Tag Archives: Wildflowers (Other)

September 17, 2013

Though the goblets of Toloache blossoms are still fresh, abundant and fragrant on plants outside the fenceline along the road as if Summer were never to end, the bosque and ponds are without birdsong now in the dawn. It is quiet but for crickets, and a couple of chip-notes of arrived Fall sparrows.

Swainson’s Hawks continue to pass through, though in fewer numbers than I might expect–then today we make a field trip to the Nature Conservancy’s Cobra Ranch by way of Willcox and it is revealed that a main column of this bird must follow the Sulphur Springs Valley as a route south, rather than the San Pedro. Outside Willcox we pass a wide field, and on it there are mind-teasing numbers of Swainson’s Hawks at rest on the ground, the unmoving, standing birds evenly placed as if the whole were a vast farm of fighting cocks or a garden gnome storage lot. For a moment I almost unconsciously passed off all those hawks as just decoys someone had placed a little too carefully; I’ve never seen so many birds of prey in one ground spot before!

September 10, 2013

Slept under the sheet again but this time with the window closed. 60 degrees!

We saddle the horses, ride up onto the range, and find the last Summer calendar page of Barrel Cactus bloom has precious few days on it before it too must be torn away: only the inmost circle of flowers on them are open to be admired, after a month of their delighting the heart of a rider. Sun is changing, the world turned, a different glow passes through the Ocotillo wands. We scare up a Scaled Quail, whose “cotton top” catches this wonderful (dare I call it this out loud?) autumnal light.

August 12, 2013

A hot night, awake with sweat and the poking and biting of “bugs”, but an eventual falling to sleep. The feel of one more crawling on me makes me give up and I turn on the early news out of San Francisco–crackling radio AM in the a.m., giving that flavor of coming from some far off, exotic place–and bring coffee back to bed. I sip in a large moth that in the dark I couldn’t see had bumbled over the lip of the mug. Pppphhhthtwpp! how … Silence of the Lambs.

I admire roadsides of that finest of this wet season’s annual wildflowers, the Summer Poppy that is glowing everywhere; in places its orange petals are entwined with the blue wide trumpets of Tall Morning-glory, these colors with the early sun shooting through them would have moved Tiffany to some new creation in glass. At Mason’s I find the young and still very cute Sonoran Desert Toads have moved away from The Stockpond altogether, spread themselves over the south end of #1 Pasture but especially taking up in the new native grass pasture we’ve planted and that we are now watering every day there is no Monsoon storm of any account. A cuckoo calls from the pond where the tadpoles swam so briefly, though his calling for rain won’t be working during this, one of those five to six day spells between widespread temporales. The skies, the clouds, are most magnificent and sometimes there’s a bit of thunder, but Earth-maker isn’t at the moment roused to anger and I can relax without worry of being hit by lightning. One is caused to raise the eyes often, to see how much it has all changed in the last few minutes, how the sky has piled high itself with clouds that then vanish, threaten and boil up again, vanish again.

June 30, 2013

The morning is hot, smokey, with that odd blue light of a partial eclipse, but what’s being eclipsed is not the sun but the forest in far away New Mexico: my old wilderness haunts there in that high country are again burning. Perhaps some favorite old tree I once talked with in The Gila is now suspended in the air around me on the San Pedro, and I take into my lungs its very elements, absorb it into my body, dissolve it in my blood as it was absorbed already long ago in my mind and memory, woven into the fabric of my psyche. It is strange to see a Nighthawk come in to drink in this dimness at 8:00 a.m.–an unusual addition to the usual morning whirl and gyre of swallows and martins. Something big is up. A little more than a week has passed since Dia de San Juan, the 4th of July a little less than a week from now … one date looked to by Borderers with Hispanic, pre-Gadsden Purchase leanings as the start of Monsoon, the other by Borderers who might think in Manifest Destiny terms. Perhaps the two will fuse at last, when Monsoon comes between the two? That may be what today is.

At lunch a Black Phoebe alights in the six inch layer of dust on the roasting, sunny opposite slope of The Stockpond, flattens itself, spreads out its wings fully, hunkers itself into the dust, droops open a red-lined mouth and simply lies there. I think it must have died in the 110 degree heat, and I walk over in curiosity, but suddenly it wakes and flies off in obvious good health. There are no ants right there, so it wasn’t anointing itself with those insects that some birds work with to discourage feather parasites. I expect it was cooking out the cooties, from above by the sun, from below by heat being released upward by the deep dust.

