Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Road Home

Old fencing on the back roads of Mendicino

Just when you think the wildflowers have all passed you by, accidentally you happen upon a quiet little hillside between coastal Mendocino and Ukiah. There is a splash of colors on the grasses and  butterflies dart about. Eureka! There's a touch of  'Spring time' left in them thar hills.

Along the road from Fort Bragg through to Ukiah, we passed through the adorably tiny town of Comptche and the Montgomery Woods State Reserve. Sometime later we drove past some red flowers and I pulled to the side of the road to examine them. At first I thought the red flowers were  California Fuchia but on closer scrutiny they looked different. Now, I've looked them up they are actually delphiniums, or more commonly called Lark Spurs. 
Bright Red Larkspurs aka Canyon Delphiniums
There were lots of wildflowers shining on the shady hillside. Barbara and I excitedly scoured the hillside to see what grew. Some flowers were there but in small numbers.

Cute little Baby Blue-eyes were scattered sparingly
 One spot had strange looking flowers called Elegant Clarkia that look like someone shredded them with a cheese grater. Strange
Elegant Clarkia or 'Red Ribbons' looking more purplish in the shade of trees
There were Chinese Houses scattered around too. Never saw them before this year, now they seem to be everywhere.
Chinese Houses
We weren't the only ones interested in the local blooms of course. There were butterflies visiting flowers too.  I seldom see different types of butterflies, in one spot any more so it was a treat seeing so many kinds. There were Duskywings which are to date, the biggest Skipper butterflies I've ever seen.
A Duskywing Skipper feeding on the Blue Dicks.

A whitish, Western Swallowtail sipping vetch nectar
I don't recall I've ever seen one of these gigantic California Sisters butterflies before

 The Yellow Lupines were far deeper buttery yellow than the pale yellow lupines we found in Lake County. Barbara started calling them Butter Cookies because they look like rows of cookies... maybe we were just ready for a snack?
Yellow Lupines
Eventually we headed on for Ukiah in the east, with intent to get home. I figured if we made it sometime prior to midnight it would be a miracle. But we had to stop again to admire a bumper crop of native succulents, called Canyon Dudleya, Canyon Liveforever and Rock Lettuce. Love those names. Barbara had a Klepto-botanist thoughts, and what do you know! A couple of teeny rooted Rock Lettuce jumped off the cliff, crawled into the back of my car and followed us home. Honestly. The little buggers hitch hiked a ride!

The biggest bunch of Rock Lettuce on the slope

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Around Fort Bragg

Tiny patch of the b'jillion acre Mendocino Botanical Gardens
It's been a relaxing week in Fort Bragg. didn't do as much local exploring as I expected. Jo, Barbara and I visited the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens - or to be more precise - the gift & garden shop at the gardens. Barb bought a few plants but I decided not to bring any home, where they'd only be fated for death in my Gulag Garden.  Here are some fortunate plants I didn't buy.

Fancy Geranium

And a few fishies whom were also spared my interest
Most of the time we spent lolling around Jo's home. I mentioned her late husband Sean's artistic talents in my last blog post. I recall seeing his work at their previous home in Monterey County more than a decade ago. I went nuts over Sean's stuff back then and still feel the same draw to them now.
Here are some of Sean's hangings.

This hanging features Scarlet Macaw tail feathers
This is AWESOME!

Amusingly enough, Jo was never too thrilled with Sean's hangings. I never asked her, but I think she didn't appreciate the work's ability to gather dust, cobwebs and feature bones, odds and ends. As for myself though, I guess I've got enough boondock appreciation in me to think it's all pret-ty cool.

I spent a fair amount of time birding in the laziest possible manner - sitting near the picture windows in the livingroom, watching Ospreys and flocks of Violet-green & Cliff Swallows float by. A Great Blue Heron and Mallards used the pond.

A natural little pond just across from the house
Most evenings a ghostly white Barn Owl swept through the meadow, hunting mice. I bet her bird 'yard list' is well over 100 species (comparatively, mine is around 40).

I did drag myself away from the window one afternoon, driving myself down to Mendocino.

View of the sea from the little village shops
View along the shop fronts
Had fun walking around window shopping. Didn't buy much, thank heavens, just a book, California Foraging, which of course, I need like a hole in my head. Really, I already have lots of books on edible wild plants. But this one actually tells when to forage for each plant, what parts of plants are edible and how to prepare them, and even better, how to ensure a better yield for the wild plants in future seasons. Way cool.

Oh, and I bought this HUMONGOUS smoky quartz crystal, from Nepal. Coincidentally, later in the day I heard about the horrible earthquake in Nepal.

One other thing is Barbara and I visited Jo at her work place at KUNK FM Fort Bragg, a radio station. She got a job there a while back and really enjoys working there and learning all about how radio stations operate. Myself, of course, I just LOVE the station's name: The Skunk FM. It was awesome visiting her there.

Jo learned the ropes at the Skunk FM
By the way, The Skunk FM was instrumental in Jo getting her new doggie, Finn. He was featured at the station in their ongoing association with the local Humane Society.
Fynn, enjoying his new home
Lovely, lovely visit with Jo. Wish we could stay and visit with Jo and Fynn all summer.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Up to Fort Bragg

Rows of Oaks on rolling hills

I'm on a little sojourn with my friend Barbara. We drove north to Fort Bragg. Instead of  my usual route north on Highway 5 from Sacramento - a boring-as-hell stretch of freeway - got to Woodland, there picking up Highway 16. That highway rambles through a v. scenic route along the agricultural Capay Valley. 

Stopping to stretch our legs, we stopped to stare at the Capay hillsides. Barbara and her Boxer doggie Chori took a little stroll.

