Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Horses of Elmira Pond #2

While I'm off-pond for a week, I've set up an art project to share. A talented artist friend has made a career of enhancing her photographs. Inspired by her, I have selected seven photos of the Elmira  Pond horses and explored enhancements with sepia tones and diffused glow.

Art is another way to tell a story. What story do you see here?

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Horses of Elmira Pond #1

While I'm off-pond for a week, I've set up an art project to share. A talented artist friend has made a career of enhancing her photographs. Inspired by her, I have selected seven photos of the Elmira  Pond horses and explored enhancements with sepia tones and diffused glow.

Art is another way to tell a story. What story do you see here?

Monday, July 29, 2013

Carnival Clouds

Carnival Arrives
Pink Like Cotton Candy
Lit Up Like Rides
Jaunty Squash Blossom
Pine Carnie or Permanent Resident?
Send Home the Clowns
Reading is Like an Every Day Carnival Attraction
Whirling as far as the dog leashes on my wrists allow, I look at the sky in every direction. It as if I cannot drink in enough of the clouds--my morning cup of well water. It's been so long, this dry spell, that I feel like a kid at the county fair not knowing were to focus my eyes first.

The thunderheads are rimmed in pink like airy cotton-candy. To the west the sky lightens and to the east the clouds look backlit like the garish signs for carnival rides. I want to ride the clouds like the birds do, to soar on thermals and dip fast toward the pond and pull up again, roller coaster-style.

Maybe I see excitement in the clouds because it might rain. Or maybe it's because I get to see so many family members within a few days. Now both my daughters are living in Montana; one a radio sound-smith and journalistic grad student and the other Coach Bug. And I get to swill Big Dipper ice cream with them both tomorrow. My parents just arrived, too and I think it's no coincidence that my first peas arrived in time to treat my Dad to his favorite garden food. My cousin, newly baptized, is getting married and I get to be there for her.

I'm as puffed up as the carnival clouds.

It is nearly August and the changes are coming quickly. I harvest and slice a full container of radishes, Erin purple and common reds. Jaunty blossoms open up to the morning air with zebra-striped zucchinis forming. One of two scarlet runners to actually germinate has red flowers and peas are young and tender despite the late planting. My tomato plants grew trunks like trees and if all that green fruit turns, I'll be harvesting like crazy soon. Already the potato plants are pushing out flowers and tiny Brussels sprouts and cauliflower have emerged for winter harvest. How did my garden grow so fast? One day it was a plot of dirt and today it's bursting with corn dogs and popcorn, ready for the fair.

The roses are nearly cycled. Only five buds remain on two plants. I will miss their vibrant color and await another long season for their scent to linger on the air. It's like the clowns have removed their red-noses and big shoes, trunking the costumes for next year's performance. I will try my luck at transplanting rose cuttings into potatoes to see if they will grow elsewhere on the ranch.

Blue Heron flaps across the log and I've not seen nary a goose or merganser all day. These migratory birds, the traveling carnies, will soon be gone. I expect crowds of southern bound birds to flush through here before it all ends in rain and snow. But today, the clouds still plow over the ridge at the peak of summer. The red-tailed hawk favors the tamarack perch along highway 95 and I wonder if he'll stay in our valley.

Unrelated to blooms and birds, I've read my final paperback. My new Kindle E-reader arrived from Amazon last week, just in time for the final chapter in book three of Robert Jordan's "Wheel of Time" series. Book four was easily downloaded and reading will become pleasurable again. I love books, love, love. love them. But my stiff gardening hands have struggled with holding them open. No more pain, and the pages are easier to read. I can even download a women's study bible, and research books that cost so much in print, but not so much at the Kindle store.

Ah, the Kindle store. Somebody just let my inner child loose at the carnival with no limit on cotton-candy or tickets for rides. The things I will read under the apple tree, along the reedy shore of Elmira Pond.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Pipping and Peeping

Morning Summer Mist
Rise of the Summer Yellow Jackets
Non-Toxic Trap to Guard the House
Red-Tail Hawk Hunting From Tamarack Perch
The Dive Begins
Attacking a Gopher Mound
Harassed Hawk
More mist rises from the pond this morning shrouding the burst of summer growth. Reeds grow upward like inverted beaded curtains that allow a peek, but not enough. Knapweed blooms and I'm done digging at their roots. I dream instead of ripping the ground to seed rye-grass or grains. Anyone have a tractor I can borrow?