This Mason Pasture cattle herd has since about that Dia de San Juan been a test of my talents at longsuffering. As our Ellison’s grandmother told him, “A cow will go where she wants to.” Every morning lately I’ve come along to find the portable electric fences pulled into pieces, posts broken in half, clamps neatly taken off battery terminals, beeves and bovinas and becerros scattered across pastures “where they’re not supposed to be” (yeah, I know–as if!) If the recently arrived from range members of the bunch aren’t going to pay attention to this modern method of controlling their grazing, we’re going to have a big challenge in grass management from now on. In the afternoon with the atmosphere pensive and the sky from a distance giving troubled growls, I walk one more time a quarter mile out across the wide flat bottom where I am the tallest thing around, give putting the fence system back together yet one more try, change out the battery, re-braid the fine wires that carry the pulsing electric jolts. Jimmy, Elna, Sue and Bob will arrive soon to watch the sunset-time bird showing at The Stockpond, where I’ve left lawn chairs and little tables for antojitos for us but the day now promises a different kind of show. Lightning bolts come down on the other side of the hills to the East, their thunder grows and it’s all I can do to keep my nerve from unraveling–concentration is put into the quickest re-set of the posts and the repairs as can be done without being shoddy, because the herd must go back into the area or be let into some place else that will demolish the next week’s cycle planned with careful hubris. It is work to stay calm, and keep to the chore; keeping panic from taking over takes a will I can’t be sure will last. If I run for the corner gate and the truck, it will surely catch the eye of the predator lightning and I’ll be toast. The last wires are woven back together to complete the fenceline, and it seems logical to expect lightning then to hit the wire at the other end, while I’m holding it. ((What am I doing out here??)), I think to myself, but it will be finished, has to be done, and there’s an end to it. Meanwhile the the herd has come along and sees me far out on the pasture, and they pile up at a far gate sure I’ll let them in there. They’re always cowvoyant about such things. I let out a Mexican whistle when I’m done, and get back a chorus of excited moos.

All is set, the fenceline and battery test out functioning, the cattle are whistled in and they run, skip and kick by chorttling, and then make a right turn and go directly towards the electric fenceline and the always more attractive side of the pasture with the always greener grass. They come to a sliding stop when they see the line all fixed up again … “curses!”, they whisper. Then … a howling wind of a sudden bowls into us, I have to hold my straw Resistol with both hands or it will blow over the River gallery forest, dust rises thick above the pasture, rises higher in sheets and tails, gets grit up in layers blowing sideways to sting all our eyes and rub out the sharp edges of the figures of the cows. In the moment that many of the herd edge their noses to the wire to check whether it’ll pop them this time, we’re all blinded by a stunning flash of lightning, the bolt hitting the ground between us and the pond, and the near-instant thunder boom scares every cow off their front hooves at the same moment, they’re into the air, on their back legs on which they spin a 180 turn, churn up more and more dust to fly over all our heads in brown curtains. Instead of blowing through the wire and posts as they had planned, they flee in a classic unstoppable stampede from the fence in the direction of the lightning bolt instead. Once I come back into human physical form from the quivering molded jello on a plate I was left in by the lightning and thunder almost on top of us, I myself madly stampede back to the cowboy gate and fiddle with the barbed wire and metal latching with a prayer that it’s got back up before that fenceline could be struck by the next lightning. Pat and Sue both say later, “Well that was a perfect moment–those cattle thought your electric fenceline did it all to them when they got their noses too close! Bet they never go near that again!!”

