Tag Archives: Grasshoppers

October 29, 2016

A Merlin comes along like a winged bullet, only a foot off the ground it shoots across The Lane in front of the truck. The sneakiest of predators! no one is safe. I don’t know if this individual is the same that has come to be with me over the last few Winters, for it takes no alarm at my presence or my workaday moves through the pastures–it has sometimes come bombing up from behind me as I walk through the grass and check to see whether the ground is dry enough after irrigation to take cow foot traffic safely. This wild and formidable bird of prey may pass so closely that it seems I could raise my arm and it would alight on my wrist as if I were a Mongolian falconer.

In the long mesquite-bosque’d alley that runs between #2 and #3 pastures to The River, I search for Mycha’s day and a half old black calf she’d probably left there for the Universe to care for (or, eat!) while she went to loll about The Pond far away. I find a small black grasshopper with an iridescent sheen, a kind I don’t remember seeing before, impaled on a barb of the top wire of the dividing fence. It’s always interesting to have a look at a shrike’s larder, but as I get very close to the victim it moves a leg, and then both antennae one at a time slowly back and forth. I wonder how many people have seen a shrike putting away food for a later day. I must have missed the event by only minutes. Like a Roman citizen must have, I shrink away from this Spartacus and feel equally behooved not to interfere. The bird had sung its own version of the ballad of outlaw Claude Dallas, “… and a shrike’s got a right to hang some meat when he’s livin’ this far from town.”

I go the rounds of checking sprinkler nozzles for blockages or being jammed in place and not turning in circles, and a big kettle of vultures rises and rotates up from the Valley floor: they must be gathering. Every year I think we should throw them a going away party!

Through the binoculars I use to watch the wheel line irrigator in #2, I catch sight of a good-sized butterfly crossing the pasture. It looks like a Monarch … or is it just that I want it to be a Monarch? It flaps and flaps and works, rises and rises at a 45 degree angle until it is very high (for a butterfly anyway) and then glides … and glides … and soars like a Children’s Day kite. Back and around and dipping, with hardly a pump of a wing now, it’s not on its way to anywhere, not hard put to look for food–it’s just enjoying the sublime pleasure that comes of its abilities. The Universe has a sense of humor and fun, so why shouldn’t a Monarch? Why shouldn’t we?

August 15, 2016

Two very gray-looking White-faced Ibis fly wing tip to wing tip low over my head at The Stockpond but are not tempted to land on the mud of its shore; they keep on their straight-southward path.

If not Autumn, then late sumer is icumen in: now who is an old and looked for friend rises and flashes and clicks over the grass–the first Red-winged Grasshopper. It speaks of livestock Fall Works to come, and that it’s time for pastures to be grazed down to their bones then tilled and planted in oats, wheat, barley and rye, and of the intense and wearying chores of irrigating them and getting them to sprout. The snapping of the Red-winged Grasshopper speaks of getting herd arranged in the upland country, the weaning of calves before their mammas go without them on that annual trek …

August 2, 2015

The Monsoon. Bug time big time, when you never know what’s going to hatch next, what’s going to appear that none of us have seen before here, what’s going to appear that we wish we hadn’t seen, ‘specially at night on the floor. (And as the more tropical Desert moves slowly northwards out of Sonora, there are surprises in store that no Wall will stop, surprises beautiful or dreadful–or both!) I only spent a few nights this Kissing Bug season listening intently in the dark of our hot June for that drone-whir of a big one zooming low over the bed, checking out the blood buffet it wants, then that, um, blood-curdling little bang against the wall and ensuing total, sudden silence as it lands there to plot its next move. Only six bites this year, now I’m so sensitized to the nasty and distinctive sound The Thing makes that it can wake me from sleep and have me scrambling for the vacuum cleaner to put the suck on it in a sweet turning of tables, or have a paper towel around it and with a quick squeeze, dispatch it. Aviso: DON’T whack these guys with a magazine or a shoe heel against a wall, especially a white wall, unless you need someone to divine the future from a large red Rorschach blot mess. I found them on the windowsill, on the woodwork, in the sink, in the tub–“Kissing Bug Bath & Beyond”. Nicer(?) was a visit one evening by a huge, I do mean, huge, Blonde Arizona Tarantula, revealed to me suddenly when I turned on the bedroom lamp to read and found it just over the pillows, suspended upside down and hanging on to the underside of a swag of curtain I’d pulled out of the way so whatever precious cool of the night air movement would pass through the room. With its beautiful long dark legs, it sure stood out against that white curtain material. They fall from the ceiling onto people’s beds from time to time. I wound the alarm clock, and put out the Tarantula. Maybe it went looking for Kissing Bugs in the night garden.

