Tag Archives: Spiders

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”!

January 3, 2014

Or–can Winter be denied? A Bronze Dragonfly zooms over the water, past a single Green-winged Teal stretching its wings and flashing the radiant-cut emerald of a wing speculum. The duck doesn’t fly off when I pull up to the bank, which isn’t like this species that is normally wilder than wild.

The irrigation hoses are peppered with grasshoppers that are not so minute as before–they’re growing. The still unidentified Polka Dot Beetles fly and drop and zoom past, and even the little black spiders of Summer are come back to their perch on those hoses, oh goody, I can be nipped by them in January as well as in June! It is 75 degrees …

Bewick’s Wren sings, a Ruby-crowned Kinglet pokes about the mesquite branch tips. As the Galiuro cliff face catches the last sunlight and the rest of the valley around me falls into deep shadow, a welcome coolness comes in waves. Black Phoebe sings out tsip … tsip … tseep, on wheel lines where I empty water for a freeze that likely won’t come this night.

December 27, 2013

A night down near 20 degrees has left The Stockpond half frozen over, and it’s not out of the 30s yet when the irrigation nozzles need to be cleared of debris; they give my face a soaking in a cold, cold wind.

Shaggy Miner fungus, acting and looking so like their namesake as their tall heads pop up suddenly from below ground, are hard to take seriously as the desert inhabitants they are. Coming up in Winter the way they do makes them all the more unlikely.

The day breathes with just enough warmth to stir creatures six-legged and eight-legged: a black jumping spider springs from the mesquite to the handle of the shovel I’m using to remove ever more mesquite trees, and still the Polka Dot Beetles are a-flight. Removing the bermudagrass mounds from the bases of the little trees I dig out reveals that the grass is already putting out little green points of growth, there under the deep and warming quilt of old blades. Burroweeds are also sprouting fresh greenery (at their bases at least) and a Bronze Dragonfly is at The Stockpond–this species is apparently the only one that is active right through the Winter, though a week or two can go by without any of them venturing out. Just on either side of 11:00 am the warmth is sweet and the air moves in zephyrs, not in cold slaps as it had earlier.

At day’s end, the tiniest grasshoppers I’ve ever seen (and I mean minute, I can scarcely believe they’re real but sproing they do, so real they must be …) line up on the top of an irrigator’s hose that I must empty of water if it isn’t to freeze solidly in the deep cold of the night coming on.

December 4, 2013

The peak of the Rincon and its cliffs and boulders are white and dancing on the eye in the sun, making those evergreen forests on their far heights look so much the darker.  A shining white cloud crowns all, itself under a long clean blue sky.  Cottonwoods glow yellow below.  Doubtless a storm comes: the air is warm, yet has some tang to it, is even salty, and there is a strong waft of change.  Caribbean Horseweed on the pastures grows on as if none of this is happening, and even shows fresh flower buds, and on the irrigation hoses are the black spiders of Summer.  Canadian Horseweed, presumably more attuned to North America has already turned into seeds or dormant biennial rosettes and thus is well ready for Winter.

American Pipits drop in again–they’ve been elsewhere lately, probably over on the just-germinated seedling alfalfa pasture of our fence-neighbor ranch.  Midday 70 degrees, I am still eating lunch with dragonflies.

The last bat before the year’s deep freezes come on flies down the Cascabel Road, ahead of the truck in the dusk

November 27, 2013

Dia de los Birds of Prey, this must be.  My eyes come to be welded to a Merlin doing a thrilling slow, then rocketing, then suspended-in-air ballet and when I turn my head to the side what I look right into are the eyes of a Harrier sailing in straight for my face, something that’s become a real habit of this bird!  It tilts slightly, glides over my head, as laid back as a stoned hippie.  It obviously doesn’t care what my business may be, and goes about its own chores unperturbed by my presence.  A short while later there comes a Peregrine in a stoop down over the pastures, it races over the Meadowlarks who scream out and bolt blindly off in different directions to be anywhere but there.

The globs of silk webs that have lately been appearing at the tips of small mesquites in the pastures are decorated with the tiny dried mesquite leaflets, much as are the coverings of bagworms.  Inside there is no worm or larva–but spiders, very showy spiders, black with white stripes and spots.  Their silk hiding place must be a tight little shanty for them on these cold nights.

