Saturday, April 26, 2008

Casa Grande Ruins

(This photo was taken by Kathie last September with the Nikon Coolpix. All other photos on today's post were taken by Gus today with the Nikon D80)

Gus and I drove to Coolidge today under dusty blue skies that veiled the distant mountains. We visited the Casa Grande Ruins at the north end of the main street in town. A yellow sun burned brightly on us raising the temperature 7 degrees in less than an hour. While I have been here before, it is Gus’ first time. We wander among the ruins of another time. Low mud walls outline the homes that made up the settlement, and towering over all of them is the Casa Grande. The Casa Grande or “Great House” is a four story building 60 feet long that was built with its four walls facing the cardinal points of a compass. During the summer solstice a circular opening in the west wall aligns with the setting sun. Other openings in other walls align with the moon and sun at various times of the year. It is speculated that the great house was used to contemplate the heavens and perhaps as a calendar to determine planting times.

The Hohokam lived in villages with huts made from the caliche beneath their feet. A mixture of sand, clay and limestone, caliche forms a cement like compound that is very sturdy. The great house took 300 tons of caliche to build it, with other mud huts and a fortress–like wall surrounding the whole village. The Hohokam lived along the Gila and Salt rivers and used a series of irrigation canals to bring water to their crops. On the grounds of the Casa Grande ruins is an oval “ball” court where some sort of game was played.
While Hohokam culture dates back to 300 A.D. The great house was constructed prior to 1350 in what is known as the classic period of Hohokam culture. In 1694 Father Eusebio Kino was the first European to see the crumbling structure and document its existence. In the late 19th century it was a well known landmark for those who crossed the desert heading west and travelers collected artifacts for souvenirs and scratched their initials in the crumbling walls. In 1892 the Casa Grande was put under federal protection and became the first archeological preserve in the nation.

Standing here today under this heated sky I seek shelter in the shade of the Casa Grande. The doors are all barred to prevent vandalism and a steel canopy towers over the ruin to protect it from sun and rain. The caliche walls are home to several birds. I have seen great horned owls in the rafters here before, but today I hear the squawking of starlings coming from the interior rooms. A swallow flies swiftly past and disappears before I can determine the species. A kestrel alights on one of the steel girders that support the roof. Another flies over and lands nearby. The two birds exchange something and the second kestrel flies off with a lizard-like shape dangling from its talons. Meanwhile the first kestrel stares down at us while Gus snaps off a few shots.
Since it is getting warm we don’t stay long and we wander back out towards the parking lot. Here a lizard in a tree catches my eye and I call Gus over. He captures a few shots of mister lizard while I search the mesquite trees for more birds. I see a female hummingbird and an orange-crowned warbler. Gus finds a mourning dove in a nest staring down at him as if she were a hawk about to rip his eyes out. Her flimsy nest is built in the low branches of another mesquite tree. I wander over to the elevated sidewalk that overlooks the ball court where I discover a bullock’s oriole feeding on the nectar of ocotillo blossoms.

I call to Gus and he is able to walk over without scaring the bird away. I watch the bird through my binocs while Gus captures the beauty of this tangerine, black and white male on the fiery orange blossoms set against the dusty blue sky.

The prickly pears are already in bloom here in Coolidge, which tends to be warmer than Tucson, so they are about 2 weeks ahead of us in the growing season (I would guess). The blossoms are buzzing with insect life giving off a steady hum if you get anywhere near the plant. I notice that some prickly pears are blossoming yellow, while others have a flaming orange bloom. The saguaros are putting forth their buds also, looking for all the world like a giant pin cushion with Brussel sprouts stuck to the pins! When the blossoms finally open their similarity to Brussels sprouts will quickly give way to a creamy white- rimmed goblet shape with a yellow pollen center that attracts birds, bees and bats. This fierce desert is alive with color and wildlife in these pre-summer days before the 100 degrees plus temperature will drive man and beast into the shade. Even now the rising temperature is making me know that it is time for us to get into the coolness of our vehicle and head home.

(Some of the information in todays post came from the National Park Service Brochure of the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument)

Friday, April 25, 2008

Skywatch Friday


They huff and puff across the sky
The children sit and wonder why
White and fluffy cotton balls
Ice cream castles, snowy halls,
And then the wind gets mad one day
It turns the clouds the color gray
It pours the cold rain down on them,
They sit and wonder if again,
White cloud ships will huff and puff
On pink and blue and all that stuff.
~Kathie circa 1970
Skywatch Friday is hosted by Old Tom wiggly of Wigger's World. To see other participating Blogs, just click on the link. Our own Troy and Martha of Ramblings Around Texas are regular participants.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Hedgehogs in Bloom/ 100th post!

