Category Archives: Nature

The Swallows Return

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night……will keep the swallows from returning to the Mission San Juan Capistrano on St. Joseph’s Day every year. Turns out while I wasn’t looking the swallows stopped their historic annual return in 2003. It can’t be blamed on the California weather or global warming. The swallows stopped coming when construction was going on at the Mission. The swallows did not return for over a decade. Now with the concerted efforts of the Mission staff, an ornithologist, recorded bird calls, and the building of a temporary nesting wall, the swallows are returning to Capistrano this year. So whether or not you think my post about the annual migration of our swallows is hot, I think it’s pretty cool.

 


Post inspired from today’s LA Times Article ‘Familiar Sights Returning to O.C.‘ about the swallows of San Juan Capistrano. Featured image of San Juan Capistrano Mission by Ken Lund via Flickr. Image of Cliff Swallow by Don Debold.

Unofficial motto of the US Postal Service, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds” inscription on James Farley Post Office in New York City.

Stream of Consciousness Saturday is hosted by Linda G Hill. The prompt words for today are “weather/whether.”

Flying Through Space

Windblown sand in Ganges Chasma, Valles Marineris, Mars via NASA

“When we contemplate the whole globe as one great dewdrop, striped and dotted with continents and islands, flying through space with other stars all singing and shining together as one, the whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty.”- John Muir

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One Liner Wednesday is hosted by Linda G Hill. All images from NASA.

 

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Pick Your Battles

There are several issues that are pressing right now. Important issues that are in the cross hairs of this new administration. Could this be a strategy, attack on several fronts, divide people into different camps? It can be overwhelming. Healthcare, Social Security, Medicare, the Environment, women’s control over their bodies and reproductive health, Education, and Immigration. Did I leave anything out? Preservation of our National Parks, our protected open spaces, is one of my priorities. What’s yours?


Featured image ‘Valley of the gods’ in Bears Ears National Monument via US Bureau of Land Management.

Hope And Spring

“You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep Spring from coming.”-Pablo Neruda

I have noticed that some of my rose bushes in the front yard are under aphid attack. I was busy pruning when I noticed a lady bug on one of the leaves. It was a bright red one with black polka dots. I stood there admiring it for several minutes and I said hello and thank you. I was thinking if a neighbor heard me talking to the lady bug they would think I was a bit crazy. I took the ladybug as a sign of hope.

749px-LadyBug-1

Lady bug on a leaf by Alvesgaspar


One Liner Wednesday is hosted by Linda G Hill.

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My Pyracantha Tree

We started doing some landscaping of our property last year. We had the help of a contractor which is good because neither my husband or myself are handy that way. There is a small section in the backyard, that once was lawn, where I wanted to have something low maintenance and drought tolerant. I did not want to have to hire a gardener again or mow and water a lawn. So for the small plot in the back, I picked out ground cover , and my husband and I chose plants, and some fruit trees to add to the succulents and trees that were already there. We put in more succulents, sage, and few other flowering plants. I planted the woolly thyme ground cover myself. On the whole, everything we planted seems to be doing well. Some of the trees and bushes in our backyard were already there when we bought the house many years ago, and I did not know anything about them. I decided I wanted learn and I started doing some research. My daughter recommended an App for my android that helps to identify plants and trees. So I started making observations and taking photos to see what I had growing in my yard. There is a tree, near one wall, that a gardener had said was a Manzanita. Every winter it has small red berries that the birds and squirrels like to eat. I noticed the tree was starting to flower again with small unopened buds. I took a photo of the tree and used my new App to see if I could get it identified. The App was not able to give me an answer so I had to take my research online. I looked at many websites, studying many descriptions and images of leaves and trees. I had noticed that there was this cotton-y like fluff scattered on a few branches. At first I thought it was part of the tree. I was excited when I finally identified my tree as a Pyracantha. One thing mentioned in the description of the tree was thorns which I hadn’t noticed initially. It does have sharp thorns. I found out what the cotton-y fluff was too. It was not part of the tree but something produced by a type of aphid called woolly apple aphid. Yikes, how was I going to get rid of these aphids? Further research led me to aphid predators. I found out there are wasps who lay their eggs in the aphids and turn them into aphid mummies. Other predators of the aphids are syrphid or hover flies, ladybugs, earwigs, and green lacewings. I found something else on a few of the leaves, a reddish dusty looking coating. Turned out that was spider mites. This was getting upsetting because I did not want aphids and spider mites to eat my tree. I did decide to prune a small branch that had more aphids and spider mites than some of the other branches. I wanted to control these little invaders without using pesticides. More research led me to Neem Oil, which is organic.  I have to be careful with it because it can hurt the ‘good’ insects and bees. I have decided to hold off on the Neem Oil a bit because I have observed natural predators on my tree. I have been so excited to see syrphid flies and a few green lacewings landing on the branches. I have gone from being a novice gardener to an amateur entomologist in just a few weeks.


