Friday, September 27, 2013

Nuthatches and Brick Porthole Habitats

image: Paweł Kuźniar
Nuthatch or Nöltväcka (Euraisan Nuthatch) is a tiny little tree creeper of a bird we have here in Sweden. I mostly notice them in the early Spring when they like so many other birds are into the Springtime nesting mode. That's when I notice them and other tree creepers doing their thing and darting in and out of some of the most tiniest of holes that you'd ever expect any kind of bird to move in and out of. They're an odd shaped bird and yet cute at the same time. When you walk in the woods here, it's a pleasant surprise to find one working and moving inside and outside of it's tiny hole. I say pleasant because they are so entertaining to watch for a few minutes. Amazingly, their odd little frame just seems to defy gravity which never seems to be an issue when they move all around a tree's trunk and undersides of branches. But it's that diving into a tree and disappearing into a tiny porthole of a nesting cavity that draws your attention at first.
Photo: Mine
I've taken numerous pictures of their nesting holes, but without catching one actually at the porthole. They are just that quick. But I can show one such porthole I took in the Oak woodlands we walked through when I wrote about Gunnebo House & Gardens where we spent the pleasant afternoon with friends. It's still incredible that anything other than a hummingbird would fit in such a tiny little porthole of an entrance. But they do. Interestingly, if they find a hole and like it for a nest, but find the entrance too big, they will building up a mud platform from the bottom up until the proper diameter meets their specifications for safety & security. But they don't always choose tree holes for nesting. They will also seek out tiny crevices within rock walls here or cliffs and even small holes in buildings or bridge foundation structures. At Gunnebo they had a large pond which was rock wall bordered all around. As I was sitting there on a bench mesmerized by the movement of the water, suddenly this little tiny figure flitted into a tiny crevice. I suspected it was a Nuthatch and after waiting for a bit, sure enough a Nötväcka popped out. I have a couple of example videos to show here with the first being a video of a Nuthatch Nesting cavity with parents caring for their babies and also notice the mud platform build up at the bottom of the entrance.
Nuthatch Nesting Video
This next video is also very illustrative of the same behavior of the Eurasian Nuthatch's nervous foraging habit of investigating by flitting in and out of cracks a crevices of stone walls or rock piles. But this little bird is different, yet similar in some habits. It's called Gärdsmyg or common Wren. This particular video caught my attention because the Önskevädersgatan Trolley Stop where I wait to ride to city center, I wait at the rail along side a rock line drainage ditch and invariably there are these little Wrens popping in and out of the rocks near the water's edge. The Nuthatch will often to the very same thing.
What actually got me interested in writing a piece about this little bird was something I saw a Magazine article about creating a nesting cavity in a brick wall. As natural habitat components for cavity nesting birds become fast disappearing with more and more human development, many of these birds fall into decline. The designer is Aaron Dunkerton, a student at Kingston University in England, who claimed to have found solution and solve the problem with the Bird Brick, a fire-clamped cavity brick that could be built into walls and buildings to provide a sustainable nesting site for the birds. It was a perfect fit for these little cavity nesting birds and could be easily duplicated by anyone who is intuitive enough imagination to replicate such designs. But here is a quick view of what I'm talking about as far as nesting holes incorporated into a brick wall. The Bird Brick is a fire-clamped cavity brick that can be built into walls and buildings to provide a sustainable nesting site for sparrows.

Image: Aaron Dunkerton

The Bird Brick is made from five different bricks that assemble to create an opening for the birds. To clean the cavities, you simply twist the stopper and pull it out. Designer Aaron Dunkerton suggests doing this every two to five years, though sparrows typically take care of it themselves. I remember this was one of my concerns when I first was intrigued with this idea. How in the world could it be maintained and kept hygienic ? I was also curious as to how it could attract other birds like the one on my topic which are much tinier. While there are Sparrows here in Sweden, mostly they are in the cities and not overly numerous in numbers like they are in warmer climates. The other birds like Wrens and Nuthatches are everywhere around my house since we are at the edge of the woods. I really don't know if I've ever seen a sparrow in our yard period. Below is the illustration of the clean out. 

