The Day Chloe Ate A Chicken Carcass.

Firstly: no, it wasn’t one our our chickens. Second, as you may have guessed, I’ve waited all week to use that headline.

Wait. Someone out there eats chickens? Chickens as in me????

Wait. Someone out there eats chickens? Chickens as in me????

No, it wasn’t Lola or Ginger or Summer or Pippa or Luna. It was some distant cousin of theirs, thrice-removed and ill-fated to play out its destiny as a shrink-wrapped rotisserie chicken from Von’s. After it spent a few lonely and neglected days in our refrigerator, the CE carefully picked the meat from the bones for the dogs’ dinners and discarded the carcass. In the wastebasket. Where Chloe found it.

Now I suppose it’s possible that when Chloe discovered it she spirited it off somewhere via UPS. We will never know, because neither the chicken nor its ghost has been seen. Not so much as a shred of meat; not the tiniest splinter of bone. All we know for certain is that the CE found the trash tipped over in the kitchen and a very contented Chloe posed nonchalantly nearby. Circumstantial evidence, at best.

Pleading the Fifth.

She’s pleading the Fifth, but that’s a guilty look if I ever saw one.

I have two facts at my disposal: first, there are 120 bones in the body of a chicken. Second, you should never, ever feed chicken bones to a dog.

Oddly, perhaps, I flashed upon a memory of the time Daniel, at age two or thereabouts, was discovered having climbed an impressive height to pluck from a shelf and guzzle a decorative container filled with liquid air freshener.

As you can see, Daniel survived the air freshener episode.

Circa 1993: as you can see, Daniel survived the air freshener episode.

It turned out that the air freshener mercifully, was non-toxic. Other than the fact that Daniel slept a record ten hours that night and had marvelous-smelling breath, there were no other effects. He has probably drunk far more toxic potions since then…

He grew up big and air-freshener strong.

He grew up big and air-freshener strong.

But at the time, I was cold-sweat frantic. Now, no one loves Chloe more than Daniel does (unless it’s his brother, Taylor), so he would not be offended to learn that my reaction to the chicken carcass consumption was not too far off from my reaction to the air-freshener incident. We have to get her to the vet, IMMEDIATELY!

I expected there would be x-rays. $$  Scans. $$$ Maybe a stomach pumping? $$$$$

What I did not expect was the report from the CE that the vet yawned. Now I know that someone out there has a tragic story to tell about their dog and a chicken bone. And our vet is a responsible guy and I’m sure there are conditions under which he would NOT yawn when chicken bones are involved. But in this particular case, he was said to yawn and offer up the rather sensible suggestion that dogs are carnivores and that when dogs travel in packs (rather than live as pampered surrogate children to oldsters whose real kids have flown the coop) they do not have a butler to remove the bones from the chickens they eat.

Chloe ate a chicken carcass and couldn’t be happier.  We are three days out and she hasn’t so much as burped.

Could we stop talking about it and just throw the ball for me now?

Could we stop talking about it and just throw the ball for me now?

The chickens, however, are horrified.

WHAT IS THIS ABOUT CHICKENS BEING EATEN?????

WHAT IS THIS ABOUT CHICKENS BEING EATEN?????

November 15, 2014 at 8:57 am 7 comments

Listen Up, Y’all: Patty Griffin

Since most of the musicians I listen to are centuries dead (classical), gone kaput (very ironic, Civil Wars),  deeply reclusive – where are you, Joni? - or really too old to be strutting around on a stage (this might mean you, Mick Jagger…) I was pretty excited to learn that Patty Griffin was coming to town. I don’t remember where, when or how I found her, but hers are among the few songs on my iPod playlist that never get skipped.

Singer/songwriter Patty Griffin

Singer/songwriter Patty Griffin (image from eastvalleytribune.com)

In the week before the concert, I told five different people I was going to see Patty Griffin and every single one of them responded “Who?” One of them is my dear husband, who, bless his heart, is a perennial good sport about being dragged to see my latest musical crush. “Sure, I’ll go”, he says, bravely, knowing there’s a chance he will be a lonely guy in an audience of sensitive and soulfully-inclined women, as he was when we saw Sarah McLachlan recently at the Beacon Theatre in New York.

