Tag Archives: Moths

September 13, 2013

A Poorwill-sung dawn, with a warmth that has Chris E., James C. and I on the early side saddling up the horses we’ll ride today on range–Chris on my Loompy, James on his Clu, and I on Pat’s Nimby. It will be in the 90s before we turn back on the trail home to El Potrero, the Barrel Cactus are still in their center-crown, late summer orange-petalled splendor, and of all the astonishing things that give one to know that Summer doesn’t let go, we find a Saguaro still in bloom. We pick our way carefully down a long rocky slope from a saddle between ridges, and come down into a broad, white sand bottom and when I nudge Nimby up that canyon to continue our ride just a bit further in the direction away from home, that horse I’m sitting decides to go into a run–backwards, towards home where he thought it was more reasonable to be going. Angry he didn’t get his way with a rider with whom he had almost no experience? Did he see a Jackrabbit, which can make him jump so that I’ve come to call them “Jack(theRipper)rabbits” or “Death Bunnies” as Pat calls them? A couple of hard bucks quickly following one on the other and my left foot is lost from the stirrup as the scenery and time fly past me only now in reverse … I’m still somehow upright in the saddle when his croup knows a sudden and violent comeuppance as we hit a deep wall of Catclaw trees and the sharp bank of the canyon bottom they’re growing against. He rears, tumbles, all is dust and billows of shaken-loose acacia leaflets, then I re-materialize out of that bronc-made haboob among splintering thorny branches and more rising dust, sitting in the arroyo sand with my legs spread out as wide as they were on either side of his flanks only a few calm, but very long-ago moments before. I’ve come to a standstill; Nimby has not. His is a body tending to stay in motion … his be-hind thud-lands between my far spread legs as he, continuing backwards, trips over a low horizontal branch but somehow even though it is Friday the 13th the horse hasn’t crushed me yet. Up he rises again, and up and up, towering into the sky or so it looks from my vantage point where I’m still trapped at his rear and flattened out on the ground. I concentrate on getting my right foot from the off-side stirrup, don’t know why it’s still stuck in there, but then every shred of my being comes welded to the vision of a black horse with head straight up, pawing into the empty air as if swimming for his life, he balancing there like that for a slowed-down second or two. The hands on my pocket watch stand still while he does. I stare up the line of his backbone–it’s not a question of whether he’ll topple, but which way will he topple. Something keeps me from getting out from behind him, maybe I’m frozen there in acceptance of my fate: if he comes back all the way it will split me right up through my middle, from stem-to-sternum, lengthwise, with saddle horn sunk into my chest as if I were a vampire. When for half a second that backbone of his begins tottering my way my thought is simple and resigned: “I’m about to be in the dark.” I’m still unhurt I think, but also still stuck, I scream out a long death wail, I know the last noise I might ever make and it’s from a place deeper in my soul than any where I’d ever brought anything up from or that I’d ever known was there to plumb. I guess there will be no more entries made in the nature journal. The scream startles him and he sways forward a bit, just enough that when he does come backwards it is now to the side, and all that wild horseflesh with its four flailing limbs plows into the sweet soft sand a little ways off my left shoulder. I don’t know how he misses me, he rolls away from me, jumps up, and is gone from my sight behind, down the canyon and I presume, home the way he wanted to go the whole time. My regular horse, Loompy, who together with Chris on his back has been watching, must have thought, “God, what a display. Tsk, tsk, tsk.” I wonder what rule of riding, or knowledge of horses I’m still ignorant of, has played a part in bringing about this wreck.

I live. No broken bones that I can feel, and my organs seem to be left whole, too. My spurs are shoved deeply in the sand, but I totter upwards myself and turn to see the horse not far off at all. He’s running in circles trying to get away from a wide Catclaw branch that’s deeply tangled in his tail and whose thorny twigs are poking the insides of both his legs … I give silent thanks when I see his reins didn’t break off, so I grab them but he keeps spinning away from me as I try to reach back for the branch that appears to be hopelessly knotted into his long tail. Finally I can grab the thick, woody end of that branch and yank hard, and the moment Nimby knows it’s gone he comes to a standstill. Nothing appears wrong with him, though myself I’m already feeling like I’ve been rear-ended at a stoplight with my head having popped out a back windshield; I turn him up-canyon and away from home, and with a laughably painful challenge I mount, and then as if not much happened we continue on our way, go to check whether the watergap fence at Saguaro Juniper’s border has remained intact through the flash floods of this Monsoon. “Do you compete in the rodeo?”, a woman once asked me. “No Ma’am, not if I can help it. That’s the kind of thing we pray at dawn Monday morning won’t happen this week, and on Saturday night following give thanks hadn’t …” […]