Mesquite seeds are still sprouting fresh green pairs of cotyledons from cow poop, to give us joyous chores of some Christmas Yet to Come when the trees they’ve grown into have to be pulled with incomparably more effort.

Not a grasshopper, not a dragonfly.  These fields can be almost motionless for days, and silent, and then suddenly as happens today a tree will fill with Lark Sparrows and their whistles, cheeps and bright chattering.

November 20, 2013

The Arthropods have stripes today, including a spider in a web in the little mesquites, with zebra legs.  Rain could be felt a-building, maybe not today but the sky all around and the odd light on the land announced it, and I check the rain gauge to empty it of dead flies.  There are no flies, but instead in the bottom are two dead little bees, and two that still live.  One is frantic, angry, half of it metallic Mallard green with the other, rear half black and white zebra-striped: that most perfectly named Metallic Green Sweat Bee.  The two dead ones lie curled up below, their bodies instead are ultramarine though equally metallic, equally beautiful.

It’s still pleasantly warm enough that frogs are jumping into The Stockpond at my approach, the cold that will come at the trailing edge of the expected storm will put an end to their very long party and these are the last I’ll see and hear.  No dragonflies buzz along over the frog-rippled water today.

November 8, 2013

Ravens playfully chase after a Red-tailed Hawk, they’re too smart, too agile, or too revolting in taste for the hawk to bother itself with them I suppose.  In the warm morning after a night without a freeze, the little black spiders of Summer are out on their usual perches on the surface of the irrigation hoses, and among them are dark grasshoppers (or crickets?) apparently just hatched and impossibly minute in size.

Autumnal slanting sunrays are caught in everything, light up everything … the broad, high and long avenues of watersprays of the wheel line irrigators made incandescent by them … a large pink dragonfly … the wings of the Pipits … some insect so fast of wing that they look like tiny hovering balls of light, the air over the whole broad pasture is full of them.  The ridges piled high toward that lowering Sun are dark mounds, each sharply defined by crests white, shining.

November 1, 2013

Morning.  Crystalline.  Cloudless.  Blue.  The mercury has dropped through the floor of the 30s, to my fascinated horror it is trying to arrow on down right through all the 20s without a stop, and into the teens but stays just shy of that in the early sunrise hour.  The pastures are scattered with ice and I’m glad that their big irrigation hoses were emptied last night.  The wide swaths of Barnyard Grass I cross are still green but frost edges each blade–it is all so sun-dazzling that were it to take any more time getting to the other side of the pasture I’d come out from it snow blind.

The scenes change before my eyes, the visions of the pastures quiver as I watch ice begin to drip and hoarfrost vanish and the edges of all things dissolve.  Quickly strengthening Sun like an orchestra leader raises his baton, and the mercury responds: the First of November, the first day of the Sonoran Second Spring, whose arrival is told by the European Foxtail Grass and the annual rye volunteered by last year’s plantings, now re-sprouting suddenly and massively over half of #2 Pasture.  The grass returning to the wide pradera is already an inch tall … when did that happen?!  I didn’t notice it yesterday!

By noon a drowsy warmth is coming on, but rounds of chores are such that I don’t get to eat lunch for a good while; a Great Horned Owl calls in the hot 2 o’clock hour when I get to settle back into a steep bank of The Stockpond and open the lunch mochila.  It is almost 80 degrees; it is almost 60 degrees above the temperature at dawn.   All the water is a startling algal bloom color of antifreeze, and the heat has brought awake from their morning’s frozen stupor many insects to come to drink from it: Tarantula Hawks, dragonflies varied and beautiful, a Painted Lady butterfly.  What will it take to put them finally into dormancy, or death?

