Featured Post

Baltimore by the Sea

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Der Cuckoo im Wald... er, in Watsonville

Mob of thoroughly Cuckoo birders in Ramsey Park, Watsonville California.
In the middle of rather-late-in-the-year Spring cleaning, preparing menus and itinerary for oncoming house guests at Chez Claire, I was busy, busy, busy! Then it happened


One o'clock? Nope! A real live Common Cuckoo shocked the California birding community by showing up, unpresidented, unexpectedly in Watsonville. Well, you might ponder, no biggie - just a common bird. Well, it is called a 'Common' Cuckoo, but it's only common if you live in say, the Black Forest of Germany. The Common Cuckoo seldom shows up in North America, unless you include the far western Aleutian islands. So, as far as ditching my numerous obligations and preparations, did I really have a choice. Nope. So, after arguing with Don that there was no way I could possibly drive ditch my obligations to see a bird, did indeed ditch everything, hop on down to Don's place and we were quickly off to see our target lifer birdie.

When we finally made our way sleepy little Ramsey Park, it was literally awash with Cuckoo oriented birders. The bird, rather obediently, was present and my initial view of it was through the spotting scope of a stranger, who only too happy to offer me a peek at the bird. It rather looked like an exotic fan dancer of the 19th century, as it was enveloped in Sycamore leaves. The photos below - not great - were photographed with my old iPhone through someone else's spotting scope.

View of the Cuckoo through it's hiding place in a Sycamore tree.
I was thrilled to see the little bird, I can tell you, and I wondered if I had been alone and spotted it, would I have taken note of how different it looked? Such is the stuff of a birder's daymares - would I have noticed it was not a mourning dove. Well, probably, but there is always that nagging little doubt. AAARRRGGGHHH!  Be gone damned mental torture!

Not really as grumpy as it appears in this shot.

Don takes a victory walk after his viewing of the Cuckoo
For the truly curious, here are some better photos of the bird, here

We probably hung around the Cuckoo site around 90 minutes, then went off to view a Franklin's Gull at a nearby slough. Then, it was time for me to head back home and get on with Spring Cleaning.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Blue-Feathered Gold

We were in the middle of our only full day at Mono lake, our second trip to Mono Lake in search of Pinyon Jays, and our b'jillionth annual search for Pinyon Jays in general. 
We had already dropped by Mono Mills, a small park, where other birders have repeatedly seen Pinyon Jays. We suspected the other birders of being no-good-horrible, double-dog liars, because we saw no Pinyon Jays there and we're v-good-wonderful, double-kitten truth tellers. Still, we kept  checking Mono Mill, hopefully & with the same desperation one keeps checking the kitchen drawers when your car keys go missing. 

At one point, after a short & jay-less search, we returned to the car, to find, I kid you not, a White-breasted Nuthatch IN THE CAR!  No, it wasn't trying to hot wire the car & didn't seem to be planning to wait for us to enter the car, then jump out and hijack the vehicle. Don unlocked the car and after a couple of horrifying bird/glass collisions, the poor thing flew away - that would be the bird, not Don. We were stunned. How the heck and when the heck did that bird get into the car? As Don drove us away, I pondered on the strange occurrence of birdie car invasion, as I gazed at the blue skies above, through the open moon roof.

Mono Mill, where lying birders 'claim' to have spotted Pinyon Jays. Yeah, right.
We headed over to another spot by the side of Mono Lake. We weren't there long when before strange calls rang out and shortly thereafter Don rang out, "HARK! THERE FLY'ITH PINYONS!" Well, in retrospect, I think what he yelled was more like "THERE THEY GO, THE LITTLE $#%@ERS" or there abouts.

A massive flock of Pinyon Jays winged their noisy way over the sage brush.HURRAH and about time!  I had to perform my 'I got a lifer dance', which is only performed in my head, for the safety of those nearby. 
A lower flying flock of Pinyons
While I pursued the Pinyon Jays in search of the perfect photo, which didn't happen, Don triumphantly marched down to the Mono shoreline to see what interesting waterfowl were hanging out.

Don Marching down to the Tufa formations for a look-see at Mono waterfowl
Our next stop was back to the Mono Mill, where, a short distance away, one of the two giant flocks of jays we saw along side the lake, were frolicking in the piney pines. I gave chase, but wearing sandals and the ground being about 99/44 100% sand, it was rather slow going - had to keep stopping to empty the sand from my toes.