There is beauty in smaller packages. A few days ago on a sweat-drenched late afternoon just when I’d had it with pulling mesquites and mesquite-lings from what will be one of this year’s winter pastures for the cattle, I scared up an exquisite moth of about a two-inch wingspan, white of fore- and hindwings, with scattered black flecks and points, a short russet cape down its upper abdomen, that cape, too, dotted with black. It was fat, and seemed strained in take off–gravid, I suppose. Some minutes later a very similar white moth took wing from another mesquite I was disturbing, this one very active, wild and warier, with a fast, purposeful flight even under a hot afternoon sun in air of 99 degrees. Its hindwings, though, were the same russet of its own abdomen cape, leading me to think not only was a lovely moth of these parts newly revealed to me but of all the luck, both its dimorphic male and female forms were. At home later, a quick google-search brought the identity: the Salt Marsh Moth, or Acrea Moth–not a desert specialty, but a species found in many parts of the world and whose similar relatives are known as “Ermines.” What an appropriate folk name that would be for this Acrea Moth of ours, too, as can be seen in these pictures from the Internet site, “Butterflies and Moths of North America“:

(who could resist this moth-apparition of one of those sad-eyed DeGrazia children?)

This also solves a longtime mystery, of the identity of long haired, formidable-looking caterpillars that appear on the mesquites of Mason Pastures, whose spines and heavy fur we’ve had a great care not to touch for fear of being burned (though now I read that these caterpillars are harmless.) Apparently the gorgeous if frightening larvae can range in color and form so widely that one would automatically take them for several species. One of these is much like the Wooly Bear of Eastern states, and this I’ve now found goes by the lyrical, appropriate name, “Black and Tan” …

Earlier on that same day, Anna Lands reported to me something she saw happen at The Stockpond where she waited for me to join her for lunch: a female Vermillion Flycatcher shot out over the pond and grabbed a dragonfly mid-air after the insect had been depositing eggs over the water. I had no idea that little flycatcher would go after an insect as large as that. Those birds are fearless: this Spring I was entertained by a mated pair of them dive-bombing a huge Belted Kingfisher as it made circles around the pond, closer and closer in towards the flycatcher nest half way up a big mesquite on a branch over the water. The closer the big bird swooped, the more frantic and angry was the reaction of the pair of small Vermillions. It was a surprise later to find out that indeed those kingfishers will snatch a nestling if they can get away with it, I guess no less a dainty than would be a minnow. Kingfisher never got to find that out for itself, though, because the flycatchers won, at least this bout.

Early August, and the Red-winged Grasshoppers have appeared earlier I think than I have seen before–the first during the final week of July. The Monsoon is revving slowly, and at last has started to bring good, terrifying and dangerous chubascos that cause me to flee the pastures and hole-up at the Ridge House where I wonder how the place can stand the huff-and-I’ll-puff blasts of 50, 60, 70 mph winds. Then yesterday during a sunrise of incredible calm, there was not a breath to rearrange the spectacular flights of ants in air as saturated as a Hawaiian morning. After the night of a ferocious storm that dropped an inch and a half of rain, the ants swirled for miles and miles of gravel road, in Van Gogh glittering swirls of golden stars, to delight, and to creep out. It was the greatest bughatch I’d ever seen, like driving into snow, collecting in bronze and copper shining drifts across the road surface. I had to close the windows, Too many were landing on my hat brim and nose. I finally had to have at least air movement inside the cab of the pickup by the time I got to the pavement, on my way to check on our rather famous Molly the Cow and her new, impossibly beautiful calf Barbara Clark named, “Two Too.” In a few moments, though, the truck was flying through even greater masses of undulating, madly mating insects, which hit the windshield with the pit! crack! of driving into an ice storm, they hit my face with the sting of wind-wrenched pebbles as I sped along trying to get through them, got sucked roundly into a nostril, ack! snort! gasp! The truck slid on piles of them along the edge of the road, and I got out at Three Links to open the gate to get to Molly, with having had quite enough of “bugs”!