I doze off with head tilted back comfortably into a hollow in the level top of the dusty pond bank, winter Stetson lowered over my face to the nose.  Nothing matches the pleasure of such a nap mid-work in so peaceful a haven, nothing so good at restoring ambition!  Something wakes me, maybe my own snoring … and in the moment before I open my eyes I hear a huffing and growling even deeper than my snore, close by, and getting closer.  I lift the hat and stretch my head backwards for a nervous look, without turning over, and see a world of upside-down mesquite trees on blue sky, and the long face and little eyes of an upside-down champion-size Javelina coming at me all a-bristle, grunting, angry and meaning business, about ten feet away.  “WaaaaaahhhHHHHH!”, I belt out my own growl, flip sideways and let out another, but the single-minded critter’s brain seems to have shut down and it comes forward even more aggressively.  In another try at returning the animal’s belligerence in hopes of scaring it off ( <*<yawn>*> … how tedious to have lost my nap …) I stretch up standing as tall as I can, curve high my arms and open wide my hands while screeching like the mythical Onza and take a step towards the Javelina, but on comes the bedeviled thing that wants back this waterhole for its troupe.  I wonder if those animals drew lots to see who’d go do this–they sure picked the right one.  I back up a couple steps, do the bear impersonation again, the Javelina bristles up even more and quickens its step forward.  One more try at this bluff and I’ve backed into the edge of the pond, and the realization sets in with a sickening mental squall that there’s no choice but to run into the water–backwards–so I could keep steady eye on the situation, or at least try to.  Onward the unhappy thing comes, right to the edge of the water as I keep stumbling in reverse but now splashing and kicking up swirls of the blackest goo, blind to what is behind me, and I guess I’m going to have to skip out backwards into the middle of that mud and water I have never wanted to touch.  Just when Cousin Javelina starts to come on in after me, I hit a trip wire: barbed strands that stretch the tall pond-filling riser to the air pocket releasing sniffer a little ways down the water main that’s buried in the mud.  And … over … I … go, still screeching out, sideways and down and fall flat into water that must be a soup of intestinal parasites and who knows what else in the deep bottom of an age’s accumulation of black and syrupy cattle manure.  Oh the smell that welled into the air … the wild splashing to find the footing to get back up standing … the wave of black muck that covered me with an odor that makes me retch–NOW the Javelina decides this creature it’s decided to attack might better have been avoided, and after a quick panicked snort of “Why, just look at the time!”, it trots off fast and huffing, to the extended family on the other side of the grove of mesquites, and they’re gone.  The irrigation is running, and I realize I can turn the handle on that pond riser hydrant to get such a blast of water that I’m peeled of the mud covering boots, Wranglers, shirt, and what little skin that’s ever exposed anyway to the Sonoran Desert sun.  Though I’m clean in not much more than an instant with the convenient power washing, a certain miasmic smell lingers, as does an ear-pounding, worked-up tension that will take its time to fade off.  It’s not the first such event, and won’t be the last, I think to myself, and I also think to myself that the reason cowboys wore a side arm was to drop or scare off the Adventure of the Day–keep his skin, keep his life going long enough for the next horse to try to drag him across the rocks and cactus and that he must stop literally dead in its track if he is to live, or until the next skunk or bobcat wants to tear him up and get those clever rabies bugs into him, or stop a Mojave Rattler who has experienced a loss of composure and comes zinging after him.

More bugs, beetles, and spiders fill the air and creep in the grassland in the strong afternoon sun–around The Cienega, blue or green or deep copper dragonflies and one small one that’s pale bronze and very shiny, and blue damselflies … a gigantic katydid … a pale brown, very small jumping spider.  No matter the November date some of these are ones I haven’t seen heretofore, and that I suspect are just now starting their flickering candle quickly extinguished life on the planet.  Among the new ones in the bermudagrass are a few brilliantly colored, small beetles in shape like a blister beetle, green, with three pairs of black polka dots showing down the length of the “back” when the insects are at rest.  Afraid they are indeed blister beetles, I dare not harry them; I name them “Polka Dot Beetles”.

I am distracted by a Vermillion Flycatcher still hanging on in the valley, and almost step square onto the back of a Striped Skunk who–I am so thankful!–merely ambles off grumbling about its klutzy human neighbor.  I’ve lost count of the number of similar encounters I’ve had with skunks in the pastures on both sides of The River over the years, all of them without having come to an unhappy end.  Luck? or do skunks have a mostly undeserved bad rap, at least if they’re not rabid?

October 8, 2013

The newly established native grass planting is being weaned into dormancy, getting watered only twice a month and in decreasing amounts–it is a showcase of wintering sparrows (Lincoln’s, White-crowned, Vesper, Savannah, and a female Lark Bunting.) Seeding amaranths in there are shoulder high and dropping spiny fruits into my boot tops, irritating my feet but quite the buffet spread for the birds. Native gramas long before established by themselves in there, plus naturalized Stinkgrass and Lovegrass, add to the seed bounty.

