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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

When There Were Birds



The Spring of 2014 marked the long-dreaded tipping point at which birds stopped showing up at the ranch. Oh, there were birds. But both the number of individual birds and the diversity of species were markedly down.

In April, the first clear sign was that a mere six individual tree swallows arrived instead of the usual  twittering, swooping dozens. Only two of the six attempted to nest in one of the eighteen bird boxes. Their attempt failed. The birds disappeared within a couple of weeks. In prior years there have been at least eight or ten nesting pairs, most of which successfully produced fledglings. After the current nesting season, I looked into all eighteen boxes to discover only the one partially constructed nest.

For the first time ever, no blue birds nested on the ranch. None were even seen passing through. They had previously returned to the same box for ten consecutive years.

Each year I eagerly anticipate the arrival of two species of colorful neo-tropical migrants from Mexico: black-headed grosbeaks and Bullock’s orioles. This year for the first time, no males of either species arrived – only females came to the feeders.

As for migrating warblers, very few were seen this Spring, as against former years in which there were scores, especially of yellow-rumped warblers.

Our resident California thrashers, birds of great humorous character, disappeared.

In the biggest Valley Oak our formerly raucous breeding colony of Acorn Woodpeckers is down to one lonely and subdued female, who disconsolately pecks at the feeder tray.

California quail numbers at the ranch a decade ago approached 100. This Spring two pair produced two broods in the slash pile. One numbering eleven and the other comprised of a sole chick. Another nest, of twenty eggs in the St. John’s wort, was destroyed by a predator.

After a couple of years of successful broods, Barn Owls stopped nesting and rearing their young in the owl box about four years ago. This year their box was colonized by a raccoon which birthed five young.

Today the National Audubon Society published a list of the birds of North America, which will be threatened and endangered by climate change. Fully half of all species will be restricted to 50% or less of their current range, with no substitute range available to them. Some species will likely go extinct within 50 to 80 years.

It has been observed that the momentum of everyday human habits tends toward accommodation with forces that may be inimical to human life. The example cited is the acceptance by the German people of Hitler's rise and the destruction of the Jews. It was too inconvenient to change course, so the population, for the most part, simply went along.

The modern parallel on a global scale is our conscious, unswerving continuation of our life-devouring habits of speed, mobility, and consumption of resources. It is simply too inconvenient to change.

Native buckwheat is encouraged at the ranch, food for caterpillars.


Big Valley Grange, a locus for the agricultural community.

Our endemic fish, the Clearlake Hitch was declared threatened this year.
 A handful still attempt to spawn in Adobe Creek and Kelsey Creek, a difficult fete in drought years.
The historic photo indicates the vast numbers of a hundred years ago. 

A single honey bee crawled on sunflower's face.

Route 29, the main road running the length of the West County, passes pasture flats South of Mount Konocti.


Ever expanding vineyards continue unchecked in destroying native habitats.

I picked tomatoes and figs.


Drone looked down at Two Buck Ranch.

Baby gopher snake tried to look threatening.


Sunflowers 10 and 12 feet tall.

Raucous tomato vines.

(photos by myself and John Arbuckle)





Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Roadside Semiotics








Along highway 20 in Lake County, elk territory is well marked with signs. Nevertheless, this elk was killed on the road June 13, 2014.



The message common to these signs is: Animals In The Road. They are, incidentally, a good indicator of the range and migratory routes of various species. In various parts of California, one can see signs featuring the silhouettes of cattle, deer, bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope, bear, elk, ducks, newts, burros, horses and wild pigs. 

The sign indicating free range cattle is, in North America, almost universally a silhouette of a stolid, stoic, grounded, matronly cow standing in dumb and expressionless profile.

The signs in the anything-goes state of Nevada, however, feature a jaunty, light-on-his-feet, swaggering bull with cocked tail and ready-for-all-challengers attitude.



Return To The Burn Zone

 Twenty two months after the vast wildfire east of the Lake, I returned to the scene.  Grasses, forbs, and chaparral were resurgent among the charred remains of the blue oak forest.




Mayacamas Spring

 In a year of extreme drought, the Month of May managed to resemble its usual self in an outpouring of blossoms.






Kelsey Creek dried up six weeks early, dooming thousands of tadpoles and fish fry.



Deck furniture received a coat of teak oil.


I turned over a wine barrel and saw a glowing empire of mold.

 Very soon, the grasses went from green to parched.






The farmers, with dispatch, accomplished the hay harvest. The grass-based rural economy moved forward for another year.

 On the rim of the font, dozens of honey bees drank another season.

 An antique gas station in Upper Lake is for sale.

 Mouse surmounted great heights to get to our sunflower seeds.

 In an Upper Lake shop, I saw 19th Century photographs of the lake shore and a Pomo dwelling.


A nest of twenty quail eggs was plundered by predators. Two punctured eggs sit on oak galls. 


I looked up from the hammock.
 A waterstrider appeared in the stock tank.