{a weekend with a bird, bees and butterfly buffet}

This week I was reminded that it’s possible to create a friendly and hospitable habitat for all sorts of visitors–the invited and the party crashers.

Last year, at just this time, Karina and I sat in our back yard and witnessed a Black-Crowned Night-Heron swooping into our backyard pond. 



This week he showed up again, presumably on a fishing expedition. I had nothing to feed him, so off he went!

I have thought about restocking the pond  many times, but  I’m ambivalent. The poor fish!


I probably should have considered the possibility that he might return.

I recently read that wild Black-Crowned Night-Herons have been invading the Smithsonian National Zoo each summer for over 100 years. It’s the only known rookery for black-crowned night-herons in the region, and each spring the birds stop by to gobble up the zoo’s fish.


But where do the migratory herons go in the autumn?

Peter Marra, head of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center tells how they started putting transmitters on the herons in an effort to monitor the birds’ habits. Over the past three years they’ve tracked birds as far south as the Florida Everglades, and it’s suspected they return to the Zoo because it sits on a high point, offering the birds a good view from which to forage.


My oak tree offers a high point above the pond. If I offer him the incentive of a meal will he be back?

I recently learned the black-crowned night-heron was almost extinct at the turn of the 20th century. The long feather on its head, known as a filoplume, adorned women’s hats during the Edwardian Era and Jazz Age–makes me cringe to think of it!

They may now be plentiful in number overall, but they’re not typical inhabitants in suburban Southern California, and perhaps I have a responsibility to add to its survivability. Maybe just a few fish?

I do think that every little bit of effort to support urban wildlife potential increases my own well-being.

This weekend my focus is increasing my bee and butterfly garden potential. The bees are all over the lavender and rosemary. And I’ve had a Monarch butterfly spending a lot of time close by! This afternoon I found her on one of the new milkweed plants, but by the time I grabbed the camera she was gone.

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Despite the presence of pests and watering issues (you can see the pests in the slideshow photos) I’m  hopeful that seeing the Monarch land on the milkweed today promises eggs.  I am hoping to witness the complete lifecycle.

Butterfly chasing! The perfect level of activity after a busy week. What are your plans for a weekend “exhale?”

Whatever you do, I hope you breathe a little lighter–maybe just sit and watch for butterflies!

NWF sign


Heading into our weekend exhale with a final stop at Hearst Castle

Earlier this week I shared bits and pieces of biographical color to give a sense of the powerful and influential newspaper and publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst.

Hearst Publishing-imp

As much as I’m in awe of the Castle he called his “ranch home,” I’m much more interested in the people than I am the building. I am currently reading an excellent Hearst biography, “The Chief,” written by David Nasaw and I have another sitting here waiting for me that will delve into the fascinating life of Hearst’s architect, Julia Morgan.

I’ll add a few links at the end of this post for anyone interested in reading more, but for now I’ll just give a little more information to make the photos more relevant.

What are these menagerie cages?


In his day, Hearst had one of the largest private zoos and game preserves in the world. Animals listed in the literature include bison, musk oxen, elk, antelope, giraffes and even camels, all encouraged to roam freely over the ranch lands. The grottos held polar and grizzly bears, lions, tigers, leopards and chimpanzees and other exotics. I came across the mention of an elephant named Marianne.

The field animals were plentiful and gracefully dotted the beautiful hills. The deer, sheep, and zebra are still plentiful and very accustomed to people standing nearby with cameras flashing wildly.

Hearst was proud of his animals and carefully controlled their exercise and  diet with oversight from a staff veterinarian. In 1937 Hearst experienced great financial strain and was forced to cut expenses. The animals were donated to public zoos or sold. It took more than fifteen years to complete the dispersal and when the State of California was given Hearst Castle seven years after Hearst’s death in 1951, Rocky Mountain elk, tahr goats, llamas, white fallow deer, zebras, sambar deer and Barbary sheep still roamed free.

All that beautiful undeveloped land! The Hearst Corporation donated the Castle to the State of California in 1957, but retained the surrounding property and continue to operate as a cattle ranch, just as William’s father George operated when he made the land purchase in 1865.

Referred to as the Piedra Blanca Rancho at San Simeon, the land extends from the inland mountains down to the ocean, with 18 miles of gorgeous coastline.  The 128-square mile property is “home” to more than 1,000 plant and animal species and is an abundant ecosystem.

San Simeon Ranch is preserved thanks to conservation commitment from the Hearst Corporation. This topic made for some interesting reading.  In 2005 the Hearst Corporation partnered with The American Land Conservancy, The California Rangeland Trust and the State of California to preserve the land and protect the scenic coastline, and some vocal opponent organizations fought back for either even stricter restrictions or on the other side, greater pubic access, but I’m just glad that the land will not be used for resorts and private acquisition that could easily change this gorgeous coastline forever.



I can’t conclude this tour without just a mention of the two swimming pools. They are worth the price of admission!

