Sunday, May 31, 2009

Maintenance Closer to Home

Where have I been? I've been doing my part to stimulate the economy and keep California's construction workers on the job by taking care of my house. It all started with my annual termite inspection. The guys who did the inspection said that there was so much wood damage that they could no longer tell what was old termite destruction and what was new. They recommended tenting and replacing all the damaged wood. I opted to have all wood replaced and postpone the tenting until next year. After all, if I replaced all or most of the wood, why bother tenting first? And I wanted to have the whole outside of the house painted when they were done. I couldn't afford to do it all. They agreed to wait until next year to see what new damage there might be before tenting and meanwhile they would spot treat any live termite infestations that they found.

We are so fortunate here in California to have two kinds of termites to contend with—the usual subterraneans who get their moisture from the soil, plus dry wood termites who get their moisture directly from the wood. Apparently, they both enjoy our Mediterranean weather as much as we do. My son in Arizona has no problem. It's both too hot and too cold for them there. I have lived in this house for almost 40 years. We had the house tented once in the 80s and have had annual inspections ever since so I knew I had damage from both kinds of termites. It was time to do something about it.

Once they started to work, the carpenters found more damage than they anticipated, but they only found two or three places with active termites in them, thank goodness. The photo above shows the kinds of tube-shaped paths the dry wood termites make while the photos on the left and up top show damage from the subterraneans. (Yucky, I know.) The subs build tubes of mud up from the ground which you can sometimes see. The presence of dry woods is harder to determine. In some cases, a piece of wood looked perfectly sound from the outside, but when they cut it, they found termites at work on the inside. As you can see in the photo, the beasties very cleverly avoid the edges and do most of their damage in the center of the wood. Their presence becomes apparent when you find their detritus falling down on you!

The guys who did the work were excellent. There were five of them and all knew what they were doing and worked together well. They finished the job in less time than was predicted, too. Then it was time for the painters. Stay tuned...

Thursday, May 7, 2009

More on Maintenance

We had another Canyon Walk at Lunada Canyon on Saturday. As I mentioned last month, there seems to be a problem with maintenance in the canyon. We started doing our walks in June 2007 and though I have not been able to go on every walk, I always take my camera along to shoot photos of the plants and the general condition of things. The following photos of this one part of the upper path reveals the problems of maintaining a "natural" setting and the struggle natives must face to survive, never mind propagate.

Taken 6/14/2007

The restoration and new plantings of natives in the canyon took place in 2004 and 2005. According to a 2005 report on the canyon by the PVLC, approximately 660 hours of donated time were given by volunteers, including high school students. The section of the trail in my photographs was worked on by two Eagle Scouts and a Gold Award candidate. 900+ native plants were planted in the canyon as a whole including California Sunflower, Encelia californica; Black and Purple Sage, Salvia mellifera and leucophylla; Coastal Goldenbush, Isocoma menziesii; California Buckwheat, Eriogonum fasciculatum; and California Poppy, Eschscholzia californica along this path. Down in the bottom of the canyon they planted Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana which can be seen in the above photo.

The report acknowledges that constant maintenance would be required due to the fact that prior to the restoration we had record rainfalls and the weeds were very abundant. Weedeaters, chainsaws, and a riparian-accepted herbicide were used to clear the area before planting and the trails were cleared of weeds again in March and June of 2005. We have seen volunteers working on the lower trail to remove the Sweet Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare, and Black Mustard, Brassica nigra.

Taken 2/23/2008

We "inherited" the canyon in pretty good condition as the top photo shows. The native plants were doing well and holding their own. But after the rains of 2008, weeds started to take over again. Even some of the natives (particularly the Lemonadeberry, Rhus integrifolia) were encroaching on the path. In March of this year the new growth started to obscure the path, and now it has all but disappeared. People are making their own path through the weeds and around the larger plants, but this is not the original path. It is even dangerous in one spot because you can't see the ground and people have gone down the side of the canyon.

Taken 3/14/2009

A lot of backbreaking work will now be required if the canyon is to remain open to the public.

Taken 5/2/2009

But there is good news. Demonstrating that the natives are a very hardy bunch, here is a photo of a Bladderpod, Isomeris arborea, taken in July of 2008, and the same plant as we saw it on Saturday. And there are two new little Bladderpod plants now on the other side of the path.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Annual Birdathon

The day after my foray to Carbon Canyon, I took part in the Palos Verdes/South Bay Audubon Society's Annual Birdathon. The team that I went out with did not bike their route as Martin Byhower's team did the following day. Yes, we used our cars and good thing, too, because we covered a lot of ground. This was to be my first official birding outing since my husband died four years ago. Of all the activities that we did together, my husband and I, this is the one that I found to be the hardest to carry on by myself and I was worried that I would hold the team back because I am a little rusty. The object of the Birdathon is to see as many different species as possible in a given area in one day. You need to know your birds and be very quick about identifications.

The morning started very early, at 6:30 a.m., when we all met at a local eatery to plan our day. Since I had breakfast before I left home, I went out with the first group to bird Friendship Park in San Pedro (photo above) while the others stayed for a hearty bacon and egg breakfast. They would need it. It was cold out there! And breezy! I had never been to Friendship Park and wanted to see what it was like. First, we left one of our cars at the bottom of the hill and then drove together to the top.

It didn't take long before exciting things started to show up along a wall in back of some houses. The first of two Orioles, the first of four Lazuli Buntings, and some Golden-crowned Sparrows got our day off to a very good start. The first Oriole was a Hooded, later in the same park we would find a Bullock's. Lazuli Buntings, which I had not seen for 10 years, appeared throughout the day. Likewise, the Golden-crowned Sparrow is not usually seen around my area and I have not seen one since 2000. I can be so precise about this because my husband was an inveterate list-keeper.