One little Pinyon Jay
So, Don and I finally got our lifer Pinyon Jays and I must say we are both feeling rather chuffed to add those little boogers.  We realized that when we were at Mono Lake two years ago, we did indeed see no less than 3 flocks of Pinyon Jays winging by, but we didn't count them as it's difficult to justify dashes of blue-feathered gold that pass the car window at 70 MPH. I mean, we're experienced birders, but for a lifer, you want a little more certainty than, "Look up in the sky, it's a plane, it's superman, no, it's A PINYON JAY - or not..."

Now, I could end the day here and you wouldn't know the difference, but truth is, it was our last day so after a brief visit to the Mono Lake Visitor Center, we headed west, up over the Tioga Pass and into Yosemite. It's a terrific drive with loads of giant craigy bits of granite to oogle at as you drive past.

Pretty eh? Decided to stop for lunch so at Tenaya Lake, which was milling with happy picnikers, I hopped out the car and headed over to a picnic table. I was just wondering where the heck Don was, when he came over, all happy and preening proud. He explained he found a female Pine Grosbeak by the parking area - a lifer he had hoped to find, but of course being more or less sane, hadn't expected to find. Not a lifer for me, but then I've only ever seen one Pine Grosbeak and at that time got only one photo, taken through the cloudy window of a van with a pathetic 2 pixel digital camera. 

My one other sighting of a Pine Grosbeak, Churchill Manitoba, a b'jillion years ago
So, near needless to say, I was disappointed to have missed a sighting of a female Grosbeak... and then I heard strange birdsong. It sounded like a happily demented parakeet. Then, guess what alighted in a pine tree, just overhead? Yes! A unicorn. Or mayhaps it was a female Pine Grosbeak.

In all her loveliness, a sweet little Pine Grosbeak
In the words of the long late Steve Irwin, "Isn't she beautiful?"  Yes, she sure was - chipper, curious, and totally tame for a wild bird. She flew down low and began to feed on a shrub, and I swear, I had to back up to get photos - that's how close she was.

Not sure what she fed on, but must have been tasty

Oh yeah, it's tasty all right!
If you compared the male Grosbeak's photo with the female, you'll have noted, while the male is pretty in pink, the female is kind of lovely in grey & gold. That's the way it is in the birdie world.

So, again I arrive at the end of the great Pinyon Jay Hunt, but once again... not quite just yet... we drove from Yosemite, taking the back roadways of Highway 49 through the weensie towns of Sonora, Angel's Camp of "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" fame, and Jackson. Then, we made one more stop before heading to my house. We birded Meiss Road just before sunset and spotted one more good bird for the day, this little Vesper Sparrow. Whew!  What a day!

Vesper Sparrow on Meiss Road

"Goodbye God, I'm Birdin' in Bodie"

Seemingly barren, yet pretty;
scenery on Bodie Road at Dawn
  'Goodbye God, I'm going to Bodie' is what a small girl child of the 19th Century wrote in her diary when she found her family was to settle in Bodie. Bodie was a California gold rush town where murder was a daily event. I'd bet those Bodie residents would't understand that long after the gold petered out, that birds alone would make people come by for a visit. With that in mind, it was barely twilight when Don and I drove down the asphalt road to Bodie State Park... then ran out of asphalt and rolled along in a cloud of dust on the dirt road.  We it all the way to the park entrance - but we hadn't seen what we came for.  Rats. Decided to drive the 10 miles back to the main road. On the way some interesting birds finally showed themselves - birdies of the sage. Found a pretty little Sage Thrasher, high up on the hillside.

Sage Thrasher
 There were also several Sage Sparrows, skittering in and out from under shrubs.

One little Sage Sparrow jumped around so much I was a little surprised I finally managed to snap a picture of it, though it did manage to keep some barbed wire between it and myself. Sage Sparrows have interesting face masks. Probably stemming  from the days when they lay in wait on the Brodie Road to rob stage coaches. No? Well.. I be they would have liked to.

Typical Stage Coach robbing, masked Bandit. Ok, maybe it's a Sage Sparrow.
There was a Rock Wren by the roadside. The little guy caught itself a meal. I think you may have to know what you're looking for to make out the dragonfly.

