March 26, 2017

Paulin Creek Preserve

This may concern many of the folks who make frequent observations near Santa Rosa. Just drawing from the list of people who've done a lot locally, I'd think of @direbecca , @thoth, @dave-barry , @richardwasson , @c_michael_hogan , @nelruzam , @evelynch , @kestrel , @bjoelle , @loarie ,@curiousgeorge61 , @kueda, @cjs041 and many others. If you see this and know anyone else, please pass it on!

What's at stake here is the apparent determination of Sonoma County authorities to renege on a gentleperson's agreement made more than a decade ago to leave an 88 acre parcel along Paulin Creek in it's natural state. Instead, it's now proposed to throw this nice meadow and creek into a deal to sell a nearby, non adjacent and very much larger tract to a developer for apartment development. Those of you who read our local paper may have seen a few articles about this scheme:

I realize that this is rather small potatoes as these things go. Still, it is a brazen move that should be stoutly resisted by right-thinking citizens. Think of the 'broken-window' theory of community policing applied to conservation: even small vandalisms should be suppressed, if we wish to avoid anarchy.

While there are many things one might do to help--and I'd be the last to discourage you-- what I'd like to see first really requires no great sacrifice. Just check out the new Paulin Creek Preserve place page on Inat, take the opportunity to visit, and add your observations. My hope is that documenting the biodiversity will raise the profile of this small urban preserve, hearten the more muscular activists, and generally make it more difficult for the County Supervisors to pull the trigger. Lets see what we can do!

Respectfully; John Hibbard

Posted on March 26, 2017 23:10 by icosahedron icosahedron | 5 observations | 2 comments | Leave a comment

October 01, 2014

Fritillaries of Santa Rosa

This year, the first time since we arrived here in 1983, I've been seeing Gulf Fritillaries in Santa Rosa. Long May it Last!

I know they are regularly sighted around the San Francisco Bay; I've seen them myself during our occasional visits. I've read that they've followed the cultivation of passionvine up from southern california. In recent seasons they've been seen around sacramento frequently; so hopefully they are swinging around the bay and will eventually be established in Sonoma County. We've got passion vine in 'rosa too; but, until this year, never one of these unmistakable brilliant-orange creatures. Growing up butterfly-mad in L.A., we saw them every summer day. I discount any reasonable speculation that I might miss one, or be mislead when glancing at a Monarch or West Coast Lady out of the corner of my eye...

I wondered myself this spring(actually 2/24), when I saw an immaculate individual fly out of a clump of passionvine one sunny morning. I was convinced, yet hesitated to post it for a minute. I thought the implication was that it had emerged that day; so at least one gravid female had not only drifted up here but found her host and laid eggs. This all seemed implausible, but I posted the sighting anyway.

Since then I've been out of town a lot, but on my daily walks in central santa rosa I've seen them repeatedly. In the last week, every day. I'm still unable to get the photos I want of these worthy subjects; but close enough to nail any doubts about ID.

What I really want is to find some caterpillars. While the nurseries don't carry the traditional passionflower vines I remember( just tarted-up hybrids), these are common enough growing in old neighborhoods like mine. While I still tend to think our winters too cold for regular flights of A. vanillae, I'd love to be surprised.

Posted on October 01, 2014 14:19 by icosahedron icosahedron | 0 comments | Leave a comment

July 23, 2014

Our Icelandic Binge

We've just finished a week touring Iceland. We had a few day's in a car out of Reykjavik, and the took a boat tour clockwise around.

I'd been a bit wary of the plan to come here, acceding at first largely in respect for the wishes of some dear friends. Unexpectedly, in the runup to leaving I was impressed by the uniformity of positive experiences/impressions people--friends, correspondents and more than a few casual acquaintances who heard us speak of it-- so I thought it best to be more optimistic. An uphill battle, as I wanted to see insects on our vacation: so this effort was hamstrung from the start. Whatever it's virtues, these northern destinations are not places you'll see many butterflies. But there are many compensations.

