise. The lizard was on the dirt road but didn’t appear to be the victim of this days bike rider. Further along several crows were agitated at something, and thinking a possible predator, I went to take a closer look. As I approached the area I noticed one of their comrades was lying beneath a power pole. It too was frozen in the position at the time of its demise. The crows were apparently offering final rights and a eulogy to their fallen comrade. They left soon after I arrived. It appears that the crow had been electrocuted on the old power pole that still displayed exposed insulators and wires. This day there didn’t seem to be much active wildlife activity in the extended backyard.

 
Expired Western Fence Lizard and American Crow (Click on photo for larger image)

I was on top of a ridge with wooded canyons on either side when the fire engine raced up Clinton Keith Road with sirens roaring . After slowing its way through the Palomar Street/Clinton Keith Road intersection the sirens increased in volume and were loud and clear as the fire engine passed only a half mile away from where I was standing. It was then that I heard what I thought was a child imitating the siren, then another joined in, and another, and  another. Suddenly a chill went down my spine. The sounds were coming over my left shoulder only 15-20 yards from where I was standing. More individuals joined the chorus in response to the fire engine siren. The chorus finally ended in an explosive crescendo. With the fire engine now far in the distance, I stood there with my mouth wide open as  the sounds over my left-shoulder slowly subsided and quiet returned.

I estimated that there must have been 6-8 pups and 3 or more adult coyotes responding to the fire engine siren as well as trying to scare the hell out of me. They did a pretty good job at both. I cautiously tried to locate where the coyotes might be residing in the small canyon from several different vantage points. I was however unable to detect any trace or movement of the coyotes. The interior live oaks (Quercus wislizeni) that make up the woodland community in this area provide a great cover for wildlife with the foliage dropping all the way to the ground.

Yesterday also conducted my annual “casual”  Birthday Big Day bird count (BBDBC) – rules for BBDBC are still in development after establishing the BBDBC tradition over the past 15 years. So, I spent a lot of time looking at birds in both our backyard and our extended backyard. I didn’t have a particularily great count day (26 species) for the limited time I counted but this will set a mark for future BBDBC at our new location. I did however add 2 new nice birds to this years CA list (both seen in the extended backyard) – Golden Eagle and Phainopepla.

Ah, living on an urban/wildlife interface is proving to be a wonderful experience.

 

Another nice Dudleya shot and sunset closed the day!

Jim, Judy, and VELCRO in Southern California

While engaged in my now daily routine of opening the blinds in the living room to greet each new day, I groggily, and without glasses, noticed an animal on the other side of the culdesac. The animal was making its way towards our extended backyard (the oak woodland/chaparral greenspace adjacent to our home) while a crow flew overhead protesting the animals every movement. As I slowly began to realize what I was observing I began to panic since the animal was now moving out of view. Frantically, I tried without success to find my camera which is always at the ready – a photo opportunity lost!

The Bobcat (Lynx rufus) was smaller and more slender than I had anticipated. For some reason I was expecting the bobcat to look more like the stockier Canadian Lynx (Lynx candadensis).  I was nice to see my first bobcat from our own yard. It was my bobcat training session  for bigger and better things on the Santa Rosa Plateau.

A couple hour later I was working in the office which has a view of the front yard. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed something moving past the front porch. I looked up quickly and saw a bobbed tail passing by the window. I immediately jumped up and ran to the front door and quickly opened it. I wanted to see where this bob-tailed creature was heading. As the door rapidly swung open I was drawn to the front walk where four startled eyes were staring back at me. There sat two of the cutest felines I have ever seen and I was just as startled as the two bobcat cubs as I stared back at them. “Camea, camera, where’s the damn camera,” I asked myself. Turning to look for the camera, I noticed mom bobcat come back into view and with that they all disappeared. Finally locating the camera I tried to locate where the bobcats had gone without any luck – another photo opportunity lost! 

Yesterday when returning home after exploring more of our extended backyard I came to a spot below the embankment off our culdesac where several crows were agitated by something. I assumed it was a predator and spent considerable time trying to locate what was causing the crows concern. I didn’t find anything and returned home as the crows continued to scold what was below. I now think there may be a good possibility that the bobcat den is located somewhere in the that area.

