Tag Archives: Bats

February 25, 2014

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 …


February 10, 2014

Red dawn, the kind I think will be coming through my old window in Alamos right now at the other reach of this far-flung Sonoran Desert in Mexico. Before sunrise over Mason Pastures it is 38 degrees, by noon, 75.

The whiffling of bluebirds: so high are they that they are invisible, only their notes pass overhead, and fall all around me. Gnatcatchers wheeze in the dense mesquite twigs.

Large saffron ants, in mounds and islands three or four bodies deep, are going in and out of their cavern but not carrying anything. Do they wait along the procession route of Persephone hoping for a glimpse–surely she is returned? They’re late, the goddess is already abroad: Bob tells that he’s heard a Poorwill calling in the evening already … Cardinals are singing of Spring joyously at El Potrero, dragonflies fly there as well, the Malta Starthistle is becoming too obviously still present and their mumbled threat can be heard, “I’m gonna get you, and your little pasture too!”, and the first bat comes out in the evening over the Cowboy Caravan.

January 25, 2014

Tonight’s evening visitor to The Stockpond: a small bat, seen in silhouette against the water’s crepuscular bright sheen, catching insects and not drinking, flying in curves and circles.  The air is ten degrees warmer than at this hour yesterday, and much to the bat’s liking.

December 4, 2013

The peak of the Rincon and its cliffs and boulders are white and dancing on the eye in the sun, making those evergreen forests on their far heights look so much the darker.  A shining white cloud crowns all, itself under a long clean blue sky.  Cottonwoods glow yellow below.  Doubtless a storm comes: the air is warm, yet has some tang to it, is even salty, and there is a strong waft of change.  Caribbean Horseweed on the pastures grows on as if none of this is happening, and even shows fresh flower buds, and on the irrigation hoses are the black spiders of Summer.  Canadian Horseweed, presumably more attuned to North America has already turned into seeds or dormant biennial rosettes and thus is well ready for Winter.

American Pipits drop in again–they’ve been elsewhere lately, probably over on the just-germinated seedling alfalfa pasture of our fence-neighbor ranch.  Midday 70 degrees, I am still eating lunch with dragonflies.

The last bat before the year’s deep freezes come on flies down the Cascabel Road, ahead of the truck in the dusk

October 21, 2013

Sky is music itself–“Chick chack chick! Chick chack chick! Chick chack chick!”, down from the passing Brewer’s Blackbirds … “Sweet sweet sweet sweet”, from the Pipits … “Chick chack chick!” … “Sweet sweet!”

The largest Tarantula Hawk ever comes thirsty to The Stockpond, where there are lots of dragonflies, damselflies and Snout Butterflies today. A relaxed covey of Gambel’s Quail drink, too, and then from the bank behind them most unwelcomingly comes popping up a Cooper’s Hawk, bringing chaos to replace the innocent peace and I can almost hear the hawk let loose a rakish “Bleuh!” just before it snags one of the quail, as if in vampire cape of approaching Halloween.

An owl hoots, in the warm 75 degrees of last light. Poorwill is friendly, not at all put out by the truck in The Lane, bounces its head up and down then rises and with fine acrobatics catches a moth bright in the headlights. We whistle and chirp, one with the other for a while until I wish it a good night’s day, then make a last stop before utter dark at The Stockpond where swallow-like bats are right at its surface taking drinks and moving across like rocks being skipped. As they fly by in zig-zag fashion they seem to flash on and off; they’re very pale, and there are very many of them.

September 26, 2013

A bird of prey roars past me, I’m sun blinded by looking towards where it disappears but I could only make out for sure that Miss Otis is going to be able to lunch today–on dove. The first Peregrine, in the first few days of Fall, pitching ducks into horror on ranch ponds everywhere?

Still the ephemeral stockpond in #2(north) Pasture has water in it, well, it’s been hard to call it “ephemeral” this year. A red-brown bat comes to drink there at midday. The presence of that water can lull one into thinking that Monsoon has yet to leave us, but the ever growing number of Red-winged Grasshoppers giving their rattling display flights nags otherwise.

A few Barn Swallows are at the big Stockpond, bright blue Damselflies are there, too, and in such numbers that it seems the banks have sprouted an edge of light, gauzy flowers that might melt with the sun. In the mesquites, a Tennessee Warbler (a rarity in these parts) and a Warbling Vireo.

It is still hot, in the 90s at least (with days sometimes trying to reach 100) and it seems there ought to be afternoon storms. I miss the head-rush terror and thrill of approaching lightning, miss so the thunder, miss her calling from far up the valley, “I come.”

