Friday, December 24, 2010

Snowy Egret - Heather Farm Park

Walking around the bird sanctuary today, I saw more types of birds than usual. A green heron squawking and flying around. At least three giant egrets sunning themselves (one in a tree--hardly ever see that around here). And the usual gang of cormorants, ducks and geese, several who were getting chased by a naughty little child whose dad probably never got pecked by brutish geese before. Otherwise, he would have put a stop to that. Plenty of birdwatchers too with their binoculars and giant camera lenses. They would never chase a goose being too busy pointing out the graceful hawk perched in the tree overhead.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Diablo Foothills Regional Park - Walnut Creek, CA

A beautiful foggy day hiking through Castle Rock Park and the Diablo foothills. An easy walk that's quiet, with sandstone pinnacles and wind tunnels full of hawks that fly overhead.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Cactus - Ruth Bancroft Garden

I revisited Ruth Bancroft Garden today but last week's freakish and unseasonal cold spell has zapped the garden in a frostbitten manner. I'd say half the more delicate succulents and cacti are beneath tented plastic at this time. Now, if you like gardening, you'll actually appreciate all the nicely made wooden frames with clear plastic staple-gunned all over in dozens of variations and sizes, including a walk-through greenhouse-sized awning over the central succulent garden by the pond. But if you're a regular plant-lover who just came to witness dry-garden layout at its finest--wait for the temperature to regulate around here.

Here's some cactus that are doing quite well.

It's worth seeing throughout the year.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Castle Rock - Shell Ridge, Walnut Creek

Castle Rock is such a cool place. I accidentally left my camera's memory card at home (easy to do when it's the size of a quarter), so these are camera-phone shots. Hence the overtly blue tints. Still--you get the idea.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Gardens of Alcatraz Island

When I think of Alcatraz, grim, criminally charged images come to mind, but what about succulents? I hadn't been to the island in more than 20 years but we went this week at the request of my sister-in-law for her first visit, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that volunteers have been turning Alcatraz into quite possibly the biggest rock garden in the world.

It's perfect for succulents, being all rock, and as shown below, well-blasted by sun on a good day. We were worried about the weather, having been told it was going to storm all morning, but this time the weather report was wrong and it was so bright my little Canon Power Shot could barely handle all the light. Not complaining.

The prison and former military barrack are just as cold, heartless and scary as ever, but the former administrative apartments have now been demolished; the remaining rubble left as rookeries for seabirds. I'd like to come back during nesting season and see if I can get some birding shots as well. I can't resist a good seabird, especially an egret or heron.

This is your typical view of Alcatraz.
But as the boat pulls in, notice something besides concrete and wind: plants.
There's always been gardening on Alcatraz, provided by military families that lived there in the 19th century and then later, the families of the prison administrators and guards. There's even a children's garden, now restored, for employee children (who were boated to school in the city each morning and back after all the prisoners had been locked down for the day). But ironically, the children I was touring with were too tired, cold and hungry to climb a slight hill and see it up close. We did travel around most of the perimeter of the island and saw a lot of good plants and ruins.

These former apartments were destroyed and are now for the birds. Jackson took this slightly tipped angle. He has a good eye for points of interest. I would have gotten some close-ups but it doesn't appear to be nesting season.
This is formerly the warden's house, burned in 1970 during the Native American occupation of the island. The annual sunrise ferry-boat service to Alcatraz on Thanksgiving day (called Unthanksgiving) is for those who wish to commemorate the occupation. The Indian graffiti from 40 years ago has been left intact, adding to the layers of Alcatraz history.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Old Borges Ranch - Walnut Creek, CA

It was a perfect Fall day yesterday so we took a little journey to Borges Ranch, located in the Shell Ridge Open Space above Walnut Creek. I have never been here in my entire life and it was a treat. It's a historic site with farm animals, lots of old farm equipment, water pumps, a blacksmith shop and a restored farmhouse for tours and classes.

A very scenic and historic place but I wouldn't hike around here in the summer. Not enough shade. Perfect for Spring and Fall though. We noted the volunteer-run quail habitat project on our hike, and Jackson got to visit with a lot of sheep, chickens, roosters and pygmy goats (my favorites).

Jackson's photo of the dinner bell.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Japanese Tea Garden, San Francisco

The Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park is a little hilly space nestled beside the hulking new de Young Museum building. It's been there for seemingly ever and used to be 50 cents to get in. Now it's seven dollars (unless you're a resident--$5, or you visit between 9 and 10 a.m.--those are retro-priced free hours).

This day was clear and sunny so I thought I'd revisit this small artificially created world. Looks good! Not as expansive and meditative as the Portland Japanese Garden, but still quite nice to stroll through, weaving around tourists with baby strollers. You can purchase relatively inexpensive tea service too. I got a mochi cake for $2.50. That's crazy high-priced, but I had to have that green mochi cake. Most places I visit don't carry it.

My favorite tree there. Artfully pruned and shaped over the decades.

I always thought the tall red pagoda was over-done. You're not really in Japan, Golden Gate Park! Kind of Disneylandish to my eye, so I obscured it with shrubbery.
This giant Buddha has always impressed me. Unfortunately, I didn't hold up a pencil or pose someone in front of it to give it scale. So just enjoy the lovely bamboo growing alongside.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Views from the de Young Museum tower - Golden Gate Park

I had never been in this tower until last week. I don't know why I missed this delightful trip in the sky. A super-clear day made it that much better. Bonus: lots of great Van Goghs too.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Ruth Bancroft Garden

It's hard to take a bad photo at the Ruth Bancroft Garden. It's like a combination dry garden/sculpture yard. Ruth Bancroft who's still going strong in her 90s, started collecting succulents in the 1950s and her interest blossomed into this three-acre wonderworld of rock and tough, drought-tolerant beauty. Plants from all over the dry world are thriving here within beautifully thought-out natural clusters.