The presence of the bobcats also explain some recent yard findings. I have found several quail wing(s) only on the front lawn over the past several weeks. Karter (the correct spelling of Carter our next door cat) occasionally leaves a dead woodrat or headless rabbit on our porch or lawn to show off to VELCRO. But the quail wing(s) indicate that the prey is being utilized for food and not sport, or showing-off in Karters case. There were no plucked feathers associated with the quail wing(s) which might indicate a raptor kill, so I suspect that the quail were probably taken by the bobcat. There are a lot of quail in our area.

I can’t get those wonderful little faces of bewilderment out of my head. They brought an instant smile upon observation and they absolutely define the word, cute!  Hopefully we will have more encounters with this family of bobcats. Next time I will have the camera ready to go. I may have located my bobcat blind – Our front porch in a comfortable chair with a good cup of coffee.

EXTENDED BACKYARD

Yesterday, when I explored our extended backyard which I may rename Bobcat Valley, I took a more macro look at the area. I also needed another Dudleya fix and wanted to see if the Dudleya had come into flower yet. It was a nice hike with a lot of new unexpected discoveries.

The cacti are now in full bloom, the spring grasses are drying out – marking the beginning of the fire season in Southern California. It still amazes me to see so many wildflowers in bloom. I would have expected to see most of them gone by now. Of course, this is an El Nino year it’s all different I am told. They are predicting cooler weather for tomorrow with a possibility of rain and there is new snow on the San Bernardino Mountains dropping to the 4,000 foot level with the storm last week. Being a former native Californian (my sister revoked my “native” status years ago when we moved away), I must now rely on the current neo-natives to advise me with regards to the unusual SoCal weather. Somehow it sounds like the same dialog everyone uses to explain the weather.

Dudleya (The DUDE of SoCal succulents) continues to intrigue me. It’s design is abolutely beautiful and it is a great example of the  Fibonacci ratio. Not to mention that I think it would also make a great Halloween costume.

   
  
  
TOP ROW: Fringed Spineflower & Bee Fly, Rattlesnake Weed, Western Scrub Jay
MIDDLE ROW: Zebra-tailed Lizard, Orange-throated Whiptail Lizard
BOTTOM ROW: Dudley (The DUDE of SoCal succulents), Bee-fight in cholla cactus bloom
Click on photo for larger image

IN MEMORIUM

The Bobcat made its first appearance this morning almost to the minute that Judy’s uncle Bernie passed away in Ohio. Bernie was 95 years old at his passing, he has always been an inspiration to me. He lived most of his adult life in Logan County, Ohio on a small 30 acre farm living off the land and caring for his parents. He married late to a wonderful woman, Daisy who brought her wonderful family into Bernies life. Bernie and Daisy continued to live a simple life, living off the land, enjoying their beautiful surroundings, and enjoying the natural world on the 30 acres that surrounded them. Bernie left this world this morning as he lived, with great dignity and grace. Thank you Bernie for the Bobcats!

Jim, Judy, and VELCRO

Yesterday, I set out on an exploratory hike in our extended backyard (oak woodland/chaparral green space adjacent to our home) to learn more about the very nastyparasitic plant Chaparral Dodder. I had hoped to get some images of the dodder flower but it was not yet flowering. The dodder was just strangling the flowering chaparral that it was hosting on. I was cautious to not get too close in fear that the dodder tenicles would reach out and capture me. More on This is Not Your Father’s Dodder later.

On returning home I took a trail where I had earlier seen Yucca in bloom in hopes of getting some photos of the yucca flowers and possibly the yucca weevil but the yucca had already reached full bloom and were in decline. Approaching the area I noticed several silvery protrusions extending from the side of a steep hill. When I reached the area I was astounded to see a beautiful succulent plant from which the silvery protrusions were arising. My first thought was, “here is my starter succulent!” I am planning putting in a succulent garden in our front yard to reduce the sod area and to provide a natural border around some already drought resistent and native plantings.