The afternoon is raucous with pipping and peeping. I step outside with my roast beef and Munster cheese sandwich on a sourdough roll. A mistake. I set down my nibbled lunch on the log I've rolled over to my chair under the apple tree as an outdoor patio table of sorts. Within 30 seconds yellow jackets--or perhaps they are paper wasps--have girded my beef, stabbing at it with venomous tail spikes.

Last week they chased my off the south porch, testing my coffee for interest. I've hung non-poisonous wasp traps on the porch and Todd has destroyed two colonies growing in the abandoned swallow nests. Yellow jackets are aggressive wasps whose numbers grow alarmingly large as summer progresses. Early spring they contend themselves with eating insects--and they still do in July--but as food grows scarce, they can grow more fierce.

We are monitoring their presence near the house and garden for safety measures. They are not honey bees, though I am grateful it was a honey bee that stung me and not a wasp. Once stung by a wasp, the venom secretes a chemical scent that target you for more attacks. Experts say to flee the area once stung. But it is only my sandwich attacked.

The noise around the pond continues. A western kingbird pips, perched on my garden fence, finally giving me a visual identification of the maker of that alarm call. I hear it every time the hawk lands in a pine by the house, road or pond. I thought it was the siskins, but now I know it is the kingbirds. Why are all the late July residents turning out to be aggressors? Kingbirds are called "tyrant" fly-catchers who ferociously defend their territories with what Cornell Ornithology Labs describes as a "kip." I say "pip."

And all the pipping is over the red-tailed hawk who has taken up a perch in the towering tamarack along highway 95. He is peeping at the pond. I'm a bit concerned that he's peeping at the pond because the ring-necked duck might have a nest and the merganser chicks are not up to flight yet. Scoping the pond I spy one of the young mergansers and he seems unconcerned that a large predator is staring his direction.

Peeping, pipping and I feel like drama is ready to burst like a bad batch of fireworks.

Attacker Under Attack
When it comes, the hawk dives. I hold my breath until he lands, talons first upon a large gopher mound. Then I cheer! Go hawk, go! The kingbirds react as if the red-tail has plummeted through the roof of their nests. An aerial attack on the hawk drives him from the gopher mound, across the pond and into the western stand of pines where the osprey like to perch when fishing. The flight of the birds is like watching a WWII dog-fight with Messerschmitts attacking a B-17 bomber.

All is Quiet Once Again
Feathers and sound disappear into the pines and all is silent as thunderheads build to the northwest and knapweed silently continues to blooms.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Pinkest Flower in the Field

Bridge Over Grouse Creek
Elk Herd
A Cool, Pink Morning
A Dino Fly-by
Flapping Away
Zippy King-fisher
Mama Merganser?
Young Hooded Mergansers
Merganser Family
New Arrivals
Cedar Wax-wings, For Now
Red-Tailed Hawk
Soaring, Hunting
Dragonfly #1
Dragonfly #2
Dragonfly #3
Red Tail
July 25 Omission: need of

Yesterday's pond report was omitted in favor of seeking cooler climes along Grouse Creek. We nearly made it to the falls, but were beat to the spot by a family with nine children. And a dog. Our dogs barked at their dog, and leashing ensued. I fell in a mud-hole, had to wash off in the creek, lost my husband and had to wait for him at the truck. Not my ideal situation, but he reminded me that he had hero-status for at least another week. And even a bad day along Grouse Creek is a good day.

On the way home we ate tuna-fish sandwiches on sourdough rolls and slices of orange-flesh melon that dripped down our chins. Just a few miles from home we saw a herd of elk grazing on ranch pasture. A beautiful excuse not to write...filling the well.

Morning Pond Report:

Mist rises off the pond like steam from hot summer sidewalks. Ah, but this is no urban setting along Elmira Pond. A crisp night promises a cooler day than those of this past week. The sky is pinking later; no more 4 a.m. dawns.

Elmira Pond has touched my pink side. Pink mist, pink skies, pink flowers, why not. Not normally a woman of that shade, I bought my very first pink t-shirt in what feels like a million years. And today I am wearing it, my hot-pink t-shirt with a white silhouette of a German Short-haired Pointer (GSP), and the back that proclaims, "Keep calm; point on." This comes into play later.

And speaking of a million years or so, that is how old Blue Heron's drivers license would read, if he needed one to fly. He doesn't grace the pond today, but flies by low, a pterodactyl shadow of blue-gray against the dark green pines and trees. Flap. Flap. Silent as he is, he looks like a flapping dinosaur seeking giant pond frogs. Bull-frogs seems to suffice, and I realize it's been a while since I've heard a sonorous croak from that group. I'm not complaining. But the grasshoppers need to learn a new tune or two.

