December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas from the Desert Southwest

I wish I could claim this as my own, but I can't. This blog entry really belongs to my friends Phil and Marsha, who live in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

Phil sent me this photo of the wreath on their front door with a roadrunner perched in it. I thought the roadrunner was a stuffed bird and had some smart-alecky comment on who might be responsible for the bird's demise.

Then this photo followed and I realized the roadrunner is roosting there. Phil said it is a bit of a shock when he goes and gets the paper in the morning, but the bird hardly moves and shows no fear.

Merry Christmas to you, dear reader, and thank you, Phil and Marsha.

December 21, 2015

Black-tail deer sighting

What a thrill to look out the window while cleaning Brussels sprouts and see a beautiful young buck walk into view!

Our next door neighbor, Jim, who lives even closer to the Coronado National Forest than we do, has talked about deer nibbling in his orchard before he fenced it, but we have never seen a deer on our property. I think our buildings are too close together and our orchard, though unfenced, is along a path to shop/shed and the coop, and well-travelled.

This was a great looking deer, not a mark on him, and obviously in the prime of his life. Dan finally spooked him while taking his photo and he bounded off into uninhabited territory.

December 18, 2015

Home, sweet, warm, home ... for now

People may question our philosophy of live and let live here at the WD, but it makes for interesting experiences (and hopefully a more balanced environment). It is true that from time to time Rodie will pick off a finch or a baby quail, or a rattler will capture a rodent, but we all have to eat. It is not that there are no rules: the house is for people and pets, and in the garden I will negotiate.

Last year we replaced the wood siding on the coop with metal and evicted entire populations of mice, and there is a lot less evidence of mice getting into the chicken food or water. But there is one mouse that has gotten bold enough to make his bed in one of the nesting boxes. He, or she, made a nice little cup in the bedding and has pulled in a number of chicken feathers to stay warm. Initially I disturbed the little nest every day, but hey, it is freezing at night.

Of course I never see the mouse, he is long gone by the time I come to check eggs. I wonder though if he will show tonight. I came within 3 feet of a barn owl that was roosting on the porch of shop/shed, next door to the coop, at 9 this morning. Now if only I would have been able to get a photo of the owl.

December 14, 2015

A taste of winter

We are having a bit of a snow event. It is not the first one this year, but it actually looks as if some of the snow will stick. This is not a foregone conclusion when it snows here as the snow arrives horizontally: it blows like crazy.

There are no mountains and we are alone in the world, except for the poor UPS man delivering Christmas packages. Not all alone as there are lots of birds looking for food and shelter. I am throwing out various seed varieties by cup-fulls several times a day.

The horses have been left in their stalls; Bueno prefers it dry, but Cody, the Oregon-born, stands butt to the wind outside his enclosure. Hey, there is only that much one can do ...

Tomorrow it is likely to be all over and the world will look like this.

Snow does not last long in the desert.

November 25, 2015

Merriam's kangaroo rat (dipodomys merriami)

My first order of business when I get up in the morning is to feed birds and horses. Right now it is still dark at 5:30 so I have borrowed Dan's head lamp to help me see what I am doing. So fun to see what all you miss in the dark!

One of the animals profiting from me putting out birdseed, other than the birds, is the resident wood rat who lives in the nearby agave, but as soon as I lift the lid off the metal garbage can that holds the seed a small army of kangaroo rats scurries around my feet.

Ours look super healthy, which is not surprising as they are getting a small amount of sunflower seeds and chicken scratch along with the birds. They are so tame I have to be careful to not step on any of those beautiful long tails. They remind me of little windup toys and seeing them leap to stay out of each other's, and my, way is amazing.

Kangaroo rats are true desert dwellers who almost exclusively eat seeds which they first hide in fur-lined cheek pouches and then in underground granaries. They seal off the granaries from the outside to preserve them and keep them from drying out. They rarely drink and extract all the moisture they need from the seeds.

Right now there are about a dozen of them, and they are no doubt reproducing at a good clip but they are also on the menu of a variety of other animals that hang around our place: great horned owls, coyotes, bobcats, badgers so I have confidence I will not find one in my sock drawer anytime soon.