As a visitor, it is a very cheerful country to visit. So high a proportion of the friendly Icelanders speak english, and with such a charming accent. It's very easy to poke around anywhere. It is perhaps the world's most perfect guilt- free paradise for white people: clean, egalitarian and progressive in all of their arrangements. A sharp downside is the expense of everything. A lunch of burgers with 'hamburger-sauce' (catsup), fries and a soda in a rural roadside cafe costs 60$ for two; with Aretha Franklin on the box thrown in for atmospherics. For a splurge you can get Puffin or a Minke steak. Best value: excellent fish-n-chips from a roach-coach made with fresh codfish. Vegans have a hard time; the more so because the large bulk of the vegetable are jetted in-- so in this country not the eco-choice.

In most categories, it doesn't take long to complete your survey of plants and animals. We are here in high-summer, so flowering plants are at their peak. I was able to photograph about 50 species in visiting spots around the island; and at that time was staring to find anything new. Not a problem at all in a short visit, especially considering the astonishing beauty of the settings you encounter at every turn. The animals are pitifully few; and not enough for the fingers of one hand if you exclude the introduced varieties: mice, rats, minks,sheep, reindeer and those beautiful horses. We were favored, in Hornstrandir, to see an Arctic Fox.

Birds are a big draw; although there too there are not a host of varieties. this is compensated to a degree by their numbers and accessibility. Many of our companions were birders with huge lenses put to effective use. Even without, you can get close views of tame puffins and kittiwakes. The Arctic terns literally have to be beaten off with a stick (thoughtfully provided if you visit Vigur Island). If you keep your nerve you'll get marvelous close-action shots as they very persistently try to peck your eyes out.

I regretted my ignorances of mosses. The heaving fields of lava rock are of special interest. I understand this place is a paradise of mosses, and I'm sorry I can't say much more than they are so very gorgeous. If we come back I'll do better.

We paid a small fortune to sail around the island, stopping where conditions permitted to raft ashore. We did see lots of whales this way; but not much more than you can access in a day boat off Monterey. And frequently, weather or shore conditions will frustrate your ambitions. My advice would be to take a few weeks to drive around, and across, Iceland. You'll want some kind of jeep-like option, and it would cost you, but you'd be very pleased. Budget a ton of money, and you'll not regret the spending.

Posted on July 23, 2014 19:41 by icosahedron icosahedron | 0 comments | Leave a comment

March 08, 2014

Weeds of Santa Rosa.

Having spent several days recently as a volunteer clearing invasive species at a local nature preserve, it seemed politic to devote this fine spring morning to our own city lot. Before anything else, I am a married man with the correct priorities.

Like all our neighbors, we've a patch that disappears each spring under the new crop of volunteer growth. Some of this, providentially, is rather pretty; like the stands of Bermuda buttercup and Three-cornered leek. By the time our Redbud bursts into blossom, most of our flowerbeds are densely carpeted with alternating patches of hot yellow and masses of ivory bells hanging delicately from curving stalks. This is as nice a picture as any master gardener might contrive with infinite pains: and all gratis, for nothing.

But even as we admire this feast, one notices the concomitant inroads of ryegrass, spurge, bittercress, red deadnettle, dandelion, groundsell, Erodium, bur clover and bull mallow on my vegetable space. This year, with the late start, these are at least not fully confluent. More shaded areas are filling with the neighbors common ivy. with forget-me-nots, with chinese privet, cleavers, and the wonderfully named asparagus aspargoides. We also have--same neighbor--blackberry; but happily this is all Mr. Burbank's thornless variety: a wimpy cultivar that disgraces it's muscular tribe.

All this and more! And it means that it's time to get weeding, pretty buttercups be damned. For the latter entirely cover beds of exquisite succulents, delicate violets and many other charming nursery species: assembled at expense and assiduously cultivated. O the Pride of Man! The first spring is free and belongs to every beating heart; the gardeners' spring of May belongs to the Richards, and a few obsessives willing to devote themselves to the inflexible disciplines of a massive yearly attempt to gild the lily of spring. It's just my opinion, but I hold that these mighty efforts would better be expended on maintaining and extending our preserves.

