Friday, November 25, 2016

Christmas Bird Count Prep 1 – Pima Canyon

In preparation for the Tucson Valley Christmas Bird Count on December 14 (for which I’m the primary compiler), this past Saturday I made a workout of biking to and hiking Pima Canyon, in the foothills just a few miles north of where I live. I’m planning on doing the Finger Rock Canyon trail to Mt. Kimball and back, which is the distance and elevational change equivalent of hiking into the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back. One should be fit, and that I am not.

That day was the day of Tucson’s largest annual biking event, El Tour de Tucson, and as I biked up First Ave and approached Ina Road, part of the race’s route, I came across this incredibly stupidly placed sign alerting northbound drivers to expect exceptional bike traffic ahead. It’s impossible for me to put myself in head of the county worker who placed this sign, completely blocking the bike path for any cyclists not part of the race. Could he have not been aware that was a bike lane? Or unaware that people bike in Tucson other than on that single day? I’m convinced that headlines such as “Tucson region receives 'Gold Award' as bicycle friendly community” are completely spurious political favors and have no basis in reality. But don’t get me started. Yes, I moved the sign, after the city police prepared to direct traffic at the intersection ahead shrugged their shoulders and said "not my problem – that's a county road." If was mad to begin with, I became furious.

It was indeed a good workout, and I pumped the frustration out of my circulation, biking almost entirely uphill all the way, followed by a rigorous hike of 1 ¼ miles through hilly desert before I reached birdable riparian habitat. Here’s a view of the most lush section of canyon bottom with two kinds of willow and Fremont Cottonwood, among a huge diversity of shrubs and vines.

This is where I located this Bell's Vireo, almost certainly the same bird that Paul Suchanek had in this area the past two winters. Though he only had it while scouting before the Christmas Bird Count last year, we had bad weather on the CBC day, making finding birds difficult. When he found it on the CBC two years ago, it was the first in the Tucson Valley CBC’s 44-year history. I think there are only a couple other winter records for elsewhere in SE Arizona. This bird lacks the bright yellow flanks and greener back of the eastern subspecies, so I’d guess that it comes from the northern edge of the SW subspecies’ breeding range in Utah or Nevada and anomalously migrates just this far.
Bell's Vireo, Pima County, Arizona

Bell's Vireo, Pima County, Arizona

Bell's Vireo, Pima County, Arizona

I pished and tooted up a few mixed flock of residents and winter birds. The Black-tailed Gnatcatchers are here year-round and have apparently had very good breeding success recently – I tallied 16 on my eBird submission.
Black-tailed Gnatcatcher

I had only about three Rufous-crowned Sparrows, but they are at the lower edge of their elevational range here (they don’t know the elevation, but their distinctive preferred habitat of open brushy and rocky slopes with bunch grasses is more continuous higher up).
Rufous-crowned Sparrow

A Spotted Towhee was either a local altitudinal migrant or a medium-distance migrant from the northern tier of US states or southern Canada; I suspect the latter, but I don’t think you can tell from the plumage characteristics here.
Spotted Towhee

It’s been unbelievably warm with no real cold fronts yet this season, so arthropods were in full abundance. This is Archilestes grandis, the Great Spreadwing.
Archilestes grandis, Great Spreadwing

The larger of these two wasps on Coreocarpus arizonicus, Little Lemonhead is a female in the family Scoliidae and genus Campsomeris. I have no idea about the other, but it might be a male of the same species.
Campsomeris sp. scoliid wasp

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Another Blog from Home – Garden, Moths, Knitting, Bread, and Wine

I got home from my private tour to Amazonian Ecuador and a short scouting trip to SE Peru just over two weeks ago, and time has flown by. I’ve sorted my photos and weeded out thousands of useless ones, but that still leaves 1505 photos, many of which I still haven’t even labeled. I’ll be posting here some eventually.

