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Huge and modern Prague Train Station For the second time this trip, we caught a train. This time we headed for Zagreb in Croatia.  W...

Sunday, May 24, 2009

What? MORE Flippin' Flowers?

Yes, yes, I was out tracking down wildflowers again, and you're about UP TO HERE with it, right?

Tough b'noogies.

Where was I? Wildflowers! So, a friend of mine, Terry, made the near-fatal error of mentioning she likes wildflowers too. So, I kidnapped her from her place and we were off! Barely got out of eyeshot of Terry's place when the first blooms of the day were spotted. Looking them up much later, they turned out to be Foothill Prettyface, in this case nearly dowdy flower, when compaired to it's cousin, which were found later in the day.


Foothill Prettyface

Right nearby the Prettyface was a deceptively pretty flower with an EVIL agenda. Here it is looking all innocent.


Innocent Pink flowers by daylight…

Here that flower is again, later in the day, strangling whatever it can get itself twined around. Evil stuff. Here's the thing's M.O., it’s not green because it doesn’t make its own food as any honest plant does - nay, the Twining Snake Lily steals nutrients from other, more self respecting plants. Bwah, ha, ha, ha, ha! Isn't Twining Snake Lily just the best wildflower name ever?


Evil Twining Snake Lily, at the end of the day, strangling a mate.
Click on the photo & see how its pink strands 'twining' on another flower

I exaggerated my description – just a bit.

Next stop, Starbucks; one does not live by flora and fauna alone.

Next we hit my recently discovered stomping ground, Ice House Road, which winds it's way up the mountain. There Terry enjoyed the Indian Pinks, Western Wild Flax, Dogwoods and vistas of blue lupin.


Terry enjoying the Lupin on Ice Hill Road

More of same - just crying out for a stanza or two of The Sound of Music, isn't it?


Hillside full of bluish Lupin

We headed further up the hill and started looking in earnest (translation, drive slowly, look out the window). Here’s what we found.


Brewer's Monkeyflower, way tinier than
I suspected – only about ¼ inch across


The fancy, citified Mountain Prettyface (the HUSSY)

Now, there was one fancy little patch of monkeyflowers we passed on the mountain road. They were Yellow and White Monkeyflowers and they were stunning! The bad bit was they weren't anywhere near a place that either had a pull-out nearby for the car, nor was the road wide enough to safely walk along the road. So... that left no choice but to do a u-turn and drive sort-off off-road. I thought my idea would work, but when I stopped the car, unfortunately, my Honda was at a... sort of a 45 degree angle. I would have had to open the car door by pushing straight up... uh... decided to stay put. I couldn't get a shot of the Monkeyflowers but here's someone else's shot of them.


Yellow and White Monkeyflowers

The photo doesn't even do the patch we saw justice - it was like a yellow and white blanket snuggled over green grass. Oh well - maybe I'll see some within shooting distance, next year.

There were some other flowers we spotted too, here are some of them.

Newberry’s Penstimon

Rainbow Iris

Mountain Misery

Isn't that a great name for a plant, Mountain Misery? Though it has the white daisy sort of flower, it is not really known for its flowers, but for it's heavily scented ferny leaves. The scent - which I rather enjoy really - is heavy and said to give a headache if lingered around.


Globe Gillia

After a tough day out on the trail wrangling pink, blue and yellow blossoms, a girl needs a good meal. So it was back to Terry's spread for some hot barbeque served up by Terry's wife Terry (otherwise known by me as Terry2 or T2). The beef was WONDERFUL, grass fed beef which they bought on the hoof. Yum! Nice ending for a lovely day.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

BUUUUZZZZZZZZZZ

I was out in the garden, watering the plants and listening to what I thought - don't ask me why - was water running in the background. I ignored the persistent sound at first, then it occurred to me that having had a leaky pipe some weeks ago, maybe part of my house or yard was floating away, and me out there ignoring it. So... I turned around and there it was, the big old Hawthorn tree, only now...

