Tag Archives: Thistles

February 27, 2014

The windows of the Cowboy Caravan must be left open for the day, otherwise it will be too hot to sleep comfortably tonight, and too hot for the comfort as well of the inside window garden of English Primrose, Iceland Poppy, Chinese Pinks and Cyclamens, all in flower-show bloom.

The female Cinnamon Teal is missing this morning, but the female Vermillion Flycatcher has arrived, to drive into a frenzy the boys who’ve been here for a while bach’ing it.  A frog swims off from the bank in water gone opaque, bright olive green with algae.  A large hawkmoth with bright hindwings striped pink, and brown mottled forewings, and long white antennae ending in black knobs, swings right past the truck windshield, drops to the rippled surface, hovers flat and drops its proboscis and drinks and drinks.  It’s only the second time I’ve ever seen one do this, the first was of another species, the White-lined Sphinx, over a pool of the San Pedro years ago.

Full sized, mottled-brown grasshoppers appear again, and comes for Spring a single Rough-winged Swallow who glides low over sunny, windy pastures.  Malta Star Thistle has exploded in three of those pastures, to give yet another year the horrid, mind-numbing chore of trying to rid ourselves of them, and I try painting undiluted white vinegar across their leaves with a brush to see if that could burn them out “organically” … Foxtail grass also overnight has started to show their flat, feather-edged paddles of inflorescences held outwards on the ground, bringing to mind that a fretful time will come when those spikes become sharp and dried and endanger the jaws and tender cheeks of the cattle.  More Cottonwood leaves unfurling, moving towards Summer shade … this seems to have come on here in this Once and Future Sonora even earlier than I’d seen it in Alamos, far to the south in Old Mexico.

February 10, 2014

Red dawn, the kind I think will be coming through my old window in Alamos right now at the other reach of this far-flung Sonoran Desert in Mexico. Before sunrise over Mason Pastures it is 38 degrees, by noon, 75.

The whiffling of bluebirds: so high are they that they are invisible, only their notes pass overhead, and fall all around me. Gnatcatchers wheeze in the dense mesquite twigs.

Large saffron ants, in mounds and islands three or four bodies deep, are going in and out of their cavern but not carrying anything. Do they wait along the procession route of Persephone hoping for a glimpse–surely she is returned? They’re late, the goddess is already abroad: Bob tells that he’s heard a Poorwill calling in the evening already … Cardinals are singing of Spring joyously at El Potrero, dragonflies fly there as well, the Malta Starthistle is becoming too obviously still present and their mumbled threat can be heard, “I’m gonna get you, and your little pasture too!”, and the first bat comes out in the evening over the Cowboy Caravan.

January 24, 2014

A whole flock of Abert’s Towhees races up and down the banks of The Stockpond in their frenetic way, and out on the water, three beautiful Ring-necked Duck.  Song Sparrows, Phyrrhuloxias, and a Green-tailed Towhee also come.

Cold wind, cold air, icy skin after I get wet clearing debris from running sprinkler nozzles–though the mornings have begun to warm to where at least they start out above the teens.  The ant circles are without sign of life on the pastures on this day that will barely reach 60 degrees.  Our now-resident Heron stalks the tall grass looking for mice or gophers, both of which there are in plenty!

The plants of Spring that emerge and slowly develop during the cool days of Winter are stirring to life, unsettlingly early it seems … a London Rocket holds up its first flowers, and, oh no! Malta Star Thistles  … Malta Star Thistles are popping up their so-innocent looking rosettes.

Digging out more posts in my work that I hope will foil Mycha’s fence jumping and escaping this summer, I toss from the shovel a stripy Whiptail Lizard, sluggish and still in its winter nightcap (I feel guilty for having awakened it) and then a Twin-spotted Spiny Lizard who is very much more active and downright peeved about having been unearthed.  I can almost hear it grumble, “Well didja hafta do that?!” as it runs off at full speed before some Roadrunner can arrive.

A day of sullen sky, gray to its end.  Many, many doves whistle overhead as they go to The Stockpond when it’s almost too dark to see them, as I finish getting the wheel lines ready in case there is much of a freeze tonight.

