Monday, December 26, 2005

December 26, 2005

It was a lovely Christmas day. I think the temperature got up to eighty. The day before I'd been out working in my rose garden in my shorts. This is how I remember many Christmases from my childhood, but I believe it is fairly unusual for it to be this warm.
The pond is still being visited by bees, who are usually dormant by this time of year. But all the deciduous trees have finally lost their leaves (to return in February). The pomegranate tree looks like a collection of bare sticks. There are plenty of hummers around, male and female. All I have recognized are Costa's and Anna's, both of them beautiful enough birds. I've seen a few tail-waggers, which may mean that I have some black-chinneds, but I can't be sure.
I hope one day (or month or year) soon I get some year-round broad-bills. I still miss them a lot. Maybe this will be the year I have mockingbirds in my garden.
I suspect that my pond would look to any outsider like a pitiful half-attempt at greening up some scrub desert, but to me it is beautiful and lush, and with the new year I plan to make it even more so.

Monday, December 19, 2005

December 19, 2005

The word of the day is hawk. Today while on the River Walk we saw a small, rather nondescript hawk sitting on the railing. I am pretty sure it wasn't a kestrel or peregrine. Then this afternoon, I saw another, similar hawk on the fence around my pond.I studied it for a while with the binoculars, but still don't know for sure what it was. I suspect it may have been a male Cooper or a sharp-shinned. It had a gray back and a rufous-speckled chest. The tail was gray and blunt, with thick dark bands and a rim of white at the end. I didn't see any identification bands on its leg.

We are approaching the shortest day of the year. We've had a few freezes, but it's a warm winter. My roses are still blooming, and the only thing that has frozen back is the lantana.

My pond area looks rather bare, but I still love looking at it. The other morning when I went out to add water, I saw a road runner, several hummers, cardinals, pyrrhuloxia, the usual cactus wrens, sparrows and woodpeckers, and even the beautiful mockingbird, out in the desert area. The visiting hawk probably thinks it's an all-you-can eat buffet.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

December 6, 2005

EXCITING NEWS! I just saw a mockingbird out on the fence behind the pond. He or she looked cold (we had a hard freeze last night, so all the lantana have died). Here is my fantasy: the mockingbird has taken a good look around, and decided, "This looks like a terrific place to raise my family next spring."

Apart from the mocker, nothing new. Lots of hummers, all Anna's and Costa's, as far as I can tell. Though I do have one female with a VERY long beak who doesn't seem to be either.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

November 23, 2005
It's a very cool (low 60's) cloudy, gray November day. I just watched a brilliant red male cardinal eat eleven sunflower seeds in a row. He hops onto the perch, instantly grabs a seed, hops down to the fence, eats the seed, hops back onto the perch. I never saw quite this behavior with the other feeder.

This new feeder is working out very well. The woodpeckers don't even seem to try. Though the finches do try, they don't get anywhere. I've had tons of cardinals and pyrrhuloxias, sometimes even fighting over it (especially the first few days). Only problem is sometimes it sticks. The cards and adult pyrrhuloxias seem to have figured that out. Flutter your wings, jump on it again, stick your beak betwen the door and the wood. The other day a male pyrrhuloxia was here with his son (gray beak, but adult plumage). The little one couldn't figure it out. I think he was too lightweight. I felt sorry for him.

My winter hums seem to be at least one, maybe two Costa's, and at least one Anna. I sure do miss the beautful Broadbills.

I am thankful for the beautiful birds in my yard and in the world.

Friday, November 11, 2005

November 11, 2005
Well, yesterday I spent nearly $170 at the Wild Bird Store for suet, seeds, and the new seed feeder. The guy at the store advised me to rubber-band the opening open so the cardinals would get the idea, but I didn't want the woodpeckers to get the idea, so I didn't do that. A female cardinal showed up just before sunset, and she knew immediately what it was, even though it looks very different and is in a different location. She flew right up onto the perch... and couldn't feed! I had set it incorrectly!

So I called the store and he told me what to do, but by then it was almost dark and the cardinal didn't come back. However, she was out there this morning and feeding! I'm so pleased! I saw a couple of finches trying, but--as it's supposed to do--it shut them out. I haven't yet seen a woodpecker try.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

November 9, 2005

Well, the damned woodpeckers have destroyed the new feeder. No way I can get it to work. I called The Wild Bird store which has handmade, wooden cardinal feeders and explained my problem. The owner told me he is sure that his feeders will withstand manhandling (birdhandling) by woodpeckers, plus he stand by his products, so I'm going to get one, even though they cost something like four times what the plastic one cost. Gulp. But I can't stand to see the cardinals and pyrrhuloxias have to leave empty-beaked.They look so frustrated when the feeder doesn't work for them.

In other news, we've had a small wolf spider in the house, which I have been trying to protect from my cats and husband. It really gets around; I see it on the ceiling in different rooms. The other day it was in the foyer, in the crack between wall and ceiling, just resting or sleeping. They do that by stretching half their legs out on each side, in a bunch, so they look sort of like a bundle of twigs. I'm going to try to find it doing that again and photograph it.

Watching a flock of quail on the Riverwalk this morning I realized how the flocks form: in the spring, they all split up (except Mama and Daddy, who presumably stay together), and all the children go off and find new mates. Then these new pairs spend the summer raising broods, and however many young quails are left stay with their parents for the rest of the year, learning more about surviving in this harsh environment. Then in the spring the whole thing starts again. You can tell how successful a quail couple has been by the size of the flock.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

October 27, 2005
The weather has been absolutely glorious for the last couple of weeks. It's the reason we're all here in this valley. Tucson has two seasons: the summer that we bitch about, and most of the rest of the year. Sunny clear days in the seventies-low eighties and cool nights in the fifties. Slight breeze most of the time.

The hummers seem to be tapering off--only a couple now, I think. An Anna's for sure. I'm not sure if the Costa's are still around. I planted a new crossvine to make up for the one that got fried last summer. It did very well for about a week--putting out new tendrils, looking great, and then yesterday it looked all wilted. Today it was gone. Nothing left but a couple of sticks. So I presume something ate it. The climbing rose that got eaten a few weeks ago has not come back either. So I guess the moral is not to plant anything outside the pond enclosure. I feel really sad about the rose, because this coming spring it would have been great.