Judging from the crowd at UCSB’s Campbell Hall last weekend, Patty Griffin’s demographic is 30′s, 40′s and 50′s. While we were on the far end of the age distribution (that’s a given these days…) the CE was, thankfully, far from the only husband dragged out on a Sunday night to see a performer he’d never heard of.

How is it so many of you have never heard of the great Patty Griffin?

Lord knows, I  can’t fix immigration or the mess in the Middle East, but I am here to right the great wrong that is the criminal obscurity of Patty Griffin. She is a sweet and spunky little life force, blessed with a silvery voice imbued with just the right touch of rasp that tells you she knows what it’s like to be tossed around a bit by the storms of life. If you doubt it, just take a close look at her lyrics:

“Headlights searching down the driveway
Our house as dark as it can be
I go inside and all is silent
It seems as empty as the inside of me

I’ve had some time to think about it
And watch the sun sink like a stone
I’ve had some time to think about you
On the long, on the long
Oh the long, on the long
On the long ride home”

She’s good enough that I’m having a hard time picking just one of her songs to recommend. There are my personal favorites, “Top of the World” and “Peter Pan” but they may be just a tinge too wrist-slitting for the rest of you (by the way, researchers just found that listening to sad music actually improves your sense of well-being). So I’ll give you the top track of hers on YouTube, the hauntingly lovely “Rain”:

 

 

Or how about the relationally instructive “Let Him Fly”:

I tried to describe her to the CE as “a little bit Bonnie Raitt, a little bit Emmylou”.  Turns out she and Emmy Lou are friends, have toured together and teamed up to record the country ballad “Little Fire” Pandora Radio suggests that if you like Cheryl Crow, Shawn Colvin, Dar or Lucinda Williams or Beth Orton, you will also be a Patty Griffin fan. But I’ll go out on a limb and say that I think Patty is at the top of that heap.

And I’ll admit it, I was pouting a bit over the fact that none of my friends seemed to share in my love for Patty Griffin or even heard of her. But then I ran into someone a few days after the concert and mentioned it in passing. “You saw Patty Griffin?! Wow!”, he enthused. Turns out at least one person I know is a big fan. His first question: “Did she play “Don’t Let Me Die in Florida”? Yup, she did, and it was great:

Patty Griffin is sufficiently eclectic to defy an easy label, although after the concert the CE summed her up as having “an Austin sound”, and, indeed, Austin is where she lives and records. But I think her talent is too big for just one genre so you could say folk or you could say rockabilly or you could even call her a gospel singer or a balladeer and you would be right on all counts. I’m going to borrow from some of Joni’s lyrics to describe her:

“I’m a country station
I’m a little bit corny
I’m a wildwood flower
Waving for you
I’m a broadcasting tower
Waving for you
And I’m sending you out
This signal here
I hope you can pick it up
Loud and clear”

(npr image)

(npr image)

However you decide to describe her,  I just hope you’ll listen to her. Turn it up loud. She’ll break your heart and make your day.

November 8, 2014 at 9:22 am 3 comments

Taking a Shine to the Rain.

So many things I used to take for granted, among them, sanity, a waistline and rainfall.  The first two appear to have departed for good, but glory be, it rained last night!

I know exactly when it started, because at 8:40 p.m., Chloe planted herself next to me, grinning and making “Let’s go!” noises. I had just let her out half an hour before and if she was telling me she had an appointment with a skunk outside, I was most definitely not falling for it this time.

Who can resist a look from Chloe?

Who can resist a look from Chloe?

Five minutes later, she was back at my side, ears perked up in that quizzical puppy “don’t-you-love-me?” position that humans are incapable of resisting. Okay, okay, I’ll take you out. (Soho, notably, did not budge, or even bother to lift her head. Diva.)  What was up? Chloe raced downstairs and rushed out the door and I realized it was POURING!