I flee back to the truck and get to The Stockpond where the folks down there are gamely sitting in the lawn chairs and pouring wine, within a quick jump of their own vehicles of course. Not much in the way of winged creatures ventures along for a drink in front of us what with the gale rising and a lightning-streaked wall of dark cloud towering up and coming towards us from the Sulphur Springs Valley to the East, and I fear that this Summer Stock(pond) Theatre of nightjars, bats and swallows is over for the year, and that these my birder friends will have missed it. We give it a few more minutes, but get religion when a wind blast clears glasses of wine off the tables, knocks over the open Free Range Red Rex Goliath Cabernet Sauvignon $4.97 bottle on the ground, tries to fling the cheese, blows tortilla chips out of the bowls … and lightning sears the air in three of the Six Directions, North, East, and South. When a dust storm obliterates the view beyond the fence on the other side of the pond, and the big drops of rain come to mean real business, Elna and Jimmy mount up in their car and call out from the window, “Outta here before the washes run!” The rest of us get into vehicles with rain hammering on rooves–a sound all of us are in bliss over hearing at last. Bob’s car is closest to hand, and I sit in it watching for a lull in what’s now a deluge and for a break in the near-constant lightning to get across the lot and into my truck without being electrocuted. But–it keeps coming down, and coming down and getting louder, and I realize that maybe this will be the first time I’ll ever have seen washes and arroyos in torrents on a First of Monsoon. “Hey, look at that!”, I call to Bob, and point at an inch deep sheet flood coming out of the bosque and doing more than creeping across the parking area–it is swallowing it–around my truck, and towards Bob’s car. “We better get out of here. I hope Sue makes it to the other side of Hot Springs Canyon!” I cannot wait any longer, there’s another flash and boom as I myself bolt towards the truck and am soaked, but it’s hard then to engage the clutch with legs that have turned again to jello in reaction to such close lightning. But–it all says that now comes (ojala!) a time of green plenty, shimmering meadows of Summer Poppies, grand skies and storms, happy critters, happy people, Nature rejoicing in a special, much celebrated time that belongs to the Borderer and not to the Snow Bird. We drive up The Lane and come to the green metal ranch gate, and to open it and go through I have to steel my nerves and embrace the goodness of getting killed by lightning that could hit that gate or the fence that’s attached to it: this is just a fine way to go. Chaining the gate back in place on its post seems to take forever, but then, the gate is closed–on The Lane, and on Foresummer … […]

May 24, 2013

This soft, warm dawn invited the toloache to open its huge white trumpets on the road edge outside the main gate of Mason’s, their perfume drifts out visions of Georgia O’Keefe and other shamans who came before her, of O’Keefe’s revelations to us of a new worldview, of new worldviews revealed to Native Americans through ceremony using the plant, the glowing petals speak too of rites of passage and the passage of spring into summer. I must take all the pleasure I can from the sight of this spectacular plant now, for soon enough the road grader will come along and knife off all the gravel edges and then some, all the way up to our fence, Cochise County having proven the way it has that it will not suffer wildflowers to brighten this road any longer.

Once inside the gates and down to The Stockpond, I find another Spotted Sandpiper is there teetering through the mud, probably for the day. It should be about the last one that passes north. Through the increasing heat (just under 100 degrees again) the first Purple Martins that will fly low enough to skim the pond surface with open bill come along. There are only a few, but soon there will be large numbers of them dropping in for a drink before they return home to their saguaro mansions in which they nest up on the hills and low mountains. The birds must come from a good distance out on the desert; there aren’t very many large saguaros right around here.

After I move each of the wheel lines sixty feet to the north for their next set of waterings early tomorrow, a Swainson’s Hawk lands at the edge of the large puddle left out in the open where the irrigator tractor had been. Only 125 feet away from me the handsome bird of prey drinks at leisure, and acts like he’s not the least bit afraid of me. I come back a while later and find the hawk gone, but other raptors are there aplenty: Turkey Vultures. The ones who have already drunk their fill are standing around on the grass, or are perched on the pipe axles, and at the tractor itself one is sitting in the center atop the engine hood and each of the four wheels are topped off by a single big bird, some staring out at the countryside, some with wings spread in what The Turkey Vulture Society calls “horaltic pose”. (Imagine, a Turkey Vulture society!) The wheel line tractor fitted up as it was with black-feathered vultures looked appropriately like a Victorian hearse …


May 18, 2013

Birds of gold, glittering on the edges of every little muddy bay of The Stockpond. Common Yellowthroats, several Western Tanagers, Yellow and Wilson’s warblers. The Yellow Warblers are given the bum’s rush by several Lucy’s; they’re chased off. That done, the Lucy’s “high tail” it to the other side of the pond to perch instead around the hydrant where the cleanest water is to be enjoyed. Beyond all these birds occupied with slacking their thirst, Silver-leafed Nightshade makes a bank of purple flowers. The Wilson’s Warblers should be near the end of their time here, and these will indeed turn out to be the last seen this migration. Their numbers were noticeably down over those of past years, and the timespan of their passage (less than a month) also seemed much shortened.

Later at lunch, a (the same?) Spotted Sandpiper returns to spend the day, and many more Western Tanagers are hanging out at this their favorite waterhole for now. Cliff Swallows zoom in and zoom out, dipping to the water surface in their low swing of flight. A female Summer Tanager gathers nesting material along the flat shore at the west side, and there come along a last pair of White-crowned Sparrows to have a drink before they set off northward and soon out of Arizona for the summer.

