Owl in Good Time

Delightfully, the streambed wildlife camera has also been picking up an adorable owl visitor these last couple of months. Western Screech Owls (Megascops kennicottii) are certainly present in the area, but much less common to see than Barns and Great Horneds — they’re more reclusive than those much larger species, hunting mostly different prey and small enough to be at risk from larger raptors themselves. The ones on our property have made themselves known by the distinctive “po-po”, ping-pong-ball-bouncing call that only ever rises up from the tangle of trees in the streambed. We’ve only seen one in person on the property once, when a tour stop under the Big Oak above the stream woke it from its chance nap inside the disheveled old owl box dangling from a branch.

But we seem to have at least one — apparently very dirty — screech owl hanging around this summer, taking baths at the camera point at least a couple times a week. And it’s just the cutest darn thing.

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“I meant to do that.”

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A very imperfect ablutioner.

Here in lower elevation areas of Southern California, screeches stick near waterways because those habitats are where we have large trees; as cavity nesters that have adapted to have cryptic coloration and patterning that allows them to blend in with bark, large trees are essential. Happily, we have some big trees extant and growing in our little slot of land. And we have a number of conservation organizations locally who are working to preserve wild land and especially land connected to waterways, as these are always areas of higher species density and diversity. And they say that Western Screech Owls readily use owl boxes made to their dimensions. Wish list!

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Bath interrupted by a sphinx moth. Crane flies also make cameos.

August at Finch Frolic

Black Beauty zucchini.

This year Finch Frolic has been particularly beautiful. Of course, this year we had to close down throughout the spring. Fortunately we’ve been able to reopen for limited-capacity tours with safeties in place. However, I really miss sharing how lovely the garden is, and I want to let you have a little tour right in your home.

Little Marvel Popcorn. It tastes so good!

These photos were taken this morning before the temperature rose; its in the 90’sF here today, in North San Diego County. I apologize for the phone camera, as my good camera is in for repair. I only wish that you could also smell the moist mulch from the light overnight dew, or hear the clug-clug of the crow, the tittering of a flock of bushtits and the scuttling of lizards through leaves, which I experienced as I walked around the garden. All of these friends and so many hundreds more are working the garden today and every day, keeping it in balance.

A blue dasher dragonfly, one of many species that patrol for insects all over our property. Their larvae in our ponds look like little dragons, and they eat mosquito larvae as well. Watercress behind.

Our food forest is a low-water-use garden, on poor soil, using no additives to the ground other than occasional compost. There are no herbicides, pesticides or other factory-made chemicals used here, and there are two of us who care for the garden. Most of the seasonal beauty this year is due to the diligence of my daughter Miranda who took seed sprouting to a whole new level even before the pandemic arrived. We rely heavily on the insects, birds, lizards, frogs, soil and water microbes and creatures to do all the work protecting the plants, and the plants themselves to create good soil. All we add is a low dose of salty well water which the humus cleans, and leaves or sheet mulch on top. Our fruit trees receive a dose of blender compost once in awhile. Miranda and I hope that these photos bring you peace and lift your spirits, and that knowing you are looking at a safe habitat that is thriving with life gives you a feeling of security as well. It can be done. Permaculture must be done. Best of health! Diane

From the driveway looking down the main pathway into the garden.
Lorenziana Gaillardia, to feed the pollinators.
Rock steps cross the large rain catchment basin. Sycamore leaves protect the soil from the heat.
Our new orchard, with beans trained up a teepee over a fruit tree, and tomato cages behind.
Our old Ca. Live Oak. Oaks are home to over 300 species of bird and insect.
Our jasmine-covered gate in the sun.
Resting place, made from recycled wood.
Figs! Panache Striped Tiger.
Dawn through the birch trees, with Naked Lady amaryllis blooming behind the blackberries.
Our small bamboo bridge next to our little pond.
Dawn through an olive tree.
A native mallow wildly blooming over a bamboo footbridge Miranda just built.
Black Krim.
A plant guild combines plants with different functions for the benefit of all.
The Torch Tithonia is over 5′ tall, and butterflies and birds love it. A plum, squash and orange tree in the foreground.
We pollarded our willow trellis in January, and these tall interesting limbs are waiting for some creative project to arise.
Kabocha squash.
An army worm taking a sleep in a mallow flower.
We grow the timber bamboo, and eat it, too!
This beauty is a carrot, Lunar White, allowed to go to seed. Gorgeous and great food for our tiny native insects.
Lorenziana Gaillardia.
Straw flower and carrot.
Apples do very well in hot weather. Cripps Two.
Red Kuri squash vine past the seating.
A whole mess of Naked Ladies!
Tall Double Mix strawflowers, (Helichrysum bracteatum).
The Withy Hide, or willow hut.
Hard to believe that these massive trees grew so quickly. It has everything to do with water capture in the soil.
This stump has personality! Brachychiton rupestris, Australian Bottle Tree.
The leaf cover makes this rain catchment basin look full.
California sycamore, 8 years old.
A covered bridge over the rain catchment system.

