Horridculture – Half-Breed

Tony Tomeo

70726thumbCher explained a long time ago that a half-breed is nothing to brag about. Some of us just don’t get it. A few clients still introduce me to their weirdly bred stone fruit trees as if they are both justification for great pride, as well as something that a professional horticulturist of the Santa Clara Valley has not already encountered a few thousand times. I at least try to act impressed.

The stone fruits that grew in the orchards of the Santa Clara Valley half a century ago were the best. That is why they were grown here. The climate and soil were ideal for their production. Traditional cultivars produced so abundantly and reliably that there was no need to breed new cultivars. The quality was exemplary. Consequently, only a few were actually developed here.

Half-breeds, or weird breeds of any unnatural ratio, started to be developed more than a…

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Italian Stone Pine

Tony Tomeo

P90102Even though it can get about fifty feet tall and wide, Italian stone pine, Pinus pinea, often gets planted as a small living Christmas tree into confined urban gardens. It gets so big so fast that it can get to be a serious problem, as well as expensive to remove, before anyone notices. It is really only proportionate to large public spaces such as parks or medians for big boulevards. The bulky trunks typically lean one way or another. The long limbs spread laterally to form an unusually broad and flat-topped canopy.

The paired needles are about four to six inches long. However, small living Christmas trees are still outfitted with juvenile foliage that looks nothing like adult foliage. Juvenile needles are single, very glaucous (bluish) and only about an inch or an inch and a half long. Adult foliage may not develop for a few years. The four…

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Christmas Trees – Dead Or Alive

Tony Tomeo

41203thumbChristmas trees are like vegetables. Really, they are like big vegetables that do not get eaten. They are grown on farms, and then harvested and sent off to consumers. Although they smell like a forest, and they are descendents of trees that naturally grow in the wild somewhere, there is nothing natural about their cultivation. In fact, most are grown a very long way from where their kind are from. Therefore, bringing a cut Christmas tree into the home takes nothing from the wild, and does not interfere with nature any more than eating vegetables does.

Firs, particularly Douglas fir, are the most popular of Christmas trees. Pines are probably the second most popular. Redwoods, spruces, cedars, cypresses or even Junipers can also work. They each have their own distinct color, texture and aroma. Healthy and well hydrated trees that continue to get watered as needed should have no problem…

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Leaving the Kimberly for the Pilbara

Maddy and Steve Norman's gap year

We left the Kimberly coast and turned inland to the Pilbara. It was sad to leave the beautiful coastline behind but better for my shell collecting addiction. 80 mile beach was just littered with temptation. It was also exciting to be getting back out into the deserts again on the Marble Bar road.

80 mile to dles gorge

This area had had a big dump of rain in March and it looked much greener than most places we had seen on this trip. The most exciting thing about this, was that there were wildflowers which you only see after rains. It was the first time we had EVER seen the Sturt Desert Pea in the wild and they are really striking little flowers. M

sturts desert pea pilbara roadside The very striking Sturt’s Desert Pea on the side of the road.

sturts desert pea roadside closeup Sturt’s Desert Pea, a very unusual looking flower that really stands out. They sort of look like little alien…

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Barn Hill and Eighty Mile Beach

Maddy and Steve Norman's gap year

After our backtrack to the Derby Rodeo, we headed west once more to a couple of spots along the coast south-west of Broome.  Our first stop was at the Barn Hill Station camping area, which is situated on cliffs overlooking the ocean (although rather than cramming into one of the view spots we chose a quiet private spot a bit back from the cliffs and enjoyed the views during our walks).

barn hill station sign

The beaches with their rugged cliff backdrops and the calm clear blue ocean were magnificent and made for delightful strolls interspersed with refreshing dips.   As always the photographs below don’t fully do justice to the scenery.

Aside from the beach scenery the campsite itself also offered a few interesting distractions.   It appears this is a good spot to view the legendary drop bear – one of Australia’s most feared predators.   Also being an arid coast line, the camp sites…

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Broome Bird Observatory

Maddy and Steve Norman's gap year

Broome is located on a peninsula which forms a large shallow bay to the east called Roebuck Bay.   At low tide this exposes large mud flats that attract hordes of shore birds which come to feed on the mud dwelling crustaceans.    While most of the migratory shore birds choose to fly to Siberia to breed in the northern hemisphere summer, most of the younger birds don’t bother.  So along with the permanent residents, even at this time of the year there is plenty to see.

I camped for 3 nights at a research centre run by Birdlife Australia called the Broome Bird Observatory.  In that time managed to add another 8 new bird species to my list.

Roebuck Bay near Broome Bird Observatory at high tide and at low tide.

Another view.  The shore birds go out to feed on the flats at low tide that extend for kilometers…

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Fennoscandian wader factory

wadertales

blog tem st Nesting Temminck’s Stint – the smallest of the 22 wader species for which trends are reported

At the end of the summer, vast numbers of waders leave Norway, Sweden and Finland, heading southwest, south and south-east for the winter. In a 2019 paper by Lindström et al, we learn what is happening to these populations of Fennoscandian breeding species, as diverse as Temminck’s Stint and Curlew. The news for the period 2006 through to 2018 is basically pretty good – most populations have been stable and there are even some that have increased – but there are worrying signs for Broad-billed Sandpiper, Red-necked Phalarope and Whimbrel.

Breeding waders of Fennoscandia

blog mapAs a volunteer taking part in the Breeding Bird Survey (BTO/JNCC/RSPB) in the UK, I feel that I do my bit to monitor what is happening to local bird population – providing counts that build into national trends. The…

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