January 29, 2015

Anna's Hummingbird

Portrait by Brad Schram, who wrote the book on birding in Southern California [no, really, he wrote the book]. Brad is playing (his word) with settings and a new camera body here.

If you ever get the chance to hear Sheri Williamson talk about hummingbirds, give a listen. Not just because she wrote the book on hummingbirds (again, really), but because she's an excellent speaker, and because hummingbirds are awesome. Prodigious migrators, brainy as crows and parrots, masters of flight, and more beautiful than jewels, as you can see from Brad's photo. 

The Anna's is our most common hummingbird here in the foothills — in fact, I've only seen one other species in my yard this past year: a selasphorus, last summer. OK, a Rufous. Maybe. Though it might have been an Allen's:
In some areas, Garrett says, resident Allen's are now as familiar as the Anna's hummingbird, Southern California's most common.
"They're moving inland," Williamson says. "It probably has to do with gardens. It's evolution in action ... the evolution of an urban hummingbird. They're learning to live with people in new environments." [Link]
Sheri's blog is invaluable for anyone interested in feeding these little guys. I am shocked, shocked, to learn that there are chemicals in organic sugar...!

Here are a few photos of hummingbirds taken with an old iPhone, through windows, with way too much zoom, by someone whose hands aren't always steady, etc.

Four Anna's Hummingbirds at one feeder:

Keeping an eye on another feeder. The dead manzanita branches were schlepped down from the cabin: 

Shadow play: 

And finally, a handsome boy guarding yet another feeder. He's perched on an agave spine:

(Agave + needlessly ginormous pot = epic fail. Look, a hummingbird!)

When can I move in?

Heaven. From the Commune Residential Portfolio -- this is Foothill Road in Ojai.

The minute, no, the nanosecond I win the lottery I will be on the phone to Commune. I blame Desire to Inspire: they posted photos of the home above and another in Echo Park, interiors designed by Commune, and they are wonderful. The second home is on Elsinore Road, for those visiting the Commune site, or see Desire to Inspire's post here

January 28, 2015

The Despot loses a sale

At the orange big box on January 16: 'Ascot Rainbow,' a tempting spurge. See the little tag tucked in each pot?

Little tag's there on the left.

I have a spurge (Euphorbia characias ‘Glacier Blue’) that I like a lot, and I was tempted to buy 'Ascot Rainbow.' It's beautiful. I took some photos and drove home to think it over, the way one does, and decided to get one. Went back to the store a week or so later, and saw more of those little tags everywhere, on every succulent from big agaves to tiny mammillarias, on plants inside and outside, everywhere. So many of them I took a closer look, and they're not the usual ID/planting info tags.

The tag says something like, "This plant is free of aphids, mealy bugs, etc., etc. because it has been treated with a neonicotinoid pesticide."

Neonicotinoids... where have I heard that word before? Oh. Oh, yeah. "Pesticide blamed in death of 25,000 bumblebees in Oregon." That pesticide. From the Xerces Society:
  • Neonicotinoid residues are found in pollen and nectar consumed by pollinators such as bees and butterflies. The residues can reach lethal concentrations in some situations.
  • Neonicotinoids can persist in soil for months or years after a single application. Measurable amounts of residues were found in woody plants up to six years after application.
  • Untreated plants may absorb chemical residues left over in the soil from the previous year.
  • Products approved for homeowners to use in gardens, lawns, and on ornamental trees have manufacturer-recommended application rates up to 120 times higher than rates approved for agricultural crops. [Source]

Boy, I'd sure like some of that in my garden! But seriously, here I am trying to create a wildlife-friendly environment, trying to attract birds, butterflies, bees, lizards, frogs, trying to avoid this type of pesticide use, only to discover that every plant sold by the local Despot is a neonicotinoid time bomb of lethal residues. Great.

To be fair, at least the orange big box requires labeling now: U.S. retailers look to limit pesticides to help honeybees, said Reuters back in June when instead of paying attention, I was up in Big Bear singing "School's out for summer!" (Wonder if the blue big box requires labeling. Must ask.) Anyhow, on Monday I found a droopy, Dr. Seuss-ian  'Ascot Rainbow' at a local nursery that's more organic than not, and put him in a planter for now with a tiny Ceanothus 'Concha.' I hope he thrives.

