Monthly Archives: August 2014

August 28, 2013

Huge, very colorful grasshoppers, the “Horse Lubbers”, are piling up in roadkill masses and slimed into the paved road off to the south, others of their kind cannibalizing the corpses and being squashed into corpses themselves to add to the buffet–a circle of death, a true desert noir story. Not many of them in the pastures yet. The name, Lubber, is intriguing–I ponder the etymology of the entomology. A big, blundering person who hasn’t got his sea-legs yet?


Green Walking Stick insects are moving in the grasses. One Yellow-headed Blackbird flies over, now that they can be considered common here, as opposed to the ones that’ve been visiting all summer when authorities say they’re rarer than rare.

The Great Blue Heron at The Stockpond has become much less scared, the frogs become more so at least while the monstrous bird is around. They’re nowhere to be seen while the heron is on the hunt.

August 27, 2013

Purple Martin ways, they are a-changin’. Though they’re still content as can be, we are given to know that we are to enjoy them while we can. Summer grows long, the year will be growing late, but still it’s 95 degrees this afternoon. Within days the Martin kind scattered over much of the country and Canada should begin passing on their way to another America, America del Sur, and pick up to go along with them our local martin-folk. They are not up there singing any more in the dark before sunrise. In the mid-day they are high in the sky, so high I cannot see them but can hear their chatter. In that richest of late day light, each round separate cloud chimes with bells of Martins unseen, then the birds all drop and swoop and play in the winds low just above my head, then swirl up and around the family saguaro standing on its ridge crest against tall white cumulus that have cried out their Monsoon tears for now.


August 26, 2013

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.



August 24, 2013

Dawn raindrops are falling on The Stockpond, 68 degrees feels cool, Killdeer call out mournfully from the native grass planting beyond the pond fence and the circle of mesquite trees is full of the music of young Yellow Warblers trying out their repertoire. The pasture itself is dark still, the sun not having got high enough above the ridge to shine down onto the grass, but the cottonwoods in their line along The River are dazzling and quivering in those first rays that also make the cliffs glow startlingly white, while all this brightly lit landscape is backdropped by the black sky of a very promising temporal.

Chris E. and James C. in their digging the endlessly thorny mesquititos from the bermudagrass in #1 Pasture come upon one of the showiest lepidoptera larvae any of us have seen, apparently feeding on mesquite leaves. It is green (of course) and looks to be some extreme hornworm with not just the one horn on its posterior but also with horns in clusters and singly along its length but especially on the head. It is like something from “Where the Wild Things Are” … the hornworm horn, not quite at the end of the critter, is curved, purple with a yellow tip … a bunch of such horns on the head … and most amazingly, rows of glittering silver-foil decorations all down its sides, as if inset by a Navajo jeweller. We suspect this is the larva of some moth, and can only wonder over what the adult could look like, and suspect that it will be just as magnificent a creature as its younger self had been.

Rain is never assured no matter how dark and promising the sky (we almost never use the word “threatening”, not out loud anyway, afraid as we are of offending the powers that bring us this life), and though it may come down hard in a real chubasco later today or tonight, that is not assured and the pastures are irrigated anyway. If the promise of those clouds does hold true, waterings after this will be decreased proportionate to the amount of rain that falls by the end of the rain wetting. Kingbirds, mostly Westerns, are having their mad fun on all the barbed wire fences, and Rough-winged Swallows in a flock are low over the pasture. Under the swallows I push through the waist-deep Barnyard Grass, out to a nozzle that’s jammed itself stationary on one of the tall grass inflorescences. The whole pasture is a waving sea of these pale seed heads caught in the sun, just below this glowing blanket is an under-wave of bright green leaves, themselves glittering with the morning rain that has passed. We don’t have to have a Monet on our walls, because we live in one.

I read the sky later, know I must flee if I am not to risk being swept away by a flash flood coming down an arroyo that crosses the gravel road, or just as irritatingly, having to watch a flood’s lapping edges for hours as the calculation is made that it is safe enough to enter and cross and then get home. In the next twenty four hours another wild storm leaves us with almost another inch of moisture. Our offerings must have been found acceptable.

