Friday, December 24, 2004

December 24
It has been very cold--freezing at night and only in the fifties during the day. Two days ago an oriole (I think a Scott's) tried to feed from the hum feeder outside my office window. Unfortunately, it was one of the feeders that doesn't allow anyone with a short beak in. The oriole flew at the window, then flew away, but I immediately put out the old oriole feeder, and I hope he will be back. Or maybe he has been, but I just haven't seen him. He was gorgeous, extremely yellow, and much bigger than the woodpeckers, so the kittens went nuts.

No other new birds to report. Still plenty of Anna's hummers--I'm not sure how many, but perhaps half a dozen. The silly sparrows and finches are bathing in the pond as we speak. You'd think it would be way too cold, but they seem to love it--then fly up into the Texas Ranger and fluff themselves in the sun. I am so privileged to get to observe this. I gave the birds more bugnuts as a Christmas present.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

December 7, 2004

I've had a mob of cardinals and pyrrhuloxias lately, making a mess of the porch but really enjoying the sunflower seeds in the feeder. Yesterday I got a good look at a small one, and confirmed that it is a juvenile pyrrhyloxia--its beak is grayish rather than yellow. I guess they all learn to use the feeder by watching each other.

Then this morning my beautiful hawk returned! Since my last post, I have learned that it is an accipiter, probably a Cooper's, and almost certainly a female. The accipiters have reverse sexual dimorphism for size; the males are quite small and the females are huge. Anyway, whatever she is, she came back. She first landed in the pond, then almost immediately flew up to the fence, this time with her back to me. I was unable to see her legs, but assume it’s the same bird.

This time I could see that the tail was definitely rounded, which according to my bird book is indicative of a Cooper’s. She still doesn’t have a black cap. I got a better and longer look at her eyes. They’re not exactly red, more of a dark orangish-brown. She seems to be able to turn her head nearly 360 degrees, and the look in her eyes is so intelligent and fierce it’s scary. What a privilege to watch such a beautiful, wild creature so close-up!

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

November 22, 2004

Excitement! We got some weather! Yesterday it rained pretty much all day, and today my rain gauge finally had some real water in it: 3/4 inch! (Though the official rainfall was .10 inch.) This morning it was cold--low forties, and the mountains were shrouded in fog. As the fog began to lift, we saw the snow, much closer than we could see it from the other house. Really beautiful against the shifting clouds and blue sky and sahuaros.

Also, this morning I saw a/the mockingbird on the ocotillo outside the master bedroom. It flew down into the neighbors' yard, but at least it's putting in an appearance now and then.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

November 20, 2004

Two oddities: First, the west side of my office has a window that is covered with reflective film, which works like a one-way mirror to those on the outside. The olive trees and a hummer feeder are right there, and the whole area is a bird magnet, especially to hummers, woodpeckers, and quail. A male verdin spends most of the day flying at the window, clinging to the screen, seemingly trying to get in, though probably he's trying to challenge the other "bird" that he sees in the reflecting glass. Needless to say, our cats view the verdin as the most fascinating cat toy in the world.

Second oddity: today we walked on the River Walk around 3 PM. It was 70 degrees, and as we walked I saw half a snake on the side of the path. It was the back half; the rest of the snake was inside a hole. As I watched, the snake slowly emerged from the hole, his head last. It was a small snake, tan and brown, covered with a nice diamond pattern. I'm pretty sure it wasn't a rattler--the head seemed too narrow and I didn't see any rattles. But why would a snake come out of a hole backwards? That seems to expose him to predators without any way of seeing them or otherwise sensing them. Also, what was he doing out in the middle of November? Shouldn't any sensible snakes be hibernating by now?

Sunday, November 14, 2004

November 14, 2004

Just a quick note to report that I saw the mockingbird (or at any rate, a mockingbird) twice today: once this morning at the pond, and later on top of the Meyer-lemon tree in the front of the house. While I was feasting my eyes on it, the bird flew off to the olive trees. There was something about its demeanor that made me think it lives here. Hope so, anyway.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

November 9, 2004

We are getting a respite from the cool weather--the last couple of days it has been beautiful, in the low eighties. Yesterday morning my riparian area was jammed: cardinals, a pyrrhuloxia, mourning doves, cactus wrens, a thrasher, hummers (all Anna's, I think, though maybe a Costa's also), quail, sparrows and finches, and a rabbit. All were drinking, feeding, bathing. (Except the rabbit, who just hopped in to sip, then hopped right out again.) Then later in the day at least two dozen quail and doves crowded together in the pond, creating quite a mob scene. It's so much fun to watch them. This pond has evidently become a part of the natural landscape to these guys.

Only downside is that I haven't seen the mockingbird for a couple of weeks now. Guess he/she decided to move on, or is just staying out of sight when I'm looking.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

October 19, 2004

Yesterday afternoon a bird I had never seen stopped for a drink in the pond. At first I thought it was just a big sparrow, but on closer inspection it was way too big for that. It was about the size and body build of a thrasher, with strikingly rufous back, wings, and tail. The throat and chest were cream-colored and streaked very much like a Calliope hummingbird's gorget (only it was brownish streaking, not purple!). The beak was insectivore-looking, black and pointed, but way shorter than a curve-billed thrasher's.

The only thing that looked like it in my bird book was the brown thrasher, which according to the book does not appear west of the Rockies. So I'm stumped. If anyone reading this has a clue, please let me know.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

October 13, 2004

This morning the mockingbird—or at any rate, some mockingbird—was singing from the top of the ocotillo behind the pond! So beautiful to hear and see. After a few minutes it flew off, but I suspect it is claiming its winter territory, which means it will be around all winter and maybe I’ll get to hear it in the spring!