This morning when I wrote my post about What's in Bloom in the Desert I searched desperately for a hedgehog or pincushion cactus in bloom to show everyone, but to no avail. I thought I would have to search farther and wider but low and behold, look what was hiding behind the mailboxes when I went to get the mail tonight! These photos have not been enhanced. These are the true colors of the blossom in the golden light of the setting sun. I did crop the next 3 pictures to get you an even closer view of the blossoms. Since the wind is blowing the petals are ruffling a bit in the wind but still, what beauty!

Hedgehog buds.

Hedgehog blossom top view

Hedgehog blossom side view

Mystery Bug

Does anybody know what this is? It landed on the livingroom wall Monday night. Look at that interesting tail!
Answer: According to Doug Tauron from Gossamer Tapestry, it is an antlion (though I still don't know what it does with that tail!)

What's In Bloom in the Desert (and a few bugs too!)

I woke up this morning with the desert calling me. I dressed, did a few chores, then loaded up my camera and binocs and head out the door. At 7:30 a.m. I can already feel the heat engulfing me. In the background beyond the various bird calls, I can hear the sounds of construction going on; earth movers up the hill where roads are being constructed; the Pop! Pop! Pop of a power hammer nailing walls together in a new house down the street. I try to ignore these sounds as I head up the road to the Saguaro Loop Trail that runs along the backside of the houses across the street. I really won’t be far into the desert, but I want to photograph whatever is in bloom.

At the top of the cul de sac I enter the desert. Here is my sunset lookout point. Here the sentinel saguaros stand and I search them yet again for signs of bird life, but I see none. Last year these holes were full of purple martins, Gila woodpeckers, and gilded flickers. Now the sentinels stand silent, their openings empty. Along the tops the little knobs of green will open soon to creamy white blossoms which provide nectar to bats and birds alike.

Today the skies are dusty blue with smoke from two wildfires burning along the borders. A desert cottontail hops lazily along in the path ahead of me. I stop to photograph these ocotillo blooms that cascade from the tips of the spiny branches.
On one of the ocotillo branches a Pyrrhuloxia sings. Then a black-throated sparrow joins the chorus with the silvery song it is known for. Below in the wash I hear Gambel’s quail calling to each other. Far across the wash I hear the cooing of white-winged doves which have recently returned to Sycamore Canyon. Their voice is totally different from a mourning dove’s sounding as if they are saying, “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you” in a rolling cadence.
As I walk along the canyon rim I photograph the buds of prickly pear that will be blossoming soon. The foothills Palo Verde are making a riotous display with their tiny yellow blossoms covering their green twigs.
These tiny blooms are covered with bees and other insects drinking up nectar as fast as they can. Standing nearby one the hum of insect life produces a loud steady buzz. The ash-throated flycatchers have also returned to Sycamore Canyon and I see three of them on this short ¼ mile walk today. I reach the point on the trail where the stairs take me down to the canyon floor. I find this cholla in blossom just as I am about to leave the desert and return to suburbia. My dry mouth encourages me to return to the house, but I look longingly at the path before me. As the sun blazes I decide to return home thinking perhaps I will take an evening walk in the desert instead. Along the sidewalks the fairy dusters are in bloom. Believe it or not, these red tulle looking blossoms actually attract hummingbirds. When the bloom is finished it turns into a pinkish petticoat-like puff which I assume then disperses the seeds. These do grow wild in the desert with dwarf sized shrubs as well as taller bushes.

The desert willows are also in bud with the first blooms just starting to open. Desert willows bloom in shades of wine, pink, scarlet and lavender. When the blooms are finished they produce long bean-like pods full of seeds and some have already started to self-sow in the vacant areas around the neighborhood. Desert willows are deciduous, dropping their leaves over the winter and sprouting new again in the spring. The trees will continue to blossom over the course of the summer before dropping their leaves again late in the fall. Then the empty seed pods dangle like paper tails from the branches.
We still have a few globe mallows in bloom, as well as a few Mexican poppies dotting the roadsides.

Desert marigolds are in profusion creating ribbons of yellow in the parking strips and along the sidewalks. Mixed in with all this yellow, red and orange the desert bluebells create a cool contrast.