Such are my grumblings as I man up to the business at hand… to tear out as much as possible. What follows is a partial list:

  1. Tons of ryegrass.
  2. Rapidly emerging and quickly flowering bittercress.
  3. Petty spurge.
  4. Burclover.
  5. Spiny sowthistle.
  6. Groundsell(Old Man of Spring).
  7. Bermuda Buttercup.
  8. Bullmallow.
  9. Erodium.
  10. Dandelion.
  11. Cut-leaf geranium.
  12. Red deadnettle.
  13. Forget-me not.
  14. Three-cornered leek.
  15. Italian arum.
  16. Spearmint.
  17. Common ivy.
  18. Chinese Privet. I remove 10,000 of these every year.
  19. Cleavers(stickywillie).
    20 Asparagus asparagoides.

These must be cleared repeated before the full flush of cultivated spring… they'll rebound quicky and prevail again; until being joined/suceeded by the weeds of high summer. That would be another post.

Posted on March 08, 2014 22:27 by icosahedron icosahedron | 16 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

February 09, 2014

500-year drought.

I'm a old and mellow Californian now; and so, familiar with the dry years so characteristic of my watersheds. But even with this background, this is a standout year. And everyone I've spoken to seems to agree.

My thinking about this was unexpectedly shaped by a digression I heard on an AM Radio money show some years ago… At that time, similar to the present, we were also trudging through an economic depression. The host, in the midst of reassuring counseling about possible personal economies, disciplined savings plans and prudent investing, went off on a riff about the parched earth, empty reservoirs and angry farmers. This--he explained-- was the true poverty. What use are our pathetic plans in the face of an implacable God? This is the real, the bedrock economics. Human as we are, we tend to forget these lessons.

I've been walking about our local hills quite a bit this new year, and trying hard to be positive. Although the warmth of many of our winter days has been charmed by occasional butterflies( Crescents, Painted Ladies, Red Admirals, Mourning Cloaks, Buckeyes and--for others--even Pigmy Blues), the threat has been there that we might have no real spring. Usually the first tinges of green are found under last years' dried crop by November. This time, as those same stalks have been reduced gradually to dry powder, no hint of life. Our Oak woodlands, already decimated by various stressors, looked especially forlorn in Januaries' watery sunshine. As the wildfire professionals like to observe, a whole lot of prime fuel.

Happily, in the first part of February, it's a bit better. A day's soft rain on the 2nd. brought out a sparse showing of green shoots; and for two days it's been really raining hard. As some of our western natives like to say: a 'female' rain now joined by a true 'male' downpour So a Vernal Season of some sort now seems assured; and what a relief! For our own long-term good, it's almost tempting to hope this is the best we get, because we need to make a lot of adjustments going forward. A Hundred-Year drought might be just about right.

Posted on February 09, 2014 02:13 by icosahedron icosahedron | 0 comments | Leave a comment

September 13, 2013

Alaska Dream

Never thought we'd go for an Alaska Cruise. In this new prop for the economy of the economically distressed Tongas region, fleets of huge 'princess' ships ply the inland waterway; collectively involving a population equal to that of the residents over each season. As we flew into Ketchikan there were three of these leviathans tied up along the waterfront of that tiny town( site of the famous 'bridge to nowhere'); for the afternoon, tripling any spot census. This northern burg, formerly a logging hub, now boasts 32 jewelry shops... When you disbark from your princess for the short stop you can choose between these emporia( what is 'tanzanite', anyway?) or stroll in the tiny downtown and visit the faux goldrush bar or the cheerfully preserved bordellos. But today there's no sex for sale.

We were waiting overnight for the "Alaska Dream", a tidy catamaranic boat built and owned by the Allen Family. To our taste a far-better deal. Bob Allen was an deeply salted american immigrant with many manly accomplishments in his adopted home; Betty a Tinglit with formidable personal qualities, became his life partner. Together they put together a modest empire that includes a fleet of aluminum-hulled vessels that are mostly ferries of one sort or another. Their small cruise line tours the indian settlements and small surviving logging/fishing towns of the inland passage. With 30 or so companions and a brace of native guides you are able to learn a lot about the region, the real deal.

