Mallards in May

Every year our two wild mallards linger in our chemical-free pond.  They mate, Mrs. Mallard disappears for awhile, returns with very small ducklings and… they all die within days. Why? She hasn’t been a great mama. She runs them around too much, doesn’t preen them or give them time to eat. So this year when she showed up with four ducklings I didn’t even want to take photos of them. Who knows how many she began with? But these ducklings were a little older and larger than other batches had been. And they survived. They weren’t eaten by the bullfrogs in the pond, or snatched by birds, or neglected by mama. We put out wild game bird food to help them along, but Mrs. Mallard has taught them how to dabble for vegetation (they eat mostly greens).The ducklings make a ‘weep-weep’ sound when they are asking for food. One day she repeatedly dove and came up under them, and then swam underwater to the other side of the pond and back: she was teaching them how to swim underwater! Now these babies have lost their downy feathers and are growing in their primaries. They’ll be off soon, hopefully to return. Mr. Mallard has been keeping an eye on Mrs. Mallard; he sometimes pushes the babies out of the way of the food, for which we chastise him greatly. His breeding plumage is holding so if the young fly off soon, he might try for a second mating this season. Meanwhile, Mama Mallard looks pretty smug. 

Over 97% of California’s wetlands are completely gone, and what’s left is compromised by roads, pollution and management. Those billions of animals and trillions of insects which depended upon those wetlands have mostly died off, or make do with chlorinated water from the billions of swimming pools and bird baths they can find. The wildlife you see is a tiny remnant of what should be here.

To have a pond with rain water or well water in it, cleaned by fish and plants rather than chemicals, is to have a haven for wildlife. Good water is diverse with life, just as good soil is, and instead of drinking wet chemicals animals can drink water that is imbued with nutrients. The thousands of insects, reptiles, amphibians, mammals, marsupials and birds that use our pond are healthy because the water is not chlorinated. If you can put any size of pond – even in barrels – using rainwater and cleaned by plants and fish, you’ll be doing wildlife and yourself a service.

And here’s our ducklings dabbling for greens this morning: 

Ducklings!

Mrs. Mallard returned today, introducing her very young ducklings to our pond!

Mrs. Mallard returned today, introducing her very young ducklings to our pond!

Mrs. and Mr. Mallard really love our pond, and have adopted us for several years.  She had tried to nest on land here, even up by our garage which is a long walk from the pond, but the eggs were always destroyed in the night. Last year she returned with four young, which all disappeared quickly.  They were probably food to bullfrogs, birds, rats or other creatures.  It was very sad.

Some are standing on lily pads!!!

Some are standing on lily pads!!!

This year Mrs. Mallard went through her usual breeding time with Mr. Mallard, then disappeared, and then reappeared without ducklings.  We figured that her brood hadn’t been successful and that was that for this year.  Mr. Mallard has been losing his mating plumage, and she hadn’t been visiting.  Miranda and I figured that she was enjoying herself elsewhere.  Today as I worked outdoors I passed by the pond and to my astonishment there was Mrs. Mallard and seven adorable ducklings!  These babes are only a few days old.  She would have had to lead them walking from wherever her nest was, and somehow navigate a chain-link fence! At first she was cautious because I was talking to her excitedly and taking photos.

She watched me carefully, but then decided I was still safe and led them ashore.

She watched me carefully, but then decided I was still safe and led them ashore.

I calmed myself down and went about my work, and on one of my trips past the pond she gave me a decided look and then quickly led her brood out of the big pond just in front of me and paraded them across to the little pond.  The babies had their first sample of duckweed.

As these ponds have no chemical treatments, are topped off with rain and well water and cleaned by the plants and fish, the water is wonderful for wildlife.  They can bathe, eat and drink without ingesting or absorbing chemicals.  Good water is as microbially diverse as good soil, and all those microscopic critters are food, protection and healthy flora for all the creatures that flock to these ponds.

Later I noticed her crouched in the bog by the big pond, with all of her young out of sight underneath her. I looked around for a predator, but saw that Mr. Mallard was on the duck island and she was uncertain of him.  I stood watching them, ready to protect her. Finally he noticed her, and all went well.  A little later they were sitting together, still with no babes in sight.

The ducklings are safely tucked under mama in case dad has other ideas.

The ducklings are safely tucked under mama in case dad has other ideas.

I heard him fly off, probably to join some other males for some companionship.

