Monday, March 16, 2009

Spring is Coming

Posted by PicasaThis young gopher snake was out sunning himself on my driveway last week, a harbinger of warmer weather arriving. the lizards have been active for some time now, but the snakes are slower to come out of hibernation. Gopher snakes are common in this area and are excellent rodent controllers.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

January Days

Carole’s Gardening & Nature Journal January 2009

January 11 – Travels to the ocean and points in-between have kept me from this journal and the garden. As has become customary, the temperature dipped into the 20’s while we were away, taking its toll on the more fragile garden residents – cape honeysuckle, Mexican bird of paradise, bougainvillea, yellow bells, lantana and blood flower. I’d like to cut them all back to remove the frostbitten and ugly parts, but so far have only tackled the bird of paradise. The experts all say to wait until the threat of frost is past to cut back or more of the plant will be damaged. That’s not so with the b.o.p. as it gets cut to the ground every year regardless. I don’t know why I continue to try to grow lantana – it so rarely blooms for me, and looks ugly half the year. Yes, I’m very slow to learn. Something native would have been more appropriate. But, I get sucked in by those lovely flowers on other people’s plants and all the butterflies they attract. These days are wonderful, with cold nights in the low 30’s and days creeping up toward 70°, perfect for trimming and putzing around in the yard. The full moon has been glorious, both in the evening and as it is setting in the morning near its friends the Gemini twins, Castor and Pollux. I hung the hummingbird feeders up again after being inspired at Shellie’s house. Within hours, birds, not bees, were at the feeders, establishing their territory and chasing interlopers away. No bees so far, but Jay said Mary’s feeders were covered with them. Three hummers at a time are often around the feeders. The other birds were happy to see me too and the yard is once again full of their friendly chatter. I got a terrific view and some photos of the prairie falcon on my walk yesterday over on Genematas, sitting so regally in a dead tree at a vacant house. A brave (or foolish) little goldfinch sat nearby. Another exciting sighting on one of my walks – a ladder-backed woodpecker pounding away on a cactus.

January 13 – The dalea is blooming! Well it’s not exactly spectacular, but it’s actually blooming and, no, I didn’t take a photo of it yet. Delicate little purple petals in an otherwise dull moment in the garden. For so many years I have faithfully followed the rule of not trimming back frost-damaged plants until after the last frost. Well, hell, that could be March, and who wants to keep looking at those ugly blackened leaves? So, off they went yesterday – lantana, cape honeysuckle, ageratum, etc. If they fail to live through it, then they have no place in my garden. I’ll take them out and put in something hardier. The bougainvillea didn’t get hit to hard yet, but it’s next on the trimming list. Not putting up with it anymore. As we were burning some of the trimmings and old palo verde wood outside last evening, the Cooper’s hawk cruised in low chasing all the birds away. He sat for a long time in the dead snag, then made a few more passes. He came close but never actually caught another bird. He was so small that we thought it must be a sharp-shinned, but the tail was definitely rounded, making me feel pretty certain it was Coop.

January 19 – A good bird day yesterday (along with good football and inspiring inauguration events!) including a raven, Harris’ hawk, and yellow-rumped warbler, along with all the usual suspects. In the morning I heard the Cooper’s hawk kek-kek-kek-kekking with another hawk back and forth from our yard to somewhere across the wash. Mating season is quickly arriving. I got really nice looks at the bright male YR warbler hopping from branch to branch in the eucalyptus looking for seeds. Two big healthy coyotes crossed my path on my neighborhood walk yesterday, pausing to look back, but not long enough for me to get the camera out and turned on. Another photo op lost in the yard when a hummingbird came and sat on a branch not two feet away from my head. Did I have the camera? No, of course not. The African sumacs are in full bloom – covered with greenish mounds of tiny flowers. Not sure who they attract besides bees. The bees are also feasting on the rosemary blooms, so seem content for the time being to leave the hummingbird nectar alone. Here is a shot of the Dalea pulchra – Indigo bush – blossom. I see buds on the mallows, which is exciting. Both Anna’s and Costas hummingbirds are constantly at the feeders, arriving before daylight and fighting for a last sip of nectar before dark. I planted a couple of beavertail cactus pads that I found laying on the ground in the neighborhood.