Image: Aaron Dunkerton

Dunkerton’s design consists of five hand-made bricks that assemble to create a small, round opening that’s plugged with a brick stopper. At the bottom of this post I've posted his website link for further details. The hole is 1.25 inches diagonally, which makes it large enough for a sparrow (or other smaller bird varieties) to nest comfortably, but small enough to keep out unwanted visitors. The idea is that builders would install a cluster of three or four Bird Bricks during the construction of new buildings. Ideally, the bricks would sit anywhere from 6 to 15 feet from the ground. Dunkerton says this about sparrow communal habits:  
“House sparrows are extremely sociable birds and like to nest in small little colonies.” 
But have you ever noticed that many of the cavity nesting Birds build nests in the oddest of places. I saw this very thing this past Spring when visiting a friend in Anza California. A family of Mountain Blue Birds had set up house in an old telephone utility box on a light pole that my friend Patrick never got around to using. Amazing, I should have photographed it, but we stood there a gazed at the for along while coming and going, both parents. This artificial nesting site set up was also mentioned by Dunkerton.
“You often find them nesting under loose tiles or in old broken vents in the side of buildings” 
But as buildings are patched up to improve insulation and green space disappears due to urbanization, sparrows are losing a sizable chunk of their nesting options. Apparently, over the last three decades, in the U.K. the house sparrow population has decreased around 70 percent as he shows on his website below, and the bird has found itself on the growing list of endangered species. Seriously, who ever thought Sparrows would become endangered ? 

Anyway, the idea he came up with intrigued me and triggered all manner of other ideas for creating artificial nest habitats. Not just for Sparrows, but all sorts of other birds. This set up would be perfect for garden walls and not just buildings. And of course the size of the hole could be made smaller to accommodate the tinier native Song Bird's like Sweden's Nuthatches. This larger size of course would be shortened up by the Nuthatches with mud, but still, Sparrows and Martins could get there first if the hole was just their right size. Nuthatches collect various nuts and wedge them into tree bark or in holes in walls and will even cover secret larders with bark or moss. Who knows, maybe some of these brick bird holes could become winter storage catches for them. They are just such funny looking birds besides their cuteness. 
Other people have come up with some more elaborate brick bird habitat Uptopias, but the one above by Aaron Dunkerton seemed the easiest to replicate and incorporate without being overly flashy by drawing attention to the area. Below is one beautiful but more complicated one and a link to this company. If a parson has the money and the creative time and patience, there is no limit as to what they can accomplish. Then below this image example, there are some other interesting reading references webpage links if further interested in more creative ideas.

designer Chooi-leng Tan.
Nature-Loving Bricks Bring Wildlife Straight to Your Walls

Nuthatches are endangered in many areas. Especially in the United States where people are obsessed with cutting down any snag for firewood. They are cavity nesting birds and only really need about an inch hole for entrance. Here below is another video of 10,000 Nuthatch Nest Boxes being built for the north Carolina Brown Nuthatch recovery programs there.

Pay close attention to this next video and notice as in the preceding video above, how a metal plate is covering the entrance so that larger birds do not invade and make the hole bigger to make it their own home.
Some Interesting Reading References: to Help the Birds Biotopes
Brick Biotopes: Micaela Nardella & Oana Tudose

Monday, September 23, 2013

Degefors Cykeldressin (Day Excursions & Rail Cycling)

photo: Mine
For the past year or so, my wife and I have been coming up to the small town of Björneborg which is over an hour's drive north of Gothenburg, to care for her father who is now almost 90 years old and with cancer. He is now doing much better as he has moved out of his home and living in a care facility. But along the way to his town and back, we always past by this sign which said Högberg. I always joked let's stop, because we have friends with the same last name. This place of course is not really a proper town or city, but merely a tiny country rural community with store, some residents, etc. But back in July, we finally made the turn and drove down the narrow gravel road which went through tall trees and finally opened up into meadows and pasture lands. I made my wife get out and take the photo with her Mobile Phone. We didn't expect taking pick & Camera was at home.
image: Mine
One of the other (selfish) reasons I always wanted to stop here is that there is an abandoned narrow gauge railing line which runs through here whose tracks we always crossed to the north of here and saw along the highway further south. I'm an old railway nutcase. I love anything trains after plants. So this gave me an opportunity to see if there was any older train station along the tracks running through this village. There wasn't any, but there was a typical Swedish Rail Crossing warning sign which we did see ahead like the one pictured to the left. These signs are everywhere and collectible to German Tourists who like to steel them on their way driving back home. Actually the German favourite sign to take is the Moose Crossing warning signs. But I have previously been to other locations where abandoned former railway sections have been turned back into running Stream Engines again. It was fun.
This one intrigued us however because we could see as we crossed the railroad crossing that the rails were somewhat shiny as if the were used on a regular basis. On the way back towards the rail crossing again, we saw a family of three riding and almost bicycle pedaling this three rail wheel contraption with ease on down the rail line. Wow, that looks kool. I wanna do that. But where do you pick up these cars for cycling ? There was nothing around here and it looked as if you had to drive back up north towards Björneborg or further north to find out. So we drove up to a farm and turned around and went inside and old General Store turned into Crafts and Nick-knack shop to ask what where and how can we do this too.
We went back to the Store to inquire about the Rail Cycling we just saw and the woman explained there was a rail station stop in the town north of there called Degefors. The converted General Store to gift shop had many antiques and crafts. Out back of the store in the meadow were several Alpacas for which they made rugs and other things from the wool to sell in the store. We only purchased an ice cream each and sat on the benches outside watching the animals and then headed for Degefors. At least I finally had the satisfaction of seeing what Högberg was all about after so many trips up this way and being told we don't have time for side trips. It was fun though.

