Tag Archives: Molly the cow

August 2, 2015

The Monsoon. Bug time big time, when you never know what’s going to hatch next, what’s going to appear that none of us have seen before here, what’s going to appear that we wish we hadn’t seen, ‘specially at night on the floor. (And as the more tropical Desert moves slowly northwards out of Sonora, there are surprises in store that no Wall will stop, surprises beautiful or dreadful–or both!) I only spent a few nights this Kissing Bug season listening intently in the dark of our hot June for that drone-whir of a big one zooming low over the bed, checking out the blood buffet it wants, then that, um, blood-curdling little bang against the wall and ensuing total, sudden silence as it lands there to plot its next move. Only six bites this year, now I’m so sensitized to the nasty and distinctive sound The Thing makes that it can wake me from sleep and have me scrambling for the vacuum cleaner to put the suck on it in a sweet turning of tables, or have a paper towel around it and with a quick squeeze, dispatch it. Aviso: DON’T whack these guys with a magazine or a shoe heel against a wall, especially a white wall, unless you need someone to divine the future from a large red Rorschach blot mess. I found them on the windowsill, on the woodwork, in the sink, in the tub–“Kissing Bug Bath & Beyond”. Nicer(?) was a visit one evening by a huge, I do mean, huge, Blonde Arizona Tarantula, revealed to me suddenly when I turned on the bedroom lamp to read and found it just over the pillows, suspended upside down and hanging on to the underside of a swag of curtain I’d pulled out of the way so whatever precious cool of the night air movement would pass through the room. With its beautiful long dark legs, it sure stood out against that white curtain material. They fall from the ceiling onto people’s beds from time to time. I wound the alarm clock, and put out the Tarantula. Maybe it went looking for Kissing Bugs in the night garden.

There is beauty in smaller packages. A few days ago on a sweat-drenched late afternoon just when I’d had it with pulling mesquites and mesquite-lings from what will be one of this year’s winter pastures for the cattle, I scared up an exquisite moth of about a two-inch wingspan, white of fore- and hindwings, with scattered black flecks and points, a short russet cape down its upper abdomen, that cape, too, dotted with black. It was fat, and seemed strained in take off–gravid, I suppose. Some minutes later a very similar white moth took wing from another mesquite I was disturbing, this one very active, wild and warier, with a fast, purposeful flight even under a hot afternoon sun in air of 99 degrees. Its hindwings, though, were the same russet of its own abdomen cape, leading me to think not only was a lovely moth of these parts newly revealed to me but of all the luck, both its dimorphic male and female forms were. At home later, a quick google-search brought the identity: the Salt Marsh Moth, or Acrea Moth–not a desert specialty, but a species found in many parts of the world and whose similar relatives are known as “Ermines.” What an appropriate folk name that would be for this Acrea Moth of ours, too, as can be seen in these pictures from the Internet site, “Butterflies and Moths of North America“:

(who could resist this moth-apparition of one of those sad-eyed DeGrazia children?)

This also solves a longtime mystery, of the identity of long haired, formidable-looking caterpillars that appear on the mesquites of Mason Pastures, whose spines and heavy fur we’ve had a great care not to touch for fear of being burned (though now I read that these caterpillars are harmless.) Apparently the gorgeous if frightening larvae can range in color and form so widely that one would automatically take them for several species. One of these is much like the Wooly Bear of Eastern states, and this I’ve now found goes by the lyrical, appropriate name, “Black and Tan” …

Earlier on that same day, Anna Lands reported to me something she saw happen at The Stockpond where she waited for me to join her for lunch: a female Vermillion Flycatcher shot out over the pond and grabbed a dragonfly mid-air after the insect had been depositing eggs over the water. I had no idea that little flycatcher would go after an insect as large as that. Those birds are fearless: this Spring I was entertained by a mated pair of them dive-bombing a huge Belted Kingfisher as it made circles around the pond, closer and closer in towards the flycatcher nest half way up a big mesquite on a branch over the water. The closer the big bird swooped, the more frantic and angry was the reaction of the pair of small Vermillions. It was a surprise later to find out that indeed those kingfishers will snatch a nestling if they can get away with it, I guess no less a dainty than would be a minnow. Kingfisher never got to find that out for itself, though, because the flycatchers won, at least this bout.