November 24, 2015

Fall in the Stronghold

Our friend Mary suggested a hike for six, three humans plus Emma and her sisters, in the Cochise Stronghold this morning. It was a gorgeous fall day with temperatures in the 70's. Dan and I had not been there since Spring and it was great to see the effects of a good rainy season. It is such a beautiful place, and right next door too.

We walked the two miles up to Half Moon tank where there was still quite a bit of water; the dogs did not hesitate to take the plunge and have a good mud roll afterwards. Wonderful morning.

November 4, 2015

Octopus agave (Agave vilmoriniana)

What an amazing plant! All agaves are amazing, but I think the way this plant reproduces is special. Agaves are sometimes called "century plants" because they seem to go on living for years and years. They don't live for a century though, it is more like ten years. The plant then sends up a flowering stalk, spending all its energy in doing so, and then it dies. Before dying the plant usually sends up new plants (pups) from the roots and so life goes on.

My friend Mary showed up the other day carrying an egg carton with six little agave sprouts that she had collected and started when an octopus agave had bloomed. Only the agave did not send up little plants from the roots, but formed on the stalk. In Mexico, where this plant grows in the wild, she said, the plant's leaves are cut, dried, and the fibers beaten into a brush with built-in soap thanks to a high concentration of sapogenin in the leaves.

I have potted up the little plants and will keep them inside until Spring because I think they will die with a frost, the roots being so small. I will find a spot in the yard for them when the weather warms up. We live in the same environment where this agave grows naturally so I have hopes it will do well in our yard. I wonder if its soap carrying qualities will discourage animals from eating the leaves?

Yesterday we went to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and there was an octopus agave that had recently bloomed and its stalk was with loaded with little sprouts! What an amazing sight. Mom does have her ways.

October 18, 2015

Blacktail, again

It has been an unusual Fall for us with several visitors and it is not over yet. We have much enjoyed the change of pace and the socializing, but our biking routine has suffered. It is cooler now, and we are waffling whether we start back on the bike or adopt our winter routine of hiking more.

Last winter we replaced our bike ride to Pearce with a hike around Blacktail Hill. We walk out the back gate, it takes about the same amount of time, the trail is a loop, we have a great stopping point for a short break, and Emma can come along. It is a winner.

We found the summer has been great along the trail: there is lots of grass and the trees are sporting new growth. It is good to be back there.

October 15, 2015


Our friends have returned home and the weather has changed. I think of October weather as Goldilocks time, just right. But so far the month has surprised. We have had a cool snap and today we had some rain. Still, having the house open all day and night is a great way to live.

As I was writing this, look who showed up to the water dish? Wish you were here, Pat, with that long Canon lens ...

October 12, 2015

A hike out back

It is Pat and Maureen's last day of this visit and Pat suggested a hike close by. Maureen wisely opted to stay home and photograph birds and small mammals around the house. Dan and I usually bike this time of year, rather than hike, but it was a bit overcast so we headed out the back gate.

Poor Pat, being a flat-lander as well as a coast dweller, was being drug up the hills and we are also feeling the effects of not having been in hiking shoes for awhile. Even Emma was glad when we got home.

Still, it was nice to see the desert after the summer rains as there was lots of grass and there were still some flowers in bloom. One event of note: Emma, being ahead of us, was warned by a Mojave rattle snake (correction: a Blacktail rattlesnake - thanks, Aaron) that we gave a wide berth coming and going (photo by Pat Murphy).

October 9, 2015


The fun part of having company is that it is a great excuse to abandon our routine and get out. Pat and Maureen being outdoor-type people we took them to the Chiricahua National Monument yesterday. We love that outing, and the scenery is surprising and unique.

The Chiricahua Mountains are the opposite boundary of the Sulphur Springs Valley, the Dragoon Mountains being the west side, where we live. You drive about 60 miles across the valley through a true western landscape and then pop into a canyon with these interesting rock formations.

We are at the back end of a cold front and it was cool and windy, but we still opted for a picnic at Massai Point.

October 7, 2015

We are having a cold snap

Granted it is Fall but suddenly the daytime temperature is 60 degrees today. Clouds are rolling and rain is threatening. Is this in honor of the arrival of our Floridian friends Pat and Maureen? Do they bring cool weather like Linda brings rain?

