Thursday, April 25, 2013

Johnny's California Trip

Last week was Johnny's turn to visit the California kids and grandkids. He took the Amtrak train down and back, his favorite means of travel. Last week was kindergartener Kestrel's spring break so they had lots of time for fun. Johnny had a camera with him this time... hooray!

One day, they flew kites at a nearby park.

Uh oh! The kite escaped so Steve and Cedrus and Kestrel ran after it.

They soon caught the flyaway kite and Kestrel flew it some more.

One of their favorite activities seems to be creating Mentos volcanoes. Mentos candies react with a carbonated beverage to release the trapped carbon dioxide in a sometimes spectacular eruption. Diet coke, with its aspartame, works best. If you ever wondered what was good about Diet Coke, now you know. Here they set up their Mentos volcanoes.

This eruption was not as spectacular as some they've done, but fun anyway.

On another day, they visited San Francisco's Golden Gate Park and went paddle-boating. Johnny was fascinated by this strange, fractured-rock stream bed.

They paddleboated their way under this lovely bridge.

And saw turtles everywhere. Most seemed to be Red-eared Sliders, a non-native sold at pet stores and often abandoned in parks when they get big. They reproduce well at this park, it looks like, and seem to have eliminated the native turtles.

There were also big, flat, pointy-nosed turtles which are, I think, Spiny Soft-shell turtles, another pet store favorite.

On dry land, ironically, was a (former) waterfall to climb on.

Yet another fun-filled day was spent at Cal Days on the U.C. Berkeley campus. The kids liked the dinosaur bones.

Steve and Munazza asked Johnny to stay an extra day, after the weekend, to drive one of the cars to a field trip at the San Francisco zoo that Kestrel's class was going on. In this small zoo, most of the animals came from rehab centers, including the original five Magellan penguins who produced the many penguins in the zoo now. The children arrived at feeding time and the man feeding told them about the penguins. Here Steve and Kestrel and Cedrus and their nanny Nellie, who came along to help with four-year-old Cedrus, watch and listen.

Since Steve has sung the Hippopotamus Song to his kids many times (and heard it when he was a kid from his mom), this hippo was, I'm sure, a familiar animal to the boys.

Johnny said we have in our area, either on our farm or on properties where we do bird surveys, most of the animals at this zoo. But we don't have a cassowary, so he took a photo of that.

Here are all the kids on this school zoo day having lunch.

In the children's play area of a school was this fun rope contraption that Cedrus and Kestrel played on.

Johnny's trip was not all fun and games, but Johnny did not take many photos of the projects he helped with. I know he and Steve installed a hot water heater and new faucet in Kestrel's school classroom. Munazza helps with a cooking class every Friday and needed hot water. Johnny took a photo of the faucet. The hot water heater is hidden inside the cabinet below.

On his trip home by Amtrak between Klamath Falls and Eugene, a volunteer guide gave a running commentary of the history of the area they were traveling through, including the story of the pioneers who tried to take a "new" trail to the Willamette Valley that turned out to be no trail at all. Johnny found it fascinating to hear the history of the area as he traveled through it.

I'm very glad Johnny had a camera with him so I could enjoy his trip vicariously... at least the parts he took photos of. And I'm very glad to have him home again.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Talking Water Gardens

Friend Toni and I have been wanting to visit Talking Water Gardens in Albany, where Toni lives, ever since we heard about it. Finally today, April 18, we did. A website telling about this amazing partnership between private industry and government is here:   This 50 acre waste water cooling wetland is one of a kind in the nation. I hope the idea spreads. It is fabulous. Wetland birds and animals agree. The place was teeming with wildlife on this warm and windless spring day. I took over 100 photos of waterfalls, birds, frogs, waterfalls, birds, turtles... and more waterfalls. I'll post photos in the order of our meanderings. My first photo was of, what else?, a waterfall.

The first group of mallard ducklings we saw were "teenagers", wandering around without close parental supervision, although they hustled back to mom when we pointed our cameras at them.