Completely covered over with white blossoms and
the loud thrum, thrum, thrumming of honey bees

When the blossoms are up, there is work to be done

I have no clue what the lady bug was after... smaller bugs inside the white flowers perhaps

The entire tree was alive with hundreds and hundreds of insects; honey bees, bumblebees, beetles, lady bugs, strange sorts of flies, wasps, all busy tearing into the flowers and quite happy it ignore the fat human that was nosily peering into their business.
I only wish I could have gotten a photo of the HUMONGOUS black bumblebees that also worked over the tree. The whole blooming thing only lasts about a week so there is a lot of work to be done in a short span of time. Flowers this week, red ripe berries come Autumn, when the birds move in and do their thing.

Very happy it was bees and not a broken pipe.

Monday, May 11, 2009

On to Lake Tahoe and a BIG Surprise

After a completely successful trip to hotter-than-hades Del Pueblo Canyon, it was off to Lake Tahoe, in hope of finding alpine birds. On the way up we visited Ice House Road, where we saw, but I got no decent photos of, a Singing Lazuli Bunting and not much more bird-wise. I did shoot some nice flowers which always sit still for me.

Dogwood

Indian Pinks

Next we bee-lined up to Tahoe. The first thing of note was that it is still barely Spring up there. There was a fair amount of snow on the ground. We stopped at Emerald Bay, always breathtaking, even on the 77th visit.

The Always Lovely, Emerald Bay

Not much in the way of birds there, but there was a bizarre flower, of sorts.

Snow Plant

We hoped for a Bald Eagle or two but saw none of the big buggers there. I caught a glimpse of a bookin' Clark's Nutcracker but that was about it. For no good reason here's a bit of a creek by Emerald Bay.

video

Don checks out the scenery for winged types

We got our campsite at Fallen Leaf Lake, where we stayed last summer then went out roaming. I was, as usual, a stick in the mud. Don hiked over to a spot we had luck with last time, but it was late in the day so there wasn't anything there. We did see something interesting though... more on what, later. The next morning we drove up to Squaw Valley where I managed a quick shot of some Cassin's Finches - but only managed so-so shots.

Cassin's Finch - the rather drab female

We hit another alpine meadow we had luck at last time, and while Don hiked off to find something new, something new flew in to stare at ME for a bit - a beautiful, male Evening Grosbeak. I was livid when I saw the awful photos I got of the bird, and I have no idea why. The photos look like there was grease, or something on my long lens.

Crap Photo of an Evening Grosbeak - *sigh*

Now here's why some people go mental; a crummy photo of a sparse grosbeak I've only seen twice before in my life. BUT, when I used the same equipment for a shot of a bird I see every time -forgive the vulgarity - I wipe me bum, now that shot came out sharp and clear.

Hairy Woodpecker - Great Shot, why, oh why?

See? I have no idea what went wrong with my Grosbeak shot. Couldn't you just SPIT?

But still, it was a lovely drive - I don't often get up to the snow as much as I have this past year. Hopefully I'll continue being so daring. One winter white vista overlooked a snowy, iced over lake. I didn't even have on a jacket - so I guess it is spring.

Ice on the Lake - ICE!

Our last Hurrah for the weekend, we decided to dart over the State line, in search of Black-billed Magpies. Remember, the birds in my yard are the yellow-billed species - I only see Black-billed species when I go out-of-state. So Don and I forged on. Just as we were barreling past downtown Reno, there was flash as a lovely Black-billed Magpie flitted over the freeway in front of us.

"HURRAH!"

We did a 180 and headed right back into California.

NOTE: you don't want to expose yourself to Nevada any more than you have to.

We hit some semi-desert on our way out, but other than a dime-a-dozen Savannah Sparrow there were no birds to speak of, but there were some awesome wildflowers. This Alpine Waterleaf was there, in the desert-like sand, with it's flowers all huddling in an apparently frightened mass at the base of its leaves in the shade.

Alpine Waterleaf - don't the flowers look frightened?

And there were some HUMONGOUS fat flowers that looked like a cabbage/fig hybrid, crossed with a rose. I was baffled by the things, but Don said they peonys and he was right.

Western Peony

Ah HA! Bored with this rather mundane scenario? We'll switch back to Saturday night....