Mrs. Mallard led her young across the pond and right to the floating duck island that is anchored in the middle of the pond.

Mrs. Mallard heads for the duck island for the evening.  Smart mama!

Mrs. Mallard heads for the duck island for the evening. Smart mama!

This island has a board down the middle and loose plants stuck in without soil.  It is a remediation float as well, cleaning the water as it floats.

Everything is so new, especially this island!

Everything is so new, especially this island!

Miranda and I were worried that the little ducklings wouldn’t be able to get aboard the raft, but they had no trouble.

This little one is so tempted to get back in the water, but he or she resists.  Its been a tiring day.

This little one is so tempted to get back in the water, but he or she resists. Its been a tiring day.

Taking a last longing look at the water, which he only learned the existence of today.

Taking a last longing look at the water, which he only learned the existence of today.

The ducklings are in an array of colors, from light yellow and grey to all dark.

The ducklings are in an array of colors, from light yellow and grey to all dark.

Almost everyone is tucked under for the night.

Almost everyone is tucked under for the night.

After exploring a little, falling off a few times and grooming themselves, they tucked under their very good mama for a warm and safe sleep.  Squeee!

Safely afloat, Mrs. Mallard and children are tucked away for the night, safe from coyotes, raccoons, rats and snakes.

Safely afloat, Mrs. Mallard and children are tucked away for the night, safe from coyotes, raccoons, rats and snakes.

October Garden

A huge dragonfruit; this kind is white inside.

A huge dragonfruit; this kind is white inside.

October is one of my favorite months, even when we’re on fire here in Southern California.  This year we’ve been saved, and October is moderate in temperature and lovely.

A volunteer kabocha squash vining its way through a bush.

A volunteer kabocha squash vining its way through a bush.

Our first ripeing macadamia harvest from a 3 year old tree, with a dragonfriuit snaking through.

Our first ripeing macadamia harvest from a 3 year old tree, with a dragonfriuit snaking through.

Edible hibiscus, volunteer nasturtiums and pathway across the rain catchment basin.

Edible hibiscus, volunteer nasturtiums and pathway across the rain catchment basin.

Into the wisteria-covered Nest.

Into the wisteria-covered Nest.

Summer has lost her vicious grip and we have time until the holiday rush and winter cold.  Finch Frolic Garden has withstood the heat, the dry, the inundations, the snow and the changes, all without chemicals or much human intervention.

Grasshopper freshly out of last instar.

Grasshopper freshly out of last instar.

The curly willow trellis.

The curly willow trellis.

We’ve lost some trees and shrubs this year, but that is mostly due to the faulty irrigation system which delivers too much or too little, and is out of sight underground.

Urbanite pathway.

Urbanite pathway.

Bulbs will pop up year round for wonderful surprises.

Bulbs will pop up year round for wonderful surprises.

Permaculture methods in sheet mulching, plant guilds, swales, rain catchment basins, and the use of canopy have pulled this garden through.

Loquat in bloom.

Loquat in bloom.

Bridge over currently dry streambed.

Bridge over currently dry streambed.

Bamboo bridge.

Bamboo bridge.

A gourd in a liquidamber.

A gourd in a liquidamber.

The birds, butterflies and other insects and reptiles are out in full force enjoying a safety zone.  A few days ago on an overcast morning, Miranda identified birds that were around us: nuthatches, crows, song sparrows, a Lincoln sparrow, spotted towhees, California towhees, a kingfisher, a pair of mallards, a raven, white crowned sparrows,  a thrush, lesser goldfinches, house finches, waxwings, robin, scrub jays, mockingbird, house wren, yellow rumped warbler, ruby crowned kinglet, and more that I can’t remember or didn’t see.

Squash!

Squash!

This birch has strange red fruit in its top boughs...

This birch has strange red fruit in its top boughs…

 

...a volunteer cherry tomato that is fruiting inconveniently ten feet up.

…a volunteer cherry tomato that is fruiting inconveniently ten feet up.

Birds have identified our property as a migratory safe zone.  No poisons, no traps.  Clean chemical-free pond water to drink.  Safety.

Squash and gourds happily growing out of the hugelkultur mound.

Squash and gourds happily growing out of the hugelkultur mound.

A surprise pumpkin hiding in the foliage.

A surprise pumpkin hiding in the foliage.

A huge and lovely gourd.

A huge and lovely gourd.

Vines taking advantage of vertical spaces by going up the trees.