The petunias inside the pond enclosure are growing and blooming beautifully (they are in big pots). And so far the chile and new gardenias in the front porch area are doing well.

The only other thing going on around here is bees. There are a gazillion bees swarming around the pond every day as soon as it warms up. I called a bee service, and they said that probably the hive is not on our property (I haven't seen any hive activity), and that the bees could be coming from as far away as two miles. I have two choices: drain the pond for a couple of weeks, or wait for the first freeze, when the bees will become dormant.

So far, I have chosen to wait.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

October 18, 2005
The main thing going on has been the problem with the seed feeder. I kept adjusting it, but the only birds who could feed were the woodpeckers, and it didn't matter what height I set the door to. I watched cardinals and pyrrhuloxias try to feed and finally leave in disappointment. Day before yesterday I took the feeder back to the store to readjust it, and they couldn't do it either, so they gave me a new one.

I'm happy to report that the pyrrhuloxias and cardinals are again feeding happily; the perch on the door swings down exactly far enough for them to pluck seeds out of the hole. The woodpeckers, however, are extremely frustrated. I watched a male yesterday try for two or three minutes: first sticking his beak between the door and the feeder from the top, then from the bottom, then from the side. He eventually succeeded in dislodging one seed from the hole, and swooped down to the ground to snatch it up. But there has been much less trying by the woodpeckers today. I guess they get the message that the free buffet has closed.

Still quite a few hummers around. There's a mature male Costa with very fluffy white bib behind the ears and under the chest. It looks like cotton. I also might have spotted a little Rufous the other day, but haven't seen it again. The Costa juvenile male is still around. I'm finding that these guys are a good deal less skittish than some other hummers. Sure wish i still had Broadbills around....

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

October 5, 2005
I have a few hummers now, very aggressive and apparently tanking up for migration. I know for sure that I have male Anna's and Costa's, because I have seen their beautiful gorgets in the sun. A week ago I also had a juvenile Costa's, identifiable by what looked like lavender ribbons at his throat, where his gorget was just coming in.

Also last week a small hawk visited my pond while I was on the exercise bicycle (so I didn't look at it through binoculars). It was small--about the size of a white-tail dove--and fairly pale, with a dark-and-white striped tail. Its profile resembled that of a bald eagle. My raptor-expert correspondent thinks that based on my description it was likely a male sharp-shinned hawk, which would be another first for me.

In other news, at least one woodpecker has figured out the cardinal feeder. He sits on the perch and maneuvers his beak down between the sliding door and the feeder, then grabs a seed from the feeding hole. Today my yard guy planted the pomegranate tree in the ground east of the pond, and the bottle-brush outside the pond area, to the north. I hope they both do well. I'm going to put flowers in pots around the pond for winter, but don't know about next summer. I guess it partly depends on how much everything else grows by then.

And a final weather note: I keep thinking it's going to stop being hot, but it's still in the mid nineties, and for the last few days has also been humid. Supposedly this weekend it will suddenly drop to the low eighties. That will be a shock--it will probably feel freezing!

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

September 14, 2005

My blog is so boring compared to all the hyper political ones. But it's also soothing, to me, to know that my little birds and critters are getting their moment on the Internet, even if only for a handful of eyes (now there is a nature image!).

Not much action. We had one last monsoon rain last week--nearly a third of an inch in twenty minutes or less. It reminded me of the heavy monsoons that were so common when I was a kid--a downpour along with lightning and thunder and heavy wind that felt like the end of the world. And then... it stopped. The monsoon is now over, it is dry and sunny and beautiful, and even in the heat of the day it doesn't get above the mid-nineties.

Also last week, I saw a very sad sight: a doting Papa Cardinal busting his buns to feed a greedy little cowbird chick.

Finally, yesterday I had a new bird at the pond! I first thought it was an odd-looking sparrow, but then looked through the binocs and saw that it was a sparrow-sized gray, black, and white bird with striking black and white face streaks. Its body was marked similarly to a mockingbird, and it was very flitty. In my haste to get all the field markings I neglected to note its beak! I couldn't really narrow it down from my bird book, but I happened to go to The Wild Bird Store later in the day and Jon Friedman helped me find it: a solitary vireo. (Maybe--the picture in my book doesn't look much like it either.) Hope it will be back.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

September 1, 2005
Time flies! In the last two weeks, there has been a lot of nature to write about. First, we finally had a very active monsoon, even up here. One day the airport received nearly 2 1/2 inches of rain, which is nearly unprecedented. (August went down as the fifth-rainiest month in history.) We are actually AHEAD of the average annual rainfall total for the year. My rain gauge picked up .82 inches, which is pretty good.

Since then it has dried out again. It is cloudy today, for the first itme in about a week, and humid too (it's been hot and reasonably dry for a while). I don't expect any rain, though they are getting it to the south and the northeast of here.

Mama dove apparently decided not to raise another brood in the carport. Twice I have seen her sitting on the nest, but she always flies away whenever I come close. No brooding behavior. Maybe she just feels comfortable there, or maybe she is thinking, "I can't go through this again! Won't that woman ever leave me alone?"

A huge prickly pear--a prickly pear tree, really--apparently got too much rain and has pretty much collapsed. It was the main thing you first see when you look out the central back doors, though I didn't notice it was down until I smelled a rotting odor. Kind of gross, but it was very big and very old, and maybe its time had just come.

Finally, two days ago I saw a Rufous hummingbird at the feeder by my office window. I haven't seen him anywhere else, and I didn't get a good look, but I know he was Rufous (or possibly Allen's). It is migration time, after all. Mr. Broadbill is long gone, alas.

Friday, August 19, 2005

August 19, 2005
Mama dove, that is. Or at least she's thinking of coming back. I saw her sitting on her nest this morning, though when I went closer she flew away. No eggs. I assume she's been out dating, however, and is checking out the digs for her fifth (!) brood of the season.

I haven't seen Mr. Broadbill for a few days (sniff, sniff), but I recall that at the other house it took a few years before I had broadbills year round. There is a very feisty Costa's now guarding the feeders by my office. Maybe it is the same one, and maybe he will stay year round. Wouldn't that be nice?

