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.