Be a friend to all nature, little dude!

January 25, 2015

Sunday Pot Culture

Leo González has a Flickr photostream, not to mention a plant collection, that is the stuff dreams are made of. A succulent-lover's dreams...

It's everywhere I turn: Aloe marlothii. Those blooms...! I will have one someday, after I see how the little Aloe ferox does in these parts. Aloe marlothii... Aloe marlothii... 

Warm, sunny morning; cool, cloudy afternoon. I repotted some new agaves, and have the scratched hands to prove it. I watered a little. Swept — a biggie when your garden is mostly patio and you're a bit of a neat freak. Moved some pots around. Did a little post-freeze pruning/plant tidying. Took the potting bench apart looking for a spider: two black widows were hiding in the first agave I repotted, and I only caught/killed one, dammit. Anyhow, the new agaves seem happy to be able to breathe a little, and I'll post some "after" photos later in the week.

Backstory on these agaves: last month I stopped by a local business — the nice not-a-nursery-but-we-have-some-plants-for-sale-also-kittens — to look at their agaves and aloes. The plants were lined up inside the parking lot fence, no labels, no prices, and no one in the shop knew anything about them except that they were indeed for sale. After the helpful office people made a call to the shop owner and another call to the "plant guy" to get prices (small pots $5.00, big pots $10.00), I drove home with some aloes, an Agave filifera, and an Agave asperrima. Here's the asperrima, leaves rough as sandpaper [she said with asperity]:

There were three hearty plants bursting out of that pot, along with five or six pups and a mystery euphorbia. Look at those teeth! The nursery label brought back memories. Newell's was a great place, but they closed three years ago — how long were the agaves in that pot, I wonder?

Here's the filifera:

No spiders in this one — quite a few pups, though. Can't begin to describe how root bound these plants were, but agaves can be very tough, and I imagine they'll be fine. I'll pot up the pups and take them to the next CSS meeting. Both asperrima and filifera are quite cold hardy. Hardier than Aloe marlotthii, anyway, and marlothii is hardy enough for me ;~)

January 16, 2015

Flickr Friday: Round Valley

Beautiful California [heart]. Photo by Marc Crumpler on Flickr -- I've favorited just about every photo he's shared. More information on Round Valley here.

January 13, 2015

After the rain

Caesalpinia pulcherrima. Blue stucco [swoons]. My new favorite photo, by Darin on Flickr.

Oh my god, the colors in that photo. Nothing to do with our rain, but had to share it. I have two Caesalpinia gilliesii, also beautiful, that had flowers last summer and are bare as could be right now. Dormant, not dead, I hope. Another photo by Darin:

Toumeyana bella, by Darin on Flickr.

I picked up an Agave toumeyana bella at the UC Riverside Botanic Gardens Fall Plant Sale in November. The online plant lists don't include smaller succulents, so I was incredibly happy to find an Agave toumeyana bella, a variegated Agave isthmensis, and an Aloe erinacea sitting next to each other on the same table. How cool was that? The aloe was too rich for my blood, but I brought the others home. Here's the isthmensis after Saturday's nice rain:

And here are a few more rainy shots. First, an Agave 'Kissho Kan' (still showing some hail damage from earlier in the year). Found this little guy at a nursery in Pasadena. He was buried in leaf litter in an unmarked, disintegrating plastic pot, so I got him for cheap. Burkard's, we hardly knew ye :~(

Echeveria nodulosa, from fave nursery Gloria's, in Riverside:

And Ceanothus 'Dark Star' (with rosemary and a wee santolina). Rode out the snowstorm like a boss -- yay for natives (though 'Dark Star' has a rep for not lasting long. We'll see):

Birdy: The colors on backyard birds may mean more than we think. Backyard Birds at Chickadee Gardens. What is it about hummingbirds? Birder/naturalist/author/artist Julie Zickefoose on The Best Thing I've Ever Bought, and on Plants, Resilient Plants. Wait, no birds in that last link. But oh, that hibiscus...! And Chet. And an agave :~)

January 9, 2015

Western links for Friday

Walt Longmire, er... Warden Karnow on a nice bay BLM mustang.