Aphid Predators II

A WALK ON THE TINY SIDE

Remember this image of a sneaky syrphid fly larvae? Well, what I didn’t point out before was that there’s an even sneakier attendee at this aphid-nomming party. And she’s that little black line across the white leaf vein in the top middle of the photo: a parasitoid wasp.

Parasitoid wasps are pretty full-on — their simple life functions can include grotesqueries you thought only originated in the imaginations of sci-fi script writers. But they’re part of the complex web of ecological checks and balances in their systems.

The difference between parasitic and parasitoid is that a parasitic animal generally doesn’t kill or even directly seriously harm the host; it needs the host to continue functioning so that it can support the parasite. A parasitoid uses the host up in the process of supporting its own growth and/or reproduction.

That sneaky parasitoid lady and her cohort are the authors of the scene of destruction above. What look like little brown bumps on my Brussels sprouts leaf are in fact the corpses of aphids: the dried, hardened exoskeletons of used-up hosts. You can even see a small, round hole in the top of one — the door the exiting parasitoid punched out and left open behind it.

Parasitoid wasps like this one home in on the distinct chemicals released by the feeding and typical drama (like terror over a syrphid fly larva attack) of an aphid colony. Fertilized females settle on leaves and begin their prowl.

They’re looking for nice, juicy aphids that will be able to feed their grubs to adulthood. With a quick stab of her ovipositor, a female wasp injects a single egg into a chosen aphid, then prowls on. Once that tiny egg hatches, however, the aphid will slowly be hollowed out from the inside by the hungry, growing grub, until only a husk is left and the mature wasp breaks its way out, exercising its brand-new wings in flight for the first time.

The world is made up of opportunities being taken: everything is a resource and every resource is a chance for an existence to bloom. Sometimes, that existence is just really horrific. But it works for them and it works to create a functioning ecosystem — dynamic equilibrium — so we can all actually be very grateful for the parasitoid wasps.

Creeped out, but grateful.

Aphid Predators

A WALK ON THE TINY SIDE

Another blooming colony of cabbage aphids (Brevicoryne brassicae) on my brave Brussels sprouts: a familiar sight, especially as the weather warms.
But wait — what’s that?

That! The green thing!

It may look a lot like a cabbage white butterfly (Pieris rapae) caterpillar, but it’s definitely not. Take a closer look and you’ll see that rather than a mouthful of sprout leaf, this little green guy is munching on aphid.

One of the most numerous, in terms of species, groups of animals on Earth are the flies, order Diptera. Like any large family, there are some gems, some bad apples, some neutrals — and of course, all that depends on your point of view. To aphids, larvae of some Syrphid flies (family Syrphidae) are stone cold bad-‘uns.

Also known as ‘flower flies’ and ‘hover flies’, these natty little fellows pull a lot of weight (each species in its own way) in both natural and altered ecosystems. Their secret is in their adaptable nature: they’re able to take to human-made environments, so are often some of the only native wildlife in housing developments.

The tellingly-named fourspotted aphid fly, Dioprosopa clavata.

Most species in North America as adults mimic bees with yellow, black and striped uniforms and certainly rival and even surpass native bees in pollination services (bees are generally more sensitive in many ways and so are more often excluded or eliminated from habitats). They eat nectar and pollen, as bees do, thus the common name ‘flower fly’.

Flies’ eyes are very distinctive and always give away dipterid mimics passing as other insects — you can’t hide those flyin’ eyes, Copestylum avidum!

And of course, most syrphid fly larvae are voracious predators of aphids, making them powerful elements of any garden’s pest management system (a.k.a. ecosystem). Be sure to make friends with yours!

This Article is a Stubbin

We took a rare day completely off work last Thursday and had a rainy day in. I say “off work” — we did get some tasks done, but they’re fun tasks that get pushed back by more serious jobs. Seed shopping (!!!) and checking our wildlife camera SD cards.

Hey — who’s in those peas?! Oh, it’s me.

The wildlife camera on the wild streambed at the bottom of the property is set to take 15 second videos. Going through these can be a bit of a chore — maybe several hundred to over a thousand a month, and so many are just waving leaves or half a second of raccoon tail going out of shot at the start and fourteen and a half seconds of mud and leaves. Or rats. Lots of thirsty rats.