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

October 12, 2004

We are moving into fall and winter, though it is still hot. Highs in the high eighties to low nineties. I love it, because it’s not really hot, since the air is so dry. That is, it’s hot when you stand out in the sun in the middle of the afternoon, but not at all hot in the shade. We have the doors open all day instead of running the cooler (though sometimes we run it for an hour or two).

The birds and animals don’t seem to be doing much different, though the birds are no longer panting when they come to the pond. Also, I have way fewer hummers, who are presumably pretty much through with their migration. Last night I heard a mockingbird singing in a yard down “in the valley.” He was probably setting up his winter territory. I said, “Everything would be perfect if only we had mockingbirds in our yard.”

This morning I saw a beautiful mockingbird drinking and bathing at the pond. I hope he/she will decide to move in and announce the fact with beautiful songs.

I intend to begin posting pictures here soon. I haven’t quite figured out how to take pictures that clearly show my birds, because there is no good place with the light right from which to photograph. But I can at least post some of the old pix: the species are the same.

Not much other news. The last two mornings I saw a male Anna’s, at dawn, bathing on the flat rock that my waterfall falls on. He stands on the rock, then gets down on his little chest, flutters to spread the water around, and repeats. Then he flies off to preen and dry. Also, I’ve seen a male pyrrhuloxia use the cardinal seed-feeder. Those little guys are so clever!

Monday, October 04, 2004

October 4, 2004

Backyard activity at the bird pond has reached a sort of steady state. Nothing unusual, but plenty to look at as I gaze at my riparian paradise. For example, today I saw a male phainopepla, a male pyrrhuloxia, a female cardinal (at the feeder), a handful of (probably) Anna’s hummingbirds, and lots of quail, finches, sparrows, and doves. They like it. The plants that didn’t fry over the summer have been repotted in much larger containers and I hope will provide better shade next year. The papyrus I planted in the pond is already spreading, and I’ll have to keep an eye on it to prevent it choking the pond.

The weather has become beautiful with an unending series of what my father used to call “patented Tucson days”—sunny and warm during the day, then cool at night, with blue, blue skies and clear purple mountains. If it was like this all year long the valley would have 10 million inhabitants and more clamoring to get in.

Likewise nothing unusual along the river, though the other day there was a traffic jam as two women walkers stopped dead on the path, blocking both lanes as they stared in terror at a small gopher snake that they thought was a rattler. The guy who manicures the path removed the snake with a snake hook, and we all continued on our way.

Monday, September 13, 2004

September 13, 2004

There’s still a lot of hummingbird action, but I haven’t seen the Rufous or broadbills for many days. I think I have at least a couple of broad-tails, and Anna’s, and probably still some black-chins. The trouble is that the feeders are not as close as they were at the other house, and they are all in the shade, so it’s hard to get a good look at coloration.

Also among the missing seem to be white-wing doves. I haven’t seen one or heard one for a while. I wish I’d been paying close enough attention to determine exactly when they took off. Apparently they all do it around the same time.

I also hadn’t and haven’t seen many cardinals, but I did see a female using the feeder the other day, and briefly saw a male this morning, though not using the feeder. Pyrrhuloxias continue to visit the pond, but I don’t see them hanging out by the seed feeder. Maybe they aren’t as smart as cardinals?

Still no mockingbirds, not even a glimpse since the last one a few weeks ago.

I’ve given up and decided to make friends with the algae in the pond. Everything I have read says it is basically good for the pond. I put in a small pot of papyrus, which may help a little. The water itself is clear, it’s just that everything is covered with green muck. The birds don’t seem to mind a bit. This morning I saw around a dozen (they were moving too much to count accurately) little sparrows bathing. It’s still hot out, but the pond is cool, and they all seemed to be having a wonderful time, submerging then fluttering, submerging again, flying off to groom, then repeating the whole sequence.

Friday, September 03, 2004

September 3, 2004

Lots of hummer action. Migration is definitely happening!

Two days ago, Tuesday, I saw a new hummer, thin, very long bill, but somehow familiar. Just about the time I was identifying it as a female broadbill, a magnificent male broadbill showed up and drove her away. Hooray! I haven’t seen either of them today, but at least the broadbills know I’m here! Maybe one or more will decide to spend the winter with me!

Then, just as exciting, today I saw my first Selasphorous here! I hadn’t seen any at all at the old house for a couple of years. This guy is very aggressive (well, duh, it’s a Rufous after all), probably a young male but maybe a female. Lots of russet on its sides and lower back (and tail), a small bright-red gorget spot, and very white chest. I’m hoping there will be more—I’m pretty sure migration goes for another month or so.

It’s such a great pleasure to hear that raspy Rufous call: “GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE ALL THESE FEEDERS ARE MINE, DO YOU HEAR ME, MINE!”

Sunday, August 29, 2004

August 29, 2004

A number of random nature notes:

The monsoon is over. It might get a bit moist and rain again, but basically all the tropical moisture has cleared out and moved back south. The good part is that we have gone back to using the evaporative cooler, which is way more comfortable than air conditioning. The bad part is that there was practically no rain this summer, and it’s hot again—around 100 during the afternoon. But dry, which is a blessing.

About a week ago, I noticed a sahuaro blooming on the River Walk. I can’t imagine what it is thinking. All its compatriots long ago finished blooming and fruiting.

Last week a beautiful male phaenopepla perched in the ocotillo just outside the pond, then flew in to drink from the pond. The first one I have seen. I’ve also seen goldfinches drinking from the waterfall part of the pond. And this morning a gorgeous red dragonfly hovered over the pond, possibly thinking it is a real riparian area and looking for something to eat.

A male Virden who likes to drink from the hummingbird feeder recently installed outside my office window repeatedly flies into the window, apparently attracted by the reflective glass. He doesn’t seem to hurt himself, but it’s hard to understand why he doesn’t just give up.