I continued down the trail and couldn’t believe what I was seeing. There were many of these succulent plants all along the trail clinging to the steep wall. I was curious to know what these amazing plants were however I could find no reference to the succulent plants from the guides in my library. Several years ago I disposed of my copy of, A California Flora by Munz when I was culling out my library in PA. At the time I was certain that I would probably not return to California, so it was recycled. A California Flora was(is?) “the” botanical identification guide for the plants of California – no illustrations, no photos – it’s just a text key, a very thick key indeed. Then I thought, “well if I did have Munz, how long would it take me to key the succulent plant out?” Realizing that keying out a succulent plant using Munz would have been quite simple – since there aren’t that many native succulents!

Today, looking through a book I had missed yesterday, Introduction to the Plant Life of Southern California I found squezzed between the cacti section and the chaparral section one page on SUCCULENTS, and there it was, Dudleya pulverulenta (Chalk Dudleya) was screaming at me! From there the information flowed as Google and Bing took over.

A great article on Dudleya by Judy Wigand for the San Diego Union-Tribune is available here. I learned from Judy’s article that the Dudleya is a protected species and is becoming scarce from loss of  habitat loss. It is however available in plant nurserys, so I shall enjoy the Dudleya in its natural state and purchase my starter Dudleya from a nursery. Of course if a Dudleya were to follow me home that would be another thing. I am anxious to observe and photograph the red flowers of the blooming Dudleya which will soon appear.

   
Dudleya – The SoCal DUDE of Succulents in our own extended backyard – NICE! (click on photo for a larger image)

COMING SOON – This is Not Your Father’s Dodder!

Jim, Judy, and VELCRO in California

Santa Rosa Plateau Fog Blog

Today the Santa Rosa Plateau (SRP) was covered with fog which occasionally reached down towards our home but remained mostly on the plateau.

I took the opportunity to visit the foggy plateau with the idea that I might be able to capture the fog burning off the plateau with my camera. Driving up to the plateau, only 5 minutes from our home, the fog became thicker the further west I traveled on the plateau and near the vernal pools the visibility was reduced to under 10 feet. I pulled into the vernal pools trail-head  parking lot, after carefully locating the parking lot entrance. Realizing that the fog was not going to lift for some time I decided to head back east to a lower part of the plateau where the visibility might be better.

I settled on the Hidden Valley trail-head parking lot to explore the plateau where the visibility was much better. The fog ebbed and flowed through the valleys and up the slopes creating dynamic soothing images. I had hoped that the sun would break through so I could capture some contrasting photos. The fog and overcast remained quite heavy and did not provide the best photo opportunities. I was able to capture a number of images that provide an accurate account of the changing fog conditions.

   

The Santa Rosa Plateau blanketed with fog – click on photo for a larger image.

  
 
 
TOP ROW: Common Mullein-not native (1,2), water droplets on grass, 
MIDDLE ROW: water droplets on spider web, Mariposa Lily, water droplets on foxtail grass 
BOTTOM ROW: , Elk thistle, water droplets on BIG spider’s web
CLICK on photo for a larger image.   

As the heavy fog begin to set in where I was located I decided to head up a trail that I hadn’t yet tried. I only intended on using the trail to gain some elevation so I would be in a position to watch the clearing fog over a larger vista. All I was doing however was moving into an area of denser fog. My camera equipment began to collect moisture looking more and more  like the water-droplet covered vegetation I had been photographing earlier. Realizing that there was going to be no fog burn-off today, I packed up the camera equipment to keep it dry. I continued on the same trail since I felt that I had already passed the half way point of the loop that would bring me back to the trail leading to the parking lot. I was now walking through a thick fog, well let’s face it, I was literally in the clouds. To be more accurate by western meterological terminology, I was actually, smack dab in the middle of  a marine layer that was coming off the Pacific Ocean and riding over the Santa Ana Mountains and lapping into the Temecula Valley.

Hiking on an unfamiliar trail in dense foggy conditions is an interesting experience. Intellectualy I knew I was going in the right direction and I was sure that the trail, well pretty sure, I was on connected to the trail that led back to the parking lot where I had left the car. The trail climbed a ridge adjacent to what appeared to be a deep ravine which was hidden from full view by the fog. Wrapping through oak woodlands the trail finally desended to a somewhat familiar area, but not entirely so. It appeared to be a portion of the Hidden Valley, but an area that I had not yet explored. While continuing on the trail in the fog covered valley the birds came vocally alive. The Acorn Woodpeckers cackled and laughed, while the Mourning Doves provided soothing coo’s. Other chips, chirps, and song were heard penetrating the thick fog. There were several sounds through the fog that did not sound of birds or amphibians. Having noticed a lot of  fresh scat and tracks of both bobcat and coyote along the trail, I wondered. . . . ? The trail did lead to the trail junction that led me back to the parking lot. 

