Saturday, December 25, 2010

Rain, rain, rain, rain, rain. And ENCORE!

Well after about a week of almost non-stop rain, and then a much needed hiatus yesterday and today, it looks like the wet stuff is poised to come down on us again this evening. In fact, it's just starting to rain now as I'm typing this post. Forecast says that it's a fast-moving storm but may still drop up to an inch of water in coastal areas & mountain slopes. We'll see. And so much for La Nina. I'd be very surprised if we didn't break some kind of historical rainfall record for the month of December. 

12/22/10 My sad-looking cottage garden near the olive grove, saturated with water.

12/22/10 Our view for the better part of a week looked like this. It was great for the first few days, but then by the fourth or fifth day, that monochromatic expanse of gray wetness began to affect our collective sanity.

12/22/10 Sheets of water coming down from the upstairs balcony over my office window. We did not install rain gutters on this part of the house and found out the hard way that, after a couple days of endless driving rain, leaks were bound to be sprung. And spring they did.

12/22/10 Hana, stricken with an inconsolable ennui (aka "cabin fever").

Alas, she took it out on one of her hapless squeeky toys. Not sure if it was Rosencrantz or Guildenstern.

12/23/10 Hallelujah! Signs of clearing around 6:30am outside the garage.

12/23/10 Driveway, still foggy & soggy, but sans rain.

Driving to and from work this past Thursday, we came across visages of nature gone wild as a couple of our local, normally mild-mannered waterways were now churning up some incredible volumes of whitewater.

12/23/10 Santa Ana River off the I-15 in Norco with muddy debris along the banks.

12/23/10 Santa Ana River off the I-15 in Norco. A torrent of water along the edge of the concrete embankment. This area is usually dry, as the river's normal course is to the left of the line of willows in the picture.

12/23/10 Tons of H20 raging its way down the outlet channel at Prado Dam, off Hwy. 71 in Chino Hills. 

The bright note in the aftermath of this deluge, was that we had an absolutely gorgeous day on Christmas Eve - brisk temperatures and a clear blue sky, with endless views of snowcapped mountains in the backdrop.

12/24/10 View of San Bernardino Mountains (Big Bear) from outside the kitchen door.

12/24/10 And panning to the right, here's Mt. San Jacinto.

Gotta count our blessings. This recent storm produced mudslides and floods that destroyed homes, properties & even lives in some areas (a poor woman was swept into Canyon Lake and drowned in her vehicle), and we came through with just a few leaks. What's a few leaks?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Birding Lake Elsinore

Gil and I joined our local bird expert, Julie Szabo, and the Palomar Audubon Society today for a birding trip around the levee and wetlands of Lake Elsinore. You couldn't ask for more perfect weather: sunny, only mildly breezy, and up in the 70s by late morning. I was surprised to see so many people gathered in the parking lot at Diamond Stadium near the levee entrance when we arrived this morning at 8:30am - all unmistakably birders, btw, with their binocs, spotting scopes, cameras, and a few sporting those tell-tale multi-pocketed vests.

Our local paper did make note of this outing, about a week prior: 

12/11/10 Amazing fall colors of willows, Cottonwoods, and other vegetation along the banks of the levee.

I never knew this place existed, and am so glad we came today. We drive by Elsinore every weekday on our way to and from work on the I-15, and the only time we actually go into town is to shop at their Costco, which is much less crowded than the one in Temecula. Now we have another great reason to come out here, and I really must thank Julie Szabo, whom we met at Dick Cronberg's bird ID class at the Santa Rosa Plateau a few weeks ago, for the advance notice on this trip. Thanks, Julie! And, she was also an excellent guide on our trek today.

A jumble of Northern Shovelers, Gadwalls, Black-necked Stilts, and American Coots.

Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) on the bank of the levee. How cool is that? The last time we saw a Peregrine Falcon was in 2005 in Morro Bay, nesting on the upper fringes of Morro Rock. 

A few factoids on Lake Elsinore: This 3,000-acre lake is the largest natural lake in Southern California. The trail along the levee is 3 miles long, pooch-friendly, and offers great wildlife viewing. The levee is usually closed to vehicular traffic, but our caravan of birders had special permission to drive through today.

Kinda hard to see, but this little guy is an American Kestrel (Falco sparverius). 

Western Grebes (Aechmophorus occidentalis). There were large numbers of Western Grebes, along with some Clark's Grebes (Aechmophorus clarkii) in the waters today. 

