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Birds, Birds, Birds

Last week, one of the authors I follow on Twitter (Ursula Vernon) mentioned a birding app that could ID birds based on song.

I promptly downloaded Merlin, and have been having a blast.

I can just stand in the morning chorus, and it picks out what birds it hears. You can also explore the songs of birds, or look up birds based on appearance and other characteristics. It’s quite wonderful!

I’m going to start doing a weekly bird list. Many of these will be from auditory ID (thanks, Merlin!), but I’ll also include any that I identify visually.

  • Anna’s Hummingbird
  • Barred Owl
  • Brown Creeper
  • Brown-Headed Cowbird
  • Chickadee, Black-capped
  • Chickadee, Chestnut-backed
  • Crow, American
  • Finch, Purple
  • Flycatcher, Pacific Slope
  • Golden-crowned Kinglet
  • Goldfinch, American
  • Junco, Dark-eyed
  • Nuthatch, Red-breasted
  • Pine Siskin
  • Robin
  • Song Sparrow
  • Stellar’s Jay
  • Towhee, Spotted
  • Warbler, Hermit
  • Warbler, Wilson’s
  • Warbler, Yellow-dumped
  • Western Tanager
  • Wood Duck
  • Wren, Pacific
  • Vireo, Warbling

We have had some ups and downs with birds this year, but I was happy to see a Junco feeding its baby yesterday!

Occasional Chronicle

I’m going to start keeping a chronicle of the goings-on around here: birds, plants, etc.

This is a time of year when a lot of birds pass through. Today we had two new arrivals!

Wilson’s Warbler (I think):

It’s hard to be sure, because it keeps flitting around, but as far as I could see it’s the only little yellow bird with a black cap.

And Western Tananger:

Who knows how long they will stay, but I’m happy to have them!

Rhodie Species Garden

Yesterday I met up with Mom, Dad, my brother, and his wife to wander the rhodie species garden in Federal Way, WA.

If you live in the Puget Sound region, the rhodie species garden in Federal Way is well worth a visit. It’s at its peak in May and June, but they have done a good job with the garden structure — it would be a nice meander year-round.

The walk into the gardens has a concentration of really lovely rhodies! The jolly pink one is Rhododendron oribiculare SW China

They had a wonderful glasshouse! I think of rhodies as being temperate, but there are some sub-tropical rhodies.

Although the gardens are at their peak in May and June, they do a good job of making them appealing year-round, both with a variety of plantings and with good structural design.

Serendipitous Bonsai Trees

Yesterday, I met up with Mom and Dad and my brother and sister-in-law to wander the Rhododendron Species Garden in Federal Way, WA. It turned out that there was a bonsai festival going on in the outer courtyard that separates the rhodie garden from the bonsai museum.
Here are photos from the bonsai festival. My understanding is that all of these are owned by members of the Puget Sound Bonsai Association.I’m just including (almost?) everything, since I don’t know what will tickle whose fancy!The information is from the tags associated with the trees.

Japanese Black Pine
36 years as a bonsai
66 estimated tree age
Other: stand created by Dan Robinson and Anothony Feilback
Kurume Azalea – Rhododendron obtusum var. sakamotoi
20 years as a bonsai
50+ estimated tree age
Other: Urban Yamadori
Hinoki Cypress – Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Hague’
6 years as a bonsai
unknown tree age
Other: Grown by Boon Manakitvisit, styled at 2016 Convention, Pot by Vicky Chamberlain
Ezo Spruce
Picea Jezoensis
unknown years as a bonsai
20-60 estimated tree age
Chinese Elm – Ulmus parvifolia
21 years as a bonsai with current owner
unknown tree age
Other: Import from China

