Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Mystery Photo 28: Hearst Castle, San Simeon, California

The Mystery Photo 28 is indeed a unique castle -- Hearst Castle at San Simeon, California. This 60,645 square feet Casa Grande, the main building of "La Cuesta Encantada" (The Enchanted Hill) was built by architect Julia Morgan, between 1919 and 1954 at the behest of then famous newspaper Randolph William Hearst. Hearst purchased the property consisting of 245,000 acres, and 14 miles of Pacific coastline in 1915. This wonderful and scenic property was located in the coastal foothills of the Santa Lucia mountain range. It was then and still remains a somewhat remote and unpopulated area due to these mountains. For some years Mr. Hearst and his family visited this site and what he called in spite of his own fantasy name for the location, his "ranch." During those early years he and his family engaged in tent camping on the hillsides, but eventually built a Victorian home in a eucalyptus grove over the hill from the later Castle. In 1919, Hearst hired Julia Morgan as an architect to build a permanent home on the top of a hill on his property overlooking the Pacific Ocean. His first intension was a smaller bungalow, but those plans gradually evolved into a larger and larger mansion, built in Spanish Colonial style. Hearst was a great antique collector. Especially he purchased large antique statues, stone works, and even sarcophagi. He assembled a collection of old ceilings from churches and monasteries in Europe and had his architect design rooms to fit those ceilings. That is one reason that his mansion became so large, so intricate, and in some cases so strangely laid out.

     Interestingly Julia Morgan was the first woman graduate from L'Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux Art. in Paris. She and Hearst worked on this mansion until 1947. At this time Hearst ceased going to visit his "ranch" as often and eventually a worsening health stopped the progress on Hearst Castle. To this day it sits there with one whole end not completed on the outside. During its heyday, many famous people visited Hearst Castle, among them Hollywood stars such as Clark Gable,  and even Presidents such as Calvin Coolidge, and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Even Winston Churchill was a guest there. Adjacent to the mansion, were two lovely 2,000 to 3,000 foot guest "cottages.' There was plenty for guests to do at Hearst Castle including a huge outdoor Greek style swimming pool below the Castle, and a connecting large indoor pool, a theatre, tennis courts, dozens of bedrooms, sitting rooms, a wine cellar, library, and even the largest private wild animal zoo in North America, at the time.

     Hearst died in 1951 and the property could no longer be maintained by the family. It was donated to the State of California in 1954.

Sunset over the Pacific taken from the Terrace of the main building of Hearst Castle.

     There are several different tours of the Castle that can be taken as it is too large and extensive to see in one tour. We have taken most of the tours during different visits to this iconic location. However, one of the most memorable tours was an evening one, led by a California State Park director through the auspices of the yearly Spring Birding Festival headquartered in Morro Bay, situated just a short distance north of San Simeon. This tour was arranged only for registered attendees of the Bird Festival and had to be reserved in advance. The purpose of the evening visit was to view three different species of bats that make their residence at Hearst Castle.
Workmen repairing tile roof of Hearst Castle. The bats day roosted and nested
under these tiles.

A single bat spent the summer season day roosting in the lock mechanism of
this glass encased guest house door.

Our leader had tape recordings of some of the bats calls and at dusk began playing the tapes. One common species of bat called the.... is present in large numbers and lives under the edges of the tiles of the roof of the Castle. As soon as the sun fell and the tape began these bats began streaming out of their roosts. Another species of bat was living actually inside the attic of the castle and had to be evicted with the accesses sealed up because the bat guano was damaging the walls of the rooms below. A third species was living under some cement works of the gorgeous outdoor Neptune Pool. This particular species had not yet, appeared so early in the season. Our Park Director showed us on psot in the overlaid glass of one of the guest cottage doors where everyday a single bat roosted all day long as the daytime visitors put their hands on the door knob and opened and closed that door. I could just imagine those many people who are still to this day somewhat skittish about the ideas of bats in spite of most of the benefits that this species provides -- yes, I could imagine those thoughts if only some of these skittish folks knew of the bat's presence. After we had had our fill of the bats which unfortunately for this piece, did not provide good photo material, we went inside the Castle. The Park Director asked if there was any area of the mansion that the group would like to see. I mentioned the Wine Cellar, and so that was our first stop. The following dark photos show some areas of the castle in an unusual light. Please enjoy them for what they are -- representatives of a very unique and memorable visit to this iconic home. For other photos of the Castle in daytime, I recommend the following websites:



