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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Door Shut, but a Window Opened and a Bird Flew In

Today was supposed to be my first day on the Hatteras strip in North Carolina for three days of birding fun on the Gulf Stream. Then an earthquake hit Virginia and Hurricane Irene opted to blow towards the East Coast, which is due to hit Hatteras this weekend. People are evacuating at some locations. Oh dear.

Reluctantly I canceled out of the trip, because 2 of the 3 voyages was canceled and the remaining trip now seems unlikely. Sad, but what's a birder to do? Well, head out to the Davis Water Treatment Plant to see the 3 Ring Circus... I mean, to see the Common Ringed Plover.

I drove out this morning and to my total joy, the bird was not only there, but it was being adorably cooperative. There were loads of birders, many who flew in from other states just to see this bird. Of course the bird, is supposed to be over wintering in Africa, so it flew a long way to be here too.

My best shot of the Common Ringed Plover'

This amazing birdie was discovered last Friday by Todd Easteria, who has found many wonderous vagrant birds in his day, but this one is his best. This is only the 4th record of a Common Ringed Plover in the lower 48 states, and the 1st ever found in California.

The belly band is at least twice as thick
as on the similar looking Semipalmated Plover

Below you can compare the Semipalmated Plover with the Common Ringed Plover. What you can't see is the Semipalmateds have dark legs with semi-webbed toes, while the Common Ringed has no toe webbing at all on its crayola bright legs - orange or flesh colored (when not covered in mud). The Common Ringed is also a little larger than Semipalmateds, and at least in this plumage, more rufous in coloration.

Comparison of Semi-palmated Plovers and the
Common Ringed Plover; photo by Todd 'The MAN' Easteria

Even the Swallows buzzed in for a look a the celebrity Plover

Nice belly shot & view of most of the white on its head

Friends often try to preen my ego by telling my shots are great. No. Sorry, they aren't. I haven't been able to get my newish digital camera and spotting scope to work in unison yet. Here is what all of my shots look like before I trim them down. They are 'vignetted' which is too say they resemble a bullet hole in a black wall.
A seriously vingetted, 'bullet hole' digiscoped photo
I took this last photo to give an idea of how far we were from the Plover. It's nice that no matter how many showed up for gawking, we were too far away for the birds to be bothered by happy birders. The Plover is in the photo below, the lone speck, near center on the mud flat. The speck on the far right is a lump of mud and did not fly all the way over from Eurasia to be here.

[Management is happy to say Ms. Miller will receive a full refund for her 3 pelagic trips, canceled due to Hurricane Irene. Of course Ms. Miller had nothing to do with Irene blowing in, or at least we think she had nothing to do with it. If you think otherwise, please contact the Coast Guard, but you may wish to have a chat with a good shrink first.]

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Happy Hen Summer Camp

Summertime! All good girls get to go to summer camp, and my 2 hens are no exception.
So, when the girls weren't looking, I bundled them up in the old dog carrier and we were off to Das Huhnlager Happy Hen Summer Camp! The girls were a little taken aback when they saw their new summer home - not as posh as they expected.

Holy Mother of Yolks! Where are the Chippendale Roosters
Claire promised? The canoes? The worm dispenser?

Adele and Babette didn't have a room to themselves, they had to share their 'cabin' with Miss Pink - the camp counselor - and ten little foster brats chicks. Counselor Pink runs a tight ship, no slackers here.

Ms. Pink preparing to put her chicks
through their daily calistentics

Now, as I ought to have expected, all newbies at camp can suffer some harassment, and Happy Hen Summer Camp is no exception. However, this was a sorry case, because the one who did all the harassment was the Counselor Pink. She decided she needed to get the upper hand on the two newbies fast, so she proceeded to peck the stuffings out of Adele and Babette.

Now, the girls were pretty upset by the unexpected treatment, and I, their 'hen Mom' was close to hysterical. I tell you, I gave some strong consideration to preparing some nice "Coq Au Pink Vin" for dinner. My girls were upset, and understandably so - they lost a great deal of their neck feathering and suffered numerous beak bite marks.