I drove down from the plateau with the marine layer chasing my behind. I am looking forward to exploring this new trail once again when the visibility is better. I continue to be impressed by the many faces of the wonderful Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Preserve.

The Adventure Continues  . . . . . .

Jim, Judy, and VELCRO

Yesterday on the Santa Rosa Plateau

Yesterday, Wednesday, May 12, 2010 I was on the plateau a 8:30 am. I tried some new trails on the plateau that appeared to be underused. I hiked more than 3 miles before getting back on one of the main trails where I encountered the first person of the day. Even then, I met only six individuals on the trails during my nearly 4 hour stay on the plateau. The Santa Rosa Plateau (SRP) is truly a very special place and I will continue to be one of the plateau’s pupils for quite some time.

I was ready and hoping to capture photographs of some of the SRP wildlife with an emphasis on mammals. But, alas, the only mammals I encountered yesterday were the six homo sapiens  (4  joggers, 2 hikers) that I met along the trails.  It is apparent to me that I need to get to the SRP at sunrise or visit the SRP at dusk in order to have a chance of photographing the SRP mammals. I am fully aware that they are on the plateau and know that as I wander through their territory they are fully aware of my presence, and are probably watching me as well. The other strategy is to just find a location with a good view, be inconspicuous, and wait for the wildlife to come in to view. Surely this is what I will do as soon as I complete my continuing exploration of the SRP. I am still checking out the trails on the SRP. To date, I have hiked only about 15 miles of the 40 miles of trails on the SRP.  

I am finding it interesting that each trail on the 8300 acre reserve of bunchgrass prairie and oak woodlands habitat provides a different view, vista and presentation of this wonderful habitat. For more information regarding this wonderful place please check out: http://www.riversidecountyparks.org/locations/nature-historic-centers/santa-rosa-plateau/ or contact the SRP foundation: http://srpf.org/ 

I was able to photograph a few encounters with wildlife yesterday (click on photo for a larger image).

    
Photos in order: Ash-throated Flycatcher, Callippe Fritillary butterfly, Western Red-tailed Hawks can be confusing, Beavertail cactus in bloom.
 
In addition to the birds above the following were also seen: Mallard, White-tailed Kite, California Quail, Mourning Dove, Acorn Woodpecker, Lewis’s Woodpecker, Western Kingbird, Western Scrub Jay, Common Raven, American Crow, Violet-green Swallow, Oak Titmouse, House Wren, California Thrasher, European Starling, California Towhee, Spotted Towhee, Western Meadowlark. The Mallard was a female with two ducklings in one of the small riparian pools. I thought to myself that there was little protection from predators and wondered about how large her original clutch might have been.
 
There are still a few wildflowers in bloom on the plateau including the California Poppy but most have waned and the bunchgrass is now browning up. The cacti are just now coming into bloom. The vernal pools have dried up leaving only the common horsetail (Equisetum arvense)  to define where the vernal pools were.
 
We feel blessed to have found such a wonderful place to live and enjoy. Each day brings a new adventure and most days close with a beautiful sunset. Yesterday was no exception.
 
Jim, Judy, and VELCRO in California    

A Couple of Days of Settling In

With another wonderful sunset this evening we are winding down after several days of going through boxes, organizing, culling, disposing, and moving things around as we continue our “settling in” process. We aren’t in any real hurry so this process will continue at the pace we will dictate on a daily basis. This is a very nice feeling indeed!