And finally, arachnophobia: last night when we came home late, we almost stepped on a tarantula in the carport near the door. A broom swiftly moved the spider to the other end of the carport, but the first thing I saw when I entered the kitchen was another tarantula on the floor. It was only a little one, but it freaked me out. I think they are cool, but I don’t want them in my kitchen! This one was removed to the outside with the help of a dish and a broom.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

August 17, 2004

We’ve made a few changes around the pond. I bought several small plants, which I hope to actually put into the ground soon, and also put up a new feeder on a pvc pipe. The feeder holds fruit and whatever I want to put in a small dish beneath the fruit holder. I could use jelly, but at present am putting in a gross concoction from the bird store called “Nuts ‘n Bugs,” which consists of ground-up flies and pecans, bound together with suet. Birds love it. They would probably be baffled by my love of ice cream.

Anyway, the plan is to attract mockingbirds, but so far only cactus wrens and finches seem interested. (I have also seen goldfinches drinking from the pond).

Yesterday I watched a male pyrrhuloxia bathe in the pond. He looked really scruffy when he was through. Just now a little sparrow is taking a dust bath next to the pond in a small hollow that the birds have created for themselves.

Among the new plants is a beautiful pink hibiscus that I hope not to kill. A chipmunk has been interested in it all day. He has eaten the stem-ends of fallen blossoms and keeps returning in hopes of being able to scale the pot and get to the still-blooming blossoms. I half-expect him to show up with a little ladder.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

August 10, 2004

It continues to rain everywhere but here. Last night coming home from a meeting we saw puddles everywhere. This morning even more puddles—the Riverwalk was soaked. When I checked our rain gauge later, however, there wasn’t even enough water in it to shake out. Less than a trace!

Two new nature notes: the barrel cactus are blooming everywhere. We have quite a few on our property, and the blooms are lovely—a kind of deep apricot. The little pincushion cacti in the front yard seem to have disappeared, perhaps victims of the pack rat removal team.

And the most exciting news in weeks: this morning while having coffee out on the porch I thought I heard a mockingbird. Later on, from the office, I saw one perched on the back fence around the pond. A few minutes ago I saw it again, this time on the near fence. It seems to have a slight deformity on its right breast, but it flies okay. I don’t know if it was attracted by the sliced grapefruit I hung in the palo verde tree, but I’m going to put more fruit out just in case. I hope this beautiful mockingbird is the harbinger of many to come.

It’s been very hot the last few days. It’s fun to watch my “riparian paradise” through the heat of the day and see that for so many birds it really is a haven, a place to eat, bathe, take a dust-bath, or just laze in the bits of shade. Just what I wanted for it!

Saturday, August 07, 2004

August 7, 2004

Still nothing doing with the monsoon—around here. However, it is raining like crazy all around Tucson. There was a very big rainstorm in the Vail area the other night, which we discovered yesterday morning when we went out to the river to walk, and were shocked to see water actually flowing in it! Had to be quite a lot of water for so much action this far west. It turned out some women were nearly drowned the night before while trying to cross the Pantano Wash out by Harrison. A woman had gone to pick up her friend at the airport. The wash crossing was dry. Forty-five minutes later, on the way home in the dark, they ran into a wall of water and were swept out of their car (along with the woman’s dog). Luckily, everyone survived with only bruises. The woman who got picked up at the airport had had a very bad day; on top of everything else, the airline lost her luggage.

Around here, pond is still full of algae. I put a little algaecide in, after emailing the company that makes it. They promise it is not toxic. We’ll see if the small amount works.

<>And a very sad note: yesterday morning I saw a round, fat bird I couldn’t quite identify sitting on the fence by the pond. His one-note cry seemed vaguely familiar. I realized who he was when a male cardinal came to the fence to feed him. It was a baby cowbird. This would be a case when I might WANT some toxic water.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

August 5, 2004

I haven’t had too much time to observe nature in the backyard—been too busy observing nature in the house with our two new kittens. Anyway, a brief update: the monsoon has so far been a bust. Less than an inch total at the airport, and probably even less here (my new rain gauge has hardly gotten any work at all). It’s humid, the clouds build up, and then nothing happens. A friend of mine has described this nonfunctional sort of monsoon as “the dry heaves.” The sunsets, however, have been glorious.

For the last four days, Mr. Pack Rat and sons have been trapping pack rats and removing and sanitizing nests. Also rat-proofing the structures they had lived in, like the workbench in the carport and the shed behind it. This morning they are back at work, in the back of the house, where the cactus is really thick. Most of the rats had been trapped. When I went to add water to the spa, I noticed that the trap by the heater contained a very young, very scared pack rat. I was able to get a close look at it. It was sandy-colored, with dark shoe-button eyes and a shortish little quivering nose. It was actually very cute, about half the size of the one I’d seen in the workbench. A little bigger than our youngest kitten. (My husband did not think it was cute.) Much less scary-looking than Norwegian rats.

The poor little thing will soon be euthanized, with gas, but I’m sure that’s much better than bleeding internally for several days from rat poison.

Our spa is so gunked with algae we’re paying someone to clean it. I’m not sure what to do about the pond. Still thinking about that one. I haven’t seen any new interesting birds or bugs for several days, but I’m sure they’re around. That is one of the great things about living up here. I’m beginning to understand why foothills living has always been touted as so desirable. Another thing is that the sky and the views are way more spacious—every time I walk out in the yard, or drive to or from the house, I see breathtaking beauty, whether it’s clouds and cloud shadows on the mountains, or a sunlit pastel desertscape. I am a very blessed person, packrats, scorpions, and all.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

July 22, 2004

Oh, my, how time flies! First, a monsoon update: the monsoon definitely arrived, but all the rain we have received (except for traces) has come late at night. And not all that much. One night I was sure we had major rain (from all the noise). I checked my new rain gauge the next morning to find a mere .15 of an inch. The overall weather pattern has shifted today, however, so major storms are expected to increase.

