Saturday, July 31, 2010

Doves and Hawks

While out in the garden last Saturday, I watched a pair of Mourning Doves build their nest in the limbs of a nearby oak. Turns out our garden is kind of like a Home Depot for doves -- with an endless supply of building materials.

It was a pretty pastoral scene, the cool of early day, birds singing and a pair of doves making their family home. Occasional cooing floated down from the trees. I watched Mr. Dove as he glided down to the ground, loaded up with the biggest twig he could carry, then flew up to a roof and into the oak. The male dove gathers the twigs and the female builds the nest. You can't see it, but the doves' nest is just a few yards from the peak of the roof, hidden in the oak branches.

Doves and particularly doves with twigs in their beaks are symbols of peace and rest. It was a dove who found land and brought Noah the olive twig signifying the end of the flood. When Picasso wanted to symbolize peace, he drew a dove. And, this beautiful July morning it was easy to understand why as I watched the doves go about their business.

So, here we were, the doves and I. Peace and contentment abounded.

But, (cue Jaws theme) a predator was watching.

Doves are a favorite food of the Cooper's Hawk. The hawks soar overhead looking for food, looking for doves.

And they hide in trees, surveying the area for their next victim. Cooper's Hawks like to hunt with sudden dashes from a concealed perch and swoop in low to snare their victim.

Cooper's Hawks have incredible eyesight -- 20/2 or eight times better than excellent human vision. While we could walk right by this dove and not even notice it, the hawk would see the dove clearly from afar.

So, there I was -- watering and happy to watch the dove come and go. The dove was pecking around for twigs not more than fifteen feet away. I can't speak for the dove, but I had no idea of the danger that lurked nearby.

Then it happened. Seemingly out of nowhere, a hawk swooped down from behind me, veering around my right side about waist high. He came so close that I felt a small breeze and an instant chill. Had I lifted my arm, I would have hit the hawk.

As he swooped around in front of me, I recognized the Cooper's Hawk. I watched as the hawk flew low, aiming straight for the dove, talons down.


The harsh reality is that being a dove is high risk. Mortality is high. Six of ten adult doves die each year from predators and other causes. The risk is even higher for young doves. But, the circle of life is in high gear. Doves are prolific breeders, raising up to six broods a year, and are among the more abundant birds.


If caught by a Cooper's Hawk, a dove's fate is not pretty. The hawk's talons are strong and needle sharp. The hawk wraps its talons around its prey and then, in mid-air, kills its prey by repeatedly squeezing it.


I don't know how often a dove can evade a swooping Cooper's Hawk. But that is what happened. Fortunately for the dove, it was standing near an apricot tree and even more fortunate for him, he saw the hawk. As the hawk swooped down toward the ground and stretched out its talons, the smaller bird darted behind the apricot. By the narrowest of margins, the hawk missed and the dove got away.

With one powerful flap of its wings, the hawk rose up and over the fence. As quickly as it had appeared, the hawk was gone.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Bees of Sierra Madre Villa

Apiary at Cogswell’s Sierra Madre Villa
Ca. 1886, Carleton E. Watkins
Courtesy of the California History Room
California State Library, Sacramento

The picture above is a "cabinet photo" of the beekeeping operation at the old Sierra Madre Villa Hotel.

My search for Sierra Madre Villa beekeeping turned up an old issue of the Western Honey Bee and an article from an old timer who reminisces about early beekeepers in Los Angeles County. He lists more than a dozen beekeepers operating in the 1870's - 80's. He writes, "Nearly all of the apiaries were at the foot of the Sierra Madre, wherever a stream or spring could be found."

So, it shouldn't surprise that the enterprising folks of the Sierra Madre Villa Hotel kept bees -- the old hotel being amply supplied with water from the nearby stream flowing from Davis Canyon.

Apiary at Sierra Madre Villa
Ca. 1886, Carleton E. Watkins
Courtesy of the California History Room
California State Library, Sacramento

I count more than 75 of the box towers or bee hives. From what I've read, each hive may have 20,000 to 60,000 bees, depending upon what time of year it is. If all of these hives were occupied, that's a lot of bees.

At first, I was surprised to see the beekeeper in these photos walking around among all these bees without any protection. Though I don't quite understand it, there seem to be other beekeepers who work with bees without the white spacesuit and mesh helmet as protection.

Apiary at Sierra Madre Villa
ca. 1886, Carleton E. Watkins
Courtesy of the California State Library, Sacramento

This view provides a good look at what much of the East Pasadena terrain probably looked like 120 years ago. You can also see the reach of the apiary.

When I first saw these photos, I wondered why Carleton Watkins would go to all the trouble to take these pictures. Photography back in the 1880's was not exactly a casual "point and shoot" thing -- there were heavy plates and equipment to lug around. There must have been something about the apiary or the whole idea of keeping honey bees that grabbed his attention. Might be that beekeeping was kind of novel -- honey bees were relatively new to California -- introduced in 1857. Or maybe he sampled some of the Villa's honey and was taken by the little insects that produced it.

From the photo, the terrain looks a little barren to support bees. Not visible in the picture were the area's citrus groves that were downhill from the apiary. Reportedly, the Villa alone had 5,000 large orange trees. I don't know what it takes to keep millions of bees in nectar, but that's probably a good start.

Saturday, July 17, 2010


The hail in the photo goes back to January '09. I remember running around in front of the house with hail bouncing all around me and gathering enough of the cold icy stuff for this picture. I posted this a year ago when temps reached 102 and seems a good fit today too.

