Friday, December 17, 2010

Leaf-cutters and birds

On Mondays I rove from 8 AM to 11. This week the temperature started in the low forties and went up around twenty degrees. It was a beautiful, cloudless, windless day, and there were lots of birds all through the Park: pyrrhuloxias, Abert’s towhees, black-tailed gnat-catchers (a pair), a Cooper’s hawk, possibly a juvenile red-tailed hawk, and all the usual suspects: housefinches, 2010_1018roadrunner0001 lesser goldfinches, cactus wrens, Gila woodpeckers, phainopeplas, a curved-bill thrasher, one of the first seen in ages, and probably others I’ve forgotten.
Leafcutter nest good 12-13-2010 9-26-37 AM 3616x2712
In one of the main wildflower beds we saw this leaf-cutter ant nest, clearly displaying the ant hill, the pieces of leaf, the trail of cut leaves. Leafcutter trail 12-13-2010 9-27-00 AM 3616x2712 I get aggravated when they destroy my ornamental plants (they seem to love roses and pomegranates), but boy are they efficient! They do not actually eat the leaf and flower bits, but rather feed the bits of plant to the colonies of fungus that they tend. Then they eat the fungus!

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Tough Little Grossbeak

Sundial flowers 9-17-2010 9-03-58 AM 3616x2712
The juvenile grossbeak I wrote about last week somehow made it through the hard freeze, and has returned to the area in the Park where it was originally captured, the Sundial Plaza, near the center of everything. I saw it this morning hopping around on the ground, and also jumping from (very low) branch to branch among some bushes. Its broken wing protrudes awkwardly from its side, but doesn’t seem to be in the way. One of the groundskeepers who’s been keeping an eye on the grossbeak says that it has the strongest legs he’s ever seen on a bird.
Everyone in the Park who knows about it is rooting for this brave, tough little creature.
I tried to take a photo, and will try again, but the grossbeak is very fast, and has amazingly good protective coloration. So the photo above is of some flowers in the plaza near where I saw the grossbeak this morning.

Monday, November 29, 2010

New Focus

I haven’t been posting here often because so many of my nature observations are now made at Tohono Chul Park, where I’m a docent. I have decided to change the focus of my blog, and include what I see and hear at TCP.
Beautiful Male Quail 6-25-2010 7-52-46 AM 923x1104 (This beautiful male Gambel’s quail was photographed at the Park.)
Quick quail update: we regularly have more quail than I can count roosting in the front yard now.  Literally dozens. They fill the dorm tree, the pyracantha bush, and the bougainvillea, though since we’re having a hard freeze tonight the bougainvillea may no longer be a suitable place to bunk.
Snakey 8-27-2010 11-13-49 AM 3616x2712 
Today in the Park it was very cold, but I got to see a snake anyway (a day without snakes is like a day without sunshine). One of the volunteers couldn’t access his water valve box because a juvenile rattlesnake was brumating in it. This may have been one of the rattlers that hatched underneath our organpipe cactus in July (see above). Our herpetologist, Ed, asked that the young diamondback be left alone till Wednesday, when the night temps will be considerably warmer.
Last week one of the grounds crew caught a juvenile black-headed grosbeak with a broken wing. She was going to take it to wildlife rehab, but someone let it go. I heard today that it had been seen in a particular part of the Park, eating chiles and caterpillars (yum!). Then, before I left this morning, I saw it, in what looked like very good, safe habitat, hopping around. I hope it finds a warm place to sleep.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Odd Hummingbird Behavior

Yesterday afternoon and this morning I saw something I’ve never seen before: two hummingbirds seemingly co-guarding one feeder. The feeder in question dangles from a clothesline in our small “rose garden,” a patio that is covered with shade cloth this time of year.
2 hums 2 good 9-26-2010 8-39-21 AM 3616x2712 I believe they are juvenile Costa’s. Both are often on the clothesline together. Sometimes they seem to take turns drinking from the feeder. Sometimes one will display at the other. Sometimes one will chase the other. Once I saw them “dueling” with their beaks.  But most of the time they just sit there, checking out each other and the general area. Sometimes they sit several inches apart, as in the above photo, and sometimes they sit right next to each other—once about half an inch apart.
2humsA 9-25-2010 5-54-01 PM 3616x2712 Here is my theory: I think they are nestmates, and there is some faint memory that keeps them from inflicting total mayhem on one another. They are obviously uneasy with the situation, but do accept it.
Other hummers have tried to horn in, but these guys so far have chased everyone else away.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