Image mine 2013

We've often only traveled through the city of Degefors to visit my Father-In-Law when he was sent to hospital just north of there at various times. But this was the first time we actually slowed down and turned left instead of blowing straight through to the north. We made it to a Degefors Public Park and beyond that out in the country again was a little red quaint Rail Station House next to the old narrow gauge train tracks. I parked the car on a grassy car park and walked up to the railroad crossing and photographed north up the track a ways where they had all the Cykla Dressin vehicles park and ready for release. I really wished we had had more time to engage in this activity, but there was no time, we had to get back home to Gothenburg. But we vowed one day soon.

Image mine from 2013

Surprisingly there were several families who had taken off from here on their way south to Ottersbäcksbanan. You can stop along the way and the cycle cars are light and easy enough to take off the tracks to allow others to pass from either direction. Many stop along any point on the right of way to have their pack lunches. Looking at the people using these cycle cars and the modest way they were dressed just brought back some memories of the kind of things families did back in the 1950s. That kind of outdoor adventure entertainment often seems to get a hands down with most modern younger generations who normally have to be forced to leave city life and get out in the country into an activity they often view as boring. Below here are some close up photos of the light rail cycle cars and close ups of the maps and prices with rules.

image: Mine

image: Mine

image Mine
Map of rail right of way route along the lake

image: Mine
 Booking Rules. Rent by the hour or whole day.
Below I've given a couple of links to this type of fun entertainment for families. The bottom link is most extensive in that it reveals around this entire region there are other abandoned rail right of ways which are now used for this purpose. Lots of photographs and explanations, although they are in Swedish, but it doesn't matter. The pictures are worth a thousand words. Here also is a nice Youtube video, in Swedish of course with music.
Youtube-Video: "Dressincaching i Gullspång"
Some reading references for Tourists:
Youth Hostel and Train Station for Cykla Dressin at the southern end in Gullsspång 
Here is a site referencing all the Cykla Dressin places to visit in Sweden

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Traditional Swedish Fences

(The Old versus the New in fences)
NM Gärdesgård (Fence)

I'm not a fan of many things in this part of the Earth. I hate the cold [not even a fan of cold in California when it visits], hate the dense overgrown weedy green everywhere[I'm a Desert Rat @ Heart], the Mosquitos are hideous when you go for walks in the woods[never going blueberry picking again] and I've never seen so much wet in my life.[Desert thingy again] and last but not least, Northern European food[I lean towards Mexican]. But once in a while I warm up so to speak to something that does capture my attention and that is the traditional Swedish fences or Gärdesgård. I like things older and traditional. Though the modern culture here has lost most of it's traditional values when it comes to the traditional artistic styling and architectural design to the modern Socialist influenced generic Soviet Styling of everything having to be equal. But some things never change, like the traditional country fences which can often be seen just outside of the cities in suburbs. Click on the link above under the photo which takes you to the site of N.M. Gärdesgård which is also the Swedish word for fence. They got many beautiful examples of traditional fence photos they have built around the country. Most all the construction materials come from local sources. The actual fence poles are made of local pine (which is actually Pinus sylvestris or Scots Pine) and interestingly, the oldest recorded Scots Pine (700 years old) seems to have been in Sweden. The larger sections are lashed together by what a guy who just installed new windows this morning upstairs on the second story of my house, said is called Gran grenar (Fir branches) soaked to be flexible so that it can be tied as illustrated. I've also seen the fences tied together with long slender Spruce branches which are slightly burned over a fire and water to make them pliable for tying the fence poles together. The resulting natural tie ropes are referenced in Swedish as vidjorna.


Sand Dune coastline beaches at Haverdal
While I like the traditional look and the natural materials used, I've also seen some clever style incorporating the traditional with the modern improvements for stronger longer lasting benefits. This past summer, we went down to a small town north of Halmstad called Haverdal which is very touristy in a Swedish way for the beaches here. I don't think many 'auslanders' know about this area. Mostly it's a native Swede getaway place. Many charming small beach cottages everywhere here. The coastline looks more like something from New England wit rolling sands dunes with bunch grasses everywhere. The only other area I've seen like this is over in Dänemark at the very northern tip of that country called Skagan. Anyway, I took some photos of many examples of modern fence designs around the neighbourhoods there in Haverdal. Here are a few below.

