the Phantom ChickenSince I first reported on his amazing feats of survival in the face of all odds, Phantom Chicken seems to have captured the hearts of a small section of the Internet which follows this blog and my Facebook updates. After being dumped off in a fox and coyote infested unincorporated corner of Sonoma County, Phantom Chicken has defied the odds and seemingly grown fatter, healthier and more vocal as weeks and weeks have passed by. Our dilemma has been what to do with him. My first inclination was to have John the Baptist put him out of the misery of a solitary life surrounded by predators — which would end with him being torn limb from limb by wild canids. But as he survived and thrived, that plan was abandoned. There was some talk of letting loose some chickens, so this rooster could establish his own flock of feral avians. But it’s cruel to abandon domesticated animals to the wilds. And just because this particular chicken is a super hero is no reason to believe it wouldn’t be torture for a lesser chicken.

It wasn’t just canid predators that Phantom Chicken had to face. John the Baptist has observed several hawks trying to dive bomb and catch Phantom Chicken (always handily eluded). In addition, there have been several would be human captors around who John suspected wanted Phantom Chicken for his cock fighting potential.

Then, just last week, a very nice lady stopped by as John was trying to lure Phantom Chicken out of his hiding place with corn. She has a coop full of hens who would dearly love a Macho Man like Phantom Chicken to take charge of the place. Hands were shaken. A deal was struck. John is now armed with corn, a pet carrier and a net. We’re betting that he catches Phantom Chicken and transports him to his new harem some time this week. I think Phantom Chicken senses that he has a new life awaiting. He’s already showing himself to us at regular intervals and posing for his 8×10 glossies. After all, when you are preparing for six to ten wives, you need to get your glamour on.

glamour shot of the Phantom Chicken

Let's take another look, because Phantom Chicken is definitely ready for his close-up! He stood out in the open, ruffling his feathers for best effect as we exited the back gate tonight.

While my main news today is the evolving fate of Phantom Chicken, there is so much more going on at the ranch these days. With the rather sudden end of cold and rainy weather and the sudden burst of extremely warm days, we are in accelerated spring, in fact almost into summer. That means we are behind before we even start on getting things ready for the long hot days of Sonoma’s dry period.

As we do every year, we are sweeping through the place slashing out invasives and non-natives that threaten the delicate balance of Sonoma’s ecology. There’s no kind way to deal with these.

burning invasive plants

It's on to the fire with mustard, French Broom, Scotch Thistle and any other plant John the Baptist doesn't like.

California poppies

Which leaves more room for the natives John and his crew have lovingly planted. Like our state flower, the California Poppy.

Five Spots

And these Five Spots.

Once you’ve re-established the native plants, the native birds, bees and insects come swarming back in and keep everything in balance.

bumble bee and ceanothus

This native bee was one of thousands that were swarming the Ceanothus. Their pollination efforts will keep these lovely plants coming back year after year.

terrier pollination

However, not enough credit is given to the pollination power of terriers. Lucy and Oscar dived into the bushes and emerged covered in pollen. Yes, they are doing their bit.

With all this flurry of activity, we were lucky to carve out some time for John, his wife, Sherrie (who owns a native plant nursery) and me to run over to the Benziger Family Winery to see what ideas we could lift from one of the foremost biodynamically run vineyards in the country. I should mention that any of us who are striving for organic and sustainably grown vineyards must periodically turn and genuflect in the general direction of Glen Ellen and pay homage to what Benziger has been doing since the late 80s in terms of organic viticulture. I’ve long been telling John that I want to emulate their efforts here at Two Terrier Vineyards, but surprisingly, it’s taken until now for me to get them out there with me on a field trip.

View to Benziger vineyards

The excellent Benziger Family Vineyards are the shining beacon for all of us who aspire to organic, sustainable vineyards.

Surprisingly, while Benziger is miles ahead of us in wine production — what with all those world-class, award-winning wines — we’re not so sure Two Terrier Vineyards isn’t ahead of them in other areas. We tried not to be obnoxious when walking through their Insectarium, re-established habitat and general landscaping. Oh, we tried to be polite, but I could hear Sherrie and John muttering under their breathe every now and then during the tour, “Not a native. Invasive. Should be torn out. There’s a better more native alternative for that plant.”

Then when the guide started telling us about the long, involved efforts Benziger has been making to lure back the Western Bluebird, the Red Tailed Hawk, owls and all the other avians who prey on enemies of vineyards, we could barely keep ourselves from high-fiving each other. Did you say “lure back”? Are you attempting to “reintroduce”? Honey, at Two Terrier Vineyards, these avian shock troops never left!

Yes, we can feel smug about our Natives. And I bet even Benziger doesn’t have pollinating terriers. Or a super hero chicken.