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Native Californian, biologist, wildlife conservation consultant, retired Smithsonian scientist, father of two daughters, grandfather of four. INTJ. Believes nature is infinitely more interesting than shopping malls. Born 100 years too late.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Toyon stake out

The botanical explorer Frank Kingdon Ward would have called it "berried treasure". Toyon or Christmas berry (Heteromeles arbutifolia) is one of the chaparral's most colorful shrubs, and an irresistable attraction to birds. Last winter the birds had gobbled up most of the toyon berries by the end of January.

This year I decided to stake out a bush with a camera trap, and so far the only visitors have been American robins. The birds were leary of the camera, and spent a lot of time staring at it, but eventually relaxed enough for a few pictures of berry gobbling. This was a trial, and the pics leave a lot to be desired, but one thing I learned is not to stake the camera too close. The weight of the bird can pull the berry cluster down and out of sight.

Toyon fruit is apparently edible by people. California's settlers used to eat the mealy little berries fresh and dried, and also made them into custards and wine.

I learned a long time ago that while bird berries may be edible they don't always make for a pleasant dining experience. The realization came about when I talked the redhead into making a mulberry pie. I believe that Euell Gibbons had talked it up in his book Stalking the wild asparagus. There was a huge mulberry next to the house, and I handpicked the choicest fruit. The redhead labored to pull out the stems against my advice, and added sugar, and then lemon to zest up the flavor.

The smell of that baked pie just didn't temp us like blackberry pie, and nothing short of starvation could have made me take a second piece.

The chickens enjoyed it immensely.


Neil said...

mmm Toyon. I scarfed a handful a few days ago. It's like a eating a mixture of citrus, strawberry and chalk (not unlike manzanita really). Eating raw wild berries is a great way to freak out the girlfriend, highly recommended.

Camera Trap Codger said...

Yeah, I used to pull that kind of stuff too, but around here it's best to stick with wild blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, and well cooked gooseberries (haven't tried our native currants). Mulberries and some of them wild berries are powerful physics, and that'll freak her out a lot more than eating them. But if she's the nurturin' kind, it might get you some quality sympathy...later on.