Photo of the month

With rain clouds threatening overhead, Glenn and Ben pose for a timer-picture at Bethany Reservoir near Byron on Saturday, April 21. There was no shortage of wind to power the wind turbines on the nearby hills. Photo by Glenn.

April 2007

It's not too often we've seen mom and dad on the dove nest at the same time. But here they were in early April, close to the emergence of their baby. Photo by Glenn.

The wisteria tree in our front yard blooms for just a few days in the spring, but it's worth the wait for its showy, purple blossoms. Photo by Glenn.

The Easter Bunny still stops at the Gehlke house, thanks to Roni's dedicted egg-dyeing. Photo by Glenn.

Easter Sunday, April 8, finds mama and baby dove doing just fine. Photo by Glenn.

Mom is naturally a bit protective as she keeps a wary eye on our camera. We were lucky to get these pictures, because the next morning the nest was empty. Two eggs this time, and one was a dud. Photo by Glenn.

So, back to Easter... Ben has outgrown the bunny, but not the hunt. Here he ferrets out the last cleverly concealed plastic egg — a green one tucked amid similarly colored grape leaves. Photo by Glenn.

On April 21 we went for a hike at Bethany Reservoir near Byron. It's not the warmest day, as you can see from the fact Glenn is wearing his sweater. Photo by Ben.

This dead tree near the Bethany Reservoir's parking lot now serves as a trellis for some vigorous ivy. Photo by Glenn.

Ben gets in a little photography practice at the reservoir's edge.... Photo by Glenn.

...And here's what he was probably taking pictures of. The Altamont hills around the reservoir are home to one of the world's largest wind farms. Photo by Glenn.

These wind turbines were cutting-edge technology 20 years ago. Today, their energy generating capacity is dwarfed by much larger machines. Photo by Glenn.

Look, a walking milkshake! Lots of cows grazing up here. Photo by Glenn.

Ben stalked this seagull with his camera until the bird got nervous and took off. Silly bird kept landing on the levee a few yards ahead of us, so this scene was repeated two or three times. Photo by Glenn.

We got real excited when we first saw this bird soar across the reservoir, convinced it was a golden eagle. Alas, upon further review we realized it was yet another turkey vulture. Photo by Glenn.

See? There's really no mistaking them. The wings alone are a dead giveaway. If you could see its ugly mug in this shot you'd know for sure. ...You know, it really is a bit disconcerting when they swoop over your head like that. Photo by Glenn.

It wasn't a nice day for our walk. The skies were gray and cloudy, and the wind was kicking up as a rain storm approached. This fence was interesting in that the center posts had rotted out and were moving about in the breeze, digging ruts in the ground. Photo by Glenn.

Apart from the nice symmetry in this scene, this shot contrasts the older style turbines at the base of the hill with the newer, large model at the top. One of the large units is equivalent to about three of the smaller ones. Photo by Glenn.

There were plenty of animal tracks in the dried mud. We add our own feet for sake of comparison. Photo by Glenn.

Dad takes a break on the hillside. Photo by Ben.

These frondy plants are very common along the Delta. They have a name. It escapes me at the moment. Photo by Glenn.

I can name that tune in 13 notes... It looks like a Mozart composition, but it's just a flock of red-winged blackbirds preparing to take flight from a wire fence. Photo by Glenn.

This was about the point we decided to turn back. We were about a mile from the parking lot and the rain clouds were rolling in fast. Photo by Glenn.

Earth Day wasn't for another day, but Ben got an early start by collecting a wayward newspaper that had blown about the parking lot. The future of the planet is in good hands. Photo by Glenn.

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Easter bunny's lament

April 29, 2007

We've reached that point of spring where you suddenly realize that the calendar tells your eyes one thing and the beads of perspiration on your body tell you another. Yes, the season hasn't yet reached its middle, but it's already going through its midlife crisis. Last Saturday we went for a hike down at the Bethany Reservoir near Byron and were running to escape the storm clouds. This Saturday, we were whacking weeds and pruning trees in the back yard with 93-degree heat bearing down on us. A typical springtime — or is that summer? — in the Bay Area.

So hopefully that will explain why this missive filled with sunny-weather happenings is accompanied by pictures taken mostly indoors or beneath gray skies. We've been through the April showers and are now ready for the May weeds... and bugs... and heat.

