Thursday, April 26, 2012

American Bushtit (Psaltriparus minimus)

photo by Bob Steele
When I lived in Anza CA, every summer we'd be visited by rather large groups of a tiny ever so delicate looking bird which ran in groups of anywhere from 10 to 40 of their friends and family foraging around in our Redshank, Mountain Mahogany, Silktassle Chaparral and Manzanitas. While sitting on my deck enjoying the 180 degree view of scenery on a warm summer afternoon when the fragrance of Cleveland Sage was at it's peak and sleepiness was about to overtake all conscientiousness, I would suddenly be alerted from drowsiness with this pleasant and familiar sound. It was the bird called by a rather unusual funny name 'Bushtit' and here is what he looks like as he appears on a branch stalk of Holly-leafed Redberry.

Photo by David Boyd

I have to believe that such an inconspicuous little bird mostly goes un-noticed by the majority of folks. It's colour is not overly striking or impressive, but perhaps in flocking in gang numbers and the collective sound of their chirping they are more easily recognizable and familiar.
The Sounds of a Foraging Gang of Bushtits in Redshank Trees
The sound itself is quick short busts of 'Tsit Tsit' and seems to be a continuous connecting with each others in the group. When a lead bird decides to move the group to another Shrub location for better foraging, this constant chirping & spitting sound seems more to be a reassuring beacon for any stragglers of one or two to radar and home in at the new location. You may even be familiar with a number of other dainty little birds which have the word 'Tit' in their name. 'Tufted Titmouse' , 'Juniper Titmouse' and 'Oak Titmouse'. Then there is not only the 'Bushtit' but also the 'Wrentit'. There are sometimes when I have a hard time saying without wondering if I said a dirty word. *eyes rolling*

Aside from their groupy shrub preening and gleaning, they pair off in the Springtime for mating. I had an Aleppo Pine (Pinus halepensis) a pair and I am assuming the same couple every year though not sure how long lived they are. Here is that tree at my old place that I have shown before. It is the tallest pine with the tiniest needles almost like a pinyon which by the way they prefer since it is in their native range and densely covered with small needles like Aleppo pines.

Photo: Mine
 Here is about what the nest looks like. It's a sort of cleverly constructed sock made up of just about anything they can snatch, even black widow spider egg sacks and webs. don't know how in the world they accomplish that or even thought of it in the first place. Though I must say the most attractive nest with a sock shape have been the Hooded Orioles.
 Unfortunately they were continually harassed by this Guy

image .
This isn't my cat, but the photo is typical of orange Tabby Cats. That darn cat every year was alerted to their sounds and movements. Nothing escaped his notice. Though he was a good mouser and that is why we got him in the first place and of course we really did like him, but sometimes the hunting of other non-targeted wildlife was a challenge to break him of. Needless to say we never did.  Several times I had rescued Chipmonks from his grasp. Oh well, here are a couple of other nest shots to give you an idea of what to look for if you are ever out in the bush and run across one.

Here is the common local Parry Pinyon (Pinus quadrafolia) which is a four needle to a bundle pinyon as opposed to the Single Needle Pinyon (Pinus monophyla) just a few miles away above Palm Desert, CA on the high desert pinyon Juniper woodland country. It also to my estimation has a denser foliage than the other pine. Some may recognize this shot of one in the Garner Valley area just a few miles north of Burn Valley area of Anza CA.

Photo by Jay Sullivan
Notice the four needles to a bundle and the white colour on the undersides. This pine makes a great hiding place for the Bushtits to build their nests. I can see why they may have substituted the Aleppo Pine which has similar tiny abundant needles for a nesting location. Unfortunately that darn cat always knew it too.

Photo by Calflora

Mike Evans
 BTW, if anyone lives near this area and recognizes the tree and collects the pine nuts which are large and edible, Tree of Life Native Plants Nursery wants some of the seeds. Parry Pinyon would make the perfect ornamental small tree for any Southern California native plant urban landscape. But I tried the last two years I was there in the USA trying to collect some cones for Mike, but a strangle anomaly occurred where the nuts from every cone I collected were hollow with no viable nut. Contact Mike Evans at Tree of Life. I've never been so frustrated in collecting any native plant seed as when I tried collecting those cones for Mike before I left for Sweden. Here's what the unripe immature  cones look like.

Photo by Deborah Small
Here's the mature cones that the ScrubJays love so much. This is what they look like if the ScrubJays get there first which is quick. I swear they have radar for this stuff.
Gathering nest material and couples building their nests.

