Thursday, July 28, 2005

Flora and Fauna

Bougainvillea II
Originally uploaded by PhoebeJ.
Last week I spent a few days in Orange County, CA. The flora is totally different there than back East. Some of the fauna is as well although mourning doves and house finches, like the poor, are always with us. In fact, when I arrived in Mauritius in April, halfway around the world, the first bird that greeted me was the house sparrow.

Warmer climes favor bougainvillea. It's one of my favorites, and since it is absolutely absent in my part of the world, it's always a pleasure to see it when I travel. Laguna Beach also has the most abundant morning glories I've ever seen. They cover walls, fences and the ground and produce huge blue flowers. I find morning glories hard to start--gotta soak the seeds and only about half the ones that germinate ever take hold. Once started they can take off, but I've never gotten them to Orange County size. Of course, we have monumental trees here and far fewer wildfires. That's what makes traveling so much fun (aside from seeing the loved ones). New things to see, photograph and study.

New life birds on this trip--California quail and hooded oriole.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Sibling Rivalry

Patric in Sink
Originally uploaded by PhoebeJ.
I visited the bro' and his family in Laguna Beach, CA, this week and had a blast. But I kept feeling a little sorry for this fellow, Patric (no "k", please). He used to rule the roost from his post on the upstairs deck. But then this adorable, but rather energetic newcomer arrived.

Patric finds Charlie overbearing. He is. He's still young, a little wild and not as polite as he might be. He eats anything, runs amok and is easily excited. Patric now makes his home downstairs where the deck is off limits to him so he spends much of his time in the bathroom sink. Notice how he color coordinates with the tile.

Alas, Pat doesn't get as much attention as he used to because he's often downstairs when the family is upstairs. Well, he's still handsome and kissable. Perhaps he and Charlie will make their peace someday.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

A la recherche du temps perdu

Caught in the Act
Originally uploaded by PhoebeJ.

Today I saw something scrawled on the condensation on a window in midtown New York. It appeared to say "Dumas". This got me to thinking, not about The Count of Monte Cristo (a topic for another posting), but about things from my past that are sadly lost.

Dumas was the name of a bakery across Lexington Avenue from the house I grew up in. This was a genuine French bakery known especially for its fruit tarts. At Christmas demand was so great that they borrowed a double-decker bus belonging to a downtown French restaurant. Orders for people whose last names started with A to M were picked up inside the store while N to Z picked up theirs in the bus. We didn't buy much from Dumas since it was pricey, and there were plenty of other bakeries in our neighborhood at the time. But later the owners opened up a new branch in the upper 50's near Bloomingdale's, near to where I worked. There I learned the delights of noisettes chocolate. These wonderful cookies were chocolate meringue loaded with hazelnuts. They were wildly expensive ($6 a pound but it was 1974), but since the meringue was light, there were a lot of cookies in a pound. Boy, where these good! Alas, ultimately both branches of Dumas closed and the fruit tarts and the noisettes chocolate have been relegated to memory.

And as long as we are reminiscing about bakery items, I sorely miss the prune danishes from the Royale Bakery on West 72nd Street. It's hard to find a decent prune danish anywhere in New York these days. It's just another sign that the end of civilization is nigh!

And as for the photo, it has nothing to do with the post, but since I didn't have a shot of a hazelnut meringue, I thought I'd post this little ruby-throated hummingbird.

Friday, July 15, 2005


Originally uploaded by PhoebeJ.
It's high summer in Kent, CT, and the hollyhocks are in bloom. The bees are thrilled and so am I. Hollyhocks are considered "old-fashioned." There was a time when every home had hollyhocks by the door in summer as a sign of welcome. I like them because, aside from being beautiful, they are absolutely no work once they get established. They grow very tall, spread out and bloom for weeks. My kind of gardening.

The tomatoes are coming along. Just a few plants this year: plum tomatoes for red sauce and an heirloom for color and flavor. It seems such a long time between when the flowers blossom and the fruit is ripe. I'll just have to be patient. There are so many risks in the intervening weeks: bugs, animals, too much rain, too little rain. Oy. In September I hope to be making a lot of sauce. The freezer is empty in anticipation.

The yard was full of birds this week. Periodically a whole slew of house finches flew in chattering and singing. There are lots of immature birds. Some are old enough to feed themselves, although they still hang out in sort of a family group, but some are still fluttering their wings and chirping and demanding to be feed--mostly by their fathers. Good to know that in the bird world some dads contribute to child-rearing.

Also on the list of immatures: downy woodpeckers, rose-breasted grosbeaks, chipping sparrows and one hairy woodpecker. There are probably more immatures, but sometimes it's hard to know who's immature and who's not. Saw four kinds of woodpeckers out of a possible six: downy, hairy, red-bellied, flicker. I'd love to find that pileated again...but that's another entry.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Downy Woodpecker

I decided to start this blog because 1) I'm jealous of my sister-in-law who has a great blog (click here); and 2) I wanted a venue for my photos other than my flickr page. I think by showing them in this blog I'll be able to tell more about them than on flickr which is more of a list than a blog.

So here goes.

This photo is of a downy woodpecker taken on my "tail-prop" suet feeder. As you can see from the photo, the woodpecker props his tail on the wood using it like a third leg. When you see woodpeckers in a tree, they are often propped against the trunk in just this manner. Tail-prop feeders are very attractive to woodpeckers because they can feed in a more natural position. Of course, other birds can use this feeder, but most other birds perch on the suet cage and lean over to get the food.

I posted this photo on flickr with the heading "Downy Woodpecker" and immediately got people telling me that it is a hairy woodpecker. No way! Hairies look a lot like downies, but they are much larger and their bills are about as long as their heads are wide. This particular downy doesn't show many little feathers around his bill. (It is a "he" since you can see part of the red spot on the back of his head.) Perhaps the feathers are stuck to his face with suet, maybe he's a bit bald. But the lack of "down" on his face makes his bill look longer than normal thus the controvery. I've promised to measure the distance between the suet baskets to show that this guy is is closer to 6.5 inches rather than the 9.5 that is typical of a hairy

I may not be an expert, but I know my downies! I was pleased that a number of people who posted allowed as how I got the last vote since I was the one who saw the bird. But I didn't realize that I could start an internet controversy merely by posting a photo of a little bird! The joys of modern technology!