July 30, 2009

Small world

I got some cool and beautiful gifts for my birthday, but Dan blew me away with something that has been on my list ever since we have lived here: a microscope.

I love collecting nature "stuff": pretty rocks, shells, skeletons and skulls, anything that looks unusual to me. Now I can look at it magnified! It is amazing how beautiful an unassuming brown little moth really is, and how those crystals in the rocks stand out!

Here it is. Some day maybe I will get an attachment for the camera so I can take pictures of the small wonders too.

But wait, there is more! Here are some pictures made with my Canon Powershot, just held to one of the eye pieces.

July 28, 2009

Riggs Lake

I celebrated my birthday yesterday. One of those significant ones, and certainly the last birthday I intend to acknowledge. Getting older freaks me out, frankly. I just cannot understand how I can still feel like I did at 30, look my age, and fear I only have a "limited" time to experience what all is still out there. Enough of that.

I usually do something memorable on those significant birthdays. At 30, Dan and I hiked the Timberline Trail around Mt Hood. At 40, we went scuba diving in Hawaii and I found a beautiful cowry shell on that day. At 50, we came to Grapevine Canyon Ranch to find out whether horses should be part of my life (and 5 years later we moved here because we fell in love with Arizona). I was at a loss as to what to do for this birthday (can't say the number). People spend good money to come and vacation here: why go anywhere else?

So I voted to go to Riggs Lake at the top of Mt Graham, my favorite "neighborhood" spot for a picnic, with Linda, Dave and Barbara, Dan of course, and Emma. It was also suggested that we go on a hike while on the mountain. The hike made the day memorable as we lost the trail, had just a minimum of water of water with us, leave alone something to eat or a GPS, and wandered around for a couple of hours. Most of it was uphill between 9,000and 10,000 feet. This is the lookout at Webb Peak, elevation 10,290.

We made it to the Riggs Lake picnic site at 2. Linda had concocted a beautiful and delicious dish that was devoured, accompanied by homegrown melon, yummie brownies, and homegrown cucumbers and tomatoes. Linda and I still made the hike around the lake and threw sticks into the water for Emma. All in all we were gone for 11 hours (poor Shawna, who stayed home). A memorable day, indeed.

I was honored by everybody who remembered my birthday, and Dan's which is today, even though I usually miss theirs. Thank you for your good wishes.

July 25, 2009

Patagonia Lake

Linda loves the water and is an avid Dragonboat racer, so I had no problem talking her into going to Patagonia Lake today, and renting a little boat to go paddling. The lake is about 2 hours west of here, but the drive is well worth it.

We left Emma home in case no dogs were allowed in the boat, but I was happy to find out that next time she can come along.

We rented a canoe and I was happy that Linda had canoed before and was able to give me some pointers. Paddling was easier than I thought and we had a great time floating along the shoreline and seeing various water birds.

We had our lunch floating at the shore and were about to get underway again when a thunderclap hit. This is Arizona, and it took little time for all the boats to get to shore and the kids to leave the swimming area. We hit rain on our way home, but without any floating experience.

I would love to do this again!


It happened this morning! The caterpillar changed into a butterfly! Over the last 2 days both Dan and I thought that the chrysalis was getting fatter, but this morning it looked as if all was not well. The chrysalis had changed color from a healthy green to a more brown and we feared the worst.

Just minutes later I was wiping off the counter where our buddy has been spending his time and here was a gorgeous butterfly clinging to the paper covering the jar!

We took the jar outside and took off the paper. The butterfly clung there for awhile and then walked up my arm. It was apparent that he was not used to wings yet.

We carefully put him on the miniature rose in the pot and he sat there for quite awhile before flying off. All that's left is the spent chrysalis. What an incredible feat of nature!

Riding with Linda

My longtime, Oregonian, friend Linda is here for a week, and riding is always on the program when she is here, so we saddled up on Friday. It is fun to take out all 3 of the horses, and they seem to like going out together. Cody and Buggs are more or less distressed at being alone without another horse in sight; Bueno just gets mad.

Linda rides Buggsy who is our most reliable and gentlemanly horse. He knows who he is carrying and is appreciative of a light hand and a kind word.

Thanks to the rainstorm just prior to Linda's arrival, the hills are greening up and the horses much enjoy a nibble of luscious, juicy, green grass so we always give them opportunity to graze. After all, there is no grazing at home, only dry Bermuda that gets dished out 3 times a day. It gives us opportunity to sit and admire our beautiful surroundings.

July 23, 2009

Mondo water

The weather has been monsoon-like since June and we have had some smaller rain showers, but nothing to write home about (or a blog), and not enough to have the grass green up all over the hillsides.

Well, yesterday we had our first, and hopefully not last, major rain. Over an inch fell in about an hour. Of course that was the hour I had to leave for the airport to pick up my friend Linda. I was indecisive whether to leave early or to wait it out, so I ended up going towards the end of the storm: the worst time.