My contribution to the My Stuff Writing Challenge on Almost Iowa @almostiowa.com. Featured image ‘Juene femme lisant dans un jardin’ by Henri Lebasque via Wikimedia.

Mystery Tree

“To be astonished is one of the surest ways of not growing old too quickly.”                  -Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette

PIA21270 Martian Dust Devil via JPL

Martian Dust Devil Action Gale Crater, Sol 1597

Isn’t that a great Gif from NASA? There is wind on Mars. It is wonderful that we have the technology to capture images from another planet.

Speaking of technology, my new App has been working pretty well up until now. I take a photo of the plant/bush/tree that I want to identify and the App sends me several images of different plants/bushes/trees to see if there is a match. If I do not see a match, I can ask The Horticulturist. I then submit 3 photos of the mystery plant and The Horticulturist will get back to me within 24 hours with an answer. This was all going swimmingly until the App couldn’t identify one of my bush/trees.

Mystery Tree

Mystery Tree

I need to trim some of the branches off the bottom of this tree.  I do remember being told in the past it is a Manzanita. I have been researching, and it matches better with a Toyon or Christmas Berry or California Holly. This would make it a native of California, drought tolerant, and good for bees and birds. It gets red berries in winter. The birds and squirrels like to eat the berries. It is quite comical to see the squirrels hanging upside down off the branches munching on the berries.  After researching a lot some more, I think I have found it, Eureka!  It is not a Manzanita, it is not a Toyon or Christmas Berry, it is a Firethorn or Pyracantha.  The App probably had a hard time identifying it because it has not flowered yet, although it has some little buds, and no berries yet. I was so focused on the leaves and buds that I did not notice it does have some thorns on the branches. Some of thorns are hidden behind the leaves and they are very sharp. It was hard to capture a clear image of the thorns but I included a few below. I noticed that it is getting a couple of pretty white flowers up on a higher branch, and there is this cotton-y stuff scattered around some of the branches. It is not a native of California but it is hardy and drought tolerant.

I found out about the cotton-y stuff on a few branches, and it is good it is few and far between because it is a sign of the woolly apple aphid. The aphids usually do not become a major problem thanks to natural predators like some wasps, lady bugs, syrphid flies or hover flies, earwigs, and lace wings. I saw some flying wasp-y looking insects around the tree this morning and hope they are after the aphids. And I have noticed lots of earwigs in our yard. I have to keep watch for aphid mummies, which is what happens when the wasps attack the aphids. Between those spiky thorns and the aphid mummies this is getting a little scary.  But I am liking earwigs more.


One Liner Wednesday is hosted by Linda G Hill. It is a nice way to meet up with other bloggers. Click on the link to check out her site.

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My Near Perfect Urban Trees

Continuing my research on my backyard flora, I have identified two more trees. They are the biggest trees on our property and against a back wall. I used my App again and couldn’t find a match. I did ask The Horticulturist but you have to wait for 24 hours to get the answer. But I was able to find them online. They are common trees in LA, drought tolerant, evergreen, conifers, and don’t cause problems with their roots. They are called Afrocarpus falcatus or Fern Pines. ( I find they are also referred to as Afrocarpus gracilior).  Cal Poly San Luis Obispo says the names are synonymous. They are originally from Africa.  Some other names are African Fern Pine and Yellowwood. Robin Rivet a horticulturist in the San Diego Horticultural Society (Oct. 2012, No. 217, pg. 5) called them “near perfect for urban landscapes.” Very reassuring. Thank you, Robin. Can’t get any better than that. Cal Poly states that my Fern Pines can grow 12-36 in./year, up to 50-65 ft. tall, and live more than 150 years. I can just see these two trees being the last things standing on our property.


Stream of Consciousness Saturday is hosted by Linda G Hill. My featured image is of a ‘Ring-necked dove in an African Fern Pine’ in Maui by Forrest and Kim Starr on Flickr. We get doves in our yard and in our Fern Pine Trees. It is hard to get a photo because the minute we go outside they usually fly off. Ours are Mourning Doves.

Mourning Dove

Mourning Dove via US Fish and Wildlife Service