Maybe if we hide our heads, Commandant Pink won't see us

Next morning, I was still rather frazzled, though not near as frazzled as poor Adele and Babette, who were on the verge of resembling 'turkens'.
NO, that isn't Adele on the left, but I admit, both of the girls were on the verge of looking like the turken hen on the left.

Over the breakfast table a meeting took place on what to do with the de-feathering of my poor girls. Oscar had the winning plan, suggesting giving Commandant Pink and her fledglings their freedom, leaving my hens alone in the pen. The only question was whether or not the rapidly growing chicks were just the right size, or not, to be lightly feathered & seasoned, bite-sized snacks for the local feline and coyote population.

I am pleased to announce, so far, so good. The chicks enjoy full time freedom to roam with the 'grown-up' chickens. They are teen-aged chicks now, and are certain they know a lot more than Miss Pink or any of the other chickens so their freedom came in the nick of time for everyone's nerves. As for Commandant Miss Pink, she is now so frazzled with chick rearing that she often goes to roost at the early hour of 3 PM; anyone who tends to ten rowdy youngsters can relate.

Teen-age Chicks, trying to look innocent

Adele and Babette? Well, they seem set on 'flying the coop', which of course would put them back on the firing line, not just from Commandant Pink, but also the rest of Barbara's chickens, which number in excess of a dozen chickens and 3 large, silly geese. So, against their own wishes, my 2 hens are staying in isolation for a while. They are regularly laying so they probably aren't too fussed.

Barbara's 3 Silly Geese

Yes. It's cruel to abandon one's feathered children while I fly my own coop and go about gathering vacation memories, but in my own defense, uh... well, I'm still working on that...

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Double-header on the Way Home

Time to head for home and we opted taking the scenic/historic route. So, south on 101 in Hopland we visited the Solar Living Center. It's the ultra hippy, green, eensie carbon footprint center. I've stopped by there a zillion times and it's always prettier and more informative than the previous visit.

At the entrance, a wrought iron sun greets all

By the parking lot are four columns to which Morning Glory flowers in deep purple and pale lavendar climb. It emits a cool spritz of water, which is heavenly on a hot day.

Source of a nice Morning spritz

Along side the columns you walk up a hill to a shady patio covered over with fruited grape vines. I had my eyes on the grapes but they're not quite ripe yet. Bugger!

Tempting Bunches of grapes line the extensive arbor

The reason for visiting the Center is its large shop full of eco-friendly products. I managed to keep my wallet in my purse this go-round, but Barbara gave up the bucks for several nifty items.

The patio, lined with live shade cover

Not quite an hour after leaving the Center, we drove south to Cotati California. Both of us were initially reluctant, but finally we opted to visit the old Albertson homestead, where Hans & Irmgard Albertson lived with their rambunctious girls; Barbara and Suzi. Now of course, the place was vacated by the family more than a decade ago when Hans and Irmgard moved to the Napa Valley.

The old homestead was vacated so home care for the Albertsons wouldn't include tree felling and meadow mowing. Still, despite the wisdom of their move, it took me ages to reconcile to myself the abandonment my holiday refuge! From my twenties right on through my forties, I'd spent countless happy mini-breaks at the Cotati home, including countless Christmases, Easters and Thanksgivings under the loving hospitality of the Albertsons. Sometimes stayed in Susi and Barbara's childhood bedrooms, and I roomed in the 'guest house' which the old pet hospital became after Dr. Albertson retired. Many a night I happily snuggled down in a big feather-bed, happily reading Hans' old National Geographic and Der Spiegel magazines before a good night's rest.

That was then, this is now. Here below can be seen the old parking lot, the asphalt now overgrown with weeds. Behind the lot a low stone wall used to sit. Between what are now twin shrubs sit between which, used to sit, a pretty, wrought iron gate. On entering the little gate, a cow bell rang out, warning that in later years warned Irmgard there were guests afoot. I have to laugh! I remember how Irmgarrd would run out to nab me by the collar and pull me into the back door of the house before Bismark, their hundred pound plus black Great Dane arrived, yowling like a banshee! Poor boy, in his dotage what with poor eyesight, he developed a 'bite now, sniff and identify later' attitude. I can still hear the resounding WHOMP! of Bismark crashing against the front door only seconds after Irmgard hauled me inside the door.