September 1, 2013

Before the first sun lights silver the granite crowns of the Rincon, those broad peaks hover high in cool purple, across the fresh dawn air filling that vast gulf between the truck and them, as I chug and slide down the ridge to the arroyo bottom. The Great Cliffs on the River that frame my workaday world by the time I get to the Pastures are so dazzling in their alabaster that I must squint if I look over that way before the sun has got high enough to put shadows on them. Early September only hints Fall here, but whispers there are, of a change from the comfortable lullaby of Summer on The River. Towards noon the air is 100 degrees–and then on a Mallow as I make the rounds I see some species of caterpillar that looks like a Wooly Bear, mostly orange, but with a long black stripe running its length. Surely this is some kind of Tiger Moth and maybe special to Southeast Arizona, but on seeing it I am standing again outside grade school of fifty years ago in Pennsylvania, full of regret over the loss of vacation freedom but taking solace in that bit of wild that was a Wooly Bear crawling over my shoe. (I remember too another little boy who had noticed the delighted attention I was fixing on the caterpillar, and who raised the toe of his shoe and brought it down in a way he knew would display to me with stabbing effect the squishing out of bug guts to either side–he hoped to keep the world safe from the scourge of future masculine sensitivity that he must’ve divined was on the increase.) This Wooly Bear today is awfully hairy, no way would I think of touching it.

At workday’s end (does a work day end?) I finish those rounds turning off water, come to the darkling Stockpond, from the unending work take solace in the myriad bats and the many Nighthawks coming to drink. I scare up a sunset Great Horned Owl at the Green Gate as I leave, and further on see another in silhouette in a mesquite on The Lane. Poorwills flutter up, and call in the warmth of dusk.


August 3, 2013

Never have I seen such a beautiful alignment of The Heavens as arranges itself on the low horizon of the East at 4 am, a while before first light … Jupiter … Crescent Moon … Orion … above them all, the Pleiades. The martins do not add their own vocal sparkle until 4:30 or so; something changes with them, they fill the air later, closer to sunrise which is itself coming later but not so markedly as to explain the change in the birds’ schedule.

The morning air is thick, thick with humidity, thick with Mourning Doves, thick with the whistling of dove wings. I find a single Kochia scoparia–“Poor Man’s Alfalfa”–a Eurasian amaranth brought in long ago in hopes of improving cattle grazing but now widely invasive on The River not far from Mason’s. It hasn’t been noticed right here before, and we may not welcome it particularly given the reports of its toxicity if not given tedious management. Oh goody, another weed problem. “Oh well, at least we’ve got the flowering stage Bull Thistle in here taken care of,” I gloat to myself of course just before finding one of those. Hubris, and payback.

As this humid day winds down, but long before sunset, I sit in the truck at the edge of The Stockpond and listen to the mellow whistles of a Blue Grosbeak still singing out his mating song and territorial declarations. Then, out from the grove of mesquite and hackberry to the right comes floating–for it seems barely to move, and is more suspended in the air with how it can fly with hardly a wingbeat–a bat larger than any I’ve yet seen in Arizona. Oh it is superb, of a strange color and pattern, flashing pale brown and darker brown and I suppose it is a trick of the light that makes its wings looked striped as it comes back and forth across the pond. In this flight it is slow and graceful, its wings whose whole span must measure at least a foot across are hardly pumped; it barely dips in its slow and level movement to the water for a dainty, quick sip. All this would be incredible enough, but the ears–the ears look impossibly large. They are very long, and stick out in front of the head nearly horizontally or at not much of a raised angle, with ends flipped out and up like a pair of antlers! After good long looks at it with binoculars, I see it alight in one of the little mesquites on the bank and swing there for a while, lick and groom its wings and body happily, with an uncannily friendly look on its face. It drops out into air and swings low back over the water for another drink, and does this repeatedly until thirst is quenched. [This habit before the light was gone will not match anything I can find on large Arizona bats with huge ears, but Nancy F. helps with the identification by contacting her bat biologist friend Ronnie S., who kindly gave advice and thinks it likely is the Townsend’s Big-eared Bat. Everything I read about the species does confirm this; I never see another, it is amazing luck to have been there for this one’s visit.]

