March 17, 2008
That title sounds like a metaphor for something, maybe political. But it’s not.
Earlier I wrote about the Ringed Turtle Dove I spotted one morning under our pine trees. I’ve been keeping a lookout for it, and have since seen it with a second dove, and the two of them courting. I think maybe they’re nesting in the pepper tree in the yard behind and downhill from ours. They like to hang out in our back yard, and I’ve seen them on the ground, on the fence, on the satellite dish, in the palm tree, in the pine tree, and on the old aerial antenna on our roof.
I also wrote earlier about the Red-Shouldered Hawks and Red-Tail Hawks in the neighborhood. I’m not sure which it is that’s been stalking the doves, but at one point yesterday I went out back and saw one of the doves perched on the satellite dish. As it sat there, I saw a hawk swoop out of the sky, diving for something in a yard two houses up the hill. I think it was a Red-Tail. The dove apparently didn’t see, or wasn’t concerned, even as the hawk flew over our yard, without any prey I could see. Disappointed, I suppose. The dove remained sitting there calmly, right out in the open, either unaware or unconcerned about the hawk.
A few minutes later, out front, I saw the hawk still flying around, getting hassled by a crow, but staying close by. When I returned to the house I took another look out back, because I’d just seen the hawk again. The dove was now perched on our back fence. I started to turn away, heard a kind of thump behind me, and turned my head. The hawk was flying away from the spot where the dove had just been. The hawk let out a frustrated cry, though, and then I saw that the dove had escaped into the nearby pepper tree. It sat there under the leaves, looking ruffled and scared. Yeah, me too. I think the noise I’d heard may have been the dove jamming off the chain-link fence into the tree with a split second to spare, but I’m not sure. It must’ve moved faster than I’ve ever seen it move.
A moment later I heard the dove cooing in the tree, but I didn’t see it sunning itself out in the open anymore yesterday, and today when I saw both doves up on our antenna, they seemed a lot more wary. The hawk, or possibly more than one, keeps circling the area, passing over now and then to see what prey is sitting out in the sun not paying attention.
I’m trying not to pay too much attention — though it’s difficult when these dramas unfold right in my back yard. It’s nature, and I love nature, but nature is dangerous at times, its beauty and peace transient at best. Today I’m keeping a respectful distance.
February 23, 2008
We’d seen it before, many weeks ago. A big bird of prey with black and white bands on its tail. The rest of it was paler than a Red-tailed Hawk, but we only caught glimpses of it flying over, and not a long enough look to identify it. We thought it was stalking the ground squirrel that moved in last summer. Maybe it was, because the ground squirrel hasn’t been around for a few days now.
Day before yesterday, we saw the big bird perch on top of the nearby telephone pole, and we got binoculars out for a really good look. Its breast, the undersides of it wings, and its beak are indeed paler than a Red-tailed Hawk’s. Its breast is almost pinkish or strawberry blond.
It’s a Red-shouldered Hawk, which is apparently found all over the eastern part of the country and along the California coast. I’d never seen one here before, not close enough to identify anyway. Our dominant hawk is the Red-tailed.
I wonder how long it’s been here, because last summer we watched what we think was a clutch of young hawks taking their first flight from a neighbor’s palm tree. Maybe this is one of the parents, back again to nest in the same tree. Or looking for the squirrel, or more squirrels. Poor squirrel, if so.
Our local birds continue to intrigue me with their variety and number. I’ve read, in a Harvard study, that this area is one of the most biologically diverse in the continental US, and that doesn’t surprise me, just basing my opinion on the birds.
I saw lots of owls from the road, when I used to leave for work while it was still dark. I’ve seen plenty of Black Phoebes here the past few weeks. I can’t seem to walk outside without spotting one of them. We have what I think may be Purple Finches, a variation from the House Finches we knew in San Diego, though I’m not certain. Some kind of small woodpecker likes the neighbor’s palm tree. We even have a small flock of feral parrots in the neighborhood, though I haven’t seen or heard them yet this year.
I’ve also seen lots of Mourning Doves, all my life, as I’m sure most people in North America have who pay any attention to wild birds. I’ve heard their mournful song since I was a girl and learned to recognize it. But this morning I heard a dove that sounded different, so I looked out the back window and saw a Ringneck Dove, also known as a Ringed Turtle Dove, under our pine trees. These doves aren’t natives. In fact they’re supposed to have been domestic for the past 3,000 years or so. But I suppose quite a few may have escaped into the wild at one time or another.
I just heard it again, out there, hiding in the pines and cooing, reminding me to post this. I wonder if it’s moved in to nest. If so, I guess it had better watch out for the Red-shouldered Hawk.