I have been spending a tremendous amount of time these last several days learning something that I have totally have no knowledge about – “water conservation irrigation systems!” In Pennsylvania we called it a “hose.” In California it is a programmed timer with irrigation zones each programmed for different on and off times and days (usually 7-10 minutes per zone if not in the BUDGET mode, whatever that is?). Drip lines with various drip heads that range from 1 – 6 gallons/hour, tee-connectors, angle connectors, and “boo boo” plugs are other hardware items I am learning about. Home Depot and Lowe’s both devote an entire aisle for irrigation systems which is usually located next to the “earthquake preparation” section. Fortunately we had a professional landscaper upgrade our backyard irrigation and drainage system which was outdated and a real mess. My training ground on this project has been Zone 6, the last of the original irrigation zones. I’ve installed drip lines to Judy’s plants that she has been potting and they will now receive their necessary H2O component on a regulated daily basis at the prescribed time – that was assuming that Zone 6 was installed in the computer properly.  Judy continues to pot more plants, and she just won 4 more plants in a raffle today at her Temecula Valley Garden Club meeting. With more plants more drip lines have to be created.  Unfortunately Zone 6 apparently is not currently recognized by the computer, so I am currently manually turning Zone 6 on for 10 minutes daily after all the other zones have finished their cycles. The most complicated thing about the PA hose was winding it back up after I got through watering. Much to learn. I’ve always liked succulent plants and now that we are in succulent plant country I am considering creating a succulent garden to replace some of the sod on our front lawn – NO hose or irrigation system necessary.  

We purchased a new fountain that was more to our likeing than the one we inherited in the purchase of our home. The new fountain besides looking great during the day also has lights to make it appealing at night as well. Since our outdoor connection doesn’t have an in-house switch allowing us to turn the fountain on and off another project was created. A simple solution, and another trip to Home Depot, I thought. I passed up the irrigation and earthquake preparation aisle and headed for the outdoor electrical section. I found an outdoor timer with 6 outlets that boasted, “six individually timed outlets. Wow, probem solved I thought,  I purchased the item and headed for home. I wanted the fountain to start in the morning, the lights to the fountain to come on in the evening and for everything to shut down at 11 PM and this item seemed to fill that need.

Arriving home I prepared to setup the “perfect solution!” But upon reading the fine print on the “in-box instructions” for the 6-“individually-timed” receptacle  outdoor outlet, it read, “TIMER REGULATES ALL OUTLETS!” “What,” I shouted, the description on the box suggests that the 6 outlets could be independently timed, but they were not. Not to be discouraged, I headed to our local Ace Hardware store and purchased a digital outdoor light sensitive switch that I attached to one of the 6 receptacles of  the outdoor outlet. I attached the fountain light unit to the light sensor and all worked well – mission accomplished! Well, not exactly, as it turns out the light-sensitive unit is digital so once the outdoor outlet shuts down each evening so does the light-sensitive digital unit. It then must be reset daily to work again.  Ah, so much more to do!

The Adventure Continues . . . . .

Jim, Judy, and VELCRO

Early Mom’s Day Visit

  
Mom and Judy admiring mom’s backyard garden

Judy and I visited my mom (93-years young)  yesterday and took her out for an early Mother’s Day luncheon. We wanted to avoid the Sunday Mother’s Day restaurant reservation madness and we wanted to spend some quality one-on-one time with mom.

Mom is a very independent lady and she is surely the influence and source of my own independent nature. My mom is now suffering from dementia but currently still insists on living alone in her home with her cat(s). Mom has wonderful gardens, but her gardening passion has waned over the past several years as her dementia increases. Our next visit to mom’s will probably be a work visit to weed her gardens and bring them up to the standards she kept them.

My sister Joanne is a true saint and  has been the principle caregiver for mom for a number of years now. With our relocation to California we are only a 90 minute drive from mom. We are now finally at a point of our settling in process that we should be able to spend some more time visiting mom and helping out Joanne.

We took mom to Buster’s Beach House (http://www.bustersbeachhouse.com/html/bbhlbframeset.html) which has a great view of the Alamitos Bay inlet in Long Beach, CA. It’s a great place to relax and watch sailboats and yachts enter and exit the inlet to the Pacific Ocean. We had a great meal and a very nice time with mom.

Getting to and  from mom’s house is an adventure. Sixty to ninety minutes of high concentration white-knuckle driving on four different high-speed freeways with speeds ranging from 80 mph to 10 mph. Seldom can you make the trip at a steady speed. Having to be constantly alert with what is going on around you doesn’t allow for any sightseeing along the way. Driving the freeways in CA is not for the timid.