The outdoor Neptune pool is a beautiful feature, and experienced at least three major renovations during Hearst’s lifetime. He enjoyed this pool and was always making what he thought of as improvements.  It is currently drained and undergoing a painstaking tile repair. The original tiles are being preserved while repairing huge leaks. In a state experiencing mega-drought, it is an expedient time to make these repairs.

But the pool to top all pools–the Roman pool–sits underneath the two tennis courts, is lighted by skylights with gorgeous arched windows and tall standing marble lamps. The surfaces, covered with blue and gold mosaic tile give a stunning appearance. Gold leaf is fused with the glass. As our tour guide told us, at Hearst Castle, when it looks like gold–it is!

Well, I think that concludes my tour, except I do have a few more photos you might enjoy. There are a variety of tours available at the Castle, and because we’ve previously toured the “grander” more opulent rooms, we visited Hearst’s private quarters, bedrooms and some of the guest rooms, which I think you’ll see are more personally furnished and have a comfortable feel–well, my whole house could fit in some of these rooms, but they still felt inviting.


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Other photos are included in my previous post HEREand the Castle’s website is full of interesting reading and photos. I highly recommend it!

I hope you have a chance to visit Hearst Castle someday, but wherever you find yourself this weekend, do make the most of what you have available. There are so many interesting places to visit. We are headed out again tomorrow to spend some time just staring at the ocean. That’s still my favorite (and most effective) weekend exhale!

Will you be “de-stressifiying” this weekend?

And not a drop to drink…unless you’re a Pinniped

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I wasn’t really ready to come home from the Central Coast. Last weekend we headed north to the serenity and beauty of Cambria, mesmerized by the rugged coastline nestled within a forest of coastal pines and spectacular ocean views–and quiet.

In the Los Angeles/Pasadena area where I live–the San Gabriel Valley–early fall often brings temperatures higher than we experience in summer’s July. Accordingly, October is “fire season” and it’s not uncommon to hear locals comment about the “feel” of earthquake weather. There is no such thing, but there is something in barometric pressure or terrarium-like cloud covers or perhaps the squeeze that comes with unrelenting heat that brings a certain jumpiness.

Cambria was calling me. Notice the beautiful sunshine of the day and the fog rolling in with the evening.

I have said quite enough about our drought conditions, I’m sure, but while in Cambria we experienced a few new shifts in awareness and convenience that seem worth conveying.

This was the first time we visited the area and continually thought of Coleridge.

“Water, water, everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink.”

The Central Coast is experiencing severe drought. Residents are saddled with extreme personal water usage restrictions and struggle against the rationing with an economy dependent upon tourism, naturally leading to greater water usage. The future is uncertain. It makes me jumpier than the heat, quite frankly.

We were encouraged to re-use towels and not expect a routine change in sheets.  The coffee cups and water glasses were replaced by disposable paper. After years of being cautious about what we add to the landfills, depleting water sources makes that a very secondary concern. And in a fine dining establishment we were offered water bottles (think landfill again) and charged a nominal fee. It costs too much to wash the glassware and is too expensive in other ways to offer drinking water to thousands of tourists. It is risky business.

The coastal beauty of Hwy 1, San Diego in the lower south through Mendocino County all the way at the top of the state, is what I call my “happy space” and I never travel without thanking the State of California and the Coastal Commission for its many protections. California is highly protective of preserving the beauty of the coast and guards against development. It remains as pristine as possible.

So when we talk about desalination plants, I have to wonder. All this ocean….water…is it a resource? If we don’t learn how to live within the confines of water restriction even in times of sufficient seasonal rainfall, what course will we be forced to take? What is advancement?

“Will California — like Israel, Saudi Arabia and other arid coastal regions of the world — finally turn to the ocean to quench its thirst? Or will the project finally prove that drinking Pacific seawater is too pricey, too environmentally harmful and too impractical for the Golden State?” 

At this point all we can do is observe. I also pray for rain. And I totally, completely, unreservedly appreciate the beauty that we have and I enjoy sharing some of the little surprises you might not anticipate.

These elephant seals aren’t sitting around waiting for rain, are they? Do they seem worried?

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The Northern Elephant Seal Rookery at Piedras Blancas, just north of Cambria, is a wonderful stop along Highway 1. There are approximately 20,000 elephant seals at Piedras Blancas, but they aren’t all there at any given time.

Once nearly extinct because of hunting for blubber and oil during the 18th and 19th centuries, some saying the population was down to a mere 50 elephant seals, there are now breeding colonies from Baja to British Columbia. There are four major California mainland sites, and this is one of the best for close viewing.

From December through February numbers will increase during mating season, and I’d love to return in mid-February as the females wean their pups.

Turkey Vultures are vigilant sentinels along this stretch of beach. I don’t think I want to know.


Next post I’ll take you with me to “The Enchanted Hill.”


Hearst Castle is a wonderful way to escape the concerns of reality. What a place for fantasy–an excellent way to breathe lighter.

Enjoy your “weekend exhale,” my friends. It’s a beautiful, warm and sunny day here today–big surprise. Sun! But it is cooler and should be a lovely weekend. And I do love weekends!