The next update concerns our pack rats. We called Mr. Pack Rat, a removal service (and the only one in Tucson that specializes in pack rat removal and prevention). Mr. PR came out and inspected our property and gave us a ton of information. The kissing bugs, for example, enter houses only when something has happened to “their” pack rat and they have to find a new host. If you’re not allergic to them, the bite is a minor annoyance, but people have been known to die of anaphylaxis from the “kiss.” Pack rats do not spread ticks—the tick I described was apparently an anomaly, and probably had been on the cat. Pack rats also don’t spread Hanta virus, a relief.

There is only one adult pack rat to a nest, and they can have dozens of offspring a year. They are opportunists—will nest anywhere that offers them shelter.

Mr. PR informed us that we have ten active pack rat nests, and he is going to come out, trap the rats, sanitize the nests, and pack-rat proof the four places where they are actually living in proximity to the house (the spa heater, the workbench in the carport, the water heater closet, and the out shed). There was also an incipient pack rat nest in the engine of my car. He said that it was probably a young pack rat, and it hadn’t fully moved in yet. We removed pieces of cactus and seeds, what Mr. PR calls the “furniture and groceries.” The next day there were more furniture and groceries, so I bought some dried bobcat urine—available at any feed store—and sprinkled it on the engine block. So far the pack rat has not returned. (Though I wonder where it did go.)

Other nature news: while visiting the tagged pack rat nests with Mr. PR, I spotted two tiny, beautiful magenta blossoms on pincushion cactus in the front yard. At least I think they were pin cushions. Gorgeous, anyway.

This morning when I first looked at the pond (which is totally gucked with algae again, by the way), I saw a huge, very odd-looking bird perched on the cyclone fence surrounding the “riparian” area. It took me a moment to realize that it was a roadrunner. I had never seen one perch before. It looked very ungainly and very reptilian. Through the binoculars I could see a greenish sheen on its body feathers. It sat there for a while, then opened its beak a couple of times, stretched its wings once or twice, and FLEW AWAY.

Finally, later this morning we were out on the porch having coffee when I noticed a dark furry mass behind a bureau we temporarily have outside. On closer inspection I saw it was a tarantula. Due to my husband’s discomfort with certain types of wildlife (anything that isn’t fuzzy and cute), I decided to move it away. At first I thought to trap it in a box, but it was HUGE, and didn’t want to be trapped. A couple of times I accidentally turned it upside down, and it had to right itself—a rather awkward procedure. It was by far the biggest tarantula I have ever seen up-close and personal. (And very handsome, in a gruesome kind of way.) Finally I got it to climb on the business end of the broom and carried it out to the back of the yard, where it wandered off into the lantana.

Monday, July 12, 2004

July 12, 2004
Well, last night we got our first big monsoon rain. Unfortunately it didn’t start till late at night, but it was the works: thunder, lightning, buckets of water. This morning it was hot and humid, the air so thick that everything looked a little blurred and pastel, as if we were all in a watercolor painting. It rained again this afternoon, but not so much lightning and thunder.

Our big nature encounter yesterday occurred in the house. I saw a tick on the bed, and popped it: lots of blood. So we took off all the bedding and vacuumed the mattress and under it. No more ticks, but we had two kissing bugs. We vacuumed them up and threw out the bag. While looking for a new one, Rocko found a scorpion in one of the pantry drawers. (Or, as he described it, “One of those spider-things with a curly tail.”)

The birds are still spending plenty of time at the pond, despite the rain. And the algae have returned, so the water is murky. I haven’t decided what to do about it.

The door on the cardinal feeder sometimes sticks. When that happens and the female cardinal is on the perch, she simply pecks at the door repeatedly, eventually sending the perch low enough to open the door. Clever little thing.

This morning on the River Walk one of the super-fast lizards with a striped tail ran out just as a bike came, fast. I thought the lizard was a goner, especially since he kept going. But then what he did was run along WITH the bike, staying between the two wheels for several feet, then ducking out and across the road. I figure he will pass on his super bike-genes and produce a whole race of biking lizards. Maybe called Lance Lizard.

Finally, I saw an adorable small woodpecker on a saguaro during our walk today. From the red stripe on its crown apparently it was a ladderback, which I have seen in Madeira Canyon, but never before in town. There is so much nature all around. I’m so lucky to live here!

Thursday, July 08, 2004

July 8, 2004
Two days ago I was out on the porch very early meditating when I happened to glance up and see a fluffy ball move through the fence. It was the first of a herd of adolescent quail, about 2/3 to 3/4 the size of adults. They jostled and gathered on the edge of the pond, then moved out of sight, then moved back to the pond. All of them—or at least thirteen, and there may have been more—crowded onto the rocks on the north side of the pond. Somewhere in there may have been a mama, but I didn’t see one specifically. Outside the fence, pacing and keeping watch, was the papa. The teenagers all drank, more or less taking turns. Their protective coloration is so good that if I didn’t know they were there I might not have seen them. They are the size and color of rocks. Fluffy, feathered rocks. Their topknots at this age are just sort of scruffy-looking feathers sticking straight up. I couldn’t tell what sex any of them will turn out to be.

I speculate that this family must stay in the wash out back of the house. I can’t imagine that if they cross the roads there would be so many of them.

Nothing else new around here, except that I have seen a male pyrrhuloxia on the porch. He doesn’t seem to know how to use the feeder. I saw the male cardinal chase him away once, so I suppose cardinals are dominant over pyrrhuloxias.

The male Costa’s is still around and quite aggressive about “his” feeders. But very few hummers, really. A female Anna’s, I think, and also a couple of black-chins.

