A sense of Metamorphosis in Carson Valley September 10, 2013

11 Sep

Carson Valleyites awoke this morning to something new in the air…or rather a return to “normal.”  The Sierra Nevada were clearly visible and we could take a deep breath without choking or gagging.  The smoke from the Rim Fire near Yosemite that has plagued us for almost a month is no longer with us giving us the sharp views and bright blue skies that we are used to.

You might say, Cora, you’ve only been there 6 weeks and you are sounding like you’ve been there for years.  Yes, that’s true.  But this area quickly rubs off on a person and it’s easy to become accustomed to things that attract one in the first place.

As I began my daily walk this morning, I couldn’t help but grin and put a bit of a hop in my step as I sort of rejoiced in seeing “my” mountains with the sun reflecting off buildings at Heavenly Ski Resort at the top of Kingsbury Grade, the bright green fairways of one of the Genoa golf courses that zig-zag their way up a foothill, and sharp mountain crags on Job’s Peak.  It was just a most beautiful morning and I wanted to share with you the feeling of exultation that I had.

I also wanted to share with you some of the critters I’ve seen on my walks that add to the fun of going out each morning.  This morning was a crisp 44 degrees when I began.  That would be very cold in Cerritos, but here I wore my shorts, a t shirt and a light windbreaker.   My hands get a bit chilly but I stick them in my pockets until I’ve been walking for a bit.

There are some settling ponds just north of my housing development and hundreds of Canada geese spend the night there.  Each morning they organize themselves into family groups of anywhere from 2 to 30 birds,  talk about the journey for the day

A Canada Goose

A Canada Goose

and then rise up as a unit and fly to their destination.  Now this organizational talk is very raucous with everyone talking at once and it makes me think of the following conversation (condensed)

“Doris, do you have everything you need?”

“Just wait a second, I don’t have my feathers just right.”

“Come on, I told Jack we’d be there in 10 minutes.”

“Junior, Put away the frog!”

And then all of a sudden, it’s “Up, up and away!!!”

I just learned today that a flock of geese in flight is called a “skein” while a flock on the ground is called a “gaggle.”  A skein can also be called a “team” or a “wedge.”  If they’re flying close together, it’s a “plump.”  Who makes up these names?

A skein of Canada geese in the early morning

A skein of Canada geese in the early morning

A gaggle of geese

A gaggle of geese

The skein shot was taken about 6:30 AM.  Sadly, I’ve tried to get pictures on my own, but everything is too far away or I didn’t have the camera with me or I just missed the shot.  So I took some pictures from the internet so that you could see what I am talking about.  Those pictures will not enlarge when you click on them as will the shots that I took.  Bummer.

These geese spend their days in pastures or other areas south of my house and then fly back in huge skeins.  I have heard them flying in total darkness, which seems odd for large flocks.  I suppose they have some type of internal compass or something.  I get a kick out of hearing them fly over.  They seem to continue their conversations as they fly.  Perhaps they are talking about the dumb human down below with her mouth hanging open watching them.

I can’t remember if I told you before that my housing development was originally supposed to be built around a golf course.  The developer decided he wouldn’t make enough money because there are too many other

Cottontail who roams the neighborhood freely

Cottontail who roams the neighborhood freely

Jackrabbit - a large hare with larger ears

Jackrabbit – a large hare with larger ears

courses in the area, so he turned the course into open natural areas between streets.  It’s really a neat deal as the trails wind through areas with natural vegetation such as sagebrush, rabbit brush, ragweed, tumbleweeds and some other bushes I don’t know…some with lots of mean thorns.  The birds love these bushes and so do the rabbits.   The cottontail and jackrabbit are critters that I see every day.  The jacks seem to be more wary than do the cottontails, but both will not allow proximity to a human.

It follows that if there are hundreds of rabbits, there should be natural predators out there to eat them.  That is certainly true in Saratoga Springs (my development).  The coyotes here are very handsome and well fed.  I have seen 3 not far from my house and have seen their scat in my backyard.  This fellow is not as sleek and good looking as the local coyotes here, but this is the best picture I could find.  None of locals have a hard time like Wiley Coyote used to with Beep Beep the Roadrunner.

A coyote looking for dinner

A coyote looking for dinner

Our local coyotes never need help with catching vittles

Our local coyotes never need help with catching vittles

I mentioned in a previous blog that I have seen a mountain gartersnake in my yard but I have not seen any other slithering creatures in the neighborhood.  Neighbors have reported sightings of bull snakes and rattlers, but I haven’t had the privilege yet.

A turkey vulture sunning himself

A turkey vulture sunning himself

There are also birds of prey such as hawks like the northern harrier and American kestrel.  Of course, there is the ever present scavenger, the turkey vulture but Jerri and I like to call them buzzards.

