Saturday, April 2, 2011

Birds I'm Watching: Crane Creek Regional Park (April 2, 2011)

I joined a morning hike with the Madrone Audubon Society today at Crane Creek Regional Park, which is only about 25 minutes from home, but I'd never been there before. It's a beautiful park with pretty walks through rolling hills studded with oaks and along small streams with the sort of brush that attracts many birds. At this time of year, the grass is lush green. Even the new poison oak leaves were pretty. I got some good photos of a female Red-winged Blackbird (above).

The highlights for me were first-of-season sightings of: Red-breasted Sapsucker, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Western Kingbird, Orange-crowned Warbler, Western Meadowlark, Lincoln's Sparrow (last of season, perhaps, but first of 2011), and Bullock's Oriole--this last was fabulously bright. Some of the Yellow-rumped Warblers were also in very bright, attractive plumage, as were the male American Goldfinches.

I saw 47 species: Canada Goose, Mallard, Wild Turkey, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Egret, Turkey Vulture, White-tailed Kite, Cooper's Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Eurasian Collared Dove, Mourning Dove, Great Horned Owl (on a nest), Anna's Hummingbird, Acorn Woodpecker, Red-breasted Sapsucker, Nuttall's Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Pacific-Slope Flycatcher, Western Kingbird, Western Scrub Jay, Common Raven, Tree Swallow, Violet-green Swallow, Oak Titmouse, Bushtit, White-breasted Nuthatch, Bewick's Wren, Western Bluebird, American Robin, European Starling, Orange-crowned Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Spotted Towhee, California Towhee, California Quail, Song Sparrow, Lincoln's Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Golden-crowned Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, Western Meadowlark, Brewer's Blackbird, Bullock's Oriole, House Finch, Lesser Goldfinch, and American Goldfinch.

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

Wines I'm Making: Racked 2010 Wines Yesterday

I finally got around to racking the 2010 wines yesterday. I transferred eight gallons of Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc to new containers and sulfited them lightly (to 48ppm). I also racked three gallons of experimental "second run" Cabernet--wine made by adding sugar and water back into the pressings of the real wine and letting it ferment again. The real wine smells good and tastes good as well. It seems to have retained the strong Cabernet spiciness I noticed in it the first time I racked it. The second-run wine will probably prove to have been a waste of time and sugar, but we'll see. Finally, I racked all the second-run rosé I made--again, an experiment, but one that looks like it may have been worthwhile.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Plants I'm Growing--First Blooms: California Poppy (2011)

The first of the California poppies in the garden to bloom opened yesterday, March 30. The California poppy: An appropriate flower for a state that calls itself the "Golden State." Our first poppy opened on March 19 in 2009 and on March 5 in 2010, so this is comparatively late. California poppy has calculated botanical years of 351 days and 390 days.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Food I'm Eating: The Olive Project--Herbed Olives

It's been a couple of months since I tried brining olives at home for the first time. It went well and was easy enough that I was inspired to lay down more olives today--about 2,000 more. Our tree is still heavy with fruit even after today's harvest, and the original supply of finished olives is already dwindling.

The fruit is noticeably bigger now. I guess the olives are that much riper than they were back in January. In the meantime, I've been experimenting with different ways to eat the olives I've already made. Tonight I added olive oil, rosemary, raw garlic, and Meyer lemon zest to a bowl of finished olives, and they are very tasty indeed.

My original post on the subject of making olives at home is here: The Olive Project. Also see The Olive Project Continued.

Plants I'm Growing--First Blooms: Michelia Yunnanensis, Creeping Phlox, "Pink Lady" Apple, Pink Crabapple

First blooms of 2011 on a number of plants in the garden today (finally the rain has stopped). Flowers that had been holding back seem finally convinced there's a point to offering up their pollen. Flowers on Michelia yunnanensis, "Pink Lady" apple, and our pink crabapple all opened today. Some of the creeping phlox in the garden started blooming on Sunday (March 27).

