Sunday, May 30, 2010

Early Giant

An apricot variety that lives up to both aspects of its name, producing baseball-size fruit that ripen in the 3rd or 4th week of May. This year, flavor is excellent (not always the case), and as in other years the yield was low - a small bagfull of fruit.

The tree, like all apricots, has been an exuberant grower and is now, after 7 years, a large, well-shaped tree providing good shade at a corner of the house.
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Waiting for the pelicans

Unusually, at the cusp of June our crescent of slough - a backwater of the Cosumnes River - is still brim-full and providing a rich habitat and food-source for a wide range of birds and aquatic mammals. Numerous fish - from the large, lumbering carp to smaller minnows - are visible below the surface.

Yet to come is the almost-annual spectacle of the American white pelicans descending to forage on the densifying population of fish as the slough shrinks. Pelicans, with a body weight of 20 pounds and a wing span of 8-10 feet, are North America's largest bird after the California condor. The flocks of pelicans fish like a chorus line, herding the fish to the water's edge in a very coordinated fashion, often under the watchful eye of groups of highly animated great egrets - seemingly sensible of the loss but ill-equipped to challenge the invaders.

Large, roving flocks of pelicans must have been a common and predictable feature of the Central Valley in late spring and early summer, cruising in as the rivers receded and left isolated backwater ponds full of tasty protein.

The white specks in the photo are clumps of cottonwood seed, some aerial and some floating on the water. With a good wind, they'll be pushed to a shore, and with luck - and direct contact with moist soil - germinate and become fast-growing trees.
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Monday, May 24, 2010

Fruit-full Mulberries

The light fruit on the plate are from a "white mulberry" and the dark ones from a "black mulberry." A third variety, Wellington, has yet to yield ripe fruit but the developing fruit look interesting.

Mulberries are of the genus morus and the white and black varieties are native to central Asia. The leaves of the white mulberry are the sole food source for the silk worm, bombyx mori.

The fruitless mulberry was developed from a clone of the white mulberry for the purpose of supporting a US silk industry. The industry never developed but the tree is commonly used in landscaping.

The berries are delicious, the white ones mild and honey-like and the blacks have a richer, fruity but still sweet flavor.

It's obvious why this is not a widespread commercial fruit. The berries ripen slowly and sequentially across the entire tree. The ripeness window is narrow - probably about a day - so daily pickings are required.

When I head for the mulberries with a small container, the chickens race to get there first, jockey for position, and fight for the few that slip through my fingers or fall as I jostle the branches.
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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Two two-syllable visitors

We were blessed for most of the past week with the presence of two two-syllable vistors - Kara and Eva, first time WWOOFers from Portland. They were amazing, transforming a weedy quarter-acre into an ordered plot of nicely-strung hops and helping out in various other ways. They got a taste of all things Kingbird - the politics (a fundraiser hosted here for Congressional candidate Ami Bera), the food-ism (a potluck pizza party for Slow Food Sacramento), the nature (a good outing on the Cosumnes River Preserve and over-flight of the neighborhood), and the dirt. Nice energy, and a surprising (at least from this grizzled perspective!) level of maturity and self-knowledge for 20-year-olds.
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Sunday, May 9, 2010

Happy Mother's Day

Lots of mothering - or pre-mothering - going on here.

On the top, a Brewer's blackbird has made a nest in a satsuma mandarin.

Below, a mallard duck has snagged a spot near a persimmon tree.

The Brewer's will do fine. The mallard, not so sure, since it's within a fenced enclosure with no access to water.

 We'll report back. 

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Monday, May 3, 2010

A kingbirds' eye view of the neighborhood

In March I took a first flight in an ultralight, with California Sport Aviation, out of the Lodi Airport in Acampo, CA, about 10 miles away from Kingbird.

Just me and the pilot, in a couple of seats suspended by cables, engine above and behind our heads, propeller pushing from behind.

The aircraft felt secure and the pilot competent. The ascents were steep, and the pilot claimed a "stall speed" of about 5 mph and the capability of landing in as little as 100 feet of space.

A great way to see the neigborhood.

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