photo: Mine
This house was the home and garden of my wife's ex-inlaws and we came here to pick up both her kids who stayed at grandma & grandpa's place. I actually loved their house and thought about asking to take photos of the beautiful older style of architecture and interior decor, but decided it might be pushy, besides we don't know each other that well. But what impressed me is that their place unlike most Swedish residents is so Un-IKE[oh yeah, not an IKEA fan either]. But at least I got a couple shots of their own 'DIY' Hornbach [equivalent to Home Depot or Lowes] home improvement project. What you will notice with many outdoor building projects here are the hardware components will be steel as are some of the infrastructural skeleton for the fencing, even if a more rough natural material is added as the finishing exterior decor to the fence. One of the greatest challenges here is to counteract the degrading effects of mold and rot made worse by the continual wet climate. So the steel footings and post caps help. But often times the wood also has to be treated with a Copper-Sulfate which gives it that slight green tint-

photo: Mine

photo: Mine
These next two photos, the one above and to the right, are actually around the block from the kid's grandparent's house. While they show the same traditional Swedish style which is popular here, they incorporate a more modern milled lumber look which was purchased from the local Home Improvement Store as opposed to the tradition of going out into the Forest and gathering all manner of Sapling poles which seem at times to number into the millions everywhere you look or venture out into for a walk. But never the less, it still works for me.

photo: Mine
Back home in Gothenburg we took a day to visit this year's look at the Göteborg Botaniska Trädgård and stumble upon something newer they have done to the older ornamental iron fence of the Botanical gardens. As you can see, they appear to have used long slender willow sapling branches in their fence weave pattern. I've seen quite a bit of this natural wood used and I suspect it is willow much like the pliable willow wood furnishings some create in the U.S. I've also seen what appears to be commercially raised willow orchards when we drive up from Gothenborg to Stockholm for various reason on a visit or holiday. Nevertheless, the wood seems very tough and durable in withstanding this climate.

photo: Mine

Closer back view of the iron structure of the fence and
the weaving pattern of the willow decor used for screen

photo: Mine

This is simply a close up shot of the natural material used
which for me still looks to be Willow. What do you think ?

photos: Mine

This is a close up of the weave pattern they did around the
interior metal poles and the wooden split veneer to hide the
steel post and keep the wooden look even.

photo: Mine
This next series of final photos is going back to Hissingen where we live and the fencing which was built earlier this year to border around what is called in Swedish a Dagis (Child's Daycare Center). This is just east of the major Eketregatan Bus & Trolley Transfer Station. This fencing also had a strong steel infrastructure with the woven overlay of the willow (Vide) branch stems. I've taken several shots to reveal not only the design, but also the interior hardware used if someone out there may be looking for design ideas. As you can see in the photo to the left, the steel or aluminum post framing won't rot inside and the structure will be far more sound as a result. All manner of molds and fungus do a number on things here. Even mosses and lichens will eventually be found on all exterior surfaces no matter how much precaution is taken. I really wish I had stopped when the workers were constructing this and gotten a better perspective on the methods used. I have to assume that the weave around the horizontal poles was done from the top down with the ridge cap being installed last.

photo: Mine

This is the daycare playground fence around where the
children play. I had no idea when I watched them build
this fence that they would train up vines to grow up on it.

photo: Mine

This of course is a close up view of the slender wood pole
strips. The difference here from the view of the botanical
Garden fence is that they have utilized a wood ridge cap.

photo: Mine
This is a close up shot of the corner view of this combination modern metal and natural wooden pole fence structure. Notice the design and hardware they are using which is not over done to detract from the natural aspect of the design they were looking for. I suppose the challenge for folks in the southwestern United States would be to find where you could harvest the willow poles without incurring the displeasure of authorities of eco-activist types. Also, I'm not sure willow would even be the correct material for a drier location, although I see willow garden furniture everywhere. Mostly, like here in Sweden, you'll want some type of steel frame infrastructure to lift your project far above the soil line. Termites are the bigger issue there and it may surprise many to know they don't really have Termites here for the forest recycling program, but rather Wood Ants which build giant wooden pyramid structures with millions of small sticks and twigs the carry back to the Ant mound. Of course the fungus and lichens and other Biological Soil Crusts on steroids here do the rest, but mainly these wood ants are aggressive organic material recyclers.

photo: Mine

Another close up view of the post and the hardware being
 used here for tying the structure all together. These two
poles are actually separate and come together at the same
point, but other poles went straight through.

photo: Mine

Again, just some close up shots of how the aluminum pole was
introduced into the wooden post through a hole bored all the
way through the post to the next post. This had to be precision
accomplished as these poles used appear to be rather long.