Not much else doing, nature-wise. It rained for about half an hour earlier. I haven't checked the rain gauge, but probably not much. The monsoon is probably over for the year, except for occasional thunderstorms here and there. At the airport, we are almost on target for rain for the year, so it's been a good summer.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

August 10, 2005
The monsoon continues, though mostly not up here. We had .70 inch of rain the other day, but down in the valley they had nearly two and a half!

Anyway, I just wanted to post that I HAVE A BEAUTIFUL MALE BROADBILL! He is guarding the feeder that the beautiful male Costa's formerly owned. (The Costa's is clearly not happy about this.) I'm so excited!

And this afternoon I saw a dead bird wing out by the mailbox, along with a few loose feathers. Nature red in tooth and claw....

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

August 3, 2005
A few updates: the Costa's hummingbird loves it here. He has staked out a territory by the pond, which he guards from the Texas Ranger outside my office. Right in front of the Texas Ranger is a "little beginner" hummer tube feeder. I put it up when nothing would deter red ants from clogging the previous feeder. Even two ant traps didn't slow them down. They can't, however, seem to get into the tube feeder, though it is very drippy and is making a mess on the porch. Anyway, it's nice to have the Costa's around. He is the only one I've ever had long enough to observe much behavior. He is very bold, and doesn't seem bothered by my presence.

The monsoon continues--everywhere but our neighborhood. We've had .10 inch overnight twice in the last week, and that's about it. Meanwhile, the rest of the city is getting flooded. But those drips do help my plants, which are looking much perkier. The ground seems saturated, as is the air. It's a nice time of year.

Finally, dove update: Three days ago I was in a panic because I had not seen Mama Dove for a day and a half. The babies sat patiently in the nest, looking like perfect little miniature doves. But then I found a dead dove out by the pond and thought the worst had happened. I called Wildlife Rescue. Just as a woman called me back to tell me where to take the little dovelets, Mama returned! And boy, were her children happy to see her, jumping around in the nest and I suppose clamoring to be fed (I watched this from the window). I had put food and bugnuts out for them earlier, but they ignored that. Anyway, the wildlife rescue woman said that once the dovelets are fully fledged, mom spends increasing amounts of time away from the nest, and will soon kick them out. I haven't been out there today, so I don't know if it has happened yet.

I wonder what Mama has been up to. Maybe out getting knocked up again?

Thursday, July 28, 2005

July 28, 2005

Well, I've been suspecting I had a Costa's hummingbird around here, but couldn't see it close enough to tell for sure. This morning while I put water in the pond I was standing very still, just looking around at the unaccustomed cloud cover. I heard buzzing and glanced up to see a beautiful male Costa's face to face. Maybe he's been thinking, "I suspect there's a middle-aged female writer around here, but I need a closer look."

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

July 27, 2005
Two days ago my cardinal feeder fell apart. The door cracked and broke into several pieces, and the body developed alarming cracks across the front and sides. It was no doubt sun-rot (around here, sun-rot and water-rot between them get just about everything).

Anyway, the next morning early I saw a juvenile cardinal at the feeder, actually feeding. He had figured out that if he jumped from the chain link fence to the hole in the feeder, he could sort of grasp the plastic with his feet and flap his wings really fast like hovering long enough to grab a seed. He then retired to a better perch to eat the seed and then resumed his hummingbird-like behavior. A finch had figured out the same thing, and the two of them went through quite a few seeds while I watched. I got a new feeder later in the day, and the cardinals have resumed normal feeding.

At least one of her eggs has hatched; a thumb-sized little gray dovelet was sitting beside her this morning. I couldn't tell if another was there or not. I think it hatched a couple of days ago, because she has seemed to be sitting higher on the nest.

There are baby lizards all over the place. I guess this is the season for them. Lots of them on the River Walk, mostly scampering away in time not to get stepped on or run over. Several I've seen at the house, including one that briefly came inside and was attacked by one of the cats. I rescued it, but it may have been damaged beyond repair by the time I returned it to the yard.

It's been pouring everywhere but here. Sniff.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

July 20, 2005

Hooray! The monsoon has finally arrived! It started two nights ago wtih a tremendous thunderstorm that brought little rain (here, anyway) and tons of lightning and thunder. There were trees down all over the city, some of which we saw today on the riverwalk. Also power outages, though not here. Although we had one of our own a few days earlier.

Still plenty of quail around. Yesterday I saw a gorgeous white spiny lizard with a blue collar and belly and tan and gold stripes on its back and flanks. It is possibly leucistic, though spiny lizards are capable of changing color to match the ambient temperature: the hotter it gets the lighter they get.

And I just saw a very intelligent white-wing dove (a seeming oxymoron). He was clnging to the perch on the cardinal feeder and trying to insert his beak into the space between the feeder cover and the feeder hole. He obviously got how the thing worked, but wasn't able to figure out how to beat the system.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

July 9, 2005
I can't believe how many quail there are running around, across our back and front yards, through the pond, into the wash, across the streets (cringe). Pretty much every time I think to look up from typing, I see some combination of adult and juvenile quail out in the riparian area. Day before yesterday I caught a glimpse, as they left the yard, of a gazillion (or maybe two gazillion) little bitty guys--the dandelion-fluff stage of baby quaildom. They were so cute. I counted about eight or ten, but there were more.

Also, I don't know if all quail mamas are stupid or fat, but practically every time I see one now, she's trying to find a mesh square to get through to get out of the riparian area. Why not just fly over the fence, duh?

And speaking of duh, Mama Dove is at it again. I saw her with a twig in her mouth the other day over by the old nest on the shelf. Two days later she was sitting on the nest, and she is still there. She does have shade where she is, but it's SO HOT. I wonder if she will lay (or has laid) hard-boiled eggs? (This is her fourth brood of the season, counting the egg that didn't hatch.)

The last set of baby doves apparently fledged successfully. They had gotten pretty big and were walking around and even flying a bit. One disappeared, but I think it may have flown away to its own life. I saw the remaining one sitting on the shelf, alone, and when I approached it flew off, its wings flapping strongly. I hope they're okay--this weather has been brutal. It can't be a good time to be born, whether you are a dove, or a quail, or anything. I'm sure that my little pond is helping some guys make it through the tough early days.

The monsoon is probably arriving next week, and not a moment too soon. We've had I think 27 days of 100 plus heat, and at least another week to go. Despite the coming humidity, it will be nice to get back down in the nineties.

