October 31, 2008

Baby, it's cold outside....

The days are getting shorter: when I get up at 6 am the sky over the Chiricahuas, the eastern side of our valley, is now red rather than yellow, and the sun does not top the mountains until 6:45, when I am almost home from the morning walk. But the sun is past the highest point in the mountain range in its travel south, so I should be seeing the sun rise about the same time during the next week or so.

Nights are cooler, though in the whole month of October we have not had a frost. The insects are feeling it, and in the evening there are a lot of them clung to the house for warmth. Most of them are moths and grasshoppers, with an occasional walking stick or mantis thrown in. In the morning a lot of them are dead on the porch, succumbed to age and cold.

Yesterday I saw this little rattlesnake on the porch outside the kitchen, probably also looking for a warm place to hide. Being young it had beautiful markings and it barely had a rattle, just a button. It took some convincing to get it to slither onto the offered shovel, but it finally did so and Dan carried it off east to where there are no neighbors and where it is unlikely to be pestered by a couple of nosey, but careful, dogs.

October 30, 2008

The WD Clock

We are living our lives by the stomach of our animals, I realized today. Here goes:

6:00 am, or approximately 45 minutes before sunup:
- better let the chickens out and feed, before they start harassing each other
- feed the birds so they have something to eat when they get up
- feed the horses: they heard the chickens outside

6:40 am, after the morning walk
- the dogs have beat me home and beg Dan to put down breakfast, NOW

7:00 am, after our breakfast
- chickens run to the fence when they see me outside: time for dinner leftovers and garden stuff
- horses see the chickens getting greens: demand oats

between 11:00 am and 12:00 pm, we are about to have lunch ourselves
- horses: you are not going to eat without giving us some lunch, are you?

3:00 pm, we are at our computers
- Emma, giving quick little whines accompanied by wild tail wagging; Shawna pacing: I am sure it is dinner time!
- horse whinnying: hey, time for dinner
- quail clucking outside: how about some seed? So dispensed

4:00 pm, finally
- horses are let in their stalls for dinner
- dogs get fed
-chickens get final scratch ration

5:00 pm
- we have dinner

6:00 pm
- we have coffee, dogs get a dog cookie and give us soulful looks to convince us to give them a people cookie. So dispensed.

Whew! Life really does revolve around food.

October 29, 2008

Just add water

I decided that today was the day to clean out the garden some more (the zucchini, melons, cucumbers and green beans were pulled up earlier). I am still harvesting tomatoes, but the arugula and some of the carrots had gone to seed, and the asparagus forest was a real mess. Some bugs had gotten into the asparagus fronds this summer; these bugs were the reason a huge amount of ladybugs moved there and set up their nursery, but with the ladybugs gone and just the dead stalks left, it was time for clean up.

It is amazing to me how well a garden does here in the desert. Our soil is heavy in clay; perhaps because we live on the bajada of the Dragoon mountains we benefit from the flash flooding that has taken place over the many years. When I started the garden we tilled, added 30 tractor buckets of horse manure (never a shortage of that), and the soil amendments recommended by the local garden expert, George Brookbank. These amendments make the soil less alkaline. Then, it is "just add water".

Our watering scheme works well here, though we developed it while we still lived in Oregon: every bed can be individually watered with drip irrigation through perforated "spaghetti" that is attached to a valve. I run 4 lines down each bed and that waters the plants adequately. No wasted water, and no weeds in the walkways.

The cleanup took longer than I had expected as the carrot harvest was enormous. I had not picked sufficiently during the summer, and gathered 3 buckets full: one for us and 2 for the horses. The carrot tops went to the chickens with the overflow (lots of it) to the "boys". Emma helped harvest of course, and snatched a carrot. Surprisingly the dog that eats anything from any kind of poop to grasshoppers turned her nose up at a carrot. Go figure.

One side of the garden looks great now, and there is still lots of lettuce, chard, endive, escarole, spinach and kale to be harvested this winter. Next I will have to tackle the tomato forest and the peppers. I think I will wait until a good frost so we can enjoy fresh tomatoes as long as possible.

October 26, 2008

Praying Mantis

Before I came to Arizona I had never seen a Praying Mantis in "the flesh". I see them regularly now this time of year, and I have been trying for weeks to get a good picture of one of them. I have a Canon Powershot camera which I really love as it is very compact and does a good job of "point and shoot". It even has a macro feature which should allow me to take close up pictures, but I am not always successful with focusing. After a number of tries I finally shot this photo of a pregnant Mantis on one of the agaves in the yard.