They're called wildlife officers now, not game wardens, but that doesn't change the fact that the work they do is incredibly important, and more challenging every time you look. Read more about California's wildlife officers here, and follow the links to order this year's California Warden Stamp. A bear on this year's stamp, yay! (Last year's crawdad lobster crustacean was just odd.) There's a warden stamp link in the right sidebar, always.

And speaking of Walt Longmire, sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyoming, here is a most excellent blog by someone who actually lives in Wyoming: Red Dirt in My Soul.  Great photos, clever crafts, ranch life, and the latest goings-on at the Ten Sleep Public Library. My favorite Wyoming sheriff has been known to make an occasional appearance.

Meet the two guys winter through-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (with nineteen incredible photos). So beautiful! So cold! I'm sure I totally could do this if I had the right equipment. That's all you need — the right equipment. Yep.

Up at the Monterey Bay Aquarium the docents have a section of sea otter pelt for visitors to touch, and it is the softest, thickest, most beautiful fur ever. More here:

For those of you who enjoy a nice day hike: Robert Martinez is a camera trapper who documents the bears, mountain lions and other wildlife in the SoCal foothills. A stone's throw from downtown L.A., people! Check out his blog Parliament of Owls. You can't see them, but they can see you...

The fossil of a Wyoming alligator inspires a fascinating post by Brian Switek. Taphonomy: my new word of the day.

Curious orcas give boaters in dinghy the thrill of a lifetime. Ay caramba, that tiny boat...! “It was an experience I’ll never forget,” said Eric Martin, co-director of the Roundhouse Marine Studies Lab and Aquarium in Manhattan Beach. "And to be honest, I didn’t realize how small we looked” until he saw an image captured by researcher Alisa Schulman-Janiger. Be sure to watch the great videos.

Historic, daring climb on Yosemite’s El Capitan draws a crowd. In the photo gallery, gotta love the spectating couple ignoring the coyote.

And finally, if you live in the west and care about water, you should check out Maven's Notebook. Maven is Chris Austin, who created and published the Aquafornia blog for five years and who knows more about California water issues than pretty much anyone alive. She covers water news like a boss. Follow her for the most thorough, independent, straight dope on western water issues the web can offer.

That's it for today's linkage. Happy trails!

January 7, 2015

Birder finds an owl -- you won't believe what happens next!

Long-eared Owl, with Steller's Jay butt just right of center. Heard the jays going crazy, ran outside, spotted the owl, ran back inside for the camera, shot into the sun right before the owl flew away, and the rest is internet history. Photo's from 2011 -- click to embiggen.

BuzzFeed, baby. The snapshot's on BuzzFeed. Will share a favorite bird photo to make up for this, I promise. 

Cropped, as shown on Twitter's #WorstBirdPic:

For documentation, OK?

And now, to make up for all that, here's a favorite photo, a great photo, that deserves all the attention it gets. Fiery-throated Hummingbirds in Flight, by Raymond Barlow. Follow the link! You'll never guess how beautiful his photographs are. Seriously.

[Edited to add: California Audubon took us to Storify! And now we're on The Dodo! My bad!]

January 3, 2015

I heart frost cloth

Snow on the hood of my sister's faithful Subaru. This was New Year's Eve, bright and early, on Oak Glen Road looking west.

Ay caramba, did it ever snow. Here is what happened in the garden, which is mostly agaves, opuntias, a couple little palo verdes, a little oak, a pomegranate, some salvias, two ceanothus, four yuccas, three ocotillos, a few aloes, stonecrops, a bunch of other succulents (all of this in pots), and the stuff that was here when I moved in a year ago: a huge Xylosma congesta, a  red bottlebrush, two boxy yellow privet-y things, and a lemon tree. No partridges.

Agave americana sheltering a tiny paper spine cactus. That's an A. parryi pup in the one-gallon pot, and a dykia sp. in the foreground. All seem to have handled the cold and the snow without problems. 