Chloe parked herself in the middle of the yard and stood there for several long minutes, luxuriating in the drops pelting her fur. Never mind that she just had a bath, she IS, after all, descended from the Water Spaniel.

In case you didn't know: Golden Retrievers are descended from the now-extinct Tweed Water Spaniel.

In case you didn’t know: Golden Retrievers are descended from the now-extinct Tweed Water Spaniel.

It has been at least a year since I’ve experienced rain in California.  We were out of town during the last real rain we had back in February, and since then we have watched vegetation wither and heard the eerie calls of coyotes and bobcats come ever nearer as the lack of water forces them to hunt closer and closer to our house.

Local bobcat sightings have greatly increased in recent months. (image from edhat.com)

Local bobcat sightings have greatly increased in recent months. (image from edhat.com)

I took a cue from Chloe and stepped out from under the porte cochere to stand in the rain alongside her. What I noticed even more than the feel of the rain was the smell – that loamy, earthy, mineral smell, like the terroir of a nice bottle of Cotes du Rhone. Heavenly! Nearly three-quarters of an inch of rain fell last night, enough to give the thirsty coast a nice sip and, regrettably, to cause some mudslides further south of us. What everyone wonders as they dry off, though, is whether this lovely shower is a one-hit-wonder or if, perhaps, it heralds a rainy winter for parched Southern California.

Amid varying predictions ranging from newspaper-selling headlines threatening a Hundred Year Drought to more circumspect suggestions of a moderate El Nino, that anthropomorphically-named warming of Pacific Ocean currents that might hopefully precipitate some precipitation, all we can do is wait and hope. I wonder, though, if, like Chloe, the animals might have a better sense of what’s going on than we do with our computer models and calculations.

Accuweather has predicted an El Nino winter.

Accuweather has predicted an El Nino winter.

For the past six weeks, we have lived in a raucous avian construction zone: dozens of Melanerpes formicivorus, better known as Acorn Woodpeckers, announced their arrival with dawn-to-sundown chatter that makes the crows’ caws sound like lullaby music by comparison. The woodpeckers, easily identifiable by their scarlet-hooded heads, alternately rasped and pecked all day long, flying busily back and forth from our oak trees to our palm trees, tucking acorns into the grooves they fashioned with their beaks. As soon as the sun rose there would be the unmistakable rat-a-tat-tat-tat and then that ear-splitting call that the Cornell Lab of Ornithology rather charitably describes as a “loud, squeaky waka-waka-waka” - no need for an alarm clock (not that I ever sleep anyway…)

Have you ever wondered why your trees look like this? (wikipedia image)

Have you ever wondered why your trees look like this? (wikipedia image)

We have lived in this house for more than twenty years and, granted, we may not have been paying close attention, but we can’t remember a fall when we’ve had such a dedicated crew of woodpeckers on site. Our red-headed army seems to have dispersed in the past week, but I wonder, could their insistent labor be a portent of the winter to come?

Here's the culprit: Acorn Woodpecker (image from ibc.linxeds.com)

Here’s the culprit: Acorn Woodpecker (image from ibc.linxeds.com)

Folklore is rife with “signs” that purport to predict seasonal weather. The Farmer’s Almanac publishes a list of “Twenty Signs of a Hard Winter”; one of them is “an unusual abundance of acorns.” It is my fervent hope that those woodpeckers know something I don’t and that all those acorns they socked away in our palm trees are a harbinger of a rainy winter ahead.

They’re not telling, and neither is Chloe, but we just had another shower this morning and I’m taking that as a good sign.  Let it rain, let it rain, let it rain!

I don't care if it rains. Just wake me up when it's over.

I don’t care if it rains. Just wake me up when it’s over.

 

 

November 1, 2014 at 9:28 am 10 comments

Another Great OC Weekend.

We’ve had some great visits to Newport Beach but last weekend’s might have been the best one of all. The CE convinced Phyllis to pile in the car with us for the trek to the OC to visit Tina, John and those three adorable girls.

 

Evie is so grown up!

Evie is so grown up!