Still no mockers. I’m going to have to buy some oranges and see if that works. Maybe they like olives—the tree is bursting with green fruit.

The monsoon is due this weekend. It’s quite cloudy and humid—and beautiful. Fluffy white clouds right now in a pale blue sky over the Tortollitas. This morning that whole area was black with rain pouring down on Marana. As I sit here, finches and pigeons and white wings are all bathing in the pond.

Friday, July 02, 2004

July 2, 2004
The Costa’s is still around, and I’ve also seen black chins and maybe Anna’s. And lots and lots and lots of lizards. In fact, as I type this looking out on the back patio, a fairly big lizard sits in the shade of the porch, gazing at the pond. I’ve GOT to learn one from the other. Unlike the man who lived here before us, I can’t call all the lizards “Larry.”

Not much new on the nature front. The monsoon is late—now is not supposed to start before about the tenth or even later, one of the latest monsoons ever. The upside is that though it’s hot, it’s not humid, and the mornings are still cool for walks along the river.

The grapefruit has been putting out a ton of new leaves, mostly on the formerly denuded branches. A sweet little chipmunk regularly drinks from the pond, then scampers away. In addition to the hummers, I have something very tiny and flitty visiting the tube feeders. I assume they are verdins, but I don’t remember the ones at the old house being so flitty. I haven’t seen them yet up close.

The Costa’s is visiting a feeder I recently hung just outside the kitchen window. Also just outside the kitchen windows, and indeed everywhere on the porch, we have a gazllion baby cactus wrens. They are SO CUTE! They look just like miniaturized versions of the adults, and they are if anything even bolder and more curious.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

June 24, 2004
This morning the riparian paradise drew a thrasher and a pyrrhuloxia. But more important and exciting is that yesterday late afternoon I observed a beautiful male Costa’s sipping from one of the hum feeders near the pond. I have actually expected this, as Costa’s are primarily desert birds, and I very seldom saw them at the old house. Their gorget is an amazing deep amethyst color. They are very tiny birds—I’d say about the same size as Black chins.

This guy was primarily hanging out in the Texas ranger by the porch, with occasional forays elsewhere—maybe to the tube feeder in the olive tree. I did not see him defend the feeder; in fact, I didn’t see any other hummers art all. I’m going to have to give some thought to plantings to attract more of them. In the riparian area, I guess, which is going to have to be set up with a watering system.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

June 23, 2004
MORE LIZARD SEX! This time on a branch of the olive tree outside my western (office) window. I think these big guys are all collared lizards—the males, anyway, have visible collars and their bodies are mostly gray except for brightly colored spots that have to do with either camouflage or sex or both. In this case, it was the smaller lizard that seemed to want the sex, while the big collared guy was trying to escape. The small one kept putting her body underneath his and he kept moving on. I may have been misreading the whole situation, but that’s what it looked like. Last I saw, the big one was running down the branch toward the ground, with the small one in pursuit.

Also yesterday afternoon I saw two doves sitting in the pond, the water about halfway up their bodies, like a little kid sitting in a wading pool.

And I finally saw (but didn’t hear) a mockingbird! This was a juvenile (short tail), and it was flitting around the lantana just outside the pond. It seemed to be having trouble flying. I started worrying that maybe it had drunk from the pond and been poisoned. I looked all around the lantana, but saw no bodies.

Nevertheless, just to be safe, this morning I pumped the water out of the pond and filled it with more water. If this doesn’t result in birds flocking to the pond, I may try that again.

Monday, June 21, 2004

June 21, 2004
There are wispy clouds on the horizons, a sure sign that the monsoon is beginning to approach.

Things continue as they were at my riparian paradise. The birds are using the pond, though not in the numbers I saw at first. Maybe the water still tastes bad. The algae have not returned, but some of the rocks under the waterfall are a bit green. Mr. and Mrs. Cardinal continue to use the seed feeder, but I haven’t seen the juvenile in a while.

Three days ago I saw a road runner on our property for the first time. They are such ungainly but interesting birds. I love to watch them. This one didn’t let me watch for long, but I’m sure he will be back.

Yesterday morning I saw our first snake—a big, gorgeous, cream-and-green striped king snake. He was just meandering through the riparian area. I hope he will eat our pack rat. Shortly after the snake, I checked the spa to find a drowned mouse. I had previously placed a flat rock on one of the stairs, leaning against the top of the spa so anything that falls in can get out (something to put its claws into, rather than the smooth tile that runs around the top of the spa). Anyway, it didn’t work for this mouse, though it’s been quite a while since I saw a drowned lizard.

This morning I had a close encounter with a juvenile bunny rabbit, who had somehow gotten into the grapefruit enclosure and couldn’t get out. As I approached he became frantic, trying to jump (too high) or gnaw his way out (chicken wire too strong). I scooped him up in a bucket and let him go. He hadn’t done any damage to the tree that I could see, but I hope he has learned his lesson.

A few minutes ago a little chipmunk came scurrying onto the porch and lay down flat on the cool concrete, under the gate, to eat something with both his hands. There is so much going on out there it will be amazing if I ever get any work done again!

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

June 16, 2004
I haven’t had a lot of time lately to watch the back porch doings, but here’s a progress report. We put up a chicken-wire fence around the grapefruit tree, and apparently it hasn’t received any more rabbit-nibbles. It looks a little puny, but basically healthy.

I put some anti-algae stuff that is safe for fish in the pond, and it cleared up overnight. Unfortunately, it seems to taste bad, as I have seen very few birds drinking since. The label on the anti-algae stuff assures me it is not poisonous, and I have seen no bird bodies, so I’m hoping they will come back. I’m putting more water in the pond to try to dilute the bad taste or whatever.