I can tell you that after picking up the nest after the cat knocked it down, it is extremely well insulated. The other interesting thing I saw was that sometimes it just wasn't the parents building the nest but other helpers were chipping in with the project. I often wondered if they perhaps were the previous years young chicks from the same family helping out until their time came for finding a mate. They all seem to house themselves in these rather large nest as well. After rustling noises were heard nearby I would see three or four bolt from the same nest. Evidently they all sleep on twigs on the outside and near the nest after the babies have matured a bit. One other thing I prodded for them and other birds was a watering place. not only for drinking, but also splashing and taking a bath. I know you've all seen these metal frame feeders with the suet and I had several which the ScrubJays loved, but also the Bushtits.

Basically these birds are just another important part of nature and something that definitely adds the 'eye candy' to your backyard. I hope to add them to a list of things for which the Redshank is an important foundation tree in it's area and from which these little guys benefit from eating a little tiny green caterpillar at the end of summer. Hope you are successful at attracting some of them to your private backyard domain someday. Just adding some kool videos for everyone's enjoyment of the funny cute little character of Bushtits in their surroundings. Enjoy!
Bushtits with Anna's Hummingbird

Bushtits at a Pool Party

Bushtit (Psaltriparus minimus) visiting nest This tree looks very much like a Larch Tree I saw last week in Poland

Baby Bushtit Birds Fed in Nest 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Travels in Canary Islands - Part II

Canary Island Pines landscape plantings on the exit of Interstate-8 & Tavern Rd in Alpine, California
Image from

Heading east from San Diego California and turning off at the main exit 30 to central town center at Tavern Road in Alpine, you will see all four east and west bound on & off ramp exists landscaped with these tough non-native pines from the Canary Islands. They were water in the beginning by the Road Maintenance crew from Cal-Trans using a tanker truck when they were first planted. I doubt they use this today. In fact I'm sure the pines are left to their own to merely survive off what ever minimal rainfall the area gets each winter and spring.  Here is a google maps link to the location. Couldn't find any images on the web where someone has photographed and published them, but I'm sure someone have before. Click on the magnification to bring the on & off ramp exit into full view and adjust directional arrows accordingly. Notice the thin narrow form of the pines as opposed to how they appear in many landscape and in the Canary Islands themselves.
Interstate-8 and Tavern Road, Alpine, California
Now a really kool thing to do is once you've magnified that image as close as you can of the Motorway and Tavern Road exit, look over to the upper left hand corner where that Zoom in-out control is and click on the golden yellow man and hold and drag this clipart down to the point on the map where the arrow should still be on the exit. For those who've never taken a Google Maps road tour, this will be fun. Once there you can use those controls to pan around in any direction. You'll first want to point it towards the exit approach off the freeway heading to the top of the ramp. Half way up you should pan to the left and see the Canary Island pines I mentioned above. For those who don't know, you can drive forwards on the road by click the arrow on the pavement on the imaginary golden yellow line. If you just click the arrow, you'll move slowly. Move your mouse forwards on that line and click further ahead will allow you to go faster. I hope this instruction made sense, because now you know how to further take a road trip anywhere in the world where they have applied this technology on a road cruise.

Charlie Hohn of  Slow Water Movement - blog  did an article also on the Chaparral issues I wrote about previously. He had a picture in there of some Canary Island Pines for which the US Forest Service had planted I presume as an experiment plantation way high up in the San Gabriel Mountains above Los Angeles. Here is the picture from Charlie's blog photo which can be seen from his Flicker page.

Photo by Charlie Hohn

You'll notice the same slender pattern in both outplantings by Cal-Trans and the US Forest Service Plantation up in the San Gabriel Mountains - Angeles National Forest which experimented with many different trees back in the 1920s. Yet once again under landscape irrigation they appear much like their parents over in the Canary Islands. Clearly even as tough a survivalist as they are, they apparently require more moisture than the wilds of Southern California rainy season contribute for them. The Canary Islands themselves are a more Subtropical ecosystem than the dry mediterranean of So-Cal. And of course that is the point of this post as an addition to my previous Canary Island trips and photos. On a special note - They colonize great with Pisolithus tictorius (Dog Turd Fungus) even in the city, which is something I doubt exists on their roots in those photos above.
Okay, now to the Canaria Travel from February 2012- 
These next photos will be a collect of our first and second trips there and what we saw and experienced driving up into the narrow steep passes of the volcanic mountains themselves. First off, there is a place we stop at along the coast called Restaurant El Burgado, Buenavista del Norte, Tenerife. It was right next door to the Golf Club there in a public beach access park. The weather was perfect 25Celsius ( 77 Fahrenheit). Definitely T-Shirt, Short Pants and sandles weather. Humidity was perfect also since that is what makes it so comfortable. We heard back at our Hotel in Puerta de la Cruz that a storm could be moving in and we wanted to get ahead of it by driving towards the west and then south. We did spend a couple of hours there as the scenery and fresh air were just perfect for relaxing and kicking back. One of those times you could easily fall asleep and dream. So here is what we saw starting with pulling up to the restaurant El Burgado which is at the foot of the Buena Vista Golf Club. At first it wasn't open for food so we just had a couple of cerveza Doradas.

