The toad tadpoles in their masses just offshore of The Stockpond are growing while you watch, have got large already and they’ve turned from black to pale brown.
My father called cuckoos by their Virginia name, “Rain Birds”, and the resident Yellow-billed at The Stockpond is living up to this: it has become louder in calling as the rain gauge has been added to day after day. The ones at El Potrero also seem to be more noticeable, more emphatic.
Many pale gray grasshoppers rise from my footfalls out across the grasslands, make arcs going out in all directions from me, fall, land, and disappear. Every day there are more.
The quelites (amaranths) have reached harvestable size, about six weeks after the sprouting of the first seedlings of this delicious wild green. At about five inches high they can be pulled up easily and taken home. Hold onto the root with one hand, tug hard on the stem with the other to have it break where the right tenderness begins, wash a bunch, barely cover with water and bring to a boil, simmer briefly, cover the pot, let sit a few minutes, drain, drizzle butter or olive oil, que aproveche. It doesn’t work as a leftover and I’ve read it’s not healthy to eat reheated amaranth–though that could be a myth of the conventional wisdom. Reheated amaranth is a bit on the revolting side anyway …
Enough rain has fallen to have pleased the ants into hatching from underground chambers, and they rise in their winged millions into swirling black devils that the pickup smashes through every few yards. More mating hordes are scattered across the pastures, and along the unpaved Lane, rising, rising it seems, but only a few individuals at a time get to the top, clasp each other, and drop hard and fast down to the ground through the middle of the others who continue on the rise at the outer edges of the whirling column. Square dance moves, for insects.
On the leaves and stems of the desert mallows are a few of some of the most exquisite bugs I’ve ever seen, about the size of a Potato Bug, as beautiful as any piece of scarab jewelry. They are golden, and engraved with black lines in a design like a Yin Yang and until I can find more about them, I’ll call them not sow bugs, but Tao bugs.
Splayed out as if on a collector’s pin, a “Carolina Sphinx” moth is impaled on a barb on the top wire of the fence by the ephemeral stock tank. It is handsome, large, plain brown but with richly mottled hind wings, and six pairs of yellow spots run the length of its abdomen. How did it come to be there? Did that last blast of Monsoon wind that came before its rain hit nail that moth onto the fencewire? Shrikes are absent from here in the summer, but it sure looks like the work of one.
The center of amphibian life has shifted to the ephemeral dirt tank, which, with a half an inch or more of rain having just fallen, has been filled yet again to overflowing. The water is muddy brown, much of it covered with suds and bubbles and it’s full of mesquite leaf duff and all that can be brought down from the gulches above it. The merry chortling of the Sonoran Desert Toads is the music cued to accompany the froggish couples entered in this olympic match of Synchronized Swimming, they stare out through pairs of polished Tiger’s Eyes. Four different amphibian songs come from the edges, the foam, or mid-water–but I can only make out one other of these singers, two will remain a mystery. Floating near the edge and in the foam, is a tiny Western Spadefoot, its eyes silvery and glittering like diamonds, with dark vertical slits of pupils. It pushes out an inflated pouch almost the size of its whole body, and from this bagpipe instrument comes what sounds like the rapid clicking of a geiger counter. The musical balloon looks uncannily like the larger foam bubbles that drift past.
Vast drifts of amaranths are growing rapidly now.
That tanager is singing in the evening above The Stockpond, whose waters have remained clear despite the rains and flooding, and there’s not a strand of algae to be seen in it.
Another summer morning of Summer Tanager in full song at The Stockpond. A giant blue Pepsis grossa Tarantula Hawk wasp clings to a low dirt cliff, head down, sucking in water.
The stars are dim through the clouds, vanishing for moments in violent lightning, martins are up there flying in their usual places before dawn, calling to each other and earth, their voices vanishing for moments in overwhelming thunder. Spadefoot Toads are stirred by the rumble, and continue sending their melody up from the far bottomlands. The River itself sings all the way to El Potrero.
Summer Tanagers are still singing their full repertoire at the Mason Pastures, where a Spotted Sandpiper pays a rare summer visit for a day at The Stockpond. The sandpiper is still in breeding plumage, spots and all–a wanderer from the confluence of the Gila River and the Bonita, where it is thought to breed sparingly?
The whole River floodplain below the house is ringing with Spadefoot Toad music at dawn.
After The Stockpond is refreshed with new-pumped water, countless tiny tadpoles of what must be Sonoran Desert Toads swim up to shore, and hang there like a black necklace, all with noses almost touching the bank. They look like kids having their first swimming lessons, holding on to the edge of the pool with bodies stretched out, kicking their legs.
Cuckoo calls, but we seem to have half the number of those birds we did a year ago. We do have lots of young kingbirds colored much like Say’s Phoebes, young Lark Sparrows, many young Vermillion Flycatchers. An adult male of the flycatcher attempts to mate, but he’s rather tawdry; she can do better. Among the still small Palmer amaranths are the peculiar sharply-notched cotyledons of just-sprouted native morning glories, and the large first leaves of the other Devil’s Claw to be found here, Proboscidea parviflora, are also up and on a dash towards blooming. While the Sonoran Desert Toads have abandoned The Stockpond, they’ve taken up their nuptial swims in the still-full dirt tank in #2 Pasture. I can hear the River running again; it will probably come and go this way for the rest of the summer.
It seems I’ve awakened again in Hilo, rain pattering on the window, mists and clouds settled upon the cliffs and hanging valleys above the San Pedro. Pat and I will saddle Nimby and Loompy, go up on the ranges with them and see how nine days of Monsoon rain will have brought change and green and flowers.
I pass under a soaring Swainson’s Hawk on my way north to El Potrero, and once there find Nimby looks surprisingly clean even though he’s black, but Loompy? He looks like a New Guinea [Asaro] Mudman, and it takes a good while to comb him out and get him back to his bright sorrel color. A glorious day to ride, even though humidity hovers around 100% and the temperature hovers near 100 degrees. All is riotous, lush, colorful, fragrant–Loompy chomps off a swatch of Desert Oregano that grows just at the narrow gate that is usually mine to dismount to open. Enveloped in the plant’s delicious spice, I swing into the saddle again, if it can be said that a sixty year old can “swing” at all … […]
Pink Mammilaria cactus in bloom just about everywhere … the vast flats of huisache no longer look furnace-dried and brittle (if not killed outright) by that late freeze and the ensuing drought, but are green with feathery new growth … the sproutlings of yellow Devil’s Claw of a month ago have spread into mounds of shiny green leaves … Three-awn and Muhly grasses are in near complete rebound from the winter grazing of the herd … and the rains have even tempted the Saguaros to push out a couple large and very late flowers.
The rains are coming evenly and are most welcome, but they aren’t giving enough accumulation for the needs of bermuda pasture and so I go to Mason’s to set irrigation for the night. Blue Heron is at The Stockpond, his usual jumpy self. A good number of martins are overhead but don’t give much of a lengthy evening show, male Vermillion Flycatchers are in a rumble of bluff, bravado and defense of the choice real estate–but then come in many more martins, five or six at a time, slicing the water across much of the pond or are more dainty in their approach and drinking, a few others splash onto the water like the Flying Boat landing on a lagoon. Only two nighthawks appear, at 7:30 in the last pink Monsoon light set with thunder from the higher country.