Saturday, September 27, 2008

End of Summer Series: Toad

Toad in a Bowl by Gusto! 8-15-08 Nikon D80 300mm, 1/60 sec - F/5.6

How would you like it if you were a dog and you went to get a drink out of your bowl in the back yard but when you got near you saw this?

Soaking Toad by Gusto! 8-15-08 170mm 1/60 sec - F/5

This summer one of our newest discoveries was the Colorado River Toad, also known as the Sonoran Desert Toad. We first encountered it on a rainy July night. The wash next to our house was filled with water and the night air was full of the desert toad's cries. The monsoon rains bring this toad out from hybernation. The large swellings on it are not warts but glands that secrete a poison as a protective defense against predators. You will get sick if you handle them and your dog will get really sick if it mouths the creature. So, yes, we did dump the water out after the toad left.

Naughty Toad by Gusto! 8-15-08 300mm, 1/60 sec - F/5.6

But he and his kin hung around for the rest of the summer catching insect by the front door and on the back patio. When I would find them in the back yard I would get something to shoo them back out through the drainage block, which is how they got in in the first place. On September 6 I found on hunker down under my patio table. he looked like he was in deep thought. I went inside to get the broom so I could gently shoo it away, but when I came back I discovered what it was really doing...

Toad poo by Kathiesbirds 9-6-08 300mm, 1/60 sec - F/5.6

...when I discovered this pile of toad scat right where he sat. Meanwhile, mister toad was making for the front door!

Click on the link to read Further Adventures of the Colorado River Toad.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

End of Summer Series: Skywatch Friday/Monsoon Night

Monsoon Night by Kathiesbirds 8-5-08 Nikon D80 18mm, 2.20 sec - F/3.5
We bought our new Nikon D80 in January, but this was my first attempt at photographing the night sky. It was the evening of August 5 and Gus had just arrived home from work. A summer storm was rumbling in the dark clouds above and Gus and I decided to sit outside and enjoy the show from beneath our covered patio. I set the camera on the night mode button and held it as still as possible, since we don't have a tripod for it yet. I didn't even dare to breath as I braced myself against the patio pillar and listened for the slow release of the shutter.

Lightening photo by Kathiesbirds 8-5-08 Nikon D80 18mm, 2.50 sec - F/3.5

This next shot is a little blurry, but I got lucky with the lightening, which was what I was trying to capture in thousands of mega pixels. The Monsoon makes the summer humidity bearable for me. It is the price I pay to live here and shots like this show you why I love it so.

Click on the link to view more Skywatch Friday Photos. Thanks to our gracious hosts, IMac, Sandy, Klaus, and Old Wom Tigley himself!

Visit Kathie's Poet Tree to see Skywatch Friday: God's Eyes

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

End of Summer Series: Rat: It's what for Dinner

Rat: It's What's for Dinner by Gus Nikon D80 70-300mm lens

On a Sunday evening in July Gus and I headed to Dairy Queen for one of our favorite treats. As we headed out the door I grabbed the camera in case we saw anything interesting on our way. We'd just returned from New England and the Monsoon was in full force. The monsoon rains cause all kinds of activity and excitement. You never know what you might see. We'd gone less than a half a mile when we spotted this coyote on the hunt. Since it was on the driver's side of the car Gus was the one who got to take these shots. Yes, we could see this from the road and we never left our vehicle to snap these photos.

Coyote with pack rat photo by Gusto! 7-20-08 Nikon D80 70-300mm lens

This was shortly after our experience with the pack rat in our yard, so I didn't feel too sorry for the creature. Thank you mister (or miss) coyote for keeping the balance of nature in check!

