“They all cook up in that gravy,” was my friend’s only response when I sent him this article on: the squirrels of California. He was the one who had prompted my research, when a couple of days previous he looked through the window and drew my attention to an orange-tinged squirrel looking cute as it raided the suet feeder. He continued with stories and recipes from various times he’d shot squirrels and cooked them into stew, from childhood to recently.
Only in the last two years have I ever seen squirrels of any species on my property, though they are thick in the trees along the creek a block away.
Earlier this month the suet feeder was knocked to the ground, presumably by one of these critters. As you can see, I’ve now criss-crossed the S-hooks to make everything more convenient for both of us. It is easy for my squirrel friend to access the rich food while hanging from the stable arbor, and it keeps me from having to clean up a spilled feeder. This guy looks like a Fox Squirrel, which is not native. Only Sciurus griseus, the western gray squirrel, is native to California, and I haven’t seen them in my garden lately.
As I was already in the store buying a new block of suet, I picked up one more suet cage as well, bringing my total to three. They seem to be the easiest way to draw a few more birds here, since I took down my hopper feeder because of the avian salmonella outbreak two years ago. I could put it back now, but I haven’t put my mind to the project of maintaining it and filling it, etc…
I’m happy to report that lots of birds come, too, to the suet feeders, the fountain, to the thousand plants in the garden, and to the tiny insects that live on the plants and in the trees. It’s funny to see the hummingbirds check out the pomegranate bushes, which in this season have nothing for them to drink; it must be the fading red of the rotting fruit that draws their attention. As soon as the flowers come, the hummingbirds (and the carpenter bees) will be there.
I’m always excited when a Nuttal’s Woodpecker drops by, because it’s not very often. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen any other species of woodpecker here. They are too quick for me to photograph them, so I took this photo from online.
The Great Horned Owl hooted nearby the other night — it is the most thrilling visitor of all. For years now I’ve thought of having someone build a platform up in my pine tree, to be ready by November. That way, when the owls are scouting around in advance of nesting in January or February, they can take note of it. So… maybe by next fall?
This morning I confirmed what we suspected: Bluebirds have hatched in the birdhouse! I peeked in, sort of, with my phone, because the angle into the little space doesn’t work for my big head, and there was a hefty earthworm lying on the nest, too. This family has somehow been planned since February, when the mating pair first started investigating my Bluebird House, as it is marketed. It’s the second time for bluebirds; chickadees used it several times, too.
My own house is getting a new roof, a blessing of an entirely different category probably not to be compared with baby birds, but both of those events of the week are happy and uncommon. One way they differ is in longevity. I am pretty sure that this roof will last 25 years, and far “outlive” those tender creatures who recently pecked themselves into the open air. The roofers are making loud clomping, thudding and banging noises, while the baby birds sweetly peep. Also, my new roof is not blue.
In the front garden, I have let the asparagus go to ferning, making food for next year. It looks like a big flyaway bush hiding my car, which I parked on the street so that the roofers could use the driveway:
In the back, I moved all the potted plants away from the house so that they don’t get little pieces of old roofing shingles dropped on them. That’s penstemon in the foreground:
Love-in-a-Mist is growing nicely where I scattered seeds last summer. It is known for self-sowing, so I’m hoping this will happen again and again. Hello, May Flowers!
This afternoon I stood on a bridge overlooking the creek, and watched a Black Phoebe for about ten minutes. He would briefly perch on a branch near the surface of the water, and then fly up, do a quick whirl of an aerial pirouette, and come down on the same or a nearby twig. Over and over again… he must have been catching insects.
It took me a while to be sure that he was a phoebe. I had only seen those birds in my garden one other winter, some years ago. I tried taking pictures but that didn’t work out too well, as you can see.
Just down the path from the bridge, about half of the town’s wild turkey flock were grazing — eight of them to be exact. I took their picture, too, but they kept their heads down in the grass, and I really only got this presentable shot.
The birds that gave me a rush recently were bluebirds. Three of them were checking out my birdhouse several days in a row. First there was a pair: they flew back and forth from the trees to what was designed to be a Bluebird House, but which chickadees have used most often; they sat on top briefly, they flew back to the tree. The girl went in the house, then the boy. Then a second boy showed up! He also went in the house to look. I can see they have some decisions to make, about their relationships and about where the family will start out. They all three sat on the fence for a bit, but it didn’t seem long enough to have the necessary conversations.
I hope the girl makes her choices before the chickadees show up to take a tour of my lodgings, and most of all I hope she decides on my place, and that it’s not too late. Though, come to think of it, the other time bluebirds hatched in there it was midsummer. Anyway, I’d love to see something like this again:
The daphne by my front door has been blooming like crazy this year; twice as big and flowery as last year, which means a double dose of its heady scent every time I come and go.