Rock Wren with a mouthful of uncooperative, winged breakfast
 Soon enough we were back where the dirt road meets the asphalt, and after loads of  discussion, we U-turned, headed back for the state park. I don't recall why we stopped on the road, but soon, we were knocked speechless by a flight of big birds crossing the road. I couldn't spit the words out, neither could Don, but we sure knew what we were looking at. Sage Grouse on the wing! That's what we came to Bodie for - Greater Sage Grouse.  The flock we found marched around on the slope for a bit, then, probably startled by the big fat lady with the camera thingmajig, they all took off. By some kind of freakn' modern day miracle, I managed to keep my camera in focus and got several good shots.

Wow. I mean, just WOW.

We even found a second group of birds a bit farther down the road. There was a Grouse cock that was just plum full of himself, and he did sort of an out-of-season breeding dance, in place. Ugh! Should have used the camcorder function! The bird puffed up his chest, spread his spindly tail feathers and 'pumped' himsefl up and down, his wings drooped at his side. His flock girlies ignored him. Maybe they were his siblings, who knows.

Someone was just full of himself
There were some congratulations all around I can tell you!  That bird wasn't the only critter that was full of itself. We decided we might as well visit Bodie State Park, which was just opening as we drove up.

View from the kiosk at the park entrance.
In the 1880s, Bodie was a bustling mining town
The local church - at one time, far outnumbered by the local bars

Even in their hay day, Bodie's buildings were ramshackle
I love the look of the weather worn wood in the old ghost town
ghostly gray Mountain Bluebird guards over Bodie
Another modern day Bodie resident - an Orange-crowned Warbler
 I've wanted to tour Bodie State Park since my last visit to Mono Lake in 2010. On site though, though interested in the ghost town's history, I was tetchy over the heat of the sun. So, cranky from the heat, I didn't explore much, or see as much of the town as Don did. He returned to the car with a much longer list of buildings viewed and birds seen.

Surviving our visit to Bodie, we decided to head to Lee Vining for a much needed cup of coffee. We stopped at a great little coffee shop that was at one time a private residence, a Victorian house. There, with steaming cups of coffee, we sat looking through the window into a flowery garden, set up for birds - and therefore, birders like us. Don spotted a Black-chinned Hummingbird, and was tickled as it was a bird-of-the-year for him. There were the usual Lesser Goldfinches, a mix of finches and I even spotted a Clark's Nutcracker winging by in the distance.

Back garden at the little Lee Vining coffee shop

Lesser Goldfinches working the Sunflowers for seed
It was closing in on mid day when we decided - with dubious sighs - to the shores of Mono Lake, hoping we might find the Pinyon Jays. The birders we met the previous day told us they found a large flock of the evasive buggers, but I must say, Don & I were dubious we would have such luck. Oh well - there was only one way to find Pinyon Jays, we would just have to go hunt for them.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Having Mono - My Way

Family of 3 in the Aspen
On arriving at the primitive,  Lundy Campground near Mono Lake, I was thrilled. We were lucky enough to find the v. same campsite we had 2 years ago. The very same close-to-the-potty-building campsite. Hurrah!  While Don set up our tents - I - ahem - supervised while I watched a pretty little Mule Deer doe, grazing amid a grove thick with Aspens. Then something startling happened - I could see two something-or-the-others bobbing up and down in the distance at the edge of the Aspen grove! Whatever they were, they were headed straight at me. What the... I could see the things bobbing heads as they raced at me... Wolf? Mountain Lions? Gorillas? Then I saw, nope - two deer. All the thinking took seconds because the deer raced towards me like greyhounds. I realized they weren't racing for ME, they were racing to MOM.

Even more difficult to spot family of 3
The pair of gigantic fawns leapt over shrub and low hanging limbs to their mother like one of those soppy movies where long lost children are reunited with their family at a 19th century railway station. You know - after they'd been kidnapped by the Nazis. After Spielberg made you give up all hope the movie was going to end with a happy reunion. The fawns reached their mother, dropped to their knees and took to nursing with such vigor, their mother's rear end was higher up than her head. Wow... I mean, those were some hungry fawns.

Well! Let's leave the little family some privacy... when Don got the tents up - damn, but I did a great job supervising - we headed over to the Mono Lake county park.

The county park is fantastic for birding, particularly, I believe, if you need woodpeckers and sapsuckers. On this trip I spotted a lovely Red-breasted Sapsucker, and the odd Hairy and Down Woodpeckers, but Don spotted the coup d'gras - a Lewis Woodpecker. He logged into eBird, to report our birdie findings and then we headed to Lee Vining for gas & a few supplies.