But more on those fun things in a moment. First you'll want to hop along with us as we prepare to unmask Peter Cottontail. If you're a big believer in the Easter Bunny then we strongly advise you to read no further. For the rest, another coming-of-age moment.

WARNING! EASTER SPOILER AHEAD... (That really is your last warning.)

We knew it had to happen eventually, and with Ben rapidly approaching his teens he's recently decided he is too old for such childhood trifles as Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, so for the first time since Ben was old enough to hunt for those brightly colored plastic eggs — age two? — we waved Peter Cottontail a bittersweet farewell, giving the big bunny a long overdue break while we assumed his candy delivery duties.

Used to be, when Ben still believed, the candy-filled eggs would magically show up on the back lawn overnight and be there tempting him through the patio door first thing the next morning. Sleep deprivation for Mom and Dad on Easter Sunday was a common occurrence. But we could buy a little extra time in the sack so long as the bunny had also remembered to hide one of his popular straw baskets filled with plastic grass and enough chocolate to make a dentist tremble in anticipation. The basket was usually hidden in some semi-conspicuous place so that Ben could find it first thing.

If the candy basket wasn't enough — trust us, it never was — there was also the little matter of locating the dozen or so hardboiled eggs that we traditionally decorated the night before Easter so that the bunny could squirrel them away about the living room. While Ben chowed down on jelly beans, Peeps and milk chocolate rabbit ears, he shouted with glee upon discovering the various hiding places of the decorated eggs. Usually by the time the indoor hunt was over he was so wound up that we couldn't sleep longer if we'd tried, so all in all it worked out well. We'd all be up at last, ready to tackle the treasures of the back yard.

But with the bunny myth busted this year, the pressure to meet any egg-hiding deadline was off. We slept blissfully until around noon, had our traditional Sunday brunch, then sent Ben off into his bedroom while Dad went hopping through the weed-infested back yard with a paper grocery sack containing about four-dozen plastic eggs.

It seemed a bit odd to be hiding Easter eggs at midday, particularly as the neighbors were in their yard next door and no doubt getting a chuckle over Glenn tossing out plastic eggs from his paper sack. The fluffy bunny ears really got their attention. (Hah! No bunny ears. Just seeing if you were still reading.) You would think that given the circumstances Glenn would have given into temptation to simply toss the eggs willy nilly and be done with it. All for show anyhow, right? Ahhhh, but that would be to miss out on the sinister fun that Easter can be when all participants understand how the game is really played.

Instead of making it all too obvious, Glenn took extra care to pair the eggs with hiding places that matched their color or decor. A bright green one wound up concealed amid the top of our chenin grape, a reddish one stuffed inside the lattice work of our redwood-stained gazebo, and a sports-themed one in the shape of a soccer ball got placed on a real soccer ball.

Ben was up to the task, however, and did a decent job finding most of the eggs without any prompting, although the one he missed (and that we also missed) turned up the following week amid a patch of weeds, having tumbled from its somewhat obvious location on a fence panel.

We've never been a big fan of too much candy on Easter, so in years past the basket also contained assortments of Poké mon cards or Hotwheels cars. The plastic eggs, in addition to small candies, were occasionally filled with stickers and miniature toys. In the Post-Bunny Era such traditions remain intact, although the prizes have become more significant. This year's basket contained a PlayStation 2 video game, which has outlasted the candy's popularity by at least a couple of weeks.

R.I.P. Easter Bunny.

* * *

Because you can never hear too much about our garden, we'll share with you the news that the mourning doves inhabiting the planter basket on our patio pergola successfully produced a single hatchling sometime the week leading up to Easter. That planter hasn't produced great results in the two years it's been used as a nest, however. As with last year, the doves laid two eggs yet only one of them resulted in a baby dove.

The birds were remarkably tolerant of our presence in the yard on Easter Sunday, but by Monday the 9th they'd had enough of us humans and had left the nest, so we considered ourselves lucky to have seen them before then.

Our yard has become a regular bird sanctuary since the doves first visited us last spring. In addition to the family mentioned above, another mourning dove nest turned up on the gazebo over our spa. It was probably built about the same time as the one in the planter, but because the gazebo is shrouded in wisteria vines it went undetected until Easter morning, when Glenn disturbed the occupant while looking for egg-hiding spots. Subsequent encounters with the bird were less casual as it was on high alert to our presence. Attempts merely to photograph the nest through our living room window were enough to spook the dove, and a couple days after Easter it too vanished.

