Tag Archives: Sweetclovers

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.

June 18, 2013

Lizardtail (Gaura mollis), a common but distinctive tall wildflower of irrigated pastures hereabouts, is coming into bloom with delicate small pink flowers. In Spanish its name is much the more poetic, less grating in both sound and meaning than in English: Linda Tarde.

Five Mule Deer of the herd of seven come to eat, in the pasture where they bed down in the Sweetclover. They’re a bit bigger than they were a few weeks ago, and more shy though they do continue grazing with me nearby. What has happened to the two missing ones? Some have fine sets of antlers, others with antlers only beginning to show.

Today The Stockpond is ringed not with yellow birds (chats) but by a great number of blue ones (grosbeaks). Hummers galore zip down to the water surface, even more of them than I’d seen doing this before if that be possible. For the next two weeks–or until the sweeping in of the first couple of monsoon storms–The Stockpond will be The Place for birds. A couple of pairs of eyes pop up from below the pond’s surface, jut above and out into the air, and they seem to be taking a knowing look at the world. They are of frogs or toads coming up for air, and their monstrous size says that this must be the first appearance of the Sonoran Toad. Once the toads start splashing around in ponds and puddles, garden fountains and jacuzzis, it means the temporales are on their way and that, we hope, nothing will stop. As with the first showing of Gila Monsters, local people celebrate this moment of The Arrival of the Toads but also worry about it if they have pets that will worry this very toxic toad and mouth it.

June 17, 2013

The portable electric, car battery-powered fence needs to be stretched down Pasture #2(north)–the last of the growing grass blades of winter’s “small cereal” graze should be eaten down by the newly enlarged herd or it will be wasted, and the live fenceline will keep them in there (if I rub a lamp) until that’s accomplished. As I set up posts and string the single wire on them, I come along to the broad patch of Yellow Sweetclover in the center of the field, blooming and sweet-smelling all right, and find it pressed in here and there with the bed grounds of the deer that visit occasionally. There must still be quite a few. Stretching out from that side of the electric fence, too, are the older plantings of the winter grasses, now not much more than straw crowned with nodding heads of leftover grains. It is glittering with Blue Grosbeaks, feasting on the seeds.

Something new appears in Pasture #3, a single plant of a pretty composite, with small pink flowers on thin and ghostly stems. I take a sample to study at home, and over the course of a few hours that cut and dying sample in a panic revs up the production of seeds with little fluffy parachutes that become airborne in the manner of the world’s worst weeds, as buoyant and uncatchable as dust. By this time I’m jumpy about new weeds appearing, though this one turns out to be a native, at least elsewhere in The West: Lygodesmia juncea, “Rushpink”. The species has been moving this way for years down from far to the north of us. All this kind of stuff is just plain old evolution and natural change in phytogeography, though I even include humankind’s role in that as “natural” when a plant comes from across the world and then goes into takeover mode. Some references mention possibile toxicity to livestock, but information is minimal. I’ll write to the County Ag Agent, Kim, and ask if she’s heard of the plant becoming a problem or if it is even being recorded elsewhere in Cochise.

May 29, 2013

Bats and Nighthawks are taking their final sips as their shift ends, the woods around is dark and the creatures themselves invisible, but the pond surface catches enough dawn to show their reflections and so I can only see them upside down. Nothing is as it seems in the crepuscule.

I go about the usual circles, opening the irrigation, back to the pump to turn it on, out to the pastures to see that all is operating well and efficiently using that priceless water, adjust sprinklers, unscrew nozzles to clear out grit and pebbles the pump has sucked up and that will clog an opening (and so I get the usual soaking which still feels cold with the dawn standing at 50 degrees), then swing on back to The Stockpond to see who has come now the sun is heading towards the cliff bottoms. Just the usual neighbors hangin’ out at the cafe: warblers, sparrows, tanagers. Ernest Tubb undoubtedly in a cowboy hat twangs out from the dashboard and from 1950, “I Love You Because”. I sip coffee, munch a tortilla, munch on the day’s cow chores, munch on all the fences that are also twanging out and popping off their posts. I think back to when a ranch visitor almost twenty years ago asked me one dawn in the cooktent if I thought it was going to rain, and I answered him, “Yessir, eventually.”