However, the presence of coyotes and other wildlife in Sycamore Canyon is also one of the reasons you should not let your cats out side at all! Coyotes will eat cats just as quickly as they will gobble up a pack rat. The desert is no place for domestic animals to be on the loose. Since moving here I have seen numerous signs posted on mailboxes and fence posts in a desperate plea to find a lost pet. Beside coyotes, owls will also eat cats and kittens. So, for your pet's own safety, please keep them inside and enjoy our wonderful wildlife outside!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

End of Summer Series: Cholla Cacti

As the end of our second summer in Sycamore Canyon draws to a close I think of all the new things I've learned and experienced since moving here a year and a half ago. There are so many new plants, animals and birds to see and learn about. Each day I feel that I am more in tune with the breathing of this desert landscape. When we first moved here I quickly learned about Cholla cacti (pronounced "choy-a"). These spiny plants grow all over the desert and break off in segments that fall to the ground to start new plants. On June 30 of this year before the Monsoon started I decided to hike out into the desert with a bucket and tongs to collect a few cholla segments. I brought them home and tossed them into the vacant wash that borders my house in an effort to encourage regrowth. I tossed them and forgot about them until this past Sunday...

...when I looked over the wall and look what I found! A baby cholla has taken root right behind my house. Why would I want a cholla to grow here you ask? Because the roots will discourage erosion, and the cactus will provide shelter for one of my favorite insect eating birds...

A catus wren! These noisy little charecters build nests in the spiny chollas to protect themselves from predators. I don't know how this little one can perch on these sharp spines but it doesn't seem to mind. Can you find the nest in the cactus below?

Cactus Wren nest in Sycamore Canyon cholla 3-19-08 by Kathie

This is the first in the End of Summer Series 2008. Come back tomorrow to see Gus' photo "Rat: It's What's for Dinner."

Monday, September 22, 2008

A Gentle Morning

Dawn by Kathie 9-22-08 5:49 a.m. 52mm, 1/60 sec - F/4.5

Cricket songs and a hooting owl greet me as I step out the patio door in the predawn darkness. I’ve awakened early and after lying in bed for almost an hour decided to give up and get up. I’m not disappointed by this decision for it’s wonderfully peaceful outside. I take down the empty hummingbird feeder encrusted with splashes of dried nectar. The lesser long-nosed bats emptied it hours ago. I bring it into the house, clean and refill it, then set it aside to put out once the sun rises. I don’t know if the bats are gone for the night, but I’d like to sit outside without their company. I grab my steaming cup of Irish breakfast tea and relax into the cushion of a patio swivel chair.

From here I can view the sky in all directions. The outlines of my neighbor’s roofs and the dark edges of Mt. Fagan describe the line between earth and sky. Over head the half moon shines like a beacon still strong enough to cast moon shadows on the ground. Off in the desert a band of coyotes wails like banshees in the night. It is a haunting sound, yet somehow wild and peaceful all at the same time. Their cries carry me away, then set me down again in this desert place I now live in. A light wind brushes my face and causes the nearby flag to gently flap in a soothing rhythm.

Morning Tea by Kathie 9-22-08 6:51 a.m. 70mm, 1/320 sec - F/4.5

I snuggle my hands around my tea cup and spin my chair to view the starry sky. To the south Orion sails almost directly overhead in a charcoal sea. I watch the faint blinking light of a distant satellite as it makes its steady orbit east. I rotate my chair 180 degrees to see what the big dipper is doing. Its upended on its handle hanging over the Catalina Mountains with the two pointer stars on the end of the cup directing me to the north star in the handle of the little dipper. I am not an astronomer by anyone’s stretch of the imagination, but this little bit I know helps me enjoy the nighttime sky even more. The little dipper’s faint stars are almost lost in the glow of the Tucson city lights as its cup sinks lower in the sky. As night fades into day I think of how the stars will still be in their place but I will no longer see them as our morning star rises in the east and bathes the earth in its light. It is a gentle morning here in Sycamore Canyon on this first day of autumn and I am thankful to be awake to greet it.

