The Laguna

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The Laguna de Santa Rosa and the vineyards near it are one of the most beautiful places I have ever laid my eyes on.  I mean, I haven’t really been to that many places in my short life, but I have traveled extensively in California and this one tops the list.  This whole area is a 12 on a 1-10 scale.  It just takes my breath away.

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Happy New Year!

Hope you had a happy and safe New Years Day!

After a day of building new mews (houses) for the falcons we headed to Salmon Creek Beach just north of Bodega Bay to watch the sunset.  It was freezing and very windy, but so beautiful.  I decided that one of my resolutions this year is to have someone take a family photo of us every time we go somewhere memorable.  We have very few photos with me in them and I have decided that is going to change.  Awhile back I read about Martin and Julie and their Global Mobile Family.  One of the things they do is take family photos at the places they visit.  I love the fact that they are biking around the world and I love the idea of taking a family photo at all the places we visit so my resolution is to take a family photo every time we visit a memorable place.  Anyone want to join in with me?

Our Best Wishes for the New Year to you all!

Protecting California’s Grapes with Raptors

Hanging grapes

We got up early Saturday morning to get Tom on the road before the morning fog burned off.  He’s leaving for 2 months to work on a vineyard with his falcons.  Yea, read that again.  Vineyard, falcons…  Pretty amazing right?

Harris Hawk on Farm

A few months ago our plans were just an idea.  A risk.  A leap we could take which may push us further along our list of goals, or throw us down a well of debt and unemployment.  We have normal average goals like buy a house, take a trip to Europe, build a savings, live life the way we want.  In our current situation those were never going to happen, so we decided to take a very planned and scheduled leap into fate.

Tom flying Hermes

What was the plan?  For Tom to transfer from one contract to another.  This means that we will have to move wherever the company puts us this winter.  Right now, I don’t know where that will be yet.  For now, he is living on vineyard somewhere in California scaring away all the little birds that feast on the grapes.  He absolutely loves to do vineyard work.  In Tom’s opinion its a falconer’s dream 8 week vacation and you get paid well too.

Grapevine in the sunRow of Grapes in the sun

So what is he doing exactly?

The company Tom works for is Airstrike Bird Control.  They offer bird abatement services to orchards, vineyards, farms, landfills, airports, schools and office buildings.  Pretty much anywhere you have too many pest birds like seagulls, pigeons or starlings.

GrapesTom Flying Gloria on vineyard

The sugar content in grapes begins to skyrocket during the last 6-8 weeks before the September harvest attracting all kinds of birds.  I have heard that more than half a vineyard can be eaten in a weekend.  Usually vineyard owners hire 5 guys on quads to shoot pyrotechnics all day, to the dismay of his non-vineyard owning neighbors.  Some companies even shoot them out of the air with shotguns full of bird shot!

The problem with these tactics is that pyrotechnics can cause fires and its late summer in California, the wildfire state.  Many agricultural towns in CA have outlawed the use of pyro to avoid burning the town and its thriving agriculture to the ground.  Not to mention the strict rules the ATF instituted this year.  Now you must have a special license through the ATF to buy and use pyro.  This pretty much eliminates pyro as an option for most companies as the license is expensive and time-consuming to obtain.  As for shooting the birds out of the air, that is barely legal and in my opinion irresponsible and immoral.

Tom flying Shirly on vineyard

To protect the grapes, and other crops/landfills/airports sustainably we use trained falcons and hawks, which hunt the birds and chase them away.  A flock of starlings, or any bird, will not understand what happened when a gunshot or noisemaker goes off.  They fly away because of the scary noise, but they don’t associate the noise with the location or understand what happened and why.  This means the same birds will keep coming back everyday to feed.