Final nature note for today: yesterday out on the River Walk a kestrel landed on a wasit-high fence just in front of us. So beautiful!

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

June 28, 2005
I guess the rattlesnakes and coyotes are going to be very well fed this summer. There are quail all over the place. Sunday afternoon I counted 26(!) young quail with their parents. I might have even missed some. I don't know if this was a blended family or a family where 26 babies lived, though I suspect the former. The attrition seems to be very high in general, and these were pretty well grown. It was exciting to watch them as they came into view.

This morning, a mama and papa and two adolescent chicks came to the pond. I think this might be the former 3-family, but I'm only guessing. As I say, there are a lot of quail. The mama in this group had a hard time getting through the wire mesh around the pond fence. The spaces aren't very big, but there are apparently some large enough for rabbits and fat quail to squeeze through. Mama had trouble, though, and tried square after square, all along one side, before she finally found one that she could get through.

The baby doves are growing quickly. They look like actual birds now, and are the size of finches. Their little beaks are very long, and they still spend most of the day sitting motionless in the nest, either snuggled with mama or waiting till she comes back if she has gone off for some reason. I was thinking yesterday that she'll probably be glad when they're gone and out of the nest and she can go back to just pecking the ground, bathing in the pond, and generally hanging out somewhere else.

Friday, June 24, 2005

June 24, 2005
There's been a little rain, but it's not yet the monsoon. Sure feels like it, though, with high dewpoints and humidities higher than 30.

Mama dove's babies hatched sometime a few days ago. I first noticed she seemed to be sitting a little higher than usual. It turns out that's because instead of sitting on eggs, she was sitting on babies. By the time I saw them, they were already feathered. But still very little, and unlike other baby birds, who seem to spend a lot of time squawking and screaming to be fed, these guys remain completely motionless, as she was while brooding. They are striped and dull-colored, and look very much like the twigs that make up the nest, except for their little black beady eyes that occasionally blink. I took a photo, and will try to post it, but truthfully it doesn't look like much.

Yesterday afternoon the pond was visited in close succession by three quail families, all of whom spent some time drinking and poking around on the ground. The first family had three babies--two rather large and one quite small. I'm assuming they are from two separate broods, but wonder why so few babies?

The second family had five or six medium-sized chicks. They were at the stage where their topknots look like mohawks. They reminded me a bit of our old next-door neighbor, who for some inexplicable reason has worn a mohawk for several years.

The third family had at least nine medium-to large chicks. They made quite a picture, all crowded around the water. It was very, very, very gratifying to see all these adorable young quail and to feel that my riparian area has made their lives a bit more pleasant and predictable.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

June 21, 2005
Well, yesterday was the longest day of the year, and also the hottest, at 110. Today the high was maybe 109. Very hot. Also very cloudy, with what one of the weathermen calls a "monsoon preview."

The little pond is getting a workout. Especially now that it is cloudy, critters have been flocking to it. A cottontail burrowed into the shallow depression the antelope squirrel had made in the shade beside the pomegranate tree pot. When I first looked, all I could see was one eye, one ear, a nose, and the cotton tail. A family of quail with four babies has been in the yard, drinking and scrounging for food. Antelope squirrel too, but he's been on the porch since the rabbit took his hole by the pot. Six very small fledgling finches were standing, panting, their teeny little wings out, underneath my chair on the porch. And a few minutes ago I saw an unidentifiable hummingbird hovering at the waterfall.

All these guys, when they go completely motionless, look just like rocks.

So much fun to watch! I'm so glad I have the pond!

Saturday, June 18, 2005

June 18, 2005
It's three days from midsummer's eve, the solstice, the official beginning of summer. It's seasonably hot, which means low one-hundreds. That's about to change. It's going to get hotter--105 and above--for a few days. And according to the National Weather Service, the monsoon is underway in Sonora. Moisture is expected to start moving into our area soon, meaning it will be humid (though not like back east). Some forecasts call for the monsoon to arrive late; others say it is right on track. Average start date is July 4. We haven't had a "normal" monsoon in several years, though--there have been way fewer thunderstorms than we used to expect. No way of telling if this is a long term trend or not.

Yesterday afternoon when I went to get the mail I surprised a flock of quail in the driveway. Mama and Papa and too many babies to count. This might be the same flock I saw the other day in the pond area. The babies were bigger, but they do grow up fast.

Today I saw who is eating the bison burgers. I put some out (the last of what I have cooked) because I haven't seen the road runner for a while, and hoped to attract it. I put out four pieces. Two remain. A little while ago I saw my little chipmunky guy disappear with one of the chunks.

He is, by the way, a Harris Antelope Squirrel. I don't remember if I posted that here or not. The other squirrels we have are round-tailed ground squirrels, which look a little bit like prairie dogs, only smaller. There are a gazillion of them down along the River Walk.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

June 15, 2005
Finally! Some adorable really little baby quails. I caught a glimpse of them as their parents led them across the pond area toward the tree where the suet feeder hangs. I can't see the suet feeder or the ground beneath it from inside the house (or from the porch, for that matter). I don't know how many little quail there were, but I saw around seven as they passed by quickly, like dandelion heads on wheels.

Summer is here! It's hot! Not yet humid, but very uncomfortable. During the hardest part of the afternoon the cooler no longer helps much. Can the monsoon be far behind?

Saturday, June 11, 2005

June 11, 2005

The young cardinal has been in the pond area and on the porch a great deal today, mostly by himself. I suspect his parents have cut him loose. I haven't seen him try to use the feeder yet, though he often sits on top of it, but I have watched him try to get nourishment from empty sunflower shells. I know that he will catch on eventually.

In other bird news, this morning on the way back from our walk, we saw a quail family in the driveway--mama and papa and five little babies. They were past the fluffball stage, but still pretty young, and quite adorable. I'm assuming that they are the second batch of offspring for the season.

The doves are at it again, too. Yesterday afternoon I needed to get something out of one of the boxes on a shelf in the carport. I was rummaging around when suddenly a panicked dove exploded up and out from the side of the box. Well, it was the same shelf that held the original nest, and it may be the same dove. The nest seems to have been augmented, and holds two little white eggs. Mama eventually returned and was unobtrusively brooding this morning. I bet she wishes I would go away.

