Friday, December 27, 2013

The Mystery Pine

In 2005 I planted a baby "Japanese Black Pine" in the Japanese section of my arboretum. At least, that's what it was supposed to be. I thought I bought it from Forest Farm nursery in Williams, OR, however I was wrong. After much searching of my garden journals and daily journals, I found a list of trees I bought in October of 2005 and finally where I bought them: Creative Enterprises Nursery near Jefferson, OR. This past August, my Japanese sister visited and told me it was not a Japanese Black Pine. She didn't know what it was. I have been trying to figure out its true identity ever since.

In the photos below, I had cut off the bottom whorl of branches that were sweeping the ground to use in Christmas wreaths. This pine has lovely branchlet ends, much like those of Noble Fir, that work beautifully in wreaths and are blue tinged, like Noble Fir. It has needles 1 to 1 3/4 inches long, in twos, not much twisted, with cones also 1 to 1 3/4 inches long that look like Shore Pine cones except do not have the sharp points that Shore Pine cones have. It is a beautiful tree and I'd like to know what it is! Can anyone identify it for me? I have added more photos taken in the fog today (Sunday, Dec. 29).

Dec. 30 update: Chuck Philo has identified my pine as a Scot's Pine, possibly a cultivar because of the short needles and branchlet growth form. Now I'm wondering if the tree in my arboretum that I bought as a Scot's Pine really is one since it looks so much different from this one.To find out, I've started a new Trees blog and posted photos of that tree and my other two-needle pine trees in hopes someone can tell me what they really are.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Changing Holiday Traditions

Things change over the years. No longer does our family all get together at holidays. Instead, we rendezvous for grandchildren birthdays or summer activities or other occasions. And so, over the years, we have kept only one tradition: inviting friends for Christmas dinner... but usually not on Christmas Day. This year we had it two days before Christmas and did not decide and invite until the day before. Only a few friends could come on such late notice. But that meant we could all sit at the table for once, instead of smashed around our small living and dining rooms. Johnny took this photo of our holiday table... before we covered it with food.

The centerpiece is one of three wreaths I made the day before from what was left of the greens I'd cut for wreaths in November. I got sick before finishing the project so three wreath rings were unmade. I felt guilty for leaving Modoc Cypress and Mystery Pine cuttings unused, since I only have one tree of each big enough to steal branches from. Plus lots of rose hips were still waiting to brighten a wreath. Too late to give to anyone for Christmas decorations, one last-minute wreath became our centerpiece and the other two were hung on the goat barn. I will enjoy them until they dry up and turn brown.

Dinner guest Barbara Millikan created two little cork goats as ornaments (Nubians, of course). Here they are corraled inside the centerpiece wreath.

And here is our little group listening, after dinner, to Johnny reading his favorite Christmas story: cowboy poet Baxter Black's account of how the angel got on top of the Christmas tree.

 Quite a few people who received wreaths this year said they liked them better, even, than friend Jim's wreaths that we have bought and sent for many years. I am encouraged to start a new tradition of making and giving wreaths. Hopefully, I will not make a tradition of getting sick before I finish them.

Our new traditional Christmas wreaths...

On the front of the goat barn...

This one is backed with ponderosa pine, an experiment I will not repeat. Needles are much too long to tame.

On the side of the milk room...

I had to use up all those rose hips!

On Christmas Day last year we got together with birding friends on the coast for a restaurant meal and then birding. We did it again this year and all of us think it is a fine new tradition. We had wonderful weather. Sunshine! No wind! Good food and no dishes to wash! And lots of birds. Whales even spouted for us.

In the distance you can see what looks like two birds flying across the road above us, but there was only one. For some reason that I don't understand, periodically my camera says it is going to take a series of photos. "Hold the camera", it instructs. So I do. Somehow, the image that resulted this time shows the eagle both on a downstroke and an upstroke of its wings.


Here it is zoomed up. I swear there was only one bird.

The subadult Bald Eagle landed on a snag across the road where eagles often perch. Here are the eagle watchers.


 And the eagle...

 When the eagle watchers turned around and looked toward the ocean (at Short Beach, south of Cape Meares), we saw many spouts from whales moving south along the coastline. Of course, I did not capture a spout but, trust me, they were there.

 We motored on to Cape Meares and saw one of the resident Peregrine Falcons posing on a distant tree.

 By then, the sun was growing low on the horizon. What a beautiful day and a beautiful view from Cape Meares looking south toward Oceanside.

 Times and traditions change. Sometimes I am nostalgic for the days when our boys were small and excited about Christmas, when we spent the holidays with the boys' grandparents (or they with us). But they lived close by and our children live far away and are creating their own traditions. As we grow older it is nice to tone down the celebrations to manageable levels, where we can get the goats milked morning and night, barns cleaned, animals fed... and still enjoy holiday meals with friends and, of course, Oregon's beautiful outdoors... especially when the sun shines and no cold wind blows.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Christmas is Coming!

Christmas is coming and I am not ready. Since I am not a person who likes to go shopping (putting it mildly), I try to have all gifts ordered online before Thanksgiving. Early December is for wrapping and sending the gifts.

Not this year.

I have lots of excuses: sickness, weather, other-things-I-needed-to-do-or-would-rather-do. Now it's crunch time and I've finally ordered all the gifts and most have arrived... here. I have stacks of presents to wrap and send. But there was that cold snap that kept me busy hauling water. And once the ice melted (Saturday was the first non-skating rink day on the driveway), there were bird surveys to try to get done.