September 2, 2007
When I stopped commuting to a busy office and switched to staying home most days, I worried a little whether my new life would be too quiet or uneventful to suit me. But I’m never bored, and I’m sometimes amazed how much can happen right outside my door. I’ve been able to slow down, tune into the seasons, and let them slide gently past. I can be a mushroom, staying indoors and focusing on my inner world, as writers do when we’re working, or I can step right outside and find endless variety, especially in the forms nature takes.
I posted earlier this summer about hummingbirds. There have been lots of birds this summer. The mockingbirds twirled in cartwheel displays, showing off the white of their wings, and flew in wild, veering trajectories to catch cabbage white butterflies. They sang for hours on end, and swooped at anyone who ventured within range of their nests. A nearby rooster crows most mornings and sometimes all day. I’ve seen a phainopepla, a few hawks, loads of crows, orioles, black phoebes, brown towhees, and house finches. My husband saw a California thrasher, who sadly chose a rare time when I was at the post office to stop by for a snack of insects. Now and then a flock of common bushtits flies through, chittering in light tones. They never seem to sit still, and I like their tiny, perfect round shapes, so like the birds in picture books that I read as a child.
We’ve seen butterflies of all varieties this year, as well as plenty of bees, lizards, bats, and the tarantula hawk, and the summer has seen a variety of mushrooms sprouting in the yard, which seem to be able to blend in with their surroundings. (Click on images to view full size.)
Our daily visitors include the ubiquitous scrub jay.
I’ve noticed that a variety of clouds can inhabit different parts of the sky in the same moment.
I even got to thinking about the little fuzzy-edged ones, and wondered if painters who pour watercolor ever pour white gouache to make clouds. That sent me on a lazy search that introduced me to the work of artist Vickie Leigh Krudwig.
We’ve had our hottest weather of the year in the past two days, and today promises to be even hotter. Thirty minutes ago it was 97 degrees Fahrenheit outside. As I write this, it’s 99. Yesterday’s sighting of a swallowtail butterfly almost as big as my hand, and this morning’s sunrise, almost make up for the heat.
I’m attempting to ignore the fact that the sunrise was followed a few hours later by a 4.0 earthquake about 40 miles north of us, which jolted us to our feet. As I write this, thunderheads are forming just east, which looked like this an hour ago,
and like this half an hour later.
I don’t expect a triple whammy day of heat, earthquake, and thunderstorms. I’m looking for the next butterfly. But I may close the car windows just in case.
August 1, 2007
According to my old bird guides, one of which dates back to a field biology class I took at eighteen or nineteen, this little guy isn’t supposed to be here. He’s supposed to be anywhere from Northern California to Alaska. But here he is, in Southern California. (Notice how we Californians capitalize the two regions, as if we wanted to be two separate states, like the Dakotas or the Carolinas?)
Anyway, he’s in the wrong place, I think. If it’s time for Rufous Hummingbirds to migrate to winter grounds, he’s supposed to be in Mexico, or on his way there. This feisty little Selasphorus rufus has claimed the territory around our feeder during the past two days. I’ve been paying attention to hummingbirds all my life, and we’ve fed them for years, here at the north end of the county and in the city of San Diego, but we never saw a Rufous before, at least not closely enough to identify it. With no green on his back (see below), he’s definitely a Rufous.
My photos don’t do him justice, though they might if he would sit still for a few seconds and let me focus. He’s a glowing reddish gold with an irridescent scarlet throat that could stop traffic. He’s faster than any of the other hummingbirds, and he doesn’t let them forget it.
Maybe his range has been thrown off by global warming, as this Smithsonian site seems to hint, or perhaps they’ve always been around and I just haven’t noticed.
July 27, 2007
My “Quickie” horoscope on Yahoo! this morning said,
“If you wake up feeling weird, just go with it!”
Hmm, okay, but I wake up feeling weird every morning, especially since I began working at home. I’m finally teaching myself to go with the flow, to let my days be unstructured and still get important things done. But now summer is here, the time of year when I wish I could hibernate and have someone rouse my half-baked body when it’s over.
I haven’t been posting as much because I’m in the midst of my yearly hot weather adaptation phase. That’s the excuse I’m going with. My dread of hot weather and my seeming inability to adapt make global warming and menopause at the same time feel like a horrid revelation that hell does exist, and I am going there. Go with the flow? I’m swimming upstream from the heat as fast as I can. This weather makes me miss the job at the office where someone else paid for the air conditioning, and paid me to be there in it. How cool was that?
I’m a slug this time of year. But last night, before I went to sleep, I thought it would be nice to wake up early and enjoy the cool of the morning. Apparently that set my mental alarm clock, and I wakened at dawn. This has happened a lot recently, deciding on a time to wake up, and waking at that time, without the alarm clock. It’s like a new super-power.
This morning was lovely, with the kinds of clouds I’ve heard called buttermilk skies, and a soft, cool breeze. I should use my super-power more often.
