Saturday, July 21, 2007

Toad Love

We're off to Chihuahua in the morning (the Mexican state, not the dog), and I'm supposed to be printing out all the checklists and stuff we'll need for our group, but I just had to post about this. This afternoon and evening we finally got some serious precip - an inch and a half, accompanied by lots of flash and boom - and now the Couch's Spadefoot Toads are having an orgy in the wash in front of our house. Sounds like a flock of anguished sheep with bad head colds.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Fire and Rain

Oh, I've seen fire and I've seen rain...
- James Taylor

It's been a fire-and-rain week, with some wind thrown in for good measure. On Thursday, I noticed a couple of good-sized burned areas by the highway that runs parallel to the Huachuca Mountains. Cigarette, I thought, Damned smoking litterbugs. But no, it looks like another case of alcohol + testosterone = insanity. Seems that a couple of idiots, described by witnesses as one young and one middle-aged male, were cruising down the highway tossing lit fireworks out of their car every few yards. No structures were lost despite at least seven different sources of ignition, and the wildlife habitat will be the better for it, but I shudder to think of all the what-ifs.

And rain and wind, too. We're in the middle of a storm right now, and Tom's standing by our electronic rain monitor calling out the upward-creeping increments: "Eight hundredths...twelve hundredths...." A little storm yesterday dropped a trace of rain at our house (while we were gone, dammit!), but fearsome downbursts from far bigger tormentas put an early end to Friday's hummingbird banding session and almost kept us from getting into the theater to see Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (after seeing it, we wish it had - we'd have saved $13).

Today may be retroactively declared the first official day of the monsoon. Meterologists backdate to the first of three consecutive days when the dew point is 55° F. or higher. We're running a few days behind average, but it'll be okay if the storms don't fizzle out again, as they often have in recent years.

We're still riding pretty high off last summer's and winter's moisture. Most of the hummingbirds we caught at our two banding stations this week were juvies, and several showed good "baby fat," suggesting that they were well fed in the nest. But these babes and the southbound migrants already beginning to arrive will need more food, and that's going to take rain and plenty of it. Think wet thoughts...

Eight Random Facts

Ack! Amy Hooper of WildBird On The Fly has tagged us (and seven other bloggers) for the Eight Random Facts meme/pyramid scheme. Bloggers who accept the challenge must:

  • write a post with eight random facts/habits about themselves and the rules of the meme
  • at the end of that post, list eight other bloggers that they tag to write similar posts, likewise including the rules)
  • leave comments on the "tagees" blogs to warn them about the meme.
Coming up with eight facts is a piece of cake, but finding eight other bloggers we read who have yet to be tagged is going to be HARD! Of course these things can never really be random, but here goes:

1. A Northern Bobwhite protested at our wedding - not the "if anyone can show just cause why these two should not be joined" part (which we omitted from our self-administered vows), but just the fact that there was a crowd of people in his territory.

2. Our honeymoon was an intimate, romantic, five-week tropical biology field course to Belize with fifteen other people.

3. Tom found the first Siberian Tit nest in the U.S. in 1996 on a float trip down the Canning River with Pete and Linda Dunne, Clay and Pat Sutton, and Bob Dittrick and Lisa Moorehead of Wilderness Birding Adventures.

4. One of Sheri's favorite books of all time is One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish by Dr. Seuss, and she can recite it from memory on command.

5. Tom once had a pet otter named Gus (short for Augustus).

6. Sheri once headed up the North Texas Herpetological Society's Reptile Rescue program, intervening on behalf of such imperiled herps as a "7-foot python" that turned out to be a 5-foot Western Coachwhip and a real Ball Python abandoned in a condo.

7. Tom's high school garage band, The Guild, reunited for their 35th high school reunion and has played several gigs since, despite the fact that the members live in four states.

8. Sheri's first book, "published" at age 4, was a work of speculative natural history entitled Turtles of Tomorrow.

Now, we "tag" the following bloggers, hoping desperately that none of them get tagged by someone else before they moderate our blog comments:

  1. Bill of the Birds
  2. Scientist, Interrupted
  3. Nuthatch
  4. Don and Lillian Stokes
  5. Birds Etcetera
  6. NaturalVisions
  7. Born Again Bird Watcher
  8. Rhubarb

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

A Very Bisbee Fourth

Bisbee may be a small town, but it puts on one heck of a fireworks display for the Fourth. The Bisbee Fire Department is in charge of the event, and every year they choreograph a spectacular show with lots of old favorites and some new effects.

This year's show featured "chrysanthemums" that changed colors three times and shot single or double red "stars" out of their hearts; double rings of different colors both perpendicular to each other and in the same plane; half-and-half spheres with a globe of a third color inside; seemingly typical bursts whose trails expanded into thick, sinuous dreadlocks of shimmering champagne-colored sparks; and "serpentines" composed of a dozen or more red fireballs that zigzag off into the night like characters from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Way kewl!

And fireworks manufacturers are working with an increasingly sophisticated color palette these days. Turquoise, periwinkle, lemon, and marigold have joined the basic red, white, blue, green, and gold of my childhood memories. In between the patriotic red/white/blue shells came beauties that made it hard not to think of other seasons. A chrysanthemum terminating in multicolored pastel "stars" would have been perfect for Easter, a half green, half yellow globe looked like a celebration of spring (or an ad for Sprite), and of course there were plenty of red/green combos.

For southern Arizona, Independence Day often comes at the worst possible time to be shooting off sparks. Our summer "monsoon" begins sometime between late June and early July, so when the rains are late the Fourth falls during the hottest, driest week of the year (today's highs were 110° F in Tucson and 102 in Sierra Vista, though "only" 98 in Bisbee). But the firefighters have a virtually fireproof platform from which to launch the display, thanks to Bisbee's legacy as a mining town: the top of the Number 7 ore dump, conveniently located at the upper end of Vista Park. Nothing grows on the ore, so there's nothing up there to catch fire should a shell go astray (as some do every year). There are a few old wooden houses around the base of the ore pile, and I wouldn't be surprised if the occupants watch the show from their yards with a garden hose close at hand, charged and ready to go.

So the professional show is pretty safe for spectators and neighbors, but the same can't be said of the amateurs. Personal fireworks are illegal in Arizona, but that doesn't stop people from crossing the border into New Mexico to buy their own dangerous toys. One early July day shortly after we moved into our house, I heard a crackling sound and looked out the window to see six-foot flames crisping our newly planted desert willow tree. Some wayward bottle rocket had set a wildfire in our very own yard!

You might wonder, as I have, how all the noise and light of a fireworks display affects the local wildlife. I suspect that they take it in stride. After all, nature regularly puts on far scarier shows. Though our electronic rain gauge registered a inch of rain while we were away last week in Colorado, the "monsoon" hasn't officially started. Nevertheless, this evening the sky south and east of our neighborhood flashed with its own awesome fireworks.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Approval for Disapproving Rabbits

Our blogger buddy BirdChick's disapproving rabbits were touted in the "Weird Web" section of the latest Earthlink eLink newsletter! Maybe a few nonbirders that come for the bunnies will stay for the birdies.

Here, in honor of this new level of acclaim, is a disapproving lagomorph we encountered at a private home in southwestern Colombia, where we were teaching the field portion of a hummingbird banding workshop.