Monday, March 30, 2009

Spring Canyon

It's spring here in the southland. New growth, buds and blooms are everywhere. I have been taking lots of photos but haven't had time to post them. It's time to get a little caught up.

Master C. and I have been on two canyon walks together at Oak Canyon where I became acquainted with some new native California plants. Master C. is becoming quite the hiker, taking off on any trail that piques his curiosity and commanding me to follow him. On our first hike, I took a wrong turn at one point and instead of coming back down into the canyon, we ended up going along the rim and it took forever to get back. By this time, Master C. had grown tired and I ended up carrying him most of the way down back into the canyon. Next time, I will bring along a map!

Before I get into the plants, however, I just have to post this photo of a male Wood Duck. Isn't he handsome? A large group of ducks have spent the winter in the canyon and hadn't left yet when this photo was taken on March 6th. Wood Ducks are my favorite ducks because the male is so colorful and because they are fun to watch. The reason that they like this canyon so much is because they like to build their nests on low branches that overhang water and with all the spreading oak trees along the year-round running stream, the canyon offers them plenty of choices. After the eggs hatch, the little ones just drop or plop down into the water and off they go.

Now for the plants. Because the canyon has both Sugar Bush and Lemonadeberry, and they are both blooming now (or about to bloom), I was able to finally fix in my head the differences between the two. These two photos will illustrate. The first one is Sugar Bush, Rhus ovata, and the second is the Lemonadeberry, Rhus integrifolia. Generally, Sugar Bush is not found close to the ocean but notice also the red stems, the smoother leaf edges, and the darker, shinier leaves that curl inward like a taco. The Lemonadeberry leaf has teeth, although this is not always true. When the Sugar Bush blooms open up, I will be able to compare the flowers in detail.

Sugar Bush, Rhus ovata

Lemonadeberry, Rhus integrifolia

And now, in no special order, here are some of the new native plants I found.

Fuschia-flowered Gooseberry, Ribes speciosum

Baby Blue Eyes, Nemophila menziesii

Miner's Lettuce, Claytonia perfoliata

Blue Dicks, Dichelostemma capitatum

This last link shows some fabulous photos of Parry's Phacelia mixed with California Poppies and lupine. The phacelia is the dark purple flower in my photo.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Earth Hour 2009

Two years ago I wrote a piece about March Madness musicians' style. For some reason, March is the busiest month of the year. Everyone wants to put on a concert. (I'm not really complaining here. I do appreciate having so much work, given the economy.) It's also the month that my students take part in the California Music Teachers' Association Certificate of Merit program. This requires them to play an for an "evaluation" and take a pretty comprehensive written test. So that's where I've been for the last four weeks: practicing, rehearsing, playing or attending concerts, getting my students up to par and rehearsing with them, and of course, driving, driving, driving... I finished with the last concert yesterday and now feel like I can return to my normal life, whatever the heck that is.

Reading this morning's L.A. Times I discovered that last night Los Angeles took part in the one-hour let's-turn-off-the-lights program sponsored by the World Wildlife Fund and I missed it! I was on-stage at 8:30 p.m., sweating under some blazingly bright lights. If I had been keeping abreast of things and had the night free, I surely would have notified you of the event and gone out to do some star-gazing myself. I know that the guys in the club were out at Joshua Tree and also in-town at Ridgecrest. I'll be interested to find out if they noticed any difference.

But I am not too late to tell you about the International Year of Astronomy and the 100 Hours of Astronomy program which takes place next weekend, April 2-5. Our club, the South Bay Astronomical Society, in conjunction with El Camino College will be taking part in the program on Saturday, April 4th, from about 7 to 8:30 p.m. The plan is to set up our scopes in a parking lot on the El Camino campus near Marsee Auditorium and let the general public have a look-see. The exact time and location haven't been divulged yet, so I will keep you posted.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Palos Verdes Blue

If you are a local butterfly lover, you may have already read about the recent release of captive-bred Palos Verdes Blue Butterflies, an endangered species. Yvetta was there to watch the release and sent me these fabulous photos which she said I could share with you. There had been an estimated 220 of these butterflies left in the wild two years ago, but thanks to Jana Johnson and her students, a successful breeding program has been conducted at a laboratory housed at Moorpark College, a community college in Simi Valley. (Another HOORAY! for our community colleges!)

This photo shows the type of boxes that the butterflies were hatched in, and the photo below shows Jana with her students. Each one is holding a bag containing butterflies, 8 males and 2 females. A total of 80 butterflies were released at this site, a vacant Navy property along north Gaffey Street. Other sites include Chandler Preserve, and future sites include White Point Nature Preserve, and Friendship Park. The more sites that they release the butterflies at, the better the chances that the species will survive.

The top photo is a female butterfly, and this photo below shows a male. Their favorite food is deerweed, but in captivity they were fed honey gathered at the Defense Fuel Supply Point property in San Pedro.

"They're worth saving," said Yvetta Williams of Rancho Palos Verdes, a docent for the Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy who has followed the blue butterfly saga through the years. "This is just fantastic."

Yes, it is. Thanks, Yvetta!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Tea Flowers

Niu Lang Zhi Nu. That's the name Simpson & Vail gave to this wonderful tea and I recently took advantage of a rainy afternoon to brew myself a cup or two. The tea was a gift from my sister. At a holiday party this past December, she was charmed by watching the Chrysanthemum and Amaranth flowers unfold and expand as they soak up the precisely 185 degree water and steep for 5 minutes. She thought I might enjoy it also.

The name comes from the Chinese legend of Niu Lang and Zhi Nu which is celebrated in the Double Seventh Festival. It is the Valentine's day of China. The seventh day of the seventh lunar month was the only day that Niu Lang, a cowherd, was allowed to see his wife and the mother of his two children, Zhi Nu, a fairy from heaven. Because Zhi Nu was very skillful at weaving, the custom has been for young girls to pray to her for skill at sewing and needlecraft. Articles are made and competitions are held. They also pray for a "sweet love."

I was totally unaware of the legend when I had my tea, but I was fascinated by the unusual photographic opportunity it provided. I spent a happy half hour taking various photos with my glass mugs and teapots. The taste? Very mild.