Monday, August 8, 2016

Orbit sprinkler review

Here's something different for you.

As Maintenance Manager of our mobile home park, one of my many duties is replacing irrigation sprinklers. ["Manager" loosely means that I'm responsible whether I assign someone else or do it myself.]

Last week I bought a bunch of Orbit pop-up sprinklers from Home Depot, since the corporate office provides a Home Depot credit card for our use. My Maintenance Man and I replaced many old sprinkler heads and I just grabbed a bunch of the "nearest to what I wanted," as Home Depot often runs low on parts during the day and often doesn't have exactly what I want.

Orbit pop-up sprinkler with brass head

It ended up I bought both brass and plastic spray heads on the 4 inch pop-up sprinklers. Turn on the water to try them out and sss...snap! off the heads fly. So this is a reminder never to buy the plastic heads with the cut-outs that seem designed to fail on first use. Brass sprayers are the way to go.

Broken Orbit sprinklers

Oh, here's another tip. It seems about 10-15% of the sprinkler heads at Home Depot have been previously used and returned to the store and restocked. You can find them full of dirt and bugs sometimes. So many people paw through and mix up the bins that you really have to be careful what you're pulling from the box is what the box is labeled. So, while you are looking that the body is correct and not previously used, you miss something else (and by "you" I mean me). The spray heads are interchangeable. Wouldn't you know it, while the bodies were "half-pattern" the spray heads were different!

Orbit pop-up sprinkler with brass head and plastic head sprayer

So the lesson is, no matter how rushed you are, no matter how long you were searching unsuccessfully for the right parts--and thought you finally found them, and no matter how many dozens of each part you need to buy, carefully inspect each and every one!

Monday, August 1, 2016

Birds to know in San Diego: Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

This is the final post of the monthly series of common San Diego birds. We head into the oak-covered foothills of the mountains, south of the town of Julian.

Lake Cuyamaca
Lake Cuyamaca
Stonewall Mine
Over 95% of the conifers in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park were incinerated by the 2003 Cedar Fire. The few pines remaining, such as at Stonewall Mine and Paso Picacho Campground, host some pine mountain birds such as found at Palomar Mountain: Steller's Jay, Pygmy Nuthatch, Hairy Woodpecker, Mountain Chickadee. [Pronunciation: kwee-ah-MAHK-ah]

Vegetation has started returning to the burned upper reaches of the mountains, first with grasses, small bushes, and then oak trees. Even pine and cedar are beginning to sprout. Oaks in some of the lower valleys were spared. But it will be decades or even a century before the forests return to their glory, assuming rainfall amounts of the past return from the recent decades of drought. The cycle of fire keeps changing woodlands and forests back to grasslands. Then a succession of plant communities grow back until the next fire. A general warming climate, though, means larger and more frequent fires and less woodlands.

Most of the birds featured in this post are especially common in the open oak foothills throughout the county, now typified by Cuyamaca Rancho State Park.

Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk. Rancho Bernardo, California. December 8, 2013. Greg Gillson.
Red-shouldered Hawk
That hunch-backed hawk sitting on the telephone line is a Red-shouldered Hawk; Red-tailed Hawks rarely perch on telephone lines. The California subspecies has this rusty orange chest and barred belly as an adult; Eastern birds are paler and less marked on the underparts. Frequently the loud keer-keer-keer-keer-keer-keer-keer-keer call attracts your attention to this bird. Similar San Diego birds: Red-tailed Hawk.

Nuttall's Woodpecker
Nuttall's Woodpecker. Lake Hodges, California. February 2, 2014. Greg Gillson.
Nuttall's Woodpecker
This little woodpecker is widespread throughout San Diego County except for the desert. Indeed, it is found throughout most of California wherever there are oak trees. However, except for birds in extreme northern Baja, it is entirely restricted to California. It often gives its brief rattly call when as it flies to the next tree on its feeding route. Similar San Diego birds: Downy Woodpecker, Ladder-backed Woodpecker.

