Tag Archives: Rattlesnakes

February 20, 2014

It is already time to watch for departures of “resident” birds considered common year-round in southern Arizona, but which disappear from The River for months at a time every year: “Red-shafted” Flickers (and there was a wonderful pair of them today, jumping around on the ground going after ants), Say’s Phoebe, Phainopepla, Loggerhead Shrike; Mexican Mallards will be here for a good while yet, they go somewhere else during June, July and August … there is a pair of these ducks on The Stockpond today.

Brindle the Cow, at last at last! has made it through the long months’ recovery from the bite of (we think) Phat Phreddie the Rattlesnake, and she is skipping, joyfully running now with the herd when they’re all whistled into a pasture of welcome fresh graze.  In a couple of months she’ll give birth to something, more than likely a little mummy calf–or will it have fangs and serpent eyes??  If it is alive and thrifty, we should name it Milagro but if it’s not, we may wish that Death hadn’t spared Brindle over, too, til this other year.

December 11, 2013

The news comes from Flagstaff that it’s four degrees below zero there … low 20s here in our mesquite bosque. Who would think of living north of the Gila? Here this far from The Rim at least, it seems there are creatures of interest abroad even if the nights are subfreezing: Sulfur Butterflies are on the wing, and a couple of dragonflies, and even a diehard katydid.

Pat and I saddle up and ride the high ridges of the A-7 Ranch on the West side of the San Pedro, from which we can take in a splendid view of our rangelands, and of neighbors’ homesteads. The afternoon is delightful, and we’re not the only ones who think this: a large rattlesnake is enjoying the friendly Sun of Winter and its balm, and we riders and horses have to step carefully around the snake’s stretched out and lazing body. Rattlesnake is very much awake, and isn’t there when we come on back through the spot now under a late afternoon 3/4 Moon, a pale island like something mythical, floating and Polynesian, just offshore of the canyon rim above us.

September 20, 2013

On the edge of #3 Pasture I find a returned Marsh Wren that lets me approach within a couple paces, close enough that I can see the white stripes on its back. I also find the place in the fence on the road (well, one of the places in that fence) where Mycha the Cow took advantage of how the whole line is being buried in the mud and rubble of sheet flood after sheet flood. The top wire is now so low that Mycha just springs over with ease and nonchalant grace, to vacuum up the mesquite beans that those other, mere mortal cows who don’t have the nerve to follow (gracias a Dios!) can only dream about getting to. I haze her up the long road stretch to The Green Gate, she traipses back in, I pull up to The Stockpond and lose Mycha’s grand, teeth-grinding irritation in a water’s edge once again so alive with birds that I don’t know what to look at; I’m still so worked up and shaking over the chase with that cow that I can’t hold the binoculars still for a while anyway. Once I calm down, the birds all set themselves before me beautifully: pairs of Wilson’s Warblers, pairs of Black-headed Grosbeaks, sets of Lazuli Buntings, kingbirds, a bright female Bullock’s Oriole, Bell’s Vireos, an Orange-crowned Warbler, Abert’s Towhees, Blue Grosbeaks, a Nashville Warbler, immature Western Tanager, a Black Phoebe, McGillivray’s Warbler, a Swallow bombs in and bombs out too fast to see what species. A pair of Lucy’s Warblers are the last I’ll see in what seems with them a true farewell-to-Summer (I thought they’d all gone by now, it’s been so long since I’ve seen or heard any.) The flock of Brewer’s Blackbirds passes overhead.

The cows have been set to graze down the bermudagrass in #2(north) Pasture, to make easier its preparation for the planting of winter small cereals, as wheat, oats, barley and rye plants are called when used for grazing. Another Marsh Wren is there, and from the uncultivated other side of the River fence slides along another snake, who crosses bare patches of ground and pops down into a hole in the tufts of bermuda. This Ring-necked Snake is more mellow than yesterday’s Rattler (though it, too, is said to be venomous) and a handsome reptile it is: lead gray, with an orange band around its neck worn like a fine piece of jewelry.

The Monsoon, the Summer, end with a bang literally, as thunderstorm cells sweep in and over the Mason Pastures …

September 19, 2013

As I drive away from the house I look up to the Rincon, where Full Moon sports with the highest peak, is shining out from a mother-of-pearl sky; thrashers scold, sparrows tsip and cheep. The season is on the other shoulder, in the bottomland it is 57 degrees, while it was 95 degrees when I left The Stockpond at 5:15 last night.

A Great Blue Heron this morning at that pond, and at least four Summer Tanagers call around it, some are adult males in bright red plumage. A large “finch”, white below, gray above, and with conspicuous large white eye ring is there too, who knows what it is, leaves before a better look and a determination can be had. Many things will remain unidentified in this pretty good group of birds–Little Brown Jobs, Little Green Jobs, Little Yellow Jobs. There is too much ranch work needing tending to, to give time to sorting out even a few. The aquamarine-colored Damselflies still swarm around the mud edges, and bottle green ones hover there, too. A folded-wing Skipper Butterfly skips from mud to mud, it has dusky brown wings, the lower ones with white trailing edge.

