Sunday, July 26, 2009

Farewell, monsoon!

Cloud whitewingfly 7-25-2009 11-43-22 AM 2304x1728

According to NOAA, we are about to experience a virtually unprecedented weather phenomenon in which, at the height of the monsoon, the whole southern wind pattern will shut down, the air will dry out, and temps will rise to Junelike highs. This starts tomorrow, and they don’t say when or if the monsoonal flow will return.

It’s been very humid. This is the first year we turned on the a/c at the beginning of the monsoon season (in mid-June this year). I’ve noticed that I have NO connection to the actual weather. No scent of creosote from the rains, no sense of how hot or humid it may be outside. Opening the door and actually going outside is a big surprise, every time. I think I like it better using the swamp cooler, at least in a psychic sense, but must admit that the a/c is more comfortable. [Click on the picture for a closer view of the startled whitewing at the upper left.]

Saturday, July 18, 2009

As the quail turns…

But first—have I mentioned that my pond is infested with bees?

Turtle bee2 7-15-2009 4-05-35 AM 2112x1586

They come to soak themselves, then fly back to the hive, where they act as living cooler pads, standing around while other bees beat their wings, creating a cool, moist breeze. The ones that soak themselves gather on rocks in the pond, and, lately, around the mouth of my spitting turtle. There are hundreds of them.  Click for a really gross closeup.

As for the quail, I think I will quite worrying about them. Despite a few really strong storms, the numbers of chicks seem undiminished. The families literally line up to use the quail block, and they come in waves, with one, two, three, a dozen chicks. After they eat, if there’s no squabbling, they all drink their fill, then wipe both sides of their beaks on rocks. If there’s no territorial squabbling, they then fluff and groom themselves almost like cats.

Monday, July 13, 2009

But first: fishook pincushion cacti are blooming all over the place. These little guys (mammillaria grahamii) are just a couple of inches tall, but they have big, candy-colored pink blooms.
pincushon cu gorgeous 7-10-2006 6-26-16 AM 1238x1049
And now the Darwinian moment: A family of eleven was at the quail block (nine chicks). The parents stopped feeding and looked up, alert, then rushed over to the corner of the garden, where they started frantically scratching and pecking at something. They moved closer to me and I saw they were pecking at a little chick. It must have gotten lost, and been calling for its parents.
The other chicks gathered round while their parents continued to attack the abandoned chick, then the whole family left. The abandoned chick just stood there, looking dazed and confused, but was apparently unhurt because it began to look around, I suppose searching for its family. It pecked a little at the quail block. I was thinking this wouldn't be a bad place to live alone if it could avoid being killed by the adult quails. But then a female adult showed up. They showed no recognition of each other, but after a few moments the female left and the chick followed her, so I guess she was its mother.

Saturday, July 11, 2009


storm dramatic 7-19-2007 12-17-35 AM 2304x1728

The weather service has been forecasting a major heat wave that will dry things out and temporarily stop the monsoon. So I expected no rain yesterday. Around 6 PM the wind picked up, thunder began to roll, and the definition of torrential unspooled itself before our eyes. It was raining so hard you could barely see the cactus in the back of our property. The wind blew all this rain sideways. The backyard quickly turned into a lake.

When it was all over, I checked the rain gauge: over .60 of an inch. Most of it fell in about twenty minutes. The wind blew my pomegranate tree down, but it didn’t break and the roots didn’t come out, so it may be okay. We tied it to the fence with some torn strips of bedsheet. We’ll stake it later.

The only real downside is that yesterday I saw a quail  family with THIRTEEN newly-hatched chicks. I fear they may not have made it through the storm.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Quail update

No pictures—just a quick update. There have been many quail families feeding at the quail block. The largest have about ten chicks, the smallest one. I’m guessing three is about the average.

One family with eight chicks has one that is crippled—its left wing was dragging on the ground when it first appeared as a hatchling. I’ve been watching, expecting it to disappear like the little one-winged chick did last year. But lately, as it grows older, the chick seems to be healing. His wing no longer drags and is starting to look normal. Maybe he will be okay!

On the other hand, that same family left this morning with three chicks still here, feeding on the other side of the quail block. When they noticed they were alone, they finally took off too, but in the wrong direction.

Tohono Chul Cacti

gorgeous saguaro 5-30-2009 4-03-19 PM 1620x2043

Tohono Chul is a prime example of beautiful Sonoran desert vegetation. The gorgeous saguaro above is just off the trail we followed to see the cereus. The white-wing on top of the saguaro is one of many, many species that live in or visit the park. During this trip I also saw an oriole and a nighthawk as well as dozens of normal desert birds.

Many cactus besides cereus bloom at sunset or at night. This is an evening-blooming staghorn cholla:

Evening-blooming staghorn blossoms 5-30-2009 3-53-16 PM 1660x1302

And below, a backlit teddybear cholla and its blossoms:

backlit teddy bear 5-30-2009 3-58-30 PM 1495x1382

Teddy blossoms 5-30-2009 3-59-21 PM 1147x1110