[Edited down from 15 seconds for your viewing convenience.]
https://youtu.be/MW6rp6LP1KQ

The site the camera’s positioned at is an intersection with a runoff vein from another property, so it’s a real bird hotspot, and the streambed acts as a road for larger mammals. Wading through the dreck can really pay off — that’s why we have the camera down there still.

Imagine our startled shrieks of delight when we clicked off another “wind” video and encountered this big, stubby payoff:

Bobcat!

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It’s not every day you get to add another mammal to your property species list! Come eat our rats, Mr/Ms Bobcat!

The Battle of the Bulge

POND FROLICS

In the still of the night….

“AHAAAAAH! ‘INGO! Om wi’ EE, ithter ‘ummy!”
“…Iddle ard oo ‘thallow…”
“Utht ‘otta adust.”
“Abee oer ere….”

[Five minutes later…]

“Oou know, imma juuuust –“
“You know, I really feel like worms, anyway. Yeah. Alright. Let’s go get some worms! Yeah.”

Owl Be There

POND FROLICS

That nocturnal birds eat at night is a pretty straightforward piece of knowledge — awake at night, ergo eating at night.

It’s also pretty clear to anyone who finds a large dropping on their car in the morning that wasn’t there the evening before that other functions of life have to happen in the hours in which we sleep or stumble into things as well.

It’s funny how surprising it was to me to be confronted with the fact that owls — as of course they must do — also bathe at night.

Need to install an owl-dryer out there!

The Púkas of Caerbannog

POND FROLICS

Finch Frolic is home to many Desert Cottontails.

Dah-DUM. Dah-DUM. Dah-DUM, dah-DUM, DAH-DUM –!

More all the time, in fact.

“Whoa! Do you see what I see?” “Yeah, yeah — when did that rabbit get there?”

Or at least very solid population replacement.
We see them all the time because they are pretty comfy here and used to us, just scooting around nibbling grasses and fighting the ducks (I gotta see if I have photos of that to share — hilarious bunny sass…).
The funny thing is how infrequently they appear on the wildlife cameras, and when they do, they’re invariably being rather sneaky.

“Oops, still in shot, sorry.”

Sometimes, it can start to feel a little spooky….

(Nasty, big, pointy teeth.)

— Run awaaaay!

Coon Tales: The Beginning

POND FROLICS

When we first put out our wildlife camera over the big pond’s north bog, we quickly found that aside from the oppressive scourge of the querulous ducks, raccoons are our most frequent visitors.

“Ooo — I wonder if that little red light is edible?”
“I can just sneak right up on it….”
“Hmm — nothing inside this shell to eat. A pointless object.”

The story they present is also generally a much more compelling one than the ducks’ — they both have intrigue, romance, action and comedy, but when you’ve watched ducks go back and forth and back and forth and back and forth in petty squabbles for the zillionth time, you come to respect the way the coons economize their time.

INTRIGUE
COMEDY
ROMANCE
ACTION

The ducks take the whole day to execute their drama, but the raccoons squeeze it all into night visits lasting only a few minutes, perhaps a quarter of an hour.
Or perhaps only the time it takes to capture a single, perfect picture.

Always Time to be Grateful

Today, on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 22, 2018, as on every other day there is so much to be thankful for. For waking up, for food, clean water and shelter, for friends and family, for the opportunities to volunteer and the ability to do so. this year at age 57 I returned to school, taking Horticulture classes at a local junior college to update my skills and knowledge. I overdid it with four classes, so my time management skills have been as severely tested as my ability to memorize and learn new concepts. Without my daughter’s help it would be less successful. 

Finch Frolic Garden continues on and as we close the garden to the public for the winter, it remains open and thriving for wildlife seeking clean water, shelter and food as well. For my birthday, Miranda bought me a game camera which has recorded some interesting life in the bog area of the pond. Now we know why the irises are always smashed. The two glowing orbs from under the boat are just reflections, not a monster, but the ones from the pond are invasive bullfrogs. The juvenile red shouldered hawk has been walking around in the bog several times.  Pond life is full of surprises!

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We didn’t burn this go round with wildfires. We are maintaining, and therefore are so grateful for everything that we have, even the troubles that we have as they are not as severe as so many other’s. I am especially grateful to have a permaculture habitat so that these animals can survive.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving everyday.

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Thanksgiving morning, September 22, 2018, at Finch Frolic Garden Permaculture pond. Pardon the squeaky camera lens and the leaf blower from somewhere.