The cardinals continue to leave little shreds of sunflower seeds on the porch. An adult female and male are quite adept at using the feeder, especially the male. He just hops right on, rides the perch as it swings down to open the feeder port, and sticks his head in to grab a seed. I haven’t seen the juvenile try it lately, so don’t know if he ever mastered it. He was out foraging in the yard earlier today, and is getting very red, though his beak remains gray.

A while ago a cactus wren was at the feeder, picking up scraps of seed. The male adult cardinal showed up and warily watched the cactus wren—evidently cactus wrens are dominant. The cardinal didn’t jump on the perch to activate the mechanism till after the wren had left. If it’s not a dominance issue, maybe he doesn’t want the cactus wren to learn how to use the feeder?

Big Red just returned, and evidently he prefers to use the feeder, although there are seeds lying in the yard. The female is eating from the yard, and though Big Red can obviously see her doing so, he continues to use the feeder. Maybe he likes the ride!

I hope that scattering seeds in the yard again will bring back the pyrrhuloxias. I haven’t seen any in a while, though I’ve heard them.

Final note: yesterday coming home in the late afternoon we had to stop the car to avoid a mama and papa quail and their two tiny feathered-thimble babies. But it was sad to see so few—usually there are well over a dozen when they are that small. Did some of the eggs just not hatch? Were they predated? I’ll never know—but I will look forward to seeing more babies, as it appears this is the second part of the quail breeding season. My god, the nature out here is so fantastic. So beautiful. So interesting. And so much Life in the Raw.

Saturday, June 12, 2004

June 12, 2004
Well, today I got to see some of the Dark Side of living out in the desert. The main thing is that a rabbit has gotten into my fenced pond area and eaten most of the leaves off the grapefruit tree that we just planted. The man at Ace Hardware said if we put a fence around it the leaves will grow back. I hope so—it looks very pathetic.

Then the pond itself has gotten all scummy with algae. I know I have to do something about it, but am not sure what. I don’t think my injured back would stand up to redoing it, though I’m not sure how else to get rid of the stuff.

This morning I also found a huge, decomposing lizard on the porch.

On the plus side, the birds continue to flock to the pond (as do chipmunks, ground squirrels, and the cute little destructive bunny-rabbits).

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

June 9, 2004
There has been so much nature around here! Several (well, at least two) adult cardinals, one of each sex, have learned how to use the seed feeder. They leave little seed-case slivers all over the porch. The juvenile doesn’t yet seem to have figured it out. He hops around, chipping, looking at and sometimes pecking the feeder, jumping up to the ledge it sits on, but so far never figuring out that he needs to land on the perch. Whenever the adults are around he begs at the top of his voice.

Speaking of baby birds, a few days ago we saw a juvenile Cooper’s hawk that had fallen out of its nest in the back section of Harlowe’s nursery. It was very fierce-looking, but adorable, as it sat under a table probably wondering who all those giants were who were staring at it. From an overhead branch its mama stared at us, probably wishing she could tear us limb from limb. The fledgling was about the size of a small dog, and could probably bite you just as bad if not worse.

I have more plants around my riparian paradise now, and it looks great, but there’s a lot of algae in the water. My old fountain algae cleaner doesn’t seem to be working, so when it wears off I’ll try something more heavy-duty.

My big wildlife sighting today was a rat, running across the back porch. I’m assuming—hoping—it was a pack rat. Not that they are loveable, but I think they are less creepy than Norwegian rats.

Friday, June 04, 2004

June 4, 2004
Yesterday morning I saw a very beautiful, very feminine-looking lady quail sipping water from the pond. I checked on the water temp throughout the day, and by evening—on a very hot day—it was still cool. I hope it remains so, because the heat is fairly fierce. This afternoon a very stressed-looking baby cardinal sat on the back porch outside my office door, his wings splayed out, his beak open, repeatedly sending his “chip-chip” call note. He was gone a while ago, so I put a little saucer of ice water and a few seeds out there, but it may be too late for him. Or, on the other hand, maybe he’s just fine. However, yesterday afternoon I found a dead baby finch on the porch.

Other nature sightings: yesterday morning I had fun watching a very aggressive juvenile pyrrhuloxia try to figure out how to open a sunflower seed. He repeatedly rolled it in his bill—no doubt copying what he had seen his parents do—but to no avail. He drove off all other birds that came near him, except a big white-wing, who drove him off.

How can I tell the baby cards from the baby pyrrhuloxias? So far the only sure way seems to be to listen for their calls. The young pyrrhuloxias have the same very loud wheet-wheet whistle as their parents, while the young cardinals have the “chip” note. But on close examination, the young pyrrhuloxias seem to be yellower overall. They are just as perky-looking and adorable as the cardinals, however.

I’ve got to study thrashers. I saw two adults yesterday doing the stabbing thing on the ground where the seeds were scattered. I don’t remember seeing that at the old house. Different type of thrashers? I must find out!

Finally, this morning I saw an adorable bunny standing on its tippy-toes on a rock, reaching up as high as it could to nibble fruit from the big prickly pear out back. I wish I could stop anthropomorphizing these guys but they are all so cute, and individualistic. It’s true I miss the broad-bills and mockers, but my goodness! I have so much nature to watch now!

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

June 2, 2004
Well, this morning I put a whole bunch more rocks in the pond so I could add more water (to keep it cooler for the birds). I can now see the surface of the water from my office. The birds seem to be using it constantly, even on this very hot day with no particular shade at around noon. I hope the water continues to stay cool enough for them.

Latest updates: three days ago I saw a thrasher in front of the pond where I’ve been leaving sunflower seeds. He was repeatedly stabbing his beak into the ground, I guess getting leftover sunflower morsels. He came awfully close to the extension cord to the pump. I don’t know if he could actually penetrate it, but will look into repositioning it.