No Western Tanagers, they seem to have left en masse.

The dark shade of large and dense mesquites invites me to take lunch up on the rim of an old stocktank that still collects the runoff from the hills across the road if a storm cell dumps water in just the right canyon above. I can look down from that bank top at the wheel lines and can see their watering stop when the pump shuts itself off before the 1 pm peak hour rates begin. The scenes below on the fields and above on the hills and mountains and the cool shade invite a siesta though I must beware the large ants foraging around me. At least I must not roll over on any. An orange from some place far from this foodshed is my desert, the peels are left for a favorite steer who has learned to eat them. A thought comes: we humans are no less (and no less legitimate) recyclers of biomass than are those mahogany-colored ants (or gophers for that matter), the difference being only of scale. We do it on a continental, even planetary, scale. I’ve been at the bottom of those orange skins becoming the humus of a spot very far from where they were brought into being by the natural processes and cycles in their homeland, or bioregion if you will, and I’ve been responsible for their being added to the biomass (and decomposing litter) in this one. Humus is neither created nor destroyed, but transferred from one place to another? Multiply that by the rest of what I eat in a day, and that again by 7 billion of us, and we will know that indeed we are changing more than just the Earth’s climate. Will the result be any less “natural” an outcome than what should have happened here without us?

The mesquites are gravid with pods, though many trees are still in bloom and I take in delicious, deep drafts of the sweetness, allergies be damned. The calves are eating the flower spikes as if they were popsicles, their mammas reaching higher for the even headier and protein-rich catkins of Catclaw Acacia, with blossoms that fill the air with an indescribably rich fragrance one might only come on in perfume shops hidden down tangled alleys of old Mombasa.

Seven almost-grown Mule Deer join me on the pasture as I head out across to turn down the risers to conserve untold thousands of gallons of water that would keep flowing out if I didn’t. It is always a big hassle to do this, but I don’t dare waver from the chore. The deer are unsure of me yet also quite unafraid and they let me approach closely as I tend to my own business at hand. They come to graze on the yellow sweet-clover which in its tall drifts is loudly abuzz with honeybees, and there is the maturing barley, oats, wheat and rye, the globemallow, bermudagrass and saltweed for them and the javelina, Coues’ Deer, jackrabbits and cottontails–and the cattle.

These Mule Deer have the same power to enchant as the Catclaw blooming at the pastures’ edges, are so startling in their near-tameness as to seem visitors from one of the Yaqui ania “dream worlds” (if dream they be) where all is flowery and the streams do run. The Yaquis would understand how all in the crepuscule here is not as it appears, living as they do at the other book-end of this Sonoran Desert where their own rio comes to the sea, or at least used to. As I learned from spending a winter in the extreme south of Sonora, everyday life at the opposite shore of this desert is in many ways like ours, at least here in this wild valley of unpaved roads and people who know that as with the word “cowboy”, “neighbor” is both noun and verb.

The physical surroundings of that far land in Sonora take little adjusting to if once you have become at-home on the San Pedro, and I look up from the Mule Deer to hills and peaks that remind me of that beloved part of Mexico. The colors at this season, above the lush riverbottom flats I and the deer stand on, are the same grays and pale browns of the monte mojino–the “tropical deciduous forest”–of Alamos, only here the trees and shrubs are shorter, with no closed canopy because we are much colder though that is hard to remember just now with the afternoon temperatures always in the 90s and very soon in the 100s. Our grays and browns are even more pronounced than usual, because the last rains of any note fell eight months ago on this range. We end up with no closed canopy here on our hills not only because of the cold, but because of the dryness: it looks like every last Foothills Paloverde up there has gone from green to brown and died outright from the drought. The O’odham believe that saguaros we see had once been individual people, and so I can imagine the few of these cactus trees that we look up at on those heat-shattered hills among the dead paloverdes are longing for the arrival of the temporales. The saguaros struggled to bloom this year, and none of them flowered right around here. Will it rain this summer? Will it ever rain again? Yessir, eventually.