Despite the incredibly depressing election news, and a few days of severe morosity that resulted in my inability to do anything productive (you may not be a racist and a bigot if you voted for Trump, but you are an intellectually inept moron, not deserving of American citizenship), life has slowly resumed a normal pace if not with normal expectations for the future. My garden had mixed success, but overall positive, and I’m certain my work on the soil will have benefits for months to come. It turns out that many vegetable seeds don’t live long in the unprotected environment of my house; maybe the warm, humid monsoon is bad for them. But almost everything from freshly-ordered seed this past late summer sprouted abundantly, and just thinning the rows of mizuna, bok choy, and arugula seedlings provided me with a two big, delicious salads. Here’s what the garden looked like 31 days after sowing it.

The I’itoy onions went berserk, nasturtiums and snow peas had 100% and very rapid success, and all the sweet peas around the perimeter did well. Most of the things from the previous garden that I tried to transplant didn’t survive the trip – four days in a wheelbarrow (watered and covered with straw to protect them) was just too much of a shock – one red Salvia, two peppers, and the native Penstemon parryi are all that are left. All of the snapdragons, marigolds, and Monarda I put in as young starts from the general garden store were fine. But that still left many rows of soaker hose without any winter veggies. So the day after I got back from Peru I ordered more seeds from Nichols Garden Nursery of Albany, Oregon, my favorite source of seeds for their huge variety of heirloom and organic seeds. I sowed the seeds as soon as they arrived, and the first poked their heads out 5 days later. Here’s the garden yesterday, 39 days after the original sowing and 9 days after the second sowing.

I’ve regularly been checking the front porch light for moths, and from the signs of nibbles in all of the plants around the yard, there should be plenty around. But most are probably micromoths that go undetected. Here are two larger ones that I was able to ID:

Tornos erectarius, a native Geometrid.

Noctua pronuba, Large Yellow Underwing, an introduced species not yet with any records from Arizona on Bugguide.

I haven’t been able to knit much in recent months, but I finally finished two hats I’ve been working on extremely slowly since late May (there’s a sweater I’m designing and is about 3 years behind schedule, so I try not to start anything new). I’ve already given these away as gifts to my friends Matt and Sarah.

I’ve also put my new rye bread book to use: this is the Pumpkinseed Rye Bread.

Finally, I had a mini pizza and wine-tasting party last weekend, with only about 10 friends instead of the 60+ last time. I now have a tiny fridge and just can’t hold enough of the dough to hold a huge party any more. The surprise this time is that all of the wines were boxes.

The winning wine after ranking all of the scores was #5: The Naked Grape Cabernet Sauvignon.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Packing It In At Home

With just over two weeks at home in Tucson, I packed in quite a few activities before heading for a three-week trip to Ecuador and Peru – dinner with friends, a couple birding outings, working in the garden, and even a quick jaunt to Utah to visit family.

One of the local outings was to Finger Rock Canyon on the northern edge of Tucson for my friend Kim’s twelve-year-old daughter Dawn, who is uncommonly keen about bugs for a pre-teen girl. I enlisted the help of my friend Margarethe Brummermann, who really knows her bugs, to help encourage Dawn’s interest by taking her out on her first bugging walk. It was pretty dry and hot, there was not a ton of activity, and like any girl her age she often got bored and impatient. But when we found something, Dawn was energized. Here she is with a Mexican Bush Katydid.

She had an amazing eye for spotting little things, such as this tiny nymph of what Margarethe suspected was a plant bug.

There were plenty of fascinating bees and wasps finding nectar at blooming dodder and a buckwheat plant, but Dawn was afraid of them – while dashing after to grab grasshoppers and almost any other bug. She waited impatiently for me to take photos of these grasshoppers, which she is still learning how to hold without letting them slip away.

Rhammatocerus viatorius, Traveller Grasshopper
Rhammatocerus viatorius, Traveller Grasshopper

Horesidotes cinereus, Ash-gray Range Grasshopper
Horesidotes cinereus, Ash-gray Range Grasshopper

It was a lovely area in any event. Here’s looking upcanyon towards the namesake and then downcanyon over Tucson.

