Flight of the Hummers

Hummingbird sits on a salvia.  Copyright Ann Carranza, September 2009.

No, I’m not speaking of the vehicles.

This evening I watched three hummingbirds flit and chase each other around and around a flower bed.  Their frantic high-pitched cheeps let me know they were serious and this wasn’t a game.  They kept at this “hummer-war” for a good thirty minutes before I finally walked away.  Their energy is amazing.  One of them even swooped by my head as I was taking photos.

It’s all about attitude

Barn owl from the Bird Rescue Center of Sonoma County

I went to the Windsor (California) Arts and Crafts Fair today, with my photographs and photographic products (luggage/backpack tags), but got rained out a little after noon.  However, serendipity still finds me; while I was quite disappointed to have to “close shop,” I was still given the gift of a photographic opportunity.  The Bird Rescue Center of Sonoma County was at the Windsor Farmers’ Market with a display of their work, as well as two gorgeous raptors—a great-horned owl and a barn owl.

Several of my best photographs are of barn and screech owls; and I was thankful to be able to take a number of shots of new owl subjects and adding a great-horned owl to my photographic portfolio.  They are magnificent creatures, in beautiful condition, lively and alert.  The barn owl kept trying to slip his jesses and fly into the nearby trees.

While my window of opportunity was short because of my vendor responsibilities, I was fortunate enough to take some great portraits of these two venerable birds.

Now, a plug for the Bird Rescue Center of Sonoma County (707-523-2473):  Alida Morzenti, Former Director of the U.C. Davis Raptor Center, and a “well-known and sought after expert in the field of Raptor biology” is giving a free five-part series of lectures on the “Natural History of Raptors.”  While the first presentation was last Friday, the next four lectures are going to be given on Fridays, Sept. 18, 25, Oct. 2 and 9, at 7 p.m., Church of the Roses, 2500 Patio Court, Santa Rosa.

(A big thank you to Marit, for spelling me at my booth, while leaving hers to family members, so I could take photos—you are a blessing in my life.)


Great-horned owl, Bird Rescue Center of Sonoma County; Copyright Ann Carranza, Sept. 2009

It ain’t over ’til it’s over.

Even though the garden is showing the ravages of a time-worn summer, we have been given the great gift of plants newly coming into harvest.  We planted in March, reaped much of our harvest in early July (an abundance of corn, a few green beans, squash, tomatoes, chiles, and a couple of bell peppers). The bean plants died back after giving a handful of wizened beans, and we lost the squash plants then, too.  The onions didn’t do at all well.  The second planting of onions doesn’t like me any better than the first, and I am left feeling like crying over underdeveloped onions, leeks, and scallions.   I have yet to discover my problem with them. I am consoled by my first experience with garlic, however.  I had beautiful garlic—I wish I had planted a quadruple quantity of it.  I’ll be planting in late October, or early November, and try the onions, again, too.

My, my ever-so-hardworking hubby replanted corn after first harvest, and our corn is standing tall and gorgeous, even though we didn’t get complete germination of the planted seeds. Tucked in among the corn, the new beans are beautiful—riotously so.  We have a rainbow of bean colors and ate the first of them tonight.  Two shades of green, creamy yellow, and deep purple “green” beans were lovingly washed, cut into bite-sized pieces, sautéed with onions, chiles, and two kinds of summer squash.  I turned them into a skillet frittata with some delicious organic, humanely-raised chicken eggs.  Yum.  Double yum.  Dinner’s all done.

The cucumbers had to be replanted but we are getting generous numbers of Armenian cukes, now, a few tiny watermelons, and several kinds of squash.  The carrots are dallying, the strawberry bed is filling out (we had several pints this summer, but will have more as the bed fills in).  We anticipate the day when our avocado trees will start producing, perhaps in another two years.  We get to harvest our first asparagus next spring!  Blessed, blessed anticipation of harvest, even while enjoying the waning of this one.

The tomatoes are still giving abundantly, though the poor plants look their seasonal age (about 95-years-old, after a lifetime of sunburns)—cherry, black plum, and Roma tomatoes vie for my attention. We’ll probably get plenty of them through October, unless an early frost cuts them down.  I still have the opportunity to can the tomatoes I have promised myself to preserve since July. The chiles have been sparse and not picante at all.  And, all of a sudden, both the bell pepper plants and the chiles pasillas plants have uncountable numbers of small fruits.  I want someone to explain their late arrival to me.

Tonight, we invited the neighbors over for a harvest visit, to share the bounty of figs, tomatoes, and peaches.  It is such a delight to share what we produce on our little city lot.