Sunrise Ballerina by kathie 9-22-08, 6:42 a.m. 98mm, 1/500 sec - F/5.6

Click on photos to enlarge for best view

Friday, September 19, 2008

Another Desert Mystery Solved: Lesser Long-Nosed Bats

Lesser Long-nosed Bat photo by Gus, 9-18-08, Nikon D80 18-70mm lens: Auto mode

Click to enlarge for a better view

I’m delighted by the return of the hummingbirds. I’ve been mesmerized for weeks with all the species migrating through my back yard. It’s so much fun that I went out and bought another hummingbird feeder and hung it beneath the mesquite tree, bringing the total to 3 nectar feeders in my yard. One is suspended from a suction cup hook on the window over my kitchen sink. The other two are located in the backyard with one hanging from the arm of my wrought iron ballerina sculpture and the other in the aforementioned tree. I am getting so many hummingbirds that my nectar feeders are draining rapidly and I find myself making new batches of nectar almost every other day. However, last week I started to notice something strange.

I would fill the feeders at night after the hummers had flown to their nighttime roosts, but in the morning two of the three feeders would be empty. At first I thought it might be due to the thunderstorms we were getting which are usually accompanied by high winds. I thought perhaps the wind made the feeders sway and caused the nectar to leak out. But, it was still happening when the nights were calm. So, I took the feeders in for the night and set them out first thing in the morning. This saved my nectar but didn’t solve the mystery.

Hummingbirds at new feeder photo by kathie 9-18-08 70-300mm lens: sports mode

This afternoon I sit out on the patio once again enjoying the hummingbird wars. The warm rays of the setting sun bathe me in soul nourishing light as I watch the emerald jewels flying about. Just as the sun is setting Gus arrives home. Soon he is grilling us some hamburgers to eat. We sit down for a relaxing evening together and I forget all about my nectar feeders. I suddenly remember them around 9:30 p.m. and decide to bring them in. However, before I step out the door I decide to turn on the patio lights. I peek around the edge of the drapery panel to see if I can catch whatever has been drinking from my feeders in the act. What I see causes me to jump and cry out. Gus comes over to see what I am so excited about. There, flying about my back yard, darting right before my face and under the covered patio are bats! Large bats. Lots of bats. And, they are landing on the nectar feeders and lapping up nectar as fast as their little tongues can go!

Gus grabs the camera and opens the door just enough to poke the end of the lens out the slit. I grab the cats and shut them in the bedroom so they won’t escape through the open door. Then, we both watch amazed as bat after bat swoops in for a brief sip of nectar, then darts rapidly away again. At times there are three to four bats at once. I leave Gus at the window and turn on the computer to research what species we are seeing. Once we upload the pictures I can compare them to the images and behavior I find. It doesn’t take me long to discover that we are watching Lesser Long-nosed Bats. According to the Sonoran Desert Museum, these are an endangered species here in AZ. They are nectar feeders and pollinators with their primary food sources being saguaros and other upright cacti as well as agave blooms. The saguaros blossom in the spring as the bats are migrating back to the Sonoran Desert from Mexico, and the agaves blossom in the fall providing food for their southward migration.

Lesser Long-nosed bat at new feeder; photo by Gus; Nikon D80 70-300mm lens

I also discover that the Town of Marana has a Lesser Long-nosed Bat Monitoring Program where citizen scientists actually measure the levels of nectar in their hummingbird feeders before it gets dark and then again in the morning. Well, mine start out at least half full and are fully drained by dawn. While the bats seem to like the feeders in the back yard, they seem to leave the one on the kitchen window alone. I can only guess this is due to the fact that it’s not quite as easy to swoop up to and fly away from safely.

I thought at first that I would don a hat and jacket and rush out to grab my nectar feeders and bring them in for the night, but since discovering that this species of bat is endangered and migratory (so they won’t be hanging around forever) I decide to leave the feeders up for the night. I hope they enjoy the feast and have a safe journey southward. As for me, I am shaking my head in disbelief. I never thought I would be helping to feed bats!

