Suddenly many minute-sized black tadpoles fill The Pond, on the surface, in wiggling, swimming layers down to the bottom; I’ve never noticed these before though I’d heard many adults for the first time at this pond earlier in the season. One on the surface, of about one inch in length, has four well-formed legs and an adult-looking head but still waves a tail behind it, certainly tiny for being at this stage of about-to-leave-for-land, its body leopard-speckled in little round black spots, the little legs with dark bands. They can’t be Bull Frogs, the size at this stage of maturity seems to tell that these are native Woodhouse’s Toads, those wonderful singers we must hope never get pushed out by some other introduced creature. Another new sight, reminding one that there are phenomena that are to be seen on the briefest of days, or even hours, and likely not every year: the bank of The Pond while I’m watching the funny little tadpoles, is alive with many odd beetles, shiny blue-black with very bulbous abdomens 2/3rds their length and bright brick red. Will I ever see those again?
Ladybugs in their tens, Horseweed seedlings in their millions.
The first Vermillion Flycatcher of the Mason Pastures is there in the top of Grandfather Hackberry, was not very long away from us and not far to the South but still, I wouldn’t want it to be away any longer than it was. The sight of it gives me to feel a combination of excitement, great pensiveness, and relief–that I’ve got through javelina, skunks, rattlesnakes, blows to the skull and snuffy horses to live to see this glowing coal of a little bird return. Then there is another one perched on the top of an electric line post. I’ve been granted a common enough wish, it seems … “Oh, Death, won’t ya spare me over til another year?!” In the pleasant warmth of evening another of the flycatchers sings from aloft over El Potrero.
Spring, as announced by Roadrunner who is calling out to the hills his territorial claim, the tone, timbre and pattern of it pronouncing the bird unmistakably a cuckoo. A fox hunts mice among the cows. Big Pinacate Beetles are on a walk-about, or on the raise-a-butt, threatening to shoot something foul on me when I blunder too near them.
The most spectacular bug-hatch yet adds sparkle to the late light, of who-can-count how many different species? Dragonflies, and of course Cucumber Beetles … Phainopeplas are out hawking in the increasing bounty, calling their soft “Purt!” when they’ve gone back to a branch tip, sunlit windows in their spread wings flashing as they show off graceful aerial skills.
I set into digging out the next of many T-posts along the road that have long been half-buried in rock and silt by the sheet flooding of decades, and with the trench shovel pop out a beautiful, large white-bellied mouse, who lands next to my feet and is very friendly for some moments–then the poor thing’s daze wears off suddenly and it bounces off in lightning speed, aware obviously of how many and how varied are the creatures that would swoop and zero in on it. A tiny green winged aphid is on my shirt.
The pasture grass shines back the late rays so intensely into my eyes that I’m left green-blind for long moments, but I make out the many dragonflies, Sulphur Butterflies, mists of Cucumber Beetles a-hovering and drifting, little golden beetles, and in the last hour of sun, a big bug-hatch of black gnats that must be slipped through to get to the wheel lines to be moved for tomorrow’s watering.
After Sun slips just under the highest ridge, six Mule Deer, six dark bodies, each with black ears in a V, are there against the broad dark green, graze eagerly the oats and the barley they seem to know somehow has too been provided for them. Winter feels to be vanishing in all other ways but in this sunset, and once again with arms embracing our Querencia the mountains all around are shining and dark, but tonight it’s the Galiuro that are bright in their last moments of Sun, the Mae West Peaks lit too, with all the other ridges high and low, east and west, but Sierra Blanca tonight is dark. The Stockpond glows azure, coral and flamingo, as does the sky over it. Dark has almost completely settled over us as I get the last wheel line moved into place but the air is downright hot, though it cools quickly after that to become very pleasant. Everybody is talking about the weather, realizing the more that only Winter’s horse has come back in, dragging its saddle with rider lost, and there is unexpressed worry. A bat flits over the Cascabel Road, James and Chris tell that they’ve been seeing them, too. 82 degrees in the valley here today, while 18 inches of snow fall on the East Coast.
Even though the nights are near freezing the windows of the Caravan must be left open, or else the inside will heat too uncomfortably through the day–and it’s not even mid-February yet.
Cottonwoods are filling out rapidly, are the same color now as those Cucumber Beetles that are flying again in numbers over the pastures.
Friend Heron lies dead in the tall grass of #3 Pasture, it feels a stun to my own neck to see it there crumpled in heaps of huge feathers, its body core ripped out, gone, its bird-flesh probably now being turned into Odalisque the Bobcat, who is likely offstage picking her teeth. I look greedily at an exquisite broad gray plume, the fullest of feathers and with a fine and unexpected halo of marabou towards its base. I’m sure I’m not supposed to “have” it, what with our modern forgetfulness of the 4th Amendment when such a thing is found in one’s possession but I try it out for a moment in the Stetson’s hatband … nah, wouldn’t work there anyway, a little too Oscar Wilde. Maggots are quickly transforming the little flesh left of the Great Blue into other things that can also fly!
Tansy Mustard, in bloom already at the pastures’ edges. There is much marveling in Cascabel over the many plants coming into flower weeks earlier than anyone remembers. And now a “Polka Dot Beetle” with twelve spots … which should I suppose be well and truly called Cucumber Beetle, whatever the identity of the earlier, fewer-spotted ones. Will it be a thirteen-spotted one tomorrow?