Michelia yunnanensis (first photo) is a small relative of the magnolias native to Yunnan Province in China. It's finally taken off after a shaky start three years ago. It's covered with flowers this year and looks set to grow strongly. I love the deep cinnamon-colored covers to the buds and the creamy white flowers that contrast with the brown covers and the plant's deep green leaves. This plant bloomed on April 1 in 2009 and on March 22 in 2010, calculating botanical years of 355 and 373 days, which average to 364 days, or very close to a year by the sun. 

The "Pink Lady" apple bloomed on March 23 in 2009 and on March 30 in 2010, although in 2010 it bloomed a second time in October after bearing almost no fruit--odd behavior caused by the very cold summer we had last year. "Pink Lady" calculated years of 373 and 364 days, which average to 368.5 days--somewhat long, but I have only three years of data so far. My hypothesis is that over the years, all the plants in the garden (at least those native to this area) will calculate average years very close to actual years. 

The deep pink crabapple in the garden bloomed on March 26 in 2009 but on April 23 last year, almost a month later. I think 2010 was anomalous. The tree calculated years of 393 days and 340 days--both the shortest and longest years any plant have had since I started keeping track, but even these average to 366.5 days--very close to an actual year. 

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Music I'm Listening to: The San Francisco Symphony with Herbert Blomstedt and Arabella Steinbacher

Last night I attended one of three concerts the San Francisco Symphony is giving this weekend with Herbert Blomstedt as guest conductor and soloist Arabella Steinbacher. Only two pieces are on the program, the Mozart Violin Concerto No. 4 and Dvorak's New World Symphony, but the orchestra offered the Dvorak Slavonic Dance No. 1 as an encore, and Steinbacher played Fritz Kreisler's Recitativo and Scherzo as an encore piece.

The concert opened with the Mozart concerto, which was given a crisp, correct interpretation, but somehow didn't sparkle--which is not to say it wasn't enjoyable. Steinbacher is clearly a gifted violinist, although she had escaped my notice until last night. I very much liked the sound of Miss Steinbacher's violin. According to the program notes, she plays the "Booth" Stradivarius, of 1716, on loan from the Nippon Music Foundation. It has a very warm, dark sort of sound, especially rich in the lower register that I very much liked, although the Mozart didn't really showcase that. It was most interesting to listen to during the encore, and I would say the Kreisler piece was the highlight of the evening. The playing was precise but expressive--beautiful really.

At intermission I bought her recording of the two Bartok violin concertos with Marek Janowski conducting the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande (Pentatone Classics, PTC 5186 350). After listening to it in the car this morning as I drove around town doing some errands, I have to say I'm very impressed. It's a splendid recording. I'd put it right up there with my two favorite recordings of the Bartok No. 2--Kyung-wha Chung with Georg Solti and the London Philharmonic, a 1976 recording (London CS 7032 on LP in the US) and André Gertler with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Karel Ancerl, a 1965 recording that appears to have been released originally on the Supraphon label, although I have it on a much later re-release, (still on LP), on the Quintessence label (PMC 7181). It's probably about time to try to find that one on CD, as I think it remains my very favorite. I went digging around my record and CD collection to find the Gertler disc, and I see that I own no fewer than eight recordings of the Bartok Violin Concerto No. 2 (I guess I like it). I'll probably feel compelled to listen to them all again to see if I still like these three best (Steinbacher, Chung, and Gertler). Other recordings I have include performances by Yehudi Menuhin, Midori, Anne Sophie-Mutter, and Itzhak Perlman.

But, to get back to the concert, I don't think Maestro Blomstedt got the best out of his performers. The first two movements of the New World Symphony seemed rushed, the final two movements were marred by some wobbly horn entrances (although, to be fair, that has never before happened at San Francisco in the three years I've been a subscriber), and in a number of places the conductor let the horn section overpower everything else. Still, the Dvorak was fun to watch--it was the first time I'd seen this very familiar music played live.

The encore came off rather better. The orchestra sounded relaxed and strong playing Dvorak's Slavonic Dance No. 1. The audience loved it. The concert ended with a standing ovation. So, it was an evening during which the highlights came with the encores, as sometimes happens.

Photographs of Herbert Blomstedt and Arabella Steinbacher courtesy of the San Francisco Symphony
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