Early August, and the Red-winged Grasshoppers have appeared earlier I think than I have seen before–the first during the final week of July. The Monsoon is revving slowly, and at last has started to bring good, terrifying and dangerous chubascos that cause me to flee the pastures and hole-up at the Ridge House where I wonder how the place can stand the huff-and-I’ll-puff blasts of 50, 60, 70 mph winds. Then yesterday during a sunrise of incredible calm, there was not a breath to rearrange the spectacular flights of ants in air as saturated as a Hawaiian morning. After the night of a ferocious storm that dropped an inch and a half of rain, the ants swirled for miles and miles of gravel road, in Van Gogh glittering swirls of golden stars, to delight, and to creep out. It was the greatest bughatch I’d ever seen, like driving into snow, collecting in bronze and copper shining drifts across the road surface. I had to close the windows, Too many were landing on my hat brim and nose. I finally had to have at least air movement inside the cab of the pickup by the time I got to the pavement, on my way to check on our rather famous Molly the Cow and her new, impossibly beautiful calf Barbara Clark named, “Two Too.” In a few moments, though, the truck was flying through even greater masses of undulating, madly mating insects, which hit the windshield with the pit! crack! of driving into an ice storm, they hit my face with the sting of wind-wrenched pebbles as I sped along trying to get through them, got sucked roundly into a nostril, ack! snort! gasp! The truck slid on piles of them along the edge of the road, and I got out at Three Links to open the gate to get to Molly, with having had quite enough of “bugs”!

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 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!

August 16, 2013

Although all feels normal (that is, the temperature’s gone above 102 degrees), the air has changed. A finger can’t be put on this exactly, nor can it be described but, we are headed towards Equinox.

There are odd moments to listen for and watch for birds away from tending to the crisis of Molly the Cow and the difficult birth calf that will starve if we don’t continue milking mamma and getting more of her into him, while we hope the little lightbulb goes on over the dimwit’s head and he realizes that he’s the one got to nurse on her. Among a number of complications of the blessed event, the afterbirth isn’t ejected and it’s obviously not about to disattach–it falls from her tail to the ground in dreadful bloody ribbons into which are tucked sails of white tissue. People gasp in horror when they see Molly. I don’t know when this will be over, the manuals say could be eleven days, but a number of folks are in on seeing it through, and this allows me to slip away now and then so a few more birds can be added to the Ides of Summer list. I’m sure I will miss many species, nonetheless, as preoccupied as I am with the latest stock problem that isn’t going to allow me to continue with the idea of actually going out and putting together the mid-season equivalent of a Christmas Count for the Mason Pastures that I’d wanted. At least these are added, most of them through song or sound:

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

Common Ground Dove

Song Sparrow

Yellow-headed Blackbird

Northern Beardless Tyrannulet

August 15, 2013

The Ides of August, the Ides of Summer for birds and the wildings, but the appearance of those Red-winged Grasshoppers tell that the nagging of winter pasture preparation and seeding and irrigating will soon be more shout than whisper. We’ve got at least as far as confining the Mason Pasture herd to one 350 ft. X 850 ft. swath (about seven acres) of bermudagrass, between two lines of electric fence with an exit to the pond, so cow folk can eat off the crop almost to the ground and make that ready for tilling six weeks or two months from now, clean out around the mesquites that must be pulled or dug out so that the rattlesnakes coiled below them will be more visible.