We walked down the hill catching Common Yellowthroat, Cassin's Kingbird, Red-tailed Hawk, lots of California Towhees, and a Black Phoebe, along with the usual American Crow, Northern Mockingbird, Scrub Jay, Bushtit, and House Finch. I also heard but did not see a couple of Song Sparrows and one possible California Thrasher. Apparently, "heard" species count, too, and I have good ears. At the bottom, we met with another team member and collecting our cars, headed off for the rendezvous spot, Pt. Fermin Park.

Pt. Fermin is a good place to get out the spotting scope and gaze over the ocean. Usually shearwaters can be seen, but I never was good at shearwaters so I let one of the guys use my scope. There were a lot of birds out there, but no shearwaters. One very strange bird flew in, preened himself, and then tucked his head under his wing feathers and standing on one leg as shorebirds often do, went to sleep. It appeared to be an albino or partially albino oystercatcher. Most likely it was a Black Oystercatcher and not an American Oystercatcher since that is the most common one in the west, but being albino, how could you tell? The bill was unmistakably an oystercatcher's and bright orange. It's too bad you can't see it in the photo.

After Pt. Fermin, the group split up again with some heading for Wilson Park in Torrance and others to Cabrillo Beach in San Pedro. I decided to take a look at White Point Reserve, since it was so close, hoping to get a California Gnatcatcher. I had been there last January and seen several. No luck. No gnatcatcher, no Meadowlarks, only more Cassin's Kingbirds. Even the Rock Wren, another bird I had seen in January, was gone because they have removed his rocks!

By now it was near noon and I was hungry. The plan was for all to meet for lunch at the Lighthouse Cafe in San Pedro and compare notes before continuing. Since I had been hiking the day before, I was getting pretty tired by now, so I sneaked home for a little rest and a lunch of my favorite foods. Lesser Goldfinches were at my feeder and I dutifully added them to the list. After lunch at home, I met the others at the cafe and had another lunch, I was that hungry from all the hiking!

Afterwards, some of us headed for Harbor Regional Park and Lake Machado. Unusual things have been known to turn up there, and the park did not disappoint us. Another albino? This time an egret or heron flew across the lake that had us wondering. Three of us saw it, so it wasn't just me getting bleary-eyed. It was all white with black legs which would signify a Great Egret, but its bill was pale not bright yellow. And it was a very big bird, as big as a Great Blue Heron and there just happened to be one nearby for comparison. We argued about that one for awhile and I don't know what it was officially put down as. We did see other normal Great Egrets and two Great Blues.

After Harbor Park, I headed for home. I was done and I think so were the others. One group had gone on to Bellona Creek since it was on their way home. I don't have the final species list for our group but everyone seemed to think there were fewer birds than usual. The only warbler we saw all day was the Yellowthroat and that is unusual for migration season. Maybe the very hot weather we had at the beginning of the week pushed the birds further north sooner.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Carbon Canyon

Last week, I got inspired by Karin Miller's California Blog photos of the wildflowers growing along Carbon Canyon Rd. between Brea and Chino Hills, CA. That's the area that suffered the large triangle complex fire last November. Her blog referred to the colorful flowers that were "springing forth from the ashes." Since a number of California wildflowers are abundant after a burn, I thought I'd go have a look for myself. I was afraid I might be too late, though, because we had just had several days of 100 degree weather.

I started out at the Brea end of the road where Carbon Canyon Regional Park is located. This is a large park that includes grassy areas, tennis courts, etc., but there is a nature trail at the east end of it. The hills were covered with Black Mustard, Brassica nigra, the yellow flowers in the photo above and definitely not native, and down in the wash there was plenty of Milk Thistle, also not native. There was Mugwort and lot of Mulefat, both of which are natives. The usual phacelias were there that I have seen on my other canyon walks, Caterpillar and Parry's. One that looked different is this one which I think is Desert Bluebells, Phacelia companularia.

Driving along Carbon Canyon Rd. I think I found the spot where Karin took her photos. I found all the same plants that she has in her photos, but something about them bothered me. They didn't look like natives that were naturally springing up after a burn. They looked more like the wildflowers you see along the desert roads where Caltrans has broadcast "native" wildflower mixes.

This orange sunflower is what made me most suspicious. I haven't been able to find it in any of my books. Maybe that's because it isn't native or at least not native to the Santa Ana River area. Oscar Clarke in his book Flora of the Santa Ana River and Environs, is very particular about what he calls a native. Even if a plant is native to the west or native to California but not native to the area covered in his book he calls it "introduced." I like that. I like to find nature as she really is and not as man has fashioned her. The wonder, the beauty of true native plants is that they do spring back to life after disaster. And they tell us something about the place where they are found, its character and its history.

At the northeast end of the road, I turned south to find the entrance to Chino Hills State Park. My plan was to have my picnic lunch there and hike around to see what I could find. It looked very inviting, but I didn't go in very far. No paved roads and I have had two flat tires in the last 9 months. But I did have my lunch in a nice quiet spot while I was entertained by the birds.

These three baby Says Phoebes were patiently waiting for Mom or Dad to bring them food. A Greater Road Runner crossed the road (naturally) and a Blue Grosbeak sat and watched me as I ate. As you can see the park is very bare and in the fall the Black Mustard would be all dried out. No wonder the fire raged out of control once it found its way into the park. It is these introduced species that add to the fire threat.