Vines taking advantage of vertical spaces by going up the trees.

You can provide this, too, even in just a portion of your property.  The permaculture Zone 5.

Why did the gourd cross the road? To climb up a liquidamber, apparently.

Why did the gourd cross the road? To climb up a liquidamber, apparently.

A glimpse of pond through the withy hide

A glimpse of pond through the withy hide

Mouse melons on a tiny vine. More cucumber than melon, they grow to be olive-sized.

Mouse melons on a tiny vine. More cucumber than melon, they grow to be olive-sized.

Time for me to get in the water and trim back the waterlilies before the water temperature drops!

Time for me to get in the water and trim back the waterlilies before the water temperature drops!

Purple water lilies in the pond.

Purple water lilies in the pond.

I’m indulging in showing you photos from that overcast October morning, and I hope that you enjoy them.

Eden rose never fails.

Eden rose never fails.

Sweet potato vines escaping the veggie garden; the leaves are edible.

Sweet potato vines escaping the veggie garden; the leaves are edible.

See the long tan thing on the trunk? That's a zucchino rampicante, an Italian zucchini. Eat it green, or leave it to become a huge winter squash.

See the long tan thing on the trunk? That’s a zucchino rampicante, an Italian zucchini. Eat it green, or leave it to become a huge winter squash.

Violetta artichokes regrowing in our veggie garden, with a late eggplant coming up through sweet potato vines.

Violetta artichokes regrowing in our veggie garden, with a late eggplant coming up through sweet potato vines.

 

Saving the Bees

The ponds at Finch Frolic Garden are cleaned by fish and plants, with no chemicals, algaecide, artificial aeration or filtration.  Well-balanced water allows wildlife to thrive.

The ponds at Finch Frolic Garden are cleaned by fish and plants, with no chemicals, algaecide, artificial aeration or filtration. Well-balanced water allows wildlife to thrive.

I should have more accurately called this post, Saving All the Insects, or even Saving the Wildlife, because the answer to saving one is the answer to saving them all. We’ve been inundated for years – my whole lifetime, in fact, – with pleas to save our environment, stop whale slaughter, stop polluting, etc.  I remember winning a poster contest in fifth grade on the subject of curtailing littering.  Since Rachel Carson’s books woke people up to the hazards of DDT and how chemicals have many deadly side effects there has been a grassroots effort to stop the pollution.  Since Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth came out the push for environmentally friendly lights, cars, LEED-certified buildings and many more positive anti-climate-change actions have grown furiously.  Too bad no one listened to him decades before.  A drop in the economy and the radical change in weather patterns have people exploring organics, making their own clothes and foods, changing their shopping habits and thinking about what they are bringing into their homes.  However, this week the World Wildlife Fund released the staggering results of a study that states that between the years 1970 and 2010, 52% of the world’s animal populations are  gone.  Over half.  Gone.  On our watch.  In my lifetime. I am stunned with shame.  So what about the next 40 years?  Over 97% of California wetlands are already gone.  There are only 3% left in Los Angeles.  The Colorado River hasn’t met the ocean for decades, except briefly last year due to major earthworks.  We are pumping all that  water overland, open to the sun for evaporation,  to treatment plants that fill it with chlorine and other chemicals, then sell it to us to spray over lawns and flush down the toilet or let run down the drain while the water heats up.  It is madness.  All  the wildlife that depended upon the Colorado River along that stretch are gone.  All the insects, the frogs, lizards, birds, mammals, etc. that need a clean drink of water no longer have  access  to it.  The only water they can drink is usually chlorinated domestic water in ponds and bird baths.  Too often this water is treated with algaecide, which claims it doesn’t hurt frogs but it does kill what the frogs feed upon.  We are killing our animals with poisoned domestic water.dry_colorado_new[1]

One of the largest reasons we have extinctions in North America is mismanagement of rainwater in drylands (other than polluting the waters. Poaching, over-fishing, destruction of habitat and climate change are the main reasons).  We have cleared and flattened the ground, and channel rainwater off into the ocean.  Look around at your streets and houses.  Are they harvesting water or channeling it?  Any property that is slanted is channeling water away.  Any property that is level – like the bottom of swales – is harvesting water.  So many properties are inundated with annual rains because there is no water harvesting above them.  When you harvest water, it runs into rain catchment basins and swales instead of roaring down the hillside taking all the topsoil with it.  Water becomes passive and percolates down deeply into the soil.  That deep saturation draws tree roots down into the ground.  The roots break up hardpan, make oxygen and nutrient channels into the dirt and produce exudates  (sugars, carbohydrates and starches) through their roots to attract and feed the billions of microbes that turn your dirt into rain-holding soil.  That underground plume of rainwater then slowly passes through your soil, re-enervating subterranean waterways, refilling your wells and bringing long-dry streambeds back to life.  We must harvest rainwater to save our animals and plants, and consequently ourselves.  We must reestablish sources of clean, unpolluted chemical-free water for animals to eat and from which to drink.

