Saturday, April 17, 2010

Birds I'm Watching: Spring Lake (April 17, 2010)

I walked around Spring Lake in Santa Rosa this morning with a group from the Madrone Audubon Society. There was a lot of activity today. I saw 44 species. The highlights were four green herons, a nesting great horned owl, and excellent views of a Pacific-slope flycatcher making a nest. I got an excellent photo (if I say so myself) of the flycatcher carrying nesting material.

Birds I saw: Western bluebird, red-winged blackbird, orange-crowned warbler (7), warbling vireo, white-breasted nuthatch, Pacific-slope flycatcher, acorn woodpecker, mallard, oak titmouse, California towhee, spotted towhee, Swainson's thrush, Bewick's wren, scrub jay, black-headed grosbeak, mourning dove, violet-green swallow, cliff swallow, tree swallow, Anna's hummingbird, song sparrow, white-crowned sparrow, golden-crowned sparrow, house finch, dark-eyed junco, California quail, Wilson's warbler, yellow warbler, Bullock's oriole, Steller's jay, American goldfinch, Canada goose, green heron (4), coot, osprey, American crow, common moorhen, black phoebe, snowy egret, brown creeper, bushtit, great horned owl, and pied-billed grebe (7).

For more information about bird watching in Sonoma County, see my Website Sonoma County Bird Watching Spots.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Plants I'm Growing--First Blooms: Cistus (2010)

First blooms today on the low Cistus (rock rose) at the front of the house. This plant bloomed last year on April 16. As today is again April 16, a year according to this plant was 365 days. I think this is the first plant to have bloomed on exactly the same day two years in a row since I started keeping track. First blooms today also on the white valerian by the beehive. Many new irises opened today as well.

I regret that I can't remember the name of this Cistus (or is it a Halimiocistus?) I got it from Ken Montgomery's Anderson Valley Nursery, in Booneville. I'll have to contact him to remind me.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Movies I'm Watching: Kinky Boots

I've just seen Kinky Boots (2005, directed by Julian Jarrold, starring Joel Edgerton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sarah-Jane Potts, and others), an entertaining bit of fluff, purportedly based on a true story but giving the impression that the writers have found it necessary (as they so often do) to embellish and add for "dramatic effect." It would be nice if moviemakers once in a while gave their audiences credit for having a little more intelligence. One wonders what the real story was.

Still, this was fun to watch and there are one or two truly funny moments. The highlights of the film are the performance of Ejiofor as drag queen "Lola" and the final runway show in Milan with Charlie (Edgerton) left on his own to model the family factory's new line of "boots for women who are men."

Birds I'm Watching: Annadel State Park, Santa Rosa

I went out to Annadel State Park for a hike this morning to look for spring migrants. I saw quite a lot of birds. including Band-tailed pigeon (16), turkey vulture, cliff swallow (20 or so), Bewick's wren, Anna's hummingbird, crow, mallard, red-shouldered hawk, Pacific-slope flycatcher (3), ruby-crowned kinglet, raven, oak titmouse, pileated wooddpecker (heard), acorn woodpecker, warbling vireo, wild turkey (including males in full display), quail, many Wilson's warblers (at least 9), black-headed grosbeak (7), Orange-crowned warbler (8), yellow warbler (1), robins nesting and feeding hatchlings, spotted towhee, bushtit, chestnut-backed chickadee, dark-eyed junko, and lesser goldfinch--27 species in total.

The black-headed grosbeaks (above), and the warblers have just returned from warmer parts south. Pictured below is Wilson's warbler--not a very good shot: these guys move around a lot.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Books I'm Reading: Sex on the Brain

I just finished reading Deborah Blum's Sex on the Brain: The Biological Differences Between Men and Women (1997, Penguin paperback edition), a well-written, entertaining, occasionally enlightening look at the biology behind sex differences. Although there wasn't much that seemed startlingly new, I enjoyed this. It is a concise, clear overview of a very wide range of research on the subject of sex differences.