Other Visual Artistic or Creative Designs for Fence Weaveing
Images from Pinterest

Reading References for Design and construction:
Swedish Traditional Gärdesgård from an Italian perspective
Video: Building a Gardesgård (Swedish with english subtitles)
This next video is interesting and fun in a sort of comical way. Seriously, tell me this old guy doesn't remind you of the old Lars Norquist character from the John Wayne and Stewart Granger movie "North to Alaska"

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Common Sense Reasons for Modern Wildfire Intensity

Non-Native Grasses and the human connection for their rapid spread

 photo by Guy McCarthy.
This photo taken around 2:55 p.m. shows smoke rising from
 south of Banning on Aug. 7, 2013. Banning-Beaumont Patch
The scene to the right is Hwy 243 leaving south from downtown Banning up into the San Jacinto Mountains towards Idyllwild California. For almost two decades, I traveled past this very location going to and from work a few times a week. Notice the foothills leading up into the mountains ? They are mostly non-native grasses and other invasive weeds. Not the native wildflowers of the old days when fires went through on a not so regular basis. This week, the Media's favourite so-called Fire expert, Richard Minnich did mention the 1974 Soboba Fire [which gave birth to the Penny Pines Plantation next to Bay Tree Spring - BTW, pines planted were not natives (yet another great Science blunder)] and the (2006 Esperanza fire) which was infamous for taking the lives of five firefighters and burning well over 42,000 acres. He neglected however to mention the 1968 Poppet Flats Fire and the countless other fires which have practically turned this part of the mountain into a mosaic of chaparral and non-native invasive weeds which burn like gasoline (even Minnich admits this). 

image: Mark Alburger

(click on this link to enlarge)
Take a look at the photo above. Some of the first eye witness observer comments were that when the fire first started, it was only 200 acres, but in 30 minutes time it grew to be 2,500. How did that happen ? Grasses! I've watch this mountain range's transformation for almost 25 years now. The lower foothills and steppes are becoming more and more devoid of low sage scrub and the deeper high elevation chaparral is yielding as well. Take the photo above and left here, this same location going across the wash and up the Palms to Pines Hwy 243. Look at the almost pure invasive grass ecosystem which has replaced the majority of the Chaparral. This location has burned almost every years or at length, every couple of years. Not the type of excitement News making fires, but enough to make major impacts on the local ecosystem's demise. In fact, I doubt many remember that on the northern end of Banning of this year 2013, they had a rather large fire back in May called, the "Summit fire". There were some homes lost then as well.
Photo: Stan Lim

CHP Officer Adrian Horta stand at a check point on Hwy 243
looking towards the same exact point of the top photo.
The area is actually one of the worst fires areas for no other reason than that permanently blowing wind through this Pass from the south and west. I seem to remember when every summer in the 1980s to 90s while being in the Hemet/San Jacinto Valley and looking at some dirty gray-brown mushroom cloud to the north and it was always close to this location. From Vista Grande Ranger Station west to Moreno Valley along Hwy 60, these hills have traditionally burned year after year for decades. Grasslands are the predominant ecosystem now which has replaced the low growing chaparral scrub like Buckwheat, California Sagebrush etc. Notice in the third photo here how rapidly that fire has not only grown in size, but even moved west against the westward driven wind flow patterns. The fire speed difference in terms of burn time & distance of a Chaparral landscape versus grass landscape are dramatic. The situation  been made further dangerous by horrible mismanagement created by misguided [though perhaps well intended] Fire Management Policies based & structured solely on the bad science of a select few Forestry-Cult Media figures who are looked upon to as Fire Ecology Gurus. Frankly, their time and outdated thinking should be over. Unfortunately, for many areas, there is no turning back the eco-clock. The results of failed policies based on their bad science reveal that their expertise has destroyed more than they've helped in off fire season management. Scary scenario now is that globally with Climate Shifting, many fire seasons are running close to a full year any more. Something has to change, or the Natural World up in the San Jacinto Mountains and elsewhere will be ruined forever. I use to think Nature could take and handle all manner of abuse, but clearly I was wrong. 

Take the example below of a wildfire management program which is a major failure, although the people behind this Hwy 74 firebreak creation program would probably never admit this. This project I have to imagine was a strategy of creating some imaginary barrier along both sides of Hwy 74 west of Mountain Center and Idyllwild in hopes of preventing a major megafire advance towards those mountain communities. These images expose the incompetent  horrible planning and decision making which demanded the  removal of old growth Chaparral on both sides of the Highway, the result of which has allowed invasive non-native grasses to infiltrate. This terrible decision was started and in progress in 2010 and through 2011 when I last visited this area with my wife. At that time I should have taken photos as it was in progress, but I didn't. However I knew exactly what would happen. There were large massive piles of brush which were later hauled off site to an area for grinding up the chaparral. Now fast forward here to 2013, some chaparral vegetation has grown back, but in a far worse case fire scenario circumstance than previously before chaparral removal. You should know that several psychopath Arsonists have actually tried to start fires here at this east end of the canyon and only created smoldering white smoke previously and were caught as a result of the difficulty of actually getting a raging fire going. The new invasive grass habitat almost guarantees such attempt will succeed in the future.

