Monthly Archives: August 2014

August 16, 2013

Although all feels normal (that is, the temperature’s gone above 102 degrees), the air has changed. A finger can’t be put on this exactly, nor can it be described but, we are headed towards Equinox.

There are odd moments to listen for and watch for birds away from tending to the crisis of Molly the Cow and the difficult birth calf that will starve if we don’t continue milking mamma and getting more of her into him, while we hope the little lightbulb goes on over the dimwit’s head and he realizes that he’s the one got to nurse on her. Among a number of complications of the blessed event, the afterbirth isn’t ejected and it’s obviously not about to disattach–it falls from her tail to the ground in dreadful bloody ribbons into which are tucked sails of white tissue. People gasp in horror when they see Molly. I don’t know when this will be over, the manuals say could be eleven days, but a number of folks are in on seeing it through, and this allows me to slip away now and then so a few more birds can be added to the Ides of Summer list. I’m sure I will miss many species, nonetheless, as preoccupied as I am with the latest stock problem that isn’t going to allow me to continue with the idea of actually going out and putting together the mid-season equivalent of a Christmas Count for the Mason Pastures that I’d wanted. At least these are added, most of them through song or sound:

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

Common Ground Dove

Song Sparrow

Yellow-headed Blackbird

Northern Beardless Tyrannulet

August 15, 2013

The Ides of August, the Ides of Summer for birds and the wildings, but the appearance of those Red-winged Grasshoppers tell that the nagging of winter pasture preparation and seeding and irrigating will soon be more shout than whisper. We’ve got at least as far as confining the Mason Pasture herd to one 350 ft. X 850 ft. swath (about seven acres) of bermudagrass, between two lines of electric fence with an exit to the pond, so cow folk can eat off the crop almost to the ground and make that ready for tilling six weeks or two months from now, clean out around the mesquites that must be pulled or dug out so that the rattlesnakes coiled below them will be more visible.

There are many baby birds cheeping away in the mesquite branches, probably second broods all. I want to spend two or three days right now, though, making a bird list, during these last moments when the summer still feels long and sweet …

Yellow Warbler (singing)

Yellow-breasted Chat (singing)

White-winged Dove

Lesser Goldfinch

Vermillion Flycatcher

Bell’s Vireo

Blue Grosbeak

Purple Martin

Summer Tanager (singing, and call notes)

Mourning Dove

Bewick’s Wren

Verdin

Abert’s Towhee

Lark Sparrow

Gray Hawk

Cardinal

Red-tailed Hawk

Gambel’s Quail

Crissal Thrasher

Black Phoebe

Western Kingbird

Savannah Sparrow (rare–but not unknown to be arriving now for winter)

The River is running, madly … many large blue dragonflies on The Stockpond, and “Whitetails”, or as I call them, Saddle Shoe Dragonflies. Bugs that like to harass humans are doing that, aplenty, worst of them are the tiny loudly singing gnats that fly into the cavern of an ear opening, get louder and louder but then their whine is suddenly cut off when they ditch into the pool of sweat that’s collected just inside the earlobe’s tinaja. This unpleasantness is made up for when the air is thick with the incomparable sweetness of huisache acacia blooms.

One of the cows, Molly, has had a bull calf and I’m worrying over both of them–the baby doesn’t know how to suckle, or maybe even that it’s supposed to. Mamma’s not looking all that good either, uh oh, a big chore coming on. I think she had it Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. … Save the life of my child/cried the desperate mother

August 14, 2013

A Great Blue Heron that’s supposed to be uncommon in the summer here is at the northern dirt tank catchment pond, the water is clean and clear now there’s been no storm or wild muddy runoff from the canyons for a few days. The bird is beautifully reflected. Off across all the pastures to the south is the buzz and murmur of crickets, grasshoppers, katydids. Moisture is enough that with the decaying plant matter come very showy mushrooms popping up: stems of pure white, jet black caps speckled white. There is a little similarly colored and patterned butterfly, black, with a crescent of white stars on its forewings, the delightfully named Funereal Duskywing. It has taken up life in that area where we’re coaxing the native grasses to sprout from seeds.

