Sunny Slope Orchard

Sunny Slope Orchard
In the coast range foothills overlooking the Sacramento Valley

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Neighborhood Watch

Living as we do, beyond the sidewalks, there is a fair distance between houses. So the neighbors we see most often are the "natives," those who don't live indoors. Over the years we have grown fond of many (but certainly not all) of these natural visitors.

Take the deer, for instance. We constructed an 8’ high fence around our place specifically to keep the deer outside. We had to protect the trees: deer love to eat foliage and they damaged a lot of new grafts on young trees. Plus, the bucks would use the tree trunks to scrape the velvet off their horns, thus rubbing off the bark and girdling the trunks. So with our deer fence we can now admire and appreciate the deer…at a distance.

A big buck looks down on our orchard from outside our fence

On the other hand, the deer fence serves to attract some valuable neighbors. Our homemade birdhouses, mounted along the fence, offer sustainable, affordable housing for Western Bluebirds, Tree Swallows, and other insect eaters. Their help is always appreciated in keeping the insect populations in balance.

A tree swallow stands atop a nesting box

Also this past winter we had a sizable bat colony living in a sheltered spot on the south wall of an outbuilding. The hot summer sun drove them away for now, but we hope they will return in the fall. They sleep all day but take the night shift for local insect patrol duty.

Bluebirds, a Linnet and Lesser Goldfinches gather
at the birdbath to discuss the drought

As we work in the orchard each spring it is always fun to discover bird nests.

Lesser Goldfinch eggs in their tiny nest

And a few days later . . . 

On one epic day last winter we had a two-eagle day. While walking with friends in our orchard, we looked up to see a bald eagle, an unusual sight in our dry area; possibly the drought forced him to seek food outside his usual range. Then, an hour later, walking on a nearby ridge, a golden eagle glided above with his huge wingspan. It was unforgettable to be visited by two rarely seen birds. However, hardly a day goes by that we don’t see at least one majestic red-tailed hawk overhead.

Red-Tailed Hawk

But the hummingbirds are our favorite and most faithful visitors. Their flyway takes them up and down the west coast annually and we delight in watching them at our feeders. Their numbers vary, depending on the season, ranging from a couple dozen in the winter to over 100 in the summer. The sugar water disappears rapidly year-round, since the Anna’s and Rufous hummers are incredibly active. They dine on local flowers as well as the fuel we supply but also eat small insects for protein. And they dazzle us with their aerial acrobatics and flashy feather displays.

A little hummer tanks up at the feeder

Amphibians can be fun and even funny. We have singing toads living in our downspouts; they enjoy serenading us with a Three Stooges-like chorus of “Whoop-whoop-whoop.”  It is the most cheerful sound to hear after a rain!

A gorgeous Praying Mantis warming in the morning sun

Our neighborhood is packed with variety and beauty. We feel privileged to live here.