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.