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.
Much cooler today of a sudden (only in the low 70s, hah!) but this makes for a heart-singing ride on range for Pat and me to check on cows whose calves will be coming as Spring progresses. The Ocotillo are in the most spectacular bud we’ve ever seen: “It’ll be quite gaudy!” says Pat … “Sure will!” say I. But all is already become gaudy, with the blues and violets of Lupines, white of Desert Chicory, White Pincussions, yellows of the subtly beautiful Desert Dandelion, Bladderpods, shining golden Blazingstar, Creosote Bush in its own bloom of Chinese yellow, yellow Evening Primroses–most everything the color of Sun who has come home to Its desert fastness. There are splashes of many other colors, too: Three-awn Grass in bloom, and purple Phacelia, the bright green of Acacia coming into leaf, the pale green of “Pale Face” Hibiscus’ new leaves. Both the Christmas Cholla cactus and the low, round Mammilaria are gloriously decked out in their red fruits. The incredibly fleet of foot Zebra-tailed Lizards shoot off in different directions as we help our horses place their feet in spaces between flowers, those lizards popping and whip-jumping their tails around in the air over their backs like cats do when they stare at something on which they’re about to jump. We come to Fenceline Drinker to water the horses (I remember one of my old cow bosses saying, “Never pass water without offerin’ ’em some!”), find the bright green water scattered as with the petals of apple blossoms but what is a-swirl on it are little pink moths, some flapping their spread out wings in sad effort to lift off the surface they’ve fallen into. Most are already still.
In the evening at Mason’s, a bat comes flying down The Lane to The Stockpond I’ve just filled, and laps the fresh water …
An odd little song, “tseeee-burr-REEP … tseee-burrr-REEP”, repeated and repeated, ventriloqual, of an elusive bird leads me around and around the bigger mesquites at El Potrero early this morning but I finally track it down to a small, greenish fluffball: Hutton’s Vireo. It looks so like a Kinglet, whose numbers are increasing here too, eight miles north of Mason Pastures.
I stare and stare at them (who could help it?) but I still can’t take seriously that the glowing embers of Vermillion Flycatchers are so soon back on what seems to be every fencepost at Mason’s. Their numbers have increased to the crowding point, and now pairs of males are already eyeing each other resentfully but don’t know why. There are no females yet, and when they arrive, oh buddy, watch out!
Three Flickers are in the native grass area, where the many sprangletops, gramas, bristlegrasses and dropseeds planted there last year are doing passably well and might even bring seeds for their own natural increase this Summer and Fall.
Only one pair of Mexican Mallards swims this morning, but brown duck feathers are spread all along one bank …
I’m resigned to the job of raising the stock fence along the Cascabel Road never having an end, but at least there are always many interesting creatures winged and running and burrowing to be a distraction between jacking out posts, or being wrapped round about with devil-inhabited coils of barbed wire, and the fuss of measuring the distance between each of the five ranks of wire that need attaching. The day is hot–over 80 degress, again we’re not yet at the end of February–and from across the road and out of the Saguaro Canyon comes that mysterious, descending singing again, only now I know this is not a bird, but a mammal: the Harris’s Antelope Squirrel. (A few words in a websearch line led me straight to recordings of various Arizona squirrels and chipmunks, and there it was to be heard at the click of an audio link! I already feel keenly the loss of that mystery, though.) The work of leveling the old ridges of grader-piled rocks and sand digs out many panicked centipedes, sundry bothered spiders and many Whiptail Lizards (undoubtedly Desert Grassland Whiptails) that run off lightning fast and which I’m always glad I haven’t accidentally cut in two with the shovel blade. And scorpions … lots of scorpions … two species at least, one kind gruesomely fat, cold blue with big yellow forceps-like pincers, the other small and black but no less fearsome. None are killed, of course, though maybe I’ve done so to others unknowingly as the project has continued over many a day.
A whole flock of Abert’s Towhees races up and down the banks of The Stockpond in their frenetic way, and out on the water, three beautiful Ring-necked Duck. Song Sparrows, Phyrrhuloxias, and a Green-tailed Towhee also come.
Cold wind, cold air, icy skin after I get wet clearing debris from running sprinkler nozzles–though the mornings have begun to warm to where at least they start out above the teens. The ant circles are without sign of life on the pastures on this day that will barely reach 60 degrees. Our now-resident Heron stalks the tall grass looking for mice or gophers, both of which there are in plenty!
The plants of Spring that emerge and slowly develop during the cool days of Winter are stirring to life, unsettlingly early it seems … a London Rocket holds up its first flowers, and, oh no! Malta Star Thistles … Malta Star Thistles are popping up their so-innocent looking rosettes.
Digging out more posts in my work that I hope will foil Mycha’s fence jumping and escaping this summer, I toss from the shovel a stripy Whiptail Lizard, sluggish and still in its winter nightcap (I feel guilty for having awakened it) and then a Twin-spotted Spiny Lizard who is very much more active and downright peeved about having been unearthed. I can almost hear it grumble, “Well didja hafta do that?!” as it runs off at full speed before some Roadrunner can arrive.
A day of sullen sky, gray to its end. Many, many doves whistle overhead as they go to The Stockpond when it’s almost too dark to see them, as I finish getting the wheel lines ready in case there is much of a freeze tonight.
Nicely above 80 degrees this afternoon, and that brought out the Zebra-tailed Lizards that so love the dryness and heat of the desert edges, with sand too hot to stand on so they move as if in flight over it, tails a waggin’ and twitchin’ and frothin’ back and forth. The Marsh Wrens are still here, I thought they’d have left on yesterday’s 20 mph hot winds; there are a few Meadowlarks who didn’t get pushed out by those winds, either.
Many Barn Swallows, of a sudden flying and twittering over the pastures.