February 27, 2014

The windows of the Cowboy Caravan must be left open for the day, otherwise it will be too hot to sleep comfortably tonight, and too hot for the comfort as well of the inside window garden of English Primrose, Iceland Poppy, Chinese Pinks and Cyclamens, all in flower-show bloom.

The female Cinnamon Teal is missing this morning, but the female Vermillion Flycatcher has arrived, to drive into a frenzy the boys who’ve been here for a while bach’ing it.  A frog swims off from the bank in water gone opaque, bright olive green with algae.  A large hawkmoth with bright hindwings striped pink, and brown mottled forewings, and long white antennae ending in black knobs, swings right past the truck windshield, drops to the rippled surface, hovers flat and drops its proboscis and drinks and drinks.  It’s only the second time I’ve ever seen one do this, the first was of another species, the White-lined Sphinx, over a pool of the San Pedro years ago.

Full sized, mottled-brown grasshoppers appear again, and comes for Spring a single Rough-winged Swallow who glides low over sunny, windy pastures.  Malta Star Thistle has exploded in three of those pastures, to give yet another year the horrid, mind-numbing chore of trying to rid ourselves of them, and I try painting undiluted white vinegar across their leaves with a brush to see if that could burn them out “organically” … Foxtail grass also overnight has started to show their flat, feather-edged paddles of inflorescences held outwards on the ground, bringing to mind that a fretful time will come when those spikes become sharp and dried and endanger the jaws and tender cheeks of the cattle.  More Cottonwood leaves unfurling, moving towards Summer shade … this seems to have come on here in this Once and Future Sonora even earlier than I’d seen it in Alamos, far to the south in Old Mexico.

February 12th

The Mourning Cloak, in so many other places the harbinger of Spring, appears today as if its alarm clock hadn’t gone off and everyone else has arrived already, but no matter, seeing the first of them will always give thrill to a naturalist’s inner child, and stoke memories. Red-brown dragonflies with blue-tinted wings are buoyed on air that already approaches what are summer temperatures in many places, and I wonder if we won’t hit 80 degrees today. A bobbing out there on the water, and a sending out of rings of tiny waves in all directions catches my eye: a large moth, on its back (the Lepidopteran Backstroke, I suppose) is trying to get to a bank, but how did it just fall into The Stockpond? What beauty … with forewings having two diagonal white bars across them over gray, pink lower underwings, a bright red-brown body. This must be the Tricolor Buckmoth, a species special to the Greater Southwest on both sides of The Border from Carlsbad through Sonora to the Baja and Arizona.

The tiny grasshoppers in their thousands are still on the irrigation hoses.

A pair of Red-tailed Hawks swing in tandem, mirror each others steps and romantic dance moves in what I can only think is honeymoon glee and grace. They race across the fields and then in a couple of broad circles high and then low shoot into the Saguaro Canyon and out of it again, come over me, bank hard and head back to the dividing ridges. Their shadows, cast sideways by the horizontal light of late day, race up, up and up the slope and close in on the pair they’re chasing, until those shadows meet the birds and fold themselves into them them as the hawks come almost to brush the ground at the rocky crest, and vanish then down into the next canyon.

January 26, 2014

The dust is pocked with rain drops, but it’s only a tease.  It seems the winter rains, which were so “promising”, will fail us this year and meanwhile the daily temperatures are in subtle, upward swing.

Saltweed is three to four inches tall already: green, purple, and gray.  They’re not the only thing that is brightening: first-winter Gray Flycatchers are losing now their olive wash and taking on the much clearer gray plumage for which they’re named.

A Leaf Bug the likes of which I’ve never seen sits on an irrigation hose, its body a perfect brown leaf, curled up around the edges and even presenting a central vein–and what look like formidible retracted fangs!  The tiny dark grasshoppers are back on those hoses after an absence of a few weeks; they’ve been waiting out the cold somewhere.

January 3, 2014

Or–can Winter be denied? A Bronze Dragonfly zooms over the water, past a single Green-winged Teal stretching its wings and flashing the radiant-cut emerald of a wing speculum. The duck doesn’t fly off when I pull up to the bank, which isn’t like this species that is normally wilder than wild.

