Monday, July 30, 2012

A mid-Monsoon Rove

I posted about a typical Rove at Tohono Chul park in early June. We are now in the midst of the summer Monsoon season, and it has been very humid—very unlike our usual desert weather. Last night it rained two inches in the Park, and this morning it was like a steamy jungle. A lot of plants appeared  to have grown overnight. There were lots of blooms, and one major change to a familiar landmark.

All the trails were very eroded—when water flows in the desert, it goes where it wants to go.

erosion 7-30-2012 8-48-03 AM 3616x2712 Just off the Saguaro Discovery Trail

Two cacti were blooming—one a saguaro way out of season; the other a fishhook barrel, whose season is just beginning:

July bloom 7-30-2012 8-46-05 AM 3616x2712                           Barrel blooms 7-30-2012 8-49-16 AM 2114x2121

Desert senna was in bloom along all the paths, and passion flowers were beginning on a vine outside the Sonoran Springs Desert garden:

DSCF1939 Passiflora 5 Seasons 7-30-2012 8-59-04 AM 1572x1340

The biggest monsoon change of all was across from the Overlook, where we have a beautiful, huge copper boulder showing oxidation to azurite and malachite.The ground was evidently so saturated that the boulder had settled, and a previous small crack had widened, splitting the boulder nearly in half!

                    Split copper boulder 7-30-2012 8-58-04 AM 2630x2174Copper Boulder

I asked our resident geologist what could have caused such  a split, expecting a technical geological answer, and she said, “Weathering.”

The little female Desert Spiny Lizard who lives in the small crack in the boulder(on the left of the above photo) didn’t seem to mind that her hiding place had become noticeably wider.

Desert Spiny Lizard in crack in Copper BoulderCopper Spiny 7-30-2012 9-22-49 AM 2405x1808

Thursday, July 26, 2012

My hummingbirds

When I first moved back to Tucson more than twenty years ago, I knew almost nothing about hummingbirds. I didn’t know, for example, that they spend a great deal of time just perching, in between trips to flowers or the nectar feeder. I didn’t know that they eat a lot of insects (you have probably seen them doing this, even if you didn’t know that’s what it was—they hover in mid-air, making jerky movements as they snag microscopic bugs). I didn’t know that many of them migrate long distances—more than 2,000 miles—and over barriers as formidable as the Gulf of Mexico. And I had no idea that I would have so many species of hummers right in my own backyard.

As I wrote in the previous post on learning Arizona birds, I didn’t know one bird from another when I first arrived here. But hours in the backyard with binoculars and hummingbird books taught me to identify the six or seven species that eventually came to my tiny yard.

Male Costa’s hummingbird  Costa with pollen 10-21-2009 5-53-24 AM 637x920purple guy 1-18-2007 1-01-02 PM 336x304

These included Anna’s, the most common; Broad-billed, the second most; and Costa’s, Rufous, Broad-tailed, and Black-chinned.

Anna1.bmpMale Anna’s hummingbird

I never did get very good at identifying female hummers, most of whom tend to look a lot alike, but I did get to know all the males. On this page are a few pictures of “my” hummers from those early years. In my next post I’ll introduce the three most memorable hummers to visit my yard.

blackchinmMale Black-chinned hummingbird; not my photo

Sunday, July 22, 2012

My First Tucson Birds

I moved back to Tucson, where I had grown up, in 1989. After twenty years in NYC, where the only wildlife I saw were squirrels, rats, pigeons and sparrows, I was suddenly in the heart of the beautiful Sonoran desert with its amazing birds.Glen Creek Flowers 1I was lucky to have picked a house near the river (a dry river, but still attractive to wildlife), and my tiny back yard was full of growing things and trees. I quickly added a garden and then a pond.

I sat in the back yard every afternoon for one to two hours with binoculars and bird books. I sat in my office, gazing out at the astonishing birds when I wasn’t busy typing, and sometimes even when I was.