July 24, 2013

A day to ride the range in air heavy and summer lush, in the light and cool breeze is the promise of rich downpours to swirl up from the Sierra Madre just over our horizon. Swirling up from below us on our horses already is the perfume of the large yellow nodding bells of Cuernitos, Proboscidea althaeifolia, one of the two species here that forms those whimsical fruits we call Devil’s Claw. This is one of the cleanest, richest fragrances of a flower I have ever come on in the world, though but for the level of its intensity, it would be indistinguishable from that of its relative the Paulownia tree of the temperate zone. It is fascinating also that the flowers of this Proboscidea and those of the Paulownia are also nearly identical in size and shape, but are opposites in color–the former, yellow, the latter, pale lavendar. It is a joy to ride on the desert when the Cuernitos is in bloom, as much for what you smell as for what you see, and this year with all its moisture that is especially so.

A totally blue sky arches over us during most of our ride, and then forms a little cloud over the peak of Mt. Lemmon, then another over the peak of The Rincon. By the late afternoon when I go to the pastures to check over things with the herd, those two little clouds have grown and fit themselves together, and grown rapidly then into a monster thunderstorm cell. It’s a Monsoon agate evening sky, the leaf blades of Barnyard Grass under the pink glow of the air above their wide meadows are the lurid color of lime popsicles, lit by the last of a sun about to be swallowed by a black wall of clouds. Swallows are flying, pobrecito Red-tailed Hawk is trying to ditch a kingbird who is flying just above it and delivering pecking blows to the bigger bird’s back, a pair of Great Horned Owls calls back and forth, mosquitoes bite my ears and forehead, a couple of nighthawks are scooping up bugs overhead.

Two nighthawks and a bat sip at the water, and then comes an early night.

June 30, 2013

The morning is hot, smokey, with that odd blue light of a partial eclipse, but what’s being eclipsed is not the sun but the forest in far away New Mexico: my old wilderness haunts there in that high country are again burning. Perhaps some favorite old tree I once talked with in The Gila is now suspended in the air around me on the San Pedro, and I take into my lungs its very elements, absorb it into my body, dissolve it in my blood as it was absorbed already long ago in my mind and memory, woven into the fabric of my psyche. It is strange to see a Nighthawk come in to drink in this dimness at 8:00 a.m.–an unusual addition to the usual morning whirl and gyre of swallows and martins. Something big is up. A little more than a week has passed since Dia de San Juan, the 4th of July a little less than a week from now … one date looked to by Borderers with Hispanic, pre-Gadsden Purchase leanings as the start of Monsoon, the other by Borderers who might think in Manifest Destiny terms. Perhaps the two will fuse at last, when Monsoon comes between the two? That may be what today is.

At lunch a Black Phoebe alights in the six inch layer of dust on the roasting, sunny opposite slope of The Stockpond, flattens itself, spreads out its wings fully, hunkers itself into the dust, droops open a red-lined mouth and simply lies there. I think it must have died in the 110 degree heat, and I walk over in curiosity, but suddenly it wakes and flies off in obvious good health. There are no ants right there, so it wasn’t anointing itself with those insects that some birds work with to discourage feather parasites. I expect it was cooking out the cooties, from above by the sun, from below by heat being released upward by the deep dust.

This Mason Pasture cattle herd has since about that Dia de San Juan been a test of my talents at longsuffering. As our Ellison’s grandmother told him, “A cow will go where she wants to.” Every morning lately I’ve come along to find the portable electric fences pulled into pieces, posts broken in half, clamps neatly taken off battery terminals, beeves and bovinas and becerros scattered across pastures “where they’re not supposed to be” (yeah, I know–as if!) If the recently arrived from range members of the bunch aren’t going to pay attention to this modern method of controlling their grazing, we’re going to have a big challenge in grass management from now on. In the afternoon with the atmosphere pensive and the sky from a distance giving troubled growls, I walk one more time a quarter mile out across the wide flat bottom where I am the tallest thing around, give putting the fence system back together yet one more try, change out the battery, re-braid the fine wires that carry the pulsing electric jolts. Jimmy, Elna, Sue and Bob will arrive soon to watch the sunset-time bird showing at The Stockpond, where I’ve left lawn chairs and little tables for antojitos for us but the day now promises a different kind of show. Lightning bolts come down on the other side of the hills to the East, their thunder grows and it’s all I can do to keep my nerve from unraveling–concentration is put into the quickest re-set of the posts and the repairs as can be done without being shoddy, because the herd must go back into the area or be let into some place else that will demolish the next week’s cycle planned with careful hubris. It is work to stay calm, and keep to the chore; keeping panic from taking over takes a will I can’t be sure will last. If I run for the corner gate and the truck, it will surely catch the eye of the predator lightning and I’ll be toast. The last wires are woven back together to complete the fenceline, and it seems logical to expect lightning then to hit the wire at the other end, while I’m holding it. ((What am I doing out here??)), I think to myself, but it will be finished, has to be done, and there’s an end to it. Meanwhile the the herd has come along and sees me far out on the pasture, and they pile up at a far gate sure I’ll let them in there. They’re always cowvoyant about such things. I let out a Mexican whistle when I’m done, and get back a chorus of excited moos.