Larry of the Brownstone Birding Blog recently asked what spring migrants we are seeing. Well here in Sycamore Canyon these birds have returned: turkey vultures,
white-winged doves, lesser nighthawks (I saw my first ones of the season on April 21st) ash-throated flycatchers, green-tailed towhees, and various warblers. I have not seen any Say’s Phoebes in awhile and the hummingbirds have quit coming to my feeders, so I have taken them down, though I did see a male Costa’s sipping from some salvia up the street last week. At my house I see house finches, house sparrows, lesser goldfinches, mourning doves, and Gila woodpeckers every day. Almost every day I see curved-billed thrashers and Gambel’s quail, and I usually see either common ravens or Chihuahuan ravens flying overhead at some point during the day. I’m still waiting for the return of the Swainson’s hawks as well as the purple martins.

Monday, April 21, 2008

How I Discovered A Poem in My Pocket

I carried a poem in my pocket,
but first it started inside,
as a feeling rolling around
In the dust of my vacant mind
where it collected adjectives and adverbs
to go with the numerous nouns
until it burst from my brain in the morning
and spilled all these words on the ground!
I used this blank piece of paper
To wipe the mess from the floor
Then I stuffed this poem in my pocket
before I walked out the door.

I wrote this poem today after reading Bobbie's post about A Poem in Your Pocket Day. I missed the actual "pocket day", but here's my contribution to Nationl Poetry Month and all of my fellow bloggers, especially Patrice and other lovers of words!

We Interupt this Birding Blog to...

...Announce the birth of Xavier, my new grandson born Sunday morning at 9:57 a.m. He weighed 6lbs. 12 oz. and is 19 1/2 inches long.

I was there for the birth. What an overwhelming experience. Trish is doing wonderful. Xavier is so soft and sweet and healthy and his Papa is so proud! I may be on grandma duty for the rest of the week until his other grandmother arrives from the east coast.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Two Stupid Things

So, if you are wondering why you haven't heard from me all week its because of 2 stupid things I did.

Number 1 stupid thing: Gus and I decided to plant our new Palo Verde tree ourselves. It really wanted to get its feet into the ground. I could hear it calling to me. It had been in that box for so long. It needed to stretch its roots and grow. Since we won't be putting the backyard plants in for awhile we decided to try to plant it ourselves. Well, Gus dug the hole which was only possible after softening this hard caliche with water, and then we got a hand truck and moved the tree into place before removing the wooden box surrounding the rootball. Still, that dang tree was heavy and I strained my lower back. But, it didn't keep me down. I still went birding on Tuesday. It was stupid thing Number Two that really did me in and knocked me out for the rest of the week.

Stupid Thing Number Two: On the morning of the birding expedition and pumpkin pancakes I decided to eat some yogurt early before we went on our walk. I staggered out to the kitchen in the predawn darkness and opened the fridge. I reached in and ripped off a yogurt cup from one of those six-packs with the foil tops. I set it on the counter and got out a spoon, then went to open it. That's funny, I thought, this opened awfully easy. I second guessed myself. Did I already open this? I looked inside. It didn't look bad. A little dry maybe, but it still didn't look bad. I was still waking up and in a hurry, so I ate it.

Well, while we were out birding I started to feel achy all over. By the time we came home, ate pumpkin pancakes and the women left, I was feeling worse. I sat at the computer that afternoon fighting off the all-over aches. By the time I posted my blog and took Blossom for her evening walk, I was in a bad way. Every joint in my body ached. It hurt to move. I shuffled around the block like a 90 year old woman. I spent the rest of the week in bed sleeping, sweating, freezing. I felt like vulture food. I never got an upset stomach, but the aches and fever left me weak and lethargic. It wasn't until Thursday night when Gus came home late from work and decided that he would like some yogurt that we discovered that all the other yogurts in the six-pack were also not sealed. It was then I put 2 and 2 together and realized I may have poisoned myself! Great! Lesson learned: Don't Eat Unsealed Yogurt!

I am still recovering. I am not a person inclined to go to the doctor, so I use homeopathic remedies to treat myself. It all goes along with my philosophy of letting nature cure you. In a nutshell, homeopathy stimulates your own immune system to heal itself. So, I am on the mend and back to Blogging and the vultures will just have to wait to pick at my bones!

