Thursday, December 07, 2006

December 7, 2006

I have much I want to blog about, and many new pictures to post, including a living Thanksgiving turkey. But for now, I just want to share the beautiful exotic butterflies I saw in an exhibit at the Tucson Botanical Gardens. I'm not sure what will happen when I post so many photos, so I can't identify them in order. But they include the "Dead Leaf" and "Paper Kite" butterflies from Asia, and a Chinese Silk Moth. More anon.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

November 7, 2006

I've been busy with non-blog, non-nature stuff for several months. I hope to get back to regular blogging now, because there have been a number of nature-things going on.

But first: the beautiful photo above appears with the permission of the photographer, Bob Moul, who has a breathtaking gallery of nature photos at

The bird is a juvenile Cooper's hawk, the same species as my previous hawk picture. One has been visiting my pond every morning for the last few days, I think looking for breakfast. Although the one visiting me is about the same size as the hawk I photographed, it is clearly a real youngster, with its pale yellow legs and feet, and the flattened, yellowish beak. I haven't managed to photograph the new guy yet, but this one looks just like it.

In other nature news, we are well into fall now, but it has been very warm and beautiful for early November--in the mid to upper eighties in the afternoon, but cool in the morning and cold at night. Just about perfect, except that if it were like this all year long twenty million people would be living in this valley now.

Except for the hawkling, I have noticed no unusual birds either here or on the Riverwalk lately. I still have quite a few hummers, hopefully here for the winter. I think they are all either Anna's or Costa's.

A lot of the plants are drying up and dropping their leaves, including the beautiful lantana by the pond and the pomegranate tree. In the rose garden, a tribe of leaf-cutter ants has been attacking my lavender miniature rose. I tried two semi-lethal methods of control for a few days, then gave up and applied those scary granules that kill a whole hive. I didn't put too many down, but it was enough to make a difference. There's still a little activity at the hive, but the poor rose is finally free to try to regrow some leaves.

Leaf-cutter ants are very interesting. They have humongous nests--for all I know our entire yard is host to one big one. They cut the leaves and take them to the nest where they treat them with enzymes and then grow fungus to get through the winter. I feel sort of bad about hurting the ants, but I love my roses too.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

September 16, 2006 Yes, it has been a long time since I have blogged. My non-nature life has been too intrusive, but now I have time again. All along I have had time to watch the beautiful world in my increasingly beautiful garden outside. The creature above is a Lesser long-nosed bat. The picture was taken by the young woman who lives in my old house, where the bat visited shortly after we moved. She has told me that it has not returned. However, about two weeks ago I awoke one morning to find all my hummingbird feeders drained. I knew immediately it was bats (though at the time, I thought "fruit bats.") I was put in touch with a woman, Sandy Wolf, who studies these bats. She was very excited to hear that the bats came "so far into town" to feed. She said that they have been starving this year, because their prime food, agave blossoms, have been virtually nonexistent. The bats are endangered, and they live only in caves. They can travel up to thirty miles a night in search of food. Next week Sandy and her husband are coming over to videotape my bats in infrared light. I'm sure I'll have more information after that. Other nature highlights: The Broadbill hummingbird stayed around through Sept. 4th or so, but has since disappeared. I now have only Anna's and Costa's hummers, as far as I know, and their numbers have fallen off.

I saw another Summer Tanager down by the river a couple of weeks ago. Birds I have recently seen in my pond-garden include a female black-headed grosbeak (scarfing seeds) and lots of goldfinches. I watched one goldfinch eat zinnia petals, one by one. Just lately a male cardinal has been wearing himself out feeding a cowbird baby. I'm down to one last baby dove on the northernmost pillar. Its sibling flew off sometime during the last few days. And I don't think there will be anymore till next spring. This was the sixth-wettest monsoon on record. On the morning of August 7, it rained 1 1/2 inches up here in about two hours.
Earlier this week a stench drove us to a garage, where they removed a HUGE dead packrat and his nest from INSIDE the car's air-conditioner air intake. Then they cleaned the engine. Miraculously, it does not stink. And the juniper tree did die. We had it cut down and planted a beautiful young mesquite just to the north of the stump. The mesquite has grown from every branch. I think it will be happy here.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

July 30, 2006

I've been too busy to post, but there has been a lot of nature going on. First, the two things I do NOT have pictures for: I saw some adorable baby bunnies in the front yard the other day. They were so cute, like little plush toy animals. I could almost forgive them for their parents' sins of eating all my flowers, INCLUDING the new zinnias.

