california quail

A Preponderance of Fog

The memory of sunny spring days slipped behind a fog bank. The muffled quietness is emphasized by mysterious pattering drips echoing from the hidden depths of the forest. A single flute-like song from a hermit thrush serenades the slowly darkening evening as it becomes night. The winds have died. All is damp and chill.

Ground Birds

Somehow, the quail predicted this cold spell. Everyone has been asking where the puff ball baby quail are – this is the normal season, and they are late. The fluffy turkey babies are out, though. Passing carefully in our cars, they peep loudly after diving into the ditch, scared that momma will lose them. Mother turkey herds the children a bit, but not too frantically, not like the more fretful quail. The quail are in pairs and in a few small groups, the hens must be full of eggs awaiting the return of warmth. Wet grass is hypothermic to baby birds.

Box Birds

Bluebird parents dip and dive, scooping up caterpillars and bugs. Off they hurry to the nest box where squeaking kids beg noisily for food. Perched at the nest box opening, mother bluebird eyes the gaping mouths of her chicks, picks the lucky one who gets fed, and off she goes to find the next catch. Father bluebird returns with food, same story. They come and go all day, feeding the quickly-growing hungry young ones. In between parental feeding, the babies go quiet. A scrub jay perches on the nest box. Both parents alight nearby. It is a silent standoff for a few minutes until I scare the jay away. Nasty nest predators! Four of the five bluebird boxes have nests this year. Electric blue male bluebirds are quite the color show. We look forward to a menagerie of young in the not-too-distant future.


The land is lush. Wild oats are 5 feet tall, wild radish bushes 4 feet around, and wild cucumber vines hang heavily on our 7’ fences. A hike through the forest, even on trails has become a swimming breaststroke to part the tall, fast-growing post fire blueblossom bushes. The ground surface is buried under several layers of canopies, hidden holes hold worry for footfall ankle twisting. The native iris are already fading. Nuts hang from hazelnut bush branch tips. The live oaks on the edge of the meadows are dense with new growth and thick with leaves.

Tiny Fuji apples, just forming. Photo by Sylvie Childress, Molino Community Orchard Photojournalist

Orchard Fruiting

Apple flower petals have long since fallen and small fruit have formed. It is time to thin the fruit, to keep the branches from being too heavy, to make for bigger fruit, and to keep the trees from bearing only in alternate years. The first mow is behind us, but the regrowth is thick already wanting the next mow soon. Wide oat leaves and thinner leaved tufts of dark green weedy rye grass poke up from a thick mat of mowed material. A rich moldy smell permeates the air. Nearby, bell beans and vetch that we missed mowing the first round are vibrantly blooming and growing high. Between cover crop and understory weeds, patches of native strawberry are in fruit: the apple orchard’s first harvest! With the late rain, the strawberries are the biggest we’ve ever seen and oh so sweet!

Sylvie Childress, Photographer and Hand Model. Wild strawberries in the Community Orchard understory

Farm Work

Farmers are planting, and there are neat rows of seedlings nestling into freshly tilled fields. Onions and sunflowers as well as rows and rows of tomatoes are pushing roots into the soft brown soil.

Also, the mowers are mowing. As is too often the case, one of our BCS tractors went down and is off to repair just when we needed it most. Bob moved the sickle bar mower to the other BCS and off we went once again. Sheaths of grass are felled in neat rows, drying. The timing…as the thistles begin to flower and before the radish seeds get ripe. Earlier, regular we swiped the hay field with the mower to discourage nesting birds- those paths also add heterogeneity for swallow feeding, coyote loping, and skunk snuffling.

-this also posted at Molino Creek Farm’s webpage.

Drippy Fog and Fall Color

The fog rolled in thickly, the second drippy session of the season. Most fog has been ‘dry’ this summer- an unusual phenomenon not previously broadly recognized as ‘normal’ in our culture. For two mornings, the whole world went gently pitterpat, rooflines and gutters a constant spatter. Then the sun started winking through in silvery streaming rays lighting droplets on leaf tips, sparkling. The fine breezy dust particles stuck together and the wet smell of fall let us breathe deep and clean air once again.

Fog makes leaf tip drips on our hazelnut plants

Bird Friends

We wake each morning to the high shrill peeps of black phoebes, insistent and fierce. Peep, PEEEEEP, peeep! …. flutter, Snap! They nab flying insects expertly out of the air. And then they perch on the roof line, their glistening knowing dark black eyes gaze back at me when I say my hellos. Off they go, flitting arcs from many perches hunting.

The quail have done well this year. The smaller clan coveys have melded into massive tribal gatherings. Seventy plus birds thickly dot grassy hillocks and across fallow farm fields. Three and four birds peck shoulder to shoulder, others only a couple feet away. They must be finding lots of food as these groups don’t move far, satisfied to stay put for an hour or more. When startled, the whir of those many wings is loud and invigorating.

The Brewer’s blackbirds returned en masse, fluttering like fallen leaves from high in the sky. Now their staccato chips, squeaks, and trills brighten the farm soundscape. They strut proudly forward unidirectionally in flocks herding and frightening ground bugs to supplement their diets.

fog streams in above Molino Creek canyon

Ripening Time

In the lush forest of fruit trees, it is apple ripening time. Galas are peak flavor and earnestly moving to harvest bags. Also, Jonagold apples, the tastiest crop, arrived at their best this week – off they went to market, too! Next up…Mutsu and Golden Delicious. After that, Braeburn apples are in line for ripening…and there are quite a few big, beautiful apples on those trees. It is interesting to see the fruits of our labors: bigger apples hanging low on the trees ‘cause that’s where we could most easily reach to do the fruit thinning!

