Tuesday, December 25, 2012

New Sprouts and New Pests and New Sowings

I fibbed: The sweetpea sprouts are up. In fact, against the south-facing border of the bed they are over a half-inch high already.

Then yesterday, on the opposite side of the bed, I noticed the tell-tale sign of a Valley Pocket-Gopher. Up against the wood frame was a golf ball-sized hole surrounded on three sides by very finely sifted soil. I can't see where it has eaten any of the plants (which they sometime pull down by the roots, just like in the cartoons), but I'm looking out for it. I don't know what I'll do if it becomes a problem; I don't think it will enter a typical live-trap. I smoothed over the little mound before I thought of getting a photo.

Then also yesterday I sowed some "summer" seeds that I meant to do fully 3 weeks ago. I really need to have a indoor grow light ready for them when they sprout, or I'll just have to bring them indoors every night. Summer is in quotes, as in the lower elevations of southern Arizona we grow our summer crops from March through May; after that it gets too hot for some things, especially tomatoes. But if you keep them watered through the summer, they'll start producing again in the fall when it cools down. These include some flowers for birds & bugs as well as a couple fragrant things I can't resist. Night-scented Stock would actually fall under the category of a winter crop, so I should have sown them in August for blooms in February.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Beware of the Chickens

They eat petunias. I would have never guessed. I've seen evidence of their nibblings on this and that, and they've not been so destructive in the past. But wow, look what happened while I was away on Christmas Bird Counts over the weekend.

These deep maroon petunias weren't quite at their peak, but they were quite lovely, starting to fill the pot (yes, winter is petunia season in Tucson). I doused them with fertilizer today and I have confidence that they'll view this as a hearty pruning, meant to strengthen their roots and as a reason to come back even more robust and beautiful. Then maybe I'll learn to give them a good pruning like this in the future.

I wonder what the eggs in the next days will taste like.

In other garden news, we had nearly an inch of rain in two systems that passed through on the 14th-15th and again on the night of December 18th. But by today things are already starting to wilt, and now the garden needs watering at least every other day until we get more rain. I planted some onion starts here and there amongst the burgeoning greens, given to me by my friend Beth. No sign of the sweet pea sprouts.

[Belated addendum; the hard freeze in late January killed the petunias before they could recover from the chickens' onslaught.]

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Finger Rock Canyon to Mount Kimball Megahike

In addition to organizing 130 or so participants in 27 teams for the Tucson Valley Christmas Bird Count this past Sunday, I was a participant myself, covering Area 15 – Mount Kimball. This is a famous hike among local outdoor enthusiasts. It's known for not being terribly complex or requiring special skills, but it is unrelentingly steep in long stretches. In just 5.3 miles, it climbs 4225 feet – a similar elevation change as the from the Rim Village to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. I was joined by my friend Andrew Broan for what was to be a 10-hour, 11-mile, 6200-calorie-burning hike through gorgeous desert, pinyon-oak woodland, and oak-ponderosa pine forest with a stunning view of desert lowlands below. A moist cold front had just passed through, the last shower ending just before dawn, and the highest elevations on our route were under 4-6 inches of snow. We saw several species rarely, if ever, spotted in the Tucson Valley: Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Black-chinned Sparrow, Yellow-eyed Junco, Mexican Jay, Arizona Woodpecker, Olive Warbler, Bushtit, Bridled Titmouse, and White-breasted Nuthatch. We also had the bonus of a Whiskered Screech-Owl responding vocally to my whistled imitation in broad daylight. It only hooted once, but that's all it takes.

Here is a long, chronological series of photos from the day.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge CBC

Yesterday I was a participant on a Christmas Bird Count that is just to the west of the Atascosa Highlands CBC circle, which I've compiled the past four years. I did this CBC about 10 years ago with a couple friends, and I remember the Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl that Gabe spotted as the best bird of the count.

This time I was with John Reuland, a CBC addict like me. He's doing three this weekend.

We had mostly very open habitats, almost no water (except for rain that got us wet and cold).

But these gorgeous fields were full of Ammodramus sparrows, and we managed to see several well enough to ID. Most were Grasshopper Sparrows, but one Baird's Sparrow sat obligingly on the ground for me. (It scurried off before John got good looks.)

We had some brushy washes, and this Santa Margarita Wash was particularly full of birds, such as a pair of Crissal Thrashers, Rufous-winged Sparrows, and Pyrrhuloxia. I tried my hand at digibinning with my new Canon PowerShot G15.