    
MOM’S GARDEN – Christmas in May – poinsettias, Nasturtium Alley, Pink Geranium, White Flower – – Click on photo for larger image

BACKYARD BIRDING UPDATE

I spent the morning rearranging and filling the bird feeders. I was also looking for new visitors to the backyard since I added a nice backyard bird yesterday while waiting for Judy to get ready for our trip to see mom.

I was scanning the valley below and noticed a white bird flying over the fields along Murrieta Creek. Gulls and Great Egrets fly along the creek frequently and I first thought it was probably a gull. Its flight behavior however quickly ruled that out and I thought,  “it couldn’t be, could it?” I quickly located my binoculars got on the bird and exclaimed, “Yes, it is!” I continued to observe the White-tailed Kite as it worked back and forth through the area occasionally hovering as it searched for prey. I began to wonder whether there might be a pair of kites nesting in the area but then realized that the plateau was covered with a blanket of fog. I suspect that the kite probably came off the plateau to the valley below where the visability was better for hunting. I looked frequently this morning but saw no kite activity in the valley this morning. The plateau was clear this morning as well.

Today, while enjoying my coffee and catching up on the news, I noticed a pair of birds quickly land on the backyard railing checking out the feeders, and then quickly flying off. I thought damn, that was Judy’s bird and the sunflower feeder was empty. Judy had seen an interesting bird a week or so ago in the backyard and described it to me by showing me three different birds in the field guide and explained to me that the bird looked like, “part of the this one, and part of the bird looked like this one, and  the other part of the bird looked like this one – WHAT IS IT?” I just threw up my arms and said, “I don’t know, a complex-hybrid perhaps?”

Well, Judy was right, it was one of the 3 birds she had shown me, and it was the best of the three I thought. When the Black-headed Grosbeak flew in this morning for a brief stay, I said, “there’s Judy’s bird!” I told Judy that I saw the bird she had described and she has since been proudly stutting around all day.

I just went to the kitchen and look what I found was sitting in the refilled platform feeder.

 
Quick shots of the Black-headed Grosbeak – More Later. Click on photo for larger image

Our backyard bird list continues to grow but we still have had only the Anna’s Hummingbird at the feeders. Yesterday we saw an Allen’s Hummingbird in mom’s garden. The California Towhee that tried to erase his image from the small chrome watering can is still around now trying to eliminate his image from the stainless steel BBQ. Compulsive frustration for sure, or more likely, he is just never found a mate this season and is taking it out on himself.

RECENT SANTA ROSA PLATEAU BIRDING

Though I haven’t yet conducted a serious “birding only” Santa Rosa Plateau (SRP) trip, I may have located a Spotted Dove roosting/breeding site on the plateau  in my recent ramblings. I have had several fly-overs of a dove darker and larger than a Mourning Dove and having no wing-whistle. The heavy oak/riparian woodlands site I located has a good number of doves moving around in the heavy woodlands. The calls coming from the area fit that of the Spotted Dove.  Though the Spotted Dove was an introduced species to Southern California in 1910 it has currently been extirpated in most of its introduced and expanded areas. I plan to investigate the area further.

The CA SETTLER’S
Jim, Judy, and VELCRO

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness – Mark Twain

Home Improvements – Pros & Cons

 
 
Our new home had been vacant for a month and a half before settlement. Amazingly, the front yard was very healthy looking and appeared to be well taken care of. The backyard on the other hand had been totally neglected for quite some time. It was essentially a barren, muddy moonscape, complete with a dead tree leaning towards the house. We learned from our neighbor that her husband was so upset about how the property was being neglected that he personally fertilized and watered the front lawn with his own water source to maintain the front yard. We are fortunate to have such great neighbors. Our neighbor was shocked to see the condition of the backyard, she said it was beautiful in the past. She said that the dead tree was a beautiful ornamental plum.
 
We tended to the essential repairs and improvements that needed to be done – the roof and the patio cover. Our next major project was to get the backyard back in good condition and to provide Judy with her new gardening space. We had the railroad tie planters installed a while ago but the irrigation system had to be replaced before the re-sodding could be accomplished. For the last 4 or 5 days, Alex and his crew from Wildomar Lawncare transformed our muddy moonscape to a beautiful greenscape complete with a new irrigation system in both the lawn area and the planting area.
 