Animals are feeling winter coming and we have been live trapping woodrats at the rate of one a day. We catch them on the potting bench, we catch them in shop/shed. This morning I noticed that we have a volunteer with rodent catching in the latter. He was relocated to the desert however.

September 29, 2015

At the lake

We did a favorite outing yesterday: Patagonia Lake State Park. I enjoy it because it is a lake with many inlets and birds, and I love a picnic. The latter is always part of the plan because it is a two hour drive to get there.

Linda, being an Oregonian as well as a paddler, loves the water and Emma, being a Lab, loves the water too of course. To top it off, we also have Emma's sisters staying with us, so it was 3 humans and 3 dogs plus supplies in one Subaru.

(The video does not run on iPad or iPhone. Click HTTPS:// to view.)

We no sooner got to the lake and had chosen a picnic table and the dogs plunged into the water. Much to my surprise one of the sisters came out of the water and tried to dry off in a pile of dirt before hitting the water again. Linda had brought a ball, and the dogs had a great time retrieving.

When they were too tired to get into any trouble we had our picnic lunch, another dip in the lake with a towel dry and we headed home, tired but happy.

September 26, 2015

County Fair

We have lived here 11 years and never made it to the Fair. There is no local newspaper, when we shop we go to Tucson, so in short, we are a bit out of the loop on county activities. I seem to usually find out about this event after it is over but I was determined to not miss it this year.

My friend Linda is visiting and we drug her along hoping that it would be fun and worthwhile. This is a large rural county, where beef is raised and crops irrigated. There used to be a lot of growing of hot peppers but most of the irrigated land is now dedicated to cattle feed. Still, this is the Old West and there are still horses and cowboys.

We watched some of the horse events, visited the vegetable, flower and photo exhibits and went through the small animal and poultry barns. We ate fair food, I got an airbrush tattoo, and we had a great time.

September 21, 2015

Tropical Depression 16E

Red skies in the morning, sailors take warning. This is what the sky looked like at 6 am, with TD16E moving in. It has been raining ever since, the kind of rain that plants love: steady, gently, and so far about 0.5 inches.

Last year around this time we had TD Odile, which gave us almost 4 inches of rain. Why does this storm not have a name?

I am not really surprised at having it rain right now: my friend Linda arrives here tomorrow. She is a born and raised Oregonian who always bring rain when she comes. We have named her The Rain Goddess.

September 17, 2015

Good horsey day

It starts, after breakfast of course, with spa treatments. A brushing cum massage followed by a gentler treatment followed by body (fly) spray. The mane and tail are tended to, and a mini pedi performed. Then there is a facial, complete with a warm cloth rub of eyes, nostrils and lips. Finally, we are turned out to graze for a couple of hours. Life is good!

There is not a lot of grazing on our property, it having been woe-fully overgrazed before we bought it. But, over the years grass has sprouted here and there and we encourage it by mostly letting it be. We do let the horses graze these small spots in the late summer, and it is much appreciated as it is a nice change from the dry hay. It is great to have corral panels that can be easily moved from one location to another.

In case you wonder what's with all this sudden blogging activity on my part, I have a new camera. Replaced my worn-out (again) point-and-shoot with an iPhone. I am in love: best camera technology yet.

September 14, 2015


It takes just a little bit of rain to green things up in this desert. We have recently only had traces of rain, no good monsoon gushers as it is toward the end of the season. In all the green a variety of weeds are in full bloom, most of them in shades of yellow, and the desert is fragrant early in the morning.

But I was surprised to see this cactus blooming in the yard. Does it think it is Spring or is it a celebration of Fall? A last hurrah for this year?

September 9, 2015

Chicks. Again.

My neighbor Dave wanted to replace his flock this fall and gave me the opportunity to piggyback onto his order if I wanted more chickens. Last year I got 6 easteregg layers to replace the older chickens I had lost to coyotes. The chickens and coyotes had lived in peace for a number of years, but suddenly hens disappeared and we saw evidence of coyote entry into the chicken yard.

