• Permaculture and Edible Forest Gardening Adventures

    All the leaves are brown — and the foxes are grey

    Through the fall so far, the wildlife cameras have continued to offer an enchanting insight into the usually unscrutinized, quiet shiftings of our habitat.

    We’re obviously looking for animal activity on the cameras, but sometimes late or wind-blown-plant triggers capture some beautiful moments from the little ecosystems the cameras overlook.

    Mist from the Creek

    “Steam fog” on a chilly, rainy fall night.

    Daily, nightly, a lot of the same animals appear over and over, filling up the SD cards with hundreds of iterations of the same pieces, in snapshots or 15-second installments, of the same stories. This can be challenging to process, but we love the way we’ve come to know the patterns of some of our wildlife’s lives, and even know individuals.

    This is the pond bunny. Pond Bunny hangs out in the bottom left corner there, popping in and out of the mule-fat, in and out of the screen. Pond Bunny helped me with rebuilding the little bridge by the withy hide.

    We love this opportunity to learn about and appreciate each little story: the summer evenings where spidery crane flies fill the creek’s small barranca well with their dramatic bumbling — skittering, over-exposed, in the capture of the infrared lights;

    Crane Flies

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    the black phoebe caught, again and again, in Muybridge frozen energy, in aerial sallies on winged insects attracted to the big pond in the afternoon warmth;

    the long, still moments as an animal just stands, and looks, pulls in the air and lets its carried scents and noises sink in.

    Bobcat Contemplation

    We decided to call the mother bobcat Petunia and the kitten Jonquil. ūüôā

    Coyote Contemplation

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    And, of course, we do still covet the unusual — even, playfully, the impossible: as any kid knows, dreaming (im)possibilities is half the fun of any endeavor (“Iron-flanked and bellowing he-hippos clanked and battered through the scudding snow towards us as we passed Mr. Daniel’s house.”). What could come here? I want rare birds to thoughtfully pose, in focus, on the cameras — and also to see a weasel. Maybe lots of weasels. And a scissor-tailed flycatcher would be great. Mom wants hedgehogs and foxes. Reasonable, right?

    Well, turns out the foxes are pretty reasonable!

    Grey Fox Appears

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    Who knows whether foxes have come through the property before. Who knows if one ever will again — or if it will pass through in a place and fashion that allows our cameras to record it. Tantalizing and wonderful!

    Grey Fox Goes

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    (And my weasel dream looks brighter than ever!)

    Quotation from A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas

  • Permaculture and Edible Forest Gardening Adventures

    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.

    I meant to do that

    Western Screech Owl

    “I meant to do that.”

    Screech Owl Minuet

    No Description

    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!

    Moth v. Owl

    Western Screech Owl is distracted from its bath by a tempting sphinx moth.

    Bath interrupted by a sphinx moth. Crane flies also make cameos.
  • Permaculture and Edible Forest Gardening Adventures

    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.
  • Permaculture and Edible Forest Gardening Adventures

    The Battle of the Bulge


    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.”
  • Permaculture and Edible Forest Gardening Adventures

    Owl Be There


    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!

  • Permaculture and Edible Forest Gardening Adventures

    The P√ļkas of Caerbannog


    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!

  • Permaculture and Edible Forest Gardening Adventures

    Getting Your Feet Wet


    “Oooo that is definitely squlechier than I expected–!”

    Either this juvie Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) thinks she just caught something or she’s just realizing bathwater with duckweed might not be the best choice….

    Subduing an unfortunate young bullfrog? Carefully scraping off tiny, free-floating aquatic plants? Blocking out a new rhythmic gymnastics routine? We’ll never know.

  • Permaculture and Edible Forest Gardening Adventures

    From Heron Out


    Lessee, what can I tell you about the Black-crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)….

    “WHOA, what was that back there? Gotta check that out….”

    There’re small herons. They have blackish feathers on top of their heads. I guess you could call it a cap. A blackish cap.

    “They were fast – as – light – niii-ing–!”

    They’re the most widespread species of heron in the world, apparently. Noisy, social, not too fussy.

    “Hey! What’re you lookin’ at, lady?”

    Oh, and this is surprising: they do most of their hunting and such at night or in the dusk: evening and early morning. Herons of dimness. Darkling herons. Gloaming. Blackish-capped. Herons.

  • Animals,  Birding,  Gardening adventures,  Predators,  Water

    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!







    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.


  • Animals,  Arts and Crafts,  Birding,  Building and Landscaping,  Gardening adventures,  Houses,  Natives,  Permaculture and Edible Forest Gardening Adventures,  Ponds,  Predators,  Water

    A Mallard House

    The Finch Frolic Garden Mallard Nesting Tube, by Miranda.
    The Finch Frolic Garden Mallard Nesting Tube, by Miranda.

    For about four years now a pair of wild mallards have called Finch Frolic Garden home. ¬†They visit most of the year, especially in mating season as it is now. ¬†The male guards her closely as she goes off to lay an egg a day in some secluded, secret nest. ¬†This is Mrs. Mallard’s best time of the year.