Healthy pond water is off-color due to tannins, and is filled with tiny creatures.  Some such as daphnia are visible, but just like soil microbes, many aquatic creatures are microscopic.  Fish and frogs feast from this level of the food chain, and these creatures make the water balanced.  They eat mosquito eggs.  They clean up algae.  They are as vitally important as soil microbes.  Oh, and 83% of the frogs are gone.

I spoke with Quentin Alexander from  HiveSavers today; he performs humane bee rescue around the San Diego area and has been trying to re-queen Africanized hives with calmer European queens which will breed nicer behavior back into the bees rather  than having to kill the entire hive.  He has had no luck in the past two  years with European queens, even those bred in California.  With very little wetlands left, and those often sprayed with DEET by Vector Control, or polluted with chemical fertilizers and oils washed out of front yards, streets and driveways, these insects must resort to drinking from swimming pools and bird baths.  Again, these contain highly chlorinated water.  Animals are being forced to drink poison, or not drink at all.

We MUST stop using chemicals on our properties, and we MUST harvest rainwater.  We MUST stop spraying well water into the air but irrigate with it in dripper form under mulch so that it is cycled back into the ground rather than evaporated.  One inch of rain on one acre in one hour is 27,154 gallons of water!  It is so easy to harvest rainwater – dig level-bottomed swales!  Dig small ones with a trowel.  Fire up the tractor and turn road ways into swales, or cross-cut vertical paths with swales that have dedicated overflows.  Dig rain catchment basins to catch a flow of water.  Catch water as high up on your property as you can.  If you have level soil, fantastic!  You have it so easy!  Make gentle swales, rain gardens, rain catchment areas and sunken gardens to catch and percolate the water.  Bury old wood perpendicular to water flow – its called hugelkultur

Please watch this six-minute video by Geoff Lawton of the Permaculture Design Institute of Australia.  You need to type in your name and email, but they don’t sell your information nor do they bug you with lots of emails.  Here  is the link.  The title is Finding An Oasis in the American Desert, and it is about the Roosevelt swales dug during the dust bowl in the desert.  If nothing that I say, nor anyone else says can convince you, then please watch this and see the effectiveness of rain harvesting.  We MUST do this, and now before the rains come is the time.  Catch all the water that falls on your property in the soil, and try to catch the water that runs into it.  If there are flood waters channeled through your property, see if you can talk to the people who own land above you about harvesting water up there.  It will reduce the flooding, save topsoil and benefit everyone’s property.  Work towards keeping rainwater in your soil, reducing your domestic water, and making what streambeds are left come back to life.  Keep our old trees from dying by watering deeply through rain catchment.  If you have a pond or swimming pool and treat it with harsh chemicals and algaecides, seek out a natural pond professional.  In the San Diego – Los Angeles region there is Bob Lloyd of PuraVida Aquatics, or Jacob Hatch of Hatch Aquatics.  Jacob builds natural ponds and maintains large natural waterways.  Bob maintains chemical-free backyard and display ponds that are full of wildlife.  He can convert your pool into a clean swimming pond where the water is filtered by plants and thus is lovely year-round, provides abundant habitat and doesn’t need chemical treatments.  No chlorine to burn your skin and eyes.  How great is that? He can also create a constructed wetland that cleans your greywater with plants.

There are so many simple and inexpensive ways to harvest rainwater rather than allow it to flow into the salty ocean without penetrating the soil.  Please, please, please do them, and if you already have THANK YOU and gently encourage your neighbors to do the same.  We must stop the habitat destruction and start to rebuild what is gone.

Special Tours for Aug. and Sept., 2014

Come take a tour of a food forest!

Come take a tour of a food forest!