With the addition of the water fountain last October, birds of all types have been frequenting the yard for a drink or swim. Especially the jays, which tend to be aggressive and frighten away the other species with their antics. They have all been fond of our evergreen ash and fruitless mulberry trees. Unfortunately, the mulberry has been ailing since July 2005 and we are in the process of pruning it severely. The tree has put out more leaves this year than last spring, but they are small compared to when the tree was healthy. Now that it is leafed out we can see exactly how many dead limbs need to go, and unfortunately it's about half the tree.

Glenn was in the back yard on Saturday, working under that blazing sun we wrote of at the start of this newsletter, hacking off the dead wood with his pole pruner. He got about a quarter of the job done before having to stop because he'd blistered his right hand. We're not sure pruning will save the tree regardless, as the split in the trunk that developed late last summer has extended all the way up to the largest branches.

Meanwhile, Roni got busy with the weed whacker and reduced the foxtails to shoetop height. We tried to enlist Ben's help in raking up the stubble and bagging it. He got through the first bag and decided the heat made yard work too unpleasant.

* * *

We started this newsletter, as we start them all, with good intentions of getting it finished early. Yet between taxes and work schedules and birthday planning... well, we wound up doing what we usually do, which is scrambling at the last minute to get it out the door. And with so much else going on, we found we hadn't shot very many photos in the month of April, so what better excuse than a weekend hike.

Truthfully, we'd wanted to go hiking for a couple of weeks before we actually went. The weather hadn't been very cooperative. Seemed we'd have a week of sunny days, then the rain would descend for Saturday and Sunday. It looked like we'd see more of the same on April 21, when the forecast called for storms in our area. But we were determined not to let them interfere with our weekend.

When we awoke to patchy sunshine Saturday morning, Roni thought that would be a good time to mow the front lawn. Given the choice between that activity and squeezing in a couple of hours enjoying the day on a trail somewhere, Glenn chose the latter. He and Ben soon found themselves at Bethany Reservoir, which is tucked back in the Altamont area southwest of Byron.

The reservoir was busier than we'd expected. Fishermen are a hearty bunch generally unconcerned with anything that doesn't involve fish, so the possibility of a few sprinkles didn't deter them from arriving with their tackle and boats. They hung out along the banks while we took to the trail that runs along the perimeter of the reservoir.

For Ben, the walk was an opportunity to try out his photography skills. For Glenn, it offered something different to put in front of the lens. It had been a few years since our last visit to the reservoir, but it is one of the few public places where you can go to take in the wind farms of the Altamont. It used to be that there were several wind turbines right near the reservoir's entrance, but technology and times change, and that old wind farm with its lattice-work pylons and two-blade propellers has since been dismantled. All that remains of it is the concrete footings that sit in the middle of a cow pasture.

The cows don't seem to mind the concrete, but they did take notice of us as we waited near their fences to take pictures. Apart from the plentiful red-winged blackbirds and turkey vultures they are the most plentiful form of wildlife in those parts.

It is also said that golden eagles occasionally make an appearance in the Altamont, so that was the first thought that crossed Glenn's mind when we saw a majestic bird swoop past us and over the reservoir. We tracked its flight around a hill and saw it land amid some euclayptus trees on a barbed wire fence. Ben went tearing out after it, trying not to lose sight of it so he could grab a photo. With Ben on the south end of the trail and Glenn on the north side we were in perfect position when the large bird took wing once more and drifted over the hillside between us. It was then Glenn realized that the "eagle" was yet another turkey vulture, just toying with us.

Our walk lasted a good three hours as we roamed more than two miles before deciding it was time to turn back when the wind kicked up and the clouds grew more ominous. We barely managed to make it back to the car before the rain set in.

* * *

That's life at the Gehlke ranch for now. Gotta run because we still have to finish preparing for Ben's birthday in three days. Hard to believe he's about to enter the teens. That's enough to make anyone feel old.

Glenn, Roni and Ben

This page was last updated on Saturday, May 26, 2007 at 02:50 hrs.

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