Another problem in trying to photograph these amazing insects is their great camouflage. I will be watering one of the pots on the porch when a Mantis will come to the top of the plant and start waving its legs as if to say: "Hey, watch out! I am down here eating some of the bugs! Don't drown me". When I then try to take its picture, the camera focuses on the vegetation rather than on the Mantis.

Then, when I least expected it of course, I ran across, almost literally, this pregnant female on our walkway this morning. She was in a hurry and I tried to keep her occupied while Dan went for the camera. He was able to get her to pose ever so briefly, before she decided to go for the camera and climb all over it. Meanwhile I had to keep the dogs at "sit" because Emma would come over and probably try to eat her. I think she can tell you what every insect, including every grasshopper species, tastes like.

October 24, 2008

Torpor and turkey

The last few nights have been cold: when I got up this morning, before the sun's arrival, it was 34 degrees. In spite of that there are still a number of insects. I find them in the Mexican woolly sage (Salvia leucantha), hanging on as if dead until the sun warms them sufficiently to get on with their job. This beautiful plant is a hit with the hummingbirds, butterflies and the various varieties of bees and bumble bees, and it gets a lot of attention from our human visitors too. This morning I caught this bumble bee warming up.

I have been meaning to include the turkey vultures in this blog, but I found I am too late this year. They have left for Mexico, or other, warmer, places. We have a flock of them that roost by the mailboxes in a stand of big mesquites. Early in the fall mornings, at least until this week, they sit on fence posts with their backs to the sun, wings spread out to catch more heat. It is quite a spectacular sight as they are big birds (up to 32" tall and with a 6-foot wingspan), and I am sorry I cannot include a picture.

Talking about turkey, when I wrote the Riggs Lake blog I forgot to mention that we saw some wild turkeys on our way down. They are big birds too (36"-48"), and while I did manage to take a picture while they were wandering off, you will probably be asking yourself, where are the turkeys? They are there, honest...

October 23, 2008

Quiet time

The weather is perfect right now, and the muted sunlight tells us it is certainly fall. Temperatures are in the 70's and we live with the house open, day and night. After living here for a couple of years we both find that our blood has thinned, and especially right now, when the daytime temperatures are cooler we are "cold" inside wearing pants and t-shirts.

So, this afternoon I retreated to the porch to warm up in the sun. It is very quiet living here as we live at the end of a 1.5 mile spur that ends in a trail through mesquite brush. When a car goes by we look up and try to identify it, and if it is "strange" and not the neighbors', we are nosey enough to find out where it is going.

But it is not so quiet after I have just thrown out the afternoon meal to the birds. I wish I could attach a sound byte of the various birds. The backdrop is the gentle clucking of the flocks of Gambel and Scaled quail who visit us on their regular daily route. There are about 50 of them right now, mostly extended families that stay together throughout the winter. They scratch for seed and talk under their breath, with an occasional squeal when they perceive their territory has been invaded.

This afternoon I also heard, and saw, the roadrunner female as she scouted for insects. She is not afraid, and almost made it onto the porch. Interspersed with her bill clattering was the raucous noise of the cactus wren whose call sounds like she is chewing on a rubber band. We still have a couple of hummingbirds that come by regularly, arriving with the "varoom" when they fly up to the feeder and then the tsk,tsk, tsk, to keep any others at bay.

The curve billed thrasher got confused by my presence I think and flew into the window, but was not seriously hurt. It did take some time to sit right by me, checking me out with his or her orange eye. A number of song sparrows are arriving for winter, and the canyon towhee is always underfoot. I think because he is so LBB (little brown bird) and has no significant song, he distinguishes himself by being very friendly and tame. I find him in the chicken coop, when the only access is the chicken door and not panicking when I come in. We have gotten accustomed to yelling before we close the garage door or, now, the shop/shed door. I have locked a towhee in the potting bench before without any bad results, he just flew out the next morning.

And, when the quail have moved on and the other birds fall silent, there is still the noise of the buzzing insects and the flapping wings of the grass hoppers. Nope, it really is not quiet at all.

October 21, 2008

Got ya!

The pack rat in the potting shed has been raising cain there for weeks. When I go to check in the morning a number of small pots have been thrown from the shelves, all kinds of vegetation has been brought in, and even gloves and small clippers have become part of his new household. Every day I have been cleaning out the nest, and once when I just threw all his "furniture" into a bucket, I found them all back the next day. Apparently he was big enough to get into the bucket and jump out with his treasures.

