Tag Archives: Bees & wasps

July 20, 2016

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 …

July 16, 2016

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.

July 13, 2016

Sprawling over the ground in #2 Pasture, a spectacular star-leaved melón de coyote gourd is in bloom; the fruits to come may taste beyond horrible but the yellow flowers are gourd-geous, worth a spot in anyone’s garden.

The Tarantula Hawks are still mad for the nectar of that Graythorn at the gate of the Botteri’s Pasture and the whole bush flickers with their wing shimmer–and aha, two adult orioles fly across that grassland, an almost-adult cowbird in aerial tow cheeping petulantly–the three disappear into the mesquite edge, more cheeping, they all come out again with the “parents” trying every move they can to ditch the pesty baby, all of them fade out of sight towards the far gallery forest along the San Pedro.

July 7, 2016

A single heron this time, but then it is joined by the other (I’ll presume it’s the same pair as yesterday’s); they appear to be immature siblings still together.

A huge, impressive squadron of Tarantula Hawks masses over the flowers of the large Graythorn at the gate into the Botteri’s Pasture, sipping nectar … a beautiful, unsettling sight and sound.

November 20, 2013

The Arthropods have stripes today, including a spider in a web in the little mesquites, with zebra legs.  Rain could be felt a-building, maybe not today but the sky all around and the odd light on the land announced it, and I check the rain gauge to empty it of dead flies.  There are no flies, but instead in the bottom are two dead little bees, and two that still live.  One is frantic, angry, half of it metallic Mallard green with the other, rear half black and white zebra-striped: that most perfectly named Metallic Green Sweat Bee.  The two dead ones lie curled up below, their bodies instead are ultramarine though equally metallic, equally beautiful.

It’s still pleasantly warm enough that frogs are jumping into The Stockpond at my approach, the cold that will come at the trailing edge of the expected storm will put an end to their very long party and these are the last I’ll see and hear.  No dragonflies buzz along over the frog-rippled water today.

November 1, 2013

Morning.  Crystalline.  Cloudless.  Blue.  The mercury has dropped through the floor of the 30s, to my fascinated horror it is trying to arrow on down right through all the 20s without a stop, and into the teens but stays just shy of that in the early sunrise hour.  The pastures are scattered with ice and I’m glad that their big irrigation hoses were emptied last night.  The wide swaths of Barnyard Grass I cross are still green but frost edges each blade–it is all so sun-dazzling that were it to take any more time getting to the other side of the pasture I’d come out from it snow blind.

The scenes change before my eyes, the visions of the pastures quiver as I watch ice begin to drip and hoarfrost vanish and the edges of all things dissolve.  Quickly strengthening Sun like an orchestra leader raises his baton, and the mercury responds: the First of November, the first day of the Sonoran Second Spring, whose arrival is told by the European Foxtail Grass and the annual rye volunteered by last year’s plantings, now re-sprouting suddenly and massively over half of #2 Pasture.  The grass returning to the wide pradera is already an inch tall … when did that happen?!  I didn’t notice it yesterday!

By noon a drowsy warmth is coming on, but rounds of chores are such that I don’t get to eat lunch for a good while; a Great Horned Owl calls in the hot 2 o’clock hour when I get to settle back into a steep bank of The Stockpond and open the lunch mochila.  It is almost 80 degrees; it is almost 60 degrees above the temperature at dawn.   All the water is a startling algal bloom color of antifreeze, and the heat has brought awake from their morning’s frozen stupor many insects to come to drink from it: Tarantula Hawks, dragonflies varied and beautiful, a Painted Lady butterfly.  What will it take to put them finally into dormancy, or death?