August 23, 2013

Baby Gambel’s Quail spill and tumble and roll out of the border shrubs on The Lane, swept along with and trying to keep up in the panic of their parent flock.

A large Black Swallowtail butterfly with wide yellow bands set in its dark upper wings, teeters over the pasture wildflowers, a large species of White is there too. At The Stockpond, which now has floating in it chunks of malachite-colored algae, the dragonflies are getting more diverse and today there is a miniature gold one, and a bright red damselfly.

August 22, 2013

Poor Red-tailed Hawk. I admire it as it perches on a fencepost, then it flies down the line of posts, with a lot of Kingbirds on top of it that come out of nowhere. The hawk turns sideways, this way and that, pulls its head into its shoulders but this doesn’t slow the attack. It’s close to an exact repeat of what I saw among these same two species of birds a month back, though this time there are more young kingbirds present and eager to try. They act like bored delinquent teenagers, who when they saw that Redtail exchanged among themselves, “Hey! Here comes a drunk! Let’s roll him!”

A new, beautiful large dragonfly comes to The Stockpond and Jimmy M. and I see one land near us on the sideroll wheel in the native grass pasture area–it is a startling color, one I can only call Dunkin’ Donuts Pink, deepening to magenta in places.

That bull calf suddenly realizes that he can get the milk fountain to work whenever he wants it to! and does he ever take it from there so it will be a summer without anyone having to raise a bottle calf after all, thanks to Robert F.’s patient involvement in this. I hope it turns out to have been the biggest of the cow events of summer. Molly with her retained placenta still hanging to the ground, however, looks almost as ghastly as ever now the strands have dried: when she walks they tinkle like one of Anna May Wong’s beaded curtains. (She will end up losing this in a couple days, at last.)

August 21, 2013

Crossing over a fence between #3 and #2 pastures, I stub my foot into a rock that was to my memory not there before, and, well, that wasn’t there before, because it changes into a visiting Western Box Turtle. A large flock of swallows is out over the pastures, haven’t seen many for about a month. Chats are probably just as plentiful as they’ve been earlier in the summer, but are a lot more quiet now. Red-winged Grasshoppers have quickly built to large numbers, and will be abundant for the next couple of months.


August 20, 2013

Song Sparrows have returned to the muddy edges of The Stockpond for the first time in at least a couple months, though I know they hadn’t left Mason Pastures. I scare up some unidentified sandpiper, which flies off rapidly without giving me a chance to put the glasses on it–probably a Spotted Sandpiper from the voice (“Pweeeeep! Pweeeep!”) but there are many others that are already visiting agricultural ponds in Arizona in their transit south.

Lesser Goldfinches are on the wheel line irrigators, sipping water that dribbles from seams and nozzles.

August 18, 2013

Hornworms marked with rows of evenly spaced diagonal white stripes are growing fat on the White Horsenettle. These are the Tomato Hornworms justly loathed by Arizona gardeners; they will grow into Five-spotted Hawkmoths, justly loved for the grace of their nectar-sipping evening dance. The revoltingly huge worms don’t just eat up the Horsenettle and other things solanaceous, but also devour plants in the Bignonia group that people treasure in their gardens, like Desert Willow and the Chitalpa trees numbers of Cascabel folk are struggling to get established here. What they’re struggling against is this hawkmoth. Those plants can be defoliated almost overnight, while the eye is tricked in a way that have the worms staying about invisible. A Cape Honeysuckle I had trained up to the eaves during this summer and that was just about to burst into an amazing show of flowers, has over the course of a few nights been skeletonized, most every leaf gone–not until then are the the varmints suddenly visible. Pulling them off is a challenge, they have such a grip, and it’s time-consuming. I’ve found a good whack with the back of a plastic dust brush obliterates them with the satisfaction video gamers must have when they blow away a zombie … Night of the Living Dead Hornworms.

The Sonoran Toadlets are also growing fast, into Toadlings, and they have come to take over the actively-watered area of the native grass pasture project where the soil is moist, the ground soft for easy burrow digging, and there is shade from sprouting amaranths and the already established Six-weeks Grama and Rothrock Grama. It’s a better paradise than any Toad Hall.