On the ground where Two Dog Farm has been cultivating dry farmed winter squash, the vines are withering and revealing and understory of acres of big yummy squash. The pale yellow of butternut squashes dot the ground on the undulating rich soil of our Roadside Field. The dark green acorn squash are all sidled up against their bushy main stems high up in Vandenberg Field.

Fall Color

Fall color is erupting all around the farm. The big bushy walnut trees are brightening to pure yellow. Poison oak, resprouted after the 2020 fire, is 3’ tall and startling crimson and violet. Wild roses are also turning towards the yellows in the understory of the forest where the fire burned. There is more fall color to come- our apples wait until December or even January to change color!

We hope you are having a spectacular fall enjoying bountiful harvests of healthy organic food raised by small farmers taking great care of their wildlife filled land.

-from my weekly blog at Molino Creek Farm’s webpage

The Quietest Whisper, Goodbye

– this is the last of my regular posts from the Molino Creek Farm blog for 2021, stay tuned for more regular posts February 2022.

A recent sunset, captured just below Molino Creek Farm along Warrenella Road

For now, I put down my farm tools and stow them oiled and sharp, ready for next Spring. In the orchard, we coil hoses, hang irrigation pipes among the branches high off the ground so they don’t get buried and inadvertently mowed. We cut free and pile remaining tree props and haul and spread the last of the chipped oak branch mulch.

Apple leaves slowly fall, holding on long with fading yellow beauty. The last of fall’s leaves won’t drop until January, the fruit trees revel in the cool moisture after being blown by dry air during the long summer. But the fading light of shortening days push the orchard trees into their necessary and healthy sleep. Even we feel this pull.


The long cool still nights descend rapidly, driving us indoors early to stoke woodstoves and await the roaring warmth. We shed clothes and gaze at firelight, relaxing into the many-hour evenings. It is time to gather sometimes with family, sometimes with friends. Some find these gatherings especially precious from a year spent in solitude and self-reflection. Sparkling eyes greet us, loving words spoken close to our ears during long greeting hugs. Some are no longer with us or will soon be gone. We feel the losses more keenly during the gatherings, close to the warmth of others…spontaneous hushed moments we dare not fill.

Whence the Feasts?

Sighing, we raise from our chairs and head for the kitchen, for this is a season of feasts. The food is from farms. Somewhere in our minds, we hope at least some of our grocery purchases support family farms…maybe that farmer’s market trip helped keep family farming alive. Sometimes it does!

Some say we need to be thinking about new farming models, cooperatives combined with higher wages and increasing food costs, where broader support helps free farming families from the 80-hour weeks that’s required to pay the bills, to raise and support children. For cooperatives to work, we need to find a way to get along, to work together, and we also need for people to be willing to pay more for food. We desperately need more young farmers.

As we eat our food, as we chew, imagine the people it took, the many jobs and steps it took to bring that food to your mouth. Picture the water…the rich soil…the sun that helped produce your food and the tender hearts of (aging) farmers who smile proudly as they reflect on each stage of growing their crops. The newly tilled field, and the sowing. The seedlings planted…eventually the first flowers, then the tiny new fruit. There’s also the watering, the pest control, the nurturing propping and pruning, and, eventually, the harvest. Right livelihood. Good food. Favorite recipes. Big feasts.

In Between, Walks

Those who are able, take walks between meals, enjoying the squinty-bright sun and catching the remaining fall color. Poison oak leaves still dot the hillsides with red, and a few maple leaves remain yellow on the ground. Across much of the wildland, there are no flowers- except in the chaparral, where the manzanitas have just the past few days burst with clusters of bloom. Hummingbirds move upslope to the manzanita patches, or feed on landscape plants; they are also spending lots of time eating bugs. Step carefully on your forest walks…there are slow moving newts moving around!

Wild Brethren

Like us, nonhuman animals are also resting between feasts. This is the break they get between periods of raising the young. I heard the peeping of a young begging towhee, the only young bird sound for the last month. The wild farm birds are the most frightened I’ve ever seen them because we have two Norther Harriers patrolling every hour of each day. When that pair are farther away, out come hundreds of sparrows, juncos, and goldfinches furtively feeding on whatever they can peck. Then, alarm calls and swooshes, they dive into the bushes to avoid the bird-killing Harriers, one right after the other. Silence. Long silence, watchful eyes, and then tentative peeps and the brave ones creep from cover to feed once again, the more cautious ones eventually following.

Nonhumans Alike

Like us, these critters are gathering and holding together with friends and family, loving each other. All day, they watch out for one another…peeping, chipping and singing their language of safety, satisfaction or danger. They go to roost early, an hour before sunset, settling into the thick cover of oak or shrub canopies for these long winter nights. There, with the quietist whispers they tell their stories, sharing their experiences after they sidle up snuggly and cozy to keep each other warm. Like us, they remember the voices of those lost, the uniqueness of the personalities snuffed by fate, taken by the Harrier or by sickness, or by old age.

Last night, two sister quails fussed about not having quite enough space on the most comfortable branch near the top of the thick canopy of an incense cedar. They chucked and chucked, whirring their wings against one another and into the surround branches, trying to make more room before eventually scrunching in and settling down. Tonight, there is more space on that, the best of the high branches, and a bobcat is curled in deep sleep with a full belly…a pile of feathers will take a while to melt into the grass and decay. The remaining sister misses her warmth and her stories but now turns to another of her kin for such comfort…listening closely to the familiar tone and pace of their murmurs, sharing meandering feelings at the end of their day, until the last low chatter brings sleep to the covey and the silence of the night settles under the dark and twinkling sky.