 

Viv discussed her recent visits from the Tooth Fairy.

Viv discussed her recent visits from the Tooth Fairy.

 

And Caleigh amazed and delighted us all!

And Caleigh amazed and delighted us all!

We were so busy having fun that I didn’t take many photos. We shopped: first stop was Roger’s Gardens, where we had our choice of trinkets for either Halloween and Christmas. It is worth the trip to Orange County just to visit this store!

Rooms and rooms of spooky pleasures for purchase at Roger's Gardens in Corona del Mar. (image from ghouliegirls.blogspot.com)

Rooms and rooms of spooky pleasures for purchase at Roger’s Gardens in Corona del Mar. (image from ghouliegirls.blogspot.com)

Christmas shopping is splendiferous at Roger's. (image from rogersgardens.com)

Christmas shopping is splendiferous at Roger’s. (image from rogersgardens.com)

 

Tina introduced us to the Michael Nusskern (I think that should actually be Nu$$kern!) boutique and to Juxtaposition Home, and we made the obligatory pilgrimages, of course, to Fashion Island and South Coast Plaza.

 

Loved this store! (image from yelp.com)

Loved this store! (image from yelp.com)

 

All that shopping made us hungry and lucky for us, there is no shortage of fine dining in the OC.  Tina introduced us to Bearflag Fish Company and I am still dreaming about their Seafood Rice Bowl. Can it really be healthy if it tastes that good?

 

The fish is uber fresh at Bearflag (image from http://newport.bearflagfishco.com

The fish is uber fresh at Bearflag (image from http://newport.bearflagfishco.com

 

For our next meal, we headed to the dock of the bay. Ever since Tina and John moved to their new home on the water and a Duffy boat materialized at the end of their dock, we have enjoyed so many wonderful moments cruising around Newport Harbor. John set the scene for our dinner Friday evening by serving up his new signature drink: Moscow Mules in frosty copper mugs. The secret, he says, is in the abundant use of fresh-squeezed lime juice. And he topped each one off with a ginger candy – what a treat!

 

Icy, gingery and limey. The best! Thank you, John!

Icy, gingery and limey. The best! Thank you, John!

 

A toast to John and Tina!

A toast to John and Tina!

 

After our Moscow Mule toast, we said goodbye to the little girls and boarded the Duffy to putt over to The Dock for an elegant grown-up dinner.

 

It's even more fun to eat here when you arrive by boat. (image from eatatthedock.com)

It’s even more fun to eat here when you arrive by boat. (image from eatatthedock.com)

 

The next evening the girls joined us for a Duffy ride and a kid-pleasing pasta fest at Pizza Nova.

 

Viv and Evie know their way around the Duffy.

Viv and Evie know their way around the Duffy.

 

And miss Caleigh knows her way around a plate of pasta!

And miss Caleigh knows her way around a plate of pasta!

 

The family joined us for an al fresco Sunday brunch on the terrace of the newly renovated Island Hotel.

 

The Island Hotel has done a great job with their recent renovation. (image from realweddings.com)

The Island Hotel has done a great job with their recent renovation. (image from realweddings.com)

 

Giggles were on the brunch menu.

Giggles were on the brunch menu.

Family pic.

Family pic.

 

Since John was leaving on a business trip, he bestowed his Ducks tickets upon us – it was my first hockey game ever and I loved it!

 

The Ducks made the St. Louis Blues look like dodos.

The Ducks made the St. Louis Blues look like dodos.

Great family weekend! Thanks you guys, for showing us such a wonderful time!

 

Viv and Evie

Viv and Evie

October 25, 2014 at 9:28 am 5 comments

The Insomniac’s Dilemma.

Not to be arrogant, but I am really racking up the accomplishments these days. In addition to my finely-honed skills at not remembering, I am entering Olympic-caliber territory in not sleeping. My new pattern: go to bed at 11 pm, wake up at 1:30 a.m. Do not go back to sleep. Repeat every three or four nights. And yes, I am a lot of fun to be around after two hours of sleep, as the CE can attest.

