Monday, June 18, 2012


This awkwardly situated - but very much alive - barn swallow is probably one of many forced out of their crowded nests early by the weekend's high heat. They are not yet competent flyers, but they can make short hops from place to place. The parents find and feed them, cueing in on the white "grin patch" still very evident on this bird.

We have at least 50 nests on and around the house, all with hungry youngsters. We watch the parents shuttle back and forth with everything from mosquitos to grasshoppers and picture a steady, substantial stream of protein moving to and - as is quite obvious everywhere! - through the young birds. This crop of barn swallow babies is just the first of several; most parents will hatch two more rounds of young this year, and sometimes three.

*for Sara, with apologies to everyone else.
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Tuesday, June 12, 2012


American white pelicans have been visitors here for the past 10 days. We see them wheeling overhead in a flock of 200 or more, color shifting from a bright white to an almost invisible neutral as they change their inclination to the sun. Here they are feeding on fish, frogs, and crayfish in a shrinking wetlands pond, accompanied by hundreds of egrets (and a few great blue herons) desperate to get their share before the bounty is all gone.

Inland pelicans use the terminal lakes of Nevada and Utah as home bases and breeding areas. They are apparently driven by instinct to visit the Central Valley's remaining wetlands areas at this time of year, when historically the snowmelt-driven flood waters would have been receding from the valley, making aquatic prey more accessible.

A few more photos are on Facebook, here.
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Saturday, June 9, 2012

love bite

For June 6's transit of Venus, we convene a few friends for supper in the garden and set up a primitive projection system for watching the progress of the planet across the sun. Here, Venus has just started her passage; through the evening she will burrow deep into the heart of our star and slip away only after nightfall.

The supper is from the garden - lettuce, beets, potatoes, grilled onions, grilled polenta - and comes together with the help of a few enthusiastic assistants.

Few are willing to listen to my deeply-researched lecture on the importance of the transit in the history of science and exploration, but we all resolve to convene again the next time Venus intrudes upon the sun. Somewhere.

In anticipation of the occasion, I reread Shirley Hazzard's Transit of Venus. Hazzard, born in Australia (a continent whose "discovery" was a by-product of Captain Cook's voyage to observe the 1769 transit), is a consummate prose artist. Her most recent novel, The Great Fire, is my favorite. Both explore the lives and loves of endearing characters in the stark post-World War II moral and physical landscape.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

blogging while blonde ...

We enjoy the company of Trish and Jenna this week, joining Guillaume for a round of weeding, planting, and enjoying the early summer Kingbird bounty. Trish and Jenna blog, sometimes, yes, compulsively, always intelligently, often lyrically. They all launch tomorrow - T&J back to Wisconsin and Guillaume for a month on the John Muir Trail. We'll miss them.

More photos at, where I've started posting photos and tagging and all that stuff ...