Another attempt here with a Plumbeous Vireo, one of our better finds. It's hard to digibin birds that are constantly on the move.

This is a view of Arivaca Wash, a big weedy BFZ (bird-free zone), except here on the edge where there were mesquites and some fruiting hackberry trees. In one dense patch here we found a group of 4 Long-eared Owls.

We saw some other nice stuff, such as 4 Antelope Jackrabbits and a couple of these really interesting mushrooms that release spores from the top of their cap.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Christmas Bird Counts Are My Life

While tending my garden, attending potlucks, celebrating friends' birthdays, enjoying a wonderful Thanksgiving in Mississippi, and banding hummingbirds in the yard have been some minor activities over the past weeks, my life has been dominated by the two Christmas Bird Counts that I'm organizing.

Tucson Valley Christmas Bird Count (blog here) is scheduled for Sunday, Dec 16, and as of this moment we have 119 birders in 27 teams as well as 6 feeder watchers. There should be 50 feeder watchers, but many don't know about the CBC.

Atascosa Highlands Christmas Bird Count (blog here) will be on Saturday, December 22, and the 21 teams of 71 birders will have a very different experience than the Tucson Valley counters. It's virtually all wilderness. In fact, I can scarcely think of two circles in US so close to each other (58.5 miles center-to-center; or 43.5 miles edge-to-edge) with such radically different characters as AZTV and AZAH.

Larry Norris and Brian Walsh have been banding hummingbirds on a nearly weekly basis in the back yard for the past month, and I've been here for all but one session. Yesterday we recaptured a banded female Anna's Hummingbird that had been banded a couple months earlier some 55 miles south of here at Sonoita Creek State Natural Area. She was first recaptured here in mid-November, so it looks like this is where she's decided to spend the winter.

Then last Wednesday, my friend Brian McKnight and I made an honest attempt to get a record late date for Chiricahua White (Neophasia terlooii) in Madera Canyon. It was warm and beautiful, but no whites. We did see a few Painted Ladies, Southern Dogfaces, a Common Buckeye, and Ceraunus Blue. We hike up Old Baldy and down the Super Trail, a good 3-hour workout.

This is looking down from the Super Trail to the NW, over the Madera Canyon bajada, Green Valley, and the blight of copper mine taling and slurry piles.

Looking the other direction up at Mount Wrightson (9470 feet, 2885 meters), with the lush Bellows Spring Canyon dropping down towards us.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Garden Update: Sweetest Peas

No photo today; just a place holder and calendar item. Yesterday I sowed about 170 Sweet Pea (Lathyrus odoratus) seeds, which I had soaked for 24 hours and inoculated with a bacterial booster. About 115 were Pink Cupid, an 18-inch tall heirloom variety that will surround the perimeter of my winter veggie garden. The remaining 55 were High Scent, which grows to 4-6 feet tall, right underneath my office/bedroom window. I can barely stand the wait.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Garden Update: Five-and-a-half Weeks

I'm tickled pink with the progress of my garden. OK, it's not perfect. Somehow the carrot and onions didn't sprout as well as I thought they should (did I plant the seeds too deep?). But this photo from this morning shows the progress 5 weeks and 4 days after sowing. The plants in the foreground are actually the starts given to me, and the arugula (rocket) and spinach are ready to be used. The plants in rows on the right are the ones I sowed, and in the far corner are the starts that I began in a tray a couple days beforehand and kept indoors for a few days – spinach, chervil, kale, broccoli, and parsley. I don't think the two days head start (plus transplanting a couple days ago) did them any favors.

You can't see it in this photo, but there are four nasturtium seedlings that have come up as well. They'll add some nice, edible color to the garden.

In the lower right corner you can see a bit of the frost cloth that I've cut to size. I'll be sewing (extremely coarsely) three pieces together and stapling the edges to some wood that I bought to weigh it down and give it some shape. Who knows when I'll need it. I think this is the longest, warmest fall I have ever experienced here, with lows in the low 40's and highs in the upper 70's F. We've had one light frost that did no damage to even the most tender plants. Nor did it budge the whitefly.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Eastern Screech-Owl at Bentsen

This Eastern Screech-Owl was seen by the 38 participants on this morning's Lower Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival field trip to Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park. It apparently roosts right next to the road on many days, but some days it goes to another spot that apparently isn't visible from the road. We were lucky today.