Beautiful Downtown Lee Vining - naw, it is beautiful, though I admit calling it a 'downtown' is a bit sarcastic
The rest of the evening we spent driving down, the mysteriously named, Cemetary Road by the county park, looking for Nighthawks - which rudely enough were a no-show - and Poorwills. Poorwills are fascinating cousins of the Nighthawks. The birds have eesnie bills with disproportionately  HUMONGOUS mouths with which they suck down night insects. As Don drove down the moonlit road, I was once again stunned that he find any Poorwills at all. How does one spot a cryptically feathered bit of bird on a road? Don said he looks for 'rocks' at the far edge of the headlight glow in front of the car, and magically the rocks show pumpkin orange eyeshine. Voila! A Poorwill. Right...

A Mono Lake Poorwill showing eye shine. This beautiful & 'how-the-heck-did-he-take-it' photo is by
The photo above isn't mine, I nicked it off the web by someone who managed to snap a pic of one of the robin sized birds. How the heck one photographs such a small, flighty, evasive bird after dark, is beyond me - great job Mr. Ake (I am like so very envious...).

Our 'Poorwilling' adventure netted two sightings. And when we headed back to the Lundy campground, we decided tomorrow we will start our day with at Bodie State Park, in search of a less difficult to find bird - the Greater Sage Grouse.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Alas, the Final Chicken Chat

My widdle butter cups
It was three years ago this week that I opened the special delivery box and saw my little girlies, all fluffy and yellow and LOUD.

Eventually I managed a sweet little flock of five poofy hens, that were more company than you'd think. However... one fact was a fly in the ointment -  I think the girls chased the fly down and ate it, but bare with me here... I retired. When I got my hens I thought retirement was several years off, but within a few months of getting hens, I was out of the work force, and every day was Saturday. Found myself with loads of time to travel and play, lots of vacation plans but no desire to leave my hens. True, I had a neighbor who was kind enough to take care of the hens for a few days at a time. If I planned a trip longer than five days I drove my flock 4 hours south to Monterey where my friend Barbara could care for them. Still, I knew something had to change.

So, after much soul searching - and TONS of guilt - I decided it was time to find new homes for the girls. I broke the news to them.

"Adele... Babette. Mommy has to tell you something. Where are your sisters?

There you are, Lucy, Godiva. Where's Dove?

There you are Dove my love.  Now. You all have to understand, Mommy loves you, and she values your contribution to the household - your eggs are AWESOME, but..."

Long story short, Robin,  who runs Meridian Ranch was sweet enough to find homes for all of the girls. Their new hen-Mamas are lovely folk and my girls... I mean, their girls, are going to be happy and spoiled. And I gotta tell you, I'm going to miss those fresh eggs and that happy chicken song.

The Silence of the Lamb Chops...

Ok, this post has the potential to gross some people out, but for me, it only makes my stomach grumble while I eyeball the clock to see if it's time to cook up some lunch or something.

My friend Robin, of Meridian Jacobs Ranch, raises Jacobs sheep for multipurposes. In the past I've purchased her wool (fiber) and even Jacob lamb pelts at the ranch, but I've always had my eyes on... uh... my stomach on... purchasing lamb meat. I finally put in an order, and to that end, yesterday afternoon I drove to Meridian Ranch, ice chest in tow.

I wasn't the only one on hand, members of the ranch's Farm Club were on hand to, to pick up their 'bonus' lamb. It was quite an operation. Earlier, Robin picked up the year's culled ram lambs, that is, ram lambs that didn't make the cut for breeding or sale purposes, from the local butcher. After loads of weighing of individual butchered lambs, we got one lamb onto Robin's kitchen island. In the first photo below Robin takes a picture of one lamb, of which I purchased half. That's a lot of lamb I can tell you!

One entire lamb - which I think is a cross of Black, Blue face Leicester and Jacobs
Once the lamb meat was spread out,  and divided into two whopping big portions, it was time to vacuum bag and seal up the meat. Robin had just the tool for the job. Ever see a new fangled item and then wonder how the heck you ever managed without one? Well, the vacuum sealer hit that spot for me, it was amazing! Robin fixed up empty bags, I packed each sack with what cut/quantity of lamb I wanted, then Robin vacuum sealed the bag. She says the bags can as easily seal wool (to keep out moths) and other goods, as well as food. Oooo gotta get me one o' dem!

Robin prepares an empty sack for meat storage.
 Here is what my 1/2 lamb looked like when all vacuum bagged up and ready for my ice chest. I was drooling like a hound dog at a BBQ I can tell you!