Some of this is distressing. Basically, they've never recovered from the forest service's pulling the plug on the timber harvesting of the late twentieth century. It's still an emotional matter for many of the older citizens. As I understand it, the cutting of the hemlock forests for pulp(hemlock's no good as dimensional lumber) was stopped because of the combination of chronically low prices and the realization that the initial Management Plans for the Tongas wildly overestimated the forests' capacity to regenerate. What locals seem to remember is that treacherous hippies persuaded those fools in the DC to stab them in the back. Thin as that assessment seems to me, I curbed my tongue in deference to the fact that most of these people are truly the salt of the earth. All they wanted was a paycheck--hard-earned by any standard--to allow a life in this beautiful place. And quite a few of them manage to persist.

Aside from zirconia, they live on government jobs and fishing. Fishing continues to be prosperous. A young man with a Gill-Net setup( a 36' boat, the net, a couple of assistants and a 50,000$ license) told me he could clear 150-200K over the summer. Long may it last for them... I also met the granddaughter of a fellow who made--with the support and encouragement of the fisheries people--the first exploratory King Crab trip. In the day, they'd no idea there was even a practical fishery for these beasts. In that first season, the man took several million pounds of them. Now, of course(as known to many of our fellow reality-TV addicted citizens) they are a bit harder to boat. So far, higher prices easily compensate. We shall see.

Away from these sidebars, the trip was a wonder of naturalizing delights. These small boats, expertly handled, are wonderful for whale watching and poking up the stupendous fiords to reach what's still visible waterside of the great ice. And the visits to native sites with a small party provided, a real perspective of a traditional culture with real staying power. The most impressive fact is that the Tongas human population, despite all the profit from the depredations of extractive industries and injections of federal money, is yet considerably less than that sustained for the eight thousand years since the last time of heavy glaciation. Unless, of course, you count the heads on the conveyor-belt of princess ships; in that case we're doing nearly as well.

Posted on September 13, 2013 14:50 by icosahedron icosahedron | 0 comments | Leave a comment

May 29, 2013

Long and winding trail to the False Indigo

For the last year or so I've suffered a minor obsession to find the False Indigo.

My interest stems from a childhood peak experience. In 1960 I netted a male California Dogface in our Los Angeles neighborhood. I instantly recognized this iconic insect; and with remarkable presence of mind, deftly gathered it in to take to my brothers killing jars and spreading boards. It then had pride of place in his well-organized collection. Sadly that great work of obsessive love was to be gifted a decade later by our clueless sister to a hippie friend to hang in her cannibis-scented pad... I'm still hoping to get over the casual stupidity of that loss.

Anyway, few years after my triumph, Mr. Reagan signed this beast into official status as our 'state insect'. Despite my esteem for the dogface, I really couldn't agree. While locally abundant, the Dogface is rarely seen in most of California. So a bit too elitist a choice. There's the further issue that that master communicator should have given approval to the 'Flying Pansy' to represent our great state. Had he'd asked me, it would have been the Western Tiger... Likely, another example of his delegating essential decisions to his staff.

I only saw my second Dogface after moving to Sonoma county. I didn't expect it here--it's more a SoCal bug-- but have learned through Inat that it can occur. So this brings up the matter of the False Indigo. Just how prevalent is that?

In principle, we've at hand formidable resources in finding these sorts of things, but it still took a while. Looking at the few posted images didn't help much. Maybe it's me; but I've a lot of trouble working from a few photos and then going out to locate something. It works great the other way: from my own pictures I can go to Calflora or another member's site and be rather sure. Sadly, photographs deceive even as they inform. Proportions are often distorted badly, key features are often not included or blurred. Do others find these problems?

Calflora helps with its site mapping of observations; but in this case not much. Almost all of the places are inaccessible without trespassing. The one exception for A. californica was a Santa Rosa site now covered by a freeway sound wall. The other public spot in a park was within 1/2 acre thicket subsequently enclosed in a 7' fence by the California Native Plant Society...

The key for me was a nice online movie made in the San Bernadino mountains by a lepidopterist. This includes movies of impressive stands of the plant stirring in the alpine breezes. Seeing this was a revelation: Movies are a huge improvement when you want to get the necessary gestalt for rapid visual ID. In the future, maybe video clips will replace the static images of today. We shall see.