Above we see several examples of Curacao Triple Sec Bardinett. This is an orange flavored liqueur that has quite an interesting history but which is still made today. There is a fruit called the laraha citrus fruit which is similar to the Valencia orange. It was transplanted from Spain to Curacao in the Caribbean in 1527. However, on Curacao it did not grow like it did back in Spain, instead producing small hard bitter little fruits. However, it was discovered that an oil made from the dried peels retained some orange flavor along with variable amounts of bitters which were found to flavor a local alcoholic brew called Triple Sec. The current Curacao Triple Sec today is the only one which can claim the use of the original Curacao variety of laraha fruit.

This entire case is filled with what appears to be red Italian wines under the name Martin. Now there still is a wine dstributer operating in the United States. I don't know if this distributor put their labels on all these bottles of wine or not, or whether there was an Italian vintner  by this name at the time of Randolph Hearst and his big parties. We did see some Bordeaux in the cellar but were told these were empty bottles. The excellent wine in them had been consumed long ago.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Mystery Photo 28: Clues

This lighthouse is located on the coast just a little north of our mystery Castle.
These fascinating animals beach themselves for several months a year, about 4 to 5 miles north of our mystery Castle.

This beautiful bay is very near our Castle that is Mystery Photo 28. The Bay is named after the rock that is seen
to the left of the photo. It is in the Pacific Ocean, well, I will tell you --- it is on the west coast of the US.

     These three photos should help you a great deal in locating the object of Mystery Photo 28. Let's see some answers. Want to play?

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Mystery Photo 28: Where Is This Hilltop Castle?

     Castles and castle like buildings abound in all parts of the world. I have not posted a Mystery Photo for years on this blog. Therefore it is about time. Does anyone recognize this destination castle without my giving any clues. If the comment section is quiet, I will post a couple clues in a few days.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Woodpeckers, especially the red bellied woodpecker.

Male red bellied woodpecker. Note the red on its head extends from eyebrow
to the nape of the neck in the male. Also note its toes: two toes forward, two
toes back to enable better grasp when it is vertical on a tree trunk.

This is the female near a nest hole. Note the red on its head is interrupted and forms only a small patch near its
beak and then a long patch from the back of the head to the nape of the neck.

     Woodpeckers are fascinating birds. I originally wanted to write about the red bellied woodpecker because I have now had a nesting pair living and breeding on our property. I saw and heard the male for the first time on January 6, 2016. And the pair has remained the entire year. These birds are monogamous and defend a territory throughout the year.  I still hear it around some of our tall cottonwoods, especially those that have some dead branches. I heard the young begging for food right outside our front door most of the summer. These birds can sometimes hammer on your downspout or metal gutter because they have learned that these structures serve as excellent amplifiers for their communicative tapping. Some of their tapping is to excavate a home in dead wood, some is while foraging for grubs and insects beneath the bark of trees, and some is to warn others away from their territory or to attract a mate during the courting season.When such tapping is carried out on your fascia, soffit, and gable boards it is not as noisy but may be a sign of insect infestation in your wooden house. We have had some tapping on the front of our house on the gable and at least once have had to fill some shallow holes with wood filler. In spite of these risks, I am pleased to have the red bellied woodpecker as a guest in our yard. And I have learned that a pair of red bellied woodpeckers can remove as much as 85% of the emerald ash borer larvae in a single tree in a single season. We have 4 still living green ash trees and paid for injections for all 4 this year though there was no sign of definite infection yet. Maybe my red bellied woodpeckers will also help preserve these trees. The link that follows shows a red bellied woodpecker in action on trees and on the gable of a house much like we have experienced.