Half that meat isn't even visible as the sacks are on top of each other in the middle - about 45 lbs - that's a LOT of meat!
Rusty, musing on if he will get a cut of the goodies - hey, he herded those buggers didn't he?
There are chops, shanks, flank, riblets and other cuts among the lot. On the way home I got the idea of flank steak in my head - that is my all time favorite cut of lamb. When I got home I carmelized some thin sliced onion, garlic & red pepper. I then pushed the veggies aside in my pan and added flank meat, some salt & pepper. After flipping the meat and cooking a bit more, I added maybe 1/3 cup of port wine, and a couple tablespoons of Pomegranate Molasses (a Moroccan specialty) and let the liquids reduce a bit. Oh, dear me, that was one amazingly delicious din-din. Hum... wonder if this method will work with riblets?

I know, I know Paul McCartney. Just a few months ago, that innocent little ram lamb leapt and cavorted happily in Robin's green meadows. Well Paul, the lamby had a short life, but a good and happy one: no stress, no cruelty and loads of fun times. There, there Paul... shut up and eat your tofu... there's a good Beatle.

Friday, September 07, 2012

99/44 100% Elk

Early - but not too early - I thanked Inez for her hospitality this week, and headed south on my favorite drive in California. I made a brief stop at Prairie Creek Redwoods - OK, it was a potty stop, but it has to be in the top 3 nicest potty stops Northern California has to offer.
Elk herd by the ocean, opposite the freshwater lagoon, south of Orick by Highway 101
While my trip north to Crescent City was disappointingly elk-free, my trip home was delightfully elk saturated. South of Orick I near skidded off the freeway to admire a beautiful herd of Roosevelt Elk.
Lovely herd with lots of skittering calves, a few still spotty, the ocean making a beautiful backdrop for them.

The herd moved slowly north, north being the direction the herd's bull pushed and prodded his mates toward. At one point, a gigantic calf, nearly as large as its mother, dropped to its knees to nurse. The bull had a thing or two to interject on the matter, which you can see here below.  Oh! And pardon the music, it was either that or speeding cars and loud tourists.

To the rear of the herd, all by herself, was a cow elk. She looked heart-breakingly thin, and rather bedraggled. As the season is heading for fall and on to winter, you have to wonder if the old gal doesn't have a load of parasites or some such, keeping her condition on the edge. Still, she's one lucky cow, considering if she were in Yellowstone - land of Wolves, Grizzlies and snow up to yer arse, she wouldn't have much chance of surviving a winter. Here in Northern California, even if she goes, she won't have a pack of Wolves or a cranky Grizzly at her throat. She's probably more likely to get hit by a SUV.

Eventually I got in my car and reluctantly headed south again. It's a long drive home and you don't make it staring at pretty wildlife. It was tricky getting back onto Hwy 101, the freeway experienced a rather Yellowstone-ish wildlife car jam.
I don't think it was more than 15 or 20 minutes later I was toddling past the Arcata Bay, when I caught the pale flash of Elk behind down in bottomlands. More elk - and even more exciting than more elk, I was the only one driving by who seemed to notice the bruisers!
At first there seemed to be nothing much along the Arcata Bay
But movement amid the rushes gave the herd away, even to my eye
Again, the ocean set up a gray back drop to the herd, and again, although there was more than one bull Elk in the herd, there was one that seemed to be doing all the bossing around, and he too was moving the herd north.

I love viewing Elk in marshy areas - so exotic!

The cows of the herd thought I was FASCINATING!
As picturesque as this southern herd was, I soon headed south again.  Stopped in  Eureka for a coffee pick-me-up and I even indulged in some shopping. Picked up a new pottery soup mug to replace the one that saw me through college a b'jillion years ago, that broke a week or so ago. The new one is nothing like the big one, but it does hold twice as much - hum... maybe not the best decision I've made all month.

The shop 'til you drop' district of Eureka

 After fueling up me & my car in Eureka, it was off south again where I enjoyed a leisurely drive through the Avenue of the Giants. Late afternoon I even made yet-another-out-of-the-usual protocol stop in Ukiah. I had a quick dinner at the Ukiah Brewery - fish & chips. Then it was on home to Fair Oaks, and my Crescent City trekking was over for this year.

Nasturtium in the rock piles at an obligatory stop, Chapman's Gem & Mineral Shop,
on 101 t'wixt Fortuna and Rio Dell 101