How do you go with the flow?
June 23, 2007
Guess what we found in our yard today? Warning, the answer may disturb you. In fact, if you don’t like insects, you might want to scroll back down to the jacaranda post. Yeah, another bug. We’ve decided maybe our yard is some kind of strange crossroads for wildlife, because all these critters keep showing up that we’ve never seen before, many of them bugs.
Yesterday afternoon, while we sat on the front porch admiring our newest young trees and basking in the flush of their recent growth, we saw a curious flutter of orange wings lit by the glow of the sinking sun. We didn’t recognize the creature, but it looked too small for a hummingbird and too big for an insect. A dragonfly perhaps? But we’d never seen an orange one. Before we could get a closer look, it was gone, so ephemeral it could’ve been a little orange fairy come to celebrate our new mini-grove of trees with us. (more…)
June 12, 2007
The jacarandas are blooming in my neighborhood. They’re not natives here, but enough are planted in coastal Southern California that they sometimes seem to be natives, filling the landscape with lavender blossoms every May and June. Even with none planted in our yard, every direction I look I can see a jacaranda blooming. (Click on images to view larger.)
This period of late spring and early summer is one of my favorite times, when we have gray overcast or fog in the mornings, and sometimes all day. These weather conditions are nicknamed May Gray and June Gloom, or more correctly called coastal eddies. The clouds linger for at least part of the day, with a cool ocean breeze, sometimes followed by clear blue skies all afternoon. I relish every minute of this until summer’s heat sets in. I want to stay outdoors for hours at a stretch, or do the heavier housework that is best done with all the windows open, until summer’s heat makes me want to sit near an air conditioner and do nothing.
May 27, 2007
I don’t know where the lake is that my parents called Silver Lake. It was a stop on the road somewhere, probably in California. I never saw the lake close up. It lay low within its banks and far beyond trees and reeds. We parked at a lonely picnic area, late in the day, tired and hungry from a long day’s drive, with miles more to go before we would stop again. We spread Mom’s oilcloth on a table, but the wind blew so hard we had to weight it with rocks, and the wind kept blowing my hair into my face while I ate. Paper plates, cups, and napkins had to be held tight, and I don’t recall but wouldn’t be surprised if some escaped and tumbled away in that wind. It made us all a little cranky to be so road weary and hungry and have to fight the wind.
None of that detracted from a sight, late in the day, of sunlight striking the slope of a nearby mountain. It shone through a faint haze just dense enough to make golden sunbeams slant onto the trees on that hillside in such an indescribable way I wanted to memorize the scene. For some reason it made my heart ache just a little, so sweet was that light. We held tightly to our tablecloth as we folded it, and drove away. The memory of that golden light has stayed with me for some forty years. I’ve looked for sunlight like that ever since and sometimes glimpsed it, always ever so fleeting.
February 9, 2007
I love birds, in fact we both do, but after the death of our last little parakeet friend, Kiwi, we decided we didn’t want to keep birds in cages anymore, so the bird cages we’d collected over the years, actually quite a few of them it turns out, now hang on our patio in a kind of empty-cage symbolism—or pile of junk, whichever your preferred interpretation.
We enjoy bird friends at greater distance these days. When I came across the linked story today, I decided I had to share. It’s a love story, just in time for that love-related holiday around the corner—if you’re reading this post while it’s fresh. But why wait until a particular time of year to celebrate love?
Here for your enjoyment, straight from Australia, is a tale of love among cockatoos. Note the first time I read it I assumed the first page was all there was to it, and only saw the “next page” link on my second time through, so be aware, there’s more.
December 3, 2006
The wind keeps us awake, the past few nights. It blows little black berries off one of the palm trees (they’re too small for me to call them proper dates — though they are as sticky as dates), and they hit the back deck with a surprising amount of force. The fact that it’s these wild gusts instead of a steady wind unsettles me. Just when I doze off, something rattles or whooshes outside and I wake up. And dry — the moisture has sucked out of Southern California, to make snow elsewhere I suppose. We do not have a semi-arid but a fully-arid climate today.
Last night when I took the dog out for his final walk of the evening, I saw a shooting star. You’d have thought the wind blew it, except it moved in the opposite direction. It was there in the eastern sky (slightly southeast) for an instant, slanting in almost horizontally northward, a golden yellow flame, brilliant and burning, soon extinguished.
I thought of the Sara Teasdale poem, The Falling Star — after I made a quick wish.
Was it a late Leonid, or an early Geminid, or something in between — maybe a Puppids-Velids? Or just a stray puppy, for that matter? I don’t know, but I feel lucky since seeing it. Lucky to have seen it, lucky to be here, lucky the wind hasn’t blown the house into the Land of Oz. Luck is good.