Once we walked up into the restaurant patio, I couldn't believe they landscaped with Tamarisk trees. Seriously , TAMARISKS ????? Okay to each his own and it is more native to Africa a part of which those islands are situated off the coast of Africa. But then what came next made me forget. *smile*

We actually got a front row seat too for watching the incredible rugged volcanic coastline and growing waves as the storm surge was approaching from the northeast. This first shot is the view looking straight ahead at an area we would later drive up and pass through a tunnel to the other side which is pretty isolated, but kool.

Now to my left of that shot are the crashing waves that kept getting bigger until we decided it was time to leave.

So then in the last picture you can see the dark clouds and storm surge getting stronger and we decided to head out of there quickly.
This next photo comes from a Tenerife web shot page, but it is a view from the air looking at what is on the other side of that tunnel up high and looking back at where we had been. Really kool picture. To the left of this tunnel shot were two more much longer narrow tunnels we had to drive through with our lights on. The picture shows all of the Green Houses and Banana Plantations which are all over the island. In many ways this place looks and feels like Hawaii with a squeaky clean hispanic twist.

Here are the light house and other steep cliffs looking towards the south point of the island.

Photo Mine 2012

Image Mine 2012

Image is Mine 2012

This side of the island was kool for no other reason than it was mostly wild. The steepness of the volcanic island mountains dropping abruptly into the sea was amazing and water was crytal clear and beautiful. Definitely a sort of Hawaiian Islands look about it. We unfortunately had to head back out those tunnels we came through and then back track through a steep narrow valley on our way to Masca which I wrote about in part one. Here are some pictures along the way.

The roads can be a bit spooky, but they also remind me of some of the old James Bond or other 1960s spy / intrigue flicks from the 1960s with those car chase scenes along the steep coast around the Mediterranean. Even Cary Grant's movie "To Catch A Thief" with the car chase from the police. The road above where the rock wall is we quickly had to dodge a public bus which had to make several back and forth maneuvers to make the hairpin turn. 
More later in a part three series of the Laurel Forest side of the islands and the gardens in Puerta de la Cruz.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Pod Wavelem Restauracja (Polish Hofbräuhaus)

Well just to take a short break and share something fun we did last night in Krakow Poland. If you've ever been to München Deutschland and went to the Hofbräuhaus then you should know that Poland has it's own version of German/Czech/Polish food and Beer Hall. This is right in the center of town below the castle. I can't remember the name of the castle, but once you've seen one you've seen them all.
After coming from Sweden and the insanely outrageous prices there, it was refreshing to step back in time to what prices were like decades ago. More on that, but first here are some more gallery pics.

First thing you see when you walk into the hall are the Polish "Tyskie" and Czech "Pilsner Urquell" bier taps. My 1 Liter of Tyskie bier was (12 Polish zloty) U.S. dollar = 3.77988 U.S. Dollars

I had the Wienerschitzel mit Kartoffel Salat (Potato salad). The food was unbelievable in large portions. My Wienerschnitzel, Saurkraut & Potato Salad was (20 Polish zloty) U.S. dollar = 6.2998 U.S. Dollars
Hmmmmmmmmmmmm, Apfelstrudel mit meine Frau !

They had so many foods that you will find both in Germany and Czech Republic as well. Here are some examples of traditional foods that fill you up in cold regions.
Here is their version of a Kebab seen here at the outdoor sun room or garden room area. You can actually choose different side dishes to go with it. They eat a lot of cabbage there and that is reflected in the various forms of Sauerkraut you find there. Even shredded beet roots are a favourite. Root crops are very big there.

Traditional Bavarian pigs knuckles are popular. We also saw a lot of this in Prague restaurants.

A sort of puffed up potatoes with meat and mushroom sauce served with Sauerkraut & Beets

Duck is another popular favourite over there. Don't really see it much in the States.

