July 23, 2010

Linda, the Rain Goddess

I picked Linda up at Tucson Airport on Wednesday, and the weather gave every indication of a repeat performance of last year. Back then, clouds formed overhead around lunchtime, by 1 pm it was raining pretty good. I was supposed to be at the airport around 4, so I dawdled and vacillated: go now, wait it out... I decided to leave at the worst possible time, when the raining had subsided but the flow was highest. I made it halfway down the road and had to turn back at the first wash. Flooded. I backed the car all the way home and talked Dan into taking me to the airport in the truck.

This year I was a little more on the ball, and the rain was not as heavy. So it rained, in honor of my very good and longtime Oregonian friend. When I came to the paved road however, there was a flood. The mailboxes were waist deep in water, and the other side of our road was wall-to-wall water: a real river. But, no problems getting to the airport.

When we got home we found out where all that water came from. There had been more storms in the Cochise Stronghold; the creek at Cindy's house was overflowing again and this time just about took out her bridge, ran through the horse barn and pushed down paddock fences. This is why they warn people about flash flooding: it may not rain a lot where you are, but beware the creeks.

It has been a bit cloudy since Linda's arrival, but it's still warm, which is what she cares about most. This morning we admired the Chihuahuan rain sage (Leucophyllum laevigatum) which has burst out in bloom after the rain. The bush was about to be carried off by the honeybees, and smelled heavenly.

We are about to go off on vacation for a week or so, and Linda is here to ranch-sit and take care of all the animals. Hopefully the weather will be sunny, with rains in the afternoon.

July 20, 2010

Now we're talking

We got more rain last night, about 0.75 inches to be exact, and it came with a lot of wind. The patio furniture went flying as usual, and the garden sustained some damage (the bean "trellis" blew over and the sunflowers got their heads snapped off), but other than that we came off pretty easy.

It always amazes me how much water can get running here in such a matter of minutes. The "moat" around our buildings does great work because, being on the bajada, there is a lot of water coming down off the mountains. It was a creek instantly, complete with waterfalls. The pond has water in it, and the spadefoot toads are croaking to beat the band. Orgies galore, and if the pond holds water long enough for the toad eggs to hatch we will see hundreds of toadlets again in a few weeks.

One not so lucky was Cindy. The culvert under her driveway bridge got plugged with lots of woody debris. The water must have come over the top and then undercut the driveway by about 2 feet. It also took down the fence between her property and Marc's and Buddy was loose, having a gay time galloping with her horses. But, the sun is out again, and Buddy is back in his paddock, thanks to Dan.

July 19, 2010

Parental stress

It's a stressful morning for the Say's phoebe family. I heard the parents' alarm call early this morning, and that of the curve bill thrasher too. On investigation I saw the roadrunner out looking for breakfast, but that was all. It's a lonely life, that of a roadrunner: everybody clears out when you are around, or dive bombs you, and screams at you to boot.

When taking out the garbage, I found one of the young phoebes on the ground and thought it might have fallen out of the nest, but on approach it fluttered away. It was nice that my morning chores kept me close enough to ward off any possible threats, but not so close as to interfere with the flying lesson. But what a scene! Here's one chick trying to fly, not doing all that well, and one chick still in the nest, yelling its head off. Such worries!

July 18, 2010


We finally had some measurable rain! Areas around us had already received more than 1 inch recently, and it was frustrating to see puddles on the road just a couple of miles away while we were still dry. The storm came at sundown, and being on the bajada, I could see it heading our way. Hopefully, it would not stall but dump some water on us too....

I had just taken off the horses' fly masks when a good gust of wind and a thunderclap announced its proximity, so I quickly put the hens in the coop too. Temperature dropped from 90's to 70's, and you could hear the rain approaching.

Now the air smells wonderful, and we hope for more.

July 17, 2010

Another family

Everything seems a bit late this year. The quail are still having families. The other day we came barrelling down the driveway and surprised a Scaled quail family with tiny babies, just a couple of days old. The parents went one way, one of the babies followed, ran into a pebble as big as itself and ran back to the rest of the kids. We backed up the car to let the family get reunited because with these large broods it is easy for the family to get separated and those babies, though precocious, do need parental protection.

It is amazing to me that the quail lays her eggs a few at a time, as any other bird, but rather than the eggs hatching in sequence, all the quail eggs hatch at once. And straight out of the egg these youngsters, no bigger than a golf ball, walk, run and fly.