Weeds have overwhelmed the parking lot,
home remains on left, old pet hospital on right

The house sold maybe ten years ago, to a developer (grrrrr...) who vowed to let the home stay standing as the oldest historic home in Cotati. So, imagine everyone's 'surprise' when the stalward old home, without the benefit of anyone living in it, 'accidentally' caught on fire. Accidentally. Right. I believe there is a special spot reserved in hell for land developers, particularly the selfish, lying, running capitalist dog type, which I think is most of 'em.

View of the front of the property where
my old pony Suzy roamed for several years

The old garage with Sister Suzi's painted, 'troupe l'oeil' grape vine

If you look at the little terra cotta colored window above, you can see a heart, shown close-up below. Isn't it sweet?

Closeup of Hans & Irmgard's heart

Even the old driveway is now covered over in weeds from neglect. Happily, you can still see the green and gold hillsides in the distance.

The old driveway up to the 'Alpine Pet Hospital and the Albertson's Homestead

It was fun and depressing to see the old Albertson homestead. I feel sorry for the people now living in the homes surrounding the property. I wonder if they realize their homes are former agricultural lands? I believe the reason the farms are gone has as much to do with disappearing ground water as it does development plans gone wild. Either way, I wish there was a way to convey how much living happened on that then acres of Cotati.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Visiting in Fort Bragg

Lovely Marin County Fog - COOL in every sense

As long as Barbara and I had driven all the way to northern Marin, we figured might as well drive over to Fort Bragg for a visit with Jo Beach. She used to teach elementary school with Barbara back in the day. Aside from catching up with Jo, there is the joy of smelling that lovely coastal air and those cool, cool temperatures that I for one can never take for granted.

Jo planted a classically beautiful 'cottage garden' in the front yard

 Mother Nature currently decorated the whole field surrounding the house with tiny yellow daisies, quite picturesque.

I had an unexpected treat at Jo's place. Her husband Sean is a retired State Park Ranger. They were entertaining a pair of guests who arrived only an hour or so before Barbara and I got there. A former lady ranger and her 15 year old son.

Now I, being a nit, never got the kid's name, but he is a highly gifted birder. I was in 7th heaven! The child is like David Sibley in minature. I had fun torturing him... I mean, having him go through the 300-something photos of North American birds on my iPhone. Honestly, the kid identified birds most adult birders would miss, even those in crap photos. He has already birded some birding hot spots such as south Texas and the Dry Tortugas. At his age I didn't know a Western Scrub Jay from a hole in the road. Meeting an ace birder in fledgling form gives me hope for America's wildlife.

Someone else enjoying Jo's front yard

After loads of chatting, we absconded with Jo, heading off to the Noyo Harbor for a nice lunch at a Bay side restaurant. I'd eaten there years ago, and the view hadn't changed - still often fog shrouded and the waters full of recreational boaters, harbor seals and the occasional loon.

Noyo Bay Bridge

After lunch, the three of us were attached by a fit of naughtiness and we visited the Mendicino Chocolate Company. Lord love a duck, I love me some dark chocolate drenched marzapan!

Late afternoon we delivered a chocolate-infused Jo Beach back to her husband and house guests after which Barbara and I found our way to our motel. I had to laugh; when I reserved the room, I requested a quiet corner of the grounds. Our luck, when we got the room - and the motel was jammed with summer travelers - a group of fifty b'jillion holiday fishermen were in the midst of a tail gate party in the parking lot by our room. Happily, the rooms had no windows facing the parking lot so the noise was minimal. Whew! Quite a narrow escape we had there.

Must laugh - over the years my luck with rooms in Fort Bragg often involved non smoking rooms, with windows and or/patios on which happy men smoke HUMONGOUS cigarettes, if not stogies.

We toyed with the idea of staying a second night, but decided not to press our luck. For a one night visit I must say we got our money's worth in Fort Bragg.