 

images

 

I have never been to Seattle, but I have been sleepless in a host of other cities. Last night it was Newport Beach, where we are spending a fun weekend visiting stepdaughter Tina and her family. Yesterday was a perfect day and last night should have offered up a perfect sleep. But instead, I was wide awake at 1:38 a.m. First thought: “No worries. Plenty of time to go back to sleep.” And then I proceeded to break all the rules for doing so.

How not to go back to sleep.

How not to go back to sleep.

 

One of the caveats for dealing with 21st century insomnia is to kill the backlight. According to researchers, the “blue light” emitted from smartphones and computer screens, mimics daylight and therefore suppresses the “sleep hormone” melatonin and tinkers with our body clocks. So my decision to reach for my iPhone and play two real-time games of Words With Friends with an apparently equally sleep-challenged friend was probably a bad one. I followed this up with a worse decision: I checked the news headlines.

I don’t count sheep. I count worries. And they are at least as plentiful as little lambs in springtime when the top Twitter trending items are #ebola and #ISIS. Trust me, there are no sleep-inducing scenarios around either topic. By 4 a.m. I was desperately trying deep breathing exercises, which go something like this: “Breathe in slowly…ohmygosh ohmygosh now they’ve got warplanes…breathe out slowly…ebola ebola EBOLA!!!!“.

After another hour of staring into the dark, I picked up my phone again and Googled an article about worry and sleep. The advice in a nutshell: “Let go of your worries.” Oh, okay, sure. “ISIS…ebola…ISIS…ebola…yikes what is this about a Dragon’s Nest? Does that mean there were WMDs after all?” The only saving grace of that very long wakeful night is that it is over. And that my beloved husband (who slept like a baby, by the way) fetched me a latte at 6:15 a.m. when I started crying from sleep deprivation.

Great advice. Didn't work for me.

Great advice. Didn’t work for me.

Oh, and I learned, FWIW, that there is a company out there that manufactures blue light-blocking lights and eyewear. It is called LowBlueLights.com (clearly no one stayed up all night coming up with that name…) and if you subscribe to their insomnia-inducing theories about the carcinogenic effects of melatonin suppression from blue light, you can buy a filter for your phone or tablet screen, a low blue light reading lamp or a snappy pair of light-filtering orange specs guaranteed to terrify your spouse if he or she awakes in the night and sees you wearing them. I like that idea. Then I won’t be the only one not sleeping.

Supposedly sleep-inducing products from LowBlueLight.com

Supposedly sleep-inducing products from LowBlueLight.com

Off to take a nap…

October 18, 2014 at 8:50 am 4 comments

If I Only Had A Brain.

Quick: what were the last five books you read?

If you are in your twenties, you could probably remember, but since you haven’t read five books since college, the point is moot. If you are in your thirties, it doesn’t count, because you read “Pat the Bunny” five times to your toddler last night and that’s too easy.  If you are in your forties, you might have a shot at it, but you are too stressed out by your teens or pre-teens, the situation at work and the wildly careening stock market to read or remember what you read.  So that leaves those of you who are fifty and over, and if you can  spout off your last five reads and throw in the names of the authors, as well, you win a hearty round of applause from me. Because I can’t remember a damned thing.

 

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I think it was in my early fifties that I started to notice the sputtering memory. Chalked it up to stress and hormones. Now that I have to check the “over 60″ box on survey forms, I have no excuse other than advancing age for these wild flights of memory.

 

And wild, they are. I try to remember those last five books. I finished one yesterday, so that one is in the bag. (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon.  I think they’ve just adapted it for Broadway so you should read it before you see it.) The one before it, yup, got it. (The Island of the World, by Michael D. O’Brien, possibly my favorite read of the year thus far.) Then it gets a bit murky. I put on my glasses so I can think better. How crazy is that? But it helps. (I also hear better if I have my glasses on. Go figure.) Third book back, I draw a complete and utter blank. Oh, wait, it was a book club book. Now I remember. (The Unwinding, by George Packer. Hmmm, there are reasons why I put that one out of my memory.)  And then there was the other book club book before that one. (Sweet Thunder, by Ivan Toig,  in which I learned about copper mining and Butte, Montana. Not that I will remember any of it…)

 

Copper mining in Butte, Montana is now committed to memory after reading this book.