A Capay hillside lined with pale yellow Lupines
Yellowy Lupines
Hidden in the lupines were a few purple lupines I've seen in flower guides, but haven't previously found. I thought they might just be imaginary.
Not in any focus, but Eureka: Chinese Houses!
Along the way we stopped so Barb could take a phone call. I took the dog for another walk. I found a wonderful Mulberry tree, chock full of ripe black juicy mulberries. Um.... I ate them right off the tree, but didn't take any pictures and more's the pity.

All in all, I now have a new scenic route to Highway 20, that leads to Highway 101, and bonus: Bear Valley Road, a well known wildflower haven.

Cattle corral on first mile of Bear Valley Road
Chori ran up and down Bear Valley Road

After viewing what wildflowers were left in the pastures a mile in, we got on Highway 20 headed west & north. A few hours later, we arrived at Jo's house by Fort Bragg. Jo is doing well, which is saying a lot as her husband Sean passed on last year. HUGE void left when that guy left. He was so cool - a long time Ranger in state parks and in my opinion he was quite the artist, but more on that later.
Jo in her front garden
To fill up a teeny bit of her aching heart, Jo adopted a little shaggy white poodle mix, she calls 'Finn'. Mr. Finn is a cutie pie and reigning indoor wee-wee king, but hey, we can't all be Lassie. When introduced to Chori, it was touch and go if the 2 dogs would get on, as Boxers aren't called boxers for nothing. Chori bats at her playmates with her paws and it can freak a small dog out. Miraculously, happily the two soon played like long time friends as the 'humans' in resident chatted until the proverbial cows came home.

We are visiting with Jo for about a week. We'll continue talking 'til we're hoarse, and we will also visit the town of Fort Bragg and it's attractions (actually that'd be the Botanical Garden's gift shop) and maybe the nearby hippy town of Mendocino, all to the south. Suspect I'll be staring out the window doing lots of casual birding in Jo's garden and in the nearby pond.

Senioras Jo and Barbara enjoying Italian food at Fort Bragg's Cucina Veron

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Three Rs

Roadrunners, Rattlers and Roads. OK, I put that last one in there because I ran out of relevant R's pretty quickly. I was on my way back home from Castroville, and my route took me onto the infamous Pacheco Pass. I stopped at Dinosaur Point Pacheco State Park. Goal: add a roadrunner to my annual bird list. Sure enough, once there, I found a roadrunner inside of five minutes. The little speed-devil shot by on the gravel road, disappearing into the shrubbery. My Yellowstone U-turn didn't help as the bird was long gone by the time I was done. Tickled with my mid-state Roadrunner, I was off downhill towards the San Luis Reservoir. The Reservoir is so low on water it looks like a drained bathtub with a massive rim ring.

I drove slowly, enjoying the yellow Sticky Monkey-flowers along the roadside. I spotted what I assumed was a Gopher Snake. I think every 4 out of 5 snakes I see are Gopher Snakes, but this one seemed to have a v. pale tail. Yikes! I rushed over to the snake for a nice photo and video opt.

As the quickie video above shows, the Western Diamondback was a handsome creature, and was bent out of shape what with me interrupting its nap on the nice warm conglomerate. The photo looks like we were nose to nose, but I was using the telephoto setting on my little Panasonic camera.

When our little photo session ended, and I left, the snake hightailed itself to places otherwise occupied by roadrunners. I continued on down toward the reservoir, but it was road blocked - for what, I do not know. There was a trailer and a ranger/guard viewing me suspiciously. I drove up to him and told him I'd only come down for a quick look around and what with the roadrunner and rattler, I was pretty damned pleased; he cracked a smile.

I then headed back uphill where, just before I drove off, I spotted a nice pair of California Quail that were also amiable to a photo session.

I swear, at first, I thought he was grinning
But he wasn't happy - he read me the riot act

The Mrs., sleepy, grumpy and
hadn't gotten around to grooming that topknot
The whole mini-flock
There must have been other birds in the park, but the Roadrunner and Quail were the only ones I could find, but that's all you get if you don't do more than a quick drive through. Still, I was satisfied and got back on the Pacheco Pass, headed for home.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Berkeley Hen Party

Top to bottom, left to right
Nancy, Rhonda, Ingrid, Barbara, Robbie
and some chick in a red shirt
It's been three years since our last Hen Party. So Roberta, aka Robbie dusted off the welcome mat and in we all blasted in like an April storm; chat, chat, yak, yak, and not to be overlooked, eat, eat, EAT.

Robbie making her now famous, 'Khao soi'
a Thai Curried Chicken Soup
Hen Ingrid, back from Peru
She brought Peruvian Prezzies for everyone
Barbara & Nancy model attractive alpaca scarves; their pick of Ingrid's presents...
Hey! Is that a non-hen back there in the kitchen?
Hen Robbie brandishing the sacred pecking hens -
only to be enjoyed by she-who-hosts the latest Hen Party
Modeling one of the Peruvian gifts, an Alpaca wool glove
Hen Rhonda pouring out the oh-so-delish, after dinner aperitif

Um... Ice Wine, which along with other wines and some delightful cheeses were brought by farm adviser, Hen Rhonda. Ice wine, made from frozen grapes, is quite sweet.

There's that not-a-hen again. Bill, Hen Robbie's hubby
Very nice man, quite tolerant of chattering, nattering hens in his domicile

Also not-a-hen, girlie kitty 'Baby Cakes' wonders
why so little of the feast food featured in her dishes
All in all it was a great Hen Party weekend. It's nice getting together with old friends ever once in a bit, to share a little of our lives. It has been 3 years since our last get together so we hope to make up for that with another H.P. by year's end. Stay tuned.