Second, there have been a lot of hummers. Broadbill male is still around, and a bunch of others that appear to be mostly juveniles of various species. The other morning I was changing the feeders. An immature something--probably male Anna--was feeding at the back feeder. I approached with the new, full feeder. Anna kept feeding. I got closer. I moved the fresh feeder to within a couple of inches of the older one. The hummer flew over to the new feeder and fed for a while. Then he flew straight up and checked out my face, circumnavigated my head, and buzzed away.

Pictures are of the Rillito after the recent rains. We got 2.4 inches the other night, overnight, and have received in dribs and drabs another probably three inches in the last week. For the Sonoran desert, this is a huge amount of rain. The river running full is such an unusual sight that the banks are crowded with people looking at it and photographing. I'm pretty sure the last time I saw this much water was in January, 1993!

Monday, July 17, 2006

July 17, 2006

I've been literally to busy to blog, though there's been a LOT of nature stuff going on, including monsoons (like the old-fashioned ones from back in the day); fledged dovelets (three, I think, survived from the four being raised on the pillars); two baby finches still in the nest tended by that nincompoop mother); and other things. I have taken pictures but not downloaded them. More soon, I hope. But today: red letter day: a beautiful male broadbill drank nectar from one of my back porch feeders. And I happen to have a great broadbill picture of Olivier, a bird who hung out at my old house most of one summer. That is him illustrating this entry.

Monday, June 19, 2006

June 19, 2006

Above are two more photos of my hawk. I sent all the pix to the man who bands Cooper's hawks in Tucson. He says that this is one of "his," that it is a year-old male, and that he can't tell where he banded it without seeing the number on the band. He says that by next summer the hawk will be looking to breed, so maybe I will see it with its mate.

A lot of mating has been going on around here. I now have nesting doves on BOTH porch pillars, and a finch familly has moved into the abandoned dove nest above the kitchen door. They seem to have built a small, tidy nest on top of the dove's large messy one.

A rabbit dug a burrow right next to my pomegranate tree last week. We filled it in, she re-dug it, we filled it in, she re-dug it. I was worried about the tree getting its roots damaged. Anyway, we finally put a rabbit-proof wire fence around the tree, and it seems to have worked. I'm just hoping that the rabbit didn't have babies in the burrow. Hopefully, she hadn't had time to deposit them.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

June 18, 2006

Quite a bit of nature news, but I will save most of it for another day. This morning, when we took the paper and our iced coffee out to the back porch, we saw a hawk standing in the pond. Just standing. Didn't seem in the least disturbed by our presence, and stayed there long enough for me to go in and get my camera and get closer and take some pictures!

Saturday, June 10, 2006

June 10

Lots of nature news the past couple of weeks. We had a mini-monsoon event, which cooled things off, though the humidity was unpleasant. Lots of wind, which one night blew away one of the dovelets on the pillar of our carport. The remaining dove was still there as of this morning, but it has grown big enough to probably fly away on its own. (The picture above is of last year's dovelets.)

Baby quail are starting to appear. I haven't seen any really little ones or any large flocks, but have seen four or five at a time (somewhere between adorable fluffy thimbles and ungainly adolescents with pimples), trailing behind their parents.

New bird in yard: about the size of a cardinal, appearance like a very large sparrow, but long black beak like a woodpecker and red eyes. Also a small ruff on its head. From my bird book, it is some sort of fly catcher, probably a brown-crested.