Normally tours of Finch Frolic Garden are held by appointment for groups of 5 – 15 people, Thursdays – Mondays.  Cost is $10 per person and the tour lasts about two hours.  By popular demand, for those who don’t have a group of five or more, we will be hosting Open Tour days for the first 15 people to sign up in August and September.   They will be Sunday, August 10 and 24, Sept. 7 and 21, and Thursdays August 7 and 28, and Sept. 11 and 25.  Tours begin promptly at 10 am.  The tours last about two hours and are classes on basic permaculture while we tour the food forest.  I ask $10 per person. Please reserve and receive directions through dianeckennedy@prodigy.net.  Children under 10 are free; please, no pets.  Photos but no video are allowed. Thank you for coming to visit!  Diane and Miranda

Permaculture Lectures At Finch Frolic Garden, June 2014

Tour Finch Frolic Garden!

Tour Finch Frolic Garden!

Permaculture Lectures in the Garden!

Learn how to work with nature and save money too

Finch Frolic Garden and Hatch Aquatics will present four fantastic, information-filled lectures in June.  Join us at beautiful Finch Frolic Garden in Fallbrook, 4 pm to 6 pm, for refreshments and talks on…

Saturday, June 7: Introduction to Permaculture and Finch Frolic Tour: We’ll take you through the main precepts of permaculture and how it can be applied not only to your garden, but to yourself and your community.  Then we’ll tour Finch Frolic Garden and show rain catchments, swales, plant guilds, polyculture, living buildings and so much more.

Saturday, June 14: Your Workers in the Soil and Earthworks: Learn the best methods for storing water in the soil and how to replace all your chemicals with actively aerated compost tea and compost.

Saturday, June 21: Aquaculture: You can have a natural pond – even in a tub!  How natural ponds work, which plants clean water and which are good to eat.  Even if you don’t want a pond, you’ll learn exciting information about bioremediation and riparian habitat.

Saturday, June 28: Wildlife in your Garden: What are all those bugs and critters and what they are doing in your yard?  We’ll discuss how to live with wildlife and the best ways to attract beneficial species.

Your hosts and lecturers will be

Jacob Hatch  Owner of Hatch Aquatics. With years of installing and maintaining natural ponds and waterways, and a Permaculture Design Course graduate, Jacob has installed earthworks with some of the biggest names in permaculture.

Miranda Kennedy  OSU graduate of Wildlife Conservation and wildlife consultant, Miranda photographs and identifies flora and fauna and maps their roles in backyard ecosystems.

Diane Kennedy  Owner of Finch Frolic Garden, lecturer, consultant, Permaculture Design Course graduate, former SDC Senior Park Ranger, Diane educates homeowners on how to save money and the environment while building their dream gardens.

Each class limit is 50 attendees, so please make pre-paid reservations soon before they fill up.  Fee for set of four lectures and tour is $45 per person.  Single session fee is $20 per person. Contact Diane Kennedy at dianeckennedy@prodigy.net for reservations and directions.

 

      You will not want to miss this fascinating and useful information!

Happy Easter!

Heirloom irises from my good friend Jean are blooming.

Heirloom irises from my good friend Jean are blooming.

A Western fence lizard suns and guards his territory atop a clary sage leaf.  See the flash of blue under his chin to attract the ladies?

A Western fence lizard suns and guards his territory atop a clary sage leaf. See the flash of blue under his chin to attract the ladies?

This green calla lily is gorgeous.

This green calla lily is gorgeous.

Framed by curly willow from the Withy Bird Hide, two drakes swim in the pond on Easter morning.

Framed by curly willow from the Withy Bird Hide, two drakes swim in the pond on Easter morning.

Sweet peas are still blooming.  They hold the permaculture precept of everything having three purposes: they are nitrogen fixers, they are edible, and they are gorgeous.

Sweet peas are still blooming. They hold the permaculture precept of everything having three purposes: they are nitrogen fixers, they are edible, and they are gorgeous.

A fancy drake who showed up this morning.

A fancy drake who showed up this morning.

The irises surrounding the pond are spectacular right now.  Blue, dark blue and yellow flag.

The irises surrounding the pond are spectacular right now. Blue, dark blue and yellow flag.

Baby bunny has been growing out his ears. He's enjoying a warm dirt bath.

Baby bunny has been growing out his ears. He’s enjoying a warm dirt bath.

Mulan has gone broody.  Such a large chicken puddles out over the wooden egg she's trying to hatch.  We're feeding her an oatmeal mixture in a dish because she won't come down during the day.

