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Saturday, May 7, 2011

Selective Mowing

The whole sense of space on the landscape changes at this time of year as new grass subdues the land and softens transitions, and small leaves grow, filling out the trees with renewed density. The return of the orioles at the end of April coincides with this renewal of cover and the food sources which accompany it. Along with the leafing out, all sorts of mass insect hatchings are taking place - midges, wasps, May flies, mosquitos.

The character of the ranch has changed over the years as we have phased out discing the land, allowing meadows to become established and sod to build. We mow selectively, favoring the new growth of California poppies, young valley oaks, and coyote brush. Quail, towhees, jays and thrashers prefer mowed territory to tall grassland, the better to forage and to spot predators.

I find some hummingbird species difficult to identify. I've assumed these locals to be Anna's, but could they be calliopes or Allen's?

On one of the first warm days, a bluebird panted from its nest box. Each year, bluebirds choose the same box, leaving most of the others to the tree swallows. Last year, exceptionally, they colonized two boxes.

A cultural artifact of California agriculture is the ubiquitous grafted walnut trunk. In the photograph above, two species of walnut leaf out from the same trunk. On the lower left are the new leaves of the native black walnut, which furnishes the root stock which has evolved to be compatible with native subterranean fungal mycelium. The leaves and flower tassels on the upper right belong to the commercially viable Poe walnut imported from the Eastern hemisphere and grafted onto the native black walnut stock.

Riotous blooms of Luma apiculata (myrtaceae), a Chilean species, bring pollinators who fall over themselves in their frantic rush to suckle at every flower.

Young bucks littered the roadsides of the county. Roadkill provides an edifying ongoing survey of local species. A Lake County casualty list, ranked in order of frequency, might go as follows: Western grey squirrel, black-tailed jackrabbit, opossum, raccoon, striped skunk, gopher snake, California ground squirrel, black-tailed deer, barn owl, sharp-shinned hawk, turkey vulture, Pacific rattlesnake, grey fox, coyote, spotted skunk, mountain lion. This list is compiled from personal observation over the past eight years. Smaller birds, mammals and reptiles are very frequent victims, but don't appear on this list because they are usually too hard to identify from a moving vehicle.