Another blue-gray bird flits fast around the pond, up to the sky, across the trees, back to the pond and over the power lines. All in about 10 seconds. If only coffee would course through me that way. The most hyper bird I know upon this pond is the belted king-fisher. I actually snap a few shots of him so maybe the coffee is working after all. Big head, long dark beak and crisply tailored-white neck. But no fishing for him today. Who knows where king-fisher go.

A single Lady Merganser holds court on the log. It's been several weeks now since I've seen the female ring-necked duck. Maybe she is shrouded in reeds, secluded on the cup of a nest, incubating eggs. Or maybe she has simply flown elsewhere. I don't see the other three mergansers, but splashes on the far south-east side hint at their presence.

Finally I scope the splash-makers. They look sort of like mergansers, but smaller and the coloring is different. Scrutiny is tough at a distance. If they are babies, they are juveniles. Do you mean I missed the cuteness and back-packing of merganser chickhood? These awkward younglings are trying to walk on water, probably practicing for flight. Between two of them I think I see a turtle. If so, it is my first pond turtle sighting.

Two of the three merganser brood hang out with the Lady on the Log. Is she mama or auntie? She doesn't seem real interested in them, perhaps preparing for an empty nest. It's interesting how many trinities of birds I seem to see upon this pond. Migratory wanderers, passing through.

Another bird group is noticeably absent--the metallic-blue tree swallows who used to make ferry-rings upon the pond. Their nestlings fledged and now they are all gone. The barn swallows are still in residence, but are not in great numbers. Yet another bird has appeared, soaring more so than flitting, yet acrobatic all the same. They seem to be after insects but their shape and whistle is different from swallows and their color different from sparrows and siskins. Nor are they as big as robins, but close.

Are they brown? Gray? Their tails seem lined in yellow. Is it really yellow? The kingbird has a stripe like that, but boldly white. A few pause in a tree and there is something about the eyes...the head. I am so engrossed in the binoculars that I am ignoring bees. They bounce from clover head to tree tops, yet I am unafraid. I'm birding. If you know of my recent woes with a bee, it's an amazing feat--to ignore the humming of bees.

This bee is now so close to my ear, it is the loudest thrumming I've ever heard from an insect. Cautiously, I set down the binos, prepare to swat with my right hand until I turn and actually glimpse the bee. It is no bee. A hummingbird has taken tremendous interest in my pink t-shirt, zoning in to my shoulder as if I am full of nectar; the pinkest flower in the field. Now it is my turn to surprise him as I leap from my chair, squealing like no flower has ever squealed. I never did wear pink well.

But as my shirt reads, I stay calm, twittering just a bit, and bird on. I'm fairly, mostly, pretty certain that the newest pond arrivals are cedar wax-wings. In fact, one photo shows the brown and gray coloring and the distinctly yellow tail stripe. Until I prove myself wrong, I'm going with cedar wax-wing. While they are known to devour berries, they seem more interested in insects. Go for the protein wax-wings.

Ah, and here comes the red-tailed hawk, soaring high on the thermals. In total, the hawk sweeps over  the pond valley north to south and then south again at least five times. He's hunting the fields and meadows. Any time he nears the pond, birds harass him and he dives, trying to escape their nagging advance. I waffle between thinking maybe he's an immature bald eagle or red-tailed hawk. But several photos clearly show the stripes and red tail of the latter although the head and chest pattern could be young eagle-like.

If it is that difficult to identify such a big beast of the blue skies, I don't even try to tag the dragonflies flitting by and clinging to dead limbs and fence line. But I can assure you, that none of them are as pink as the pinkest flower in the field.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A Cautionary Tale

Picking Raspberries
Barefoot Birding
Raspberries and Blackberries
Blackberry Blossoms
Red Raspberries
Bucket of Raspberries
Bee Careful Picking Berries
Bees Hang Out in Grass
Me, Learning to Ride and Speak Slang
San Benito, CA
Where Ancestors Settled
Ranches, Orchards and Turkeys
Curious Man
One Way to Have Hubby Finish Chores
First Note of Caution:
While this is a home-grown birding blog, a place for a simple believer to reflect and a hopeful storyteller to spin yarns, it is also about country-living. And sometimes the truth of the tales to be told go beyond a G-rating.

This is one of those blogs.

The female anatomy in no way offends me; I fully embrace that I am a woman. However, it may not be the conversation you are expecting from a blogger bird-nerding on a pond in northern Idaho. But things happen when outside, interacting with the environment. If a horse stepped on my toes, I'd tell you about my feet. If I fell into the pond, bruising my elbow, I'd tell you about my arm.