There are lots of begging babies around, mainly finches and cardinals. I’ve seen a cardinal baby visit the pond on his own, and a smaller one with its father. I first spotted this guy when I heard his little “whistling teakettle” cry and saw the adult flying off with a seed in his beak. Duh! The baby was perched in a mesquite a few yards behind the pond area, in the part of the yard that is really desert.

I miss mockingbirds. I seem to remember hearing one or more before we actually moved in, but haven’t seen or heard one since we’ve actually been here. I guess I’ll have to start putting out more fruit. I also miss the beautiful broad-billed hummingbirds, but perhaps eventually they will discover my pond. I have plenty of black-chins, and even some Anna’s. Got to work more on the hum habitat, though. There are LOTS of white-winged doves.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

May 25. I saw two lizards mating in the “riparian paradise”—the former dog run where I’ve built my bird pond. They were big guys, especially the male. I believe they were chuckwallas, but I’ll have to learn more. The male was very colorful, with a yellow back and bright blue throat area. He seemed pretty spiky, too. The female was smaller, and rather drab. They went at it for a minute or two, then the female began struggling and finally broke away. She scurried across the ground and into the vegetation with the male in hot pursuit, but by the time he reached the vegetated area she had disappeared. He looked around for a while in seeming confusion and disappointment.

The same morning, I finally saw a black-chinned male hummer at one of the feeders.

May 26. Why does a lizard cross the road?

On our morning walk along the River Walk, we saw dozens—maybe hundreds—of lizards, all scurrying from one side of the path to the other. Some were the big lumbering guys, some ordinary-looking slim brown lizards, and a bunch were smallish guys with black and white striped tails that they hold up and curved, like a scorpion. There were also numerous ground squirrels on either side of the path, digging holes and seemingly enjoying the relative coolth (low nineties) of this late May in the Sonoran desert.

This end of the River Walk—five or so miles farther west than our old route, and I believe a bit north and higher in elevation—is much more heavily vegetated (because older, and the trees and bushes planted when it was young have had time to grow). There are many more types (and numbers) of lizards and birds, though I have yet to see a road runner.

May 27. This morning, shortly after we had our sick old cat, Ribby, euthanized, I saw a bobcat walking across the back yard. I was amazed how big it was—at least the size of a boxer dog. I called to my husband, who reported that he saw it disappear into the neighbor’s yard. He said he was surprised how small it was, so we’re assuming that we saw a mother and kitten. As this was the first bobcat I have ever seen in the wild, I’m preferring to think of it as Ribby’s spirit, appearing to let me know that he is finally wild and free.

Monday, May 24, 2004

May 24, 2004
My pond is two days old, and we’re starting to see some action! All day long a female cardinal and a male pyrrhuloxia have visited. This morning I saw a small bird—but not a Virden—with a yellow head. And lots of sparrows, finches, and doves have enjoyed bathing. The female cardinal, early this morning, was very picturesque as she daintily sipped from the waterfall.

I need more gravel and rocks to keep the water cool, and some plants to surround it, and more feeding stuff in my fenced-in riparian paradise. But we’re on the way!

Saturday, May 22, 2004

May 22, 2004
Well, we have almost finished moving and have been living in the new house for about a week. What a very different nature experience! We are in the foothills, surrounded by desert vegetation. Lots and lots of doves. I’ve seen only one cardinal, briefly, in the olive tree outside my new office window. I’ve seen two female hummers—one Anna’s, one black-chinned. I think they will come around more once I hang more feeders. And a bunch of very young, curious house sparrows have been prancing around on the windowsill outside the office. They gaze inside, curiously—maybe this is the first time in years that the blinds have been open.

There are lots of quail around—as I type this, a male is strutting along the wrought-iron fence railing that surrounds the spa pump. And a gazillion lizards, including some very big ones—the size of rats, that like to sit in the shade on the patio and do pushups. I am determined to learn their names. (The guy we bought the house from said they are all called “Larry.”) I haven’t seen any geckos at night—maybe I missed them, or maybe they don’t live up here.

This morning I saw an adorable little ground squirrel out on the border between the desert and the yard. I may not consider him so adorable after awhile, because there are lots of holes in the garden areas, probably squirrel holes.

I’ve put out the seed feeder, and so far no takers, ditto with the suet feeder. HOWEVER, today the most exciting thing. We dug a hole for the pond and hauled up a bunch of rocks. I have the gravel and the sand. Later today or tomorrow I start to build my pond, and then watch out! I expect a major bird explosion.

Sunday, April 04, 2004

April 4, 2004
We went directly from winter to summer, and the heat produced early blooming of citrus trees all over town. For about a week and a half, the air was heavy with the sweet, sensual fragrance of grapefruit and tangelos. Then, just as suddenly as it got hot, it got cold (fifties and sixties) and very windy and then rainy. Rainy! This time of year! Very unusual. Anyway, our backyard is littered with the debris of gazillions of citrus blossoms. At first they looked like snowflakes, but now they just look gross.

Lots of bird action over on the River Walk. More mockingbird skirmishes, hawks soaring, the Great Blue Heron flying around, goldfinches eating seeds. Lots of bird songs, too.

Saw a very interesting bit of non-bird action day before yesterday. A flock of four bicycle cops stopped, talked to a woman, got off their bikes, looked to where she was pointing in the riverbed. I saw a cop pull out his handcuffs… and use them to attach the bike to the railing along the bank.

Finally, yesterday I saw the first black chin of the season! A beautiful male, feeding from the feeder outside my office window.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

March 16, 2004
It’s spring, and so much is happening! The sparrows, for example, are raising a family in the little birdhouse in the tangelo tree (or preparing to raise a family; it’s hard to tell, but there’s lots of coming and going). Mr. and Mrs. Cardinal, at least one pair, are eating sunflower seeds together, the peach tree is in blossom, and the citrus are showing signs of doing the same. It’s also hot—about ten to twelve degrees above normal, so there’s apparently not going to be much transition between winter and summer this year.