It has really been hot. Today Accuweather has us reaching 98 with a feel like temp of 101. An Excessive Heat Warning has issued for the San Gabriel Valley due to high heat and humidity.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Triple Digits and Rain

According to Accuweather, it got up to a sweltering 101 today. Heard thunder in the late afternoon, got a bit of a rainbow as the day edged into dusk and honest to goodness raindrops in July by 8 pm. Have to look hard, but there's a rainbow in that picture.

Average high for July 15 is 90. The record high for the day was 104 in 1930. Hot again tomorrow.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Cooper's Hawks

Cooper's Hawk perched Saturday morning on a low lying oak branch.

Anyone know if this is a juvenile hawk?

I haven't found it, but there is a nest somewhere in our neighborhood. Mornings and evenings we hear the hawks screeching and occasionally spot the family of hawks flying overhead. I've seen two adult hawks and at least two juveniles.

It might look like I've turned this photo on its side. But, other than cropping the photo, this is the real deal -- a young hawk flying straight up. When I took this, there were three hawks in my field of vision -- an adult hawk soaring above, another juvenile darting sideways, and this one who took the up elevator.

I posted a year ago about Cooper's Hawks and had better luck at getting a clear photo. Last year's post also has some background on this amazing bird.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Cool Weather

As evening approached yesterday, it was cool and overcast. Sunlight off clouds to the east was spectacular

Seems like it has been unusually cool and overcast for most of July. The Fourth is generally blistering, but this year it reached only 80 degrees. The high for last Wednesday and Thursday was only 76 and yesterday reached up to 83 degrees.

So, I went to Accuweather to check on normal temps for this time of year. Turns out that historical averages for the first couple weeks of July are in the high 80's and on July 15 the average edges over to 90 degrees. So you know what's coming up, average temperatures stay at 90 to 91 for the rest of July, all of August and the first week of September. We generally have a few days where high hovers around 100.

I like the cool, but I think it's slowing things in the garden. Tomatoes are growing much slower than last year. It will get hotter here in all too short a time. The forecast for next week moves us into the 90's.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Hahamongna - Keep It Natural

1880 Topographical Map of the Los Angeles and San Bernardino Basin, Wm. Hall, Office of the California State Engineer

Here's the thing about Hahamongna: the place is unique. Just over the city's edge and at the mouth of the Arroyo Seco, Hahamongna is a rare spot that lies between the San Gabriel Mountains and the expansive urban flatlands. There's a stream, native plant life, animals and birds.

Nothing like it in Pasadena. Really not much like it in all of southern California.

Hahamongna should be preserved.

Soccer fields, are important. But, soccer fields do not need to be built in Hahamongna.


So, what's with the map?

We don't generally think much about the natural landscape of our cities. That's probably because we don't see much of it any more. Hills have been graded down, low spots filled up, ravines covered, buildings erected.

But, there is or was a natural terrain around us. The map shows this in detail -- the dominant San Gabriel Mountains, the smaller ranges, the valleys, and near the middle of the map, two rivers running from the mountains to the ocean. You can spot where Pasadena is -- in the upside down "u" just east of the big San Fernando Valley.

Aside from the fact that old maps are fun, the point is this: The valleys are expansive. But over the entire region, there are few places where river, valley and mountains converge. Hahamongna is one of those places. Let's preserve it.

For others participating in the Great Hahamongna Blog Day, visit these great local blogs:

Altadena Above It All
Altadena Hiker
A Thinking Stomach
East of Allen
Finnegan Begin Again
LA Creek Freak
Mister Earl's Musings
My Life With Tommy
Pasadena Adjacent
Pasadena Daily Photo
Pasadena Latina
The Sky Is Big In Pasadena
Webster's Fine Stationers Web Log
West Coast Grrlie Blather
Avenue to the Sky
91105 and Beyond
Greensward Civitas

Monday, July 5, 2010

Rose Bowl Fireworks

Went inside the Rose Bowl last night for the 84th Annual July 4th AmericaFest celebration.

This photo isn't great, but this is really what it looks like during the finale. A lot of smoke mixed in with fireworks and accompanied by a loud succession of booms.

I tried, but didn't get a picture of the fireworks that exploded into a giant happy face over the Rose Bowl. However, I did get these zeros.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Berry Good, But Berry Brief

This is my irregular garden update that I'm doing without photos more or less to keep track of what's going on around here.

Berries. Berry season is short, but great. Two years ago we planted blackberries. For some reason I didn't think we could grow them, but they've done just fine. Had dozens and dozens of berries this year, none of which made it into the house. Something irresistible about berries off the vine -- you just got to eat them when they're picked. I'm told it takes about 4 years before the vines will supply enough berries to actually pick for preserves or pies.

Apricot. This is our first tree to fruit each year. Seems every year I forget just how good homegrown fruit is. And then I pick my first ripe apricot of the season and it all comes back. Wow. Sweet as honey. We did a good job of getting the apricots off the tree before they rotted or birds got them. Got some fruit leather out of it.

Avocado. Lots of young fruit on the tree. Will keep deep watering every other week. We have to wait a long time for the fruit to mature, but it will be well worth it.

Plum and peach. These are young trees with a whole lot of fruit. The plums are small but really sweet and about gone. I'm disappointed in the flavor of the peach, but we will likely have enough for a run at ice cream this weekend.

Citrus. Citrus around here is a mixed bag. Our established lemon has not produced for a couple of years, but is loaded this year. We have several mature trees that were "rescues" from folks who didn't want them and transplanted in our yard. They are in various states of recovery. A few younger citrus is kind of poking along. This is all kind of wait and see. Ironic because, like much of this area, our house was once part of a citrus grove.