   
    
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After 14 days or so, Judy will finally have her Garden Playground! No more steep hills to climb or rocks to stumble over, finally – level ground with completely accessible planters. Judy will be busy for sometime planting and tending to all the plants she brought from Pennsylvania, and new ones from the region. Once the sod has had time to take hold, Alex and his crew will plant the Apricot and Tangelo trees in the new greenspace.
 
HOME IMPROVEMENT
The PROS
  • Fixes things that have to be fixed.
  • More efficient utilities use –  Cost Saving!
  • Provides comfort and amenities.
  • CARTER, the next door cat, may now stop using our backyard for his cat box.

The CONS

  • The California Quail may now be infrequent visitors since our backyard will no longer be a “grit” source.
  • The House Sparrows will no longer entertain us with their dust baths.
  • The patio cover partially blocks the great view of the mountains from the kitchen. Judy says she can see them fine, “You’re just too tall,” she says.
  • Home Improvements COST a lot of MONEY!

Our next, and hopefully, final project for awhile will be to get the SPA in working order. It appears to be working, so hopefully it will just need some cleaning and tuning up. It will also have to be made more accessible for Judy.

 
When the lizards are active at 7 AM, it is going to be a warm day!

 

 

Predation in California

 
American Kestrel with prey

 Yesterday afternoon I observed some activity on the chimney of the house across the street. Upon closer observation I noticed a handsome male American Kestrel dining on some prey he had just captured. The captured prey turned out to be another bird and the kestrel was wasting no time in consuming his prey.  

It was difficult to positively identify the prey bird but unfortunately the bird appeared to be a Spotted Towhee.  

Predator/prey relationships generally have a winner and a loser. If the predator succeeds – the predator wins! If the prey escapes – the prey wins!  Seldom, if ever, is there a win/win situation. The natural world is beautiful, but not neccessarily kind. It’s all about survival.  

Today we personally experienced a Predator/Prey relationship and like most all Predator/Prey relationships there was a winner and a loser.  

When I was closing the trunk to the car after grocery shopping yesterday I noticed that the sticker on our PA license indicated that it had expired on 03/2010. I thought that couldn’t be true we purchased the car in late August 2009. We did however transfer Judy’s Handicap plate from her trade-in to the new car. Still believing that the license plate had been updated to the same calendar as our new vehicle purchase, I checked the PA registration – “EXPIRY 03/2010,” it read. We had been driving our vehicle in CA for a month without a valid registration.  

I had a sinking feeling that I had just become a target Spotted Towhee. I returned home and after unloading the groceries, I immediately went to the computer and “googled,” well actually “binged” (I’m trying it out) the CA DMV. A nice website with all the neccessary information I needed – online forms to fill and print out. That accomplished we settled down for the night and rested for what was about to come.  

We headed to the Hemet, CA DMV office this morning hoping that it would not take a lot of time to get the problem resolved. After a 30 minute drive we arrived at the DMV office and there were people wrapped around the building waiting to get in to conduct business. With Judy’s handicap we were able to “buck the line” and go right in. We received our number and two hours later our number was called. The towhee was now heading directly towards the kestrel. The clerk was very nice and accepted our documentation.  

After a considerable amount of time while the clerk, working on behalf of the kestrel, calculated all the figures informed us that State of California (kestrel) would require $802 to register our “out-of-state” vehicle. The kestrel was now picking the bones of the towhee and it didn’t feel good at all. We paid the kestrel and now have a temporary registration but still have to get a SMOG test before they will provide us with a permanent registration and license.

The natural world is beautiful, but not neccessarily kind. It’s all about survival – and the State of California continues trying to survive.  

We feel blessed that we have already had more than $802 worth of sunrises, sunsets, sunshine, rainbows, and new places to explore and visit that have cost us nothing. It all equals out! 

On a positive note, we attended the Temecula Valley Garden Club Flower Show over the weekend and placed some raffle tickets in some of the nice offerings. Yesterday, I received a call that we had won the Picnic Pack. Both of us had forgetten which offering that was but when I picked it up this morning it turned out to be one of the one’s we both wanted.