Tag Archives: Edible plants

October 8, 2013

The newly established native grass planting is being weaned into dormancy, getting watered only twice a month and in decreasing amounts–it is a showcase of wintering sparrows (Lincoln’s, White-crowned, Vesper, Savannah, and a female Lark Bunting.) Seeding amaranths in there are shoulder high and dropping spiny fruits into my boot tops, irritating my feet but quite the buffet spread for the birds. Native gramas long before established by themselves in there, plus naturalized Stinkgrass and Lovegrass, add to the seed bounty.

Opening one of the growing number of silky chambers appearing in the outside branches of the small mesquites overgrowing the pastures, I find a large-bodied, pearly-gray furry spider, fascinating and also unsettling, with an abdomen fat as if it were storing up supplies for the winter.

A drive to that north dirt tank reveals it still has water in it, going on three weeks after the last rain. It has always been “productive” of little birds, but today a Sharp-shinned Hawk is present and the only sound is crickets. The electric wires and utility poles, t-posts and barbed wire strands, and mesquite crowns are also empty of Cassin’s Kingbirds, and I think ours must have left.

Amigo Snipe is at The Stockpond, and Snout Butterflies, and a plain, nut-brown dragonfly with a blue, soap bubble sheen to the wings. Across the water itself gracefully swims a bright orange, large Water Scorpion–or should it be called better, Water Stick?

A Verdin peeps in the mesquites of The Lane; they are almost absent from these lands I work every day.

September 12, 2013

Poorwill calls his “4:00 am, all’s still well,” and I turn on the coffee.

Young, greenish Summer Tanagers are wheezing in the mesquites at The Stockpond, hoping parents are still willing to give them their hand-outs. It’s been a good long time since any hummers have come there to drink, though there are still a number of them to be seen around the valley.

Seems to be a lull in grasshopper population and activity in general, except for the gigantic Lubbers, which have arrived at Mason Pastures and put on more and more of a show with those pink underwings of theirs flashing in their high, arching flight. Only Queen Butterflies, still no Monarchs–and as it would turn out, no Monarchs that I would ever see will cross these pastures the whole year.

Verdolagas are in bloom, these with extra large yellow flowers, mix beautifully with the magenta of a tiny flowered Four-o’-clock creeping among them. There are almost no toads out and about on the pastures by now, but what’s there have grown larger still and jump into wider-mouthed burrows when my passing shadow alarms them.

Time to see what autumnal winged insects are gathering in #3 Pasture, in its upper end where there are so many native plants and wildflowers and its Burroweed quarter is coming into its first flowering. A fully-plumaged Blue Grosbeak shimmers from the tip of a mesquite on the edge of the Dirt Tank, sings out as if it were the height of Summer. In past years the butterflies have made a real show here, but today they’re sparse (and it will turn out that they’ll remain sparse the rest of the season–there was a real decline in butterflies on The River for the whole year, to my eye.) A few Sulphurs and a Checkerspot come around the tiny, petal-less Burroweed flowers, and there are a number of Queens, one of which is an extra rich dark orange. I watch another Queen that’s not far away and through the binoculars I can make out the smallest and prettiest details, but … as I watch, it suddenly slumps over backwards, folds its wings together, drops from a blossom to the ground. I run the few feet to it, in time to see it give a couple twitches–and then it dies. No predator brought eternity to this little spark of life, I watched that happen of a moment its own. I’d never seen the likes of so Ecclesiastes an event … turn … turn … turn.

Although Burroweed can bring real problems to cattle if a rancher is careless in management, I also don’t want to see this flat of them in #3 Pasture eradicated: it’s a generous pollen and nectar bank that could be an ace in the hole for many Sonoran Desert insects each one of which is seemingly more jewel-like than those on the last bush I pass. The commonest by far is a Blister Beetle (the critter, a Pyrota sp., I dare not touch!), ochre and shining gold, with black spots at the tips of the wing covers, and other black spots on the upper back. It’s one of a number of these justly feared insects we have here, all of them beautiful and interesting (in that way that Poison Dart Frogs are beautiful and interesting), in their various genera and species found from Moosejaw to Mexico.

Mesquite, however, is something I do want to see eliminated there, but it is besting us again on that pasture, and looks like it will win the battle it has with us for land for expanding its forest–land we want for a grass community instead. At least I can get some satisfaction from pulling out a few Cocklebur, and, with exasperation after all our invasive weed eradication work I find about a dozen scattered Bull Thistle that are a foot or less tall, and one of about 18 inches. Those future problems, at least, get literally “nipped in the bud”. Camphorweed is in beautiful bright yellow bloom, and a few are already in seed. A passing Swainson’s Hawk is high high high, drifts off to hang in the sun on the horizon.

At the east end of this pasture the most beautiful wild Buckwheat (Eriogonum) I’ve ever seen has come into bloom, adding yet one more species to the growing list of native forbs that are coming into that area on their own. It holds shell-pink flowers in mounds over blue-gray foliage, each petal striped down its center with a deeper pink color. Livestock duties allow enough time to stop and admire, make a note or two, but not enough to key it out to species even if I had the manual to do so, not enough time to make a specimen for the herbarium, thus its identity will remain an enjoyable mystery, and that allows the experience of it and familiarity with it remain with a directness and immediacy that is a gift for those working directly on The Land. We know these beings mobile and immobile, despite not knowing how they’re named, or by whom.