We saw lots of the valley's specialties here, especially at the feeders maintained by the state park. These Green Jays created lots of oohs and aahs.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Birding in The Lower Rio Grande Valley

I'm in Harlingen, Texas for five days of leading field trips for the excellent Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival. The first two days have been great. Yesterday I did one of the "Big Day" field trips with Willie Sekula. We tallied 131 species from Estero Llano Grande to South Padre Island, including lots of Harris's Hawks, a Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, and a Black-throated Gray Warbler. At Estero we ran into my friends Sophie Webb, Michael O'Brien, Louise Zemaitis, and Shawneen Finnegan leading a sketching workshop.

Today, John Arvin and I were joined by our participants on a boat ride on the bay from Port Isabel. Here's George Colley pointing out a pair of Peregrine Falcons on a tower. Best bird of the day was a gorgeous male Mangrove Warbler.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Week 1 Garden Update and Another Hobby Revealed

The garden's coming right along, thanks. The first seedlings popped their pair of cotyledons out of the soil surface on DAY 3, which is right up my instant-gratification alley. It was the row of mustard spinach, so that's what you should plant if you hate waiting.

This is what it looks like after a week. The foreground is the bed of randomly planted starts from my friend Greg. Turnips, mustards, beets, and mache are all up, but the only visible lettuce is rouge d'hiver. No sign of the carrots yet, despite our daily highs in the mid 80's to around 90°F all this past week.

My other non-bird hobby:
I'm almost surprised to have noticed that I've never mentioned my knitting on this blog. I guess I've been subconsciously trying to stick to a theme to match my screen name of "Birdernaturalist," but this is MY blog, after all. So I come out of the closet yet another time:  for the past 2 1/2 years I've been addicted to knitting. I have a Ravelry profile, and I have a stash. I rarely come out of a yarn shop empty handed. Mostly socks are my thing, but I've knitted scarfs, hats, dish rags, hot pad holders, a cardigan, and a camisole. I knit on the plane, in the airport, and even some evenings during trips. I knit each weekday while listening to Democracy Now with Amy Goodman.

This are one of my latest projects, a gift for a friend, entirely knitted while on the scouting/fam trip in Ecuador and Peru this past month. The yarn itself was a gift, a self-striping dye pattern that is supposed to have the colors of the olympic flag. For every metal won by the US team in London this past summer, the price of the yarn would drop by a few cents.

I had no idea what how the yarn would knit up, given what it looked like rolled up in a ball.

One last bit of birdernaturalist news: While I was sitting in the yard this week a Red Crossbill flew over. Will we have some on the CBC?

Friday, November 2, 2012

Another Rock Corral Canyon Visit

This past Tuesday I led a Tucson Audubon Society field trip to Rock Corral Canyon in SE Arizona's Tumacacori Mountains. I like this place more and more each time I visit it.

The 2-mile road in has a rather steep spot with loose rock which (it turns out) requires a 4-wheel-drive vehicle to ascend – not just high clearance. Luckily we had enough 4x4 cars for all 13 of us to fit in, and, passing many Rufous-winged Sparrows along the way, arrived at the main parking area in a mesquite bosque.

Birding began right away, with Bewick's Wren, Hermit Thrush, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Gray Flycatcher (heard) and a very late Black-chinned Hummingbird all coming in to my imitations of Western Screech-Owl and pishing.

Just up the canyon was a Golden Eagle hopping and creeping on the ground on the opposite hillside. We must have surprised it after its breakfast of cottontail or ground squirrel.

Just as we crossed the threshold into the Atascosa Highlands CBC circle, Sue Carnahan heard a gnatcatcher. A bit of pishing and owl imitations brought it in – a female Black-capped! Already, the best bird of the day, and we had just started.

In addition to the 40 species of birds we netted (checklist at eBird), we looked at butterflies, bugs, and flowers.

This stand of Anoda abutiloides, Indian Anoda was a good find.

On it were this Erichson's White-Skipper and a runt Desert Checkered-Skipper.

We puzzled over this fuzzy understory plant, but Sue and I put out instincts together and eventually figured it out: Iresine heterophylla, Standley's Bloodleaf, in the amaranth family.

Another semi-tropical plant is the acanth Tetramerium nervosum, Hairy Fournwort, but we didn't find any of its exotic butterfly feeder, the Elf. We did see another rarity though – a Mimosa Yellow came into a flowering Trixis for some of us.

Despite there being very little water in this canyon, we saw a few dragonflies and this spreadwing damselfly, Archilestes californicus, California Spreadwing.