Photo: Mine
This is the south facing view on a Turnout near the Cold Creek Creek Canyon [which comes out of Mountain Center] at the bottom before highway Route 74 takes a sharp U-Turn and switch backs westward up the mountainside. This was not a Control Burn Project, but rather a chain saw job performed by Hand Crews to remove chaparral to the ground. Then the brush piles were hauled off to disposal sites. The chaparral dander or leaf litter was also removed to bare soil. Stumps were being sprayed with something to further kill them. While the idea may have been well intended  and certainly a form of 'eye-candy' which appeases the Public who demand something be done, the conditions now have been made worse than the previous condition as the photo below reveals.

photo: Mine
These are the dry Foxtail Grasses and European Wild Oats that were never here prior to the cutting of Chaparral. I found them to be all alone the shoulder up through Mountain Center and in the case of the wild oats, I had never before seen up so high. These latest drought conditions are also not allowing the Chaparral to recover quickly. During wetter seasons in decades past, the ecosystem would have repaired itself much more quickly and efficiently. But we are now in an era of changing dry times when it comes to weather issues. The biggest danger here now is that some idiot throws his/her cigarette out the window and ignites another megafire. With the former Chaparral cover scenario, that was never an issue. Even if a fire from a distance comes up the canyon as feared, they have almost guaranteed it's further rapid progress by this horrible decision to defoliate this area of much more stable system and replacing it with a virtual powder keg.

(image from San Jacinto Ranger District off Hwy Route 243)

Here is another photo I took on the way up and in fact there are several. Most of the surrounding San Jacinto Mountain foothills from this S.J. River Canyon to Lambs Canyon (State Route 79) and beyond to Hwy 60 are almost totally solid grasses. What this means is that any future fire under similar conditions will take off far more efficiently speed-wise from a disaster scenario point of view and be so large by the time fire fighters attempt some sort of battle plan organization, that getting an initial upper hand on the situation will be near to impossible. These grasses burn like gasoline, while chaparral, which it can be explosive & spectacular to watch during intense wind extreme moments, quite often burns at a much slower pace which allows for much more efficient timeline fire fighting strategies to be implemented. These next two images are of the southern face of Indian Mountain, though most people won't recognize it, though perhaps only from the northern viewpoint turnout on Hwy 243.

photo image: Mine

This is a view of the southern face of Indian Mountain, though many never think of that landmark from this point of view. A number of Truck Trails like Indian Creek, North Fork of S.J. River and Bee Canyon Truck Trail are present on this side of the mountain. This side of the mountain has burned numerous times in the past and as you can see it being presently dominated by non-native European exotic grasses. When the Bee Canyon Fire blew over this area, there was still some low growing Chaparral scrub, and it made fast progress. However, it is almost entirely grasses, and an even faster fire growth scenario will most surely take place next time and there WILL be a NEXT TIME. When I originally moved to the San Jacinto Mountains back in 1981, this same mountain was dominated by an interior version of coastal sage scrub plant community. A photo then would be showing a darker green plant presence across the same non-native grassland at present. 

photo: Mine

(click to enlarge view)
This view of the irrigation aqueduct which funnels water from Lake Hemet via the South Fork of the San Jacinto River is directly across from Cranston Ranger Station. Same pic as above but from different perspective. Below is a link further up the road at the S.J. North Fork crossing. Click to enlarge and zoom up that mountain in the background and take in the unnatural grasslandscape.