I doze off with head tilted back comfortably into a hollow in the level top of the dusty pond bank, winter Stetson lowered over my face to the nose.  Nothing matches the pleasure of such a nap mid-work in so peaceful a haven, nothing so good at restoring ambition!  Something wakes me, maybe my own snoring … and in the moment before I open my eyes I hear a huffing and growling even deeper than my snore, close by, and getting closer.  I lift the hat and stretch my head backwards for a nervous look, without turning over, and see a world of upside-down mesquite trees on blue sky, and the long face and little eyes of an upside-down champion-size Javelina coming at me all a-bristle, grunting, angry and meaning business, about ten feet away.  “WaaaaaahhhHHHHH!”, I belt out my own growl, flip sideways and let out another, but the single-minded critter’s brain seems to have shut down and it comes forward even more aggressively.  In another try at returning the animal’s belligerence in hopes of scaring it off ( <*<yawn>*> … how tedious to have lost my nap …) I stretch up standing as tall as I can, curve high my arms and open wide my hands while screeching like the mythical Onza and take a step towards the Javelina, but on comes the bedeviled thing that wants back this waterhole for its troupe.  I wonder if those animals drew lots to see who’d go do this–they sure picked the right one.  I back up a couple steps, do the bear impersonation again, the Javelina bristles up even more and quickens its step forward.  One more try at this bluff and I’ve backed into the edge of the pond, and the realization sets in with a sickening mental squall that there’s no choice but to run into the water–backwards–so I could keep steady eye on the situation, or at least try to.  Onward the unhappy thing comes, right to the edge of the water as I keep stumbling in reverse but now splashing and kicking up swirls of the blackest goo, blind to what is behind me, and I guess I’m going to have to skip out backwards into the middle of that mud and water I have never wanted to touch.  Just when Cousin Javelina starts to come on in after me, I hit a trip wire: barbed strands that stretch the tall pond-filling riser to the air pocket releasing sniffer a little ways down the water main that’s buried in the mud.  And … over … I … go, still screeching out, sideways and down and fall flat into water that must be a soup of intestinal parasites and who knows what else in the deep bottom of an age’s accumulation of black and syrupy cattle manure.  Oh the smell that welled into the air … the wild splashing to find the footing to get back up standing … the wave of black muck that covered me with an odor that makes me retch–NOW the Javelina decides this creature it’s decided to attack might better have been avoided, and after a quick panicked snort of “Why, just look at the time!”, it trots off fast and huffing, to the extended family on the other side of the grove of mesquites, and they’re gone.  The irrigation is running, and I realize I can turn the handle on that pond riser hydrant to get such a blast of water that I’m peeled of the mud covering boots, Wranglers, shirt, and what little skin that’s ever exposed anyway to the Sonoran Desert sun.  Though I’m clean in not much more than an instant with the convenient power washing, a certain miasmic smell lingers, as does an ear-pounding, worked-up tension that will take its time to fade off.  It’s not the first such event, and won’t be the last, I think to myself, and I also think to myself that the reason cowboys wore a side arm was to drop or scare off the Adventure of the Day–keep his skin, keep his life going long enough for the next horse to try to drag him across the rocks and cactus and that he must stop literally dead in its track if he is to live, or until the next skunk or bobcat wants to tear him up and get those clever rabies bugs into him, or stop a Mojave Rattler who has experienced a loss of composure and comes zinging after him.

More bugs, beetles, and spiders fill the air and creep in the grassland in the strong afternoon sun–around The Cienega, blue or green or deep copper dragonflies and one small one that’s pale bronze and very shiny, and blue damselflies … a gigantic katydid … a pale brown, very small jumping spider.  No matter the November date some of these are ones I haven’t seen heretofore, and that I suspect are just now starting their flickering candle quickly extinguished life on the planet.  Among the new ones in the bermudagrass are a few brilliantly colored, small beetles in shape like a blister beetle, green, with three pairs of black polka dots showing down the length of the “back” when the insects are at rest.  Afraid they are indeed blister beetles, I dare not harry them; I name them “Polka Dot Beetles”.

I am distracted by a Vermillion Flycatcher still hanging on in the valley, and almost step square onto the back of a Striped Skunk who–I am so thankful!–merely ambles off grumbling about its klutzy human neighbor.  I’ve lost count of the number of similar encounters I’ve had with skunks in the pastures on both sides of The River over the years, all of them without having come to an unhappy end.  Luck? or do skunks have a mostly undeserved bad rap, at least if they’re not rabid?

October 30, 2013

The clouds, round, leaden gray, are in piles across the sky, or scattered touching the crowns of the Rincon. They are clouds of Winter, and if I were up on those granite-spired heights, I’d no doubt be thinking, “Snow!” I can hardly grasp that this is only the day after yesterday; the temperature isn’t going to rise out of the 60s. The great fluctuations between days like Autumn and days like Summer have the insects coming and going in response, though one day soon they’ll go “for good” (that is, for however long our entertainingly short Vernal-winter lasts!) Only one or two dragonflies patrol The Stockpond, and one blue damselfly and one red dragonfly over The Cienega in the freezing morning. In #1 Pasture there are no grasshoppers on the bermudagrass, which remains green, but I listen to an under-concert of crickets; in the flats of dried Saltweed, a couple of dull-colored grasshoppers, and one bright Red-winged.