A pair of Gambels carefully came up to the feeder this afternoon. Dad scopes out the scene and chases off the doves and any other "riff raff", while mom awaits with the brood in the shadow of a bush. Then, when the coast is deemed clear she brings all the kids over to have at the seeds.

Good parents keep a sharp eye on everyone and keep the brood together, but we have also seen parents who do not appear to realize they have kids and consequently their broods are small: sometimes only one chick survives. However last year we saw two pair of Scaled quail who had combined forces and herded more than 20 chicks, with the males defending and the females doing the gathering of the covey.

July 12, 2010

How did I get here?

We did have a bit (less than 0.10") of rain yesterday afternoon. It made the temperatures drop so we could sleep with the windows open, and made the air smell fresh and delicious. It also makes the veggies grow; the difference between water from the (excellent) aquifer and the sky.

Guess what I found in one of the garden trugs this morning? It's a small spade foot toad. He now happily resides among the herbs.

July 11, 2010

Cochise trail, abandoned

It felt like it had been months since we did our Sunday trek up the Cochise Stronghold trail, but it had only been 3 weeks. Today was a perfect day to continue our habit and keep the body in shape. A perfect morning too: cloudy, with a slight breeze. More humidity than we are used to, but the system that was forecast to bring rain did not materialize here.

The trail had an abandoned feel to it, although some horses had been to the top. After the campground closure at the beginning of June, few people apparently take the hike. Too bad too, because the lechuguilla (Agave lechuguilla) is in bloom, perfuming the way, and the flowering coral bean (Erythrina flabelliformis) is spectacular.

July 10, 2010

A morning's harvest

With this and that going on, I had not been in the garden a couple of days other than to turn on irrigation, and look at what all I found! Hidden under those grapes are some cucumbers and a hot pepper, needed for the "farmer's market quesadillas" which I am making for lunch.

July 9, 2010


This morning we helped Eric and Satti put the metal on the roof of their straw bale house. The weather is forecast to be deteriorating (yeah!), and we felt it was best to get this task done before the wind and rain got here. Besides, this will leave them all weekend to get other building tasks accomplished.

We were done before 10 am, with a 7 am start, and the adobe clay for the plaster was being delivered while we were high fiving. Now the real work is beginning.

It was then horse stall cleaning for us, and since I still had the camera in my pocket I could not help but take this picture. Where is Waldo, and who is he?

July 8, 2010

Second batch

The Say's Phoebe's new eggs hatched today, and we can see at least two little heads. The nest is in the "garbage hole", where we store the garbage cans. It is apartment living there: the thorny mesquite branches above the little birds' heads is nesting material of the Curved-bill Thrasher, whose nest is above this one and who has also had two broods. I think the Phoebe pair is not very impressed with their somewhat rough neighbors, but are apparently not stressed enough to abandon the nest.

We are waiting for rain. The dew point is still too low for the monsoons to start, but a system will be coming through over the next couple of days. It smells like rain: there is nothing sweeter in the desert.

July 5, 2010

Another butterfly

The caterpillars that were eating the sunflower leaves have hatched. When we came home for lunch yesterday one of them was climbing the jar, anxious to get out. Because we had been gone for hours, I did not want to stress him any further and hastened to let him out of the jar (no pictures).

But we knew it would not be long before the other cocoon would pop, so we have been more vigilant this morning, and lo and behold, I just caught another new butterfly flexing his wings in the jar. This time we were able to get some pictures of Chlosyne lacinia, still in the jar, and climbing out.

July 4, 2010

Strawbale - Day 4

Eric and Satti's little house is roofed! Well, the sheathing is on, and if it should rain (not in the forecast), at least they are weathered in. Next weekend we will help put the metal roof on, and then it's up to them to finish the place.

Our neighbor Jim came to help out today, bringing tools and additional muscle. Having a couple of nail guns made the job go very fast and we were finished by noon. This leaves Eric and Satti all afternoon to finesse and putter. It was amazing how cool the inside of the house was as soon as the OSB was on the trusses. Imagine how great it will be when the place is insulated!

July 3, 2010

Strawbale - Day 3

We are done laying all the straw bales on Eric and Satti's house. And there are just a few bales left over. Next the guys, and Satti, put on the bond beams and it will be trusses tomorrow. It threatened rain yesterday, but it looks like we'll be lucky and get the building covered before the end of this holiday weekend.

July 2, 2010

Strawbale - Day 2

We got an early start this morning because Dan and I would only be able to work until 10: we had a noon appointment in Tucson with Dr Boulay. It's been two weeks since Shawna's hip replacement and he wanted to see how she was doing and take out sutures. Thankfully, he was not concerned about the tremor in her leg and thought she was doing very well. We have to keep her activity level restricted until the end of the month. This is not an easy assignment.