By the way, I shot these photos last week on Wednesday when it was cloudy and gray. This vulture just happened to fly right over the backyard when I was out there with my camera. I was waiting for an opportunity to write a Blogpost about it. Who knew it would be this one!

Pumpkin Pancakes Recipe

1 Egg
1 cup milk
2 Tablespoons salad oil
1/2 cup canned pumpkin
1 cup unbleached white flour
1 Tablespoon each of soy flour, oat bran, and flaxseed meal
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Assemble all ingredients into a mixing bowl or blender. Mix. Pour desired amount onto preheated skillet (I prefer cast iron). Flip when bubbles start to form on top. Note: flaxseed and soy flour will brown more quickly so you may need to reduce the temperature from what you normally cook pancakes at. Also, you can make these without those ingredients. It's just my own healthy spin on things. I may try experimenting with some of the usual pumpkin spices next time, like cinnamon, nutmeg or cloves, so if you feel inspired...try it yourself! Serve hot with soft butter, pure maple syrup, and chopped pecans (if desired). I have also had these at a restaurant served with caramel syrup if you want to get really decadent!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

What We Saw in the Wash Today

We had a brief respite from the endless wind this morning, which allowed Jean, Peggy, Pam and I to explore Sycamore Canyon Wash together. My friends drove from the north side of town and arrived around 7 a.m. We loaded up our gear and headed out the door to cross the street and enter the wash at its closest location to my house. Here the prickly pear are putting out buds and pads as we enter the wash. Can you see the difference?
The first bird we see is a Gila woodpecker drumming on someone's vent pipe to their house. As we enter the wash an ash-throated flycatcher calls to us from atop a mesquite tree in the golden light of morning. Behind the flycatcher the blue of the Santa Ritas welcomes us to this day.

We can already hear the call of a Gambel's Quail which I soon discover perched on a dead snag keeping watch. Before us the barbed wire fence is cut and lying on the gravel. Have the 4-wheelers done this? I see tire tracks leading off into the distance. Around us sparrows are flying. Jean and Peggy soon identify them as chipping sparrows! Chipping sparrows? I didn't know we had them here! Perhaps that is the sparrow I saw in the cathead bird feeder when Kathryn was here. For me, it was out of place and I didn't think they would be here, but before this day is over, we will see many more.

A pair of pyrrhuloxias flies across an open space to hide in denser cover. High on the canyon rim a curved-billed thrasher sings to the rising sun. A white-winged dove scoots across the sky. Another sings from a saguaro. We find black-throated sparrows singing their morning songs. A yellow-rumped warbler gleans insects from the twigs of an acacia tree. Brewer's sparrows and chipping sparrows fly up before us and dive farther into cover. High on the canyon rim in some dead treetop a pale gray form catches our eye. We are all surprised to find a loggerhead shrike perched there. Then motion in a nearby bit of scrub catches our eyes and we discover orange-crowned warblers and a Wilson's Warbler. Many of these species are the first I have recorded here in Sycamore Canyon.

Some movement in the understory gets my attention. We all train our binoculars on a green-tailed towhee hopping about. I have enough time to get my camera up and I snap off a few shots before the towhee flies away. A little gray spectacled bird proves to be a plumbeous vireo, a lifer for me. Then we spot a Lucy's Warbler hopping about with her tiny gray body and chestnut rump flashing at us now and again. Did I get a photo of that? Nope!

At a bend in the wash I see some large, dusty-colored bird of prey fly up from the ground on silent wings and disappear beyond the bend. The other women don't see it but when we get farther up the trail it flies up before us again, only to disappear beyond the next corner. There is much debate on whether it is an owl or another raptor. I vote for an owl, but no one really got a good look at it, and it will have to stay a mystery for now.

Our rumbling stomachs are calling us home to the breakfast of whole grain and pumpkin pancakes which I promised to cook for everyone. So we head back down the wash finding this queen butterfly sipping the nectar from a Palo Verde tree.

We also find some wild cotton bushes which used to be grown and harvested by the Native Americans. You can see the little cotton bolls at the ends of some of the stems.
This wild hibiscus, which Peggy informs me is hibiscus nudicus so named for the naked stems it grows on.

As we round the bend near the copper-colored bank of the wash that is nearest to my house we spot yet another loggerhead shrike surveying its territory from atop a scraggly mesquite tree. It looks like the Lone Ranger with its black mask and gray suit set off by white. A handsome bird for a hunter, who captures its prey of mice, insects and small birds and impales them on thorns or the barbs of barbed wire fences. Some people know this species as the butcher bird due to this practice of hanging its food to cure and coming back to eat it later.