Friday, June 10, 2005

June 10, 2005
During the past two days, the little cardinal and Daddy have been around a lot. Yesterday afternoon, I saw TWO little cardinals, but Daddy turned out to be Mr. Pyrrhuloxia. So I'm not sure if I have a total of two or three. Probably it's two baby pyrrhuloxias and one baby cardinal. They're so much fun to watch, whatever they are.

I have some bison burgers that my cats won't eat, so yesterday I put some chunks out for the roadrunner. I don't know if s/he ate them, but they disappeared when I wasn't watching. Today I put out more. Just a few minutes ago, the roadrunner darted across the pond area, a limp lizard in its beak. I think it stopped and eyed the bison burger chunks... perhaps trying to decide whether to check them out. But then it hopped up on top of the fence and flew away. Maybe it will be back.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

June 8, 2005
I swear, there is nothing perkier looking than a young cardinal. There's something about their little topknots--kind of disheveled--and the bright, alert way they look at the new (to them) world. Anyway, a young cardinal, I think the one I mentioned in an earlier post, has been hanging around my pond area. He drinks from the waterfall and looks longingly at the seed feeder. I haven't yet seen him try to use it. And I don't know if he has yet learned to crack sunflower shells. His dad was with him earlier in the day, but then took off--perhaps to care for younger birds still in the nest.

The road runner, too, has apparently decided to make my habitat part of his hangout. I saw him several times today, and yesterday afternoon watched as he hurried across the pond area with what appeared to be a nest in his mouth. I wonder what THAT was about!

Today he vocalized several times: a hoarse, eerie kind of low-pitched honk that I am convinced sounds EXACTLY the way dinosaurs sounded. (The bird book describes it as a low-pitched cooing, but it sounded anything but dovelike to me.) I hope he sticks around; he is very interesting to watch.

Monday, June 06, 2005

June 6, 2005 EXTRA

Wait! This just in! A while ago I saw a papa cardinal feeding the first cardinal baby of the year. Then I saw the baby land on the feeder--but no! It wasn't the baby! It was a papa pyrrhuloxia, who then proceeded to feed HIS baby.

The pyrrhuloxias took off, I guess intimidated by the cardinals. Baby card stuck around for a while and I got a good look at him. He's sort of greenish and very scruffy looking, but his tail is already red, and he has red on the tips of his wings. He was drinking from the waterfall, but kept dropping his tail in the water.

June 6, 2005
We were suddenly called out of town for a week. Upon my return, I see that there are no doves on the nest, the tree blooms have all blown away, and most serious: there appear to be NO HUMMERS anywhere in the yard! Did they all get pissed off that I didn't change the nectar for a week? Seems unlikely. But the desert flowers are drying up, so they should be coming to the feeders, I would think. I may have to try hanging more feeders out in the yard, since mine are all under the eaves and not casually visible to those who are just passing by. (But I do have hummer flowers here, which should attract them too.) This requires further study, for sure.

Other wildlife news: last night the kittens caught a gecko, who had probably slipped in through a hole in the screen on the front porch. By the time I got to it, it was dead, poor thing. At least it answered my question about whether there are any geckos up here. This was the first one I have seen.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

May 26, 2005
Well, this morning there were NO doves on the nest. I assumed the baby had flown off, but then I saw it sitting on the low brick wall in the carport. Smart bird--stayed out of the sun, anyway. He later moved over to a large empty planter by the air conditioner. From the pile of bird poop on the wall, he'd been there quite a while, so maybe this was the other missing baby? Who knows. I also don't know if his mom is feeding him, but presumably she is. Doves are clumsy and stupid, but there's no reason they wouldn't be as devoted parents as other birds.

Last night we put some mesh over the gate to the rose garden. There's still a fairly big gap at one end. I don't think it will keep the little bunny out, but I can't imagine a big jackrabbit getting in, so we'll see what happens.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

May 25, 2005
Doves, Rabbits, and a Flicker!
The flicker first: I saw one on our morning walk on the Riverwalk yesterday, on a saguaro. It flew away quickly, but I'd seen them before at the other house. This was a gilded flicker, and a very handsome specimen at that, with his golden swirls and very woodpecker-y looking body.

Speaking of saguaros, the blooms are everywhere and I expect them to start turning into fruit soon. Birds are all over them, I assume eating bugs and perhaps drinking nectar. I'm not sure of the nectar content of saguaro flowers, and haven't seen any hummers on them, but then they are mostly too far away to see anything so small.

It's still really hot. The baby dove was actually two doves, but is now one again. I don't know what happened to the other one, but the ledge where the nest is perched is very small, and it's been windy. Probably he blew over or tried to fly and failed, and was eaten by something. The one that's left is quite large, looks fully feathered, but I don't know if it's up to flying. I always walk over and say hi, but he just freezes and tries to pretend he is invisible. Well, at least the mama dove managed to raise one baby Maybe he'll go to law school or get an MBA and make her proud.

At least one bunny has learned to get into our rose garden. It's just a little thing--a cottontail. The three cats love watching it out the patio door. It ate all my seedling zinnias, which I think I mentioned, and is now working on the lower branches of the rose bushes. It also eats weeds, which is helpful, but one of the rose bushes is starting to look really weird. I guess we'll have to put up some bunny-proof chicken wire or something before a jackrabbit gets in. A big rabbit could probably really wreck the roses.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

May 18, 2005
Whooee! I happened to glance out at the pond this afternoon to see a Western Tanager visiting. What a gorgeous bird! Brilliant orange on head, bright yellow body, beautiful black body and wing stripes. I hope he sticks around, though I don't think this is really his habitat. I had one once at the pond at the old house, and never saw one again.

The saguaros are slowly coming into bloom. It's interesting. Some have flowers growing up and down the in part of their accordion pleats; others have a crown all on the top; still others are mixed, in a random-seeming pattern. I'd guess about a quarter to a third of the blossoms on most of the saguaros I've seen are open now. They are such BEAUTIFUL flowers (the State Flower of Arizona, actually). The blossoms will soon be followed by red fruit and then the monsoon. I LOVE THE DESERT!!!

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

May 17, 2005
A note on human nature: The mild spring is about over. It's in the nineties. We are heading for summer. This morning's top story in the paper featured words like "Hades" and "suffer." When I see headlines like that--not to mention listen to residents--about this time of year, I have to laugh. It's as if they're saying, "Oh, my gosh! It gets hot in Tucson in the summer! Who knew?"

