Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Tree and Brush Work Time

Into every woodland and chaparral property, some tree and brush work must fall. And late July is a good time - the plants are dry, so cutting won't open them up to infection, and the birds have finished nesting. Recently we had a culling and clearing around the property, hiring a tree firm, Los Primos, to do the work.

On the south slope we had dead wood removed.

On the north slope, mostly bay tree removal. In the center are resprouting bay trees. I don't have a picture of them gone - Maybe in the next post.

Close up of a bay tree getting too big, just behind the pool fence

Here's the bay tree at a distance - doesn't look so large but, it was actually growing fast
Behind and amid the bay tree, some light-deprived madrones, now visible - we hope they will thrive now

On the north - woodland - slope, sadly, we removed all California bay trees. Previously removed trees that regrew we had trimmed back to stumps and treated (with high nitrogen fertilizer).

The reasons: I have found California bay laurel trees to be "weedy" on our property. They grow often and vigorously and tall. And they host the SODS pathogen that kills the native oaks. So I have reluctantly decided to "edit them out" of the landscape on the property that I'm actively managing. There are bay trees beyond, and a huge one on our road, so big I can't get it all in one picture.

part of a bay that rivals a redwood in height - and is very wide too.

I also pruned back the toyon that grows between the pool above and the path that wraps around this north-facing valley (north, north-east, and north-west). This twenty- to thirty-foot wide and horrendously long strip along the north valley is what I'm going to focus on in fall planting - even though it is very weedy, with grasses and other unidentified aggressive things (not natives I know that). I've found that once I just get in there and garden an area, I manage the weeds more actively.

I did all the thinning and clearing of the upper part of the slope myself. The bay showing on the right is gone now.

The area below that upper strip, I will just weed whack to about 15 inches and that's all. I will grit my teeth and take a leaf from Scarlet O'Hara's book, declaring: "I'll think about that tomorrow!" or in my case, "Next year!"

I've been working out what to plant on this strip there - and I've been gathering seed on other nearby similar areas where I have permission to gather, and I'm excited to get going. I'll also put a lot of tried and trusted plants I've been growing for a few years.

In the next post, I'll share my plant list for this area, mostly "restoration" type plants - I have seeds or plants of a lot of plants, locally sourced.

Mr Woodrat doing some trail maintenance behind the toyons

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

California Summer Color

California applies its muted earth tones make-up in summer. Greys and browns, wheat and taupe, and the odd greyish green in between. But wait, there's more! Above, beautiful Ribes aureum that I saw in the Old Adobe garden, a private garden I had the great fortune to visit a week ago.

That garden also has a recirculating stream with water plants and - be still my heart - frogs.

Even the subtle rose of an Eriogonum I spotted during a recent trip to Fitzgerald Marine Preserve makes a statement.

At least the bee thinks so.

Quite striking the proliferation of yellow flowers along the coast - clearly, those who designed cars with yellow fog lights had the right idea. This color gets your attention (not sure of the exact species of this gumplant--Grindella--below. )

Also enjoyable the strong magenta of this little mallow.

And more green, ferns and a sedge (I think) along the creek.

And it goes on. Amazing, the colors near the ocean. Shimmering shells and stunning seaweed.

And with this strong dose of green, magenta, and yellow, I'm ready to return to the garden and enjoy its more subtle play of color. But maybe that's for another post.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Local Herps Around the Garden, with a Furry Tail...

I happen to have encountered a number of critters lately - so here is a post that is mainly photos of them. Only one was road kill, not too damaged!
Fence lizard drama! Sceloporus occidentalis. He's been chewing on a hawk moth which is nearby

He's eyeing the tasty treat  (and me) up


Yummy hawk moth (poor thing - I watched with divided feelings!)

Northern Rubber Boa - Charina bottae. I've never seen one before. Unfortunately he was dead. 

Here's his head. They are constrictors.

Greenhouse surprise! -- Northern Pacific Tree Frog, Pseudacris regilla.

Northern Pacific Tree Frog - closer.

Nice pattern on his back. 

I was organizing my containers - leaving him no room! I re-arranged them again to give him little passageways.

I was clearing a pile of brush - that's when I often do encounter the Southern Alligator Lizard, Elgaria multicarinata

He's pretty bendy. Was trying to get through the hardware cloth.

Looks like he's growing a new tail.

You can tell by the light irises that this is the Southern (and not the Northern) Alligator Lizard

I like his reddish colors and smooth scales with horizontal banding.

Today we saw a cute California ground squirrel eating a bun. Just to leave you with a furry thought!

Ground squirrel in parking lot of Manresa State Beach
A popular post I did some time back is Telling Alligator Lizards from Fence Lizards - you might want to check it out if you are not sure. Lots of people seem not to be!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Tassajara in the Summer

I visit beautiful Tassajara Hot Springs most years and had very much gotten used to see the stunning wildflowers of the Los Padres National Forest. This year, though, we had booked for the July 4th weekend - what would it be like?

We found a strange beauty in the different shades of dry - from brown to white, as in the Everlasting below (not sure which one it is). 

Hummingbird sage, so abundant in the spring, was now dried out (just like the one in the home garden), showing off big, beautiful seedheads.