Western Grebes (Aechmophorus occidentalis).

Great Egrets, a Snowy Egret (3rd from the left), and a couple of Great Blue Herons in the mix.

Great Egret (Ardea alba).

American White Pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) and Double-Crested Cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus). 

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus).

Mostly Ring-Billed Gulls (Larus delawarensis).

Ring-Billed Gulls in the foreground and American White Pelicans in the backdrop.

A coyote on the water's edge, I'm sure looking for some good eats amongst the plethora of waterfowl. We watched him for awhile as he treaded carefully into the water for a short distance and then backtracked, probably not too inclined to get his feet wet. 

Another shot of the coyote.

American White Pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) in flight.

American White Pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos).

American White Pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos).

Male Belted Kingfisher (Ceryle alcyon). Wetlands area.

Male Belted Kingfisher (Ceryle alcyon). Wetlands area.

Here's a preliminary list of the birds seen at today's outing. I didn't actually see all of these, but they were collectively noted by the all of the participants. I'm actually short 3, as my list has 73 species, while the final tally by Palomar Audubon was 76 species:

Canada Goose                             Gadwall                                         American Wigeon
Blue-Winged Teal                      Green-Winged Teal                     Northern Shoveler
Northern Pintail                        Canvasback                                   Redhead
Ring-Necked Duck                     Lesser Scaup                                Bufflehead
Red-Breasted Merganser          Ruddy Duck                                 Western Grebe
Clark's Grebe                              Eared Grebe                                 Pied-Billed Grebe
American White Pelican          Double-Crested Cormorant       Great Blue Heron
Black Crowned Night Heron    Snowy Egret                                Great Egret
Turkey Vulture                           Osprey                                           Red-Tailed Hawk
Northern Harrier                       Peregrine Falcon                        American Kestrel
American Coot                            Sora (heard)                                Killdeer
Black-Necked Stilt                     American Avocet                         Least Sandpiper
Spotted Sandpiper                     Solitary Sandpiper                      Ring-Billed Gull
Herring Gull                               Bonaparte's Gull                          California Gull
Least Tern                                   Forster's Tern                              Mourning Dove
Rock Dove                                   Anna's Hummingbird                 Belted Kingfisher
Northern Flicker (heard)         Black Phoebe                                Say's Phoebe
Cassin's Kingbird                       American Crow                            Common Raven
Horned Lark                               Bushtit                                           Marsh Wren
Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher             American Pipit                            Starling
Common Yellowthroat              Yellow-Rumped Warbler         Ruby-Crowned Kinglet 
White-Crowned Sparrow          Song Sparrow                             Red-Winged Blackbird
Great-Tailed Grackle                 Western Meadowlark               Brewer's Blackbird
House Finch                                 Lesser Goldfinch                       Greater Yellowlegs
Prairie Falcon

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Mission San Gabriel Arcangel: The "Pride of the Missions"

Gil and I made a day trip out to the San Gabriel Mission on Thursday. 

San Gabriel is less than 10 miles from downtown LA and very familiar turf for me, as I used to live in the San Gabriel Valley (Montebello) circa 1985-1987. I was living with my Aunt Sheri at the time (she is mom's youngest sister and only 4 years older than me, so to me she's not "Aunt" but just "Sheri"). On October 1st, 1987, the Whittier Narrows quake (5.9 on the Richter) struck, severely damaging the mission and also scaring the bejeezus out of us. I remember it was probably around 7:45 am on that fateful day and I was still fast asleep when out of the blue it felt as if the Furies had picked up the end of the bed and started shaking it out like a rug. Anyhoo, a few months later, Sheri & I ventured out to visit the Mission, only to find out that it was closed indefinitely for repairs and retrofitting. Now, a couple decades later, here I am, finally getting a look-see at a remarkable historical place that used to be so close to home. 

12/2/10 The campanario, or bell tower.

El Camino Real Door - the original entrance to the Mission.

The San Gabriel Mission (the 4th of 21 missions) was founded by Father Junipero Serra on September 8, 1771, and its the architecture that sets it apart from all the other missions. Father Antonio Cruzado, born and raised in Cordova, Spain, designed the structure. The Moorish influences are seen in the capped buttresses, vaulted roof & ceiling, narrow windows, and the fortress-like look of the church. 

Ruins of the original bell tower. 