Ponderosa Pine
Pinus ponderosa var scopulorum
1 year as a bonsai
unknown tree age
Other: Collected by Randy Knight, Japanese pot
Mountain Hemlock
Tsuga Mertensiana
15 years as a bonsai
unknown tree age
Other: Collected in Vancouver BC by Anton Nijhuis
Japanese Crabapple
Malus Floribunda
5 years as a bonsai
Air layered in 2015
Other: Exclusively pruned since air layered
Sutsuki Azalea
Rhododendron Indicum – no – Tsuki
28 years as a bonsai
30 estimated tree age
Other: Imported from Japan, Japanese Pot
I would have loved to see this in bloom!
Mountain Hemlock
Tsuga mertensiana
5 years as a bonsai
unknown tree age
Other: Purchased from Anton Nijhuis at 2016 PNBC Convention, Pot by Jan Rentenaar
Japanese Larch
Larix Kaempferi
13 years as a bonsai
20 estimated tree age
Other: Field Grown at Telperion Farms
Chinese Elm – Ulmus Parvifolia
50 years as a bonsai
60 estimated tree age
Other: Acquired at PSBA convention 2005. While carving out several large scars, discovered stones lodged inside of trunk. Chinese pot.
Japanese Larch – Larix Kaempferi
10 years as a bonsai
unknown tree age
Other: Japanese Pot (Yamaaki)
Chinese Juniper – Juniperus chinensis ‘Shimpaku’
20 years as a bonsai
40+ estimated tree age
Other: Japanese Pot (Yamaaki)
Blue Atlas Cedar – Cedrus Atlantica ‘Glauca’
24 years as a bonsai
30 estimated tree age
Other: Styled from upright tree

I missed the tag on this one! It’s a flowering quince, but I don’t have the details….
Cork Bark Japanese Black Pine – Pinus Thumbergii ‘Ondai’
unknown years as a bonsai
75 estimated tree age
Other: Japanese Tokonome pot
Chinese Juniper ‘Shimpaku’
6 years as a bonsai
25 estimated tree age

They also had some mame bonsai trees (miniature bonsai trees):

Tiny azalea mame bonsai
The mother of mame bonsai:
Trident Maple – Acer Buergerianum
45-57 years as a bonsai
unknown tree age
Other: Tokonome pot

It turns out that there is an additional category of bonsai: tiny arrangements of perennials. Here is a sampling of my favorites:

The Pacific Bonsai Museum in Federal Way has some really lovely trees that live there year-round. We didn’t go in yesterday, because there were a lot of people, and there were rhodies to see. But the museum has some truly amazing bonsai trees. I’ll try to post a little tour some other day….

Spring Color: Daydream

My favorite tulip, Daydream, has opened. It’s a color-changer. It starts off a sunny yellow, then shifts through apricot and peach.

Sometimes one will have a jaunty crimson streak. I suspect that’s where the red component comes from for the apricot/peach shading. I’ll be interested to see what happens with that bloom as it matures.

We don’t get enough heat or sun for tulips to rebloom consistently. I will plant the bulbs out when they go dormant, but will buy a fresh batch to guarantee blooms next year. Any reblooms will be a lovely bonus!

Operation Bee Rescue — Phase III

This continues (finishes?) Operation Bee Rescue.

This morning I went in for the final comb->frame transfer and queen search.

About half an hour before I started, I moved what bees I could to other boxes and closed them up. I was trying to minimize the number of bees who would be getting excited. I stacked the temporary boxes on the adjoining hives’ lids for easy access.

I started at about 9 a.m., with a temperature of about 45 degrees. That’s cool enough that the bees weren’t active, but warm enough not to endanger them (especially with a nice day forecast).

I ran into minor issues almost immediately: the three frames closest to the edge were absolutely buried in bees, and were sort of stuck to the frame. In the process of loosening things up, I got my one and only sting of the adventure.

Fortunately I had a plastic card ready in my pocket, so I was able to scrape the stinger out immediately. At that point I caved in and put on nitrile gloves. I like bare-handed where possible, but pulling out wild comb covered in bees is about as invasive as it gets.

Gloved, I was able to coax the first chunk of comb free and lay it onto the framework I had prepped.

And lo! I got the biggest piece of luck in the whole operation, for there was the queen!Fortunately she was marked with an orange dot.

I coaxed her into the little queen cage that a  previous year’s queen shipped in, and plugged it with wax. I was anxious to keep her ladyship safe while I finished restructuring the hive.

With her out of the way, I was able to take a butter knife and trim the comb to fit the frame. I had to be careful of the girls, but sliding the knife through the middle of the comb worked pretty well.

I slid a second batch of skewers into the holes I had prepped, and tied the bottoms to the back-side skewers (which were stapled to the frame).

I was pretty pleased with the result. Far superior to the thread method!(Now I have to decide whether to go back and redo the thread frame).

I filled a second frame with scraps. Those weren’t mobbed with bees, so it was a lot easier.

With all the critical pieces of wild comb framed up, I was able to reassemble the hive properly. Then I was ready to release the queen.