In one mesquite edge or another seen as I make work rounds are Green-tailed Towhee, McGillivray’s Warbler, another Dusky-capped Flycatcher … and along the Cascabel Road at the Mason Pastures’ north end is a fine adult Gray Hawk, the final one I’ll see in the Season of Plenty now winding down. Bug kind flies on, clicks, chirps, as if les bon temps will forever roule: small grasshoppers with turquoise hind wings, gorgeous nearly-hovering Lubbers in 1957 Studebaker color combinations of pistachio and melon-pink, black and yellow, the still-sweet Sweet Clover racemes of blossoms flickering with many Sulfur Butterflies.

Other residents are out that I’d rather see with more distance between … as I barge through the tall grass to get a wheel line moved, I nearly step on top a skunk, who takes the surprise good naturedly though the canopy of entwined grass stems might be what keeps it from being able to raise a tail well enough to add even more interest to the afternoon. Then something else moves itself, parting that grass in a long line as it comes towards me. Must be a snake, I think, and then its diamond pattern can be seen through openings in the blades, and the head, and the rattle-ended tail of a fella who’s all business and thoroughly p.o.’d. I tear off. It keeps up, just behind and for longer than I want. A Mojave Rattlesnake would be the first conclusion out here that would be come to, though Wikipedia says, “Although they have a reputation for being aggressive towards people, such behavior is not described in the scientific literature,” meaning, I suppose, that not enough scientists have moved wheel line irrigators.

The afternoon brings 100 degrees, the humidity builds and builds to a swelter. Monsoon is fixing to let loose on us one last blow.

August 30, 2013

Another three-quarters inch of rain. Every tenth of an inch is recorded, celebrated.

A Gray Hawk glides through the bosque branches, not far above the ground. These birds will only be with us a few more weeks. A gray Diamondback is coiled in one of the truck tracks in #2 Pasture, I almost trample it as I move along in my sunrise bliss but the cascabel appears to be in a cold torpor. Well, the temperature is only 71 degrees. I’m only gone a few minutes to attend to an irrigation hydrant, but already the rattlesnake isn’t there when I return through. There are lots of them in this northern end of that pasture, and we’re also seeing lots of small (two feet long) ones crossing Cascabel Road. … an oriole family group is still acting very clannish in the trees of the alley between this and the pasture to the north, Vermillion Flycatchers seem as bright as they did in the spring when they arrived, many kingbirds are hanging out together and trying every new air-borne trick of the wing they see or that occurs to them.

A for-sure–and handsome–Wilson’s Warbler comes to The Stockpond, I suppose that was indeed what had been there yesterday. I am not going to let go of summer with much grace, but the appearance of this favorite bird is solace.

Poorwills calling at sunset tuck the day into bed.

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 13, 2013

It’s too hot to fight over space and water, so the hummers male and female only drink. The red algae has about taken over The Stockpond, and the hummingbirds have to force their bills down through the surface of thick scum. A couple of White-throated Swifts come in with a terrible whistle and whine, curve to the pond but scream off at the other without drinking, at least at first. Finally a few of them open a bill and plow through the thick covering, and get enough drops to keep them going. They are magnificently graceful, and so bullet-fast that there is no way to lay the binoculars on them in time before they’re gone and back to the slot canyons and cliffs rising on the other side of The River.

Though the Cascabel Weather Station registers something cooler, my thermometer says 110 degrees. It’s fortunate that Phat Phreddie has disappeared, for the work of clearing the last of the bolting, flowering Bull Thistle in that heat stuns me beyond caring whether the rattlesnake is there or not. Those goldfinches are all around me still working happily on the Malta star thistle seeds, oh bless them! The sky is not blue–it is incandescent. There are thunderheads in the East!

June 7, 2013

A Brown-crested Flycatcher spreads its tail, the feathers a rich chestnut and glowing like colored glass backlit and shot through by early sun. Black, black, black are the Redwings, their calls make me feel cozy from a lifetime of familiarity with them, “O-ka-leeeEEEEeee-oh!” A Gray Hawk flaps in low, as is its mode, and that flycatcher who is apparently on duty guarding his new family goes crazy, screams after the hawk and tells it to beat it, with loud, “Whit-will-do! Whit-will-do!” They both are quickly out of sight with an, “Oh bother!”, and a “And don’t darken my door again!”