Red headed woodpecker
Here you can see a small
patch of red in the lower
belly of this female.

    Since you have examined the photos above and perhaps even seen a living and drilling red bellied woodpecker in the wild, you may wonder about its name. Where is the red on its belly? It certainly has a red head or at least a red stripe on its head. But the name, red headed woodpecker has already been used. And it is clear that that common name is very apt for the woodpecker pictured on the left. They are striking birds! We had a pair raising their young in our back yard several years ago, but they have apparently not found a suitable nesting tree lately. It is true that in suburbia, especially in our area, people tend to keep their dead trees and branches trimmed and removed. Thinking they are ugly, folks often remove snags as soon as they are obvious. And of course, with various tree diseases, the authorities and arborist do recommend getting rid of the dead wood. But this practice certainly hurts species like all woodpeckers.

Male pileated woodpecker
     Some of you may be familiar with the large crested pileated woodpecker pictured here. This species is rather secretive and prefers mature hardwood forests in the north in Wisconsin.  But the species ranges throughout the Eastern US, Canada, the northern boreal forests of Canada and in forests along the west coast of the US. I have only see this bird once. We were traveling to the south and at the edge of a woodlot near a motel we stayed at in Tennessee.  From a distance I saw several pileateds fluttering along the trunk of a tall tree. This woodpecker is often given the honor of modeling for the famous cartoon character,
Woody Woodpecker, whose laughing voice we all recall. Certainly the character resembles the
Acorn woodpecker
                pileated woodpecker with his red crest, but the creator of the cartoon maintains that he modeled the anthropomorphic woodpecker after the acorn woodpecker that resides in many park areas of Southern California. Walter Lantz created Woody  in the 1940s along with storyboard artist, Ben "Bugs" Hardaway, creator of both Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck for Warner Brothers. I chased down the acorn woodpecker to add it to my life list in a regional park in Orange County while visiting my son at University of California, Irvine. Certainly the acorn's antics seemed similar to Woody Woodpecker's antics.

     Anyone who pays any attention to the birds at their feeder at all, especially if suet is being fed, will know of the downy woodpecker and the hairy woodpecker. The problem always is telling them apart when only one is present at the feeder. There are a couple of tricks that can help. Certainly the hairy woodpecker is slightly larger but that may be hard to judge when just one bird is seen. It might help to know that the downy is the size of a house sparrow while the hairy is the size of a robin. Also you can identify them by their bill. The downy has a very dainty bill which is about a third of the length of its head, while the hairy has a big stout bill which is almost as long as the length of the hairy's head. A more subtle field marking is the side tail feathers. The hairy has all white side tail feathers whereas the downy has 2 or 3 small black spots interrupting the white of the side tail feathers. Another clue is that the downy woodpecker is much more common, particularly in suburbia, so they will be much more likely to be seen at the feeders. The hairy woodpecker prefers woody areas and tall trees so will be less likely to be seen in the suburbs. Compare the two photos below.

Downy woodpecker

Hairy woodpecker

Yellow bellied sapsucker
        There are a few other woodpeckers that are on my life list. Of course yellow bellied sapsuckers are fairy common around our location especially during migration. They spend winters in the southeastern US, in the West Indies and in Central America. These woodpeckers also nest in cavities that they excavate. But they also feed on sap and the insects they draw by drilling small holes in a line up and down a tree. If they happen to girdle the tree, the holes can kill the tree. There is also a fungous infection of aspens which causes the heart wood of the tree to soften and attract sapsuckers to nest there. A colony of sapsuckers can take residence and badly damage a stand of aspen. In these cases, the fungoused trees are removed to prevent a sapsucker colony from forming. There are three other species of sapsuckers but they are not nearly as common as the yellow bellied in our area.

