Sunday, August 23, 2009

Mating vortex!

Better yellow butterfly sex_thumb[1] The monsoon has returned briefly, and this morning it was incredibly humid before dawn. The air was literally filled with small flying bugs as I began my walk. A woman I encountered had taken off her hat and was using it to swat them away from her mouth.

The bugs—flying ants, as we used to call them—were headed for one of several vortices, like very high dust devils, made up entirely of mating bugs. I Googled this and found an excellent description with amazing pictures on the “Tortoise Trails” blog, which is written by a fellow Tucsonan named Pam: Flying Ants. I strongly recommend reading this. In it, Pam explains how these mating vortices form, and what happens to the ants afterward.  (Hint: they couple and fall to the ground still mating; I saw gazillions of them on the ground under one of the big swarms.)

I have no pictures of my own on this, so instead have given you a photo of butterflies getting it on, from last year.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Another close encounter

Snake crop  Of the snake kind, this time. As I came home from walking I saw a teeny-tiny king snake on the steps outside the front porch. He was seven or eight inches long and the diameter of a pencil. When I tried to move him with my walking stick, he coiled and began furiously vibrating his little tail. “I’m a big, scary rattlesnake!” he said.

He slithered up the bricks and under the weather stripping, so I had to open the door and evict him from the porch. He continued to shake his imaginary rattles at me.

According to my reptile book, “some species are excitable when first encountered, and vibrate the tail, hiss, and strike.” I wonder how this trait developed, evolutionarily speaking. My guess is it is a mimicking behavior and maybe does scare some animals into thinking they have met up with a rattlesnake.

Below is a baby king snake from my rose garden, disguised as an irrigation hose; the picture above is of a more mature one I saw on the back porch a couple of summers ago.

Rose snake 5-15-2009 5-26-31 AM 1966x979

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Close encounter of the EWWW! kind

This morning when I picked up my watering can I felt something crawling on my hand and saw, from the corner of my eye, big legs. I yelled and dropped the watering can along with the huge tarantula that had been on it or in it.

Luckily, the spider wasn’t hurt, and I watched it for a while then ran for my camera. It walked fast, but very gently, as if floating. The two front legs, which are probably called something else, reached out ahead of it, as if they were canes, testing the surface. There was something very delicate about the way it maneuvered.

My tarantula 8-12-2009 4-03-00 AM 1035x1118 T walking 8-12-2009 4-03-13 AM 2304x1728

Monday, August 10, 2009

An elephant’s eye

10 ft yellowbells 7-25-2009 11-46-34 AM 2070x1513

My yellowbells are as high as an elephant’s eye. An African elephant. That would be ten feet tall (the elephant is eleven feet). I looked it up.

In other news, the monsoon has gone missing again. It’s supposed to be back for a few days, then go away again. It has the guys at NOAA all flustered. One day last week one of the weatherman posted in the weather discussion: “Strange goings-on.”

No more tragic quail tales. There are  a lot of hummingbirds around. I think they are migrating through. I know it’s at least two months till things get cool, but there is a feel of fall in the air, and the light now has that slanted quality that means summer is ending.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

As the quail turns, continued

 barrelflower1 7-25-2009 11-44-28 AM 2304x1728barrelflowercu 7-25-2009 11-44-44 AM 2304x1728

But first! Barrel cacti are starting to bloom all over the neighborhood.

Quail update: my babies are growing up.  Many of the adorable little fuzzy chicks have grown into gangly teenagers. In the very large families it is a crowded table around the quail block. The chicks still follow their parents, but you can see some of them striking out on their own, particularly when they aren’t ready to stop eating when the rest of the family leaves.

This can have tragic consequences, as my little abandoned chick showed. Yesterday I saw another recently-abandoned chick in the yard outside the French doors. This one was fairly young, and he was running back and forth, clearly looking for something (his family). It was very hot, 107 degrees, and I expect he must have been exhausted. Whenever he saw a quail-sized bird, including doves, he ran toward it. The doves ignored him, the adult quails chased him. He ran over to the pond garden a couple of times, looked around, then returned to the central part of the yard. The last time I saw him, he was being chased and PECKED, by an adult male.

Survival of the fittest. Cruel. I guess the message is, don’t strike out on your own before you are ready. Always obey your parents. If you get left behind, you are doomed.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

R.I.P., Brave Little Quail

Buddha 4-18-2009 8-49-51 AM 913x1574 geranium 4-18-2009 8-50-20 AM 1410x1237

I was going to post—today! about the adolescent quail who was abandoned at some point and has apparently been living on my porch, where he can dart out to the quail block or pond between visits from hostile adult quails. I wasn’t sure where he was roosting—didn’t see any signs, but thought he might have been sleeping in the olive tree, behind the porch.

This morning when I went out to water I found a dead little quail of about the right age lying under the olive tree. There were no obvious signs of what might have killed him. I would have photographed him, but he was already covered in ants.

August is the cruelest month. Today I discovered that the leaf-cutter ants have come out. They stripped ALL the leaves off my climbing rose and are after the pomegranate tree, as well as a few other plants. I’ll have to get up very early tomorrow and find the nests. I wish they would just stick to eating the desert vegetation.