Thus prepared, i found a specimen the next day; right along a trail I'd hiked the week before, looking for Amorpha. It was providently still carrying a bit of bloom; but I'd swear i recognized it swaying gracefully in the light breeze just as in the movie clip. Makes me think: how rare is it, really? Not sure how questions of species prevalence are answered.

If it really is disappearing, maybe I'll try to grow a bit myself.

Posted on May 29, 2013 15:14 by icosahedron icosahedron | 1 observation | 0 comments | Leave a comment

May 01, 2013

The Curley Redwood Inn

On our recent trip we stopped coming back in Crescent City, at the Curley Redwood Inn.

Home in Santa Rosa we've the "Church of One Tree"; a charming craftsman-style structure built in the early 20th. century from the bones of one of our Coast Redwoods. If you're old enough, you may remember this from a posting in Ripley's 'Believe it or Not'; a widely circulated, large-panel colored comic section institution of 1950's America, which weekly featured a few of the curious oddities discovered by Mr. R.... Largely forgotten today, Ripley was a long time the syndication star of Sonoma county; until displaced by Charles Schultz and his "Peanuts". You can see his proud remains in our downtown Rural Cemetery; and of course may visit the peripatetic COOT(moved once or twice after being decommissioned as a house of worship) in our Julliard Park.
The Curley Inn is of similar provence; made from 8 huge quarter sections taken from an immense tree at Midcentury. At the desk, friendly staff will proudly show you an album of photos documenting this impressive feat. But instead of a Christian Chapel, this king's ransom of heartwood was allotted to embellish the emerging new american religion of the endless road with a rather fine Motel. I don't recall it ever made it to the funny papers, although full worthy.

I suppose this is taking a bit of a sardonic tone; and in I do regret that
In fact, I loved the Curley Inn. It's in every way a classic of it's kind; and can only be described as beautiful. This is more than the tasteful use of the fabulous wood. The place is beautifully proportioned, lovingly maintained and entirely faithful in every detail to the best of the 1950-60 road aesthetic. The staff are hospitality itself. Inexplicably overshadowed by a handful of new hideous chain Motels, there's plenty of room at the Inn. If you need to pause in Crescent City, please check it out. Save the Curley Inn!

There's of course a lot of regret to share around concerning the loss of most of our aboriginal Redwood Forest. Some does remain--some wonderful trees are passed in the last few miles coming down to C.C. from the north-- but so much was squandered that preserving bits of the best in the Curley Inn cannot be censured. I'll never forget my trip through Arcada in 1976; hearing a belligerent voice on the local radio heaping scorn on the tree-huggers because 'there was almost 10% of the old-growth forest yet uncut'. Anyone know what the figure is today?

Posted on May 01, 2013 01:54 by icosahedron icosahedron | 0 comments | Leave a comment

April 25, 2013

Up the Big Coast

Got a chance to travel a bit along the N. American coast this spring: a fine perspective on our occidental world. Now I'm in Anacortes where it's their first fine weather and the earliest flush of spring. My first stop was a month ago in La Paz.
Down there I'd heard of earlier drenching rains. We missed the full desert efflorescence; but it was still very fine in the first real heat. We'd come for a whale cruise--which exceeded expectations-- but stopped at Santa Catalina, Isle de Spiritu Santo and all along Isla Magdelena on the Pacific side; everywhere with local naturalists in tow.
Then , last week I drove up 101 from Sonoma county north and along most of the Oregon coast before cutting in to Eugene to Portland and up to Anacortes. The last leg was to take the charming toonerville Guemes Ferry with bikes to tour that mossy island. While the locals talk of drought here, the Mexicans would be puzzled to hear it.

One main unifying theme of my trip is how uniform the urban weeds are between here and the Tropic of Cancer. Burclover, Plantain, Dandelions and various gerania dominate everywhere people gather in numbers. A nice surprise: the remarkable lushness of the english daisies and dandelions of the Northwest. A first glance, you think them separate species. As I write, the dandelions of Anacortes are strewn across the shaggy lawns like the very dreams of avarice... Naturally, the ranks of the more fastidious householders are beavering away by any means necessary to extirpate them. Here and there they achieve a limited success.

