Poorwill calls his “4:00 am, all’s still well,” and I turn on the coffee.
Young, greenish Summer Tanagers are wheezing in the mesquites at The Stockpond, hoping parents are still willing to give them their hand-outs. It’s been a good long time since any hummers have come there to drink, though there are still a number of them to be seen around the valley.
Seems to be a lull in grasshopper population and activity in general, except for the gigantic Lubbers, which have arrived at Mason Pastures and put on more and more of a show with those pink underwings of theirs flashing in their high, arching flight. Only Queen Butterflies, still no Monarchs–and as it would turn out, no Monarchs that I would ever see will cross these pastures the whole year.
Verdolagas are in bloom, these with extra large yellow flowers, mix beautifully with the magenta of a tiny flowered Four-o’-clock creeping among them. There are almost no toads out and about on the pastures by now, but what’s there have grown larger still and jump into wider-mouthed burrows when my passing shadow alarms them.
Time to see what autumnal winged insects are gathering in #3 Pasture, in its upper end where there are so many native plants and wildflowers and its Burroweed quarter is coming into its first flowering. A fully-plumaged Blue Grosbeak shimmers from the tip of a mesquite on the edge of the Dirt Tank, sings out as if it were the height of Summer. In past years the butterflies have made a real show here, but today they’re sparse (and it will turn out that they’ll remain sparse the rest of the season–there was a real decline in butterflies on The River for the whole year, to my eye.) A few Sulphurs and a Checkerspot come around the tiny, petal-less Burroweed flowers, and there are a number of Queens, one of which is an extra rich dark orange. I watch another Queen that’s not far away and through the binoculars I can make out the smallest and prettiest details, but … as I watch, it suddenly slumps over backwards, folds its wings together, drops from a blossom to the ground. I run the few feet to it, in time to see it give a couple twitches–and then it dies. No predator brought eternity to this little spark of life, I watched that happen of a moment its own. I’d never seen the likes of so Ecclesiastes an event … turn … turn … turn.
Although Burroweed can bring real problems to cattle if a rancher is careless in management, I also don’t want to see this flat of them in #3 Pasture eradicated: it’s a generous pollen and nectar bank that could be an ace in the hole for many Sonoran Desert insects each one of which is seemingly more jewel-like than those on the last bush I pass. The commonest by far is a Blister Beetle (the critter, a Pyrota sp., I dare not touch!), ochre and shining gold, with black spots at the tips of the wing covers, and other black spots on the upper back. It’s one of a number of these justly feared insects we have here, all of them beautiful and interesting (in that way that Poison Dart Frogs are beautiful and interesting), in their various genera and species found from Moosejaw to Mexico.
Mesquite, however, is something I do want to see eliminated there, but it is besting us again on that pasture, and looks like it will win the battle it has with us for land for expanding its forest–land we want for a grass community instead. At least I can get some satisfaction from pulling out a few Cocklebur, and, with exasperation after all our invasive weed eradication work I find about a dozen scattered Bull Thistle that are a foot or less tall, and one of about 18 inches. Those future problems, at least, get literally “nipped in the bud”. Camphorweed is in beautiful bright yellow bloom, and a few are already in seed. A passing Swainson’s Hawk is high high high, drifts off to hang in the sun on the horizon.
At the east end of this pasture the most beautiful wild Buckwheat (Eriogonum) I’ve ever seen has come into bloom, adding yet one more species to the growing list of native forbs that are coming into that area on their own. It holds shell-pink flowers in mounds over blue-gray foliage, each petal striped down its center with a deeper pink color. Livestock duties allow enough time to stop and admire, make a note or two, but not enough to key it out to species even if I had the manual to do so, not enough time to make a specimen for the herbarium, thus its identity will remain an enjoyable mystery, and that allows the experience of it and familiarity with it remain with a directness and immediacy that is a gift for those working directly on The Land. We know these beings mobile and immobile, despite not knowing how they’re named, or by whom.
As I leave, I go over to the ephemeral Dirt Tank in the corner of the next pasture to the south, and find the shore jumping with Yellow Warblers–the last of this species this year, heading south I guess. “See you next Spring … if we’re spared.” A single, half-toned Common Yellowthroat is also jumping through the drowned mesquite saplings, a Gila Woodpecker flies through, and an Empidonax with two broad buffy wingbars perches on those bare dead branches: the famous (or infamous?) Willow Flycatcher. Since they are untellable one from the other in the field, and especially at migration, no way can I say whether the bird is our summer resident “Southwestern Willow Flycatcher”, or one of the migrants coming through from the north where the species itself is considered merely uncommon rather than endangered. The tank remains filled with water, thanks to the continuing generosity of this year’s Monsoon, enough to where I’m thinking of this pond less and less as “ephemeral”.
The day ends as it almost always does, with a swing around the “real” Stockpond, the one I keep constantly water-filled down near The Green Gate. Female Lazuli Buntings are there on its shore, their blue tails making them stand out from the other brown finchy birds. Lesser Goldfinches are pecking off and eating bits of salt from the cattle mineral block!