Saturday, May 7, 2011

Birds I'm Watching: Willow Creek Rd., Bodega Bay

I spent most of the day today out looking at birds. I joined a Madrone Audubon Society walk at Willow Creek Rd., north of Bodega Bay and on the way home stopped at Porto Bodega, the north end of Bodega Harbor, and went as far south as Campbell Cove. At Willow Creek, the highlight was watching a Bald Eagle spar with an Osprey over the hills that flank the Russian River as it meets the Pacific. At Bodega, I got some excellent photos of Black Oystercatchers, Western Grebes, and Common Loons.

At Willow Creek Rd., I saw 37 species (in order of their appearance): Common Raven, Osprey, Wrentit, Wilson's Warbler (singing everywhere), Song Sparrow, Mourning Dove, American Goldfinch, Red-tailed Hawk, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Bald Eagle (One adult, one immature), Rufous Hummingbird, Double-crested Cormorant, Brown-headed Cowbird, Bushtit, White-crowned Sparrow, Great Blue Heron, Cliff Swallow, Turkey Vulture, Common Merganser, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Allen's/Rufous Hummingbird, Allen's Hummingbird, Black headed-Grosbeak, Purple Finch, House Finch, Warbling Vireo, Anna's Hummingbird, Pacific Wren, Marsh Wren, American Robin, California Towhee, Western Scrub-jay, Spotted Towhee, Orange-crowned Warbler, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Nuttall's Woodpecker, Steller's Jay, and California Quail.

At Bodega Bay (Porto Bodega), I saw: Black Oystercatcher (two adults and a juvenile, and got to see the adults doing some kind of display, although I can't say what the meaning of it was--heads straight up, beaks open, then heads way down low with a stiff tail sticking up in the rear...), Willet, a single Canada Goose (strange, but true), Western Gull, Double-crested Cormorant, Starling, Surf scoter, Western Grebe, Horned Grebe, Common Loon, House Sparrow, Pigeon. At the north end of the harbor, I saw: Western Grebe, Common Loon, Black Oystercatcher, Double-crested Cormorant, Turkey Vulture, Surf Scoter, and Osprey.

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

Friday, May 6, 2011

Beekeeping: Spring Honey Harvest

Last year I never got around to harvesting any honey, so my bees have been left unmolested for quite some time. Thinking it would be best to harvest some before they swarm, however, I extracted six frames yesterday. There is quite a bit more honey in the hive--another ten or twelve frames or so, but most of it incompletely capped with wax, so I will probably leave the bees alone again until late autumn. I usually harvest around October. This is the first time I've harvested honey in the spring. It's notably paler in color, less viscous, and less strongly flavored than what I usually get, but delicious nevertheless. Harvested about 20lbs.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Plants I'm Growing--First Blooms: Salvia Greggii, Monkey Flower, Yellow Bush Lupine, Native Yarrow

First blooms of 2011 on a number of plants in the garden again yesterday, including a yellow variety of Salvia greggii, one of several varieties of monkey flower, the yellow bush lupine by the driveway (Lupinus arboreus), and a native yarrow.

Found Art: Metal Van II (May 4, 2011)

Here's another shot of the immobile van parked down the street from my house. I love the shimmer of its silver sides. What is the meaning of the letters scratched into it? I don't know, but it looks like art to me. Found art.

For more found art, see my blog Serendipitous Art.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Books I'm Reading: Team of Rivals

I've just finished reading Team of Rivals, by Doris Kearns Goodwin (Simon & Schuster, 2005). I bought it several years ago, but got around to reading it only this week. Having recently read Bruce Catton's Civil War trilogy, it seemed an appropriate book to move on to.

Goodwin's book is a simultaneous biography of Lincoln and the leading men in his cabinet of 1860--with an emphasis on Seward, Chase, and Stanton. The rich narrative illuminates Lincoln's genius in handling subordinates, the clarity of his vision, and his ability to rise above the pettiness and devotion to self-interest that so often clouds the judgement of lesser men. Although the events of the Civil War are an essential backdrop, here the spotlights play on the personalities of Lincoln and those who worked for--and against--him and on the interactions of these people rather than on the progress of the war itself.