There are many baby birds cheeping away in the mesquite branches, probably second broods all. I want to spend two or three days right now, though, making a bird list, during these last moments when the summer still feels long and sweet …

Yellow Warbler (singing)

Yellow-breasted Chat (singing)

White-winged Dove

Lesser Goldfinch

Vermillion Flycatcher

Bell’s Vireo

Blue Grosbeak

Purple Martin

Summer Tanager (singing, and call notes)

Mourning Dove

Bewick’s Wren


Abert’s Towhee

Lark Sparrow

Gray Hawk


Red-tailed Hawk

Gambel’s Quail

Crissal Thrasher

Black Phoebe

Western Kingbird

Savannah Sparrow (rare–but not unknown to be arriving now for winter)

The River is running, madly … many large blue dragonflies on The Stockpond, and “Whitetails”, or as I call them, Saddle Shoe Dragonflies. Bugs that like to harass humans are doing that, aplenty, worst of them are the tiny loudly singing gnats that fly into the cavern of an ear opening, get louder and louder but then their whine is suddenly cut off when they ditch into the pool of sweat that’s collected just inside the earlobe’s tinaja. This unpleasantness is made up for when the air is thick with the incomparable sweetness of huisache acacia blooms.

One of the cows, Molly, has had a bull calf and I’m worrying over both of them–the baby doesn’t know how to suckle, or maybe even that it’s supposed to. Mamma’s not looking all that good either, uh oh, a big chore coming on. I think she had it Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. … Save the life of my child/cried the desperate mother

June 9, 2013

The double gates swing wide into The Lane, and receive the cow herd we’ve pushed down from the uplands with along the way an overnight stay for them at Elna & Jimmy’s on the bank of Hot Springs Canyon. It is of course fun to participate in such a now-rare thing, and the help offered and given by Saguaro Juniper members is grand–a few people on foot, some in vehicles and stocktrailer rig, three on horseback. In the era of wildly hazing (yee … haw) cows, calves, bulls, heifers and steers sardine-style into trailers, taking off and being done with it, while I rode along I wondered if we aren’t the last holdout in Cochise County of such an “Old West” way. We are in part pushed into it by the cost of fuel, and a poverty of facilities, but equally so by wanting to stay with something that is in direct touch with the animals we raise, the horses we ride, and the landscape we ride–and stride–across.

“The Great Cascabel Cow Move of June 2013” goes smoothly and sweetly on a surprisingly “cool” morning (60 degrees at dawn) and our Foxtrotter, Loompy, performs gorgeously beneath me, but fretful and watchfully, tightly wound I’ll always be in such an affair. The years have gone by since these lands, past which we bring the herd, have been taxed according to their value for growing beef instead of taxed according to their value for growing real estate profits, and the fences along the gravel road reflect this: mostly, they are down, caught by the grader and torn into messes, or gone completely including water gaps where a canyon’s opening would be a natural temptation for a cow to peel off into. Owner’s aren’t so concerned now about keeping livestock in because mostly they don’t have any, or concerned about keeping someone else’s out. It would be easy to have a wayward animal lead a bunch off to the hills to the East, or crash into the River bottom and have them all disappear into a hopeless tangle of saltcedar, mesquite, willow and cottonwood, which would turn a fine day into near endless misery. Cascabel Road isn’t much of a cattle highway any more, but everyone handles the reality superbly. When those Mason gates swing and close behind, I let out a great lungful of air, give thanks for all those people around me, give thanks that we and our fellow livestock are all whole, Molly didn’t have her calf in the road, and the young ones had kept up (sometimes Loompy nudged their butts to keep them motivated.) There is romping and bellowing and running as the herd that’s brought in runs in with the herd that has been at Mason’s through the winter and they work out the points of becoming a single unit.

In the late afternoon I return to check on the state of peace or conflict, and find the Brown-headed Cowbird population already increased proportionately with the “new” herd size! Up in #3 Pasture, our very own distelfinks–Lesser Goldfinches–are massing on the seeding heads of Malta star thistle, feasting, joyously twittering or giving out lazy, satisfied notes. That won’t be enough to get control of the nasty weed, but the birds are most welcome to stay for this dinner.

Lots of Purple Martins are overhead after the sun is gone, their number over the spring being few up til now.