A little more rain, the first in almost three weeks and not enough to stop fretting about the state of the Native Grass Planting with its desiccation and shriveling continuing apace. Water it and encourage too-rampant growth of competing Palmer’s Amaranth, Copper Mallow, and Bermudagrass, or hold off and risk the loss of the precious clumps of gramas, bristlegrasses, sprangletops, beardgrasses, dropseeds and three-awns? All is wet enough, though, and I hope to hear Cassin’s Sparrows again in #3 Pasture but no, only many Rufous-winged Sparrows trilling, or doing their convincing Eastern Towhee impersonations. It must not be enough for the Cassins’ to ask their partners after their singing dive and mating display, “Did you feel the earth move under your feet?” but that they have to hear a certain number of real thunder rumbles … as some human desert rats tell the mud-buried Sonoran Desert Toads must? Maybe not enough rumbles have come on us yet? Or are they troubled by the population boom of Rufous-winged Sparrows still in their dense population cycle here?
The handsome, shrubby Composite in The Lane near the tall water storage tank is as alive with a species of native bee as that Graythorn has been with Tarantula Hawks. These bees are ones I’ve never seen before. Short and stocky, golden in the fore-half, black behind, with slanted greenish eyes: they look like the Roswell Alien and they fly like little spaceships themselves, very fast, in a frenetic zig-zag pattern. They’re as handsome as the sprawling plant and its showy yellow rayless flowers, where they’re joined in the nectar feast by only a few butterflies, and a Tarantula Hawk or two. I think the plant is False Boneset, Brickellia eupatorioides but oh, those Composites, what critters to key out and identify they be–even more fun than grasses. Whatever this is, it might be the longest-flowering and most attractive “pollinator plant” wild on the range and should be propagated and disseminated widely.
Not one rattlesnake to be seen this Summer at Mason’s–the Roadrunners are many and large and often accompany me in groups of three or more as I scare up bugs and lizards in my own frenetic zig-zagging and flying saucer zooming across the pastures to get the endless rounds of chores done …
An adult Say’s Phoebe is back on a top fencewire: the birds must be done with their nesting among the buildings of neighboring ranches and homesteads.
Cecilia and Cecil Roadrunner become the bolder as the July droughty spell continues, though she is the more friendly and calls from off in the garden edge to announce her arrival and tell her hope that I’d be putting out water for them. I’ve stopped keeping the hanging bird bowl full, the honeybees have become so thick flying in and out to it and fill the rim inches deep with their vibrating bodies, and fill the patio with a too discomfiting noise. They must have a hive down over the ridge-edge in the canyon below to the northeast, not far away–I can make out their coming and going in that direction. Cecilia will come quickly to the water I pour into a deep plant saucer (I try to make as much splashing noise as I can doing that, to alert the other Roadrunners), she’ll run in to drink as soon as I go back in the house, but Cecil is much more wary than that though his wariness in the end is overcome by his thirst if I don’t hang out right there. Cedric is another case, the young and disheveled and gangly bird if he knows I’m inside will come to the porch step and look in through the screen and clack his bill rapidly and give out a Roadrunner trill until I come out with the pitcher of water. He does not move off, but follows me over to where the saucer lies and drinks at my feet as soon as his dish is full. He won’t do this if the bees come in too quickly for him to have the water only to himself. I make a burring sound with my lips when he’s underfoot, and he crouches, and lowers and quivers his wings and lets out Roadrunner mews and burrings himself, then drinks his fill before the bees zoom in and scare him off.
A King of the Roadrunners trots cockily by with a checkered-striped lizard so big hanging from its bill that the very long, orange tail of the thing drags on the ground. It is the largest Roadrunner I’ve ever seen, with a lizard appropriate large. Canyon Spotted Whiptail? Without a specimen in hand, I’m afraid to pronounce it such but no other description of an Arizona reptile matches.
Lots of cuckoos, calling from both sides of Cascabel Road now, in dry bosque and scrub, irrigated pasture edge, the gallery forest of the San Pedro …
I built me a homestead
way out on a desert
a great sandy desert
and I didn’t know why
and when it was finished
I sat on my doorstep
and stared at my desert
and stared at my sky …
–cowboy song collected by Tucson’s Katie Lee, in her “Ten Thousand Goddam Cattle”
In their timetable precision Yellow-billed Cuckoos–the “Rain Crow” of my father’s long ago Virginia country childhood–have arrived and call out around all the bosque of El Potrero. Rain would indeed be nice and if the birds will bring some well by Heaven, we’ll take it! In the whole of May all of 0.03″ fell on us. I heard my first cuckoo of the year at Mason Pastures yesterday, and Kathleen reports one from the day before that. One has to be careful in this because the Yellow-breasted Chats and even the Mockingbirds have worked the cuckoo chortles into their mimid repertoires. They are one of those birds that are either here or they aren’t, of a sudden on the first of this month that people brace themselves for, the cuckoos seem to drop out of the sky all at once and over the whole of the San Pedro. They complete the cycle of arrival of Summer residents and Spring migrants and tell that the fun and expectations of the avian parade is now brought to fullness for the year already and that yes, Foresummer and its splendid challenges is upon all us animals.
Gorgeous Western Tanagers all around The Pond, in the branches, on the water’s edge. A pair of Great Blue Heron fly off, perch each atop adjacent wheels of the side roll irrigator in the Native Grass Area beyond the barbed wire fence. Balancing on a cinder block jutting from the water, I go to open the fill-valve of the pond but a movement catches my eye, and through the now clear water (The Pond has for a year been mostly left unroiled by the cattle who now water at the refurbished metal tank some distance away) I see a large turtle, somewhat egg shaped in outline, lying flat and comfortable on the mud bottom grazing on a beautiful “new” aquatic weed that colonized The Pond after the herd stopped defecating into it. There are a dozen or more aquatic plants Arizona Game & Fish is on the watch for as invasive, is this yet another? Is the turtle? Taking its size into consideration I think the turtle most likely is. It’s gray with sediment built up on its shell and it would have to be caught and scrubbed if the marks diagnostic for the species were to be seen … I don’t think of trying, it’s hard to believe it’s let me get this close without zooming off out of sight into deeper water. It stays submerged as happily as any submarine, unbothered by my hovering over it.
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.
Summer temporales look like they’ll bless us still, the whole southern horizon flashes lightning in the dawn, the north horizon flashes over there above Phoenix where even at this still-dark hour the temperature is at 89 degrees, the radio tells. Here on Firesky Ridge, 68 degrees.
It’s a day to ride range out of El Potrero, on my way there I pass two Swainson’s Hawks perched in a mesquite along the Cascabel Road. The calls of Yellow-billed Cuckoo come from the bosque as I saddle up Loompy, and I wonder how much longer I’ll hear them (it turns out this is the last time) and that the bird is telling that summer is over even if I don’t see the truth of it. For the cuckoo, it’s time to leave for South America.
Cuckoo is calling.
An American Snout Butterfly, fun to see even when common, visits the summer Composite wildflowers. This is the only one I’ve seen a-wing this year: yet another species that seems to have been badly affected by something. Not by a lack of rain, I think at least that much can be safely said. Perhaps there will be a migration of them through here in the Autumn when the Burroweed is in bloom.
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.
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.