The morning excitement worn off, I go back to Mason’s to dig mesquite in the to-be winter pasture, and in the golden light of late Summer. There’s a pair of Mexican Mallard on The Stockpond and four Teal, and then I spot a huge turtle–probably ten inches across its shell–sitting on top a rock a bit off the mud bank out in the water. Trying to sneak up on it for a better look is useless, what with those ducks taking wing in an explosion and I am distracted by the splendor of those Teal spinning over me, turning to show blue shoulders, turning then to show their white underwings with black fore-edge. The turtle, which I’m never able to identify as anything native, is gone. How did it get there? I’m never to see it again, either.

Out where I head to start pulling mesquite, a pair of Chihuahuan Ravens are standing aside a cow manure pile, one bird on watch, the other picking apart the poop chunks and as I approach, the one not at work lets out an obvious warning, “Cheese it! The cops!”, and they both fly off squawling. This would not be the last time I’d find the birds doing this, for as long as the herd vacuums up mesquite pods, and shoot the now-shucked beans out their back ends, Ravens will come to pull out those beans the cattle kind have so nicely prepared, and gobble them down–all the fewer seedlings for us to contend with later! There is a reprise of White-lined Sphinx Moth larvae, now scattered over the grasses and larger than any that’ve come before, but I don’t see Ravens going for them.

A flycatcher I might take for an Ash-throated (which species has been strangely sparse here this year), comes for a few moments into the big mesquite edge, just long enough for me to end up thinking there was something … different about it. A Dusky-capped, down from the mountains and thence south far into Mexico, or migrating down from a bit further north in Arizona?

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 24, 2013

Dawn raindrops are falling on The Stockpond, 68 degrees feels cool, Killdeer call out mournfully from the native grass planting beyond the pond fence and the circle of mesquite trees is full of the music of young Yellow Warblers trying out their repertoire. The pasture itself is dark still, the sun not having got high enough above the ridge to shine down onto the grass, but the cottonwoods in their line along The River are dazzling and quivering in those first rays that also make the cliffs glow startlingly white, while all this brightly lit landscape is backdropped by the black sky of a very promising temporal.

Chris E. and James C. in their digging the endlessly thorny mesquititos from the bermudagrass in #1 Pasture come upon one of the showiest lepidoptera larvae any of us have seen, apparently feeding on mesquite leaves. It is green (of course) and looks to be some extreme hornworm with not just the one horn on its posterior but also with horns in clusters and singly along its length but especially on the head. It is like something from “Where the Wild Things Are” … the hornworm horn, not quite at the end of the critter, is curved, purple with a yellow tip … a bunch of such horns on the head … and most amazingly, rows of glittering silver-foil decorations all down its sides, as if inset by a Navajo jeweller. We suspect this is the larva of some moth, and can only wonder over what the adult could look like, and suspect that it will be just as magnificent a creature as its younger self had been.

Rain is never assured no matter how dark and promising the sky (we almost never use the word “threatening”, not out loud anyway, afraid as we are of offending the powers that bring us this life), and though it may come down hard in a real chubasco later today or tonight, that is not assured and the pastures are irrigated anyway. If the promise of those clouds does hold true, waterings after this will be decreased proportionate to the amount of rain that falls by the end of the rain wetting. Kingbirds, mostly Westerns, are having their mad fun on all the barbed wire fences, and Rough-winged Swallows in a flock are low over the pasture. Under the swallows I push through the waist-deep Barnyard Grass, out to a nozzle that’s jammed itself stationary on one of the tall grass inflorescences. The whole pasture is a waving sea of these pale seed heads caught in the sun, just below this glowing blanket is an under-wave of bright green leaves, themselves glittering with the morning rain that has passed. We don’t have to have a Monet on our walls, because we live in one.

I read the sky later, know I must flee if I am not to risk being swept away by a flash flood coming down an arroyo that crosses the gravel road, or just as irritatingly, having to watch a flood’s lapping edges for hours as the calculation is made that it is safe enough to enter and cross and then get home. In the next twenty four hours another wild storm leaves us with almost another inch of moisture. Our offerings must have been found acceptable.