True evening Winter splendor tonight … the Galiuro ramparts are dark, all the ridges that rim, protect and tell us what is our “Cascabel” are dark, and alone out of the middle of this vast shadow-world rises Sierra Blanca from Saguaro-Juniper’s high ranges to the northeast, dazzling for some moments in the last full rays of Sun, as white as a sand dune and shaped like one, the shadows on its peak milky-green. I turn away from this grand mural hung before, over and around me, and see that Bobcat has come to join me in the pasture. It lounges, serenely, like an odalisque behind the bar in an old cow town saloon. As if a switch were thrown darkness comes, and the hovering mirage of Sierra Blanca vanishes in an instant.
Twenty-four degrees this clear blue morning, a cold to assure that Winter, though much threatened, is not yet an extinct species. The new snow dust gives The Rincon a pale shimmer in the first sunrays.
Not much going on at the edge of the cold Stockpond, just a Rock Squirrel stretched out almost flat trying to reach the water, and a few nondescript sparrows I decide are not Brewer’s on the strength of their having gray rumps, but think instead they must be “Pale 1st winter” (as Sibley puts it) Chipping Sparrows. The book says they don’t weigh much … imagine, at less than half an ounce they are yet creatures complete.
Haven’t seen the beautiful Polka Dot Beetles for more than a couple weeks, the cold of the nights must have set them groggy, but in the late light during as much warmth as is going to be mustered by the day (50s) one of them appears–it carries not six black spots, but eleven! (One entomologist has sent word that what has been seen over most of the winter with those six spots were just a form of the common and universally-resented garden Cucumber Beetle, and this new one today certainly looks a lot more like any illustration one might find of that pest. Yet another entomologist, whose specialty is beetles of southern Arizona, tells that he doesn’t believe Cucumber Beetles would have one race with a very different number of spots active the first half of their season, and change over to one with almost double the number during the second. He thinks it’s a different, maybe even undescribed, species. I wonder which I’ll be seeing from here on, and for how long into spring …)
A wet-in-wet watercolor sunrise, above very cold fields frosted white, but all is beautifully warm by 1:00 in the afternoon for long enough that a new, glossy green and bronze beetle appears on the wheel line hoses where it can soak up warmth it must find so welcome.
Not long later, though … storms and blackness, coming in from each quarter and I cannot get warm no matter the physical work, then snow curtains billow along the lower slopes of The Rincon though they don’t spill over the lip of the high canyon wall and onto us. The highest peaks are veiled from sight by the drifting and sidling white squalls, the mountains are gone, in the gray.
Sue reports that above her house poppies are blooming on the mesa skirting Hot Springs Canyon: earliest February, when Winter spars with Spring, and Spring will spar with Winter …
Great Blue Heron in #2 Pasture’s winter grass startles me, it’s unafraid, looks like an ornament on some other green lawn in the Gnome Belt. It moves leisurely to the other winter cow graze in #1 Pasture.
The Stockpond is completely frozen over in the morning, by noon completely thawed.
Northern Mockingbird …
Lesser Goldfinch …
I continue pursuing the Polka Dot Beetles, hoping someday to have one in hand for a real look, but they are so wary and their talent for escape nearly incredible.
A Peregrine comes from behind and, off to my right, rockets past in a horizontal only a few feet above the pasture I stand in, slices into the next through a narrow gap in mesquite, any Meadowlark in there won’t know what hit it. It then circles high, high, out of sight of my naked eye, steel gray, like a Phantom Jet with an “Off I go, into the wild blue yonder!”
Say’s Phoebes have paired up, joyously chase each other up and down the hall, er, from one post or sprinkler head to another, even their calls lascivious.
Waiting on one leg in #1 Pasture is the companionable Heron. It decides to follow me on my rounds into the bermuda grass of #2. Maybe my footfalls flush out mice towards it?
Six Mule Deer, against the sunlit arcs of irrigation in the waning afternoon …
Chipping Sparrows, lots of Chipping Sparrows, at The Stockpond, as bright of eye and wing and life as a flock of tropical finches. Gambel’s Quail drift in and out nervously for water, Abert’s Towhees though own it all, arrive, chase each other off, come back, squabble and squeal their notes, bomb back and forth at each other low-profiled and fast like brown-feathered torpedoes.
Javelinas, now with babies, mow and mow the winter pasture, but after all, they must be allowed their pound of greens. I and the cattle are growing impatient, though, for the time when the crop has outgrown this constant porcine pruning and the pastures can also be a bovine buffet.
Still I haven’t found a way to catch a Polka Dot Beetle to have a close look–they know well how to evade a predator, fly off faster if you just stare at them, seem to fold wings and drop to the ground if you make a move to scoop one in the air, then they scramble off quickly in the thatch or scurry along the underside of a leaf and vanish.
Pillbugs are active, I turn up numbers of them in the course of digging out mesquites large and small in front of, behind, and beyond the fence of The Stockpond in anticipation of the return of Purple Martins in a few months. Those charismatic birds need a wide, clear approach and runway as they come to drink, as do the various swallows of summer, swifts, and bats, and if the mesquites are left in place it will be not much time before their crowns have grown across into a wall that would be a menace to the flying creatures’ navigation and swing.
A Gray Flycatcher has been at the water’s edge all day, and is joined after sunset by one Mexican Mallard who comes in for the night.