May 14, 2013

The Stockpond is perfectly still, and perfectly reflected in its dawn-pink mirror is the pair of Mexican Mallard … in the bright green mesquites all around the chats are doing what they do best, chatting. The air has a comfortable coolness to it but by afternoon will reach nearly to 100 degrees.

At lunchtime a Pine Siskin alights in the branches of one of The Stockpond mesquites, just above Tom O., Nancy F., and me, while we eat lunch on the bank.

A first cicada for this place (they were active on range a week ago already) splits that afternoon heat with a long wailing rattle, this sound the faultline where spring ends and a summer begins that seems never will end. Blossoms on the spikes of Copper Globemallow (Sphaeralcea angustifolia) are beginning to open, now the plants finally have recovered from those two deep freezes that had killed most of them to the ground, if not altogether. (In other, milder years there can usually be found a flower or two on the plants in every month of winter.) This much-favored browse of our herd and the deer who also live with us is nutritious for four-leggeds. It and other members of the genus Sphaeralcea are important to livestock from here down through the Mayo lands of Sonora and far into Mexico and they respond in a positive way to the animals’ pruning.

Small Azure butterflies, showing copper on wings above, and below a sheen of silver-lavender laid over black zebra striping, are coming to the yellow Sweet-clover flowers.

Western Tanagers are becoming much more noticeable, and in patterns of black, white, yellow and orange-red they flash down The Lane in front of the truck.

May 13, 2013

The temperatures begin today to cross into the 90s, pushing the vegetation along into Summer that a calendar claims falsely will not come to us for more than another month. The Stockpond’s surface is covered with a film of pollen. Even the cattle are coughing.

On the pastures yellow sweet-clover (Melilotus) is growing lushly, tall, and blooming abundantly, its fragrance carried on the wind and inviting in the Mule Deer whose favorite graze it seems to be. Our cattle go right after this naturalized plant as soon as they’re rotated into a new pasture with it, too, even though it has coumarin within it that supposedly can affect an overindulging animal badly. I’ve never seen any such outcome with the plant, though, I guess because the toxin cannot become active without enough humidity for a mold to grow on the plants. (Humidity will at least half the time register in the single digits this month and next; so much for mold …) Cowbirds have come along in numbers, and true to their name are attending the cows. A last flock of Chipping Sparrows came down to one of the large puddles around an irrigation riser: the birds will be gone any day to the North, or leave for the oak woodlands at higher elevations here where they spend the summer in spare numbers. In Pasture #3 a pair of Brown-crested Flycatcher are purrrrtling and courting, at least I think they’re Brown-crested going on the strength of that rolling purtle, but I wasn’t able to see those tiny details of how far towards the tip goes a darker banding on the tail feathers. The other calls don’t match exactly those described for either Ash-throated or Brown-crested, though are closer to “whit-will-do” than to “ka-brick”. The field guide isn’t very helpful, either, with,

Ash-throated Flycatcher:
smaller bill than Brown-crested;
very pale gray [breast];
very pale yellow [belly]


Brown-crested Flycatcher:
larger bill than Ash-throated;
pale gray [breast];
pale yellow [belly]

Truly a “dastardly duo”, as Tucson Audubon Society calls such confusing pairs of species. If I accidentally left the big hose out of the port on the wheel line irrigator, those birds would immediately take up housekeeping (or at least house building) inside the pipe-axle’s ready made cavity. Sometimes I find the cows have unhooked that firehose from the port and left it flung out on the grass to the side, which also leaves the inside of the axle/pipe open to the househunting flycatcher pair. Years ago I hooked up a water hose to an open port of one of the units elsewhere across The River, turned on the pump, and in a few seconds had distributed a nest in pieces into a couple dozen sprinkler heads and there was the devil to pay to get them all cleaned out again. You only have to do that once before you flush out a system like that first with the endcaps off, should you have found one of those ends open or that a hose had been off for a few days! As much as these flycatchers are among my favorite birds, I want their attention be focused elsewhere for nest sites such as “natural” holes abandoned by the woodpeckers who had excavated them in the saguaros on the slopes just above us.