Jo's Calico kitty chows down:
how's this for a country comfort scene?

Friday, August 05, 2011

Nate & Rose's Wedding

Nate and Rose's Nuptuals

I am off on a lovely short mini-break, which began with a fairy tale wedding of my birder buddy Don's pretty daughter Rose and her handsome groom Nate. So I would not have to attend the wedding 'Doe' (i.e. 'stag') buddy Barbara came along as my 'plus one' I feel so sophisticated using that term!.

It's been at least a couple of years since I attended a wedding. This particular ceremony was full of good hearted laughter as the Bride's Maids and Man of Honor, gave readings from poems Hug O' War by Shel Silverstein, A Lovely Love Story by Edward Monkton and most specially an ode written by Rose to her late mother, Maurine Hales Pendleton.

There was a table by the wedding pair, on which sat a straw hat and the lovely photo below. Rose's loving mother attended the wedding in spirit.

Maurine and her adorable Rose, back when I first met them

Seldom to I attend a wedding for which I have such a strong feeling I'm watching two best friends joining their lots together for a life of love and all that good stuff. Doesn't get better than that, does it?

Thursday, August 04, 2011

The Moth-er Load

I've had an ongoing moth infestation for ages now. One source turned out to be a bag of birdseed that sat unutilized in a dining room corner and another was a bag of corn masa in my pantry cupboard. Those sources gone, I expected the house load of pantry moths to gradually dimminish and disappear - didn't happen! I was on the verge of deciding I am just cursed and doomed to flying scale-shedders for the remainder of my life. Then, on returning from a mini-break with my friend Barbara, she innocently mentioned, "...but what about that bag of birdseed in the garage?"

"What bag of birdseed? There is no more birdseed."

"The one I saw when I got out of the car. Near the driver's seat."

Poor deluded Barbara! Birdseed in the garage? As if! So, I walked off in to the garage expecting to see NOTHING. Here is a photo of the 'Nothing' I saw. Note the swiss cheese appearance of the non-existent birdseed bag.

Source of Winged Invasion

How could I have walked past that bag a thousand times without seeing it? Sigh... yet another notorious case of 'hidden in plain sight'.Oh well. Maybe now the numbers of pantry moths flying reconissance in my home will finally diminish.

Fair Oaks' Notorious Hen Fighting Ring

This morning I had a frightful moment when I realized 50% of my flock (of 2) was not out roaming. With much trepidation I looked in the laying box, and there was Adele, sitting on a pair of newly laid eggs. Aha! Adele had gone broody. I pulled her off the eggs and gave her some hugs.

"Who's my pretty little hen? Who's my fluffy, wuffy boo-boo hen!?"

Bingo! My cooing had the desired effect of shifting Adele out of broodiness and into indignation; "HOW DARE YOU HUG & SHOW ME AFFECTION!". Soon she was prancing around the garden, looking all insulted. She is so cute when she's angry.

Adele claims the 'goodie dish' without Babette's permission

Adele's next action however lead to the show stopper of the day. She headed towards the chicken goodie bowl. Now let me explain; my hens get treats via their goodie bowl. Yesterday, for example, I gave them a quarter of a ripe juicy Tuscan cantalope. The melon was sweet as honey and so flavorful I almost couldn't bring myself to give any of it up, but I put several cantelope cubes on the grass. To my aggravation, the girls looked at the melon, but made no attempt to try it out. Eat something not contained in their goodie bowl? As if!

Back to this morning, Adele approached the newly stocked goodie bowl (which included the previously ignored melon). Babette (my 'Special Ed' hen) flew into a chicken rage against Adele, clucking, pecking and feather's flying!

"That's MY goodie bowl!" declared the furious Babette.

I was standing right there, without a camera to catch the action of course. Had visions of myself at the head of an illegal hen fighting ring. "Put your money down! See Babette kick Adele's feathered arse!"

Did I mention, that for all the hen fight action, the only feathers that were flying were those of the attacker - Babette? Seems the girl's feathers are not exactly glued on too well.