I have discovered why the seeds are disappearing so quickly from my cardinal feeder: some of the finches have learned that if they double up on the perch they weigh enough to open the door. Then they shovel seeds out onto the ground, where they can try to crack them at their leisure. I am very impressed with their intelligence, but wish they were not so profligate.

Final nature note, the one I most wish I had a picture of: today while we were on the River Walk, we saw a very well-built male cyclist who was stark naked. Nice body, nice package. Very, very startling.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

May 30, 2006

Tomorrow is the official beginning of "meteorological summer," which fortuitously coincides with the beginning of the year's first real hot spell. They are promising us 100 - 107 for at least the next seven days. And strangely, there will even be moisture in a couple of days, as if it were monsoon, though it isn't, and there won't be real rain but dry thunderstorms.

It's already hot--around 100--but doesn't feel bad at all in the shade. The cardinals and pyrrhuloxias have been eating a lot of seeds (and unfortunately so have the finches, so I have to get the feeder adjusted). All day today a male cardinal has been bringing seeds from the feeder, out in the sun, to his two children, in the shade of the porch. A male pyrrhuloxia is also feeding his one offspring just now. The baby looks very heat-stressed, with his bright-yellow bill open and panting.

Unfortunately I have no pictures to show, so am putting up my best male Anna's hummer, since I have several of these guys around.

The latest mama dove has hatched at least one egg from her precarious perch on the porch pillar (I guess her name is Allitera), but still no baby doves. The pond scum has become quite overwhelming and keeps clogging the filter. It's always something, but on the other hand, there's always something to look at out by the pond.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

May 17, 2006

It is currently very cloudy and dark--what my father used to refer to as "clobbering up." We have a slight chance of rain, bu I don't expect any, though I can see rain and virga [rain that doesn't make it to the ground because the air is too dry] falling all around the valley. It's been in the high nineties, though today probably stayed in the low nineties because of all the cloud cover.

The grapefruit tree is recovering nicely--has put out a bunch of new leaves. I will post a picture when I take it out of my camera. The tanager returned for a couple more days, but I haven't seen him lately.

There has been a LOT of dove sex. Besides the male's strutting and fanning his tail, I've also seen pairs "billing and cooing," where they tenderly entertwine their necks , flutter their tails, and peck each other's faces. It's really sweet.

No baby doves yet, but I've seen parents feeding immature finches and pyrrhuloxias. Also a thrasher, on the suet feeder.

Today a bronzed cowbird stopped by for a drink of water. I basically hate cowbirds because they lay their eggs in cardinals' nests and the cowbird babies then kill their siblings and wear the adult cardinals to a frazzle with their demands. But the adult cowbird is a quite handsome bird. The picture here is copyright by Robert Scanlon, who kindly gave me permission to post it. It's from the website The cowbird in the picture is from Colombia, but looks basically the same as the one I had here. Most notable are the ruff at the neck and the red eye, like Hal in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Cinquo de Mayo, 2006

Oh my gosh! I just watched a beautiful male Western tanager drink from my pond. Those who think desert birds aren't colorful should check this guy out. (Although the desert is actually only part of its range.) I have seen them too seldom and too far away to photograph, but this link goes to one of the nicest pictures I've seen, which looks exactly like my visitor:

Not much else exciting going on. I have planted a few new things: a couple of roses (rose gardening is an addiction), and two cape honeysuckles to shade the western part of the patio so I can keep stuff alive on it during the summer.

What's blooming in the desert these days: Mexican Bird of Paradise (I will try to get a photo of one), some cholla, some prickly pear, and especially palo verde trees, glorious and golden. The picture is the biggest palo verde in our front yard.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

April 30 Part 2

Apart from the excitement of the ravenous rabbits, there has been quite a lot of bird action lately. A mama dove built her nest on the southern pillar of the carport. Just the other day the second baby flew away. Now another dove has built a nest on the north pillar. I'm pretty sure it is a different dove, because she looks smaller and skinnier. Yet a third dove (or maybe dove #2) built a nest inside the carport, over the screen door. Every time we opened the door she flew away in a panic. One day I found a broken egg below the nest, and I haven't seen her since.