 That's Toni on one of the many bridges over waterways.

These frogs were thick along the banks and made a loud alarm call as they hopped into the water. The green is, I believe, from the algae in the water. Update: bad news. Naturalist Don Boucher says bullfrogs startle with an eeep when they jump into the water. Bullfrogs are non-native and eat the native frogs so those "cute little frogs" will grow into big nasty frogs. And some of them *are* green so that's not algae. I hope the Talking Water Gardens people can figure out how to rid the place of bullfrogs.

Red-winged Blackbirds were everywhere, declaring their territories within the cattails.

 A long narrow lake separates the marshes from the Willamette River. A Wood Duck swam past as I was peering at Western Pond Turtles on a log.

 A bit farther along, were ten turtles lined up on a log with a pair of wood ducks.

  Back over the wetlands we noticed two birds skirmishing in the air. A Bald Eagle was chasing an Osprey. The only photo I could get was a very distant one of the eagle and much smaller osprey. I then watched the action with my binoculars. The osprey was more agile than the eagle but the eagle was determined. I thought at first it was trying to get the osprey to drop a fish but there was no fish to be seen. Soon a second eagle joined the fray but the osprey circled higher and farther and both eagles gave up the chase and flew back toward the Willamette River. I suspect they have a nest there and the osprey got too close for comfort.

 After that excitement, we continued on, enjoying more waterfalls...

 And a pair of Scaup. My guess is Lesser, because of the pointy purple head on the male.

 A mama mallard and her nine tiny babies scurried away from us.

 Papa mallards are really quite lovely. There were many, many mallards in these wetlands. This one is keeping company with a Bufflehead.

 Two more Scaup made a scenic picture with a log.

 Did I mention there were lots of waterfalls and I love waterfalls?

 I could not get a photo to do justice to this gorgeous Cinnamon Teal.

 Eventually, it was time to leave this enchanting place. We walked back to the parking area at Simpson Park, just outside the Talking Water Gardens gate. That park was lovely with blooming Camas flowers.

A five minute drive returned us to Toni's new apartment. I left for home then, via Ankeny Wildlife Refuge which is only fifteen minutes from Toni's new place. A Black Phoebe apparently owns this kiosk at Eagle Marsh and hunted from it all the while I watched. Another was just across the parking lot.

I could not stay long as chores waited at home on the farm. But with Toni now only fifteen minutes from Ankeny, we can hike there another day... although it will be tough to beat our day at Talking Water Gardens with scores of birds, more Western Pond Turtles than I've ever seen anywhere, Eagle/Osprey excitement and... waterfalls.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Babaco Papaya Ice Cream!

The greenhouse disaster I wrote about earlier in is a disaster no more! My tall Babaco Papaya plant had toppled over and broken from the weight of the four big papayas hanging from its top. After first duct-taping it back together, I read on the web that babacos are propagated by cutting the stem into one foot lengths and sticking them in dirt. So that's what I did. And hoped for the best.

I also read that babacos are usually picked when just starting to turn from green to yellow so I had hopes the four papayas would ripen off the plant. The first and biggest was showing a little yellow at the time and it did, indeed, ripen. It was so big that we were having a hard time eating the whole thing before it became overripe, so I decided to try blending the last fourth of it and adding it to the milk/sugar mix that I was turning into ice cream today. And so I did and it is delicious!! Babaco Papaya ice cream may be my new favorite flavor. And we have three more papayas to ripen, one of which is beginning to turn color as can be seen in the photo. Oh happy days!

 Even more happiness is evident in the greenhouse, where the three hunks of papaya stem are leafing out. The top segment had leaves at the time of the great fall and now has more plus at least one
papaya flower beginning!

The middle hunk of stem has little green beginnings at every node, although difficult to see in this photo.

The original bottom portion of the stem also has greenery appearing at the nodes. One of those is easier to see.

What I'll do with three babaco papaya plants, I don't know. I guess I'll be making lots of babaco papaya ice cream!