    Mrs. Mallard leading her mate all over the property as he protects her.
    Mrs. Mallard leading her mate all over the property as he protects her.

    She’ll stroll all over the property while he has to follow, and it is hilarious to watch. ¬†They get in more walking time now than in the whole year put together. ¬†She deserves to enjoy the attention because the rest of mating season isn’t so much fun for her.

    The mating occurs in the water, with the male biting her neck and holding her head under water. Ducks have drowned during mating. A couple of years ago Mr. Mallard was losing his mating plumage and decided to allow a rather mean drake have at Mrs. Mallard.  It was a violent mating, and she tried hard to get away.

    Mr. Mallard and his terrible surrogate.
    Mr. Mallard and his terrible surrogate.

    The next time the imposter flew in Miranda and I were close to the pond by a lime tree, with some bushes between us and the pond.  Suddenly we noticed Mrs. Mallard slowly walking around the bushes, her head held low.  If she could have tip-toed with webbed feet she would have.  She slowly approached us and hid behind the lime tree next to us.  We took action and chased the males away, then spoke soothingly to Mrs. Mallard in a sense of female solidarity. It was quite touching to have a wild creature so trust us as to come to us for rescue.

    The Mallards checking out the duck island.
    The Mallards checking out the duck island.

    Once the eggs have been laid the female is entirely in charge of the eggs and the hatchlings. However, if the clutch fails, the male will keep re-mating with her and she’ll keep re-nesting. ¬†Mrs. Mallard has attempted to lay eggs on our property in the bushes, but rats or other creatures have eaten them. ¬†She had a nest right next to our garage one year, perhaps hoping that we could protect the eggs even though by the time we realize why we’d meet a duck on the pathway by the house every day it was too late. ¬†The stress of the mating, the egg production and laying is taxing to a wild duck’s health. ¬†Last year she appeared leading several ducklings to our pond. ¬†We have no idea how far she’d lead them, or how many there were to begin with, and we knew the babies probably wouldn’t last long. ¬†We were right; they were gone by the next day. ¬†Predation by the invasive bullfrogs in the pond, rats, weasels, hawks or any number of animals. ¬†So sad for the mallard family.

    This year Mrs. Mallard has been disappearing daily, obviously to lay an egg a day elsewhere again. ¬†However Miranda decided to help out for future nests. ¬†She built a mallard nesting tube. Following instructions she found online from people who have proven this design works, she rolled the first three feet of a piece of 7’x3′ hardware cloth to form a tube.

    A 7' x 3' piece of hardware cloth.  Larger wire would let too much debris fall into the pond.
    A 7′ x 3′ piece of hardware cloth. Larger wire would let too much debris fall into the pond.

    This was wired together, and the last four feet was layered with natural plant materials and rolled.

    The first 3' are rolled and fastened, then Miranda lay dry cattails on the rest.
    The first 3′ are rolled and fastened, then Miranda lay dry cattails on the rest.


    The nesting tube.  Kind of like a jelly roll for mallards.
    The nesting tube. Kind of like a jelly roll for mallards.

    The inside of the tube isn't large, but apparently it is large enough.
    The inside of the tube isn’t large, but apparently it is large enough.

    This tube was wired onto a cradle she made mostly of recycled PVC parts, and painted dark green.

    Gluing together the cradle. All of the pipe we had salvaged from old irrigation systems.
    Gluing together the cradle. All of the pipe we had salvaged from old irrigation systems.

    The cradle supports the tube, but is also loosely wired onto it.
    The cradle supports the tube, but is also loosely wired onto it.

    A sprinkler riser is what will fit into the support pipe.
    A sprinkler riser is what will fit into the support pipe.

    IMG_7207Also, to prevent hawks, egrets and other opportunistic birds from perching on top and snacking on eggs or hatchlings, Miranda attached strips of pokey chicken wire along the top.

    Since egrets visit the pond regularly, the top of the tube had to be inhospitable.
    Since egrets visit the pond regularly, the top of the tube had to be inhospitable.

    Miranda cut strips of chicken wire and these were bent and wired on top to prevent birds from landing.
    Miranda cut strips of chicken wire and these were bent and wired on top to prevent birds from landing.

    Slipping into the chilly February pond was a shock until our legs became acclimated (or “numb”). ¬†We pounded a hollow pipe, then slipped another pipe into it (both found materials), and then mounted the tube on top.

    After mounting the nesting tube, Miranda stuffed leaves and dry grass inside, because mallards don't carry in their own nesting materials.
    After mounting the nesting tube, Miranda stuffed leaves and dry grass inside, because mallards don’t carry in their own nesting materials.

    Miranda then lined the inside of the tube with soft nesting materials – dried grass and leaves – because mallards don’t bring them in. ¬†A little interior decorating for future lodgers. A sprinkler riser screwed into the PVC cradle slipped into the pipe. ¬†This way the nesting tube can be easily removed for maintenance. ¬†The tube is about three feet above the water surface.

    Mrs. Mallard hasn’t shown any interest at this point, but she’s involved with her other nest right now. ¬†We have high hopes for a successful nest. ¬†Anyone want to come catch bullfrogs?