Western bluebird

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.

Bluebirds Now, Acorns Later

The bluebirds’ wet warbles call from fence lines, the birds swoop, scooping up grasshoppers from the dusty ground, picking off caterpillars from stalks of dry grass. Acorns fatten on the oaks, not yet ripe, not yet falling. The days shimmer from bright sunshine and a clear dark blue sky. It is nearly half way between the summer solstice and the fall equinox; the days are becoming noticeably shorter, the nights sometimes warmer, the cricket songs more diverse and louder. And, full moon is tomorrow.

Citrus Hill, now with oodles of new avocado trees growing up fast

The Silence of the Birds

The jays and acorn woodpeckers are more silent. Most of the birds have quieted considerably. Cooper’s hawk is terrorizing the entire range of bird life, but the quail are its favorite game. It is everywhere: flying through the apple orchard, winging around corners of buildings, soaring above the fields…full of the energy of the hunt. The northern harrier is more surprising, returning for stints and then disappearing for a day or hours – its hunting ground extends beyond Molino Creek Farm. Two red tailed hawks are constantly but less energetically hunting, sometimes soaring, often perched, watching, waiting. The night brings the barn owls’ metallic screech; these are as commonly calling as the great horned owls- the fire may have favored the return of barnies because there is less of the great horned’s favorite dense tall forest cover. There’s even a barn owl baby calling in the San Vicente creek canyon just over the ridge. I worry, though, since there are great horned owls…when will we find a pile of barn owl feathers in the field- that’s a repeating pattern: the great horned owls always seem to win.

Sunflower Show

 Judy’s sunflowers are making quite a show. What skill to keep a batch always coming into bloom through the entire farming season, making bouquets for farmers’ markets each week. Bright yellow cheerful sunflower heads…the dominant cut flower in the irrigated field alongside onions, zucchinis, cucumbers, and pole beans. She grows a lovely small patch of diverse market crops.

Sunflowers – for sale at local farmers markets

Apples A’ Hoy

Meanwhile, in the apple orchard the burgeoning crop of fruit is unbelievably large. Almost every branch of every apple tree is bent with full weight of fattening fruit, props holding them from breaking or resting on the ground. The frequent zipping by of the hawks have substantially decreased bird damage to apple fruit. Gala apples are always the winners: last to set and first to ripen. We recalled that the second week of September is the week of gala, but it might be early…

Oranges at Molino? Moooo

On Citrus Hill, near the Barn, we have been plucking cara cara oranges from the two trees we planted a few years back. The first substantial crop of cara cara has been wonderfully juicy and sweet: Score! Cara cara navel oranges are crosses between ruby red grapefruit and navel orange. Its flesh is redder than normal oranges. We are very very stoked to be able to grow a tasty orange: the others we’ve tried make okay juice, but they aren’t that good to eat just plain- cara cara oranges ARE good.

The view downhill of Molino…down Molino Creek Canyon to the coast

Night Walks

Shorter, hotter days create conditions for night watering of the orchard, leading to late night walks to turn off irrigation valves. This leads me to unavoidable opportunities for nurturing the nocturnal naturalist in me. Tonight’s observation: black widow spiders aka Molino farm road median lurkers. Over and over again I witnessed (for the first time!) black widow spiders busily building web networks 4” or less from the soil surface on the unimproved road median strips, emanating from web encrusted gopher holes that must be their lairs. Another nocturnal roadside observation: the emergence of many brown field crickets, now evident in the chorus from various areas. Also, slender shiny dark brown ‘night ants,’ tiny cockroaches, big greasy looking black field crickets, and a myriad of different spiders. No mammalian eye shine gave something away with my bright headlamp, darn.

Rodent Fiasco

The fact that this is an epic Rodent Year still is in force. Mark Jones reports hundreds of rodents fleeing the path of the mower. Every inch has been rototilled by gophers. Farmers are losing crops. Orchardists are seeing girdling, making for more urgent trunk clearing. Every storage shed reeks of mice. A family of 10 mickey mouse deermice greeted me when opening up the small orchard tool storage shed. The bunnies have proliferated in areas, as well. And that fox which we had been seeing down the road a bit…well, its moved onto the farm! Prints in the dust, leaping fox scattering to hide: welcome back Gray Fox!

Hoping you get some warm weather basking!

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

Dry Winter Skies


You might recall the strain of conversation about Maw and Caw our resident ravens. I just want to say that they are So Cute! Well, a little more: they love each other and you can tell it- constantly fretting about one another and this time of year gazing at each other, playing follow the leader and other games. They are well enough fed to have lots of spare time and they fill it with fun. If you travel downhill and along the coast, you find Other Farm Ravens, and not in isolated pairs…big playful troupes of them, paired, yes, but 20, 30, or 50 strong groups – noisy tribes hopping up and down flushing grasshoppers or something just like our two but more. Somehow, they seem smaller, too. I hope someone one day helps us find where our two nest.

Other Farm Wildlife

We’ve got Western Bluebirds in fine spring regalia in and out of the nest boxes already setting up shop. I think I’ll not mention the cacophony of blackbirds much – only to say that they are still noisy and beautiful.

What we don’t have are foxes or coyotes or skunks or racoons. I heard that there is distemper spreading through the predator community nearby- can anyone confirm?

This year had the driest January and February on record in many places around us- San Francisco for instance. Maybe not here, but maybe so. Bob Brunie was digging a hole to plant a new tree and found the soil dry to two feet depth. That’s weird for this time of year- very weird.

Winter Farming

Bob was planting a new peach tree- number 7 in the group of one day 8 on Citrus Hill. If someone wants to donate a nectarine or two, we’ll plant those, too. Whatever we do, we must set up irrigation to start running Soon for the orchards.

It has become mowing and weeding time- 2 Dog Crew has been tidying up the Chardonnay grapes so now the vineyard looks so neat and tidy.

The first cherry blossoms are emerging on the few trees that the fire spared. Maybe we’ll get a bunch of cherries this year!

Lapins Cherries – Starting to Bloom!

Around the Edges: Wildflowers

In the wild places of the Farm flowers are blossoming. A common plant is called bee plant, a Scrophularia with flowers some say are like Micky Mouse – a pair of upright petals are like Mickey’s ears. The flowers are carrion colored red-brown and attract meat “bees” – really wasps. But, honeybees and hummingbirds have figured out those flower cups are filled with nectar, so the plants get lots of visitors right now…meat bees haven’t come out yet. Wild radishes have sprays of light flowers like sea foam across the fallow fields. Across the steep hillsides near Molino Creek, trilliums and other native bulbs are starting to flower as the forest produces more and more spring flowers.

Beeplant- a nectar rich native perennial
  • this post from my regular blog at Molino Creek Farm’s website. I am a partner in that collectively owned farm in northern Santa Cruz County, California.