As I stated earlier, we stayed overnight at the Fallen Leaf Lake campground. A bit before twilight we settled ourselves by the HUMONGOUS meadow there, waiting for a Lesser Nighthawk or two to fly by, but none of the annoying birds chose to do so - bugger.

Anyway, after a bit, there was a man and a woman crossing the meadow from the east, with their two dogs, one being a yappy, frisky pug. Lovely, yes? OK. From the west of the meadow I looked over and saw this...

In the twilight, a brown Black Bear

A HUMONGOUS Black Bear! Excited, I jumped out the car and ran up to the rustic meadow fence with my long-lens camera. I was totally jazzed, after all, any second now, the frisky doggies were going to meet up with the lumbering bear. Oh Joy! I could just imagine the wonderful shots of a bear ripping the head off a cute little pug dog - I mean, can you imagine the shots I'd have gotten?

But alas - damn it if my stupid, annoying sense of morality didn't kick in. DAMN IT!

So I called out to the people who put their dogs back on the leash and hurried out of the meadow. Meanwhile, the big old bear darted off into the woods at the sound of the big bad scary human's voice (that would be 'moi').

Harumph! You know? Between the Evening Grosbeak photo eff-up and missing a chance to take the BEST bear eating dogs photos EVER, it was very nearly a crappy weekend.

Blow-up of the brown Black Bear

[Management: And if you believe Ms. Miller had a sorry time of it, you are as gullable as she is.]

Saturday, May 09, 2009

And now for a little birding

Bright and early (ish) on Saturday, Don arrived - here for a weekend of sun, fun and birds, birds, more birds. We decided to head out to Stanislaus County and Del Puerto Canyon Road.

♫ Nazareth your famous son, should have stayed a great unknown, like his father carving wood, he'd have...♪♫

DAMN IT!

Anyway, Del Puerto is a narrow, windy road that wends its way from Patterson/Hwy 5, west to Sunnyvale - or thereabouts. What's great about the road is it's like a mini-Canyon with just the birds, birds & more birds we wanted to see.

Our first stop was to the Owl Arms Condos.

This is the distance from which all the owl/red-tail photos below were taken

And who, who, whooooo .... you may ask, lives in the Owl Arms Condos?

The Great-horned Owl Family - Parent with two chicks in this 'family' room

Look into the dark baby birdie bedroom and you'll a third fuzzy owl chick

And there are the other neighbors too, like Ms. Red-tail Hawk who lives only three doors over from the Owl family.

The show-off - she paid extra for that vaulted ceiling

Now here is the big point of the day. Normally I use my 100-400mm Canon lens set up for birdie photos. But on this day, once again I tried using my Kowa spotting scope paired up with my little Powershot Canon for a few digiscope shots. To my amazement, I had the best luck with my digiscoping ever! All the birdie photos above were taken with my digiscope and they came out spectacularly sharp with no black halo (vignetting) at all. Now, if only I can puzzle out how I accomplished the no halo look.

We made several other stops along Del Puerto Road. Don found several birds for his annual birding list. We found a Califoria Thrasher, here via digiscoping:

A California Thrasher, who thinks 'SQWAWWW' is a song

Singing Rock Wren atop a pine bough, high up on a hill

Of the day's semi-failures was that I was unable, for the life of me, to get any good digiscopes of a beautiful little purple-chinned Costa's Hummingbird. The Costas are really desert hummers and Del Puerto is about as far north as they usual get.

The Costa's having a go at wild Tabacco tree flowers

You can see the purple on this bird's gorget (bib). Not the best photo but oh well

There was time for some wildflowers like this Dense Owl's Clover... Owl's Clover? I didn't make that up.

Owl's Clover

I love the yellow & lavendar of these penstemon flowers

So now you're thinking I don't like birds anymore? As if.

Where do you go at day's end to find birds? Bird Road of course.

And What's on Bird Road? A Cassin's Kingbird of course

♫ Tables chairs and oaken chests, would have suited Jesus best...♪♫

Give me strength...