How can we be so far along towards Winter, if the “ephemeral” dirt tank in #2 Pasture still has water in it? A Tarantula Hawk is there drinking, and one brown-and-bluish dragonfly, and a Painted Lady butterfly. In that pasture stretching out from the tank more grasshoppers are active, including scattered Red-winged before noon, and as the day warms (well, as much as it’s going to) many more of them come out under the sun until their clicking can be heard across all the wide grass. Boy are they back.

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.

July 4, 2013

The Fourth of July, or, Gringo Monsoon.

After turning off the irrigation at 5:00 am and letting the pipes drain, I start the engine on the line, throw the joystick forward and get the whole long train of sprinkler sections wheeling their way north sixty feet so they’ll be in place for the next watering to start at just about sunset. At one whole revolution (it takes four to move to the next spot) I catch a large, dark, out-of-place spot in a corner of my right vision and just in the last moment realize that the broad horizontal axle of the irrigator unit is going to bash a mass of bees hanging delicately from a small mesquite branch, on one of those trees that have sprouted from seeds sewn in bovine Jiffy Plops. A ship’s alarm whoop goes off loudly inside my head and I hear a mental order yelled, “Dead stop! Dead stop! Reverse!” It isn’t too late, though was only a hair-breadth of an escape; I shut down the engine, and back away very carefully, one step at a time. Africanized Honey Bees? It’s best always now to assume so, anyway it is widely believed and told around that there are no “pure” honey bees left in Arizona and all bees in a mass should be feared, a truly twisted case of an alien species being at one time wholly acceptable to people in the landscape, and that alien species being made monstrous with the arrival of yet a different one that interbred with it. I have to find other things to do through the day, and keep coming back to have a look from a safe distance with binoculars to see if that swarm in transit to a new home had gone its way. If I’m really lucky it won’t find the hollow pipe axles of the wheels on the line-tractor an irresistible place to get into and start constructing a comb immediately. The hanging ball of bees is visible from far off and eventually I decide I’ll work on pruning the large “Picnic Mesquite” on the edge of that pasture far enough away that I’d feel safe, which chore would allow the cows to stand comfortably in the tree’s wonderful shade, allow the spray of the irrigators to reach far under its far-spreading boughs and get the bermuda lush and deep, and allow us to make our lunches in that soft green carpet of grass beneath while we enjoy the splendid views of hills and mountains all around the edges of these wide pastures.

While I’m shaping the mesquite tree with aim to please the eye, the cows, the grass, and our skin, a Yellow-billed Cuckoo sings out from the River bosque’s countless many more of the trees. A large, spectacularly beautiful red-and-black Velvet Ant (if such a sized insect can be considered spectacular, at least other than in its sting–and this one reportedly has one of the world’s worst) in a fever searches the ground under the tree, I guess for pupae of another wasp or bee to parasitize, but then it does something I’ve never seen one do: she heads to the base of the trunk of the large mesquite, and races up and up, out onto a mid-level branch and doesn’t stop until she gets to the tips of the outmost leaves. There she makes a tour of every leaflet, going very nimbly around the outside edges of those compound leaves, searching, searching, but for what? She’s uninterested in getting nectar from the blossoms elsewhere–is there a honeydew exuded from such leaflets that she might find a treat? She checks out methodically every last leaf cluster out to the ends of the whole big branch. While I watch her through binoculars (and take glances again to see what the bees in that swarm are up to), I nearly step on another one of the dozens of Arizona species of these always arresting if alarming insects, a Thistle Down Velvet Ant–a large one, too, and very showy, with a furry white head, velvety black middle and wide golden abdomen. These wasps might be worse than “regular” ants to have at one’s picnic, considering the sting, but they mind their own business and are uninterested in burritos.

In late afternoon I finally give up on the big ball of bees leaving today, and I go back to Ridge House for a supper, return in enough time that if the swarm is gone, that line can still be moved in time to get water up soon after seven o’clock. And–they are gone! They’re happy, the bermuda will be happy, I’m happy.

A black Tarantula I can appropriately call spectacular crosses the road in the headlights as I wend my way back home in the dark. Back in the mid 1990s, great armadas of them used to be on the Cascabel Road, going in one direction from one side to the other. These spider parades would about have to be waited out as one waits out a flash flood crossing at an arroyo or canyon unless one wanted to hear the squishes of their fat bodies as tires crushed a path through them. Has drought put an end to this wonder we just don’t see any more but that everyone remembers? Too many vehicles on this now much more used deep country road? Or are we simply not catching them on their grand walk-about nights?