I notice that suddenly the Brown-crested Flycatchers aren’t flying and hawking around in the pastures and desert edge any more. I was just thinking it must be time to take stock of the birds here, now has come the Ides of Summer when the breeding birds are all still showing themselves and none have left but may be about to, and fall transients and winter residents are still far off. Sure enough, a look in the bird calendar for Southeastern Arizona reveals that the “neotropical” Brown-crested would be the first to leave, and precipitously: once the first of August has come the species goes from common to uncommon, and by the end of the first week, to be rare though a few may hang on til mid-September.

I make the mistake of leaving on the ground and out in the sun the nails for a fence repair I’d like to get done before the storm approaching from the horizon gets here. It’s 102 degrees, and the nails are too hot to pick up with bare fingers, and have to be splashed with canteen water as if they’ve just come out of a forge! When the mesquite pods start falling and stir into the air the sound of a kalimba as they hit the ground and bounce off each other, plainly it’s time to get out of here and through all the washes and outflows of canyons and besides, all the windows and doors are open back at the house! I just arrive there and don’t get them all closed before It hits, the Mother of all Monsoon Storms this Summer. It’s been on its way up from the South, and from the East, and from this high spot I watch each valley and ridge and washbottom vanishing from sight in its oncoming, go completely gray in a wall of wild rain from the ground up as high as can be seen, and it’s not slowing down or thinning. I get to the door on the south side of the house a moment after the house is slammed by the front, the door is hard to close and click against it and the space that narrows as I push funnels the air and wet into the room the harder, increasing the blast that sweeps everything off the kitchen table, and for at least the third time this rainy season, the refrigerator is cleared of most of the pictures and mementos held there by magnets. The sun still shines for a little while through the pounding sheets of rain, the landscape 360 degrees around the house glows as if it sits inside an incandescent bulb. Suddenly, all becomes much darkened. The Creosote Bush outside is bent in the wind to the point of almost being flattened to the ground, though I can’t see beyond a few feet from the windows so much like a blizzard has this come to be look. I can’t believe the eaves are able to stay attached to the house … and then, it’s all gone as quickly as it came, moving along in a way that the windows on each side are battered and draining water and when the storm cell reaches the bottomlands to the West, all that land fills like a newly laid out lake, one that later reflects the glow of the sunset for weeks.

Over the course of the storm the temperature has dropped to 74–almost thirty degrees cooler than an hour before and in that hour, 1.35 inches of rain has fallen. Doubtless no one will be able to get in or out of here for a while … when it’s done and the rumbling is drifting off to the northwest, I can hear and see that this long ridge has become an island: Pool Wash and Sierra Blanca wash are white and rushing and their murmur comes up to me from below, water boring wildly past me on either side. I can see trucks and a stocktrailer for now stranded down there but hoping to be able to cross when the grader comes or more people with shovels in their vehicles do (most carry one for this kind of affair)–but there’s more trouble this time than usual, because the electric company left a bunch of line poles in the bed of the arroyo last week, up stream from the crossing. All of those creosoted poles are now gone and swept west down and to the San Pedro, except for one, which is left a anchored lengthwise crossing the road. That’s gotta be fun! Cascabel folk will talk about this great storm for days, about the mess and the damage and the glorious refill of rain which everyone will take any time and any how it will be offered even if it comes with ripped off porch ceiling fans and lawn chairs lifted, taken, and dropped off in the desert. Bob E. reports that his house was saved by his anemometer: lightning hit it, and followed the metal pole it was attached to down to the ground. He couldn’t tell what the blasts of wind ever ended up registering in speed because the bolt shattered everything into pieces. The wind couldn’t have been less than 60 mph …[…]