Monday was the annual Upper Nestucca Christmas Bird Count. We scouted for it the day before to make sure the roads were open. I planned to take photos of all the birds we saw on our scouting trip, but the birds had other plans. So I took photos of this pretty rock grotto in our section of the circle.

On Monday, count day, I tried again for bird photos. A beautiful Golden-crowned Kinglet, gold crown shimmering in the sunlight, was in the center of this photo... just before my shutter clicked. Kinglets are fast.

Our sector of the count circle is heavily forested and high. Creeks are tiny headwaters that become bigger streams after they tumble down out of our sector.

For once, we were able to drive all the way to the barricaded end of the Forest Service 2283 road and then hike beyond. We intended to hike to the end of it but after traversing a few of these ravines, we opted to head back to the van and eat lunch. Apparently, the U.S. Forest Service is replacing old culverts here. We did see four Ruffed Grouse on this road, both on our scouting day and on the actual count day. Four grouse in one day is a new high for us. Of course, they did not stick around for photos.

While most Christmas Bird Counts vie for the most number of species, we hope to break 50. In our sector, the usual number is 12 and that's what we had this year. But it's a lot of fun anyway and you can't beat the fresh air and the privacy. We saw two vehicles all day.

I intended to rest up on Tuesday... and wrap gifts... but the weather did not look great for the rest of the week and I still had my December Grand Ronde raptor route to do. So off we went Tuesday morning, in the fog. In spite of poor visibility, we saw lots of hawks and kites, but could not get photos because of the fog. At one point, it cleared a bit and I managed this photo of one of the lovely Red-shouldered Hawks that live along Willamina Creek.

Quite unexpectedly, we also found an Osprey along Willamina Creek. We had found one on our early December North Santiam raptor route, too. (Story here:  They should be far south by now. I don't know why they are still in this cold north country. This bird was a long way away so my zoomed up photo is rather poor.

Because we were driving slowly in fog, it took more time. The day grew late ... and increasingly foggy... so we quit and went home. We will have to finish the route another day.

Meanwhile, this pile of Christmas gifts is waiting to be wrapped... and I must stop procrastinating.

Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Baby, It's STILL Cold Outside

Although the weather folk keep promising the temperatures will warm, we were in the teens last night again. That is warmer than the single digits of the weekend but hardly "warm". On one of the single digit days I made a huge mistake. Afraid that the goldfish pump was pumping all the water out of the bottom pool and then freezing as soon as it left the spitting frog and so not returning to the bottom pool, I turned off the pump in the morning.. when it was 7 degrees F outside... forgetting that would also turn off the lights that were keeping my citrus trees alive. I did not discover my mistake for four hours. My citrus trees do not look happy anymore.

Not just tender plants are suffering in this cold snap. Birds are finding it tough to find food under the snow and ice. I've doubled the amount of grain I throw out for the birds. But the Varied Thrushes prefer apples. Dozens of them feed under and in our apple trees. It is very difficult to get photos of them as they are constantly chasing each other around. Here are four who managed to hold still long enough for a picture.

Today, the sun shone and the temperature rose above freezing (barely) for the first time in a week. I walked through the woods to the creek and saw a Dipper, but he left before I could get a photo. The ice sculptures in the creek were more cooperative. I think it will take a lot of above-freezing days to thaw these sculptures.

Sun on the snowy trees made them prettier than they've been. Or maybe it was my attitude that has improved with the slightly warmer temperatures.

Also helping my attitude are the two bucket de-icers Johnny bought and installed (the last two we could find anywhere, locally or online... all are on backorder), one for the goats and one for the horses. I still have plenty of icy buckets to thaw, but two big water barrels are frost free.

Here's hoping the predicted freezing rain tomorrow does not materialize. Bring on the warm!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Baby, It's Cold Outside!

Usually, I move all my potted citrus trees indoors for the winter. But I have too many now and they're too big and heavy. So I strung old-fashioned Christmas lights on them -- lights that get quite warm -- and left them outside. The only place I could find such lights was ebay. I bought them last March and used them whenever the temperatures threatened to drop below freezing. That worked great last spring. But it's much colder now.

Time will tell if my poor citrus trees survive our current cold snap. It was 16 F the other night and predicted to be 14 tonight. It has not been above freezing for days. I notice some frost damage on the growing tips and the little oranges that were forming look a bit blotchy.

As you can see, we now have about four inches of snow on the ground, which will help protect the plants in the ground from the cold. But it does not snow under the eaves of the house where I have the citrus trees (and one unhappy avocado), snuggled up as close to the greenhouse windows as possible. Johnny does not appreciate that I open the greenhouse door into the house at night to let a little house woodstove heat out into the greenhouse. The greenhouse plants are mostly tropical and appreciate heat. Plus, I'm hoping that keeping the greenhouse warmer keeps the citrus trees against that wall warmer.

Not just plants suffer in this cold weather. As usual when snow covers the ground, birds ascend to our apple trees to find food. Like this Spotted Towhee.

 And Varied Thrush. Lots of these pretty thrushes have come down from the hills now that the snow is deep up there.

The poor California Quail do not fly up for apples. They huddle on the ground looking quite miserable and cold. 

Our little fish pond is mostly snow covered, but the faithful spitting frog is keeping one end open so the birds have water to drink, if they want. 

It's a tough time for wild things. And for my citrus trees. Since I'm burning those Christmas lights day and night, the bulbs burn out rather soon. I just received an order of more replacement bulbs from the same ebay buyer. She ships quickly and reportedly has lots of bulbs. That's good because I doubt we'll be done with sub-freezing weather any time soon.

Baby, it's cold outside!