photo Mine(click here to enlarge the view)
I took this photo this past May 2013. It is a view of the grass infested southern foothill terrain of the northern part of the San Jacinto Valley. These hills have been burned off countless multiple times and are a rapid fire tinder box just waiting to explode again. Movement of fire of course would be in the same direction as the present Silver Fire. Soboba Indian Reservation was always notorious for starting many of these devastating fires. There was hardly a summer which went by in the 80s and 90s where smoke couldn't be seen in the mountain terrain above that Casino.
The main issue here is that the Chaparral Plant Community is almost always unfairly and UNSCIENTIFICALLY blamed for the destruction of human infrastructure over the past few decades. But as you can clearly see, there have been many homes which burned with intact trees, chaparral and exotic landscape often left untouched by flames and homes burned to the ground. Why ? Some homes in this latest Silver Fire have been burned to the ground with large bare ground defensive clearances and yet they burned down to the ground, Why ? Most of it has to your with regular maintenance. Your home and garden/Landscape need proper regular personal hygiene just like your own body. Neglect this and problems develop. Most rain gutter and roof tiles need cleaning or when embers rain down like a downpour of a Thunderstorm, these things get blown into the cracks and crevices where they smolder and eventually ignite. The flame is at first very tiny and almost un-noticeable. But gradually it can be doing some internal burning within the structure's walls.  
One morning early in 1993, I remember waking up early and listening to the News Reports going crazy about numerous major wildfires going on in Southern California all at once. It was October and the Santa Ana winds were in full force. The Laguna Hills and Beach fires seemed to have gotten most of the attention, but there were others closer to hone which were of more concern to me. The October 1993 Winchester Fire which burned 25,000 acres in almost a day, was a burn which mostly blitzed at lightning speed  through nothing more than a grassland plant community. Grass is like Petrol when it burns. There were 29 homes lost on those grassland flats where the fire burned from south end of State Street Hemet near the present Diamond Valley Reservoir Headquarters  [which had not yet existed] all the way to Lake Skinner and French Valley near Temecula. So 29 Homes in grassland were destroyed and if there was any chaparral at all in these valleys and rolling hills, it was low growing coastal sage scrub plant community being overwhelmed by grasses. To be honest, much of this area was also the former Kaiser Cattle Ranch from which most of Temecula is now built on top of. Cattle Ranchers want grasses, not what they term as invasive brush [vulgar term for chaparral] which impedes their business model. Mostly this Winchester Fire in 1993 was one massive grassland. Most of the non-native grasses, brought here by error-prone humans ignorant of their effects on the native local landscape were the real culprit, not chaparral. And yet the grasses cannot be totally blamed either, as human ignorance in land management over many decades has facilitated their wider spread. There is something else I also remember about this day. During this same Winchester Burn in 1993, something else was also happening right up in Anza in and around the Cahuilla Creek Casino and Lake Riverside Estates. After being glued to the Television News Updates, I decided to take a walk outside and see if I could see any of the smoke from the Winchester fire that was given occasional mention. The Santa Ana Wind conditions were blowing fierce at my hilltop home and there was another fire for which the News had yet to mention. A Fire started up in Anza with it's flash point of origin as an Electrical Pole near the Cahuilla Indian Reservation Cemetery. Incredibly, at the beginning, this fire burned through a wide swath of the green Sedge  meadow landscape at lightning speed burning all the way to Lake Riverside and Cowboy Country Trailer Park on Bradford Road. This was reminiscent of what was said about a green grassy meadow in the Mount Jacinto high country just a few weeks ago which they said went up in a flash. Under normal healthy conditions, Sedges generally are not a flash point, but conditions in our times have changed. These non-native exotic grasses taking over once native chaparral landscapes will continue to spark the megafires making far worse and more uncontrollable than ever before. Climate Shift will only exacerbate the problem, but will anyone really be paying any attention by NOT blaming Chaparral ? Will they now stop listening to many of those supposedly qualified Fire Ecology experts who know nothing of how the chaparral plant community actually functions and put a halt to their failed Control Burn operations in remote wilderness areas far away from any urban areas which has thrown nature off balance ? Not only that, it wastes resources and eats up money which could otherwise be used for actually fighting the fires which are going to happen whether they do anything or not. Of course, the average citizen should not depend on the authorities to actually save anything, but there are some thing that you can do as far as home construction details. While different circumstances, solutions and money will dictate what you are able to do, there are still some interesting details mentioned in the link under the photo below.
(AP Photo/Douglas C. Pizac) 

 Fire-Resistant Details

"The October 1993 Laguna Hills Fire  destroyed more than 350 homes  in a single day (more here). In this image: a single home sits virtually  untouched in Laguna Beach, California, on October 28, 1993, after wildfires reduced neighboring homes, and hundreds of others,  to rubble. When the Bui/Bender residence (pictured above) survived  the devastating 1993 fire in the Southern California Coastal town  of Laguna Beach, people called it a miracle. The fact that the only damage to the structure was a drainage downspout dislodged by a fire hose may have had more to do with the fact that it was designed and constructed in accordance with the principles outlined  in this very interesting article from Fine Home Building."
Some relevant links on the October 26/27 1993 Winchester Fire & 17 others: 
Endangered Species Act and Fire Controversy that followed the 1993 Winchester Fire
The Wildfires of Southern California in 1993
What more is there to say, but people need to pay attention to the way fire dynamics are changing for the worse and plan accordingly. The bad land management examples being practiced by irresponsible agencies should be improved upon by the average land owner IF they actually care about their own property. Previously I touched on this here:
Forestry's Land Mismanagement has an Influencing Effect on it's Citizens
Further Research References: 
The California Chaparral Institute
"The Banning Silver Fire Photos - Illustrations that Teach"
Wildfire Potential for Southern California August thru November 2013

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Rural Gardens & Bird of Paradise Bush (Caesalpinia gilliesii, pulcherrima, etc)

On the last few days of my visit to San Diego County and traveling on my way here or there, I stumble across a few locations which had beautiful informal rural garden settings especially along the roadsides. One location is on Hwy 67 east of downtown Ramona and the other location is along Hwy 76 in Pauma Valley just west of the Casino drive entrance. The plant in question here is Bird of Paradise Bush (Caesalpinia gilliesii) which I previously wrote about  along with it's other Mexican Bird of Paradise relative which carries the bright orange/yellow/red flowers (Caesalpinia pulcherrima) Here . Now while I was out and about purposely on other missions with my photography, I just could resist stopping and taking these beautiful country rural pics.