August 18, 2013

Hornworms marked with rows of evenly spaced diagonal white stripes are growing fat on the White Horsenettle. These are the Tomato Hornworms justly loathed by Arizona gardeners; they will grow into Five-spotted Hawkmoths, justly loved for the grace of their nectar-sipping evening dance. The revoltingly huge worms don’t just eat up the Horsenettle and other things solanaceous, but also devour plants in the Bignonia group that people treasure in their gardens, like Desert Willow and the Chitalpa trees numbers of Cascabel folk are struggling to get established here. What they’re struggling against is this hawkmoth. Those plants can be defoliated almost overnight, while the eye is tricked in a way that have the worms staying about invisible. A Cape Honeysuckle I had trained up to the eaves during this summer and that was just about to burst into an amazing show of flowers, has over the course of a few nights been skeletonized, most every leaf gone–not until then are the the varmints suddenly visible. Pulling them off is a challenge, they have such a grip, and it’s time-consuming. I’ve found a good whack with the back of a plastic dust brush obliterates them with the satisfaction video gamers must have when they blow away a zombie … Night of the Living Dead Hornworms.

The Sonoran Toadlets are also growing fast, into Toadlings, and they have come to take over the actively-watered area of the native grass pasture project where the soil is moist, the ground soft for easy burrow digging, and there is shade from sprouting amaranths and the already established Six-weeks Grama and Rothrock Grama. It’s a better paradise than any Toad Hall.

The colorful sunset is one to compete with any in the tropics, the temperature’s dropped from 104 degrees all the way to 96! As I make the last work rounds, lightning zips skyward from the Galiuro Wilderness peaks and cliffs where a storm cell has made itself cozy. Lesser Nighthawks are pleasant company tonight, as is Moon, la Luna Llena, who comes to greet from over the ridge to the East and who shines in a thick, humid vapor. The many Nighthawks dip low near and around me and tilting their wings, fly back up in a sweep to crest over the lines of mesquite trees between the pastures. The mosquitoes, though, are a trial with how their whining becomes incessant and my hands, neck, ears and face–the only places not covered by clothing for ranch work–are turned into pincussions.

I stop at The Stockpond in the last moments before it’s too dark for a human to see, and find many bats, small, fast bats this time, making quick circular forays over the water, making a dent in that explosion of mosquitoes. Plenty of Nighthawks are coming for water, bombing in through the bats to get their drink.

At Ridge House, Poorwills call across the mesas in their moonshadows, through a steady hot night breeze.

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 12, 2013

A hot night, awake with sweat and the poking and biting of “bugs”, but an eventual falling to sleep. The feel of one more crawling on me makes me give up and I turn on the early news out of San Francisco–crackling radio AM in the a.m., giving that flavor of coming from some far off, exotic place–and bring coffee back to bed. I sip in a large moth that in the dark I couldn’t see had bumbled over the lip of the mug. Pppphhhthtwpp! how … Silence of the Lambs.

I admire roadsides of that finest of this wet season’s annual wildflowers, the Summer Poppy that is glowing everywhere; in places its orange petals are entwined with the blue wide trumpets of Tall Morning-glory, these colors with the early sun shooting through them would have moved Tiffany to some new creation in glass. At Mason’s I find the young and still very cute Sonoran Desert Toads have moved away from The Stockpond altogether, spread themselves over the south end of #1 Pasture but especially taking up in the new native grass pasture we’ve planted and that we are now watering every day there is no Monsoon storm of any account. A cuckoo calls from the pond where the tadpoles swam so briefly, though his calling for rain won’t be working during this, one of those five to six day spells between widespread temporales. The skies, the clouds, are most magnificent and sometimes there’s a bit of thunder, but Earth-maker isn’t at the moment roused to anger and I can relax without worry of being hit by lightning. One is caused to raise the eyes often, to see how much it has all changed in the last few minutes, how the sky has piled high itself with clouds that then vanish, threaten and boil up again, vanish again.

