October and finally cooling off. This brings on the Plains Lubber (Brachystola magma), an interesting flightless grasshopper. One of the largest grasshoppers, at about 3". Note the tiny pink wings and elegant blue head. Nice touch. They are walking across the road, all over the grasslands.

While looking through images of birds taken by a wildlife camera at the shallow water puddle we maintain, one could see these lubbers walk up to the puddle and take a drink. One even walked through the puddle.

Most hummingbirds are gone, a few Broad-billed Hummingbirds visit. Otherwise, the winter birds:

Chipping Sparrows- 10-20                      House Finches - 5-10 (mob has moved on)
Lesser Goldfinch - 10-20                        Yellow-rumped Warbler- few
Mexican Jays- group of ~10                   Red-naped Sapsucker -2 ?
Northern Flicker- 2                                 Gilded Flicker - 2?
Acorn Woodpecker- 2.                            Gila Woodpecker- 2?
White Breasted Nutha…

Some Monsoon Flowers

The knee-high grasses include a variety of flowers, including these Echeandia flavescens (Torrey's Craiglily). The pistil emerges from a dark green cylinder, with six anthers tightly attached along the sides of the cylinder. 

Widespread, Evolvulus arizonicus, (Arizona Blue Eyes) flowers open in the morning and close later in the heat of the day. Individual flowers are strung out on a long vine-like stem and may only last a day or so. 

Oenothera spp. (Evening Primroses) have very odd chromosomes. Instead of tidy pairs, they occur as circles. The pistil (stigma/style) on this short-lived flower forms an X and is relatively huge. 

We Walk in Beauty

July 31, 2017. About 3 pm, views to south across the Sonoita Plain.  Santa Rita Mountains, Sonoita Plains Oak woodland. 
Whetstones, Mustangs and Huachuca Mountains, Sonoita Plains
Huachucas, Canelo Hills, Sonoita Plain, Red Mountain

Bats at Hummingbird Feeders

With the monsoons, we reduce the amount of sucrose mix we put in our hummingbird feeders so it only lasts during the day, but leaves a bit for the bats to finish off at night. Yes, the bats. There are two kinds of bats that come to the feeders. Both can hover very quietly, and if we walk near the feeders when they are present, they fly around us and never touch us. They are like gray ghosts, flying around our shoulders. Just a slight whoosh of wingbeats. Here is a movie clip from last night. They feed in "flocks" I guess you would call them. My trail cam took fuzzy images of them from about 9:30 pm to 1 am when the sugar solution ran out. One or a few bats every few minutes all night.

After many attempts, I got some photos. If Hoffmeister's key is good, the lack of any evident tail means these are the Mexican Long-nosed Bat (Leptonycteris nivalis ).

The white bar at the bottom of the nectar bottle is 30.6 mm across. By proportion, the forearms of the bats are small, 46 t…

Monsoons Arrive, Grasses and Oaks Green Again

July 2, 2017
     After a record number of wildland fires in the surrounding grasslands, reflecting the growth in population in the area, a soaking rain of nearly one inch in two hours was very welcome. Harsh white hazy afternoon light is replaced by the gentle afternoon sky of deep gray. And by July 14, the native grasses have filled last years leaves with water and chlorophyll and new leaves are emerging.
      After the rain, just before sunset:

   ...same place a week later.

Our Mexican Blue Oaks, along with Emory Oaks, dropped most leaves in March. While the Emory Oaks soon had leaves, the Mexican Blue Oaks  (Quercus oblongifolia) kept a few leaves, but only now break most buds, after the monsoon rains arrive. As in April, these buds attract the local warblers who are gleaning the flowers for small insects. 

Even in the yellow light of sunset, there is pink or red cast to the Mexican Blue oak leaves in bud and just emerging and enlarging. 

Jatropha macrorhiza

Emerging at the hottest, driest time of the year. Ever hopeful. Thank you again to Linda Kennedy at the Audubon Research Ranch for verification of the identification. Odd how names of people and plants you see only once a year seem to become more difficult to retrieve. Age or something, eh?

Jatropha macrorhiza. A common name might be Ragged Nettlespurge. The leaves get much, much larger. Shiny green pollinating insect is unknown. The plant has a very large root which allows it to emerge using stored water and carbohydrates from the root. If it rains, it will make up more food, and disappear for another year.

Here is the same plant, all new flowers, new leaves (BIG) on July 14 after the rains have started:

Long Term (1858-2017) Rainfall on Sonoita Plains

So, back in the 1980s at the Research Ranch, where we lived, I often heard that "you should have seen this country in the old days". It either was a swamp, a desert or anything but what it was then, particularly with regard to rainfall. Nothing was more discussed than the rainfall. But rarely were discussions based on data.

Earlier, I mentioned that David Ellis in Patagonia asked me about the water wells around here. Will they continue to provide water along Sonoita Creek? I turned to colleagues at the University of Arizona's Critical Zone Observatory. They are studying how rain percolates into ground water in the basin and range country of the southwest. Research on Sonoita Creek shows that rainfall can contribute to water wells, but that the larger source tapped by wells is ground water that can be quite old (Gu, A., F. Gray, C. J. Eastoe, L. M. Norman, O. Duarte and A. Long. 2008. Tracing ground water input to base flow using sulfate (S, O) isotopes. Grou…

Bird Skeleton, Fire Starts, Ash/Dust Devils

Only very rarely have I found a bird skeleton in the grasslands. Generally birds disappear quickly to larger scavengers, including our skunks, foxes, coyotes, bobcats, hawks and ravens. Walking along today, this house finch was hard to miss. Just out in the hot, dry grama grass. Virtually all the tiny bones are there, picked clean by ants and beetles and microbes, leaving the feather as dry as the oak leaves.

Just north of Sonoita, with a view to the east over the Las Cienegas, we saw two lightning strikes yesterday about 2 pm and almost immediately, two columns of smoke. Soon to be the "Smith Fire", extinguished in the late afternoon included about 1800 ac. Grasslands lack trees and shrubs often because they burn with a natural fire return frequency often enough to reduce trees and shrubs. Between fires and the dry summer hot winds, and winter cold dry winds, grasses are fine. Trees and shrubs (except mesquite) not so much.

View of a dust devil filled with ash over the…

June Fire

As we go into the dry season, when the winds of the Sonoita plains come often, any fire in the grasslands can grow quickly. When we lived near Elgin in the 1980s, when maybe the population of was under 200 between Sonoita and Elgin, most fires were started by lightning. So, fires generally occurred during July and dwindled in August as the monsoon rains greened the grasslands. But now with the growth in population, fires have become noticeably more frequent. The 40,000ac Sawmill fire was caused by a person. On June 1, another human-caused fire, Kellogg Fire, scorched 750 acres in a few hours. Sonoita is a FireWise community and remarkably few structures were lost. By removing fuel around structures, out to about 50-75 feet, by mowing the grass, removing brush and trimming up trees most of these grassland fires quickly burn around the structures. Some photos:

The fire jumped the highway here, near the fairgrounds. Cooked the sign.

Fast response by the Sonoita-Elgin Fire Protection Dist…