August 3, 2013

Never have I seen such a beautiful alignment of The Heavens as arranges itself on the low horizon of the East at 4 am, a while before first light … Jupiter … Crescent Moon … Orion … above them all, the Pleiades. The martins do not add their own vocal sparkle until 4:30 or so; something changes with them, they fill the air later, closer to sunrise which is itself coming later but not so markedly as to explain the change in the birds’ schedule.

The morning air is thick, thick with humidity, thick with Mourning Doves, thick with the whistling of dove wings. I find a single Kochia scoparia–“Poor Man’s Alfalfa”–a Eurasian amaranth brought in long ago in hopes of improving cattle grazing but now widely invasive on The River not far from Mason’s. It hasn’t been noticed right here before, and we may not welcome it particularly given the reports of its toxicity if not given tedious management. Oh goody, another weed problem. “Oh well, at least we’ve got the flowering stage Bull Thistle in here taken care of,” I gloat to myself of course just before finding one of those. Hubris, and payback.

As this humid day winds down, but long before sunset, I sit in the truck at the edge of The Stockpond and listen to the mellow whistles of a Blue Grosbeak still singing out his mating song and territorial declarations. Then, out from the grove of mesquite and hackberry to the right comes floating–for it seems barely to move, and is more suspended in the air with how it can fly with hardly a wingbeat–a bat larger than any I’ve yet seen in Arizona. Oh it is superb, of a strange color and pattern, flashing pale brown and darker brown and I suppose it is a trick of the light that makes its wings looked striped as it comes back and forth across the pond. In this flight it is slow and graceful, its wings whose whole span must measure at least a foot across are hardly pumped; it barely dips in its slow and level movement to the water for a dainty, quick sip. All this would be incredible enough, but the ears–the ears look impossibly large. They are very long, and stick out in front of the head nearly horizontally or at not much of a raised angle, with ends flipped out and up like a pair of antlers! After good long looks at it with binoculars, I see it alight in one of the little mesquites on the bank and swing there for a while, lick and groom its wings and body happily, with an uncannily friendly look on its face. It drops out into air and swings low back over the water for another drink, and does this repeatedly until thirst is quenched. [This habit before the light was gone will not match anything I can find on large Arizona bats with huge ears, but Nancy F. helps with the identification by contacting her bat biologist friend Ronnie S., who kindly gave advice and thinks it likely is the Townsend’s Big-eared Bat. Everything I read about the species does confirm this; I never see another, it is amazing luck to have been there for this one’s visit.]

June 29, 2013

A Great Blue Heron sails past out on the Pastures, how can a birder ever get used to this species being in the desert? Its size and movement, pure majesty. The five Yellow-headed Blackbirds are here today again and I wonder if they’ll stay nearby for the summer.

The big, wingless red and black “Velvet Ants” (wasps) have started their purposeful and quick search over the ground for the holes of other wasps and bees they might parasitize, oh they are splendid insects if a bit scary, considering their powerful sting’s reputation. I find a few more Bull Thistle flowering heads that must be removed, some have bees impaled in an upright position and dead on the bristles of those flowers, as if put on a pin there by a collector. Were they clumsy? trapped by the arrangement of the prickles? stuck there by a predator? blown into the involucres by the spring winds that never ended this year? (I’m about to be blown into craziness myself by the dry blasts that hit the Ridge House through the night, clear the table of every paper, pull the pictures off the refrigerator magnets and all, pull paintings down, slam doors, turn over patio chairs, blow lamps off shelves …)

Later in the day those winds spring to life, a hot blast of air like a propane torch has the metal frames of my glasses burning my nose and eye brows, 10% humidity, the temperature soars to 107 degrees–not quite to that point where I could start to malfunction. It’s too late for the souls of those Creosote Bush leaves to cry for water and the Monsoon, for they are blowing off in pale yellow and brown masses and the hills round about become even more barren … […]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uicy9wFuNvU

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 9, 2013

The double gates swing wide into The Lane, and receive the cow herd we’ve pushed down from the uplands with along the way an overnight stay for them at Elna & Jimmy’s on the bank of Hot Springs Canyon. It is of course fun to participate in such a now-rare thing, and the help offered and given by Saguaro Juniper members is grand–a few people on foot, some in vehicles and stocktrailer rig, three on horseback. In the era of wildly hazing (yee … haw) cows, calves, bulls, heifers and steers sardine-style into trailers, taking off and being done with it, while I rode along I wondered if we aren’t the last holdout in Cochise County of such an “Old West” way. We are in part pushed into it by the cost of fuel, and a poverty of facilities, but equally so by wanting to stay with something that is in direct touch with the animals we raise, the horses we ride, and the landscape we ride–and stride–across.

