Monday, March 31, 2008

Homemade Pizza and Wine Tasting Party

I hosted a terrifically fun party last night. About 15 people, 16 pizzas and 18 red wines was the final tally. When guests arrived with their wines, I had them cover the labels with paper and give each wine a number. Then as we all tried the wines, we rated their appearance, aroma, body, taste, and finish, using a guide on scoring I gleaned from the Internet.

The pizzas were even more fun. I made the dough by scratch, starting with a poolish sponge two days in advance. (Next time I'll take photos of the process.) Then each guest brought one to several pizza toppings. What variety! Each time I rolled out a pizza I had a veritable palette of ingredients at my disposal including four kinds of sauces, three kinds of cheese, chorizo (don't read the ingredients), chicken sausage, olives, roasted peppers, tuna, mixed wild mushrooms, roasted garlic, Thai basil, sundried tomatoes, and even tins of clams, oysters and octopus (Low Tide in Tucson). That covers maybe half of them. I'm going to insist on fresh figs next time – the author of my bread book insists they are excellent on pizza.

The top five wines were:

Bear Valley Ranch & O'Neill Vineyards Syrah, 2004
Redwood Creek Cabernet Sauvignon, 2006
Mattie's Perch Shiraz, no year
Red Truck Cabernet Sauvignon, 2006
Jake's Fault Shiraz, 2005

Sprucing up the Front Porch with Cacti

I bought these cacti at Plants for the Southwest, a nursery about 2.5 miles from where I live. The multiflowered one is Mammillaria saboae, a native of Chihuahua.

This one is Turbinicarpus pseudomacrochele, from central Mexico. The third cactus in the pot is Thelocactus hexaedrophorus and I'll post a photo when its flowers open (probably next week). I also bought an Aloe humilis and the bromeliad Dykia (a hybrid). Maybe I'll post photos when they grow up.

The Flame-colored Tanager is Back

A third day in a row in the field! This doesn't happen too often with me. This past Friday, March 29 featured a morning of very light birding in Madera Canyon with my aunt and uncle (Betsy and Jack, at right), snowbirds from Washington State. While we enjoyed the colors of Painted Redstarts, Scott's Orioles, Cassin's Finches and Hepatic Tanagers, it was the male Flame-colored Tanager, back for his 6th summer that stole the show. This was the earliest date that he has arrived, as far as we know.

Pima Canyon is in Bloom!

On the afternoon of this past Thursday, March 27, I met up with my friends Jon and Tim for a hike up Pima Canyon. The trailhead is just over 6 miles from my house, so I rode my bike and met them there. We weren't really on a plant hike, but the winter rains have resulted in an amazingly lush growth and fantastic bloom throughout the canyon. We made it about 1.5 miles in and enjoyed a lunch of sandwiches and wine. I couldn't help but take photos of some of the wonderful blooming bushes.

Ragged Rockflower, Crossosoma bigelovii

Rosary Babybonnets, Coursetia glandulosa

Brittlebush, Encelia farinosa

Birding Together After 20 Years

On Wednesday March 26, I led a local tour for four birders around Southeastern Arizona. From dawn to well after dark (for owls), we logged 111 species. This wasn't just any group of birders, though. Twenty years ago, Patty (third from left) was my high school biology teacher. It's been a real treat for the two of us to get to know each other again in the past few years.

One of the funniest moments of the day was when we found this Woodhouse's Toad, singing while half buried in the mud. It was a very funny sound, like a sharp, buzzy whistle. Apparently, a birder before us had heard this and convinced herself she had heard an Elegant Trogon – just by going by the written description in the Sibley guide: "bwarr bwarr bwarr...." However, this was clearly only a "bwirrrrrrrrrrrrrr." I could mimic it somewhat, and it appeared that the toad was responding. And a second chimed in nearby as well.

The other tour particpants were Wayne, Patty's husband, and their friends Ralph and Sheri from Idaho.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Botanizing at Ironwood Forest National Monument

My friend Beth and I went botanizing in the Ironwood Forest National Monument northwest of Tucson today. We aimed first for the peak known as Ragged Top and ended up in the nearby Waterman Mountains. Wildflower diversity was high – I identified about 20 species, but the peak bloom was a bit past already, and it wasn't a grand display. But it was great fun. Here is a sampling of the plants we found (ID on some is a bit shaky, as I was keying them out using the 48-year-old Kearny & Peebles with no pictures; new names are from

