Sunday, June 19, 2011

What's up with the May grays & June gloom? Who cares, cuz it's all about that ginormous gopher snake...

I don't get the weather...while the rest of the country seems to be in meteorological turmoil, we're stuck on cluck in a state of perpetual May grays & June gloom. Not that that's bad - I mean, foggy and overcast is not unusual this time of year, but the cooler than normal temps certainly is. We've had some afternoon clearings the last couple days, but I actually have the portable heater on right now as I'm typing this post - what's up with that? We're supposed to warm up into the 90s next week, but we shall see...

Now, on to the fun stuff. As usual, Hana was on the prowl today for all things four-legged (i.e., squirrels, bunnies, gophers & lizards) and two-legged (i.e., birds), so when she started lunging under the jade tree at the corner of the garage, I thought, well there she goes again after one of those darned lizards. What else would be lurking under that fleshy shrubbage? Anyhoo, not thinking much about it, and after Gil had maneuvered Hana away from the offending area, I grabbed a bag of bird seed to traipse off and refill the bird feeders. Just as I rounded the corner from the garage, however, I very, very abruptly came upon this visage and proceeded to screech out some rather choice 4-letter words:


Instead of a 4" lizard, Hana had flushed out a 4' snake. After my initial freak-out, I realized that there was no tell-tale rattle or triangular head on this guy to signify rattlesnake. In fact, this appeared to be a non-venomous Gopher Snake (exact species TBD), and anything that takes care of our gopher population is, in my book, a keeper! Unfortunately though, it looks like we'll now have to reenroll Hana in rattlesnake aversion training class. She went through the training about 3 years ago and is supposed to be wary of and avoid snakes in general. NOT!!! 

A few more critters around the grounds:

 6/15/11 Baby bunny on the back patio. The rabbit population is nothing short of phenomenal this year. So cute...but we've spent a small fortune buying chicken wire and Cridder Ridder to keep these guys from mowing down our plants.

A very tiny (Deer or Harvest?) mouse in one of the flower beds. 

Now, onto the natives that have been blooming in the garden. The desert plants have, surprisingly, done well despite our overcast spring:

6/12/11 Apache Plume (Fallugia paradoxa).

6/3/11 Mojave Sandwort (Arenaria macradenia) and Gooseberry-leaf Globemallow (Sphaeralcea grossularifolia).

6/10/11 Gooseberry-leaf Globemallow (Sphaeralcea grossularifolia), Tufted Evening Primrose (Oenothera caespitosa ssp. marginata), and 'Blue Flame' Giant Purple Sage (Salvia pachyphylla). 

6/10/11 Palmer's Penstemon (Penstemon palmeri).

6/17/11 Mojave Sage (Salvia mohavensis).

6/3/11 Matilija Poppy (Romneya coulteri).

6/3/11 'Winnifred Gilman' Cleveland's Sage (Salvia clevelandii).

6/10/11 Antioch Dunes Evening Primrose (Oenothera deltoides ssp. howellii).

6/10/11 Desert Columbine (Aquilegia shockleyi).

6/3/11 California Brodiaea (Brodiaea californica).

5/27/11 Crown Brodiaea (Brodiaea coronaria).


5/30/11 Rose Snapdragon (Antirrhinum multiflorum). 

5/30/11 Woodland Strawberry (Fragaria vesca), naturalized in the herb garden. The fruits are really, super tiny and tart-sweet in flavor.

5/16/11 Clarkias (C. amoena, C. rubicunda blasdalei, C. purpurea quadrivulnera, C. unguiculata), which have reseeded themselves in this wildflower bed for the past two seasons. 

6/12/11 Botta's Clarkia/Farewell-to-Spring (Clarkia bottae). Purchased the seeds from Larner's Seeds last year, and sowed them (along with Tidy Tips, Owl's Clover, and Birds Eye Gilia) in a new area I'm cultivating with native grasses (California Fescue, Purple Needlegrass, Clustered Field Sedge, & Eyebrow grass-Bouteloua gracilis). 

6/17/11 Oak Titmouse. 

