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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

After The Harvest

The weather this past weekend in Lake County, California was cool, bright and dynamic. In the forenoon on Saturday a full, fat and low arched rainbow met us as we crossed into the county on the Hopland Grade. A promised land seemed spread out below, the gold and green valley meeting the blue lake.

From Two Buck Ranch that afternoon, the chapparal seemed gilded on the slopes of cloud-topped Mount Konocti.

The scene on the ranch looked, smelled and sounded pretty much like paradise. Anna's hummingbirds and lesser goldfinches visited the feeders. A covey of more than thirty quail scuttled in and out of cover. Crows clacked their beaks. Squirrels chased each other around and around the trunks of the ancient valley oaks.

The shrieking whine of dirt bikes soon pierced the air. I walked down to the creek bottom in an attempt to intercept the two boys on their machines. They zoomed down the dry, gravel-covered channel out of my reach. A deputy sheriff arrived, in pursuit of the trespassing bikers. She and I discussed the county ordinance which specifies that off-roaders show written permission from the landowner.

Because of the drought, the walnut harvest was meager this year. The giant fig tree, however, was bountiful. The tomatoes, squash, pears and acorns were abundant. If our edemic fresh water fish, known as hitch, was as plentiful as in former times, you could almost imagine living off the land at the ranch. Hitch have been increasingly scarce since large mouth bass and channel catfish were introduced to Clear Lake.

I've logged sixty seven bird species at the ranch so far. The characteristic species year round are California quail, acorn woodpeckers, California thrashers, California towhees, spotted towhees, house finches, lesser and American goldfinches, Anna's hummingbirds, barn owls, turkey vultures, Western bluebirds and Western scrub jays. They are joined in Spring by nesting tree swallows, Northern orioles, black headed grossbeaks and ospreys. Huge flocks of crows wheel about the oak canopy in August. Fall is the time for yellow rumped warblers and hermit thrushes. Winter is for white crowned and golden crowned sparrows down from British Columbia and the mountains. Red winged and Brewer's blackbirds also congregate in winter while sharp shinned hawks stalk the flocks.

The vultures prefer to roost on the dead limbs of the northernmost oak in the grove, a tree formerly stressed by surrounding concrete, which I have since torn out.