As I leave, I go over to the ephemeral Dirt Tank in the corner of the next pasture to the south, and find the shore jumping with Yellow Warblers–the last of this species this year, heading south I guess. “See you next Spring … if we’re spared.” A single, half-toned Common Yellowthroat is also jumping through the drowned mesquite saplings, a Gila Woodpecker flies through, and an Empidonax with two broad buffy wingbars perches on those bare dead branches: the famous (or infamous?) Willow Flycatcher. Since they are untellable one from the other in the field, and especially at migration, no way can I say whether the bird is our summer resident “Southwestern Willow Flycatcher”, or one of the migrants coming through from the north where the species itself is considered merely uncommon rather than endangered. The tank remains filled with water, thanks to the continuing generosity of this year’s Monsoon, enough to where I’m thinking of this pond less and less as “ephemeral”.

The day ends as it almost always does, with a swing around the “real” Stockpond, the one I keep constantly water-filled down near The Green Gate. Female Lazuli Buntings are there on its shore, their blue tails making them stand out from the other brown finchy birds. Lesser Goldfinches are pecking off and eating bits of salt from the cattle mineral block!

July 18, 2013

Many pale gray grasshoppers rise from my footfalls out across the grasslands, make arcs going out in all directions from me, fall, land, and disappear. Every day there are more.

The quelites (amaranths) have reached harvestable size, about six weeks after the sprouting of the first seedlings of this delicious wild green. At about five inches high they can be pulled up easily and taken home. Hold onto the root with one hand, tug hard on the stem with the other to have it break where the right tenderness begins, wash a bunch, barely cover with water and bring to a boil, simmer briefly, cover the pot, let sit a few minutes, drain, drizzle butter or olive oil, que aproveche. It doesn’t work as a leftover and I’ve read it’s not healthy to eat reheated amaranth–though that could be a myth of the conventional wisdom. Reheated amaranth is a bit on the revolting side anyway …


July 16, 2013

The center of amphibian life has shifted to the ephemeral dirt tank, which, with a half an inch or more of rain having just fallen, has been filled yet again to overflowing. The water is muddy brown, much of it covered with suds and bubbles and it’s full of mesquite leaf duff and all that can be brought down from the gulches above it. The merry chortling of the Sonoran Desert Toads is the music cued to accompany the froggish couples entered in this olympic match of Synchronized Swimming, they stare out through pairs of polished Tiger’s Eyes. Four different amphibian songs come from the edges, the foam, or mid-water–but I can only make out one other of these singers, two will remain a mystery. Floating near the edge and in the foam, is a tiny Western Spadefoot, its eyes silvery and glittering like diamonds, with dark vertical slits of pupils. It pushes out an inflated pouch almost the size of its whole body, and from this bagpipe instrument comes what sounds like the rapid clicking of a geiger counter. The musical balloon looks uncannily like the larger foam bubbles that drift past.

Vast drifts of amaranths are growing rapidly now.

That tanager is singing in the evening above The Stockpond, whose waters have remained clear despite the rains and flooding, and there’s not a strand of algae to be seen in it.



July 10, 2013

Cuckoo calls, but we seem to have half the number of those birds we did a year ago. We do have lots of young kingbirds colored much like Say’s Phoebes, young Lark Sparrows, many young Vermillion Flycatchers. An adult male of the flycatcher attempts to mate, but he’s rather tawdry; she can do better. Among the still small Palmer amaranths are the peculiar sharply-notched cotyledons of just-sprouted native morning glories, and the large first leaves of the other Devil’s Claw to be found here, Proboscidea parviflora, are also up and on a dash towards blooming. While the Sonoran Desert Toads have abandoned The Stockpond, they’ve taken up their nuptial swims in the still-full dirt tank in #2 Pasture. I can hear the River running again; it will probably come and go this way for the rest of the summer.

June 8, 2013

A sparrow-sized, sapphire blue bird landed at the edge of The Stockpond this afternoon–blue all over, unlike the Blue Grosbeak, which has wingbar and shoulder of russet. This was smaller than a grosbeak, and if it be possible was of an even more spectacular blue color than any of the grosbeaks (which seem closer to indigo to me.) “I wonder … that must be an Indigo Bunting,” I thought to myself. Sure enough, there landed next to it on either side two beautifully plumaged Blue Grosbeaks, as if this all were on a page in a field guide that instructs one in the differences between two similar species. The Indigo Bunting is something of a rarity here, however; this is only the second one I’ve ever seen on The River.

Golden Crownbeard (Verbesina encelioides, or as it’s known in this country, “Cowpen Daisy”) has come into bloom in the north wildling swath of Pasture #2. For bringing in butterflies this showy plant’s brightest of yellow flowers has few equals.

Quelites (here, Amaranthus palmeri) seedlings are sprouting in all the bare soil edges–who hasn’t tasted the young plants of this wild green to be gathered in plenty has really missed something delicious, and free. Prepare it and cook it just as you would spinach. The herd we have early today brought down the Cascabel Road half way to Mason’s from their winter range will still have lots of it to graze no matter how much I might harvest once the temporales begin, or rather, if the temporales begin.