6/17/11 Pink Monkeyflower, a cross between Mimulus lewisii and M. cardinalis. Requires regular water, but is much hardier than the straight Lewis's, which hails from higher elevations. 

6/13/11 Pink Monkeyflower.

6/17/11 'Georgie Red' Monkeyflower.

6/12/11  'Sunset' Monkeyflower.

5/30/11 Bush Monkeyflower (Diplacus aurantiacus). This one's native to our site. 

5/23/11 'Red & Yellow #1' Monkeyflower.

6/17/11 Western Spiraea (Spiraea douglasii).

6/10/11 Hedge Nettle (Stachys bullata).

6/10/11 California Pitcher Sage (Lepechinia calycina 'Rocky Point').

5/23/11 Jeffrey's Shooting Star (Dodecatheon jeffreyi) growing with Stream Orchid (Epipactus gigantea) in a wine barrel.

5/23/11 Golden Yarrow (Eriophyllum confertiflorum - native to the site), White Sage (Salvia apiana) and Cleveland's Sage (Salvia clevelandii) along the fenceline.

5/23/11 Showy Penstemon (Penstemon spectabilis).

5/23/11 Eaton's Penstemon (Penstemon eatonii).

6/3/11 Island Pink Yarrow (Achillea millefolium rosea).

Friday, June 3, 2011

Rats are hideous...unless you're a Kangaroo

Just stating the obvious. There's nothing remotely pulchritudinous about a freakin' rat. But, for whatever reason (wacky weather? astrological anomalies? bad luck vibes from the train wreck otherwise known as Snooki?), we've had an infestation of rats in our fruit orchard this spring. Gil set out various devices, including one of those Havahart live animal traps, in hopes of catching some of those varmints, who would otherwise be nibbling on our ripening peaches, apricots & apples with reckless abandon. 

So last Friday, when I tethered Hana out in front of the garage for some fresh air, she immediately bolted for the Havahart cage in the adjacent orchard and started attacking it with gusto. Woohoo! I thought. Must be a rat in there...yeah! So after struggling to remove Hana from the scene (Hana's a bantam weight for an Akita, but try sparring with a 70-lb. pooch with a one-track mind), I peered into the cage and saw...hmmm...well, yes, it was a rodent. But why did it look so, ah, kinda cute? Its tail was really long like a rat's, but not devoid of hair. In fact, there was a tuft of fur at the end of the tail (adorable), and it had really sweet, large, round doe-eyes, along with some disproportionately large hind legs. So I exclaimed to myself, "What the...? this ain't no 'rat' rat! This here's a Kangaroo Rat!" Btw, this was not our first encounter with a Kangaroo Rat on the property: we caught a fleeting glimpse of one via our critter cam whilst filming the marathon Bunny Palooza in the orchard last July: 

Kangaroo Rats are native to California and the desert Southwest, and have adapted to their dry habitats by deriving all their water requirements from the various seeds that they consume. Anyhoo, since they eat seeds and not cultivated fruit, I inferred that they were not in cahoots with the other rat rats in decimating our fruit crop. 

Initially, I was both excited and then mildly freaked out that this might be an endangered Stephen's Kangaroo Rat (Dipodomys stephensi). The Stephen's is endemic to the San Jacinto Valley (more than 35 miles from here) and has 5 toes on its hind legs, putting our captive critter out of ID contention. My trepidation with the Stephens was that, before we could get the sign-off from Riverside County to build our home back in 2004, we had to pay a hefty (for us anyways) $1,000/acre mitigation fee for this species because our property was in 'potential' (and I stress 'potential') Stephen's Kangaroo Rat habitat. I'm all for protecting endangered species, but I think we would have felt a little less pain forking over that fee if we knew of even ONE Stephens' ever being sighted around here. Moving on, I think the little guy we caught here is a Merriam Kangaroo Rat (Dipodomys merriami). It's smallish, has 4 toes on its hind legs, and is considered the most widespread K-Rat in California. Oh, and yes- they do hop like kangaroos.

On the threshold of the exit hatch.