Thursday, October 29, 2015


With November around the corner, we're nearing hawk season here in the Bay Area. And for us raptor lovers, this is one of the best times of the year. Most notably, it's time for the beautiful and populous Red-tailed hawk to make its presence known. They're everyone it seems and are the hawk most likely seen in urban environments. They can look quite different depending on whether they're mature or juvenile, male or female, even depending on the season, though of course the tell-tale red tail glinting in the sun gives them away.
And as one gets further away from the city, two hawks that resemble each other may be easily spotted. The Cooper's Hawk and the Sharp-shinned hawk are expert fliers, especially in confined spaces. The Cooper's is slightly larger with rounded tail feathers while the Sharp-shinned is smaller, with a sharply squared tail. Their prey is small birds, sometimes to the consternation of city songbird lovers.
The colorful and magnificent Red-shouldered hawk likes to perch with a good view of fields or ponds, ready to pounce on mice, snakes and frogs. It has prominent rust-red shoulder patches and is slightly smaller than the Red-tailed hawk. Pairs can be quite vocal, producing loud shrieks to defend their nest.
And if one is lucky, as I have been, to spot a Golden Eagle within close proximity, well that is an awesome experience. One of the largest of all North American raptors, it is an expert hunter. Although capable of killing large prey such as cranes and domestic livestock, this raptor dines mostly on rabbits, hares and squirrels. Golden Eagles live in open and semi-open country featuring native vegetation, avoiding developed areas and uninterrupted stretches of forest. They nest on cliffs and steep escarpments in grassland, chaparral and forests.
So, here's wishing you an experience of one of these truly wild birds while hunting or at play.

And now the garden photos.

Billbergia variety. This dramatically spotted bromeliad has yet to bloom but its colors still make a splash.

Justicia fulvicoma. These flowers almost look good enough to eat! A different type of 'shrimp plant,' it nonetheless is a real beauty. An excellent hummingbird plant and a modest enough size (2') to grow in a container.

Correa 'Wyn's Wonder.' I'm "with Wyn" on this variety being a real wonder. One of the few variegated Australian Fuchsias as they're sometimes called, it sports very colorful pink flowers. As with all Correas, it's tough and adaptable, liking sun but adaptable to some shade.

Aloe deltoideodonta 'Sparkler.' This one is coping with a little more shade than was the original plan. It's a sturdy spotted variety, kind of slow growing but offering a sublime beauty.

A bit late in flowering this year, my Deppea splendens has finally sprouted its signature golden flowers from its burgundy bracts. Quite unlike any plant I've ever grown.

The open sky backdrop played havoc with my point-and-shoot camera on this shot but that's my Iochroma coccinea going bonkers in the blooming department. One of my favorite shrubs -- love the color of its flowers -- it has survived periods of dryness and is now responding to a couple deep soaks I've given it.

Blue Bear's Paw fern. One of the great common names -- not just Bear's Paw fern which is kind of cool but Blue Bear's Paw -- and a surprisingly tough fern. It does seem to like a bit of morning sun to really be happy.

Any guesses on what this plant is? Kudos to those who ID'd it as Ledebouria socialis.  This highly regarded South African bulb is mainly grown for its foliage, though it does produce sprays of very tiny white flowers.

To paraphrase that sports saying "You can't stop Salvia elegans; you can only hope to contain it!" Tweedy bird would say "So twoo, so twoo!" I have to keep hacking back my Pineapple sage but hey that's a good problem to have, right?

Yep, this a Pelargonium, in this case 'Raspberry Twizzle.'  Hey, I just report the news, I don't make these names up. Kind of aptly named, although it might have been equally named 'Raspberry Drizzle' as in the ice cream.

Hey, there's a honey bee on my Echinacea. Well, of course there is. One of the great nectar flowers of all time, my echinaceas are rarely without bee or butterfly visitors.

Early or late? I can't tell with my Rhododendron 'Sappho.' It's been doing this lately, offering a few flowers in the fall then more in the spring. No matter, they're always a welcome sight.

Speaking of welcome sights, I never tire of my Lonicera sempervirens flowers. Though this honeysuckle species doesn't have a fragrance, that color combo gives one more than enough reason to add it to one's garden.