Copper mining in Butte, Montana may or may not be committed to memory after reading this book.

 

But what was the fifth one back? I keep a list of all these books but I want to make myself remember without looking at it. Ugh. I know it, I just can’t think of it. And then, the addled brain takes over and we go on a little ride together. Forget linear memory. Nowadays, everything I want to keep is chambered away in a spiraling nautilus shell. What did I read before that book club book? Well, that chamber is closed, slammed shut,  but I had lunch with a friend this week and we talked about books. So I remember our conversation and how great it was to see her and what I ordered for lunch (the half papaya with crabmeat, although I still cannot remember what I had for dinner night before last). And then I remember we talked about our kids and that takes awhile, of course.

(image from huffingtonpost.com)

(image from huffingtonpost.com)

 

Then it comes to me, through mists of gray matter, that I can remember what she was reading (Treasure Island). And then my mind goes off-task, remembering that the chickens must be put away and the dogs must be fed and just as I pick up a cup of scratch with which to lure the hens home to their coop to rescue them from that hawk swirling ever closer in the sky, I REMEMBER! The nautilus curves and a chamber opens: I had told my friend that I’d just read the tome that is Don Quixote and she almost dropped her fork and said her husband is currently reading it, too, and we marveled that two people voluntarily committed at nearly the same time to read the 900+ page Don Quixote that could function equally well as a novel or a door-stop.

 

Don Quixote: equally good for reading or hand weights...(image from telemachusunedited.wordpress.com)

Don Quixote: equally good for reading or hand weights…(image from telemachusunedited.wordpress.com)

 

So there it is. I came up with those last five books but in the same amount of time one of you probably solved a quadratic equation or cured some form of cancer.

 

Memory is different from memories, by the way. I can remember the clothes my kids wore when they were small. (Daniel’s blue and yellow star-covered onesie was a favorite, and then there were all those Hanna Andersson striped jammies…but I digress) I can remember in technicolor detail the night I met my husband. I can remember the words to almost every Joni Mitchell song.  And, inexplicably and maddeningly,  the words and melody to the 1968 hit “Build Me Up Buttercup” by The Foundations.  But what I had for dinner night before last? Forget it.

 

 

One thing I did manage to remember was a conversation some friends were having about their favorite poet, Billy Collins. I should be embarrassed that I’d never heard of him, but then, it’s entirely possible I had and just didn’t remember, right? Collins was our Poet Laureate from 2001-2003. The New York Times called him “America’s most popular poet”. I missed him when he came to speak in Santa Barbara last spring, but finally looked him up and found this poem he wrote, which has made me an instant fan:

 

 

 Forgetfulness

The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read, never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue
or even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall

well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.

I fully intend to remember Mr. Collins and read more of his poetry. We’ll see how that goes. Oh, and I finally remembered what I had for dinner night before last. It was a half of a dried-up leftover hamburger. Brain food, I hope…

Have a memorable weekend!

October 11, 2014 at 9:25 am 9 comments

The Birds and the Bees and the Drought.

We all know what the current drought in California is doing to the flowers and the trees, but I’ve recently been thinking about the birds and the bees as we enter the driest months of the year.

The drought hits home for us every time we drive past the former body of water known as Laguna Blanca. Even at its best it was more a puddle than a lake, but now it has gone completely dry and is nothing more than a shallow pit. It was painful to watch the water recede in May and June, seeing hungry birds standing sentinel over the dying fish in the circle of water that grew smaller and smaller until nothing was left but cracked, parched earth. Even the birds finally abandoned it.

Laguna Blanca as we used to know it. (image from hoperanchblog.com)

Laguna Blanca as we used to know it. (image from hoperanchblog.com)

Laguna Blanca today, a casualty of the California drought.

Laguna Blanca today, a casualty of the California drought.