I drove/floated Subie down our road hoping to make it to the pavement but came to a halt at the first dip/wash where the water was deep as well as running fast. I chickened out, called Dan to get the truck ready, and backed all the way back home. Together we came to the same wash and Dan just gunned it. We made it to the pavement just fine and it looked as if it had hardly rained there at all.

By the time we got Linda at the airport and drove back there was hardly a puddle where there had been a river! I felt pretty foolish, but if I had gotten the car stuck, or afloat, I would not have been so pleased either.

Last night was the first night for the frogs in our "pond" to wake up and try to find a girlfriend. There was a lot of croaking and bleating going on and one of them was still at this morning.

July 16, 2009

Bird feeding

I have been feeding the birds since we came here. Until about a week ago I just threw out some seed on the ground, twice a day, and we enjoyed watching a lot of different birds having breakfast while we were having ours. Lately though, a lot of White-wing Doves are scooping up the majority of the seed and many of the smaller birds don't seem to get a chance.

So I bought a little feeder that only the smaller birds would be able to eat from, or so I thought. Dan welded a nice stand out of our supply of "ranch steel", and I thought I would be home free: the doves would still get their share on the ground, but not drive away the finches, pyrrholuxia, grossbeaks, and the cardinal. Well, I had underestimated the guile and persistence of doves.

But, human ingenuity did prevail. We made a wire cage around the feeder so only smaller birds can get to the seed, and had to add wire to the top as well as the doves slid down the feeder from above. I think I have them figured out now. Today I added another feeder plus the required hardware, for just sunflower seed, and Dan modified the stand.

The nest of the Hooded Oriole, the beautiful little bag hanging from electrical wire on the porch, is finished. For the finale, she lined the whole thing with dog fur. There are 4 eggs in it as of today. The Canyon Towhee in the grapevine quit at 3 eggs and is sitting on them.

July 15, 2009

Caterpillar update

It is day 5 of our science project, and our buddy in the jar turned into a pupa overnight. He had been eating a lot of parsley for a couple of days, but yesterday he was not moving much and appeared smaller, as in less succulent.

This morning there was nothing left of the beautiful caterpillar but his chrysalis (toward the bottom of the stem). I read on the Web that rather than making a chrysalis, the caterpillar already has it with him and all he does is shed his skin. I have no idea where the skin went as there was nothing in the jar.

When I did this experiment when I was a kid, it seemed to take months to have the butterfly emerge, but that may have been because time goes so slow when you are young. We'll see how long it takes for the metamorphosis.

It is the time for butterflies here: I have already spotted several swallowtails, one of them as big as my hand.

July 11, 2009

Science project

This morning I found this caterpillar munching on the parsley. Not a big deal because there are a couple of plants, but I remembered that Dan had never seen the transformation from caterpillar to butterfly.

When I was around 7 years old, my mother grew some nasturtiums in a pot that attracted some caterpillars (just green caterpillars that grew into white butterflies - nothing spectacular). She put one of them in a jar with some food and that jar sat in a dark place (my clothes closet) until the butterfly emerged. I was fascinated.

So, I thought I would try to repeat the experiment for Dan. I think it is a swallowtail caterpillar, so it should be a gorgeous butterfly. Stay tuned.

July 9, 2009

It's July in the desert

We usually start the day with clear skies or light clouds, but by 11 am you can see thunderheads forming over the sky islands, the mountain ranges surrounding the valley. By late afternoon it is raining somewhere, although it never seems to be raining here....

In the evening we are treated to beautiful sunsets.

In the monsoon season a whole different set of flora and fauna emerges. The tarantula found on the porch is one of them. Did the babies wear off the hair on her back?

July 8, 2009

In the garden

I harvested our first tomato on June 29 and the plants have been producing very well since. There is nothing like home-grown tomatoes! But I have planted 2 currant tomatoes that I am unhappy with: they are very enthusiastic growers but the fruit is not in proportion to the greenery. (It is the tall plant in the middle). No more Gold Rush Currant.

So this morning I decided to pull one of them up. It wreaked a lot of havoc on the plant next to it however, so I will just keep the currant tomato trimmed rather than jeopardizing one of the "good" tomatoes.

And guess whom I found while messing about? Mr Toad! I wonder if he has been feasting on the Western Red-bellied Tiger beetles. I wish he would take on the tomato hornworms. These are disgusting creatures that can denude your tomato plant in short order. My first growing season I did not know about them and when I finally figured out what was going on, picked off about 50 of these pinkie-sized worms. I made the roadrunner a happy guy that year. Now they go to the chickens, who also think they are a great delicacy.

The fun, and informative, Internet

I am sure there is a lot of garbage and misinformation on the Internet, but my afternoons would not be as interesting and informative without sitting at my computer. I am currently involved in 2 citizen-science projects: The Great Sunflower Project and Nest Watch, and enter data for both.