My Shade Garden (and quail update)

shade garden 2 8-4-2010 11-12-40 AM 3616x2712 shade garden 1 8-4-2010 11-12-23 AM 3616x2712
I have added some beautiful colored pots to my shade garden, containing only hibiscus, Chaparral sage, and chiltepin, all of which I’m pretty sure will live here. Outside the garden, life continues with the quails.
This was a very good year for them—many families are working on their second brood. Some of the large families are nearly intact, with near-adult chicks now. It’s quite amazing to see so many huge birds in such a small space.
A couple of days ago a largish family of high-school age chicks (6 or 8) was feeding, when another similar family approached from the west. Most of the first family cleared out except for two chicks who continued feeding, perhaps hoping no one would notice. Father #2 did notice, and chased those little chicks, one at a time, all over the garden until they were able to escape through the chain-link fence.
I can’t help but smile when I see quails, here or out on my walks. I love those little guys!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Major quail update

Mom   9 screened 6-23-2009 12-18-40 PM 1060x359 Baby Quail 5-16-2008 9-58-26 AM 514x357
Wish I had newer quail photos. Oh, well.  A quick update. First, in the backyard, I have several families, not sure how many, ranging in size from 3 chicks to 15+. The chicks in the large family are probably junior high age by now. It’s amazing to me that the parents have managed to raise and protect so many. I’m assuming this is the family that started out with around 2 dozen hatchlings a few weeks ago.
In the front yard, my dorm tree has turned into a sort of bird concentration camp. I swear I don’t know how so many birds manage to sleep in the same fairly small space. A whole bunch of little birds—I think finches and sparrows, and some young cactus wrens, occupy the top branches. Then the quail come. One quail family, with six kids in high school, come every evening just before sunset. The chicks still aren’t very good at flying into the tree and actually landing in the branch they’re aiming for, but they all get it done. I’ve seen a couple of other lone adult birds go up there too. I haven’t spent enough time to know if there are others or not. Between the quail and the songbirds, the racket is quite impressive.
Mama Whitewing 5-26-2007 7-48-39 AM 2304x1728
Just across the driveway, in one of the palo verdes, a family (?) of whitewings are nesting. I think it’s the mom and the two chicks she just fledged, plus another dove—maybe the father or her bff.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Snakes, squirrels, and pupfish

Just a quick update on the critters I’ve been seeing at the Park. This beautiful snake
beautiful longnosed CU 5-28-2010 8-20-02 AM 2726x1104
is about a third of a longnosed snake I saw on a trail the other day… .
These little guys
squirrel family 6-4-2010 8-23-47 AM 3616x2712
are a family of round-tailed ground squirrels. The pups chase each other and wrestle like kittens or puppies. And speaking of pups,
here are Pupfish, an endangered species we are breeding at the Park. They can live in water up to 110 degrees Fahrenheit! And the males become fluorescent blue when they are in the mood, as these ones obviously are.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Quail update

Mr and Mrs Quail 5-28-2010 8-12-02 AM 2917x1531 I’ve been spending more time looking at nature at Tohono Chul Park than in my own backyard. But I am trying to keep an eye on the quail. There are still some roosting in the dorm tree out front, but I think most of them are with their young families.
Unfortunately, I haven’t seen too many families, either here, or while out walking in the neighborhood, or in the Park. I don’t know if numbers are down or if, like everything else, quail baby season was somewhat delayed this year.
I have 1-3 families with 4-6 chicks each. I’m not sure. None of them spends much time at the quail block, though I’ve seen them drinking from the pond in the back. Above is  a picture of a quail couple I saw at TCP.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Flying and landing

There has been an active Costa’s hummingbird nest in a small oak tree near the education building at the Park. Everyone’s been saying for days that the two baby hummers are just about ready to leave the nest.
Well, today was the day, and I got to watch! The first baby out was already on a branch about a foot from the nest when I got there:
fledgling2better 4-26-2010 9-07-46 AM 1234x825
I watched it practice flying to another nearby branch: no problem. But it hadn’t given much thought about how to land, and spent a few comical seconds madly hovering before it figured out it needed to be ABOVE the branch before settling down. It continued to practice flying and landing while its sibling stretched its wings. Then mom came along and fed the still-sedentary hummer:
dindin 4-26-2010 9-08-59 AM 1562x1695
A fun morning!