Our daily walks have gotten very exciting because it’s so springlike. Tons of wildflowers along the river walk, including desert marigold, lupine, penstemon, globe mallow, and a ton of things whose names I don’t remember. Lots of birds, including many, many mockingbirds, mostly singing, and hummers (mostly Anna’s) in what seems like every tree and bush.

Yesterday, as we approached Craycroft, I saw a middle-aged man and woman with camera, looking into the brush. I asked what they were looking at.
“We saw them yesterday, but they won’t come out today,” the man replied.
“What kind of birds are they?”
“Big birds,” he replied, holding his hands far apart. “Large wingspans.” So much for his birding expertise….
On the way back, the “big bird” had emerged. It was a beautiful Great Blue Heron.

We saw it again today, flying back and forth from one tree to another. What an amazing bird! So big and almost ungainly looking, but so graceful when flying and so majestic when perched.

We also saw a pair of mockingbirds duking it out with a ritualized “dance” along the top of a fence, and… most amazing of all, a bird I have never before seen on the river walk: a vermilion flycatcher! So red it almost hurts your eyes!

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

March 3, 2004
We are planning to move in a few weeks—to a whole new area, more in the desert than this one. I worry about “my” birds and hope they will be all right without me to feed them. What will become of the brilliant young cardinal? Where will the cardinal parents take their children to learn to feed without my sunflower seeds and fruit slices? I guess they’ll be okay—their species have survived for a very long time before I came on the scene.

I’ve been getting some pretty good photos lately, and hope to figure out how to post them here soon. I have two especially good mockingbird pix. This will be harder to do in the new place, but presumably not impossible.

Wanted to write about the verdins, a pair of which has been living in my yard for years. They love the hummingbird feeders, and land on them to lick up errant drops of sugar solution. I recently got a new type of feeder—round glass, without any obvious place to land (to keep the woodpeckers away in a couple of locations). The verdins have been doing their best to hover at the feeding holes—flying to them and then flapping as hard as they can while they try to sip. Needless to say, it doesn’t work. A couple of days ago the female figured out how to grip the feeding hole with one foot and then twists around to drink. I’ll try to get a picture of it—very cute.

Friday, February 27, 2004

February 27, 2004
Well, this is cool! There’s been a lot more bird activity, despite a rather cool February. I have noticed, for example, that the pair of towhees are around much more often, and that they have begun using the suet feeder.

But not today—not so far, anyway, because a beautiful mockingbird is guarding the suet feeder, as if he were a hummer and it were a flower or nectar feeder. He’s perched on the branch right above the feeder, and is attacking and chasing off other birds that dare to try to feed, including so far, finches, another mockingbird, sparrows, a cactus wren, and a woodpecker! As soon as the intruder bird lands on the wire mesh, the mockingbird gives it a fierce look. If it tries to eat, he flies at it in a fury of feathers. He occasionally flies over to the tangelo slices on the redwood planter, but keeps one eye on the suet feeder. Then rushes back to defend it.

Thursday, January 29, 2004

January 29, 2004
Day before yesterday the kestrel returned! I was working in the bedroom and happened to glance up to see him, perched on the edge of the roof, his glorious profile vivid against the sky. There is something so elemental and powerful in his bearing that there is no doubt that this very small hawk is a fierce predator. I ran for the camera, but by the time I had it set up he flew off. I’m keeping a close eye out, as he does seem to realize that my backyard is a snack bar.

Yesterday afternoon I saw either The Costa’s or another Costa’s in the front patio, alternating between hovering at the tube feeder and perching on the hanger of a hanging flower basket.

Yesterday on our walk I heard a thrasher singing, probably starting to set up territories. And this morning a beautiful mockingbird perched on the redwood planter to eat tangelo slices. (The pair of towhees came over and scared him away, so I guess they are dominant to mockers.) The peach tree seems to be budding. Spring is coming!

Saturday, January 24, 2004

January 24, 2004
There’s been a lot more hummer activity recently. A few days ago a beautiful male Costa’s showed up. His gorget was just the most gorgeous deep purple. He really did look like a flying, glittering jewel. I only saw him feeding at the two back feeders, and think he has already moved on. I suppose he’s headed north. I wanted to photograph him, but he didn’t feed at the office window, which is my main photo spot. While waiting for him, I did manage to get a couple of good pictures of the male verdin that lives in the yard.

I’m pretty sure I have two male broadbills, and this morning I saw a female in the office, drinking deeply with her delicate red/orange beak (tipped in black). She is quite gray otherwise.

The fox I saw in Sabino Canyon may be dead now; there have been two rabid fox carcasses found there, and two attacks on hikers (one was at Bear Canyon). It makes me nervous, and also sad for the animals.

Monday, January 05, 2004

January 5, 2004

Great excitement yesterday afternoon. I was sitting and working on the bed when I heard the sickening “thump” of a bird hitting the patio door glass. I looked out just as the cats arrived by the door, to see a mourning dove lying on the bricks. Before I could react in any way, the dove flew off, leaving me grateful that it had survived (at least for the moment) and wondering what had caused it to fly into the window so hard.

I got my answer a few minutes later when I went into the office and saw, on the gravel just outside the window, what I at first took to be a huge dove but then realized was a kestrel picking at the feathered remains of either another dove (or possibly a mockingbird—it was too far gone to be sure). While I began snapping away with my new digital camera the kestrel continued to calmly pull edible shards from the pile of feathers. He or she did not pose well, and I ended up with lots of great shots of his back and side, but none of his beautiful face or beak.

The kestrel finished lunch and flew off, leaving me very grateful to have gotten such a closeup view of “nature red in tooth and claw.”