This A. murphyi is in a planter with Euphorbia characias 'Glacier Blue,' Chihuahuan sage (Leucophyllum laevigatum) and a helichrysum. Took days for the snow and ice to melt completely, with nighttime temps to 24F for several nights running and daytime temps in the high 30s to low 40s. All plants did great. The euphorbia is a total, total keeper. 

Looking good. Tiny spots on the agave are from hail damage this past fall.

A. parryi. Dayum, these guys are tough. A parent bought this agave for a school project years ago, according to the garden club advisor. Everyone forgot the little guy existed. Lived off rainfall in his nursery pot, pretty much. Our school district banned spiny landscaping last year, after a seventh grader impaled himself on an agave (not at my school!), and the club advisor sent this one home with me. He's been thriving, and handled the snow like a champ. 

A regular honey badger. By the way, this is a trifecta of frugality: the little succulents were cuttings from a friend in the Gates Cactus & Succulent Society; the agave was a freebie as related above; and the concrete planter was left by someone who rented the place before I moved in. Hat trick!

So, what died? Of the plants left unprotected, two little jade plants are goners, along with a sedum or two. A big Agave attenuata I've had for ages (it was under the eaves in front) looks like it's not going to make it. An Agave 'Blue Flame' looks iffy. And I'm pretty sure I'm going to lose this young angustifolia (which was a gift: a pup of a beautiful plant that lives just a few blocks away [weeps]). 

Sorry, little guy! I put two siblings under an eve of the house, which made all the difference. I feel awful about this plant. "Oh, a storm is threat'ning / My very life today / If I don't get some shelter / Oh yeah, I'm gonna fade away" — and this post becomes the 5,862 millionth garden-related thing to quote Gimme Shelter. My bad.

Portulacaria afra. Dead. as. a. door nail. Rated hardy to 20F, but the snow wiped it out. Maybe it will grow back — and if not, well, it grows like a weed from cuttings.

And what about frost cloth, you ask? Welp, I love it and am going to buy more of it. Before the storm, my sis and I put a number of plants under the eves and under the patio roof and then added frost cloth or plastic or old potting soil bags on top for more protection. Planters too heavy to move, we covered with plastic over jury-rigged frames of bamboo. Temps on the patio were in the mid 20s for several nights, but the covered plants look just fine, if you ask me.

Some of the plants, cuttings, new stuff, and presumed-to-be-tender stuff we covered with frost cloth. Not shown: the titanota; a big gypsophila I love a lot; and a bunch of small agaves. All were outside, but covered with something. All look great. Was it worth the (very minor) trouble? Oh yeah. 

So, covered stuff was fine. Natives and other hardy plants did very well without protection. (It was a kick to see them emerge from the snow with no sign of any damage.) As you see, I uncovered stuff. Tonight's low is supposed to be in the high 30s... I may run out later and cover everything back up.

A big note to self: prepare some lath frames ahead of time. Use frames and frost cloth all over the place in case of freezing temps or snow. Also: clothespins are awesome. And on a final note: there is STILL snow on the ground, in shady places. (That idea I was flirting with, the one about moving to Wyoming after retirement? SoCal forever, people — SoCal forever.)

January 2, 2015

New Year's Eve

Looking west, on the way to Oak Glen Road. (That's my sister's Subaru.) Dear people driving to Oak Glen: it is winter. And the invisible stuff that makes your SUVs slide and slide and slide even though you are standing on the brake is called ice, and it's all over the road even though you can't see it, and that is why the sign you passed a while back says, "Chains Required Beyond This Point." Oy.

It started snowing Tuesday night, and I thought we'd only get a dusting, but we wound up with half a foot. A veritable snowstorm! It was beautiful, and so cold, you can scarcely imagine. I'm afraid I may have lost a few succulents. There are still little patches of snow in my back yard. (We are a strong people — we will rebuild.) I went out Wednesday morning and cleaned as much snow off the bird feeders as I could, and the little guys (and big guys, the scrub jays) bellied up to the feeders in droves. I count 'em all for science. New yard bird (on the ground): a Lincoln's Sparrow.

Lincoln's Sparrow by Kelly Colgan Azar on Flickr.

Chaparral and palm trees.