The colorful sunset is one to compete with any in the tropics, the temperature’s dropped from 104 degrees all the way to 96! As I make the last work rounds, lightning zips skyward from the Galiuro Wilderness peaks and cliffs where a storm cell has made itself cozy. Lesser Nighthawks are pleasant company tonight, as is Moon, la Luna Llena, who comes to greet from over the ridge to the East and who shines in a thick, humid vapor. The many Nighthawks dip low near and around me and tilting their wings, fly back up in a sweep to crest over the lines of mesquite trees between the pastures. The mosquitoes, though, are a trial with how their whining becomes incessant and my hands, neck, ears and face–the only places not covered by clothing for ranch work–are turned into pincussions.

I stop at The Stockpond in the last moments before it’s too dark for a human to see, and find many bats, small, fast bats this time, making quick circular forays over the water, making a dent in that explosion of mosquitoes. Plenty of Nighthawks are coming for water, bombing in through the bats to get their drink.

At Ridge House, Poorwills call across the mesas in their moonshadows, through a steady hot night breeze.

August 17, 2013

The night air is about 75 degrees, the casa hotter than that so it feels like the Palm House at Kew. I simmer in bed with coffee and KCBS AM radio news coming across the deserts from that station’s chilly San Francisco home. The skin prickles with heat. Moths flutter all over the rooms, on the lampshades, the insides of screens, on my arms, float on the sink dishwater left over from last night, are in the refrigerator where at least they’re rather sluggish, even drop in through the narrow spout of the glass coffee pot, fall in there, drown, get poured into my cup. It’s the season of towering, lit clouds in the day and at sunset, but outside the night in the hour before dawn the sky is completely clear, a rarity. Flashes of light rise from below the horizon, telling of storms far out of sight over The Rim in a higher, even more lightning-prone country. As the stars fade a very few Purple Martins sweep for bugs overhead; lately their chatter is overwhelmed by the songs of Black-throated Sparrows who live all across these mesas and ridges of Pool Wash and Sierra Blanca. The Martin activity in these hours of madrugada continues to diminish.

No, no way to go back to trying to do a quick and intense documentation of the species at this true height of summer here–I have to be content with what can be noticed and caught sight or ear of during the long hours of attending the cow and calf, which include the lessons necessary to give that bull calf that we hope will get him to find mamma’s milk fountain more attractive to suck on than my knee, her leg, her flank, or the pedal squeeze on the cow chute, which are all things he tries laying his lips to enthusiastically while he ignores Molly’s milk fountains. (I absolutely drew the line on the calf’s “cheekiness” when while I was bending over to fill his bottle the he whipped around behind me and tried to latch on in each their turn to both halves of my, um, back side…) I hope soon it will be possible to go back to the usual chores whose everyday demands do at least expose a hand to what’s coming and going and staying in Nature on the Pastures–the irrigating and the making sure that irrigation stays efficient, the cow moving, digging mesquite, trying to fix cursedly disintegrating fences or fences buried in silt from summer sheet floods, fences pushed over by cattle who’d rather skim that buffet than this one, unloading and stacking hay, putting gates that cattle have torn to pieces back together, keeping horses in rein and in practice, rounding up and returning bovine escapees, ingratiating one’s self to newborn calves, filling the pond with water, controllng alien weed species, checking on cows in our other “units” scattered over miles of Cascabel Road, filling holes in the roadway of The Lane, moving wheel lines, oiling drive chains, raising, lowering, building portable electric fences, rebuilding blown out water mains, hauling steers to the packing house … … …

Young Summer Tanagers are wheezing, hidden away in the thick bosque canopy, giving out those sounds that for years tricked me into thinking there were an awful lot of Tyrannulets around. A Western Tanager flies down The Lane, a common enough sight there in the migration of spring but it’s been a few weeks since the last was here and in my notice; more should be coming down from the mountains, though. Every one of the five pastures has its own Western Kingbird family, soaring, parrying, ducking, flashing and twisting in flight, playing–I don’t hold a doubt about the Tyrant Flycatchers having a sense of fun and even mirth!