Feb

27

 We are in Ventura county, CA. As you have read, there were two major disasters in Ventura and Santa Barbara county beginning in Dec 2017. The Thomas fire in December, and the Montecito mudslides subsequent to a January downpour. Neither of these affected us directly, though we could see the fires clearly from our hill (the Mrs cried), and the mudslides destroyed the beautiful place we were married.

Since that downpour there has been no rain here, and it seems we're on track for one of the lowest rainfall seasons on record. This sounds horrible, but our drip irrigation is enough to keep the vines happy and create a good crop. You may also have read that 2017 was record high rainfall for many parts of California. Here it was about 50% over the average, and the vines showed it. Vigor was so high we wound up hedging the vines (with a lithium battery electric hedge trimmer), and dropping quite a bit of fruit to try to equalize ripening rates. Still, there was a large crop and I'm not sure what we're going to do with all the good wine we made.

Tonight's work on trellis repair is what led me to write this. A few years ago I read that Western Bluebirds were beneficial for vineyards because they are insectivores. In this area there is epidemic Pierces' disease - a bacterial grapevine infection that is always fatal, very contagious, and spread by the locally ubiquitous glassy-winged sharpshooter. We do try to control it by various means. I hung lacewing-egg cards in the vineyard 3 years ago because a lacewing instar is known to eat sharpshooter eggs. We also spray imidacloprid and use systemic granules. (A natural approach guy nearby lost his entire vineyard to PD two years ago. I am all in favor of organic/sustainable…..but this is war).

Back to Bluebirds. About 2 years ago I bought nesting boxes and mounted two at either end of the vineyard. The males are colorful and showy and the females are drab. The literature says the boxes should be a fair distance from each other because competing families will fight. Last year the box at the end of the Syrah block was never used, but the one at the end of Grenache hosted a nesting pair. Mom and pop were cute and I enjoyed them. When I was in the vineyard they both would sentinel on various nearby vine posts, and were alert but peaceful when I checked their nest. I'm not sure if they hung around because they were worried about me or if I scared up insects they could eat. I any case we got to know each other. I talk to them. "Get to work!' "Why aren't you hunting?". These birds went wild when there was a bloom of mayflies in various stages of dying. Protein paradise (I hope they see the sharpshooters but who knows).

This couple nested and produced young which I think fledged. Later in the summer I noticed the same or another pair again nesting in the same box. Only this time the babies were killed by the horrible heat of Aug/Sept 2017.

I cleaned the apartment and it is ready for new tenants.

Tonight there were at least 3 pairs of bluebirds flitting around and watching me. At first there appeared to be a particular male corresponding with a particular female, but I couldn't be sure. And it seemed early for nesting. But after a while there was a possible clue. Usually they fly and land in pairs - a male with his female. But tonight there wasn't as much pairing. In fact I saw two males perched on adjacent vine posts, chirping at me gregariously, for quite a long time. I also noticed that in spite of the sparse vegetation (and subsequent insect) growth, they were both pretty fat. How could this be, so early in the season, with record drought and slim insect pickings? Then I looked further and noticed both males were puffing their chest feathers to make themselves look bigger.

Shit! I did this same thing in high school.

So it looks like the pairings are still in process. I plan to still encourage them. And I plan to irrigate as much as it takes to make the vines grow, and hope this year's drought will still be kind to our little blue friends.


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