Red cockaded woodpecker

     My birdwatching is not usually such that I will drive way out of our way to find a specific bird. But on this occasion in 2003 on a trip to Jackson, MI to meet our future daughter in law, we did make a jaunt east a to find the red cockaded woodpecker. This is one of the most studied birds in our country. It has been very threatened due to loss of habitat in the Southeast of our country. It was estimated to be down to a low of 3,000 family units but through restoration projects its estimated that there are now over 6,000 family units. This bird is a cousin of the red bellied woodpecker but its behaviors are quite different. The birds prefer to nest in tall mature pine forests that have been subject to fire so that the understory is quite thin. They also prefer very mature trees, often 80 year old trees, because these elderly ones are often subject to a fungous disease that softens the heartwood and makes it easier for this woodpecker to excavate a nest hole. Even so it often takes a pair a couple years to form their nest hole. They also have the habit of drilling small holes around the hole which fill with pine sap. It is thought that this oozing sap provides a barrier against a local predator snake that tends to seek out the nestlings. Due to these very specific requirements, there are not many stands of burned out open mature fungous infected pine trees in the Southeast of our country. Efforts have been made to get lumber companies and private land owners to leave about 10 pines to mature per acre specifically for this woodpecker. Also controlled fire burns, artificial nest cavities, and transferring family units from private land to National Forest land have all helped to bring this bird back to some degree. The red cockaded woodpecker has an interesting nesting habit. A pair will form and remain pair bonded but often several younger birds, especially males will stay with this pair and help to raise the young. Therefore a family unit often occupies one nest tree and consists of up to 6 or 8 individuals. The name of the bird refers to an occasionally seen few red feathers located on the side of the head of the male just above and behind the eye at the edge of the black cap. One can sort of imagine that color in this photo. Well, our jaunt to Noxubee Wildlife Refuge in eastern central Mississippi did allow me to put this bird on my life list.

There is another interesting family of birds that are related to the woodpeckers but they do not exist in our hemisphere. There are two species of these birds. They are called the wrynecks. When I went to a birding conference in Ailat, Israel in the 1980s, I participated in some bird banding and we were fortunate enough to band a Eurasian wryneck. They winter in The Sahel or sub Saharan Africa and then migrate north as so many birds do in the Eastern Hemisphere to breed in Eurasia. Israel forms a land bridge for a multitude of different species as they migrate out of Africa and into Europe and Asia. Therefore the Spring migrations in Israel are absolutely phenomenal for bird sightings. There is a yearly Spring Migration Festival in Ailat. Because this city is on the Red Sea and has some artificially created date palm fields and other vegetation as well as some fresh water, it serves as an oasis for these birds who are on such a long journey through desert and inhospitable territory.

     Think about the woodpecker behavior of drilling repeatedly on the hard wood of trees both to excavate a hole for breeding as well as to forage for food and to communicate with other woodpeckers and proclaim territory. Think of our human brains and how susceptible we are to concussion with just a single head bump. How do these woodpeckers do it? Well, interestingly, they are built for concussions. First their bill consists of three layers: the outer layer is strong keratin like our fingernails; the inside layer is mineralized collagen fibers and in the cavity between these two layers is a very porous spongy compressible bone. The bird's brain itself is smooth and fits very tightly inside the skull so that it can't move around a lot during the drilling and drumming action. The subdural space is very narrow and there is very little cerebrospinal fluid. Also the skull especially in the front and in the back has a very spongy compressible bone to help absorb the blows. In addition, the drums are very short and quick. It has been found that 99% of the energy created by the drum is converted to what is called strain energy. It is absorbed in elastic tissues and very quickly distributed to the entire body of the bird. That does create heat, however, and it is thought that that is why the woodpeckers only drill for a short time and then rest to let the brain cool off. Fascinating, isn't it? 

