Tag Archives: Spiderling (Boerhavia sp.)

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 30, 2013

Kingbirds, Western and Cassin’s, are aplenty along most of the wheel lines, which are a favorite perch, the young birds among the spokes quivering their wings when the parents are near, and the air is full of their calls, “Che-bbeeeEEERrr! ChebeEEERr!” Among them today yet another single Yellow-headed Blackbird, this one an alpha male of large size, darkest black, and a head that is not just yellow, but shaded to an orange bright as any oriole’s.

Bewick’s Wrens are lately singing a lot, and widely … who isn’t made happier by the presence of wrens? Our Bewick’s have very individual songs, some sound a bit like the “Happy Wren” (Thryothorus felix) I heard and saw in the Alamos deciduous forests in Sonora. With how global warming is allowing Mexican species to move north, I keep an ear out for the recently arrived “Miserable Wren” (Thryothorus quelastima), whose alarm note is untellable from that of the Addams Family butler, Lurch.

The recolonization of #3 Pasture by a variety of native Sonoran Desert grass species continues apace, the Sand Dropseed especially impressive in its increase and vigor. Several gramas have appeared on their own, too, and bristlegrasses and three-awns, and we think lovegrass too. This is also the pasture with the largest number of widlflowers and forbs. There are pretty pale blue composites, Machaeranthera in bloom (that genus name is probably obsolete now …) and Camphorweed in bud, and deep magenta Spiderlings. An alfalfa plant has also appeared, and is even in flower! Where’d that come from?

July 25, 2013

Spadefoots pipe in the murky water of the seasonal dirt stocktank, and at the main pond that Summer Tanager sings away purely in the madrugada as if it is still Spring, one Great Horned Owl hoots as if it is still night. Song Sparrows are also in song, which hasn’t been heard for a while, and the tune and lyrics of the local subspecies gives me to remember that the melodies of the ones that were such a part of the arrival of my childhood’s Springs on the Eastern Seaboard do differ, not by much, but enough to be interesting. They also look different, enough that it took me a while to decide that what I was seeing here was the same species. For those really advanced birders, the many regional forms were outlined in my first field guide’s appendix, but mostly it seemed people in those days were only concerned with the general species–such as “Song Sparrow”–much in the way that nobody in the era would have found a need to know how much the temperature one neighborhood over varied at the moment from their own, as is presented now in all television weather coverage.

Mosquitoes. Mosquitoes.

A young Western Kingbird has grown to become talented enough to catch a hairstreak butterfly, though has some challenges getting it down. There is a flash of red from its bill lining when it opens wide and tries something else … the first returning, rare early Tree Swallows appear in those pastures, and many Lark Sparrows are back in view. Abert’s Towhees are doing a lot of singing, sounding not quite like robins, not quite like sparrows. White-winged Doves are also cooing as if it is still Spring, another cuckoo I haven’t heard much of calls from the riverside bosque towards the old Lancaster Ranch, and the cuckoo at the pond also declares its territory.

Coulter’s Spiderling (Boerhavia coulteri) is the next herb coming up strongly and abundantly, rushing quickly to blooming stage everywhere there had been nearly bare soil; there are acres of it.

It’s been a couple of weeks since The Stockpond was much visited in the evening by the martins, but tonight they buzz in five or six at a time, with many more circling in holding patterns waiting for an open slot to approach the water.

June 10, 2013

I’m buzzed by the summer’s first brown and yellow, large wasp, which I call a “Brown Man”, the Jamaican name for a similar species. They will have to be watched for now every time a covering on the wheel line tractors is lifted: from the ceiling of those covers these wasps love to suspend a nest, and they don’t like it much when the lid is rudely yanked up and banged over on its side when the engine needs to be started. Another smaller, all-yellow wasp lands on an irrigation puddle, and floats on the water’s surface film while taking a drink.

Caribbean Horseweed, as I call it, (Conyza bonariensis, or less flatteringly, Asthmaweed) is coming into bloom; it is not as sought after a graze as is its northern cousin, the Canadian Horseweed (Conyza canadensis) that is also shooting up abundantly but flowers much later atop neck-high stalks. The beautiful deep magenta-maroon tiny carnations of Scarlet Spiderling (Boerhavia coccinea) hover in a mist of the thinnest of stems over bare patches of ground in #3 Pasture. The handsome Malvella (Malvella lepidota), which has the not so handsome common name of Scurfy Mallow, holds hibiscus-like, chaste white cups of flowers on plants sprawling through the low places at the top end of #2 Pasture. It deserves being brought into Arizona gardens, should be in hanging baskets in the Tucson nurseries.

The temperature the narrowest slice off 107 degrees … cowbirds, buntings that for some reason are still here, various flycatchers, warblers, all crowd into the shade of the wheel line wheel rims, sitting out the heat of the day perched on the upper spokes. At The Stockpond, Martins that appear black in the midday glare swing in to skim the green water where it’s open among the drifts of red algae, all this a pattern of colors of jewels and precious stone … jet … peridot … carnelian. Now the female hummers come in numbers to point their bills into that open water, driven so by thirst I guess as to risk the usual male divebombing. Black-throated Sparrows, rarely seen in this spot, also come to the water’s edge, and Cardinals too, and many Yellow Warblers, one of which has a crown and face with a glow of orange.