Another thing that absolutely amazed us is the amount of weight these little waitress gals could carry on all those trips. As you can see above, they aren't shy about feeding you. In Sweden you wouldn't even be given half that amount and it would also cost you an arm and a leg.
Like Germany they serve some serious food and the Wurst (sausages) are almost completely solid meat, unlike the Swedish Korv (sausage) which usually has alot of fillers like fat and meal. The Sausages or Wurst are one of the most popular things for Swedes to bring back to Sweden after the holiday.

Of course there we also saw some guys (it's always the guys) really downing their fare share of the ever popular BEER at low prices.

The men's toalette area had numerous urinals (Pissors) and sometimes they had other services to relieve oneself of the excesses.

Of course no self respecting HofBräu would be without emergency facilities seen above in the men's Toalette!!!
Pod Wavelem Restauracja

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Sugar Sumac or Sugarbush (Rhus ovata)

There are a number of views in the back-country towards the mountains and high deserts of southern California or even the mountains and high country of Arizona/New Mexico where you might see this often ignored and taken for granted beautiful chaparral community which when all other shrubs seem drought dormant and rangy looking, this one stands out as a rich shiny waxy green bush with taco shelled shaped leaves. Take a look at some common shots you may now recognize but have ignored in the past as you sped by down the road no doubt on your way to 'Party Hardy Marty' at 'Blow-Sand' in Ocotillo Wells, 'Glamis Sand Dunes' or onto 'Martinez Lake' at the Colorado River near Yuma, AZ

photos: Lee Dittman
Here's it most common distribution

Like many natives, this one has interesting colours and ornamental value as far as variety of colours and growth as the year progresses. Here are what it looks like before bud break or bloom. 

Here it is in flowers which are finally in bloom.

And finally here it is with fruits or seeds. For those familiar with it, it should remind you of  the  Lemonade Berry Seeds which is a related cousin.

As another one of those important qualities, this is yet another shrub that will spring back from a brush fire. Many non-native ornamental plantings will not do this. You have to go purchase more planting stock and that will take more than twice as long to rebuild what has been lost in the landscape.
Photo by mjplagens
So exactly what can a gardener/Landscaper do with a Sugar Sumac (Rhus ovata) ? First let's take the formal shrub replacement ideas. Here's what Tree of Life Nursery suggests.


For the moment I'll just deal with Oleander Bush and reasons for Rhus ovata as it's replacement. In Southern California these were very common along the Interstates as landscaping screens and most often it was easily viewed in the median as an oncoming head lights barrier screen. Unfortunately something happened to them in the way of a slow death cause by some blight. This shrub and many other chaparral species should be considered a good replacement for other non-natives for just such a common utility function because once established and especially with a mycorrhizal grid intact, such plantings should become drought resistant or at least tolerant with less water if any at all becoming unnecessary. This of course changes with regards to location. In the deserts southwest in the USA, you most likely will have to deeply water at least once a month or possibly every two weeks depending on the location and circumstances. Even where I have seen it on the desert floor in a wash around Anza Borrego State Park, there was permanent water under the sand. Nevertheless it's an important planning point in view of the high cost of water and even it's future availability to the southwest. Many folks will want a formal look, maybe even having one as a specimen shrub or small tree and that's fine.

However my personal choice is creating more natural settings or themes out in the landscape.  Today there are numerous newer housing or Condo developments which through structuring smaller landscapes has given themselves far more profit than those homes built in the 1950s with the large lots for large family backyard designing. Hence many small yards won't take large trees. In some cases the yards are just to narrow. Over here in Europe, small tiny cramped backyards are common, but worse than that is having towering apartment buildings and nosey neighbours seeing your every move in the garden, absolutely no privacy. Even when I was a landscaper in Southern California some of our properties were Mobile Home Parks with very little room for larger trees and shrubs.

My next post will detail my experiences growing up in coastal chaparral country and how this unique world and exploring it's dry washes and stream beds  or climbing rock knoll outcroppings on hill tops with trees as a kid gave miniature woodlands of dwarfed chaparral me later on in life some insight on the landscape possibilities of the chaparral which has inspired in me with creative ideas on replicating some of the tiny hidden world environments for small spaces called "Elfin Forests" or "Pigmy forests".

Texas Madrone (Arbutus xalapensis)
Guadalupe Mountains
For a further take or perspective on Sugar Sumac or Sugarbush Rhus ovata and it's uses, please see the blog entry by Landscape Professional David Cristiani of Albuquerque's Quercus Group at