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Special Delivery from San Diego

[Management: on she goes... hopefully now she'll plow through until she catches up with herself]

♪♫ You started to believe, the things they say of you, you really do believe this talk of God is true...♪♫
Friday morning, bright and early, I picked up buddy Joann, up from San Diego for the weekend. Being the sneaky sort it was decided we would drive over to Livermore. On the drive down, it was raining, a perk for our drought ridden state, and a side effect of having Joann visiting (no, really, it rains whenever she comes up here without Gene).

♫ Listen Jesus I don't like what I see. All I ask is that you listen to me...♪♫
We took a leisurely route, by way of Twin Cities Road. On the country road over to the Consumnes Wildlife Refuge, Joann shouted, "JERKY!"

I pulled a U-turn and drove slowly, peering intently at the asphalt.

Joann - "What are you doing?"

Claire - "I'm looking for whatever died on the road... you know... the jerky..."

Joann - "Road kill? I'm talking about that Store back there, with the big sign, 'Jerky'!

Claire - 'Ooooo...."


No road kill here! Just my buddy Joann, and the butcher

♪♫Christ you know I love you, did you see I waved...!♪♫

Anyway! We picked up some lovely jerky at the little butcher's shop, then did a quick drive through the Consumnes reserve.


These were the only cranes we saw, the rest have flown north


The last field of wildflowers for this year - Wild Radish

♫Sleep and I shall soothe you, calm you and anoint you, for your hot forehead. And you know every thing's alright...♪
Our drive was over to Livermore for a "Surprise, It's Mom & Auntie Claire" visit with Joann's son Philip & his Krista. We didn't surprise them too much (no one's hair fell out) and we stayed in a nice hotel nearby. It was a great visit though. I haven't seen P&K since their wedding two years ago. And oh yes, their 'daughter', a pretty lab, whose name I seem incapable of memorising.


Some puppy loves a visit from her grandma!



Phil got to show off his AWESOME wood working projects. He is totally a craftsman now. Makes all sorts of beautiful furniture, like this half finished chair. He made Joann a beautiful Mission style cabinet.


Ta da! Phil's latest project-in-the-making - awesome!

It was great visiting with P&K - among their current 'projects' is fixing up a new room in their house as a NURSERY... hint, hint.

♪♫What's the buzz, tell me what's happening...what's the buzz, tell me what's happening, what's the buzz♪♫
The new occupant will be by, oh, about October I think. Congratulations you two!


Krista and Phil in their front yard

It was a nice visit. On Saturday we met P&K for breakfast, before heading back up to my place.

The rest of the weekend was spent yakking (no kidding) and driving through my favorite American River Parks and 'deer hunting' come sundown. On Saturday night we saw only 3 spindly deer, which Joann pointed out was probably because of the rain. She was right, because on Sunday night all the deer were making up for lost time; we saw some 20 plus deer! The seemed to want to take advantage of the cool, wet, grazing.

♫ Heysanna Hosanna, Sanna Sanna Hosanna, Heysanna Hosan-nah!...♪♫

Here's a quickie vid of a turkey that was up a tree gobbling. You can hear some park visitor egging the bird on to greater vocal triumph.

video

But let's not rush past Sunday too fast! Sunday morning Joann and I went to my local Catholic Church - Happily the fonts didn't burst into billowing plumes of hell-fire as I approached. *whistles innocently*

Sunday afternoon it was time for the big event which is what got Joann up here in the first place. We had tickets for Davis Musical Theater production of Jesus Christ Superstar. It was the two of us, and a friend of mine, Linda, a fellow docent at the State Indian Museum. The three of us totally enjoyed the production, which was unlike any other I've seen at the Hobbit Theater. The stage was all black with the musicians on stage, rather than under it (yes they're usually under the stage's floor grating). The setting was stark, so the magic of the production was greater than normal. All the parts were played well and the guy who played Jesus had a wonderful voice. Bravo DMTC!


If you haven't caught on by now, the only problem with JC Superstar was it gave me the worse case of ear worms ever - the tunes keep playing over and over again in my head.
♪♫...sleep and I shall soothe you, calm you and anoint you, myrrh for your hot forehead...♪♫
Oh dear. There it goes again.