Mallards, even more beautiful than they are common.
Mesquites are still sprouting from seeds, to become future painful problems to skin, wheel lines, and irrigator’s boots. A Copper Mallow pushes out one brilliant and welcome orange flower; a two or three day Spring has such amazingly rapid effects.
Grasshoppers … pistachio green grasshoppers, vanilla striped. It is a month of insects, and we see new ones every year no matter how many years are spent on The River, some we only ever see once, some are greeted like old friends when they return, some of course bring an “Eww! not them again … forgot how much I can’t stand those things. When is it they leave?” On the Sphaeralcea mallows have appeared in their annual clockwork way pillbug-sized and -shaped larvae of something, in masses on the stems and leaf nodes–black or dark brown in body, covered in what look like should be nasty stinging hairs. They’ll be around for some weeks, grow a lot larger and be everywhere and then suddenly disappear. Tom O. finds out that they are the young stage of that very beautiful golden bug I’d last seen a couple weeks ago, whose intricate patterns gave me to dub it the Tao Bug. Their scientific name has a beauty equaling their colors and patterns, and is a very apt one: Calligrapha serpentina.
A Gray Hawk comes bursting out of the mesquite branches and woods edge, with many tail feathers missing and the rest of the bird looking pretty ragged, too. Earlier that was its sad, pained wail I heard, as if it were pleading, “Can no one stop this??” … two insanely angry kingbirds burst from those branches now behind him, dive on him, shriek out in this hawk drive of theirs, delighting in their work and the opportunity this presents for them to show off their aeronautics
Enough rain has fallen to have pleased the ants into hatching from underground chambers, and they rise in their winged millions into swirling black devils that the pickup smashes through every few yards. More mating hordes are scattered across the pastures, and along the unpaved Lane, rising, rising it seems, but only a few individuals at a time get to the top, clasp each other, and drop hard and fast down to the ground through the middle of the others who continue on the rise at the outer edges of the whirling column. Square dance moves, for insects.
On the leaves and stems of the desert mallows are a few of some of the most exquisite bugs I’ve ever seen, about the size of a Potato Bug, as beautiful as any piece of scarab jewelry. They are golden, and engraved with black lines in a design like a Yin Yang and until I can find more about them, I’ll call them not sow bugs, but Tao bugs.
Splayed out as if on a collector’s pin, a “Carolina Sphinx” moth is impaled on a barb on the top wire of the fence by the ephemeral stock tank. It is handsome, large, plain brown but with richly mottled hind wings, and six pairs of yellow spots run the length of its abdomen. How did it come to be there? Did that last blast of Monsoon wind that came before its rain hit nail that moth onto the fencewire? Shrikes are absent from here in the summer, but it sure looks like the work of one.
Was The Stockpond ever “ducky” this morning: besides the pair of Mexican Mallards, there were three Gadwall and a Green-winged Teal working over the mud furiously and upending themselves to dabble on the bottom and in the bases of water weeds and rushes. So much, I’ll guess, for nymphs and eggs of dragonflies, damselflies and darners!
A jewel of a male Broad-billed Hummingbird came to sit at my shoulder for a little while on the top strand of a barbed wire fence, allowing me to take in every detail of the exquisite little thing. He dropped, chipping away happily, to a spray of Copper Globemallow where he worked on every flower before vanishing in a buzz. (The House Finches also come to the Globemallow: they love to munch on the freshly opened petals, the same way they will go after the flowers of winter annuals, especially pansies and petunias, and wipe out displays in the gardens of the Southwest’s desert oasis cities.)
A mixed group of Lucy’s Warblers and Western Tanagers come at lunchtime to splash and fluff and bath at the base of the hydrant riser at The Stockpond.
The Stockpond is perfectly still, and perfectly reflected in its dawn-pink mirror is the pair of Mexican Mallard … in the bright green mesquites all around the chats are doing what they do best, chatting. The air has a comfortable coolness to it but by afternoon will reach nearly to 100 degrees.
At lunchtime a Pine Siskin alights in the branches of one of The Stockpond mesquites, just above Tom O., Nancy F., and me, while we eat lunch on the bank.
A first cicada for this place (they were active on range a week ago already) splits that afternoon heat with a long wailing rattle, this sound the faultline where spring ends and a summer begins that seems never will end. Blossoms on the spikes of Copper Globemallow (Sphaeralcea angustifolia) are beginning to open, now the plants finally have recovered from those two deep freezes that had killed most of them to the ground, if not altogether. (In other, milder years there can usually be found a flower or two on the plants in every month of winter.) This much-favored browse of our herd and the deer who also live with us is nutritious for four-leggeds. It and other members of the genus Sphaeralcea are important to livestock from here down through the Mayo lands of Sonora and far into Mexico and they respond in a positive way to the animals’ pruning.
Small Azure butterflies, showing copper on wings above, and below a sheen of silver-lavender laid over black zebra striping, are coming to the yellow Sweet-clover flowers.
Western Tanagers are becoming much more noticeable, and in patterns of black, white, yellow and orange-red they flash down The Lane in front of the truck.