To read more about Arizona bats click on the links below:

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Skywatch Friday: Raven Chasing Redtail Hawk

A Raven chases a Red-tailed Hawk in the sky over Rio Rico, AZ on September 14, 2008.
(click on photos to enlarge for best view)

Notice the relative size of the two birds. The Raven is almost as large as the Red-tailed hawk.

Notice the dark leading edge to the wings of the red-tail. While Red-tailed hawks can have many different color morphs, only red-tails have this. It is known as a "field mark." It is one of the first things I look for when I see a hawk soaring above. Notice how the flight feathers look like "fingers" on the raven.

Look how the birds mirror each other in flight.

Red-tail Hawk: Length 19" wingspan 50" and Common Raven: Length 24" wingspan 53" or Chihuahuan Raven: Length 19.5" wingspan 44"

Common Ravens are usually in mountainous areas and Chihuahuan Ravens in more arid grasslands and brushlands. We were in the San Cayentano Mountains near the Mexican border. The terrain is arid brushlands and grasslands. There were other ravens perched on the utility lines, but only this one raven decided to harass the hawk.

I like this shot of the raven diving feet first at the hawk.

So, what do you think: A Common Raven or a Chihuahuan Raven? I don't think the hawk cares which species it is, it just wants to be left alone!

Click on the link to view more Skywatch Friday photos.

Visit Kathie's Poet Tree to see Idaho Autumn

Photographer's note: All of today's photos were taken by Kathie using the Nikon D80 with the 70-300mm lens set in sports mode. The photos were cropped and enlarged. Most of them were sharpened slightly. One or two were automatically enhanced.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Flash Flood on Sahuarita Rd

Last night the remnants of Tropical Storm Lowell poured down on southeast Arizona. Water ran down mountain slopes and filled washes to overflowing. Our son G, was coming to spend the night with us after a long day at work. As he was heading home around 10:15 p.m. the news was reporting that police had closed Sahuarita Rd due to heavy flash flooding and the need to rescue 3 passengers from 2 vehicles caught in a flash flood between Kolb and Wilmot Rd. on Sahuarita Rd. Our son was coming up Houghton, but he also was diverted there by police due to flash flooding. The only solution was to drive back to I-10 and exit on Sonoita Highway, a diversion of approximately 15 miles.

This morning as I headed to the grocery store in Sahuarita. I decided to grab my camera on the way out. The sunny skies of this morning gave no hint of the downpours from last night, but across Sahuarita Road in various locations the mud, sand, rocks, and debris were evidence enough of last night's torrent. I stopped to photograph this car at the location were I think the rescue took place. You can see the mud line part way up the side of the car. Water still stands alongside the road and cars proceeded slowly over the deep sand and gravel.

On my return trip from the store the red car was gone. Some of the mud had already dried and the road crews were making their way eastward from Sahuarita with a caterpillar scraper to clean up the road. Soon all of this will be sand piles on the side of the highway drying in the desert sun.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Skywatch Friday: Dancing Cloud on the Santa Rita Mountains

Dancing Cloud photo by kathiesbirds 9-9-08, Nikon D80, 70-300mm lens
Click on photo to enlarge for best view
This was the view I saw yesterday as I headed into Sycamore Canyon wash for a hike. Read about A Craving for Nature by reading the rest of the story below or clicking on the link.
Please visit Skywatch Friday to view additional photos and posts.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Craving for Nature

Female Costa's Hummingbird in Palo Verde Tree 9-9-08
Click on images to enlarge for best viewing

It's another one of those days when I realize I have been inside for too long and I need to get out. My body is craving sunshine and fresh air and my spirit is craving the solitude of nature. It's been awhile since I've been out into the wash so, though it's already getting late for bird watching I pack up my gear and head out the door around 9:45 a.m. It's a short walk across the street to access Sycamore Canyon Wash. Dogs bark at me from behind block walls as a rapidly warming sunshine beats down on me. The humidity is lower than is has been of late, and for this I am grateful. Ahead of me a thunderhead is dancing on the Santa Ritas which look lush and green after this summer's monsoon rains. (Look for the photo in tomorrow's Skywatch Friday post.) They say the monsoon is ending, yet storms continue to roll through the area with more expected this afternoon and later this week.