Photo Mine

This is along Hwy 76 in Pauma Valley just down the road west of the Pauma Casino and heading towards the Pala Reservation Casino. I believe this is on the property of the old Pauma General Store which would be to the right in the photograph. Lots of traffic and the pic was hard to get with masses of automobiles traveling in both directions. where in the world do people in this lousy economy get money to blow like that ? Anyways, here is the roadside informal hedge of  the (Caesalpinia gilliesii)

Photo: Mine

This is taken from the west bound lane of  Hwy 67 before coming into Ramona. It was  just one too many times that I passed here  back and forth on missions east and north  that I then just had to stop and photograph  this wonderful South American native. Just about the only water it receives is from the  poor annual rainfalls of late.

Photo: Mine

Here is the frontal view of the roadside plants on a picture post card property most will recognize when passing the old Hi-Way Market on Hwy 67 on way to Santa Ysabel or Julian. Very tough little shrub and good selection for dry hot areas. also I like the way it doesn't become an invasive and take over the wild, although I have seen it naturalize by reseeding.

Photo image: Mauro Guanandi

São Paulo Brazil neighbourhood
Caesalpinia mexicana

Top Tropicals

Caesalpinia 'Rosae Pink'
Like Columbines and other flowers with great cross breeding abilities for variety, these shrubs above have similar varietal possibilities. So I thought it would also be kool to share a few of these varieties with regards to members of these wonderful flowering desert subtropical shrubs. Most of the folks in the desert cities southwest are only familiar with the bright red-orange with yellow splash which was introduced probably back in the 1980s, maybe Arizona. Well, at least that's where I first saw these plants when traveling Arizona and how the Arizona Highway department was utilizing them along Freeway landscaping on and off ramp exits. What impressed me most is the care and attention to any artistic detail their Highway Department were determined to create in the aesthetics pof theor roadway infrastructure which in most cases is generally steriles and boring and covered up with water loving landscape if you've got that water available. Arizona is unique in the lack of water has actually forced them to be creative. Take the Mural below which takes in elements of native plants and early cultural designs in art.

The Tucson Murals Project

Image from AAA Landscapes
As far as landscape goes, they've selected some of the most beautidul desert trees and shrubs from around the globe, but especially from the State of Arizona which make a perfect fit not only for the general desert climate with plants that can also withstand higher intensified heat generated by the surrounding concrete and asphalt. This example on the right is from Maricopa County in the city of Chandler. Generally they also incorporate many plants in the pea family of trees and shrubs. Caesalpinia pulcherrima being one of these. The effects over the years has been that such beaty has inspired to public to copy what responsible leadership has done within their landscapes. Odd isn't it ??? Leaders leading by example ??? There are so many areas for improvement here!


Caesalpinia pulcherrima Guadeloupe
However sometimes they can be over used and over whelm an area. This Caesalpinia pulcherrima Guadeloupe is a much more red coloured variety and most of these other variations in colour, I've known about, but have never really seen them in the landscapes around the Southwest. I'm sure someone else creative will one day find just the right hardscape and landscape theme to insert them into. But the rather large selection reminds me also of other flowering plants with  multi-colour selections like for example Tropic Cannas.


Caesalpinia pulcherrima
Guyanese flower

There is just so many kool varieties of things and it's simply a matter of being in the right place and at the right time for discovery and perhaps collecting the seed or cloning from cuttings. I'm glad there are folks out there with the patience for doing such things with a species of plant with which they specialize. Again, I just don't have that type of patience. I sure wish I did though. This world has everyone keyed up and anxious. Stress is everywhere, but the garden is certainly a way of escape. At least that's always the way it was for me. And I suppose still is. Outdoors and discovery though are even better. Still, maybe some have seen some things here they never knew existed as far as availability. 

Image by Maryory Strap - Pinterest
Of course there is one final variety, though it's is an entirely different species and rather large tree of the tropics. It's that picturesque tree often visualized in some romantic colonial era setting of some British or French colony in the Caribbean Islands. 'Poincianna Royal'. The interesting thing about this tree is that it hates the cold. I remember when I first read about this tree while researching Caesalpinia pulcherrina and the name Royal Poincianna came up. By cold, I'm not talking about some frosty mornings, but it hates temps getting down to 45 degrees (7.2 Celsius). This tree and I have something in common. We both dislike cold. So San Diego just might be a good choice for this one. I'm sure Balboa Park has some excellent examples.

Image from  'Royal Poinciana'

Other Posts on this subject.
Utilizing Ornamentals of the Legume Family in Southwest Landscapes