I didn't have a good photo of my now-in-bloom Oxalis hirta so I borrowed this photo from the web. Yes, it really is this beautiful (no photoshoping needed). A winter bloomer (it goes summer dormant), it's distinctive not only for the vivid rose-pink flowers but for its smaller, denser reticulated foliage. Well behaved, it reaches only about 6" tall and spreads to about 2 feet.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Spring preview

It seems sacrilegious to even mention the word 'spring' at this point in time -- hell, it still seems like summer on some days -- but lo and behold I've noticed a few early bulb shoots up in my garden. That would be Lachenalias and Freesias, two of the bulbs that make especially early appearances. It's also time for the earliest of the camellias to show a bit of color in their buds (even though they won't open for another 6-8 weeks). I love bulbs. The ones that are 'regulars' come back every year; they surprise with their appearances; they preview the coming attractions in spring with the winter appearance of their foliage and they provide an astonishingly varied display of form and color. And with few exceptions, they take almost no work at all. Plus, they're very efficient with water, needing very little during their dormant phase.
There are so many kinds of bulbs to choose from it's dizzying (I won't invoke such dizziness here). All of this in part is to encourage you to add to your bulb collection and to plant them now (with the exception of tulips, crocus and hyacinths, which need a month in the fridge for those of us in mild zones). I even love the planting of bulbs. It's easy and you don't have to fuss over them, heck even think about them, till they pop up above ground.
And now the photos.

It's new, it's colorful, it's in bloom! Now, where have we all heard that before?  In this case it's a new Thunbergia called 'Arizona Dark Red.' It caught my eye so brought one home. Now I just need to find a place for it. No sense in having 'a talk' with Thunbergias. They're going to go crazy and take over so I'll need to find an open spot for it.

Celosia 'Crested Orange.' 'Improbable' is the word that comes to mind when I look at this flower. Not only because the flower has a ridiculously twisty, frilly form but then add in that saturated reddish-orange color and it's something you might see on the world of Pandora in the movie Avatar.

Euphorbia peacockii. I took this shot as much to show off the new pot as the Echeveria itself. The pot is called Tall with Wide Rim and that pretty much sums it up. Love it!

Buddleja 'CranRazz.' Saved from a slow death once I put it in a larger pot, my now happier Bud is blooming away, drawing both butterflies and bees. Plus that heavenly fragrance.

Chaenomeles 'Cameo.' Here's a fun shot, showing both flower and fruit. Flowering quince, as this plant is commonly known, is an acquired pleasure. For those of us who love them, they're a great winter plant, blooming from late fall to early spring (depending on available moisture). They're very adaptable plants and can withstand long periods of dryness once established. Tough and beautiful -- right down my alley.

I planted my small Aloe striata (foreground) hoping it would survive in its new location. Well, as the Aussies say "No worries, mate." It's prospered so well that it's now overrun the little succulent in front. A nice problem to have as they say. Behind it is the winter blooming Oxalis latifolia, one of the so-called 'Shamrock' oxalis (given its 3 petaled bright green leaves).

This is a photo of ...what? you might ask. It's the tiny blue flower in the middle, the little known but infinitely charming Commelina coelestis. A true robins-egg blue and vigorous, it's a great part shade ground cover. 

Japanese garden. Here's a shot of my ever evolving dwarf conifer bed. I'll have to do a bit more excavation to make room for two new species.

Trunkless Cordylines are all the rage these days and here's a new one, C. 'Electric Flash.' It started as a recent one gallon so it's still a bit spindly but it'll soon fill out.

Plectranthus coleoides variegata. At least that's what the tag said. It looks different than a specimen I already have in another bed. We'll see. I like the larger leaves on this specimen ... and the bolder colors.

I had been searching for the 'perfect' wind chimes for at least four years and then wham we got this beauty in at Ace. It not only has the deeper, resonant tones I was after but I like the woodsy look of it.

Plectranthus zuluensis. This tall plectranthus features exquisite lavender blooms and in this case in the late fall period. 

Asarum maximum. Looks like an asarum (wild ginger) but aren't the leaves glossier? Indeed the leaves on A. maximum are shinier than on the more widely used A. caudatum. The flowers are also different on the strangely named Panda-faced Ginger. Two tone rich eggplant and cream and sort of waxy, they rate as one of Nature's weirdest flowers.

As mentioned above, here's one of my Camellias in bud. This one is C. Little Babe Variegated. It's always a cheerful sight, a promise of things to come.

Felicia amelloides. Tough, adaptable, seemingly ever blooming, Blue Daisies are one of those 'Why doesn't everyone have this in their garden? plants. 

Although not perfectly in focus, my Euphorbia mammalaria variegata is such a curious specimen I'm posting it anyway. The little pink and yellow flowers form a 'crown,' adding to the plant's delights.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

A Trip to the Wild

For gardeners and plant lovers in general, we are often focused on that part of nature. But of course our natural habitats are filled with fauna not just flora. For those lucky enough to travel to various parts of the world that offer environments quite different than ours in temperate North America, they are offered the chance to see animals we won't see in our local environs. That is unless we visit a zoo. A friend and I did just that yesterday, visiting the small but interesting Oakland Zoo. Once a poorly run place, the zoo underwent a major makeover 20 years ago and is now one of the best small zoos in the country. A great emphasis was placed on creating natural environments for each animal and to give as space as possible for the larger mammals.
So, here a few photos from the day, each with a comment where appropriate.