April 19, 2013

Early light. The air is frigid, in these lowest of flats to which the cold of every mountain range east and west drains and pools. Mallard is unbothered with his feet wet in his pond, but I know what it will be like to open the hydrants for the wheel lines and get soaked by the wide fountains of water that’ll shoot up the sleeves of my workshirt and into the tops of my rubber boots. The silence is near unearthly, no migrants from the tropics stir or warble or scold. What was greening mesquite is collapsed everywhere and melting in dribbles, from their tree tops down to every last small one sprouted out across the pastures; their growth they’d put on so far this spring won’t make it through to turn dark green now, or expand. It will all have to be pushed out again from nothing. So much for the oft-heard truism that mesquites know when to leave out, for none of these apparently did! I wonder how many times I’ve seen this happen with them of an April, and though I didn’t plant by them as some do, I regret that this year will not be one of that sweet green, stained-glass light in the bosque for a few days while the leaflets are still small and pale and the canopy shimmers and glows. We can’t depend on a yearly show of wildflowers, and we can’t depend on having this pleasure every spring, either.

Holding the freezing metal handles of the irrigation risers while turning them to open the water is itself trial enough, but my wetted hands then go to aching deeply, and then go to numbness seconds after the water comes flying out the more explosively as the valve is opened wider. The sprinklers came up to full pressure, shooting out in arcs of about 50 ft. and turning their big circles, and already within three revolutions the weeds, grass, and now-wrecked mesquites are encrusted with filigrees and lace of shining white frost and ice crystals that appeared so quickly that it seemed some spell of the Sierra Madre had been chanted out by an hechicero offstage and unseen. It is surely lower than 20 degrees F., but I don’t need to know. I just want the sun to rise.

Come up it does, and as the day warms by fifty degrees or more, a vast array of plants begins to turn odd colors and twist up, then fall to the ground and flatten themselves. Oats … sow thistle … conaigre … melilotus … desert mallow … bindweed … tansy mustard … Wright’s saltweed … conyza … bull thistle and star thistle … the bermuda grass that was coming along so robustly to give cows a wider buffet soon–all collapsed and will not recover. But spring cannot be stopped and the afternoon warmth brought out a huge native black bee, and the first deep amythyst flowers of Silver-leaf Nightshade on a plant that wasn’t affected in the least by the sub-freezing night. Winter finches were in their comfort zone–Vesper Sparrows on every barbed wire fence and in the grassy edges, and the Savannah Sparrows weren’t shy at all today. I scared up a few Marsh Wrens, even though they all should have been on the 3:10 to Yuma four days ago.

A fine Cassin’s Kingbird perched atop a close-by wheel of the irrigators as all was being closed down in the pleasantly warm afternoon, its belly bright, lemon dot-candy yellow.

April 2, 2013

The Lucy’s Warblers and Bell’s Vireos are still way too thin in the mesquite branches, but a few were singing this morning, lightening the heart. Those mesquite they love are now barely sprouted out, but soon the air above the lanes of the pastures will be suffused in a pale green light, when the sun slants through the half-unfurled and still tiny leaflets there is then a holy and shimmering space, one lit by old stained glass windows.

In the uppermost grazing pasture, a plant native to all the sweep of our Great Southwest from Chihuahua and Sonora and Baja, north to the Trans Pecos and across to the Mojave–Desert Evening Primrose (Oenothera primiveris)–have a flower or two above their beautifully scalloped leaves spotted with deep purple. Another native though considerably more weedy, Horse Nettle (Silver-leaf Nightshade) is germinating, the plants still tiny. They won’t stay that way long.

For the last couple of weeks the swallows have been appearing sporadically, in numbers barely increasing, but suddenly today the air was alive with Rough-wingeds over the southmost pasture we call “#1”. In that same lush and deep winter grass of barley, oats, wheat and rye, a visitor, Katy, today caught a glimpse of one of the mystery wrens that pop up and give a tantalizing seconds-long view and then drop into the dense blades. This time one of the pretty little birds stayed for a moment in the open at the edge, only about ten feet away from Katy, and she saw without binoculars that its upper parts were spotted with white. I walked through the area widely late in the afternoon, but my footfalls didn’t make a single wren rise, flit, drop out of sight–did they all leave for the north suddenly?