Named for the Archangel Gabriel, the San Gabriel Mission was also nicknamed the 'Queen of Missions.' It was prosperous during its heyday and an important cultural and spiritual center.

Grapevine planted in 1925. Campo Santo Cemetery.

Campo Santo Cemetery. Oldest cemetery in LA County (first consecrated in 1778). 

Another old grape vine. Camp Santo cemetery.

Mission church. The green glass windows impart the church with, well, a greenish hue. Interesting how the church at San Luis Rey is bluish, and the one at San Gabriel is greenish. I think I'm liking the blue better. As the saying goes, it's not easy being green...

This crucifix in the Campo Santo Cemetery is a memorial to the 6,000 Gabrielino (Tongva) band of mission Indians buried here.

I believe this is a Chinese Tallow tree (Sapium sebiferum), in fall colors. Campo Santo Cemetery.

'Ramona' grape vine, circa 1774. 'Mother Grape Vine of California.'

The two oldest olive trees at the mission were planted in 1860.

Statue of Father Serra surrounded by the oldest olive tree and the oldest 'Mother' grape vine.

A very busy squirrel in the Quadrangle.

Museum. Quoting the mission brochure: "Museum building was constructed in 1812 of adobe brick with a tiled roof and was almost 300 feet long."

Book printed on a Gutenberg type press, 1534.

Some famous folks have visited the mission.

To summarize the Misssion's history, I turn to Wiki: 

"The planned site for the Mission was along the banks of the Río de los Temblores (the River of the Earthquakes—the Santa Ana River). However, the priests chose an alternate site on a fertile plain located directly alongside the Rio Hondo in the Whittier Narrows. The site of the Misión Vieja (or "Old Mission") is located near the intersection of San Gabriel Boulevard and Lincoln Avenue in Montebello, California (known to the natives as Shevaanga). In 1776, a flash flood destroyed much of the crops and ruined the Mission complex, which was subsequently relocated five miles closer to the mountains in present-day San Gabriel (the native settlement of 'Iisanchanga)...Well over 25,000 baptisms were conducted at San Gabriel between 1771 and 1834, making it the most prolific in the mission chain. In its heyday it furnished food and supplies to settlements and other missions throughout California. A majority of the Mission structures fell into ruins after it was secularized in November 1834. The once-extensive vineyards were falling to decay, with fences broken down and animals roaming freely through it. The Mission's chapel functioned as a parish church for the City of San Gabriel from 1862 until 1908, when the Claretian Missionary Fathers came to San Gabriel and began the job of rebuilding and restoring the Mission. On October 1, 1987 the Whittier Narrows Earthquake further damaged the property. A significant portion of the original complex has since been restored."

Replicas of open fireplaces.

Rosemary & Sugarcane.

Horsetail (Equisetum spp.)

Assorted cacti, succulents & California natives.

Palo Verde?

Peace Garden, with a hand-made tile of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Fountain Plaza (fountain made in the 1940s by Native Sons & Daughters of the Golden West).

There are quite a few natives being cultivated on the mission grounds, most of them quite small, so probably newly planted. 

Here's a list of the Cal Natives I came across during our visit. I'm sure a number of them had medicinal or other utilitarian uses back in the day:

California Goldenrod (Solidago californica)
Hummingbird Sage (Salvea spathacea)
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Hooker's Evening Primrose (Oenothera hookeri)
White Sage (Salvia apiana)
Bush Monkeyflower (Diplacus aurantiacus-labeled as Mimulus aurantiacus)
California Wild Rose (Rosa californica)
Sedge (Carex spp.)
Palmer's Sagebrush (Artemisia palmeri)
Pacific Coast Iris (hybrid)
Checkerbloom (Sidalcea malviflora)
California Sagebrush (Artemisia californica)
California Fuchsia (Epilobium californica)
Alkali Dropseed (Sporobolus airoides)
Meadow Sedge (Carex praegracilis)
Deergrass (Muhlenbergia rigens)
Horsetail (Equisetum spp.)
Penstemon 'Margarita BOP' 
'Canyon Prince' Wild Rye (Leymus condensatus)
Blue Flax (Linum lewisii)
Bush Sunflower (Encelia californica)
Mulefat (Baccharis salicifolia)
Mugwort (Artemisia douglasiana)
'Bruce Dickonson' Buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum)
'Centennial' Ceanothus