One of my hummers drinks by hovering over the pond and dipping the tip of her bill in the water. That seems very awkward to me: much easier would be to hover at the waterfall or just perch on a rock by it.

Mama dove finally has at least one baby! Yesterday evening she was off the nest and I saw a tiny little gray nub sticking up. When it blinked at me, I knew that something had hatched. She's back on the nest today. Incubating more eggs? And where does the baby go? Does she sit on it?

Finally: I've noticed a great ABSENCE of baby quail. Just the four I saw earlier in the season. I'm disappointed; thought I'd get a lot. I used to get several families in the backyard at the other house. But maybe I'm getting them here and just not looking at the right times.

Monday, May 09, 2005

May 9, 2005
This morning I was fiddling around with the rocks on the waterfall again, when I heard a hummer. I looked up to see a little Anna--either a young female or immature male--buzzing at the water maybe a foot from my head. I held perfectly still, and the hummer finally sped off. I quickly rearranged the rocks, and was about to leave (to watch) when little hummer returned, even closer to me. I held totally still while she approached the water, tail fanned out, then suddenly noticed me and flew right up in my face, about two inches from my nose, and seemed to study me. Then she flew away, and so did I.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

May 8, 2005
Spring and Waterfalls and Invisible Rabbits
This has been a most unusual spring, in that it has lasted, almost like spring back east. Usually, we have some very nice weather for about a month in part of March and April, and then it's summer. But the last few days--even this far into May--have been delightful, with actually chilly nights. Yesterday I think it only got up to 79. It's also been very windy, and now most of the beautiful blossoms have blown off the trees, but the cactus flowers are still going full tilt.

There is nothing more delightful than the sight of a hummingbird bathing at dawn in a waterfall. This morning I had two competing with each other for the pleasure. I've been working on improving the waterfall part of my pond, and at the moment it's just about perfect, and making a beautiful bubbling and splashing sound. The two hummers really seemed to enjoy the water. One of them somehow plopped her little belly on a flat rock right under the water and seemed to frolic as she made sure the wet stuff covered her whole body, then flew up to the fence railing in the sun to fluff out and dry off. She did this repeatedly. The other hummer was a male, I think a young one, and possibly a black chin. I haven't been able to confirm any black chins so far, but they should be around. I wish for a broad-bill, but it took me a few years at the other house for them to become year-round residents. If I'm patient they will probably start living here too.

Finally, this morning a rabbit sat beside the pond motionless for quite a while. I thought it was a rock until it moved. They have such perfect coloration for the desert. I just love all these little critters. I'm so fortunate to be able to see this slice of life.

Friday, May 06, 2005

May 6, 2005
Mama dove is still on the case, sitting on her nest on the pillar. She looks so patient. If it were me, I'd be thinking, "Is this thing ever going to hatch? How long do I have to sit here? What if it's a dud like the last one?" But then it's not up to me to perpetuate the dove (or any other) species.

Meanwhile, out at the pond, there have been a lot of rabbits. A huge one just now was eating a stalk of papyrus. He started at one end and then slowly sucked it in, like spaghetti, his jaws going the whole time. I'd think it would be too tough to be tasty, but he evidently likes it. He's still nosing around the papyrus pot. Which makes me think that maybe I can plant more of them this summer, for the shade and algae control. In the old house, they had a tendency to take everything over, but if I have rabbits to control them, this might be a good solution.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

April 28, 2005
More dove news: the female is sitting on the new nest on the north pillar. Too bad I can't see into the nest, but I suppose she likes her privacy. I guess I'll clean up the old nest and straighten up the shelf while nothing is living there. (Yesterday afternoon a pair of quail seemed to be investigating the shelves, but maybe they were looking for something to eat.)

The cacti everywhere are starting to bloom, and it is lovely. Many more cactus than we had around at the old house. Our prickly pears, some of which are huge (the size of small trees) are starting to put out butter yellow and orange blossoms; some of the cholla have reddish and dark orange buds; and our saguaros have lots of buds, though I think they don't open till June. I'll try to take some pictures and figure out how to post them here.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

April 26, 2005
Dove update: We saw a pair of doves investigating the empty nest. When I looked later, they had rolled the egg out and onto the bare shelf, so I threw it into the wash. They seemed busy around the nest on and off all day, and I assumed that the female would settle in and try again to raise a family (unless this was a different female).

Instead, they built a nest around the corner on top of the north pillar of our carport (last year a dove raised several checks on top of the south pillar). I saw her sitting there yesterday afternoon and evening.

But this morning, she was gone. No sign of any dove activity anywhere near the carport: just three empty nests, one on each pillar and one on the shelf.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

April 23, 2005
Last night when we came home around 9:30, Mama dove was there, as she always is, patiently sitting on her nest. As I always do, I greeted her quietly and promised that I wouldn't hurt her or her babies.

This morning about 9:30, she was GONE! Her nest contained a single white egg. I had never seen her not on the nest. I thought maybe she had flown off to eat or drink, but she has not yet returned. I felt really bad for a while, thinking that something had happened to her. But now I wonder... she was on that nest for waht seemed like weeks. Maybe she simply decided that the egg was not going to hatch, and flew off to find a more potent mate and build a new nest. I hope that is what happened.

If there is still no sign of her tomorrow, we're going to clean out the nest and straighten up the shelf.

Friday, April 22, 2005

April 22, 2005
This afternoon we had a coyote in the back yard! He looked pretty healthy, but then I started worrying about a coyote hanging out in a neighborhood in the daytime, because there's a rabies epidemic in Pima County. Anyway, he trotted off to the north with that purposeful walk they have, so presumably he's gone. I hope he didn't see the Siamese cat from across the street that sometimes hangs out here.

It's cloudy today, with a good chance of rain tomorrow. According to NOAA, there's a good chance that several records will be set with the rain, because for a number of locations including Nogales and Organpipe, no rain has ever been recorded on April 23. For the rest of us, I think the maximum might be .10 inch.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

April 19, 2005

We were out of town for a week, and things changed markedly in that short time. It's much warmer, for example, in the eighties during the day, though still cool at night. All the cactus on the property are in bud, and should be gorgeous when they jump into bloom. The palo verdes in town are covered in beautiful yellow flowers, very reminiscent of the forsythia we saw in New Jersey and Long Island. (The ones in our yard are apparently retarded--no signs of bloom.) The pomegranate bush has several bright orange-red trumpet flowers that the hummers seem to like.