New plants arrive on their own in the pastures, sometimes harmless, sometimes ones that are welcome and can contribute something good to us, some are nightmares, some a combination of most of these things, depending on the time of year and the growing conditions. Suddenly I’m seeing scattered in most of the pastures a “new” grass, it’s becoming obvious as the fruiting heads dry and turn pale against the green bermuda. It’s a “Canary Grass”, though I can’t be sure of the species until Tom O. takes a specimen to the University Herbarium in Tucson. Not a bad thing to have, it is supposedly a palatable graze for cattle but might become toxic if the leaf blades mold. Not much chance of that happening here.

Oh … my … Goddess. A cloud!

Now, where’d it go? Got scared I guess. Gray Hawks call plaintively, with a sound of “souls that cry, for water: cool … clear … water.” There is none for them in the San Pedro, only in The Stockpond, and only if I keep it filled … […]

It’s 107 degrees, so my wits are becoming somewhat dulled as I pull and cut out the Bull Thistle (naturalized from Eurasia) that are showing magenta as their first blooms of the year open on that most troublesome weed. Saguaro Juniper folk are determined to see that not a single seed is produced this year by that biennial destroyer-of-pastures, thus the weeding has to be kept at for a few years, no slack allowed. I reach down almost to the ground at a little clump of mesquite to yank a stem of purple thistles that are bolting already, and there is a quick and unwelcome movement from off to the right: it’s Phat Phreddie, coiled up right there yet utterly invisible, and this time he intends to nail me. Although he stretches out the full length of what his coiling let him manage in the strike, he comes just short of changing the course of my day, misses my wrist by about four inches. He springs back like a jack-in-the-box to where he’d been lying, and only then rattles. Mighty thoughtful of him. Once I calm down I continue with the weeding a bit further out of his strike-zone, and he lies there contentedly most of the rest of the day. I keep going back to see if he’s slunk off, so the thistles in that area can be cleaned out, but I give up on the weeding there eventually. There’s a lot of talk locally about how rattlesnakes don’t rattle in warning any more, as if we’re watching evolution happen, as the snakes who rattle when they run into humans are more often than not removed from the gene pool. I’ll note that this is a topic of conversation and a theory that is being discussed over the whole of The West, and a quick glance at the Internet on the subject will reveal it’s been talked about for the last century. Professionals and herpetologists say the idea is absurd and an “urban legend”, while the people who put the theory forward most vehemently seem, ironically, to be of the type that otherwise talk about Evolution as if it is an anti-Christian hoax. While the sides debate, maybe we should lay in a supply of baby rattles …[…]

That snake’s coil and strike was too-o-o-o close this time, and Tom O. and I decide to keep a garbage can and snake-grabber handy from then on–if Phreddie presented the opportunity to be grabbed safely, he’d be deported. A hand gets jumpy at this time of year.

June 6, 2013

It is 45 degrees at dawn when I check the herd at the Mason Pastures. Later in the day it’s 103 degrees where we check that herd up on the mesas and arroyos on range, in preparation for bringing those bulls, heifers, cows and calves down for the two-day overland drive south to their summer home on the Mason fields. Is it hot? I don’t know. Dry? oh yes: humidity, 6%. A month after the first “Cactus Dodger” cicada was heard up here, the hot air shakes and whines and quivers with their high metallic and wiry song. I love them; Loompy does not. As we ride along, one goes off with no warning of course on the tip of a creosote bush right next to his muzzle, and he freaks. I don’t think he can tell the difference between this and the sound that rattlesnake that bit him on the face must’ve made as it injected the venom that caused Loompy’s lower lip to droop permanently. Maybe I do wish the cicada opera season were done, though that will come of its own within three or four weeks. It seems right that I’ve come to be partners with a horse who made it through the bite of a rattlesnake: I have, too, though I’d had only one fang while he got a complete pair. (After we get back to El Potrero and have unsaddled and turned out the horses, I go to climb up into the big pickup and go home when a wild rattle comes from the pocket of the door, todos los santos! a rattlesnake there?? no–a Cactus Dodger cicada that found its way into the hole and set off a buzzing loudly funneled by the shape of that pocket. Took a while for my heart rate to slow.

And a month after their first ivory and white huge blossoms opened, some Saguaro are still studded with blooms, while many others never had any this year. In general, the ones on the ridge tops were flower-less, the ones almost at the bottoms of slopes at the arroyos and canyons might have plenty, a reflection of water regime I’d guess. There were bald exceptions to this, though. As a very good wine is to the palette, so the Saguaro flowers please the eye no matter how many times seen. We admire each one as we ride by, just as we did last year. I’m grateful Loompy no longer pushes my now-always-chap-covered thigh into all the spiky thorns with which are upholstered the trunks of the really big, old cactus we mosey along under. I keep in mind my gratitude for being able to come to this kind of place and see those pretty Saguaro flowers when later a tall dust devil draws its tail through a cobble of dried cowpies, the vortex changes color almost imperceptibly and drops on us and our horses a fine coating of fecal dust: a new flavor of Shake-and-Bake, yay! “And I helped!” said God.