The book includes excellent chapters on: Why sex exists at all; on the physical differences between male and female brains (there are very few, they are very subtle, and it's not at all clear what the few discernible differences mean); on emotional differences (yes, men and women build friendships and networks differently); on monogamy and polygamy (the former turns out to be very rare in the world--the human species is described as "slightly polygamous"); on homosexuality; on testosterone in men (and women); on estrogens and the female cycle (which involves far more than menstruation); on love, lust, and rape; and on gender and power.

What is perhaps most remarkable about Deborah Blum's writing here is its objectivity. There are no gender polemics in a book that could easily have been biased, and she shows an extraordinary sensitivity in her discussions of such things as hormone effects on both men and women and of rape. Frankly, it was fascinating to listen to a female voice so lucidly and empathetically articulating the typical emotional and behavioral effects of testosterone on men. Her discussion of rape as possibly persisting in human culture because it may make biological sense was somewhat uncomfortable to read, but convincing. There is much here to explain why we behave the way we do without giving anyone (male or female) facile excuses for bad behavior. Recommended.

Hmmm.... What to read next?

Rain: It Just Keeps Coming Down (April 11-12, 2010)

It just keeps coming down. This is by far the wettest year we've had in the almost ten years I've lived in Santa Rosa. Yesterday and overnight last night we had another 2.0 inches of rain. That brings our total for the 2009-2010 season to 29.05 inches, which is just below the historical average for this day in Santa Rosa (29.17 inches), but several inches higher than last year (last year the rain stopped in early March, if I remember correctly), and some stations in Santa Rosa have had as much as 33.7 inches. The historical average annual rainfall for Santa Rosa is just over 31 inches.

I could do with some sunshine now for a while, although sunshine can be a distraction when I'm stuck at my desk working, as I will be at least through the end of tomorrow.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Wines I'm Drinking: 2006 Clos du Tal "Stone's Throw Vineyard" Cabernet Franc/Cabernet Sauvignon

Tonight I opened a bottle of the 2006 Clos du Tal "Stone's Throw Vineyard" Cabernet Franc/Cabernet Sauvignon--that is, a bottle of one of the wines we make here in the garage from grapes we grow out back. 2006 was the third vintage. The vines were planted in 2001, so they were quite young in 2006, but this wine has improved considerably since I last tried a bottle a few months ago.

The nose in particular has developed some nice leathery scents and some hints of roses that I don't remember from the last time I tasted it. The wine tastes fruitier and the tannins are beginning to soften. It still seems a bit austere compared to the riper wines we made in 2008 and 2009 (the 2009 is yet to be bottled), but this has come along nicely. It will be interesting to continue tasting a bottle every three months or so to see what kind of staying power it has.

Before long, it will be time to do a vertical tasting of everything we've ever made--from 2004 to 2009. The only real disaster was the 2005. Most of the grapes disappeared into the gullets of the local raccoons in that year. I made only six bottles from sour grapes that had to be picked too soon--what the raccoons left behind. Since then we've devised a system of nets and electric fencing that has made it possible to let the grapes hang as long as they should, which has made a big difference (needless to say). The 2008 and 2009 wines were made from grapes that were optimally ripe. The 2009 looks especially promising.

In case you're wondering, "Clos du Tal" is a play on "Clos du Val," with the T-A-L of Talcroft substituting for "Val." We call it "Stone's Throw Vineyard" because we live on an old basalt quarry--there are a lot of stones here--and the vines are a stone's throw from the house. Appropriately, our little vineyard of 32 vines is surrounded by a stone wall. "Clos" in French refers to a walled vineyard, often owned by a monastery. Such vineyards are common in parts of France, especially in Burgundy. There are some remarkable walled vineyards there, notably in the town of Gevrey-Chambertin. "Clos" is related to our English word "cloister."

What a pleasure, what a luxury it is to be able to open a bottle of wine I've made myself. I wish I could share it with you. Last summer, when I drove to Ohio, I took a couple of bottles with me to share with friends. This summer I will take a couple to France, to share with friends there. Friends I haven't seen in many years.
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