The irrigation hoses are peppered with grasshoppers that are not so minute as before–they’re growing. The still unidentified Polka Dot Beetles fly and drop and zoom past, and even the little black spiders of Summer are come back to their perch on those hoses, oh goody, I can be nipped by them in January as well as in June! It is 75 degrees …

Bewick’s Wren sings, a Ruby-crowned Kinglet pokes about the mesquite branch tips. As the Galiuro cliff face catches the last sunlight and the rest of the valley around me falls into deep shadow, a welcome coolness comes in waves. Black Phoebe sings out tsip … tsip … tseep, on wheel lines where I empty water for a freeze that likely won’t come this night.

December 27, 2013

A night down near 20 degrees has left The Stockpond half frozen over, and it’s not out of the 30s yet when the irrigation nozzles need to be cleared of debris; they give my face a soaking in a cold, cold wind.

Shaggy Miner fungus, acting and looking so like their namesake as their tall heads pop up suddenly from below ground, are hard to take seriously as the desert inhabitants they are. Coming up in Winter the way they do makes them all the more unlikely.

The day breathes with just enough warmth to stir creatures six-legged and eight-legged: a black jumping spider springs from the mesquite to the handle of the shovel I’m using to remove ever more mesquite trees, and still the Polka Dot Beetles are a-flight. Removing the bermudagrass mounds from the bases of the little trees I dig out reveals that the grass is already putting out little green points of growth, there under the deep and warming quilt of old blades. Burroweeds are also sprouting fresh greenery (at their bases at least) and a Bronze Dragonfly is at The Stockpond–this species is apparently the only one that is active right through the Winter, though a week or two can go by without any of them venturing out. Just on either side of 11:00 am the warmth is sweet and the air moves in zephyrs, not in cold slaps as it had earlier.

At day’s end, the tiniest grasshoppers I’ve ever seen (and I mean minute, I can scarcely believe they’re real but sproing they do, so real they must be …) line up on the top of an irrigator’s hose that I must empty of water if it isn’t to freeze solidly in the deep cold of the night coming on.

December 16, 2013

The herd, well familiar with the land and the route through it, and the people mounted or walking, and the horses, all come together in good ways and while not completely free of flaps and an unwanted excitement or two, the great chore of this cattle drive down Cascabel Road and up onto the mesas is accomplished, and I heave an equally great sigh of relief. A Red-winged Grasshopper flies up from the hooves of the lead cow as she goes for that water at the end of their trail up on range, two weeks after the last of these wonderfully colorful insects put on a show in the Mason bermudagrass. There will be no sight or music of this special grasshopper again until the long Summer of next year starts to thin down and the changing slant of the Sun calls them once again to their dance.

Grateful no cows had peeled off and got into the hopelessly jumbled Tamarisk thickets of the San Pedro’s riverbed, no horse got tangled in the old collapsed rusted barbed wire fences on the ridges, and that the people who help in this do so love to come partake in it, I go back to the bottomland pastures where only a few lonely cow kind have been left behind to increase their frames or to give birth for the first time in their lives in the coming months. Again insects are filling the air, catching the late sun. The peace of a well-finished chore drifts down and there is the feeling for the barest breath of a moment that work has come to be caught up and everything is right in this rural world.

December 5, 2013

The new day brings an utterly different world: 25 degrees on the ridges, and in the valley below sparkling chips of frost fall from mesquite tips.  The bermudagrass pasture stretching out from the window of the Cowboy Caravan all the way to the huge saguaros on the far hill are white, icy, the Rincon above us dusted with snow.  Yet the air warms enough even in the El Potrero bottomland for Sulphur Butterflies to come to life, and an azure grasshopper.

Still-green and fresh leaves of the big Hackberries at The Stockpond start falling off their twigs by mid-morning–they never had a chance to turn color before the coming on of a night that was surely in the teens.  On the water swim a brace of fine Mallards, their wariness telling they are true wildlings.  A Wilson’s Snipe is there, too, and a large sandpiper with a long bill, also extremely wary: a Long-billed Dowitcher.  It takes off with a pained, “Pitty peet peet!”, showing a white slash of rump as it vanishes across the fields.