August 13, 2013

The Devil’s Claws continue to grow and spread their branches, there are even more flowers now than a couple weeks ago. As I noticed before, only some individuals have the Paulownia-like fragrance and that only slight–one plant’s flowers are nearly raspberry red in color, look like Pansy (Miltonia) Orchids. Wild Tomatillo are at the height of bloom, rather a weedy plant but rather showy, too. After a night of 80% humidity, the dew is drenching everything and as I walk I am wet through from the top of the so-called knee boots to well above the knees. (Knee boots only come now up to about half way between the calf and the knee, which is reminiscent of what happened with two-by-four lumber. They seem no longer to be built to fit well, too, and are too floppy and open to keep out raspy grass seeds, sharp and impaling foxtail awns that can find their way all the way to the toes before becoming a splinter in your hide, or the marbles of White Horsenettle fruits. The “rubber” lasts all of about two months before its seams fracture. What do I want for $30? something that lasts??) More and more grasshoppers are flushed on such a walk through the deep pasture, today there’s a new straw-colored one with a black stripe, and large emerald katydids with a white stripe, trailing legs far behind them when they take off and buzz on ahead of me. A small black wasp is now very active, has a brightly contrasting red abdomen, connected to its forward parts by a thorax as thin as a hair.

I get back to the truck after closing down the riser valves just after lunch, slip off the rubber boots and shake them upside down before putting on regular cowboy boots, and out of them onto the ground falls a spider of astonishing color and shape: apple green, striped with a lighter fluorescent green, and the legs are feathered and ornate like those of deep sea crabs. How this Green Lynx Spider didn’t get crushed as it was jostled around in my boot is a question–it must be very nimble. I read that they can give a venomous bite, but that they have to be harassed into doing that. I should think that a ride with my foot far from home would constitute harassment. I do empty other critters out of those boots from time to time after I have finished crossing those pastures, and have always been happy not to know what alarming thing I was carrying around with me at the time.

Clear sky, temperature 104 degrees in the afternoon … the convection oven of the land bouncing back great heat into the air is setting up all for a big blow, it feels–but not today.

August 12, 2013

A hot night, awake with sweat and the poking and biting of “bugs”, but an eventual falling to sleep. The feel of one more crawling on me makes me give up and I turn on the early news out of San Francisco–crackling radio AM in the a.m., giving that flavor of coming from some far off, exotic place–and bring coffee back to bed. I sip in a large moth that in the dark I couldn’t see had bumbled over the lip of the mug. Pppphhhthtwpp! how … Silence of the Lambs.

I admire roadsides of that finest of this wet season’s annual wildflowers, the Summer Poppy that is glowing everywhere; in places its orange petals are entwined with the blue wide trumpets of Tall Morning-glory, these colors with the early sun shooting through them would have moved Tiffany to some new creation in glass. At Mason’s I find the young and still very cute Sonoran Desert Toads have moved away from The Stockpond altogether, spread themselves over the south end of #1 Pasture but especially taking up in the new native grass pasture we’ve planted and that we are now watering every day there is no Monsoon storm of any account. A cuckoo calls from the pond where the tadpoles swam so briefly, though his calling for rain won’t be working during this, one of those five to six day spells between widespread temporales. The skies, the clouds, are most magnificent and sometimes there’s a bit of thunder, but Earth-maker isn’t at the moment roused to anger and I can relax without worry of being hit by lightning. One is caused to raise the eyes often, to see how much it has all changed in the last few minutes, how the sky has piled high itself with clouds that then vanish, threaten and boil up again, vanish again.