Even before I pass the neighborhood boundary I am seeing and hearing birds. A Gila woodpecker laughs from a nearby bush, then drops to the ground beneath it. In that same bush some house finches hide in the dense greenery. Then, a flock of about 20 house sparrows flies from a nearby rooftop to land in a mesquite tree in the wash. Here is the edge of human habitation and wildness.

I start south down the trail to enter the big wash with the calls of cactus wrens and curved-billed thrashers following me. I pass numerous desert hackberry bushes bursting with their tiny orange fruit, so beloved by birds. These hackberries are edible and have a slightly sweet taste, but, while they may satisfy the appetite of a bird, it would take many to fill up the stomach of a human being.

As I pass through the barbed wire opening that leads into the canyon I am greeted by wild cotton blooming all along the edges of the sandy wash. The delicate white flowers open joyfully to the sunlight, exposing their fertile centers to desert pollinators. I can hear the buzzing of bees and other insects all around punctuated by the rapid clicks of Arizona Clickers hiding in the brush. I see the delicate and erratic fluttering of butterflies in every direction as they move silently about.

On the same wild cotton bush this pink veined bud belies the white blossom it will be once its petals open to the sun.

I am already feeling the heat of the day as I turn to walk up the wash by the big cliff. I am 20 to 30 feet below the houses that perch above on this canyon rim. From here they cannot see me, nor I them, and I feel as if I am alone in the desert with this wildness. A glance about me reveals all the trees, shrubs and flowers in full leaf and bloom. For the moment this verdant landscape looks like a lush oasis, but soon the drying autumn winds will turn the grasses yellow, and then brown. Drought deciduous plats will drop their leaves and once again the desert will turn brown, gray-green and sandy. Soil moistened by rain will crack. The Sonoran Desert Toad will hide. The White-winged Doves and Turkey Vultures will migrate south. The Purple Martins have already fled their summer homes. I may have seen my last one two days ago. I will miss their flute like twittering as they fly above my house.

Clinging to the side of the cliff a clump of trailing four o'clock tumbles down in a violet cascade. I listen to the noisy chatter of a verdin and soon spot the tiny bird with its yellow head and red epaulets flitting about amongst the foliage of a nearby tree. While I am in the process of locating the verdin I discover a female Costa's hummingbird roosting beneath the canopy of a desert Palo Verde. The Palo Verde tree is covered in thousands of tiny green leaves in response to all the recent rain. It forms a thick and shady shelter for this tiny bird. I recently read in Stokes Beginner's Guide to hummingbirds that Curved-billed Thrashers and Greater Road Runners both prey on this desert species and that Costa's Hummingbirds will avoid feeding if either of these birds are present. I can hear the "Whit WHEET!" call of a thrasher farther up the canyon. I hope this little gem is safe beneath these branches. I move quietly away and leave the tiny bird undisturbed.

Across the wash from the Costa's I seek shade beneath my favorite overhanging mesquite tree. The fluttering of a plastic bag catches my eye and I glance up to see this blue "desert bloom" caught in the spines of another tree. While it almost looks pretty set against the sky, this plastic poses a real danger to wildlife and is evidence of our human impact on the land. I would like to take it down and bring it home to throw away, but there are 2 reasons I don't. One is that it is up too high for me to reach. The other is that I have learned by experience that if I want to collect garbage from off the desert plants I'd better have some thick gloves for, usually whatever is caught on the spines is also full of spines and glocids it has collected on its windy and tumbling journey to wherever it is now caught. Perhaps I will come back later to purposely remove it. For now it serves as a reminder to close our trash and recycle bins tightly. This is one "desert bloom" all of us can do without.