Tomorrow is the last day of January I will be doing that, but February is a good daphne month, too. It was in February many years ago now that my neighbor brought me daphne blooms at the birth of my dear Pippin. Who would have guessed that her bouquet back then would make me remember her so often, this far away in time, as I do nearly every day… The sweetness of the memory and the scent of the flowers by my door get mixed up together, and make winter delicious.
The hawk dropped down to the shoulder of the road just ahead of where I was driving down the mountain. It was at the elevation where you start to see the elderberries that don’t grow much higher, about 6,000 feet. He carried something in his talons that touched the ground just before he did.
I didn’t see any cars in my rear view mirror, so I slowed to a stop in the middle of the road and looked out the window at him, a few feet away on the other side of the road. He looked calmly at me. I should say, he looked in my direction, because I don’t know… what if I were the first human he had ever seen? Does a bird focus on another creature’s face and eyes, the way a human baby does? I stared and he looked a little bored, for ten long seconds, and then he flew into a tree nearby.
That meeting was one of the exciting events of my drive down from the mountains this week. I’d stayed at the cabin two more nights after my family departed, and had anticipated that when I finally left I would do my typical stop-and-go meandering for at least the first few thousand feet of descent, say, from 8,000 to 5,000 feet elevation. Because in July there are many more wildflowers than in September, the month in which I most often have visited this part of the High Sierra.
When the rain began to fall, and fell harder the morning I was to leave, it seemed my plans would have to change, and I might only be collecting rocks for my garden, instead of wildflower pictures. I always love rain at the cabin, so I did not complain at all. And it surely wouldn’t be a bad thing if I got home sooner rather than later. But — about the time I’d finished closing up the place and packing my car, the clouds began to break up, so that this was my last view of the lake:
The first wildflower I found, one I hadn’t seen for years, was Mountain Pride, bordering the road. It and Wavyleaf Paintbrush had few flowers remaining, but they provided a bright contrast to the sky, water and granite. This is a picture of them taken four years ago nearly to the day, in the same place. The snow melted earlier this year, as there was not much of it, so the bloom peaked before I got here.
I noticed or met for the first time no fewer than 18 different species of wildflowers that day, most of which I wrote down in a little notebook each time I got back into my car to drive further along the road, going slow and keeping my eyes open for spots of color, or whatever else might appear. Some of the flowers that I won’t show you were:
My favorite flower of the day by far was Bigelow’s Sneezeweed, a darling thing which I first saw in this area many years ago. I pulled over for it several times, and the last time was the best display, with bees and two kinds of butterflies drinking at the blooms.
One of them was the Field Crescent, of whom I didn’t get a good shot, but here is one I found online of this little insect:
Should Nature at times, on our awakening, propose to us The very thing to which we were disposed, Then praise at once swells in our throats. We feel we are in paradise.
The corn lilies were blooming, and a beetle was on site for that glorious event, seeming to have lost its head over pollen:
Fireweed waved its purple flowers in the breeze. “It earned its name because this plant is the first colonizer in the soil after forest fires.”
This next picture shows an area ripe and ready for some fireweed to sprout and grow; it is a landscape resulting from the Creek Fire last fall.
That was the huge fire that necessitated closing the highway that we use to get to our cabin, the same week that Soldier’s family and I had planned to be up there. We went to the beach and took smoky pictures instead.
Already I saw wild roses blooming among the stumps, and this healthy milkweed:
I often have run across wildflowers with buckwheat as part of their common name. This page shows you how vast is that family, called Polygonaceae, that includes mountain sorrel, curly dock — and rhubarb, of all things. But the strange species I saw a lot of on my drive was Naked Buckwheat.
It has strong, wire-like stems that are tall and bare for most of their length, with white puff-balls at the tip.
I wanted to get a nice picture of the elder bushes in flower, and when I squeezed in close this bright and rather large beetle got my attention:
I began to think of all the fascinating and complex creatures that live their (often short) lives in “obscurity.” I bet no one else had ever seen that bug. God lavishes the earth with life and beauty as an expression of His generosity and love.
As I went down the mountain, it was like an hours-long birthday party with Him saying, “Stop here. See that flower? It’s one of the special gifts I’m giving you today.” Then, “Look there! A red and black bug I chose just for you.”
He gave me sneezeweed because they are my old friends. He introduced me to a hawk for something new. Butterflies fluttered, proposing the very thing to which I was disposed. This place was not paradise, we can tell that by the fire damage, and many other aspects. But there was a little taste of Paradise in my soul, and praise swelling in my heart.