August 11, 2013

A return walk to that blown out irrigation main in #4 Pasture to see if it’s holding pressure gives an impression that all the world is being devoured by those White-lined Sphinx worms. There are at least four or five to the square foot of Boerhavia that they are quickly decimating, but they leave alone the related Annual Windmills (Allionia choisyi) that are growing among them and showing their pretty, tiny lavendar-pink blooms on widely sprawling plants. The worms are fabulously beautiful: lime and yellow, with black stripes and red bars. I imagine them in their not millions, but probably billions, this year when every flat is massed with their host plants from here up to the canyonlands and over to the far-off Pecos. If any Elf Owls waited out the dry spring with its lack of flowers and thus lack of insects for them, they will be feasting on hornworms this year no doubt. (I once had a pair come down to visit a number of evenings in a row years ago, when one of them brought its own dinner, a huge Tomato Hornworm that it held in one foot while it balanced on the branch with the other. I watched the last of the sunset while only a few feet away from me the little toy owl bit off the head of the hornworm and working from the bottom up squeezed out the liquid green contents and slurped them–a sort of slimesicle–while I toasted the sweet little creature on its hunting prowess, raised my glass of wine to it with a “Bon appetit, frere!”) Also no doubt, there will be a bumper crop of hornworms of various species and the Screech Owls will be seen aplenty around the spotlights on garages and house walls, flying out of the dark of a sudden to snatch a large hawkmoth adult and vanishing back out of sight where it will munch away leisurely on a branch.

One of the few butterflies that are common this year, the Orange Sulphur, flits over all the pastures, sipping at almost any kind of flower they can find open. Grasshopper numbers are still growing, and don’t seem about to decline. In fact I wonder if this year they aren’t going at some point to reach a critical mass and then mow off all the bermuda we have spent our time and our wealth growing. At least for now, there appears to be not a single leaf chewed off, and I wonder what they’re doing. They’re certainly leaving behind a real mass of grasshopper excrement, which must be as good a fertilizer as any cricket poop that is a product of growing popularity among the organic set lately … […]

The mesquites are hung (already!) with whitening beans, they look as pretty as any cultivated flowering tree, as tinselled as any fir at Christmas. On one of these, bright Lark Sparrows perch on each branch tip to complete the look, as if someone had attached to the mesquitebaum the finest of Austrian ornaments, ones that wind themselves up and sing. The second week of August, our Sonoran Summer, perfected. All that has come before from those first days when the mercury shot over a line into the 90s, the wicked Foresummer, the first wild storm and haboob wall of dust, the first flood of The River, have built to this. A pleasant, 96 degrees late afternoon, the Saguaros on the hilltop are stark against giant white Monsoon clouds, the clouds themselves hard against an impossibly blue sky. All things looked at, in every direction, are as if viewed through a stereoscope. The White-winged Doves do yet call and coo, as if spring has not gone to high summer of Los Temporales. Their notes wonderfully blend with far away thunder.

August 9, 2013

Some Saguaro Juniper members and supporters are setting up a new native Arizona grass pasture project at the south end of the fields, a couple of risers’ worth of fallow land has been seeded with a wonderful variety–sixteen species–and now, to water it. Then … we blow an entire riser out of the ground right from its base at the irrigation main in #4 Pasture in the far north of Mason’s: well that pipe, metal cap hydrant-fixture and all, must’ve shot high into the sky as if from a missile silo–at least the hole left behind looks like one, filled and overflowing with water welling out and up from the 4″ opening in the pipe three feet down. This forms a very attractive and natural-looking ojo de agua. Today we try fixing this again (second attempt) but the fun is interrupted by something of an anguished yelp from Jimmy M., who with a high kick flips away from his bare shin something snake-like that then goes flying end over end into the Boerhavia being munched by uncountable hornworms of White-lined Sphinx Moths all around us. We’re aghast to see that this is one of those offputting Giant Desert Centipedes. Well, at least the centipedes here aren’t in the perpetually bad and aggressive mood that the Hawaiian species seem to be, and Jimmy doesn’t get sliced by the pair of venomous fangs of this one.

July 17, 2013

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.

June 19, 2013

White butterflies are probing the Sweetclover–but only the few white flowered ones–out where the deer take their rest. Those white blossoms are as fragrant or even more fragrant than are the yellow.

An all gray, very large Sphinx Moth is about, with a row of amber spots running the length of both sides of its abdomen. There are several species with these markings, though I think this must be the common Tobacco Hawk Moth, that scourge of tomato growers everywhere.