Friday, November 25, 2016

My Woman Cave

     In the 1990s, there deeloped a kind of place the theoretical need for which arose in prehistoric times. This no doubt is where it's almost universal name came from. That place is called The Man Cave. The idea of its necessity dates back to Cave Man times. Men think that since those beginning times, a man has had a need of a place where he can get away from his woman, his female family members, or even from any females of the species all together.  Today in this space, a man can do what he wants, keep whatever he wants, watch or listen to whatever he wants on TV or in music. He can keep his hobby items and the things he loves such as his beer can collection, or his guns, or all his electronic items, or even his car and mechanic tools. And he need not worry about keeping this area neat, or about leaving empty beer cans around or even yesterday's dirty dishes there. He can welcome his friends there or not -- his choice. Other members of the family and especially his wife must respect this space and not interrupt him there unless it is an emergency --  a truly life threatening emergency. The name of this space -- Man Cave -- reflects the view that such an exclusionary space has been necessary since Cave Man times. But the need in recorded history first appeared in the late 20th century. No doubt, its necessity is contributed to by so called Women's Liberation, the feminist movement. Supposedly we women first asked men to become more sensitive. When a lot of men did their best to move in this direction, women asked them to be more manly. Various other demands led men to wonder exactly what women want of them. Out of this frustration, grew the idea of a place in the home where the man could retreat from their woman's demands, and be segregated, and allowed to do whatever he wanted to do.

       The Man Cave certainly is a common occurrence. It can vary from just a corner of a room with a recliner and TV set to a den, or a portion of the garage or an entire basement space. Just Google "Man Cave" images and you will see how elaborate such a space can be. Here are some fancy ones from the Internet. Some were posted on Pinterest and others on various blogs. These photos were intended to serve as idea sources for the Man who really wants his Cave.


     Of course, the theory behind having a Man Cave is that the entire rest of the house is the woman's domain which she rules. Traditionally she takes responsibility for decorating the rest of the house, for maintaining its neatness and orderliness. This remainder of the house regularly includes spaces where she does most of her housework -- the kitchen, the laundry, the mud room, the bedrooms where she makes the beds and cleans; the bathrooms which all family members use and she takes the responsibility for keeping them clean, the living room which she maintains in a presentable order so that guests can be shown an orderly household. She may have a corner of the couple's bedroom, or a space that she can do crafting, or a corner of the living room where she can read. But usually these spaces do not carry the exclusivity that the Man Cave owns. If Mom is needed,  even sitting on the toilet in the bathroom is not off limits. The children and maybe even the husband can approach the door of the bathroom and make whatever demands they feel necessary at that specific time.

      From this description one can discern that these women's spaces in the home are different than the Man Cave. First of all, many of these spaces are where the homemaker does a lot of her work in maintaining the household. Even a woman who works outside the home is still responsible for the cooking, the laundry, the cleaning. If she doesn't do it herself, she is the one who hires, supervises, and pays someone else to do it. And if a woman does indeed have a space that she calls her own, it is usually not exclusive. Young children, adolescents and even the husband/father will approach this woman in her own space and demand a problem solution immediately.

     A woman who maintains the household, raises the children, often works outside the home has just as much need for her own exclusive space as the man. Although the woman may require a slight difference in her space. She usually wants it peaceful, pleasant, perhaps with space and storage to do the things she loves to do with her leisure. It may include the need for quiet, relaxing music, exercise, or crafting.

       So I googled "Woman Cave" and found likewise many images of spaces that have been created in the home for a woman to retreat and do her thing. I especially like some of the names for this space: In addition to Woman Cave, there is girl cave, she shed, diva den, babe cave, or even bitch cave.