I feel the tension and stress leave my body as the rhythms of nature wash over me. It's as if the air, soil, sunlight and greenery permeate my being. Though I can hear the sounds of construction in the distance, here the sounds of nature are closer and sooth my frazzled soul. I catch the motion of birds in a bush and find some Black-throated Sparrows flitting about. While two are mature Black-throats I am momentarily thrown off by the presence of a juvenile with it's still developing facial markings. I hope I am seeing the much rarer five-striped sparrow, but quickly realize it is a juvenile Black-throat.

I am tricked once again when I find this juvenile Rufous-winged Sparrow deep in the heart of another desert bush. I saw the adult with it's rufous crown, and rufous wing patches with two distinct malar stripes, but this stripey young thing puzzled me until I was able to look it up at home. My two favorite field guides were of no use to me as neither Kaufman's nor Sibley's described or had an images of a juvenile Rufous-winged Sparrow. I then pulled out my National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America (which I rarely use) and from this I was able to identify this juvenile as a rufous-winged sparrow. Notice the eyeline, and the two developing malar stripes on the sides of the throat but the breast is slightly stripey and not yet clean and clear like an adult bird would have. This little bird is also still developing its rufous crown and wing patches. Larry of the Brownstone Birding Blog recently did an informative post reviewing bird guides and in particular the new Smithsonian Field Guide to Birds of North America. Like me, he notes that most bird watchers usually consult more than one field guide.

This pile of debris beneath a bush is not the result of flash floods, but rather the collections of a pack rat in the construction of its desert den. This desert creature is smarter than I am, hiding from the heat deep with in its shady interior. As sweat pours down my back I decide it's time for me to head home also.

As the gravelly soil crunches beneath my feet the Zebra-tailed Lizards hightail it away from my footsteps with tails curled over there backs. This one stops on a rock to gaze at me as if to decide whether it really needs to flee. It does a few push-ups while waiting. I would like to reassure it that I mean it no harm but I don't know how to speak lizard. So, I snap a few photos and it doesn't seem to mind until I take JUST ONE STEP closer...then Zip! Up curls the tail and this lizard is gone! I identified this lizard from the Lizards of Arizona web site by Thomas C. Brennen. Click on the link if you need help with lizard identification.

I leave the desert where I entered it and walk back home. The fairy dusters growing in the parking strips are all in bloom also and a powerful attractant for butterflies like this cloudless sulfur.

Across the street my eyes are drawn to these Texas Rangers exploding with blossoms. These plants seem to burst into bloom overnight creating vibrant purple splotches to the landscape, then just as quickly the blooms seems to fade and drop, but when they are in bloom, the effect is spectacular. A little research reveals that they blossom in response to heat and humidity and are sometimes known as the barometers of the desert. Read about these drought hardy plants here.

My walk is done, my soul is soothed. I've quenched my nature fix for today. Who knows how long it will last. I suspect I will need to feast from nature's bountiful table again soon for my soul is soon famished without her. It is a healthy fix, however, one that shall sustain me throughout my life.

Photographer's Note: All of today's photography is by kathiesbirds with the Nikon D80 set in sports mode and the 70 to 300 mm lens with VR reduction.

Birds Seen Today

Location: Sycamore Canyon Wash
Observation date: 9/9/08
Notes: At 9:45 it was 77 degrees F.
Also saw 1 cottontail rabbit, 1 ground squirrel, some Zebra-tailed lizards and numerous butterflies. Mostly clear skies with a light breeze.

