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Tuesday, September 9, 2014


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)