Some of the cactus are putting out fruit already. Others are growing pads and buds. this staghorn cholla is striking with its purple arms and yellow fruit. When I first moved here last year I really didn't notice the prickly pear before it bloomed. At the top is a photo of what growing prickly pear looks like. The flatter segments are new pads, and the more cone shaped bits are the new flower buds forming. Soon they will be covered in yellow flowers to be followed by the most beautiful jewel colored fruit. For now I find the buds interesting with their garnet edged segments that remind me of an artichoke. In the end we spotted 27 species of birds today with 8 new species added to the Sycamore Canyon Bird list published in the sidebar of this Blog.

1. Gila woodpecker, 2. Gambel's quail, 3.Ash-throated flycatcher, 4.cactus wren, 5.House finch, 6.mourning dove, 7. pyrrhuloxia, 8.Curved-billed thrasher, 9.White-winged dove, sparrow, 11. chipping sparrow, 12. yellow-rumped warbler, 13. Brewer's sparrow, 14. Orange-crowned warbler, 15. Loggerhead shrike, 16.Wilson's warbler, 17.Black-tailed gnatcatcher, 18.gilded flicker, towhee, 20.plumbeous vireo, 21.Lucy's warbler, 22.turkey vulture, 23.Red-tailed hawk, 24. Hooded oriloe, 25. Hutton's vireo, 26. House sparrow, 27. Verdin. (Species in green are new to my count of Sycamore Canyon. Birds in Red are new life birds for me.)

Monday, April 14, 2008

Landscaping update

Here's where it all started.

This is the job part way done.

And now, the finished product!

Well, the hardscape is done.
Hopefully the plants will be next, though we may do the front yard first and wait to plant in the autumn when things are cooler. On Tuesday the masons finished up the backyard courtyard. We were hoping to start enjoying it the next day, but a cold front accompanied by thunder kept me inside. Gus was working major overtime and didn’t get home until dark. Still, he would turn on the light and go outside and sit for an hour or so each night. Friday morning was glorious and we sat outside for breakfast before he had to leave for work. We anticipated a fun weekend relaxing in our backyard, but at 4 a.m. Saturday morning I awoke to a crash. I jumped out of bed thinking the cats had knocked something over in the house, but a quick search revealed nothing broken. When I finally turned on the back light and opened the slider I found one of my potted plants smashed on the brick when the wind toppled it over. I decided it could wait until daylight to be picked up. (Notice the flag full out in the photos.)
When I opened the curtain at 7 a.m. Saturday one of the new chairs was toppled over and the cushions were threatening to blow away in the wash as a full gale force wind blew in from the south. It stayed that way all weekend with a brief lull on Sunday evening, when I was able to capture this picture of the sunset as seen from our new "balcony." So, I sit inside and look out at my new yard with anticipation and delight.

Today the wind is howling again, though not quite as fiercely. The morning low was 60 degrees Fahrenheit but this afternoon it is pushing 95F. When I walked the dog this morning, I noticed the ocotillo and hedgehog cacti are in bloom. Palo Verdes are budding out with a few blossoms already opened to the sun. Desert willows have new leaves all over as well as mesquite. Creosote bush has blossomed and is already going to seed, their tiny yellow flowers turning to miniature dandelion-like puff balls on the bush. The guara I planted out front have started to grow and some are already blossoming. I call them “Whirling Butterflies,” but they are also called “Wand flower.” They are one of my favorite plants since they are low water use and pretty. The flowers bloom along the slender stems and whirl about in the wind or breeze. Tomorrow my friends from Audubon are coming early to bird the wash with me and I am anxious to see what we will see.

I had a bullock’s oriole on a firecracker penstemmon in the wash just last week but of course it flew off before I could get my camera. I saw my first white-winged dove of the season here on Tuesday and my first swallows on Friday evening. Perhaps the purple martins are back. Perhaps I will find out tomorrow. Kathryn of Out With Ari wrote about the smell of snow in a recent Blog Post, well, here in Sycamore Canyon the predominate smell lately is of dust. It’s a dry and sand-like smell. The scent seems to dry your nose out even as you breathe in. We are heading into dry summer, May and June, the two hottest and driest months of the year. I am starting to see more insect activity as well.