     Within the last year, my husband and I have worked to clean out our basement. This is a very large space that stretches under the entire house. It was never finished. And over the 20 years that we have lived here, it had collected a huge amount of detritus. There was a huge amount of left over building supplies from when we built the house -- extra boxes of tiles, carpeting, wooden molding, paint, and various plumbing and electrical fixtures. Also we had moved some "stuff" from the old home and placed it down in the basement. We had torn down a house where we built this house and there were even kitchen cabinets which were new in that house we tore down. We had saved some of those items. We had tax records for our own personal tax accounts as well as rental and income tax records that pertained to the 20 apartment units we owned and managed, dating back almost 20 years. There were also light bulbs, garbage disposals, tools and other items needed to maintain those apartment units. On top of all this stuff a light coating of dust and dirt had settled. What a mess. Slowly, slowly I worked to get through all this stuff, decide what we needed to keep and what needed to be tossed. Slowly we worked our way through all those records and tossed what we no longer needed. Some had to be taken to be professionally shredded for privacy sake. After cleaning a lot of this stuff out, we hired two fellows to paint the cement block basement walls. After some further weeding through things and some degree of organization down there, we then hired the same two fellows to paint the basement floor. They had to do it in two sessions moving around the stuff we wanted to keep, from unpainted end to the painted end. Once that was done, I spent some more time organizing what was left.

       What I created was a space of my own. I haven't decided whether I want to call it my crone cave, or my bitch basement. I need this space because my husband is somewhat autocratic and he basically rules the upper part of the house. He even tries to tell me how to load the dishwasher. And if I do load it, he always moves things around to follow his own rules. He has control of the great room TV and  if he wants to watch sports or something else I am not interested in, I have to watch an old one in my bedroom. I do have a reading chair in my bedroom, but there is no exclusivity. And there is not room to spread out any creative projects that I might have going on now as a retired woman.

       Sooooo...... I created my Bitch Basement. I moved some bookcases that were down there but never utilized. They now effectively divide the basement into two sections. The back section has all those building supplies organized in one place either on shelves, or where appropriate in boxes labeled with what is inside. There are also storage shelves which my husband put up when we first moved here but now there is less stuff on them and they are more organized. In the other section opening immediately as you descend the stairs, I have created my space. I resurrected my two fish tanks which were sitting around empty. I now have a 45 gallon African cichlid tank up and running. And I have a 30 gallon freshwater angel tank. I moved the old kitchen counter with its raised counter over in front of the wine cellar where it can serve as a wine bar. I took all my art books down there and placed them in order onto the shelves facing into the room.. And I hauled my large drawing table and easel down there, set up a table with my art media, and set up lighting to enable me to do my art projects. I mounted some of my previous art works on a wooden wall to the workroom that is adjacent to this section of the basement. Now I can go down there and sip a wine, watch my fish, or work on a watercolor, pastel, or acrylic painting. I can utilize the cleared off counter in the workroom for any more crafty or mechanical project as well. It is exclusive because my poor husband has a bad knee and doesn't go down there anymore unless absolutely necessary for some household needs. Voila Crone Cave, up and running. The basement is not really finished. The rafters, the plumbing and the wiring is all still visible in the ceiling, but it is clean and organized. I love it.

        Here are some photos.
My 45 gallon African cichlid tank.

Various cichlids: from left to right: giraffe cichlid, 3 acei cichlids, red zebra, kenyi cichlid in upper right.

The hungry hordes getting fed at the surface. Left to right: red zebra, acei cichlid, and bumble bee cichlid to the right top.

My little art studio area.

Head on view of my drawing table/easel. Media are placed on side table.

My 30 gallon angelfish tank, which is a community tank with a mated pair of angelfish.

My 30 gallon fish tank: two German blue rams flanking corydoras resting on the bottom.

Petricola catfish on left, a corydora on right, and albino plecostomus in doorway of decorative house.

Big triple spot gourami, head on.
The gourami broad side.
The big male angelfish.
Female angelfish.

One of my three corydoras in the 30 gallon tank.

The albino bristlenose plecostomus.

This big male angel is not allowed in the 30 gallon tank. The mated pair immediately attack him. So he resides in
a 10 gallon aquarium by himself.

The spread of my various attempts at artwork. An overview.

The first of my art pieces.

My first attempt at acrylic painting. This a beach at the Grand Turk, in the Caribbean. Painted it on a cruise.