Eat lots of fruits and vegetables. Grow your own.  Buy organic. Buy local.  Enjoy your famers’ market.  Savor your seasonal food.

Bountiful blossoms, beautiful butterflies

Western tailed blue in Healdsburg garden

Western tailed blue in Healdsburg garden

We have flowers. Lantana, dianthus, buddleia, hibiscus, salvias, lilies, rose mallow, poppies, alyssum, ceanothus, and more, have given us a bountiful blessing of blossoms since the early months of 2009.  There was no long “gap time” in our yard this year when we didn’t have something in bloom.

The show becomes even more vibrant as “flying flowers”—the butterflies—dance, play, and swoop their way through the gardens.  I’ve (perhaps tentatively in some cases) identified nine unique species this year.  I’ve only been able to take a stab at identification because I’ve captured them digitally.  When they’re on the wing, especially the tiny ones, I don’t have the slightest chance of identifying them.

Butterflies capture our imaginations and delight us with their silent flight—some, like the Western tiger swallowtail—drift through the yard daily, about the same time, but never alight for digital capture.  The skippers, however, are a fast-forward ballet of joy—one, two, a half-dozen, flit and flirt, circle and alight, and cross-pollinate the flowers all the while.

Were all these delightful butterflies always in my yard, and I’ve become more observant, or is it that the plantings we’ve done over the last year are incredibly fruitful.  I don’t know—but the delight I find in the “flight of the flowers” gives me joy every day.

Butterfly list:

Acmon blue

Cabbage white

Common buckeye

Common checkered skipper

Mournful duskywing

Painted lady

Western-tailed blue

Western tiger swallowtail

Woodland skipper

Garden treasure

Southern California Alligator Lizard

The door bursts open and the shouting begins—bring the camera, hurry, hurry!  Saying, I’ll call you back, I drop the phone to the computer table and rush for my favorite visual recorder.  I walk out the open front door into the blazing hot sun and find Leonel standing on the dry patch of short weeds that passes as our “lawn.”  He gestures to the area where he’d been uprooting banana trees.  I turn, saying what? And there in all her glory lies a 15-inch long Southern California alligator lizard.  I drop to the stoop, camera viewfinder at my eye…zoom, snap, zoom, snap.  I fire shots off in rapid succession.

Then she runs, under the gleaming white rocks that line the soon-to-be front flower bed, and with a flick of her long tail, she’s gone from sight. I stand to search for her, and manage to spot her again, jammed against the house, almost sideways, while she scrambles for purchase against the smooth cement foundation.  She disappears again and Leonel begins moving rocks to find her.  I point to the spot I last saw her; he lifts the rock and there she is.  Scurrying into the diatomaceous earth she wriggles under some more rocks.

I panic.  Catch her, Leonel, catch her.  He looks confused—don’t you want more photos?  I reply that I am afraid the diatomaceous earth will dry her skin and harm her—so he jumps forward, and misses.  She thrusts herself under some more rocks and her head pops out by the porch.  I shout at him, “Here she is!” while dancing around, afraid she’ll run at me.  He again jumps forward and she darts down the steps, I stand in her way until she gets close and I jump back. He finally grabs her—and she turns to bite him.  He lets go and I start laughing. Hysteria taking over.

Observant neighbors, thinking we’re nutty, ease closer to their phones.

Wearing baggy cutoff sweat shorts and untied shoes and holding the shorts up with one hand and with my hair in knots, I am an interesting spectacle.  At least Leonel appears normal in his work clothes.  The yard hacked up from the banana removal looks as if giant gophers have been working industriously for days.

I dash (as far as I am capable of dashing—more like lumbering) for a bucket.  I rush to Leonel’s side.  She’s now trapped under a rock and he’s afraid of crushing her when he moves the rock.  I hold the bucket in front of the rock and squint my eyes.  I want no part of squished lizard. She flies out from under the rock and he lightly flicks her toward the bucket—she misses. Plop. He flicks again and she lands squarely in the pail.  I start to carry her to the side yard to put her in the garden but he comes at me with the hose. Leonel says we’ll turn her loose in the woodpile but first let’s wash her off.  The hose sprays with enough force to put out a fire.  I screech. Softly, softly, you’re going to smash her.  The water rinses her clean of the powdery residue and as I slide her gently from the bucket onto the weed patch near the woodpile, I start snapping again.

The look in her yellow eye, tells me she is less than happy with us; however, she graciously allows me more photos before she slides elegantly and sibilantly into the weeds and disappears under a chunk of firewood to plot revenge.