Harris on Hunting Perch

If you fly hawks and falcons on a vineyard or anywhere else, suddenly the little birds understand that bigger hungrier predators have moved into the territory and they had best move out before they become dinner.  Being chased off a vineyard by a hawk sticks in their minds.  It’s an ancient fear, to be eaten by a hawk, its natural for a prey species to avoid areas that are hunted by their predators.  In effect, they avoid the vineyards with hawks and gorge on those vineyards that don’t.

Vineyard row

As much as I will miss Tom I am excited for him.  He has worked so hard over the last 2 years that he totally deserves this.

If you would like more information about falconry-based bird abatement or Airstrike Bird Control you can visit their website at http://airstriketech.com

And be sure to tell them Tom and Melissa sent you!

Cooking and Camping in the Rain

Big Basin Brae in Front of Big Tree

When we left for Big Basin Redwoods Campground we knew rain showers were in the forecast.  I thought.  Rain?  This late in June.  It’ll be nothing, it probably wont even rain.

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Boy was I wrong.  At about 2 pm, 30 minutes from camp it started raining, hard.  And it didn’t really stop until the next morning.  So how did we do it?

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Well, we picked up our sagging hopes, channeled our inner Bear Grylls and set up camp in the rain.

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We laid out the tents and covered them with tarps until the poles were through.  After the tent was lifted we got the fly ready and replaced the tarps with the tent fly.  A tent fly is essential for keeping out the rain.  Otherwise there is nothing but mesh or thin fabric between you and the rain.  After the tents were set up we strung a tarp to a few trees, which was technically against the rules, but we were desperate for a dry spot to cook dinner.  A makeshift kitchen was set up under the tarp with a chair, an ice chest, food bins for counters and a propane grill propped up on a couple of logs.  The ground was soaked so we didn’t worry about setting it on fire, but just to be extra safe I had a couple of gallons of water nearby.

Big Basin Middle of Redwood TreesBig Basin Tree Fungi

As I finished setting up the kitchen I noticed the young family camping next to us were roasting hot dogs over their fire.  Classic, I thought.  Cant go wrong with a frank over the fire.  I didn’t think anything more of it until I saw them doing it again the next day for lunch AND for dinner.  Poor campers!  Is that what most campers usually eat?  It didn’t look like they had a propane stove which is almost essential when cooking on a camping trip.  Yes, you could cook over the fire, and we did do that on night 2, but a propane grill can be started in 30 seconds, they are small, and you can cook damn near anything on it, even in the rain.

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So we made fried chicken, in the rain, with our old Coleman camp stove.  While the chicken cooked, we warmed our hands in the steam of the tea kettle and wondered when the rain would finally end.  The ranger told us to expect rain all night.  We hoped he was wrong.

Big Basin Frying Chicken

That night Brae wanted to roast marshmallows and make smores.  Since it was still raining we toasted them over the stove flame.  They were melty, creamy and so hot they burned the tip of my tongue.

Big Basin Roasting Marshmallows on GrillBig Basin Marshmallow on FireBig Basin Braes First SmoreBig Basin Crossing Trees

Her first smore.  She loved them.  She is still telling me that the best part of camping were the smores and sleeping in a tent.  She didn’t even mind the rain.  She thought it made the trip more exciting, more adventurous.  She likes that.

Menu for Day 1

  • Snack – Fresh fruit, granola, nuts, and chips
  • Dinner – Fried chicken with warm tortillas & salad
  • Dessert – Smores

Fried Camp Chicken

  • 1 chicken, cut into pieces for frying
  • canola oil
  • cast iron pan
  • camp stove or a fire pit with a BBQ grate
  • salt and pepper

1.  Pour oil into the pan until it’s about 1/2 inch deep.  Heat on med-high heat until very hot, but not smoking.  Season the chicken with salt and pepper.

2.  When the oil is hot add the chicken and do not move them until the bottoms are a crisp golden brown.  Then turn the chicken pieces with a pair of tongs.

3.  Cook the other side, without moving the chicken, until that side is golden brown and crispy.  Check to see if the chicken is cooked through.  If not cover with a lid and continue cooking until chicken is cooked through (no longer pink at all in the center).