Yesterday Dan set the live trap and baited it with mesquite beans. And voila, this morning he sat in the trap, not looking too distressed. Dan walked him out to the back of our 20 acres and he reluctantly left. I wonder if I should have put some marking on him to see if he returns. I swear I must have caught an ordinary house mouse in Oregon at least a dozen times in a live trap... Hopefully this is too far for a pack rat to wander back.

October 20, 2008


When I drove from Oregon to Arizona to come live here, the entire back of my Subaru was dedicated to my 3 house rabbits: Zip, Zelda and Lucy. I had picked up Zip off the street one December after he had been surviving in the neighborhood for about 6 months. Apparently one of my neighbors had not been in control of her domesticated rabbits breeding and she turned loose the lot when it became too much to care for.

I felt sorry for Zip all by himself, so we adopted 2 sisters that had been abandoned and were rescued by a vet and handed over to the House Rabbit Society. The 3 of them had a nice condo in the living room with a view of the yard, so when we moved to Arizona they were installed in a similar location.

All of them are now in Bunny Heaven, and my friend Linda, who cared for these rabbits on a number of occasions, made glass grave markers for them. The Bunz are buried just beyond the "yard", under a nicely trimmed mesquite, and it is great looking out over them from the house. Zelda, having been the last one to pass, got her marker this morning. As Dan and I installed it we noticed that a wild bunny has taken up residence with the old girl. Comforting thought.

October 18, 2008

Riggs Lake

LaVerne and Denise (Dan's mom and sister) are here for a couple of days, and today we took them to Riggs Lake on Mt Graham. It is one of my favorite spots for a picnic. The lake is at 9000 feet or so, and in going up Mt Graham you pass through vegetation zones as if you were driving from Mexico to Canada. In summer the lake is much cooler than the valley floor, which makes for a nice change, but this time the temperature difference was not so dramatic. The fall colors were beautiful with the aspen in all yellow leaves.

The lake has an alpine feel to it, and there are always a lot of anglers. The water is clear enough to see the fingerlings. It is hard to believe this is Arizona.

The view from the campground west is breathtaking.

Family shot, with Emma.

October 11, 2008


The monsoons are over but we did get rain today, about 0.5". This was courtesy of Hurricane Norbert, which blew in from the East Pacific. Most of the rain fell in the span of 30 minutes: one squall this morning when we were trying to get to our friends to share breakfast, and one deluge this afternoon. The rain is very localized, and when I drove to the mailbox (in case you wonder about this idiocy, it is 1.25 miles from the house), it was obvious that most of it fell on the WD Ranch. The road was a river, and I really should have rolled up the window before driving through all this water....

Of course that much water in such a short amount of time turns even a desert into a giant mud puddle, which the horses just love. There is a lot of running, rolling and bucking. I always think that Cody, who is a native Oregonian, misses the rain and mud, but it is Buggsy, the Arizona horse, who goes crazy over the stuff. Perhaps never got enough of it in all his 15+ years. So here is our white Arabian-turned-Paint-Horse.

As the rain produced so much runoff, our "pond" is filling up as I write this. It is already half-full again, much to Emma's delight. Although Shawna is not shy about going for a swim either. It is her checking out the water level.

When I came into the house after taking the pictures above I still came across a Spadefoot Toadlet. I scooped him/her up and put her in the garden. The driveway holds no future for a toad.

October 7, 2008

Water dish

October is one of my favorite months in the desert. The daytime temperatures are in the 80's, with evenings in the 40's and 50's, and skies are clear. We have the house open all day and all night so you can hear the contented clucks of the coveys of quail in the yard scurrying about for seeds, and the cactus wren with his raucous noise. Winter birds are returning.

The rains are gone now, and vegetation is drying up, so the water dish in the front yard is being frequented by birds and mammals, and everyone has their schedule. The busiest times are early morning and dusk. Bunnies and jack rabbits come about the same time, and share amiably at the end of the day, but when a coyote comes by they leave. The quail are unperturbed by coyote presence however, and drink at any time of day.

When this coyote showed up, both Emma and Shawna barked, but the 'yote was not impressed. Emma is afraid of coyotes, but Shawna chases them off the property. When we meet in the wild the dogs come and stay close to me, thankfully. A pack of coyotes would be no match for even Shawna.