All is set, the fenceline and battery test out functioning, the cattle are whistled in and they run, skip and kick by chorttling, and then make a right turn and go directly towards the electric fenceline and the always more attractive side of the pasture with the always greener grass. They come to a sliding stop when they see the line all fixed up again … “curses!”, they whisper. Then … a howling wind of a sudden bowls into us, I have to hold my straw Resistol with both hands or it will blow over the River gallery forest, dust rises thick above the pasture, rises higher in sheets and tails, gets grit up in layers blowing sideways to sting all our eyes and rub out the sharp edges of the figures of the cows. In the moment that many of the herd edge their noses to the wire to check whether it’ll pop them this time, we’re all blinded by a stunning flash of lightning, the bolt hitting the ground between us and the pond, and the near-instant thunder boom scares every cow off their front hooves at the same moment, they’re into the air, on their back legs on which they spin a 180 turn, churn up more and more dust to fly over all our heads in brown curtains. Instead of blowing through the wire and posts as they had planned, they flee in a classic unstoppable stampede from the fence in the direction of the lightning bolt instead. Once I come back into human physical form from the quivering molded jello on a plate I was left in by the lightning and thunder almost on top of us, I myself madly stampede back to the cowboy gate and fiddle with the barbed wire and metal latching with a prayer that it’s got back up before that fenceline could be struck by the next lightning. Pat and Sue both say later, “Well that was a perfect moment–those cattle thought your electric fenceline did it all to them when they got their noses too close! Bet they never go near that again!!”

I flee back to the truck and get to The Stockpond where the folks down there are gamely sitting in the lawn chairs and pouring wine, within a quick jump of their own vehicles of course. Not much in the way of winged creatures ventures along for a drink in front of us what with the gale rising and a lightning-streaked wall of dark cloud towering up and coming towards us from the Sulphur Springs Valley to the East, and I fear that this Summer Stock(pond) Theatre of nightjars, bats and swallows is over for the year, and that these my birder friends will have missed it. We give it a few more minutes, but get religion when a wind blast clears glasses of wine off the tables, knocks over the open Free Range Red Rex Goliath Cabernet Sauvignon $4.97 bottle on the ground, tries to fling the cheese, blows tortilla chips out of the bowls … and lightning sears the air in three of the Six Directions, North, East, and South. When a dust storm obliterates the view beyond the fence on the other side of the pond, and the big drops of rain come to mean real business, Elna and Jimmy mount up in their car and call out from the window, “Outta here before the washes run!” The rest of us get into vehicles with rain hammering on rooves–a sound all of us are in bliss over hearing at last. Bob’s car is closest to hand, and I sit in it watching for a lull in what’s now a deluge and for a break in the near-constant lightning to get across the lot and into my truck without being electrocuted. But–it keeps coming down, and coming down and getting louder, and I realize that maybe this will be the first time I’ll ever have seen washes and arroyos in torrents on a First of Monsoon. “Hey, look at that!”, I call to Bob, and point at an inch deep sheet flood coming out of the bosque and doing more than creeping across the parking area–it is swallowing it–around my truck, and towards Bob’s car. “We better get out of here. I hope Sue makes it to the other side of Hot Springs Canyon!” I cannot wait any longer, there’s another flash and boom as I myself bolt towards the truck and am soaked, but it’s hard then to engage the clutch with legs that have turned again to jello in reaction to such close lightning. But–it all says that now comes (ojala!) a time of green plenty, shimmering meadows of Summer Poppies, grand skies and storms, happy critters, happy people, Nature rejoicing in a special, much celebrated time that belongs to the Borderer and not to the Snow Bird. We drive up The Lane and come to the green metal ranch gate, and to open it and go through I have to steel my nerves and embrace the goodness of getting killed by lightning that could hit that gate or the fence that’s attached to it: this is just a fine way to go. Chaining the gate back in place on its post seems to take forever, but then, the gate is closed–on The Lane, and on Foresummer … […]