Lincoln seems almost superhuman. At every turn, his good sense, his ability to read moods and motivations, his empathy and compassion, his vast capacity for magnanimity, and his superlative timing are on display. Seward and Stanton shine brightly, Chase less so (although he did his job well, and Lincoln remained loyal to him for that reason). We get revealing sketches of many other players, including the wives and children of these men, along with Frederick Douglass, Horace Greeley, Thurlow Weed, Lincoln's secretaries John Nicolay and John Hay, and Lincoln's top generals. Goodwin confirms the impression I've had from other reading of General McClellan as a self-absorbed whiner capable of doing nothing with alacrity except assign the blame for his failings to other people. On the whole, though, what is astonishing is the high level of competence and integrity of the people running the United States during Lincoln's administration. I was struck particularly by the eloquence of these people. The quotes from letters, memos, speeches, and diaries Goodwin liberally uses are almost invariably a pleasure to read for the sheer beauty of the language employed. I found myself longing to live in an America governed by such brilliant people. Why do we have so few politicians of this caliber today?

Kudos to Simon & Schuster. It's rare these days--even at the best of publishers--to come across a book like this one, completely without printing or editing errors. Goodwin's writing, meanwhile, is fluid and lucid to the point of seeming almost transparent. The 754 pages of text slide down the mental gullet like oysters riding on Champagne. Pure intellectual pleasure. One of the best books I've read in a long time. Highly recommended.

Miscellaneous: What Our Eyes Fail to See

I don't mean to pick on Whole Foods, but here's another interesting sign I spotted at the Yulupa Ave. store in Santa Rosa. Look carefully. Notice anything wrong? The person who made the sign didn't. No one else in the store seems to have seen the problem until I pointed it out this morning (I actually noticed the mistake yesterday). Amazing what our eyes can fail to see.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Plants I'm Growing--First Blooms: Columbine, Echium Wildprettii, Rose "Easy Livin'"

First blooms of 2011 today on a number of plants in the garden. A succession of warm days is coaxing out new flowers every day now. First blooms on Echium wildprettii, known as "Tower of Jewels" (photo a left).  The large, yellow columbine with long spurs (below) bloomed today, along with one of the hybrid columbines in the garden that are spontaneous crosses between the yellow variety and Aquilegia formosa, the native Western columbine, which is also planted here. First blooms today also on the orange rose called "Easy Livin'."

Echium wildprettii bloomed on April 20 in 2010, for a botanical year of 377 days.The yellow columbine bloomed on April 19 in 2009, on April 21 in 2010, calculating years of 367 and 376 days.
The rose "Easy Livin," bloomed on April 9 in 2010, for a year of 388 days.

Miscellaneous: Should We Celebrate the Death of Osama Bin Laden?

The streets of Santa Rosa appear quiet today--at least in my neighborhood--and last night I heard no jubilation following the President's announcement of the killing of Osama Bin Laden. I have no regular TV service (by choice), so I am spared the constant spillage of images and commentary from the televised media, but stories on the Internet news services make it clear enough that some are celebrating today, that some Americans are photographing themselves with news bulletins in front of the White House, that some are chanting USA!--that some are literally dancing in the streets. What I have seen reminds me of images from Tehran in 1979 that showed crowds of young Iranians celebrating the capture and holding of hostages from the US Embassy there. I see the same lack of dignity.

Time has posted online a 20-page article originally published on September 14, 2001, the magazine's first extended reaction to the events of September 11, 2001. Reading it today brought back the sense of disbelief and then outrage 9/11 created, the sense that an important line had been crossed. Should we be glad that Osama Bin Laden is no longer free to spout invective, abet malice, spur violence? Yes. Was killing him just? Given there is little doubt that he planned the African embassy bombings (which killed many non-American muslims), the USS Cole incident, and 9/11, I would say yes. Should we be dancing in the streets, waving flags, chanting USA!? I think not. Images of Americans celebrating the death of Osama Bin Laden will not aid efforts to suppress terrorism. Osama Bin Laden will become a martyr to those who supported him, whether we celebrate or not, but in the minds of those that oppose US Middle East policy, images of celebration will be slotted alongside images of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. Ultimately, jubilation--at least such vulgar expressions of it--will not serve us well. More importantly, celebration of the killing of a man, any man, seems barbaric to me. Isn't barbarism among the things we pretend to fight against?

Photo credit: Osama Bin Laden, AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, 1998.

Plants I'm Growing--First Blooms: Scabiosa Farinosa

First blooms of 2011 yesterday on the low-growing scabiosa Scabiosa farinosa. This has been a very tough, reliable, drought-tolerant plant--much more robust than most scabiosas. It has pretty, glossy leaves and small, neat lilac-colored flower heads. Scabiosa farinosa bloomed on May 4 in 2009 and April 20 in 2010, calculating years from first flower to first flower of 351 days and 362 days.
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