The Great Sunflower Project is a San Francisco State University project which collects data to understand the challenges that the bees are facing. They sent out seeds, and while the sunflowers bloom you see how long it takes for 5 bees to land on one flower. If you see no bees in 30 minutes, you record that too. I took my first sample a few days ago and counted 5 bees in 5 minutes. No problem finding bees here.

The Nest Watch Project is run by Cornell University where you monitor a nest, or several, on a regular basis. I selected a nest that is currently being built by a Canyon Towhee in the garden. She has cleverly tucked the nest behind a grapevine and in the last 3 days she has laid an egg each day. I think they are being incubated now. You enter data on a detailed form that is uploaded once the birds have fledged.

I found this nest in progress on the porch and I will be very interested in this one as well. Who is weaving this handsome contraption from bare wires that were meant for a ceiling fan? Dan took a peek with binoculars and thinks it is the Hooded Oriole. Nest Watch confirmed this nest type as belonging to this species. This will be an exciting one.

Yesterday I stumbled on another great website: The Bug Guide. I had noticed a lot of beetles in the garden that I had not seen before and submitted a picture for identification. I heard back within an hour with a scientific answer. They are Western Red-bellied Tiger Beetles, who are predators and considered beneficial.

So, in case you are wondering how one can spend their summer afternoons in the desert, look no further than the Internet.

July 7, 2009

A horse trailer is not just for horses

When we got a larger horse trailer to accommodate our larger "herd" (Buggsy joined Cody and Bueno), it had not occurred to me that a bigger trailer could be put to more uses. I had transported a dozen trees from the nursery once, but imagine how many trees I could bring home now...

So far the new trailer has been used to move household goods, and we also hauled building materials from one house to another. This morning it was pressed into service as an equipment hauler.

As I have mentioned before, it is great to have tractor when you have a small ranch. In addition, Dave and Barbara have a backhoe that we press into service from time to time. It digs holes so much easier than we can with a pick, pry bar and shovel.

Tonka Toy, as Dave calls it, needed some mechanical work outside the expertise/schedule of Dave or Dan, so it had to be carted off to a mechanic this morning. It fit perfectly in the trailer and was delivered without a problem. But now the truck is dead ...

July 5, 2009

Alternative housing

I did my best to educate myself on chicken-keeping when I decided to get some laying hens. But, this being my first time dealing with poultry, I made some mistakes. The biggest one was getting different breeds of hens: Barred Plymouth Rocks, Rhode Island Reds, Astralorps and Auracanas. I thought they would peacefully coexist, but they don't. Chickens are not nice birds; they are sharks in feathers and bigger hens beat up on smaller ones.

The Astralorps, solid black chickens and the smallest hens in the flock, are taking the brunt of the Barred Rocks' beaks. Most of them defend themselves best they can, but there is one, very tame, black hen who just gets hammered by the bigger birds. I have taken pity on her and given her "vacation days" in the tackroom while trying to figure out a better arrangement without having to resort to making her a "pet" chicken.

Dan came up with a great solution today: repurpose one of the garden boxes and make that Annie's home. We covered it with some plywood to provide shade and some protection from the rain, and added food and water. She is outside, with her friends in the chicken yard, but no one can beat up on her.

As for the strawbale house, lots of progress is being made. The doors and windows are in, electrical wire run and the ceiling has been insulated. The powder room is framed in, and the only other wall will be framed shortly. It is going to be a great house!

July 4, 2009


One of my favorite summer treats is going "peaching", aka picking peaches. There is a beautiful peach (and apple, and Asian pear) orchard in Willcox (Apple Annie's), and I am happy to drive 30 miles for the privilege of picking ripe peaches right off the tree.

The orchard opened yesterday, but I was too busy to be the first customer of the year (as I have been the last 2 years) so Barbara and I ventured out this morning. First we hit Apple Annie's Farm for some sweet corn, then on to the orchard.

Red Havens are the first peaches to ripen there and of course we had a taste. I cannot get enough of the beauty of peaches hanging on the tree. And love that juice running off my chin. Boy, I am going to OD over the next couple of weeks!

July 2, 2009


I have been collecting eggs several times a day since finding the bullsnake in one of the nesting boxes. Egg count has been normal for a couple of days, but guess whom I saw slithering by the kitchen window this afternoon, with several doves and a bunny respectfully in tow?

A thunderstorm was just about to hit, with lightening on our nearby mountain and large drops falling, but we braved the elements and rounded up the snake. He was about the same size of my coop buddy, so we assume it is him and that he was on his way to another eggy meal.

Dan got him in the tongs and I managed the bucket (a HomeDepot product, hence the color). It is wonderful that it is so easy to take him to uninhabited (by humans) territory: we deposited him in a wash a mile or so from the WD, with lightening cracking overhead. I hope it will prove to be far away enough.

So much for the bullsnake. We also relocated a Diamondback rattler from David and Barbara's place a couple of days ago. He was well-fed, docile, and absolutely gorgeous. I am so glad we bought those snake tongs; our count so far: 2 bullsnakes, 3 rattlers. The red racer left on his own accord.