When we hiked past the field of Penstemon centranthifolius (Scarlet Bugler), we saw just one or two blossoms left. 

In addition to the different shades of brown, we say the greyish green so characteristic of California summer, especially in yucca. 

Here a close-up. 

But really, it was all about seeds. Does anyone know what the fluffy seedheads are that we found on this bush? 

Here a close-up - I have no idea. 

I was also thrilled to see, for the first time, a redberry (Rhamnus crocea) with fruit. This slow growing relative of the coffeeberry (Rhamnus californica) is popular with California gardeners, but because it takes a while to mature, it's not often seen with berries.

There were reminders of the great fire everywhere, and even with the new green growth, the fuel load is high. 

Some trees came back, and some remain as a stark reminder of how quickly everything can turn into ashes (and yes, the sky was really that blue).

But every year, more green. 

On the really hot days - it got to 106 - we skipped the hikes and went to find water instead. 

We enjoyed the shade of the California sycamore (Platanus racemosa) and watched the jays trying to steal food as people were eating. 

It was wonderful to sit near the creek, surrounded by green. 

And the varied beauty made me realize again how special the country that surrounds us really is.  

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Two Hummers - What's in a Name

I stumbled upon the source of the names of Anna's and Allen's hummingbirds, and the people who honored those namees, in an old edition of the Condor magazine - Vol XXX Number 6 (PDF):
Charles Andrew Allen.  Born in Milton (Lower Mills), Massachusetts, August 21, 1841. A well known collector of Marin County, Californina, who secured the types of several new species, amount others that of the Hummingbird (Selasphorus alleni) named in his honor by Henry W. Henshaw in 1877.
Anna, Duchess of Rivoli.  Wife of Prince Victor Massena, son of Field Marshal Andre Massena, Duc de Rivoli and Prince d’Essling. Prince Massena’s collection of birds, containing the type specimen of Anna’s Hummingbird, was acquired by the Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, in September, 1846. This beautiful and now well known Hummingbird (Calypte annu), the first described from California, was named in her honor by Lesson in 1829. The Duchess was then in the full bloom of youth according to Audubon who met her in Paris in September, 1828, and described her as a “beautiful young woman, not more than twenty, extremely graceful and polite” (Audubon and his Journals, I, 1897, p. 314).

The naming ornithologist of Anna's hummingbird would be RenĂ© Primevère Lesson, a pharmacist of some repute as well as an ornithologist.
Rene Primevere Lesson, named the Anna's Hummingbird after the Duchess of Rivoli
So many interesting people - I could spend all day wandering about in the annals of the history of natural history!

Hunt as I might I could not find pictures of either Prince Victor or his charming wife. Victor was a collector of birds - perhaps he was a patron of M. Lesson - of whom you can find several pictures, but we stray from our point. What was our point?

Via more pointless Google wanderings I also found this article:

Anna's Hummingbird declared fastest animal on earth - in the London Telegraph newspaper, which my grandfather used to read, and solved its crossword puzzle daily. The speed referred to is the courtship dive - we see this a lot around here - the makes climb up up up to over 130 feet, then zoom plummet down and at the last minute curve up and make a squeeking noise with their tail feathers, right in front of their lady-love. I think young males may do the dive just for fun, or maybe competitively.

And on the All About Birds page for Anna's I learned that their range has been greatly extended by the introduction of garden trees and plants, and bird feeders. They used to be only in northern Baja California and southern California.

12/30/13 UPDATE! - I shared this factoid on the CNPS Facebook group, and a group member told me, "Cornell has that wrong! I just checked Irene Wheelock's 1904 Birds of California and she states that Anna's Hummingbirds were then found as far north as Mt. Shasta and Yreka, in extreme northern California." - Hmm. maybe I should contact Cornell!

About Charles Andrew Allen, I learn on this page that he was a "timber guardian" in Marin, little educated, but a great amateur ornithologist.
Allen, after whom the Allen's Hummingbird is named
It was he who established a difference between two birds formerly lumped together as the Rufous hummingbird. He sent a set of skins to William Brewster along with his observations, and Brewster handed them on to Henshaw, who agreed, and named the new bird for its discoverer.

And what of Henry Wetherbee Henshaw, he who named the Allen's hummingbird in honor of Charles Andrew Allen? He sounds like a delightful chap.

Henry Wetherbee Henshaw as a young man
I read an appreciation of him in the Auk, another ornithological journal. Vol XLIX No. 4, Oct 1932 (PDF here if you have patience for it to load):
He was an acute and sympathetic observer of nature and her ways and loved all living things and their habits and relations to their surroundings
Sounds like a modern behavioral biologist.
... it appears evident that much of his work was done for the sheer pleasure of satisfying his desire for knowledge in regard to whatever interested him. He might readily have become an outstandinag authority in several branches of science but appeared wholly devoid of ambition in the direction of specialization.
Sounds like someone I'd like to know! At Harvard he met William Brewster, another famous naturalist - and they remained lifelong friends. I read and greatly enjoyed a book of Brewster's letters: Up and Down California in 1860 to 64. Different days, different values - but wonderful glimpses into California's past. I don't recall if I did a post on that book but it is certainly worth one.

Well, enough rambling through time - I'm off for a ramble through space -- with Duncan the Dog!