Mirabilis laevis
, Wishbone-bush

Chorizanthe rigida
, Devil's Spineflower

Chorizanthe brevicornu
, Brittle Spineflower

Eriastrum diffusum
, Miniature Woolystar

Cryptantha maritima
, Guadalupe Cryptantha

Amsinckia menziesii, Common Fiddleneck

Phacelia crenulata
, Cleftleaf Wildheliotrope

Calliandra eriophylla
, Fairyduster

Eschscholzia californica
, California Poppy

Sphaeralcea laxa
, Caliche Globemallow

Castilleja exserta
, Exserted Indian Paintbrush

Lepidium lasiocarpum
, Shaggyfruit Pepperweed

Lesquerella gordoni
, Gordon's Bladderpod

Thelypodium lasiophyllum
, California Mustard

Rafinesquia neomexicana
, New Mexico Plumeseed

Antheropeas lanosum
, White Easterbonnets

Monoptilon bellioides
, Mojave Desertstar

Chaenactis stevioides
, Esteve's Pincushion

Chaenactis carphoclinia
, Pebble Pincushion

Finally, I digi-binned this Elegant Earless Lizard (I held my digital camera up to my binoculars).

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Common Black-Hawk Migration

This is my post to the AZ-NM birding e-mail list today:
Following up on Gavin's pretty astonishing report from yesterday, Brian Sullivan, Mich Coker and I arrived at Tubac at about 9:20, seeing our first COMMON BLACK-HAWK just as we turned east onto Bridge Road from the Frontage Road on the north side of Tubac. We first spent some time down near the ball fields but ended up returning to the same junction, which gave us a good view of the whole area. In a little over an hour we saw 42 (yes, forty-two) COMMON BLACK-HAWKS, all clearly migrating northward. The largest number in any one kettle was 14, but most were singletons to groups of 3. This must surely represent some sort of record, and was more than any of us have seen in our lifetimes. We also had about 3 ZONE-TAILED HAWKS in addition to other more expected raptors.
A combination of good timing and a bottled-up group of migrants waiting for perfect weather conditions were the main contributing factors. I forgot to mention we also had a Swainson's Hawk, only the second one reported this year.

Oven Barbecued Ribs Party

This past Monday's dinner party was a blast. I had a most awesome time and will have do this again soon.

This was originally going to be just 4 or 5 friends getting together at Gavin's, where I'd try out my oven-barbecued spare ribs for a second time (the first time at Mich's was a hit). Well, the invitation list got bigger and bigger – I think 12 people eventually showed up. We moved the venue to my place, and I bought three times the amount of ribs (more than 15 pounds – $55 worth) and cooked it both here and over at Gavin's (a few blocks away). I also made mashed potatoes and we turned it into a potluck and beer-wine fest. From left to right: Catherine, Dylan, Megan, and Gavin.

Snow-Like Sleet-Hail in the Desert

This photo is from this past Sunday, March 16. A late cold front passed through, bringing scattered showers and much cooler temperatures throughout Arizona. But this shower that turned our yard white was quite a surprise. I saw my first Lucy's Warbler of the year shortly after the shower ended.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Search for Ferruginous Pymgy-Owl

I've been back from Baja nearly a week and it was time to get out and commit some Natural History once again. So yesterday, March 12, at the suggestion of Keith Kamper, a bunch of us (including me, Dylan Radin, Jake Mohlmann, and Philip Kline) headed to the Altar Valley southwest of Tucson, wandering some of the remote back roads on and off the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge in search of Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl.

This is San Luis Wash. I had seen one in here several years ago on the Christmas Bird Count (my friend Gabe Martinez found it), and I know at least one other birder who went there and saw it subsequently. But that was years ago. Mid-day was probably not the best time of day to search, and we didn't find any.

We saw a few lizards but managed photos only of this one young Regal Horned Lizard. We saw four of them, all small ones (presumably last year's hatchlings).

I turned over a rock and found this Stripe-tailed Scorpion, Vaejovis spinigera, one of our commonest species. I read that its sting is painful but not dangerous. Probably like a wasp sting.

This large weevil (probably genus Cleonis, subfamily Lixinae, thanks to was sauntering down one of the desert washes.

There were a few wildflowers, including this Tuber Anemone, Anemone tuberosa...

...this Orcutt's Lupine, Lupinus concinnus...

...and this unknown flower, possibly a Phacelia.

Lots of interesting cacti there too. This is apparently the Arizona Spinystar, Escobaria vivipara (thanks to Philip for sleuthing it out)...

...while this is the famous Arizona Queen of the Night or Night-blooming Cereus, Peniocereus greggii, growing in the shade of a mesquite. I'd never seen one before, so I got pretty excited. Too bad it wasn't blooming.

Jake poses next to a Saguaro with a Gilded Flicker nesting cavity.

A desert mushroom.

PeƱitas Wash

Cerro Colorado Mountains