But speaking of eggs... I found a beautiful little quail egg in my gardening equipment drawer the other day. Why only one egg and not twenty-three? No idea. I photographed it, and then dropped it on the concrete (by accident). It bounced, but also cracked. A couple of days later I startled a female quail sitting in the drawer, where there is barely room for her. She flew away in terrible panic, and couldn't figure out how to get out of the carport. I haven't seen her since, nor have I seen more eggs.

Finally, yesterday I saw a very ruddy female or immature male hummer. Probably a broad-tail, but I'm thinking maybe a rufous. I am hoping for a return visit so I can get a good look at its throat.

The pigeons, pyrrhuloxias, and cardinals are all paired up. Ain't nature grand?

April 30 Part 1

Well, duh, I guess I should have realized that rabbits can eat through plastic, which is why rabbit fence is made of metal. The very next morning the bunnies were frolicking in the pond area, so we bought some 3-foot high chicken wire and made a bigger fence for the poor grapefruit.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

This morning my husband and I spent a couple of hours attaching plastic mesh all along the bottom of the fence around the pond area (81 feet plus three gates). I'm pretty sure no rabbit can get in now.

The quail are another question. The adults can fly in, but if they start bringing babies around, they won't be able to enter until the kids are fairly big. This morning I was watching a quail who had come in to use the pond and peck the crumbs under the suet feeder. It was time to leave, and he kept walking up and down the fenceline, looking for his customary exit. He became more agitated, the longer he searched. You could almost see the thought balloons:

"I know there's a way out of here... I've used it a million times. But where?... I got in here, there must be a way to get out.... Where is the exit?.... Wait a minute! I know how to fly!" (Glance upward) "That's the ticket--I'll fly out!"

And so he did.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Aargh! Rabbits just ate half of my grapefruit tree! It was looking so beautiful, had put out a gazillion leaves and flowers, and was sporting tiny baby grapefruits, and now it looks as if the Cossacks ran rampant through it.

I don't know how they got in through the wire enclosure around it, but I am reluctantly now going to place rabbit-proof fencing around the entire pond area. That will allow me to plant even more things, but I feel bad about keeping the rabbits away from the water. It's their own fault though.

Not much other nature news. The desert has been looking gorgeous, with glorious golden palo verde blossoms everywhere (except our yard). Some wildflowers, though not many. I've had way fewer hummers, I think because there have been enough flowers out in the desert to satisfy them.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

April 11, 2006
It has quite suddenly become warm (some might say hot), and lizards have been appearing on the patio. I wondered if snakes had awakened yet (to keep my eye out for rattlers). The question was answered just now, around 1:30 PM when I glanced out on the back porch and saw a very long, skinny snake climbing up the wrought iron pillars. By the time I returned with my camera, the snake was already on the long rafter above the outer edge of the porch.

I watched (and photographed) as it appeared to be searching for a cavity in the roof. It moved so sinuously and beautifully. At one point it literally flowed through a hook (that holds a nectar feeder).

It had just about reached the end of the porch, and I went on in to watch from inside. I was very surprised to see a woodpecker and a male pyrrhuloxia seemingly watching it--moving on the railing underneath it as it moved. The woodpecker's head was pointed up, the pyrrhuloxia kept one eye turned up. I guess they want to know where this guy hangs out.

I looked away for a couple of seconds, and when I looked back, the snake and the birds were gone! I have no idea where the snake went. Maybe it did find a hole in the roof and will be living there.

I don't know what it is, just that it is definitely not a rattler. I went online and found pictures; it most resembles a gopher snake, but they seem to be fattish, and this guy is way skinny. I'd guess it's about two feet long.