January 22 – A little rain fell in the night (.07) and the clouds are still hanging around. The weather has been positively spring-like, almost too warm and dry, so the rain is quite welcome. Perhaps cooler temps for the next few days. Got a nice view of a ladder-backed woodpecker in an ocotillo on Genematas yesterday. He posed nicely but was too far away for a great shot. More trimming in the yard, cleaning up the frost kill on the bougainvillea, trimming back the leather-leafed acacia and the African sumac. Lots of little lizards are scurrying about, enjoying the warm days. We began a little tile project – placing some decorative tiles on the stucco wall surrounding the yard to add a little interest. This is the first of 5 groupings we’ll make. Not sure yet where all the others will go, but the next will be on the ‘window’ in the north wall. After this is done we’ll have to tackle the big job of painting the entire wall. I’m not looking forward to that. I pulled up some agave pups and replanted some from the smooth-edged variety.

January 23 – More rain most of the day yesterday, lightly and softly (.17). Rain predicted for today also. It’s warm, however, only down to 59 overnight. Jay wanted to work on the tile some more, but the rain would start every time he ventured out. A bobcat made a quick visit to the back yard, then sat for a long time on the wall under the eucalyptus in the back, washing his face and keeping a watch out for an unwary cottontail. The warm weather has made many of the plants think spring is here and little shoots of new growth are everywhere. The brittlebush along the driveway is starting to look prosperous again. Of the two I planted in the back yard one looks completely gone while the other is doing okay, at least looking alive. The one I moved to the Triangle Park is absolutely huge! What a little shade and water will do. The cardinal is now coming more regularly to the feeder, so I’ll try to keep some sunflower seed out for him. It’s been weeks and weeks since he had been seen in the yard. I was so excited to see him at the feeder. Caught a glimpse of a male cardinal in the neighborhood yesterday also.

January 25 – After the rain on Friday, all the way home from the Museum Martha and I were in awe of the most amazing rainbow, brilliant from end to end, joined by a second fainter one. It looked like we could reach out and touch it. Once home, I took some photos, which can’t help but disappoint. There’s just no substitute for seeing some things in person. Another example – the Grand Canyon! Butterflies visiting – a painted lady and an American Snout. With the clear, warm weather, it was a good time to do some more work on the tile project. Today we finished the tiles around the ‘window’ on the north wall, and the gate also on the north side of the house. We discovered we’re one tile short after deciding to slightly enlarge the project. Seems silly to drive all the way to the tile shop on Speedway to buy one lousy $1.20 tile. Some lovely natural yard art – these seed pods of the hesperaloe, looking like they should be decorating a wreath. Tiny lizards scurry everywhere in the yard, and sit happily sunning on the rocks.

January 27 – The Talavera tile work was finished yesterday, in a chilly, blustery wind. They look wonderful and now I’m anxious to get the wall painted and finished. I think we did 15 insets and ended up making three trips to the tile store. I would like to do a mosaic on my bench, but it’s hard to talk Jay into projects these days. Once he gets started he enjoys it, but the getting started part is quite difficult. Watched two soaring red tailed hawks on our walk this morning, coming down close then rising high above (a mating dance?). Also on the walk I took some shots of the amazing Boojum tree in our neighborhood. Would I love to have it in my yard! It’s quite chilly again today, mostly clear and breezy.

January 29 – The hummingbirds are coming in large numbers in this cold weather, and two nights ago at the feeders there were at least ten birds feeding and hovering. It was cool to see 5 sitting on the feeder at one time. I’m just ecstatic about having them here again after the bee banishment. Retrieving the paper yesterday morning I caught sight of a large bird in the eucalyptus in front. He was watching me closely, but waited patiently while I got my binoculars and camera. One shot and a quick look in the glasses and the beautiful big red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) was off. Lows down to freezing the last two nights, but not below. I’ve decided on replacing the two cape honeysuckle bushes at the north end of the pool wall that were given to us by Dan and Bernadette Stein, the former owners of the house. They look scraggly and unattractive most of the year, finally putting out a nice bloom in October or so, and then freezing back to the ground. The replacements, I hope, will be bear grass and chuparosa. I wish I had put chuparosa in the new area instead of the salvia which never gets very large.