August 11, 2013

A return walk to that blown out irrigation main in #4 Pasture to see if it’s holding pressure gives an impression that all the world is being devoured by those White-lined Sphinx worms. There are at least four or five to the square foot of Boerhavia that they are quickly decimating, but they leave alone the related Annual Windmills (Allionia choisyi) that are growing among them and showing their pretty, tiny lavendar-pink blooms on widely sprawling plants. The worms are fabulously beautiful: lime and yellow, with black stripes and red bars. I imagine them in their not millions, but probably billions, this year when every flat is massed with their host plants from here up to the canyonlands and over to the far-off Pecos. If any Elf Owls waited out the dry spring with its lack of flowers and thus lack of insects for them, they will be feasting on hornworms this year no doubt. (I once had a pair come down to visit a number of evenings in a row years ago, when one of them brought its own dinner, a huge Tomato Hornworm that it held in one foot while it balanced on the branch with the other. I watched the last of the sunset while only a few feet away from me the little toy owl bit off the head of the hornworm and working from the bottom up squeezed out the liquid green contents and slurped them–a sort of slimesicle–while I toasted the sweet little creature on its hunting prowess, raised my glass of wine to it with a “Bon appetit, frere!”) Also no doubt, there will be a bumper crop of hornworms of various species and the Screech Owls will be seen aplenty around the spotlights on garages and house walls, flying out of the dark of a sudden to snatch a large hawkmoth adult and vanishing back out of sight where it will munch away leisurely on a branch.

One of the few butterflies that are common this year, the Orange Sulphur, flits over all the pastures, sipping at almost any kind of flower they can find open. Grasshopper numbers are still growing, and don’t seem about to decline. In fact I wonder if this year they aren’t going at some point to reach a critical mass and then mow off all the bermuda we have spent our time and our wealth growing. At least for now, there appears to be not a single leaf chewed off, and I wonder what they’re doing. They’re certainly leaving behind a real mass of grasshopper excrement, which must be as good a fertilizer as any cricket poop that is a product of growing popularity among the organic set lately … […]

The mesquites are hung (already!) with whitening beans, they look as pretty as any cultivated flowering tree, as tinselled as any fir at Christmas. On one of these, bright Lark Sparrows perch on each branch tip to complete the look, as if someone had attached to the mesquitebaum the finest of Austrian ornaments, ones that wind themselves up and sing. The second week of August, our Sonoran Summer, perfected. All that has come before from those first days when the mercury shot over a line into the 90s, the wicked Foresummer, the first wild storm and haboob wall of dust, the first flood of The River, have built to this. A pleasant, 96 degrees late afternoon, the Saguaros on the hilltop are stark against giant white Monsoon clouds, the clouds themselves hard against an impossibly blue sky. All things looked at, in every direction, are as if viewed through a stereoscope. The White-winged Doves do yet call and coo, as if spring has not gone to high summer of Los Temporales. Their notes wonderfully blend with far away thunder.

August 9, 2013

Some Saguaro Juniper members and supporters are setting up a new native Arizona grass pasture project at the south end of the fields, a couple of risers’ worth of fallow land has been seeded with a wonderful variety–sixteen species–and now, to water it. Then … we blow an entire riser out of the ground right from its base at the irrigation main in #4 Pasture in the far north of Mason’s: well that pipe, metal cap hydrant-fixture and all, must’ve shot high into the sky as if from a missile silo–at least the hole left behind looks like one, filled and overflowing with water welling out and up from the 4″ opening in the pipe three feet down. This forms a very attractive and natural-looking ojo de agua. Today we try fixing this again (second attempt) but the fun is interrupted by something of an anguished yelp from Jimmy M., who with a high kick flips away from his bare shin something snake-like that then goes flying end over end into the Boerhavia being munched by uncountable hornworms of White-lined Sphinx Moths all around us. We’re aghast to see that this is one of those offputting Giant Desert Centipedes. Well, at least the centipedes here aren’t in the perpetually bad and aggressive mood that the Hawaiian species seem to be, and Jimmy doesn’t get sliced by the pair of venomous fangs of this one.