“The Great Cascabel Cow Move of June 2013” goes smoothly and sweetly on a surprisingly “cool” morning (60 degrees at dawn) and our Foxtrotter, Loompy, performs gorgeously beneath me, but fretful and watchfully, tightly wound I’ll always be in such an affair. The years have gone by since these lands, past which we bring the herd, have been taxed according to their value for growing beef instead of taxed according to their value for growing real estate profits, and the fences along the gravel road reflect this: mostly, they are down, caught by the grader and torn into messes, or gone completely including water gaps where a canyon’s opening would be a natural temptation for a cow to peel off into. Owner’s aren’t so concerned now about keeping livestock in because mostly they don’t have any, or concerned about keeping someone else’s out. It would be easy to have a wayward animal lead a bunch off to the hills to the East, or crash into the River bottom and have them all disappear into a hopeless tangle of saltcedar, mesquite, willow and cottonwood, which would turn a fine day into near endless misery. Cascabel Road isn’t much of a cattle highway any more, but everyone handles the reality superbly. When those Mason gates swing and close behind, I let out a great lungful of air, give thanks for all those people around me, give thanks that we and our fellow livestock are all whole, Molly didn’t have her calf in the road, and the young ones had kept up (sometimes Loompy nudged their butts to keep them motivated.) There is romping and bellowing and running as the herd that’s brought in runs in with the herd that has been at Mason’s through the winter and they work out the points of becoming a single unit.

In the late afternoon I return to check on the state of peace or conflict, and find the Brown-headed Cowbird population already increased proportionately with the “new” herd size! Up in #3 Pasture, our very own distelfinks–Lesser Goldfinches–are massing on the seeding heads of Malta star thistle, feasting, joyously twittering or giving out lazy, satisfied notes. That won’t be enough to get control of the nasty weed, but the birds are most welcome to stay for this dinner.

Lots of Purple Martins are overhead after the sun is gone, their number over the spring being few up til now.

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.

May 2, 2013

The Stockpond is alive with birds, among them a single (shouldn’t it be so?) Solitary Sandpiper hunts the shore, unafraid of me; if past observation holds this will be the one day he is with us, on his way to Canada or Alaska and he’s loading fuel for a trip over vast deserts that lie between this mud and Idaho. Summer Tanager males are increasing in numbers (who’d complain?) and into the middle of them and some oddly olive-tinted Song Sparrows and a whole lot of frantic Yellow-rumped Warblers comes screeching and rattling a male Belted Kingfisher, which after the middle of April is in these parts a great rarity. He is elegantly beautiful, and appears to be coming up with fish in his big and splashy dives into the pool from the overhanging mesquite branches from which he’d knocked the tanagers, but there’s not supposed to be any fish in this pond. I’m unable to get a better look at what he’s preying on before he leaves and it’s doubtful I see him again.

As I make rounds through Pasture #2(south), a large rosette of a Milk Thistle jumps into sight–incredibly prickly and incredibly attractive but out it must come, without remorse. A number of us spent a lot of time a year ago removing every plant of that dangerously invasive species we could find, from tiny seedlings to large ones in beautiful lilac-colored flower. A year ago they were in almost every pasture, but the removal of the one today I hope marks the extirpation of this troublesome Eurasian “weed” from Mason’s. It may be only a matter of time before more appear, since this exotic is coming at us from at least three directions: south towards Cascabel on the road from Pinal County, northwest from roadside thick with it outside Dragoon, northeast from the verge of the freeway from Tucson on the edge of Benson. Vehicle tires may have most to do with this, though I know of the plant being grown in pots for its beauty and for its reported medicinal properties.