Number of species: 15

Turkey Vulture 3
Mourning Dove 7
Costa's hummingbird 1
Gila Woodpecker 3
Gilded Flicker 2
Verdin 2
Cactus Wren 4
Curve-billed Thrasher 4
Phainopepla 2
Green-tailed Towhee 1
Canyon Towhee 1
Rufous-winged Sparrow 2
Black-throated Sparrow 5
House Finch 7
House Sparrow 20 All the house sparrows were behind a house at the edge of the wash. They did not go far out into the canyon.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Making Prickly Pear Jelly

A few weeks ago my friends and I picked prickly pears in the Sonoran Desert. We processed the fruit into juice which we then stored in bottles in the refrigerator for a week or two. Click on the highlighted link to read about Picking and Processing Prickly Pears. Finally the day came when we could get together and make this jewel-like jelly. My friend, Liz, brought her jelly jars and sugar and we began.
Prickly Pear Cactus Jelly recipe:

2 1/2 cups prickly pear juice
1 box pectin (Sure-jell or Certo)
1-3 Tablespoons lemon or lime juice
3 1/2 cups sugar

First we assemble all the ingredients on the counter. Since we are making multiple batches we pre-measure the sugar into bowls and place a package of pectin with each one. We leave the lemon juice by the stove with a Tablespoon to make measuring and adding the lemon juice easier.

To make the jelly you will need jelly jars, lids, and bands.

A 6 to 8-quart pot to boil the jelly in.

A small pot to sterilize the lids.

Wash jars, bands and lids. I like to wash my jars and bands in the dishwasher, then keep them there to stay warm until I fill them. I wash the lids and keep them in the dish drainer until it's time to place them in the small pot. This pot I fill about half full. Bring to a boil, then shut off and place lids in scalding water. Do Not boil lids. I have also found you do not want to just leave the lids sitting in this water or they will start to rust, so I only place as many as I think I am going to use in the water while the jelly is boiling.

Pour 2 1/2 cups of prickly pear juice into a large pot. Add powdered pectin and bring to a fast boil stirring constantly.

Add sugar, lemon juice, and 1/2 teaspoon of butter (if desired to prevent excessive foaming). Stir until sugar is dissolved. Bring to a hard boil and boil for three minutes. (Do not stir constantly at this point.)

Remove from heat and skim off foam. Pour into sterilized jars filling to 1/8 inch from top. Wipe jar rims and threads. Seal with lids and bands. When you have enough jars, place in boiling water bath and process for 5 minutes at a gentle boil. Adjust for altitude according to directions included in pectin box.

Since we are making numerous batches of jelly, we have more than one pot for boiling jelly in. One of us would measure and mix juice and pectin and mind the jelly while the other would skim off jelly and fill jars. Here Liz pre-measures the juice for the next batch.

Water bath canner, boiling jelly, and pot with lids all on the same stove top. In mid August it sure gets hot in the house!

The jars go onto a rack and are lowered into the pot. Make sure the water is 1 to 2 inches above the tops of the jars. Add boiling water as necessary to maintain this level. When timing is up, lift jars from water-bath with rack.

Place on towel to cool. Separate jars to speed cooling process. Do not over tighten bands.

Here are some tips we learned from making jelly this year:

By processing the juice on one day and letting it cool and settle before we made jelly it allowed more sediment to sink to the bottom of the jugs. When we made our jelly we didn't shake up the juice, but poured carefully from the top, leaving the sediment behind. This gave us a clear, jewel-like jelly.

When making multiple batches of jelly, wash pots between each batch and do not stir down crystals from sides of pot or you will end up with more floaters when you go to skim off the foam.

The jelly recipe above will yield approximately 2 pint jars or 4-8 ounce jars of jelly.

For large batches this is the ratio we figured out: 3 gallons of raw prickly pears yields 1 gallon of juice. It takes 1 gallon of juice plus 10 pounds of sugar to yield 1 dozen pint jars or 2 dozen 8 ounce jars of jelly.

If time is an issue, the juice can be processed and frozen for preparation at a later date. Thaw before using.

Happy Jelly making. Now go find some "tunas" and try this for yourself.

Photographer's note: All of today's photography is copyrighted by Kathiesbirds. I used the Nikon D80 with the 18 to 70 mm lens. Click on any photo to enlarge for better viewing.