Opening one of the growing number of silky chambers appearing in the outside branches of the small mesquites overgrowing the pastures, I find a large-bodied, pearly-gray furry spider, fascinating and also unsettling, with an abdomen fat as if it were storing up supplies for the winter.

A drive to that north dirt tank reveals it still has water in it, going on three weeks after the last rain. It has always been “productive” of little birds, but today a Sharp-shinned Hawk is present and the only sound is crickets. The electric wires and utility poles, t-posts and barbed wire strands, and mesquite crowns are also empty of Cassin’s Kingbirds, and I think ours must have left.

Amigo Snipe is at The Stockpond, and Snout Butterflies, and a plain, nut-brown dragonfly with a blue, soap bubble sheen to the wings. Across the water itself gracefully swims a bright orange, large Water Scorpion–or should it be called better, Water Stick?

A Verdin peeps in the mesquites of The Lane; they are almost absent from these lands I work every day.

September 30, 2013

The bird who holds “Summer” in his very name and in his hot colors, a fine red male Summer Tanager, is singing in the edge of #1 Pasture but–he takes his season with him today, is the last of his kind I will see at all until the sun comes to warm this hemisphere again in a new year. A Dusky-capped Flycatcher is alone in the mesquite edge a little further along, and it will also be the last. Many kingbirds however are still putting on such thrilling aerial feats that it seems they have no plans of departing, not soon anyway; after all, it’s still 92 degrees today.

A friendly Shrike keeps me company as I dig and dig mesquite from these Augean Pastures, he is perched in lookout at the top of a piled jumble of the despatched mesquite that are to be hauled off. All the while the bird fusses, babbles merrily, calls, scorns his “SHREE Shree shreeee”, or cooes much like a Budgie who sits contentedly with its reflection in a little mirror. That Shrike is of Winter, will not leave us, then, until just about that week when the first Summer Tanagers will return to the bosque of Cascabel.

A late day ride on-range. The sky is Arizona Blue, a darker hue than that palest of blue that arches over the Mojave to the West, but paler than the blue that far to the East will stun the eye over enchanting New Mexico where flickering gold Cottonwoods will soon be set against it. The Light itself is of a different quality now, as it passes through air that through the day swings in temperature from 45 degrees to 95 degrees, air that is soaked in humidity in the morning but by the time a late sun slants through it, comes to feel parched. The clarity of the mountains and the immensely complicated and convoluted canyons and ridges all around us and above us is startling; there is much to distract from the stone piles, nasty Cholla stubs and Catclaw hooks and badger holes we need carefully to guide our horses around. The lands march away and upwards, blue ridge on endless blue ridge, layered, feathered. When we turn for home and our souls have taken in as much beauty as they seem able to bear, Old El Sol has lowered himself to that angle where every drying out plant, spine, fruit, seed and pod is set to incandescence, dangling or held above the golden carpets of Needle and Six-weeks Gramagrass that have now also dried and catch every particle of light. Tall Saguaro are each haloed in this light passing through their spines, the Creosote Bush hold their billions of fuzzy but glittering diamonds, Spiderlings have become drifts of twigs lit and glowing yellow on the ground, and everywhere in the fading mesquite are dense white silk webs that also shine in that low sun in front of us–another beautiful thing in that most beautiful light but I suspect the roving (and dreaded) venomous Burn Worms of the Mesquite Buckmoth have something to do with the sudden appearance of these bright silky tangles. Scattered everywhere are the Barrel Cactus, their flowers gone, crowned in fruit of a green that dances, the color is so bright; they look now more like they’re wearing Carmen Miranda headdresses than they did only a couple months back when in their bright colors of silky petals they looked more like they were wearing Sunday gospel hats. “Aren’t we lucky to be able to see This Arizona?” Pat says with a contented sigh. Though it is still nicely warm (well, outdoor-living Arizonans feel chilly if there comes a drop below 80 degrees …) there are no sounds of Summer, no cicadas, no werping flycatchers–just grasshopper-like tsking of Brewer’s Sparrows that have just arrived and flit from most every lit-up Creosote Bush …