The mama dove is still sitting on her nest in the carport. Whenever we drive up she blinks, but doesn't seem to move otherwise.

This morning I saw a mama and papa quail with four little ones way out in the back yard. I haven't seen other babies, but there are probably a lot around in other quail families. Four doesn't seem like very many, so I assume something may have happened to the nest.

While I was gone the yard guy moved the end of the hose that creates the waterfall in my pond so that it is sort of spurting into the air like a fountain. It's kind of cool--sounds and looks good, but is quite a rush of water. This morning I saw a hummingbird trying to decide whether to bathe (or drink) or not. The bird repeatedly approached the water and hovered, its tail fanned out as if in a threat display. At one point it got drops of water on its beak but didn't seem to be drinking, and eventually gave up. I moved some rocks so there is a quieter area that is off to the side, so maybe he'll be able to use that. I'm going to see about building a better waterfall, but will need a bunch more rocks.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

April 6
More signs of spring: all the bushes, trees, and most of the flowers are blooming or past bloom. It's starting to get hot during the day, but still cool at night. Yesterday afternoon I was watching through binoculars as a female hummer (probably an Anna, but I'm not sure) stuck most of her head into salmon-colored trumpet flowers on a vine that I don't know the name of. The blooms were quite small, but she managed to get right down into them. And when she emerged, her head was bright yellow with pollen. As she hovered, a goldfinch perched on the fence next to her; they were the same shade of yellow.

The other night coming home late we were startled when we got out of the car by a scrabbling and clawing sound, as if a critter were trying to escape from the shelves in the back of the carport. There is a rabies epidemic in the county these days, so we hastened on in. The next morning we checked out the carport and found a large black trash bag containing potting implements ripped open. We speculated that it might have been a coyote, a stray dog or cat, or even a bobcat that had previously learned those bags sometimes contain delicious garbage.

But it turned out that probably wasn't what made the sound. This morning my yard guy asked if I'd seen the bird nest on the shelves. And sure enough, there sat a sweet little mother mourning dove on her messy pile of sticks that doves think are nests. She was perfectly still, and nearly the same color as the shelving. We are going to leave her alone until her babies have flown, and then clean up the shelf.

Monday, March 28, 2005

March 28, 2005
Just a quickie: this morning I saw a BRIGHT ORANGE finch out by the pond. He looked like a house finch, but was orange instead of red. I looked him up in the bird book, and discovered that orange is a normal variant. In all these years of watching, this is the first one I've seen.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

March 24
Spring continues to burgeon; blossoms to blossom. It is exciting to look at all the plants around the house and watch them burst forth. When we moved in most of the main blooming was over, so it's all new and fun. I don't know what a lot of the plants are. I have some kind of bulbs about to bloom, I think. I hope they're irises.

Random nature notes: our #2 cat was very interested in something on the kitchen counter yesterday morning. I assumed it was a roach, which seemed to be hiding under the telephone. I moved the phone and found a rather large scorpion. Large is good--it's the little bitty guys that are most venomous, but it freaked me out. My hands were shaking. Gotta get used to these incidents now that I live in the desert!

Cardinals and pyrrhuloxia continue to flock to the cardinal feeder. The seeds deplete rapidly. This morning I found one reason why: at least one clever finch has figured out how to operate it! The door on the feeder is restrained by a weight that lets it slide down to reveal the feeding hole. It's set exactly for birds of cardinal/pyrrhuloxia size. A dove, which is heavier, would cause the door to slide down too far. A finch is lighter, and causes the door to slide down not far enough. But the enterprising finch I watched this morning had figured out that if she shifts her weight on the perch, the door swings out far enough for her to stick her head between the door and the feeder and grab a seed! (Her beak isn't strong enough to open the seed, but that's another story.)

I saw a second finch watching the first and try the same thing, but this one didn't get the trick and instead pecked futilely at the plastic.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

March 9, 2005
Yesterday we went on a hike behind Picacho Peak, a state park about forty miles north of Tucson that is the site of the only Civil War battle ever fought in Arizona. Apart from its historical significance, Picacho is renowned for its wildflower displays.

We saw everything yesterday: brittle bush, lupine, poppies, phocelia, tackstem, twist, globe mallow (the pink kind), and a gazillian yellow, pink, and magenta flowers that weren't in the wildflower book. I took several digital photos, and will try to figure out how to post them here.

It was a gorgeous day, blue skies and around seventy degrees, and except for a few planes it really felt like "being out in the desert." In addition to the wildflower, we also saw:
  • A white goat with a black face at the top of one of the ridges. We were told he is a domestic goat who escaped, and has evaded capture for three years. He seems to be very happy trotting around on the ridge top and foraging in the desert scrub. I'm assuming that he has reverted to an ancestral state. I hope a female goat escapes sometime and joins him.
  • A white bird! We do not know what this was, as we weren't able to get a really good look at it, but its body shape and habits seemed very finchlike, so we concluded that it is an albino or leucistic house finch. I tried to get a picture of it, but don't think I succeeded.
Not too many other birds visible, but it was midday and already feeling hot. I know summer will be coming soon enough, but I'm really loving the spring.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

March 2
The Scott's Oriole is back today. I just saw him first at the fruit feeder, eating fruit, then at one of the hummer feeders--one that isn't accessible to orioles--trying in vain to feed, and then in the pond, taking a good long bath. He is so gorgeous! Shiny ebony and bright lemon yellow. I hope his wife comes by one of these days. I'd like to get to know these guys better. I occasionally got orioles at the old house--hooded and Bullock's, mostly--but they never stuck around.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

March 1
I love it when birds look exactly like their pictures in my bird book. I just had a beautiful male Scott's Oriole on the fence behind the bird pond. According to the map, he's up here for breeding season. I wish him great luck--preferably in my back yard, so I can watch his babies grow up. (I've never seen baby orioles, to my knowledge).