Mulan has gone broody. Such a large chicken puddles out over the wooden egg she’s trying to hatch. We’re feeding her an oatmeal mixture in a dish because she won’t come down during the day.

Easter breakfast.  Hard boiled eggs, naturally colored by our hens, fresh tangerine juice, our traditional stollen from my mother's recipe, and Peanut in his chicky robe ready to launch into the food.  Peanut doesn't act his age, of about 40+ years, but has traveled and been photographed extensively in Europe and Ecuador.   Its nice that he wakes up for holidays.

Easter breakfast. Hard boiled eggs, naturally colored by our hens, fresh tangerine juice, our traditional stollen from my mother’s recipe, and Peanut in his chicky robe ready to launch into the food. Peanut doesn’t act his age, of about 40+ years, but has traveled and been photographed extensively in Europe and Ecuador. Its nice that he wakes up for holidays.

 

San Diego Permaculture Convergence, Nov. 9 – 10, 2013

There is a fantastic, information-packed permaculture convergence coming up at the beautiful Sky Mountain Institute in Escondido. Converge_Flyer_1_It will be two days packed with great information for a very reasonable price; in fact, scholarships are available.  Check out the website at convergence@sdpermies.com. On that Sunday I’ll be teaching a workshop about why its so important to plant native plants, how to plant them in guilds using fishscale swales and mini-hugelkulturs.  Come to the convergence and be inspired!

New Bog

Steve demostrating years of expertise by finessing this large piece of equipment.

Steve demostrating years of expertise by finessing this large piece of equipment.

Last week a new bog area was added to the main pond.  The first bog area was dug by hand, created so that there would be a shallow, flat habitat for wading birds and tadpoles.

Preparing to start.

Preparing to start.

This is called adding edge, which is an important component of any permaculture design.  The first bog is connected to the series of rain catchment basins and now is the link between rain overflow system and the large pond.  This year no rainwater left the property; it was all captured.  Edge areas in both water and plant design provide more sun and growth areas than a round or straight design.  More interesting things happen on the edge.

Gentle scraping with the bucket to discover where the subterranean irrigation lines were without stretching them.

Gentle scraping with the bucket to discover where the subterranean irrigation lines were without stretching them.

 

This new bog area was dug by a tractor that I’d shared rental with a friend.  It took a large mound of dirt and filled in some dips, leveling a walking and working area.

Another, cross-pond view of the new bog.

Another, cross-pond view of the new bog.

Steve, who among his many talents is also a heavy equipment operator, did a terrific job grading and then expanding the pond.  A small problem is that he found some more porous soil with the clay, so the water level on the pond dropped.

Water is filling in.

Water is filling in.

We’re seeing how far it goes down to tell if the seepage is occurring on the edge or on the bottom of the new area.  Once found, we’ll move extra clay over and tamp it all in.

The first, hand-dug bog now filling with plants.

The first, hand-dug bog now filling with plants.

Plants Jacob has put into the first bog include graceful cattails, which are a dwarf cattail that isn’t so invasive, iris, rushes, watercress, and some Mexican waterlily.

Sophie admiring the first bog.

Sophie admiring the first bog.

Very soon the plants will cover the bog areas providing excellent cover for many animal species which… wait for it… live on the edge.

Waiting to see how it sealed and then ready for planting.

Waiting to see how it sealed and then ready for planting.

Fall Morning

 

The birdwatching garden.

I use the kitchen table as a work center, but spend a lot of time not working.  That is because from the big dusty windowseat, through the spiderwebs that catch sunlight in the corners of the glass I watch a fairytale of animals.  Song sparrows with their formal stripes and classy single black breast spot hop along the uneven flagstone walkway.  The walkway, recently weeded, is again being compromised by sprouts.  The small pond wears a heavy scarf of peppermint along its north side, and a mixture of fescues and waterplants around the south.  A waterlily bravely floats pads on the still water after having been drastically thinned last month.  A calla lily opens partially white, partially green.