We have been told that the lake goes dry roughly every twenty years and, barring a truly apocalyptic drought situation, we look forward to seeing the little puddle restored at some point. And, if not, well, we can live without it. But can the birds live without it?

I never really thought much about the birds that populate our neighborhood and our property. They were just there. Especially the crows, which can be counted on to make a cacophonous racket to announce their comings, goings and general dislike of the humans who reside in their territory. But once we started keeping chickens, we began to spend more time outside tending to the flock, and I noticed that not every bird flitting in the bushes was a sparrow or a Scrub Jay.

I recently downloaded Cornell University’s Merlin app, which gives you simple prompts for identifying common birds. I was positively triumphant the day that, Merlin-assisted, I identified a Spotted Towhee that resides in our front yard.

The Spotted Towhee's bright markings make it  easy to identify. (image from pbase.com)

The Spotted Towhee’s bright markings make it easy to identify. (image from pbase.com)

California Towhees are also plentiful on our property. (image from kiwifoto.com)

California Towhees are also plentiful on our property. (image from kiwifoto.com)

As I became familiar with the Towhees, Sparrows, Juncos and Black Phoebes that cluster in the chicken pen looking for leftover morsels, I started scattering wild bird seed for them in the winter months. As the drought became more acute this past spring, it finally occurred to me that ground birds need water as well as food. As we and everyone else have cut back water usage dramatically, there are fewer and fewer water sources for these birds. In an embarrassingly belated head-smack moment, I remembered the birdbath that we placed under the oaks years ago as a decoration. I have been faithfully filling it every day or two for the last several months.

If I’m stealthy, I can sometimes see birds preening at the edge of the birdbath. The birds need water not just for drinking, but for keeping their skin and feathers in good condition. Even if I don’t see the birds using the birdbath, I am rewarded with evidence that they have been there when I clean it out each morning. Bird droppings, stray feathers, a bright red berry dropped from a beak into the birdbath. All are reminders that with a small amount of water I can do our resident ground birds a big favor.

It needs a little scrubbing, but the birds like it just fine.

It needs a little scrubbing, but the birds like it just fine.

If you decide to fill a birdbath for the birds in your yard, it is important to keep it clean. According to an article in The Washington Post the water shortage raises greater concerns of diseases like the West Nile virus. “When we have less water, birds and mosquitoes are seeking out the same water sources, and therefore are more likely to come in to closer proximity to one another, thus amplifying the virus,” comments California Department of Public Health chief Vicki Kramer. A primer on cleaning a birdbath can be found here.

Along with keeping a birdbath clean, it is important that it be relatively shallow with a gentle slope that allows birds to wade into the water. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the best birdbath is the one that most approximates a puddle. And, of course, you want one that does not provide access to resident felines, since bathing birds tend to be focused on their toilette and vulnerable to predators. A shady area is preferable to full sun for bathing birds.

Lately I have noticed honey bees hovering near the edge of our bird bath and scores of them near our pool, where many have drowned in a desperate attempt to find water. Bees collect water and ferry it back to the hive for the purpose of maintaining proper hive temperature and humidity. They also use water to dilute honey and to produce the “jelly” that nourishes bee larvae. According to the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, a 1:1 sugar/water mixture, placed in a tin well away from human activity, is just the ticket for thirsty bees. Gravel or other material that allows the bees to safely land should be placed in the container.

We are blessed with plenty of honey bees on our property.

We are blessed with plenty of honey bees on our property.

But bees get thirsty, too!

But bees get thirsty, too!

The drought makes everyone feel somewhat helpless as we watch our trees and shrubs struggle and our bedding plants perish from lack of water. But it’s easy to spare a bit of that precious water for the birds and the bees. Every time I hear a Towhee call from under the oaks or the Red-Headed Woodpeckers cackle from the palm trees where they are storing acorns for the winter, I feel like they are thanking me for remembering to fill their birdbath. Or maybe, like the rest of us, they are just praying for rain…

October 4, 2014 at 8:57 am 6 comments

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