The spate of rain stopped and everything is lovely now--blue skies, high sixties to low seventies, a few puffy clouds, the air clear and the mountains every shade of lavender. Everything in my back yard is fixing to bloom, except the new citrus trees.Even the "dead" ocotillo out behind the pond is putting out leaves, and it practically never does. The others all have orange flowers already.

Out in front of the house, the brittle bush is starting to bloom. The desert zinnias have been flowering for a few days. A bunch of other stuff is coming up, but I don't know if it will turn out to be wildflowers or "weeds." Which is also what wildflowers are.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

February 22, 2005
Yes, Spring is here! Everywhere I go I hear birds singing. I heard a beautiful concert from a goldfinch in the big palo verde tree yesterday. Alas, I don't hear mockers here in the yard (sniff, sniff), but they're in full voice everywhere else. Today the Riverwalk was thrumming with birds (and the river was rushing with water. What a treat!). There were a couple of trees full of starlings, whose yellow bills proclaim they are in mating plumage. They sound a little bit like bells, and it's fun to hear a bunch of them chirping at once.

There were plenty of mockers, too, including one especially beautiful singer who turned out to be a thrasher. I always forget that they can sing beautifully too, but don't generally do so except in early spring. I think what the thrasher and the mockers were singing was, "Look at my beautiful territory! It's a perfect place to raise a family, plus I'm the hottest dude on the river!"

And speaking of mating, the entrance to the Riverwalk was a raucus cactus wren singles bar, with half a dozen of the little guys displaying, squawking, hopping around, and making a general spectacle of themselves. I'm pretty sure that what they were saying to each other was, "Want to do it?"

Thursday, February 17, 2005

February 17, 2005
More signs of spring: early blooming trees as we drive through Tucson. Yards full of bright splashes of African daisies. Weeds (or wildflowers) sprouting everywhere on our property, thanks to the rain. And still more rain to come, this weekend and the middle of next week. I had nearly 1 1/2 inch on the rain gauge after last week's downpours. The gray days get to me, but it's exciting to see how happy the desert plants seem to be.

The male cardinals and pyrrhuloxia at the seed feeder seem to be in full mating plumage. And yesterday afternoon I saw an oriole bathing in the pond. I didn't get a good look at it--just the back. Brilliant black and yellow. I have at least a gazillion woodpeckers draining my hummer feeders. I may have to go back to the drippy single-serving feeders, at least for a while.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

February 8, 2005
Spring will be here any day, but isn't yet. There does seem to be a bit more bird activity, but except for a broken egg on the ground after the last windstorm, I haven't seen much evidence of breeding. The male cardinals are getting redder, so that's a good sign. Whenever I go over to the other house, I hear mockingbirds singing, but except for that one day, don't hear them over here. Sob, sniff. I want mockers in my yard!

The beautiful male Costa's is still around. Or they are still around--hard to know how many. I don't know how many hummers of any sort I have; the most I've seen at once is three, but I think there are more. As far as I know, they are all Costa's and Anna's.

Yesterday when we were walking by the river, we passed several trees that were loaded with squeaking starlings. There must have been hundreds of them. I suppose they were migrating, though have no idea from where to where. They were gone today.

No other interesting bird activity, but as I say, I am expecting some soon!

Thursday, January 27, 2005

January 27, 2005
It has continued to rain--according to my rain gauge, we've had over 2 inches already since January 1, which is quite a lot for a town that averages 12 inches all year. This morning when i went out to get the paper it was SO BEAUTIFUL! There was fog rising from the mountains and giving everything a soft look, like a watercolor. The cactus and other desert plants in our front yard were also pastel--a whole palette--and the mountains looked close enough to touch. The air was cool and filled with that great desert-y post-rainfall scent. Accents of bright color: a male cardinal on the phone line and a goldfinch on the ocotillo outside the bedroom window.

Meanwhile, back at the pond, I have gazillions of cardinals and pyrrhuloxia using the feeder in its new position. This afternoon a pyrrhuloxia flew to the place where the feeder used to be, and you could see the thought balloons over his head: "Whoa! Where are the seeds?" He looked around, up and down: "I could swear they were right here the last time I visited." He hopped out from under the porch roof, looked around, and then suddenly spotted the feeder and immediately flew to it.

Monday, January 24, 2005

January 24, 2005
Lots of warmth and lots of rain. (Also chilliness and dankness, but not much and not for long.) It's not quite February and already feels like Spring is coming. Which it is.

Phaenopepla singles bar
A male phaenopepla has been hanging out pretty continuously on the ocotillo and scrub palo verdes out in back of my riparian area. He is gorgeous--glossy black with a little crest and reddish eyes. I haven't seen him use the pond (though assume he does), but he pretty clearly considers this good territory, because yesterday I saw him doing the mate-attracting moves, where he flaps up in the air to display his sexy white wingbars, then perches again.

Where's the feeder?
I am a victim of my own success: the cardinal feeder has proved so popular with a growing crowd of cardinals and pyrrhuloxia that the patio was getting fouled with bird dung and tons of empty sunflower seeds. So this morning I moved it out onto the fence in the riparian area, where I can still observe (though not so closely) and the patio will stay clean. I had thought it would take the birds a few days to learn the new location, but about a minute after I came back indoors, a pyrrhuloxia was feeding in the new location. I haven't seen any others since, but I also havent' seen them checking out the patio.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

January 18, 2005
Not to brag, but it has been clear and in the low to mid seventies for several days and will stay that way for at least the next week. Just gorgeous, although I do worry about plants that may assume it's spring and then get zapped with frost.

The birds are enjoying it! Nobody new, but lots of pyrrhuloxias and cardinals, goldfinches at the pond, and the little male Costa is still around. (Or maybe there's more than one--I can't tell.) Since it's so warm I can keep the door open part of the day. This morning I heard a mockingbird singing (!!!!!) but don't know where he was.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

January 5, 2005
Well, Happy New Year to one and all. We've been having rain for the last couple of days--a total of .90 inch, according to my rain gauge. Not much new out at the Riparian Area, though I haven't been watching it as much as usual. However, this morning I saw a male Costa's outside my office window (I couldn't see any colors, as it was cloudy and he was in shadow, but the "helmet" was unmistakable); and this afternoon while picking lemons I saw a mockingbird land in the top of the lemon tree. I've been putting out tangelo slices from the old house--maybe they are helping.