Below the window in a dish of seed set low for ground feeders are house finches, the males’ proud red fading like the leaves of the Japanese maple behind the green bench.  Lesser goldfinches skeletonize the leaves of sunflowers that have sprouted from birdseed; a nuthatch and a mountain chickadee take turns on the hanging suet feeder, both noisy and reminding me of pine forests.  A pair of crows who have lived near this garden for years, but who have been about other business during the summer, are reunited on the telephone line.  She grooms his feathers and he leans into her.  I’ll have to put treats out for them, to keep on their good side.  A Nutall’s woodpecker looks like a childhood toy by hopping straight up the big pine.   I grin a welcome to a couple of white crowned sparrows, the forefront of the migratory flock.  These spirited and chatty birds shuffle leaves onto my walkway every morning, and I quite happily sweep the leaves back for the next round.  It is a ritual just between us.  A young scrub jay swoops in with much show, seeing how big a reaction he can get from startling the smaller birds clustering at the feeders or taking warm dirtbaths. He lands on a small trellis and pecks out seeds from a sunflower I propped up after its yellow glory faded.  Finches visit when he leaves and take their share of this high protein food.

House finch nabbing sunflower seeds ( photo taken through a dirty window! Sorry!)

The outside water is turned off; I should be on my knees in mud down by the chicken coop right now fixing a break in the pipe but I am held here by the autumnal light. Even in the morning it slants at a kinder angle, bringing out the gold in the leaves. Later when the water resumes the dripper on the bird bath will start and sparrows, finches, towhees and random visitors will sip drinks and take cleansing baths.  One of my favorite sights is watching a group of finches taking turns in the bath, daring each other to stay longer and become wetter.  Their splashing sends a cascade of drops into the sunlight.  They give Finch Frolic its name.  Now the only visitors are honeybees taking water to hydrate their honey.  I emphathize with these bees.  Only the older females do the pollen gathering, carrying heavy loads in their leg sacks back to the hive until they die in flight.  A useful life, but a strenuous and unimaginative one.

Perhaps  today there will also be a house sparrow, or a common yellowthroat or a disagreeable California towhee, what everyone knows as a ’round headed brown bird’.  Or maybe the mockingbird will revisit the pyracantha berries, staking them out as his territory while finches steal them behind his back.  I hear the wrentit’s bouncey-ball call, but as they can throw their voices I usually don’t spot them.  Annas hummingbirds spend all their energy guarding the feeders, stopping to peer into the window to see if I’m a threat.  My black cat Rosie O’Grady stares back, slowly hunching, mouth twitching with a soft kecking sound as if she could hunt through a window. I see that the hanging tray of grape jelly needs to be taken in and washed because the orioles have all migrated. Rosie is given up by the hummingbird and instead she watches cat TV as the birds shuffle in the Mexican primrose below the window.

I don’t see either of the bunnies this morning, Primrose or Clover.  They live under the rosemary bush, and perhaps in the large pile of compost in the corner of the yard.  I’ve watched them nibble the invasive Bermuda grass, and pull down stalks of weedy sow thistle and eat the flowers and seeds.  They do no harm here, and are helping with the weeding; I love watching them lope around the pathways living in cautious peace.

Unseen by me by where I sit, mosquito fish, aquatic snails, dragonfly larvae, strange worms and small Pacific chorus frogs hang out in the pond and under the overhanging lips of flagstone I placed there just for them.   Under the plants are Western fence lizards big and small awaiting warmth from the sun to heat up the rocks so they may climb the highest stone in their territory and posture while the heat quickens their blood.  A mouse scurries between plants, capturing bits of birdseed scattered by the messy sparrows.  The soil is good here, full of worms and microbes and fungus.  Everything is full of life, if you only know how to look for it.  You can smell it.  You can feel it.

Now comes the spotted towhee, black headed with white patterns on his wings and reddish sides.  Once called the rufous-sided towhee, he is bold and handsome, his call a long brash too-weeet.  He sassily zig-zags down the narrow flagstone pathway looking for bugs.

Spotted Towhee grubbing in his fancy clothes, so bright after a molt.

I haven’t seen the rat family for a few days.  The four youngsters invade the hanging feeders, tossing each other off and being juvenile delinquents.  At night I hear the screech of a barn owl, which might be my answer.

The oxblood lilies – always a surprise during the dry and the heat of September, have almost all faded, but sprouts of paper white narcissus are beginning to break ground.  They are Fall flowers here, usually done by Thanksgiving.

It is Fall.  Finally.  The world of my garden is tired and ready for a rest from the heat, the mating, the child rearing, the dryness, the search for diminishing food, the hiding so as not to become food.  Although the days here are still in the high 80’s the evenings bring coolness and a much-needed dampness.  Rain won’t come until November or later.  But we wait for it, the animals, the plants and I.  And time passes as I sit at the table and watch.  I know of no better way to spend an autumn morning.