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By the time we woke up the next morning the rain had stopped.  The woods were wet, but alive with campers re-starting fires and making breakfast.  We cooked eggs and bacon on the stove with home fries, all in the same pan.  Since we were using cast iron, cleanup was easy.

Big Basin Torn TreeBig Basin Inside a Burnt Redwood Tree

Before lunch we took an easy hike to the largest of the giant redwoods in this forest.  Several trees were hollow at the base, but still alive because the tree is attached to all the other trees around it through the roots.  They are fire resistant, don’t fall over easily, and the base can grow to be as big as a two lane road in places like Sequoia National Park, Ca.  Truly amazing to see.

Big Basin Brae Shorter then Tree WidthBig Basin Redwood Tree Rings

Wildlife was everywhere, but quick to hide from my camera.  Blue Jays were on constant patrol, scooping up every spare scrap of food left behind.  A chipmunks, cute as can be, found its way into our trunk during lunch and got trapped.  The little guy didn’t seem to be too troubled by his predicament.  He made the best of his situation by invading our bags of potato chips and pistachios.  When we opened the trunk to get food for dinner he scared the crap out of my mom then bolted for the exit when the coast was clear.  We even came across a Banana Slug, my UCSC mascot, on a hike to the waterfall.  He was too slow to hide from the camera.

Big Basin MossBig Basin Banana Slug

For dinner we cooked over the fire.  Turkey burgers, grilled zucchini and mushrooms, corn on the cob, and salad from my garden.  I really felt bad for the hot dog family.  They were missing out on quality camp cooking.

Menu for Day 2

  • Breakfast – Eggs, bacon, home fries (packaged frozen home fries, real eggs and bacon)
  • Lunch – Ham Sandwiches for the adults, PB&Js for the kids.
  • Snacks – Granola, fresh plums & nectarines
  • Dinner – Turkey burgers, grilled vegetables, corn and salad.
  • Dessert – Smores

Coal-Roasted Corn on the Cob

  • corn on the cob, one for each person, husks removed
  • a few tablespoons of butter cut into small pieces
  • tin foil
  • salt and pepper (chili pepper is great too if you want to bring it)

1.  Cut a piece of tin foil large enough to wrap around one corn cob completely.  About a foot long.  Just eyeball it.

2.  Place a corncob onto the tin foil.  Dot with a couple of pieces of butter and season with salt and pepper.

3.  Wrap the tinfoil around the corn to completely cover it, trapping the butter inside.

4.  Place corn directly on the outer wood and coals of a wood fire.  I like to find spots where the center of the pieces of wood have turned to coals but the outer parts of the wood are unburned but getting close to burning.  I put my corn on the unburned pieces of wood right next to the coals.  Turn them with a pair of tongs or a long stick about every 5 minutes.  After 15 minutes check one for doneness.  Let them cool a few minutes before eating.  Those babies are hot!

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Tips for Making Hamburgers at Camp

Preparation is key here.  The easiest way to do this is season the meat and form the patties at home.  Freeze each patty individually and then store in a freezer bag until you are ready to pack your ice chest.  Keep all meat frozen, covered in ice at the bottom of the ice chest.  It will stay cold for the longest this way.  We surround our meat with crushed ice and several bottles of frozen water.  Only bring what you need!

Bring lettuce, tomato, avocado, onion and cheese for the hamburgers and keep it together in the ice chest, in one bag, so you know that’s the hamburger stuff.  Mayo, mustard and ketchup are stored in small jelly or baby food jars and kept in the ice chest.  Don’t forget the buns!  We have a plastic bin where we keep non refrigerated food.  The buns go in there.

Menu for Day 3

  • Breakfast – Pancakes & bacon

By lunch we had checked out and were on the way home.  A couple of days in the forest was just what I needed.  I would love to bring Tom up there for a weekend.  Hopefully we can do that soon.

Big Basin Sun Through Trees