I also had a great morning of birding, the first I’ve done in Arizona since the Pine Flycatcher in early June, with my friends Keith and Patty along the Santa Cruz River just south of Tumacacori. We found a Black-and-white Warbler, of which I got a lousy photo.
Black-and-white Warbler

With it was a trio of vireos: Huttons’, Cassin’s, and this Plumbeous.
Plumbeous Vireo

We saw many other great birds (Gray Hawk, Painted and Varied Buntings), but as we walked down the stream bed (in rubber boots), I got distracted by the diversity of odonates – at least six species of damselflies and two dragonflies were present at once, and I got photos of the following:

Argia nahuana, Aztec Dancer
Argia nahuana, Aztec Dancer

Argia pallens, Amethyst Dancer
Argia pallens, Amethyst Dancer

Argia sedula, Blue-ringed Dancer
Argia sedula, Blue-ringed Dancer

Hetaerina americana, American Rubyspot
Hetaerina americana, American Rubyspot

A lifer for me was this Copaeodes minima, Southern Skipperling, which used to be only very rare in the state but has apparently staged an invasion the past couple of years near the border. From reports I could find online, this might be the farthest north so far though.
Copaeodes minima, Southern Skipperling

My trip to Utah was spurred by the birth of my neice Cherice’s baby this past February, whom I hadn’t met yet. This happy, amazingly adorable cherub, looking like a China doll even in real life is Bentley Eolah Erkkila, my sister’s fifth grandchild.

It was good to see the whole family, here my sister, her husband, and their five daughters. The other four grandkids were playing around the house.

I also visited my brother and his family, and failed to get any photos there, except for the morning I went out birding at Farmington Bay the day before the weather was supposed to get bad. I found a Lesser Black-backed Gull there (the larger, darker gull with yellow legs; the others are California Gulls), which wasn’t quite as rare as I had thought. Ten years ago it would have had all the state listers there in a flash, but now they expect two or three each year.
Lesser Black-backed Gull

I still have to spend time looking up most grasshoppers I find, but this one I recognized right away, Melanoplus differentialis, Differential Grasshopper, based on those distinctive black herringbone marks on the femur.
Melanoplus differentialis, Differential Grasshopper

Speaking of grasshoppers, while running errands at home, I often bike though a neighborhood about 1/2 mile south of me we call the “dirt road neighborhood.” Parcels are several acres, one-story houses are set well off the roads, and the habitat is largely the original cactus and creosote bush desert scrub that once covered countless square miles of the valley here. It’s now an extremely rare island in the urban sprawl filled with introduced Mediterranean, South African, and Australian plants. Every time I passed through here on my bicycle (remember, I don’t own a car), I heard a distinctive clicking I didn’t recognize, and I finally stopped once and found a few of these small grasshoppers holding territories in individual creosote bushes (Larrea divaricata var. tridentata). It didn’t take too much time to find that they are Ligurotettix coquilletti, the Desert Clicker Grasshopper.
Ligurotettix coquilletti, Desert Clicker Grasshopper

They were easy to approach and find, continuing to click at close quarters, unlike most insects that stop at the first sign of danger. If you get too close, these little orthopterans do hop and fly, but unlike most grasshoppers, they are lightning fast and land with the precision of a fly on a tiny twig on the opposite side of the bush. I had never seen anything like it in a grasshopper, some of which bonk into trees or land in rivers in their typically random escape methods. These then begin clicking again within a minute, certain of their ability to evade the next predatory attempt. It took me several tries of catching one before I got one for closer photos of the entire bug. I returned later with my camera, tripod, and sound recording equipment (a Sennheiser ME67 microphone and Olympus LS14 digital recorder), and made this video. The camera does record sound with the video, but it’s not very good, so I learned to use iMovie to replace the camera’s video sound with the file I made with my superior recording equipment. I was rather pleased with the outcome.

To complete the blog, here’s a single photo of the halfway point of the rejuvenation of my winter vegetable garden. It’s only 91 square feet (10 x 10 minus a 3 x 3 square to accommodate the agave), but it took most of four days to do a “double dig” that felt more like a “triple dig.” It basically involved removing all the mesquite rootlets that rob the water before anything else can get it by digging at least two feet down. I then incorporated five large bags of peat moss to add badly needed organic material, added four more lines of drip hose, replanted the few plants that had been struggling along (a tomato, three peppers, a Thai basil), and then sowed seeds of 27 kinds of winter veggies. Timer set to water it for 45 minutes each day, then off to Ecuador and Peru.