Posted by: atowhee | July 26, 2010

Siskiyous Send Summer Thunder

For the second straight afternoon, cotton puffs of white and storm-dark clouds have come up over the Siskiyous from the south and blocked the direct sunlight.  Today we even felt a few drops of rain about ten minutes after the thunder began.  Not much moisture in these summer storm fronts after they make their way over the parched mountains of northern California.

The dryness here can be seen in how the plants and animals behave in this droughty season. The madrones begin to drop leaves.

The evergreen madrone doesn’t drop all its leaves as long as the tree is healthy.  But in this hottest part of summer the older leaves turn yellow and fall.  If you pick one up it cracks and powders, like the ashes of a burned sheet of paper.  The newer, still-green leaves are at the end of the smallest, first-year branches.  Closer to the trunk older leaves are denied water and sacrificed for the health of the water-starved tree.

The madrone is a truly wild thing.  Gardeners shake their heads.  Nurseries don’t carry young madrone.  They are innately contrary to transplanting. Or even gardeners’ attention.  One landscape designer we met ADMITTED that she’d watered the madrones on her large lot, killing every one. Wisely edited gardening books for westerners say, if you have a madrone, enjoy it but don’t “help” it. We have some madrone on the upper slope of our small lot and we do nothing to them but look.  There are madrone all through the forest upslope from us.  Hundreds of them.  The dead, yellow madrone leaves are now adrift all across our garden. I clutch them tightly, then release the shattered flakes of instant mulch onto our garden beds.  An almond kernel gleaned from the bird food and duly planted by some jay has grown two feet in less than two years.  I have a couple of bigleaf maples and one vine maple that are volunteers and hearty so far.  Young incense cedar are almost as common here as dandelions.  One 6-inch tall black oak sapling is in the right place and will likely be there in mature form should my great-grandchildren ever come to have a look around. Ponderosa sprouts are so common I pull them in bunches.  No room on our parcel for a two hundred foot-tall tree with branches stretching thirty feet from the trunk on all sides.  But so far, not a single recognizable madrone sprout anywhere on our bit of Ashland hillside.

This male Lazuli Bunting was signing in the quarry at the upper end of Granite Street this morning.  The spot was alive with birds around 930AM, before the sun had made it over the ridge to the east and burned all the morning glory out of the air.

In the same location were some calling Black-capped Chickadees, a honking White-breated Nuthatch, a silent Nashville warbler and this curious young  ‘un.  A juvenile House Wren.  He followed me along the edge of the trees.  Perhaps I was the first human he’d ever seen  He could be less than three months old if he’s from a second brood.

On a hot, dry day what youngster doesn’t like a swimming pool, or at least a cooling wade.  Like this young Steller’s Jay:

I know this is a newly fledged jay.  1) He was very curious about me as if I were a new thing.  The adult jays take me for the jay-servant I’ve become.  Boring, but useful.   2) He has no pale forehead stripes that are de rigeur among adult Stellers.  He’ll get those on his next molt.

Some birds ignore the heat, having one, big, focused idea in their heads: to fress. And if this isn’t fressing, then my goyishe Yiddish must be fakakta. In my personal dictionary, the jays horde and harrass, the smaller birds pick and pack it in, the Band-tailed Pigeons, they fress.

(Note the bird on the far right of the crowded feeder, no white collar.  That’s a bird born this season.)  When the feeder gets too crowded, there’s moaning and groaning pigeon-style. They have a deep-throated scolding call that sounds like throwing blame.  “I got here first, go back to your perch.”  “Take your turn, take your turn.”  “Don’t push, who made you Jehoavh?”  ‘All right, already.”

And the verbal sparring leads to actual sparring and a re-ordering of the bodies:


  1. […] crepe myrtle, erigeron, late dogwoods and magnolia in bloom.  Meanwhile, as I blogged earlier, the madrone is shedding its older leaves, spring’s bold saplings are now struggling for enough moisture to make it to fall, most […]

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