We fortified the yard of course, and all was well until Valentine's Day when a coyote climbed the 4 foot gate and squeezed himself between two sections of field fencing to make off with Marilyn and Hazel. Not a happy day. The remaining 4 hens are now grown and laying eggs, as is Goldy their older (2007) "sister".

This time I opted for Golden Buffs as they were well rated by the hatchery and these birds will be the same size as the current flock.

Dan and I had to be in Tucson on Apple business so we were able to pick up the box of chicks that were shipped from Ohio just yesterday. They were a lively bunch and ready for food and water.
Dave and I quickly installed them in their new home in Dave's coop and it took no time for them to drink and eat. I am sure they will currently be in a "nap attack".

September 8, 2015


The cactus wren is one of our favorite birds. It is a big wren, certainly bigger than any other of the wren family, and it is a bird that is always busy investigating and gathering. It also sounds the alarm when the roadrunner is nearby or when there is a snake lurking. Dan and I dutifully go out when we hear his special alarm call to see what the problem is and, if necessary, mitigate it.

A lot of the cactus wren's time is spent building nests. They are not always nests in the traditional "let's raise some kids" sense, it is a bird that likes options. Some of the nests are used as roosts and perhaps a number of them are built as decoys?

The building happens very quickly: the project is completed in a day or so. I know this because a cactus wren decided that a pot of epiphyllums would be enhanced by a nest and for a week I removed nesting material every day. I have now given up, at least until Spring, and as long as he/she does not mind the nest getting wet every morning when I water plants.

There are also cactus wren nests in the sotol and in the pear trees. Quite frankly there are cactus wren nests in every kind of tree around the house. And in the desert the preferred building site for a cactus wren nest is of course a cactus: all varieties of cholla, all of them very thorny.

September 5, 2015

Hummer migration

It is the time of year when we are carefully stepping onto the porch, making sure we are not hit by some hummingbird eager to get to a feeder, or by one defending a feeder. It gets a bit wild with between 15 and 20 hummingbirds zooming around and loading up for migration south.

Most of them are females or young birds: Anna's, blackchins, and the odd rufous. The rufous are the ones to look out for as they are little but fierce, and will defend "their" feeder with vigor and persistence.

We have four feeders out in various locations that I keep well supplied with nectar, going through about a cup of sugar a day. At night I leave one of the feeders up but take the others inside because the bats will empty every single one of them during the night. The one left out is for bats, after all they need to eat too.

August 31, 2015


We are burying Buggsy today, and we are very sad.

The end was sudden. He looked a bit "off" on Saturday but was still willing to graze and eat a carrot. Dan found him Sunday morning: he passed away in his beloved stall with his friends, Bueno and Cody, nearby.

We are somewhat comforted by the knowledge that his last 11 years were happier than those before. We don't know how old he was but he had been a horse at a kid's camp before he came to the guest ranch where Dan worked. He was assigned to Dan to be made into a "string horse" to carry people around the desert. Buggs finally joined our little family because he was deemed an unsuitable guest horse after his adventure in the Chiricahua Wilderness.

Buggsy had been taken there with other horses, and guests, and after their ride had been left to graze without any restraint. He wandered off and decided that a life away from people might be preferable to being at a guest ranch. He was lost for days with saddle and a slicker and the barn boss and his assistant (Dan) went out to find him without success. It was hunting season but he survived, perhaps being white might have saved him. Buggsy was finally trapped when he came to a cattle tank to drink.

We decided to buy Buggs and after he came to live with us, Dan would occasionally take him to the guest ranch as his personal wrangler horse. This was a nervous event as far as Buggs was concerned as he was never sure whether he would be coming home to his own stall again. But he relished standing at the horse trailer after a ride telling his old buddies: "I am a private horse now", and he jumped into the trailer to go home with great alacrity.

Buggsy was always the gentleman with good people habits who preferred a ham sandwich to lush, green grass, a taste he no doubt acquired while being around kids. He gave my friend Kath a boost in life when she rode him after having recovered from a terrible car accident. We could depend on him to be a perfect guest horse here, whether he carried a novice teenager or an experienced adult.

We will miss the Bugsinator but feel good that he loved his life with us: loved his "room", loved being able to eat at his own, slow, pace, loved being groomed, loved standing around with his companions and not being asked to go on rides with people he did not consider to be family.