She took her own sweet time leaving the cage. I could tell when she was about to emerge because workers started to mob the entrance.

And there she goes! Out of the cage and down into the frames.

I breathed a big sigh of relief, closed up the hive, and got back to my normal work schedule. I was happy to see a normal level of activity from the rescued hive this afternoon. 

All of this would still have an unhappy ending if we didn’t have some spare frames of honey from our other bees: the tree colony had very little honey stored up. Fortunately the hive that resulted from the natural split has been doing well, so their honey will now go back to the parent colony.

Thank you for following along for Operation Bee Rescue!

Emergency Preparedness

My family moved to Washington State when I was 12.

Earthquake country.

Since then, I have lived in WA and CA. I even felt a couple minor quakes while living in the Bay Area.

I should have put together an emergency kit years — decades — ago, but I just never got around to it.

A few weeks ago, author Elizabeth Bear tweeted a link to a New Yorker article on the Big One.

It finally scared me into action.

If the Cascadia fault does bust all the way up to Washington, Port Angeles is going to be in deep trouble. If we make it through the initial quake, there will be a tsunami, and then if we survive that, the whole area will be such a mess that it might be a good long time before we get help.

So, properly motivated, I finally went through and put together an emergency kit. With Amazon’s help, I was able to get it done in an hour or so by starting with emergency radios and first aid kits, then looking at the “customers also bought” items.

I think this is a nice, solid basic emergency kit, suitable for anyone who is living in an area at risk of a large-scale disaster.

The whole thing cost a bit more than $100 . . . not cheap, but if I ever need it, it will be well worth it. Of course, I hope that I never actually need it!

If you’re looking forward to put together a kit of your own, feel free to use this as a jumping off point!

My focus below is on a non-food emergency kit – but my friend Blair McGregor recently did a nice post on food preparedness.

Did I miss anything critical?

Emergency Kit Contents:

The most basic requirements have an asterisk; many of the others are nice to have, but not critical.



  • *Emergency Radio with USB charger
  •        Cell phone charging cable
  • Sharpie/pencil
  • Paper (for making notes)
  • Telephone list (emergency numbers in case you gain phone access, but your cell phone got broken)



  • *Head lamp (or flashlight)
  •        Extra batteries





Not pictured. Ideally you would have enough for at least 3 days.

Human power pellets or a bunch of canned food . . . Whatever you can actually keep on hand and swap out as necessary.

If you have pets, include some food for them — or select canned food that either of you could eat.

If you want to be properly prepared with more than a few cans of food, here’s  a nice post on food preparedness.


This is partially covered under health (water treatment), but in an ideal world you would have actual containers with at least 3 days of water.


In an ideal world, you would have some layers, clothes, socks, etc. Take some things that you were planning to take to the thrift store, and stick it in your emergency kit instead. Ideally you would have such things in your car, anyway, so one cheater method is to stash a copy of your car key in your emergency kit, and just keep the clothes in the car. Of course, you better be sure that your car will be home if you are!


In an ideal world, you would have a packet of paperwork with copies of your identification, insurance, telephone numbers, etc.


You have your handy dandy kit. Now where are you going to keep it? I’m stashing mine in a shed, so that if the house falls down I can still get to it. Wherever you put it, imagine the structure in a heap of kindling. Could you still get to the kit in a pinch? If so, you’re good.


I broke my emergency kit into a compact kit of items that can just live in a plastic bin.

I’m keeping the food and water separate, since those are bulky, and need to be swapped out periodically.

Even if I get sloppy with the food and water, at least the gear will still be there!


And if the big one does come . . . well, I’m going to owe Bear a lot of drinks for spurring me to get my act together.

My First New Year’s Resolution!

I have never made a New Year’s Resolution.

January 1st isn’t an especially good time to start things, at least for me. I’m usually backlogged with work and projects from the holidays. The weather isn’t great. I just want to stay at home and catch up on things.

All that said, I am going to break my long-standing tradition and make a New Year’s Resolution.

I resolve to update this blog once a week, regardless of what else is going on in my life, for at least the next year.

I want to work blogging into my schedule, and this seems like the kind of goal that actually works well with the major January 1st benchmark.

There are lots of things that I have been meaning to talk about, but I have a full and happy life. That’s mostly good, but it means that “talking about stuff” tends to fall off the back burner.

So. Weekly blog commitment.

Anyone want to jump on the bandwagon?

Happy New Year!