So, in 3 hours we laid another 3 courses of bales on Eric and Satti's house. Eric, Dave, and Dan did the heavy lifting (and thank you, John Deere), Barbara and I split bales and Satti did cleanup and all odd jobs. The building is progressing very well and it is looking great, with straight walls. Back to it tomorrow.

Buggs' bunnies

This is the next installment in the cottontail saga. Last night before we went to bed, we checked on Junior in the barn, and although he had not moved much, his nose was twitching and all seemed well. This morning the little rascal is gone! When we installed him in the pet taxi, I had wondered whether he would be able to squeeze through the front door grating because bunnies can make themselves really small if need be. Anyway, he must have felt good enough to leave. But where did Junior go?

Dan stepped, carefully this time, into Buggsy's stall to put his fly mask on and give him his oats and vitamins, and what did he find? A bunny pile, all the same age as Junior! We did not want to disturb the pile to see whether Junior went home, but we hope/suspect he has.

I noticed before that Buggsy sometimes has a bunny companion in his stall; they eat hay side by side. And Dan had noticed a hole in which a small head and tiny ears appeared last week, but the next day the hole was filled in so he did not think any more about it. Thankfully Buggsy is a true horse gentleman, who never threatens anyone and is in general a quiet horse. He walked about the stall very carefully this morning.

When we came to clean the bunnies had all moved, and the hole was wide open. I am sure there is another entrance, so we decided to leave all as we found it.

July 1, 2010

House building

Three blogs in one day! A personal record. Just a busy day, I guess.

Last year in June, Dan and I helped our friends (also our neighbors), Dave and Barbara, build their straw bale house. To us it is fun to help out as many hands make light work, and it is very satisfying seeing a house go up in such a short time. Granted, there is a lot of the preparation that is done before we come to heave bales, and even more work that needs to be done once the building is up, but still, you have immediate gratification when you build a house. This as opposed to cleaning horse stalls (which gives a different kind of satisfaction - that of knowing your animals are well-cared for).

Eric and Satti bought some acres just west of us, bordering right on the National Forest, and they wanted a small place to spend the weekends while they are still working in Tucson. When we arrived this morning, they were just about ready for us to lay up the bales, so we quickly changed into long pants and long sleeves because at the end of the day you are wearing straw. Everywhere.

It is amazing how much gets done in just 4 hours with 6 people working. Dan and Dave laying the bales, Eric and Satti, Barbara and I making partial bales to make the walls come out square. Great progress on Day 1.

Quel morning!

First the episode with the Diamondback, and now Junior! And so much for not interfering with Mom.

We were just about to clean stalls, and there was that little bunny from yesterday again! Same spot. Only now one of us had stepped on him. Probably a human, rather than Buggsy, because it is just torn skin. Nonetheless, taking up residence with a 1000 lb horse, sweet though he may be, is not a sensible thing if you weigh less than a couple of ounces.

We sprayed the wound with hydrogen peroxide, and I held him while trying to decide next steps. I have had house rabbits before, and frankly, I don't want any more. Too much hassle with the dogs. Besides, this is a wild bunny and not one born in captivity. On the other hand, we are responsible for the injury and we can't just let him go now.

So, I got the pet taxi, some hay, a tiny bit of water, and a carrot and beet greens from the garden, installed Junior, and put the whole thing on some of the hay bales. He will be in the shade, and safe, and he can spend his time recuperating and growing some more. Then he is going home.

Now that's not fair!

But then, life is not fair. We do our best not to interfere with nature too much. We do have 2 well-stocked bird feeders, a bird bath, and there is a water dish in the yard where all kinds of animals can come and drink. Other than that, we are pretty much "hands-off". We do not kill snakes and, if they are not poisonous, they can stay (unless they make a habit of hanging out in the chickens' nesting boxes, then they get relocated). The other day the curved-bill thrasher and the cactus wren both were giving their alarm calls and diving in on a big gopher snake, but I let them work it out among themselves. When you see how they attack a snake, you start feeling sorry for the snake!

We were enjoying our morning breakfast when one of the quail families sauntered up and suddenly Dan said: look at the feathers there by the grass, there's something there. By then a rattler had just bit a young chick, and another little bird was about to investigate the scene. That's going a bit far: no killing at the buffet table! We got out the snake tongs and the snake box and another relocation has taken place. After breakfast.