Gila and White winged dove 5-7-2010 8-17-55 AM 855x908White-winged dove and gila woodpecker

The first unknown bird I remember seeing was a large black-and-white striped bird pecking on the trunk of my tangelo tree. I quickly learned that this was a Gila woodpecker, the owner of the loud, raucous voice that sometimes startled me when the window was open. I also learned that we had two types of doves: white-winged and mourning.

 Mockers new backyard 007
My first familiar bird was one I had gotten to know when visiting my parents in the Washingon, DC, area: the mockingbird. Now I could see these amazing, intelligent, and beautiful creatures close-up.

The next desert bird I learned to identify was the curve-billed thrasher, a close relative of the mockingbird. Hours of observation showed me that these gorgeous birds had yellow eyes, except when young (juveniles’ eyes are gray). They also invariably have a grumpy, peeved expression on their faces.

Curve-billed ThrasherCurve-billed thrasher; not my photo

I got to know these and many, many other birds over the first few years I was here. Most wonderful of all were the hummingbirds, and I will write about them in a future post.

Monday, July 16, 2012


The monsoon arrived three weeks ago, with humidity but no rain for us. The pincushion (Mammalaria) cactus bloomed a couple of days after the first rains,

Pincushion (Mammalaria) 7-11-2012 5-15-33 PM 899x728

and it rained a lot, all around us, but the central part of Tucson was all but dry. Till yesterday, when a pair of storms, about fifteen minutes apart, brought us buckets of rain and impressive lightning and thunder.

Rain gauge 7-15-2012 7-00-16 PM 1837x2258

The rain gauge read 2.75 inches by the time it was over—the most we’ve ever had at this house.





Backyard lake 7-15-2012 7-01-29 PM 3616x2712


The back yard turned into a lake.



After the rain a beautiful rainbow formed over the houses across the street to the south:

Post-monsoon rainbow 7-15-2012 7-32-29 PM 3572x1980

With a saguaro at the end of the rainbow:Saguaro rainbow 1 7-15-2012 7-35-04 PM 1502x3063

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A fallen giant: Saguaro tragedy

On my regular Monday morning rove at Tohono Chul Park, I was shocked to see the huge top half of a mighty saguaro lying on the Desert View Trail. The saguaro itself still stood, its remaining arms pointing skyward, but its main trunk was now a relative stub. This was the saguaro I posted about only a month ago, the large sentinel saguaro with a “window” in its side.

Damaged Saguaro 7-9-2012 8-28-05 AM 1352x2306                Saguaro top 7-9-2012 8-28-45 AM 2000x2681

I talked with one of the groundskeepers later. He said it might have been a result of too many woodpecker holes in one part of the saguaro. It’s also obvious looking at the photo in the previous post that the top of the saguaro was leaning rather precariously. My groundskeeper buddy joked that they could put out police tape and draw a chalk line around the fallen limb. We could call it CSI-TCP.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Quail and Mockingbird Notes

Long-time readers of these posts—and anyone who knows me personally—knows that I’m fascinated by bird behavior. I’ve been closely watching backyard birds for more than twenty years, and every day I see something new.

Just now I’ve been watching quail at the quail block in my bird garden. We are at the height of baby-quail season, and there are several families, with chicks of all different ages. Some of the families are quite large: there’s a group with eight or nine kindergarteners (I’m thinking these might be the same guys I videotaped in my previous post). There are several families with high-school age and even older chicks—not much smaller than the parents. The largest such group that I’ve been able to count had seven adolescents, though most older groups have two to five surviving offspring..

I should really install one of those “take-a-number” machines; the families take turns, waiting for the previous family to finish before coming to the quail block. They are sometimes lined up just outside the fence. Whenever a solitary quail or an overeager youngster tries to join the party before the previous group has left, there is a lot of squawking and running at the intruder. It is very fun to watch.

                                   mocker head-on

For another view of bird pecking order and sharing (or not) of resources, check out this discussion of a possessive mockingbird at my previous home.