Believe me, I did not call the shots on the injured anatomy of today's story, although in retrospect, I could have exercised some common sense. Now that I feel like Chaucer, having given the reader my disclaimer, here is the day's cautionary tale.

Bee Aware:
When outside birding, gardening and especially plucking raspberries, wear underwear.

The day dawns cool, but quickly grows hot and dry. Todd and I eat slices of butter-fried ham with a fresh peach oven pancake, which is custard-like and naturally sweet from the fruit. We chat over coffee, and decide where to fish later this afternoon. I mention picking more raspberries to finish off a batch of raspberry peach jam. Todd offers to pick.

"The Blackberries are coming on next, " I say.

"Blackberries won't fruit if they are growing with the raspberries," Todd says.

For 25 years I've debated this man enough to know I have to show him proof. Todd likes facts, and the fact of the matter is, the blackberry canes are bursting with the beginnings of green berries that will one day blacken into late summer sweetness. So I tell him that I'll show him.

Now mind you, I'm in my thin summer nightshirt and nothing else. I promise you, this is not normally how I dress for birding, gardening or writing; it's just been a loitering kind of morning interspersed with office work and kitchen chores. And it's been hot. And it's just me and my husband--empty-nest, no guests and no close neighbors. Who cares if I'm wearing underwear or not.

We step outside and I giggle to Todd about my attire, to which he makes a sassy husband-like reply. He's grabbed the bucket to harvest red raspberries and I only mean to show him the blackberries. But as he starts plucking, I can't help but join in. The breeze is yet cool, the birds are pipping in the pines and we're talking about sweet jam. Out of habit, I squat down to gleen from the lower branches. It feels so good, this living-in-the-country freedom.

Until I feel a sting. No buzz, no tickle, no warning just a horrible reminder that I have on no underwear. With the reflexes of Wonder Woman I strike at the bee between my legs and actually pluck it away, flinging it to the grass. Bow-legged and appalled, I stand up and cry out, "My panocha! A bee stung my panocha!"

Let's pause a moment to discuss language. I know my female anatomy; I know the right words for my private parts. But there's something primal about a crisis that thrusts us into the dialect of childhood. San Benito County, California is inland from the San Francisco Bay and worlds apart from Silicon Valley. Among ranches older than the state itself, this was where I was born. Mexican land grants created old ranchos that raised cattle and grapes, and Mission San Juan Bautista was built in 1797.

My family tilled hay, tended cattle and raised turkeys among the oak-strewn golden hills called the Gabilans. The community is a melting pot of old Californios, Italians, Basque, Portuguese, Scots and other gold-seeking pioneers that came in the 1850s. John Steinbeck walked where I rode horses. My great-grandfathers planted apricot trees and rode in rodeos that I rode in, too.

The language that surrounded me as an impressionable child was a melting pot of cowboy English, pigeon Portagee and Mexican American slang. Thus I have ingrained in me such words that gained my mother's glare when spoken such as putah, chichis and panocha.

The first time I ever saw a Chi Chis restaurant in Minnesota, I choked, laughing that anyone would called a mexican-food place "boobies." But evidently, the slang did not extend that far north, so no one knew why I cracked up anytime someone from work suggested we go have margaritas at Chi Chis.

Most people recognize putah, as in the insult, "Tu madres es putah," meaning your mama is a street-walker. But that's not how I heard it used growing up. Putah was an exclamation like "holy crap" and I said it a lot. In fact, if you surprise me today, I might just holler, "Putah! You scared me!"

In New Mexico and Colorado, panocha is a pudding; in Spanish it refers to raw sugar. In my world, it's slang for vulva. So, yes, simultaneously crying and laughing to the point of hysterics--because really, who ever gets stung on the panocha?--I waddle toward the house stunningly stung.

Not much ever flabbergasts my husband, but he was looking as puzzled as Richard Neil must have looked upon discovering the joy of a woman's menstrual cycle has nothing to do with extreme sports and blue liquid.

By the time we get into the house I'm sobbing, more out of cowardly fear for the sweet stung spot, with intermittent bursts of "I can't believe this!"

Todd came to his senses and I truly thank God that my husband was home as the man had to find and remove the stinger. Ever the curious man, he has thoroughly examined the stinger under magnifying glass and affirms it was "definitely a honey-bee." Not that I was trying, but Todd covered the rest of my chores.

Evidently bees find women sweet as raw sugar. Therefore protect thy sweetness, fair ladies. Next time I pick raspberries, I'm wearing a chastity belt!