Down in Baja I saw hundreds of wild species too, and was able to post a few score. I could barely keep up with the naturalists accounts of how virtually every blooming plant had some essential medicinal or culinary virtue. While sadly a skeptic about the worth of some of those claims, I'm deeply impressed with the focus inhabitants of those badlands developed in their simpler world. Nothing there without a purpose and use.
Driving up into Mendicino the next month, I could feel at one the seasons clock turned back a few ticks. Grasses were just seeding, vetches were brilliant, and lupines were at their peak. All these fading now in Sonoma.
Veering to the coast, this is even more striking; and you're also moving north of the typical California zone to a distinctly new community. I've spent a bit of time between Big Sur to the Russian River; and here I found far too many new forms to document.
Portland now is almost oppressive with gorgeous bloom. Fruit Trees, Rhododendrons, Azaleas and Dogwood in all it's charming varieties. Up there--unlike in California--people put in cultivars of ornamental plants much more congenial to the climate. Many of these(like the Rhodies and Dogwood) are similar to wild relatives found in the woods. Thus, every plebeian block has ungroomed displays not achieved for love or money in San Francisco--let alone LA. Worth a special trip.

I'm going to have to leave Anacortes in a day or so, sadly without seeing it's full spring. Always keen for butterflies, I've had to be content with cabbage whites and a few Mourning Cloaks revived at high noon by the thin sunshine. Maybe I saw a crescent... So here's my main compensation: the lepidoptera of Sonoma are wonderful now, and improving every day.

Posted on April 25, 2013 00:10 by icosahedron icosahedron | 0 comments | Leave a comment

March 28, 2013

A Lindblad tour

I took one of the Lindblad/Nat'l Geographic tours with my partner this month; cruising on one of their old boats from La Paz to Bahia Magdalena. While these are pricy, they are surely of very high value.

In these waters they use a pair of 1950's craft built in our small Northwestern yards for cruises in the columbia river and the passage up to Alaska. At 150' length with 3 passenger decks they convey 60 passengers and just a few less crew; so your experience is intimate without any sense of crowding. Along with other crew, they've 6 naturalist/photographers; always including a strong contingent of local people. At any stop, they use a number of local guides, pilots and helpers; and quite a bit of our food comes from local sources. Passengers are of every age, all motivated to see the natural wonders. No one was disappointed. In a week we were able to see Dolphins in shoals, uncounted birds,
Blue, Humpback and Grey whales; we swam at a Sealion Colony with mothers and frisky pups; trekked on several unspoilt Gulf Islands; Kayaked, Snorkled and toured everywhere on their fleet of Zodiak Rafts. Definite value for money.

On our tour we were graced by the presence of Swen Lindblad. A boyish 70, he's continued and greatly enlarged his father's idea of ecotours using specially dedicated boats to bring as many people as possible into close contact with what persists of our wild planet. One can be cynical about this sort of enterprise--I suppose I personally would have been--but these reactions can't last long in the face of the man's considerable charm. You can see he enjoys long relationships with the various crew and professionals; in fact he spent a large part of the time babysitting some of his own grandchildren and a gaggle of other kids brought along for what might have been a tedious week with the grownups.

Part of our entertainment, at his personal appeal, was to from groups and discuss various threats to the ocean ecosystems and possible or even plausible remedies. This matters are, to any thinking person, a dolorous subtext to the wonderful experiences of the trip. It was gratifying to see, first of all, how alert and engaged the tour clients were. First of all, nearly everyone was pleased for the opportunity to organize talking and a subsequent large meeting. Many guests were deeply involved in one or another conservation or mitigation project at home. Not a soul was ignorant of the very serious state of the natural world, and I heard a surprising amount of practical wisdom. As much as it lifts the heart to float among baby Grey Whales, it was more gratifying to see this evidence that citizens were paying sophisticated attention.

Posted on March 28, 2013 14:29 by icosahedron icosahedron | 0 comments | Leave a comment