Western Bluebird
Western Bluebird. Julian, California. July 3, 2015. Greg Gillson.
Western Bluebird
The friendly little Western Bluebird may be found in some open residential lawns and city parks chasing bugs, but is most abundant in grasslands edged with oaks. Bluebirds nest in old woodpecker cavities. Is it more than coincidence that bluebird numbers in San Diego have increased along with Nuttall's Woodpeckers in the past 25 years or so? Similar San Diego birds: Western Scrub-Jay.

Wild Turkey
Wild Turkey. Julian, California. July 5, 2015. Greg Gillson.
Wild Turkey
Introduced unsuccessfully to the county several times in the past, a release of birds from Texas in 1993 finally took hold. These huge birds are now widespread in the mountains and inland foothills. Rather than being really "wild" they are more self-domesticating--thriving in parks and at the edge of residential areas where they cannot be hunted. Similar San Diego birds: none.

Oak Titmouse
Oak Titmouse. Hot Springs Mountain, California. April 13, 2014. Greg Gillson.
Oak Titmouse
Well named, this little relative of the chickadee is found throughout the county foothills where there are extensive larger native oaks. Its former name was Plain Titmouse. And, except for a little crest, that is an apt name, too, for this plain little pale gray-brown bird. It gives husky chickadee-like calls, in addition to clear whistled song notes, thus sometimes it's a bit tough to tell whether you are hearing the titmouse or the Mountain Chickadee unless you actually see the calling bird. Similar San Diego birds: Bushtit, Mountain Chickadee.

Turkey Vulture
Turkey Vulture. Ramona, California. February 1, 2015. Greg Gillson.
Turkey Vulture
Soaring unsteadily across the summer skies, the vulture is a familiar bird across North America. Feeding on roadkill or other dead animals they do look like black turkeys when on the ground. While widespread in summer, nests are hard to find because they choose to nest in caves and rocky crevices on steep mountain slopes. In winter they are more restricted to the interior of the county, away from the desert, high mountains, city, and immediate coastline. Similar San Diego birds: Red-tailed Hawk.

This is the last post in this series. To view all of them from the start click on this link...
Birds to know in San Diego: introduction

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Armchair ticks: Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay and Townsend's Storm-Petrel

The American Ornithologists' Union made two long-anticipated splits this year in its annual report. As a result, I added two life birds to my checklist without going anywhere!

An overview of this year's changes, including re-ordering many family groups, is on the ABA blog.

A few years ago the Scrub Jay was split into Western Scrub-Jay, Island Scrub-Jay, and Florida Scrub-Jay. It took a while, but Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma woodhouseii) finally has been split from Western Scrub-Jay. Therefore, Western Scrub-Jay received a new name: California Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma californica).

California Scrub-Jay
California Scrub-Jay. Palomar Mountain, California. July 4, 2016. Greg Gillson.
The California Scrub-Jay is the form I'm most familiar with in Washington, Oregon, and California. Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay is an inland form. It's a bit paler with a shorter bill. I saw them on a trip to Colorado in October 1984: At Bright Angel Lodge at Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, Dalton Springs, Utah, and between Cortez and Durango, Colorado.

In 2008 I photographed a smaller blackish storm-petrel at sea far off southern California. It had a white rump that wrapped all the way around and onto the the sides of the undertail coverts. After much research I found it was a subspecies of Leach's Storm-Petrel. Well, Leach's Storm-Petrel has now been split 3-ways, with Townsend's (Oceanodroma socorroensis) and Ainley's (Oceanodroma cheimomnestes) separated from Leach's Storm-Petrel (Oceanodroma leucorhoa). Leach's is found from Alaska to Mexico, Ainley's only in Mexico, and Townsend's primarily in Mexico and rarely to southern California. [ID article here]

Townsend's Storm-Petrel
Townsend's Storm-Petrel. Tanner Bank, Ventura Co., California. November 2, 2008. Greg Gillson.
These "new" birds, plus a significantly re-ordered checklist are supposed to be incorporated into eBird about August 1st. Ducks and chickens are still first on the North American list, but everything else between there and woodpeckers is reshuffled--it's going to take me quite a while to get used to looking for pigeons, nighthawks, and hummingbirds at the beginning of the bird book, then shorebirds and gulls, followed by albatrosses, herons, pelicans, and hawks just before the woodpeckers, falcons, parrots, and passerines.