A pair of California quail

A pair of California quail

California quail abound in the entire Carson Valley, not just Saratoga Springs.  Many people feed them and they hang around all year long.  I am one of those people as I love to watch them.  They are out in the sagebrush every morning and I see them scurrying along the ground, sometimes on fences and sometimes in trees on people’s property.  One of the males in a covey usually posts himself as the lookout and if he senses danger, he calls out “Cuidado!”  That’s “Be careful” in Spanish.  Really, the call sounds like that.  When the family is contentedly pecking around, they have a calm little chatting call to each other.  It doesn’t sound like hens in a barnyard, but they sound happy like that.  Jerri tells me that quail mate for life as do the Canada geese.  So it’s sad when one dies as the survivor sometimes dies from heartbreak.

Yesterday, I was walking through the sagebrush when I heard a unique call…sort of a high, thin buzz followed by a warble.  It was a happy sound and I tried like the devil to find the bird.  Eventually, I saw him, a small bird that resembled a wren.  I looked him up when I got home and discovered he is a Bewick’s wren.  This is a new species for me and I was excited about that.

Bewick's wren

Bewick’s wren

A house finch

A house finch

One of the more common birds in the area is the house finch.  Dad used to call them linnets, but everyone calls them house finches today.  They have flocked to my feeder and become very territorial over the limited feeding space.  Two or three birds can fit on one side of the feeder but they fight about it and only one ends up feeding.  It’s funny to watch them line up on tree branches to get to eat.

I constructed a little tray for peanuts in an effort to attract blue jays and mountain bluebirds.  These birds love peanuts and Jerri has many of them.  So I wanted to be

A scrub jay

A scrub jay

entertained by them also.  I have seen zero mountain bluebirds, one scrub jay and many magpies.  Those rotten birds scare away my jay and eat up all the peanuts.  They are very pretty, but they are hogs!  They also scare away the smaller birds when they zoom in for a peanut.

A black-billed magpie

A black-billed magpie

Earl Squirrel Chipmunk

Earl Squirrel Chipmunk

A visitor that I didn’t expect is a little chipmunk.  He visits the backyard feeding area and is so skittery and tiny that a picture is almost impossible.  I’ve named him Earl and enjoy watching him scurry around the rocks looking for tiny seeds that the birds have dropped from the feeder.  I’m surprised that he hasn’t climbed up the feeder or tree in an attempt to get to the cornucopia of food.   Perhaps that will happen when it gets colder and there is snow on the ground and he’s a bit hungrier.

An Anna's hummingbird

An Anna’s hummingbird

I have had some hummingbirds and think they are Anna’s hummers.  Like the ones in Cerritos, they are territorial and will chase off another hummer while they are trying to feed.  They seem to not be bothered by the other birds feeding in the same area, however.

There are some new additions to the flamingo holdings that you might like to see.   I purchased Ming while I was in Sacramento a couple of weeks ago and Jerri bought Curt for me yesterday while we were in Reno.   Ming rides his bike in perpetuity when the wind blows and is posted next to Jay, the bluejay and the tilted birdbath that I found in some overgrown brush in my backyard.  The birds don’t care and love to drink there and take baths.

Ming the flamingo

Ming the flamingo

Curt is posted in the front yard next to the porch and greets visitors as they come up the walkway.

Jerri thought his name should be Curt

Jerri thought his name should be Curt

BC waiting to go outside

BC waiting to go outside

Lazin' in the afternoon

Lazin’ in the afternoon

You might be wondering about BC and how she’s doing.  I think she’s finally getting adjusted and hasn’t had any accidents during the past few days.  That’s progress!  She sleeps most of the day in her nest in the workshop but likes to go outside for a stroll now and then.  She particularly enjoys sitting in the sun to catch a few late afternoon rays.  She has chased a cottontail in the front yard but didn’t catch it.  The ol’ girl still has some oomph in her!  As you might surmise from the tales I’ve told about critters and predators, she is not allowed outside without close supervision.  Quite a radical change from her wanderings in the backyard in Cerritos.

The cloud photo was taken a bit ago while I was waiting for some quail to come through the back fence…which they never did while I was back there.  Can you beat the color of that sky?

Looking east from my backyard

Looking east from my backyard

It was so uplifting this morning to see the clear blue skies once again.  Everyone I met today was talking about how good and happy they felt upon the lifting of the smoky veil.  It’s amazing how this affects everyone and how much we all enjoy our mountains. So you can see there has been a bit of a metamorphosis, a striking change in the appearance of our skies and also by me, who grew up with hazy skies and now wants to see the pretty blue skies and the sharp outline and details on the Sierra Nevada.

One Response to “A sense of Metamorphosis in Carson Valley September 10, 2013”

  1. howard&sherrill harrison September 12, 2013 at 1:15 am #

    Loved your report and pictures.  It is a new life, indeed.                              Love, Sherry

    ________________________________

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