Anyway, that was it, about 4 or 5 wing-flapping attacks against Adele, during which Adele was only mildly distracted. In the end Babette subsided her attacks and clucked angrily as Adele helping herself to the goodie dish, without or without Babette's permission.

Adele (top) looks around to reclaim her lost feathers

Interesting; at Colette's death last month, for want of a leader, Adele took to following Babette around. I reckon that lead Babette to thinking she was, pardon the pun, the Big Cock of the Walk, so much so that she tried to 'discipline' her so-called follower, Adele.

Uh... sorry Babette. Adele does follow you, but she doesn't recognize your exclusive ownership of the goodie bowl. Ah yes, life's tough when you're a Special Ed chicken.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Once Upon a River

I haven't done anything in such a long time, vultures were spotted, hoovering over my house. With that in mind, Mommy Nancy and I, made plans to spend yesterday, Sunday, doing something - anything that would get my pedal extremities to jiggling, or better yet, walking. After musing over options for the day, we settled on attending the Courtland Pear Festival (yee ha!) south a Sacramento a ways along the river delta.

So around 1:30 I turned up at Rick & Nancy's & the first order of the day was lunch, which Rick cooked up for us all - batter fried tilapia and pork tacos. *Yum* Honestly, the chatting and the food was so good that it was almost 4:30 by the time Nancy & I were out the door headed for the Fair. I was tickled Nancy drove, so I got to gawk out the window. The drive was lovely & unseasonably cool, on the highway that skirts the Sacramento River. It's another world down there on the Delta.

Driving along the Sacramento River

Hurrah, the Courtland Pear Fair!

Loads of elegant dining

And all you can drink!

Before long, Nancy was enjoying a raspberry pear smoothie and I was eating a forbidden fruit - an ice slushy, with loads of fruit syrups, none of which included Pear. Our primary goal had been to sample the Pear Pie, but you have to get to the fair a lot earlier in the day to enjoy that particular treat. Oh well, we settled on buying some yummy Pear Strudel. We sat enjoying our treats while a Mariachi band banged on in a nearby tent that must have been seating three hundred happy, pear munching fair visitors.

Insert Loud, Cheery, Horn Laiden Music HERE

By the time we finished our treats, the fair was closing down. We decided to continue south along the river, to see what we could see. One of the most frequent sights on the River are bridges, all of which can rise up when necessary for the passage of boats.

Approaching grand river crossing

Over the River & through the woods...

We stopped briefly at the Ryde Hotel - an elegant little Art Deco-ish spot along Sacto's Riviera. I think it would be an interesting place for friends to plan a get together.

Entrance at the Ryde Hotel -all the rage in 1925 and 2011

Next we headed south - only getting ourselves lost once along the way - to the tiny town of Isleton, once known as the “the Little Paris of the Delta". We decided to stroll up the main street, which to me looked lifted from some old Western movie; OK, maybe if you replaced the autos with cowponies.

Main Drag in Isleton

Along the main street were lots of very tiny plots of land overflowing with fruit trees and lush flowers. There even a little garden composed of a high wall of beaver cactus festooned with lush pink roses.

Rather Prickly Flower Arrangement

I was fascinated with the lots with fruit trees, probably planted some time in the early bits of the last century. We found Quince, plums, pears, flowing richly off tree branches. There were also flowers planted everywhere, giving bright punctuation to the street.

Juicy, Fat Peaches

Fuzzy Quince at the rear of one lot

Now, unfortunately, though I photographed loads of the fruit bearing trees, I didn't think to take pictures of the lots themselves; a shame, as they were so romantically reminiscent of small town America.

There was one spot with dozens and dozens of bright and tall sunflowers, some hoovering as high as 7 feet tall. As we admired the bright flowers, a man asked if we would like to take some to take with us? Would we, what a treat!

Towering Sunflowers

We ate peaches straight off the tree

We thanked our benefactor of the sunflowers and headed back to the car, for the drive home. Honestly, with those fresh & humongous sunflowers in hand, Nancy and I felt like we had a starring role in a rather small scale fairy tale. FLORUS HUMONGOUS!