August 8, 2013

I hear on the radio that this dawn slugs at Phoenix with 82 degrees already in place; here it is “only” 64. My Thursday segundo, Ellison from the Froggy Farm, and I find a huge, oh-so-evil looking insect with striped legs that has climbed to the top of the reeds on the north shore of The Stockpond. Ellison says, “I’m sure that thing wants to stab some tadpole with that beak it’s got, and suck out its life.” We slip away from it, glad we’re the size we are, go off to take care of the tractors on their wheel lines and we trudge across #3 Pasture to change the oil on that one, and oil its drive chains.

Two days after I saw those disembodied brilliantly colored wings of that Red-winged Grasshopper, we come across an entire section of that pasture jumping and pulsing with them, and now we know that earth is turning away from the hemisphere’s Summer even though by this hour the heat approaches 100 degrees (which will make that engine oil particularly slippery and easy to drain …) We’re not scaring them up, or driving them in front of us to settle and then rise again as grasshoppers do–these very beautiful insects are obviously in full advertisement to females, or maybe in full territorial declaration. They rise, circle, vault, arc, come to the ground again where they immediately stop their clicking. Always some are lifting off or in mid-flight or landing, showing off their colors, all of them letting out a wing song that for the world sounds like Sandhill Cranes calling out from some great height and indeed there is something crane-like about this display dance. Both bird and bug are “doing” the same thing, after all … And that’s why birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it, let’s do it–let’s fall in love.

A Swainson’s Hawk whistles down to unfortunate earth-bound creatures from its own great height, but even seen from our distance away from it the grace of its flight makes me stop to admire, and to wonder what it is he takes in with those raptor eyes from one desert horizon to the other.

August 7, 2013

Through air cleaned and freshened by yesterday’s wide storms a Yellow-billed Cuckoo hoots out a chuckle from the cottonwood bosque at El Potrero. Pat and I saddle up, fit our horses with bits and reins, mount and ride out on the morning to see how waterings have changed life on the mesas and low canyons on our range. If Summer isn’t ending, and Autumn not really beginning, then this must be one of our three Springs that come in the year. A green glow is over everything, from deepest river channel across the valley pastures it spreads up the foothills, over buttes and canyon rims and flows around the knuckle ridges, and up, and up, to ponderosa and high Rincon timberline. We ride through cholla in bloom, Manzanilla del Coyote (or “Chinchweed” in less musical, harsh-sounded Teutonic, er, I mean, English) in their endless golden carpets that let up spice into the air as horse hooves crush their leaves and flowers, white Desert Zinnia, and barrel cactus with their coronets of large brilliant flowers golden, orange, yellow, red, garnet, all with satin shine petals, or rather, “tepals”. (I am reminded of the Wiliwili trees on wild Hawaiian slopes and in the canyons of those islands, individual trees holding flowers that closely match this same range of hues.) “I’ve always thought Easter should be in July in Arizona!” Pat tells with joy in her voice.

August 6, 2013

High columns of flying ants on the move pick up the morning sun that gives the see-through assemblage a bronze glow. The River is loud! A Spotted Sandpiper is at The Stockpond, only a few weeks after the last one was seen, but now such a visit would be more expected as the birds start to move perhaps all the way to the Southern Hemisphere. It takes a long time to get to Chile, might as well leave now. Summer is hardly about to end, but the days trickle from her, neither is Autumn about to begin, but her whisper is there. If one tramps these pastures and the grasslands over years, feels the sun and comes tuned to the subtly changing angle of its light, there comes a day of a sixth sense that brings one of those whispers: “And the Red-winged Grasshoppers? They’re about to be here …” I look down only moments after having this thought, see on a bare patch of dirt a set of scarlet and black wings that can only have belonged to one, its body already cut up by ants and carried away by them.

A magnificent sky for the whole morning, clouds towering into blue, thunder far off and harmless now but giving fair warning. By noon is a fearful storm, by sunset the clouds drift apart, and openings show sky again. I get home to Ridge House and find the great cliffs of the Galiuro Wilderness shining alabaster in sun, against the dark storm beyond them in this landscape that can only be called gigantic, one in which man’s size still shows true: small.