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Catalina State Park

More wildflowers! And a sex-crazed goldfinch! First, the wildflowers. Yesterday we went hiking in Catalina State Park, just on the other side of Pusch Ridge. About a mile and a half in and up a ridge, the hills are densely covered with poppies, lupine, and lots of other flowers:
Blue and Gold symphony 4-3-2010 11-45-50 AM 3414x2237
The crazed goldfinch is one I snapped in the parking lot at Tohono Chul. He was repeatedly attacking his own reflection in the rear-view mirror of a truck:
crazed goldfinch 3-25-2010 9-08-59 AM 3616x2712
In other news… doves and quail are pretty much all mated up and either nesting or looking to nest. I love the spring!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Spring this and that

We have a new five seasons garden at Tohono Chul Park. These lovely flowers are in the Spring Garden:spring garden wildflowers 3-15-2010 8-22-02 AM 3616x2712
The pink ones are penstemons, tiny trumpet flowers. We have some at home. The other evening I watched (through the living room window) as a hummingbird worked the penstemons methodically, going from flower to flower, top to bottom of one stalk, then moving to the next stalk, bottom to top, and so on.
That same evening I watched the quails gather to roost… quite of lot of them. But then I got distracted by a bobcat in the yard. It just wandered around a little then headed for the wash in back of the house. I was thinking the quails didn’t seem too disturbed… until they started to fly out of the palo verde trees where they’d taken refuge.
Finally, the baby hummer raised by the mama (a Costa’s, I have had confirmed) in a previous post, has flown the nest. But I got his/her picture before he left:
Baby hum 3-22-2010 11-08-31 AM 975x803

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Bird sex

It’s starting up… the male quails are doing their aggressive chest-bumping (which they must have learned from watching the NBA), cardinals seem to be paired off, all kinds of birds are flying around with nesting materials in their beaks.
At Tohono Chul Park, in a little gazebo in an undisclosed location, I photographed this lovely little mother hummingbird. I think she is a Costa’s but am not certain. Since I took the photo the eggs have hatched, and if I’m lucky I may get a picture of the babies.Beautiful hummer mama 2-17-2010 8-35-24 AM 3616x2712
Interesting bonus fact about hummingbird nests: they are elasticized with spider silk, which allows the nest to expand as the hatchlings grow.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Back to Nature

I’m finally finished with my docent studies and will be working as a docent at Tohono Chul Park. So now I have time to return to nature blogging. Let me start with my bees. A swarm (which I found is actually called a cluster) of bees landed in our palo verde tree nearly three weeks ago. swarm in tree 2-17-2010 4-16-56 PM 3108x2712 Based on reading, we assumed the bees would find a new place to live and move on soon. But they didn’t count on the weird, cold, rainy weather we’ve been having for a few weeks. After a couple of days of freezing rain, the once-robust swarm was reduced by about half:
full swarm cu2-17-2010 4-17-25 PM 3616x2712 2-17-2010 4-17-25 PM 1878x2622  half swarm 2-23-2010 9-53-09 AM 3616x2712
The second is a closer shot, but shows about the bottom half of the original swarm. What happens is the bees on the outside freeze and fall off…
Anyway, against all odds the remaining bees managed to pull themselves together almost two weeks to the day from when they arrived. That morning they were very agitated, with a lot of bees flying in and out of the cluster. By midafternoon they were gone.
lonely scouts 3-3-2010 4-45-30 PM 1517x2089
…. except for a tiny handful of scouts that didn’t get the message. A few of them are still buzzing around, looking confused, wondering where everyone went. Without the rest of the colony they are doomed.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

This and that

I have been ignoring the blog in favor of dealing with nature itself in my docent class. Most of the pictures I’ve been taking have been for purposes of plant identification. I hope to get back to blogging more regularly in the future. For now, here is some mistletoe

mistlete 1-19-2010 11-38-20 AM 3616x2712 from the Park… and two items of interest.

First, the other night I counted 21 quails roosting in the front yard. One of the regular female roosters (odd word combination) is lame; it looks as if she might be missing a foot, but I haven’t gotten a closeup view. In the backyard during the day I see the quails are starting to pair up and the males are starting to get aggressive with each other.

Second, a troll has been leaving messages on my older posts, so I’m sorry to say that for the time being I will have to monitor comments.

Oh, and third: we got nearly two inches of rain this week. All the plants in the neighborhood look revived; almost as if they hadn’t come close to perishing from drought.