Blue and Yellow Macaw. Many are familiar with this wonderfully colorful bird. Macaws are very smart birds. They are unfortunately being captured in the wild in great numbers, to supply the pet trade. Among the many truly awful aspects of this is that these birds mate for life and never leave that partner even for a moment so living alone is greatly difficult for them.

Siamang. Native to Sumatra, they are the largest of the smaller apes. They spend most of their lives in the trees. When walking they keep their arms raised for balance. One curious note. Since they use their arms for swinging and moving in the trees, they carry objects with their feet.

Aldabra tortoise. Native to the Aldabra Islands, near the Seychelles Islands in the Indian ocean. Males can easily weigh 500 pounds.

Aldabra or Desert tortoise. Not sure which now (I wasn't taking notes) but this guy has the appearance of really motoring! Must be dinner time.

Supercroc! This prehistoric crocodile lived 110 million years ago, was 42 feet long and ate dinosaurs! It's Sarcosuchus imperator for you Latin geeks and it lived in what we now know as Africa.

If this guy looks like an otter but somehow different that's because he's a River otter. The face is a bit different and so is the coloring of the fur. They're just as playful and social as ocean otters and just as efficient as devouring fish. The photo below almost makes him look like a woodchuck but that I think is due to the slightly more flattened face.

Gila monster (I think). These colorful little lizards are Gila monsters (at least that's what the Diorama sign said). This photo doesn't do justice to how colorful they are, with dramatic spotting.

Although the exhibition sign just said Tiger, I think these girls (there were five females in the enclosure) are Bengal tigers. They looked quite healthy and reasonably content. It's a large enclosure, complete with a large pond with a waterfall, an open grassy area, a "cave" where they can get out of the elements and these platforms for sunning themselves. 

Cats groom each other of course and that applies to all the big cats. Here one is licking and grooming its 'sister.' Somehow that simple act being performed by a lethal hunter is sort of surreal. Surreal too that we stood a mere 30 feet away from these awe inspiring creatures.

Malayan Flying foxes (fruit bats). These enormous bats, one of the world's largest, have up to a six foot wingspan and can weigh up to 2.2 pounds (that's extremely heavy for a bat). Though this isn't the greatest photo, it gives an idea of how big these bats are. They are native to Malaysia, the Philippines and Sumatra. One thing not commonly known about bats -- they are the only mammal that truly flies.

Goats. The children's petting zoo had a number of very colorful goats and we decided to pay a visit.  I love goats (hey, I'm a Capricorn) and it was great fun to hang out with them. I somehow imagine the creator saying "Okay, I need an animal that can live almost anywhere, including very tall mountains, is impervious to the cold, eats anything and yet can be domesticated and is safe around kids. Oh, I got it -- goats."

Squirrel monkey. Though this isn't the best shot I did want to include a picture of one of the cutest monkeys -- heck cutest animals on the planet period -- that you'll ever see. They're small, weighing only 2 pounds, but are very social and lively. While other monkeys are chilling, these guys are in perpetual motion.

Giraffe (reticulated). Interesting fact -- while the newborn of some large animals can be quite tiny, newborn giraffes are already 6 feet tall and weigh 100-150 pounds. They can stand, if a bit wobbly, in five minutes and feed after only 20 minutes. Offspring begin browsing for their own food in the first month, after which they stop nursing. It wasn't known how exactly giraffes communicate but recently scientists have discovered they use extremely low frequency 'rumbling' noises to communicate. These sounds can be heard over long distances.

Taveta golden weaver. These colorful birds hail from eastern coastal Africa and are very active. They are closely related to sparrows. 

This 'odd duck' is actually a duck, specifically a White-faced Whistling Duck. I couldn't get my camera to focus properly but figured a slightly blurry photo was better than none. Also native to Africa, it behaves more like a goose or swan than a typical duck. A bit vain, they spend a lot of their day preening. 

Hammerkop. Again, I couldn't get this unusual looking African bird to stay still and thus this is the best photo I could manage. The crest on the back of the head mirrors the stout beak and produces the hammerhead shape from which the species takes its name. Hammerkops feed on frogs, fish and invertebrates.

Yes, this is a Spotted Hyena (two side by side). A few interesting things you may not have guessed about these carnivores. A hyena clan is a stable community of related females, among which unrelated males reside for varying periods. Within the clan there is a separate dominance hierarchy for each sex. The highest-ranking females and her descendants are dominant over all other animals (thus it's a kind of matriarchy). Hyenas are very smart and well organized, skills they use to hunt much larger prey.
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