Other news: we've had phaenopeplas drinking at the pond, and a couple of days ago a beautiful mockingbird. Fewer hummers, I think because the desert is finally blooming, though not lushly. Our yard looks gorgeous, though. That little bit of rain made a big difference.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

March 12, 2006

It rained last night! My rain gauge recorded .7 of an inch. I think all the cacti and trees will be much happier now. But I have to remember that it may not rain again till July or August.

This morning the air was so clear. The mountains, blue and lavender, were so bright and well-defined you felt you could reach out and touch them. The Catalinas had a sprinkling of snow, like powdered sugar. All the mountain ranges to the south were clearly visible as we drove down into the city. I could even see the snow cap on Boboquivari, down near the Mexican border.

There are lots of hummers these days, mostly Anna's I think, and still some Costa's, migrating through. A couple of times I've thought I saw rufous feathers, but have not gotten a close enough look to positively identify a Selasphorus. The woodpeckers and doves are out displaying for each other, and this morning I heard a thrasher singing a beautiful mockingbird-type medley. A verdin was frolicking in the rose garden this morning, and all the citrus, even our young grapefruit and tangelo trees are either blooming or about to do so.

A truly beautiful time of year!

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

March 1, 2006

3 PM: It's RAINING! Well, more accurately, it's sprinkling, but it's actually water, falling from the sky. They predict less than a tenth of an inch, and I'm not expecting anything to show up in my rain gauge, but still, how exciting!

Other excitement: I saw a vermillion flycatcher flying east while we were on the River Walk two days ago. And yesterday morning I watched a hummer drinking from the fountain above the rocks that used to be my waterfall. He repeatedly flew at the falling stream of water, thrusting his bill into it. He also occasionally seemed to ride the stream of water down, and then flew up to drink again. Very, very cute.

Friday, February 17, 2006

February 17 2006

Not much of a blog if it's monthly. But then again not a lot going on, nature-wise. It still hasn't rained, though we might get a trace this evening. It's cold (low sixties) and cloudy and feels dank.

The drought is so bad that I actually had to water the cactus in the front yard, because they were visibly dying, especially the cholla and a couple of prickly pears. This is the driest winter since they began keeping records. On the other hand, because it has been so warm, the irrigated stuff thinks that it is spring already. My lemon tree is blooming, and the pomegranate tree is putting out tender new leaves (as are the roses, who were pruned about three weeks ago).

The woodpeckers are putting on courting displays, and I think other birds are gearing up for that too.

There is a sweet little juvenile male Anna who has been regularly bathing in the runoff from my fountain (formerly waterfall). And a few minutes ago I saw a gorgeous male Cooper's hawk (probably the same guy I saw before?) sitting on the fence on the west side of the pond. I got a very good look at him and saw he had a green band on his right leg. I tried to photograph him, but I fear he was too far away. I'll see if I can blow it up.

Friday, January 20, 2006

January 20, 2006

Woops! I thought I had posted already this new year, but I guess not. I have been preoccupied with death and destruction.
Not a great deal has happened out by the pond, except that the pump stopped working. My yard guy fixed it and now, instead of a waterfall, it has a small fountain at the waterfall end. This is better, I think, because it's louder and may attract more birds.
We had a supposed hard freeze the other night, but I don't think it dropped below freezing here, even though I covered all the plants. When I do that it looks as if I have a yard full of ghosts or mummies.
In other weather news, there is none. Also no rain, not for over three months, which is approaching a record. The cactuses all look wilted and miserable, poor things.
I have lots of hummers, all, as near as I can tell, Anna's and Costa's.
I saw the beautiful mockingbird again, on the 13th, first sitting on the fence around my pond and then drinking. I hope, hope, hope he/she will set up housekeeping here in the spring. I have decided to plant two pyracanthas in the pond area. But I will be sure to protect them with chicken wire or screening.
The final bit of news is that the other day when i went down for the paper I found a huge pile of quail feathers and a bloody beak by the mailbox. My husband has noticed large animal tracks in the driveway, so I'm assuming a coyote or mountain lion had a nice bird snack, but it could also have been a raptor.