Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Desert Thunderheads

Each summer I marvel at the beautiful thunderheads and other clouds we get here on the desert. They come up almost every afternoon. On rare occasions they turn very dark, almost black, spit out lightning bolts and if we are really lucky we get a few minutes of a downpour of rain. The kind the Navajo Indians call 'male rains'. The kind that last only a few minutes but can cause flashfloods that do a lot of damage to the land, make new arroyos and, and cause a few deaths when people don't pay attention and try to cross deep water in ditches. Mostly we get 'female rain'. The light rains that are mostly just a few sprinkles.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Hawks and Quail

We get lots of birds on our little patch of desert land. I'm sure there were lots of birds here before there were houses and people but I couldn't help but encourage them to come back after we moved in. As pre my last post we do have hummingbirds. As these pics show we also have lots of hawks that come through. We get a lot of hawks when they are migrating through. This young Cooper's hawk flew in one afternoon and let me come right under our willow tree, where it was resting. I took several of it in the tree, then a couple of it when it flew over on part of the horse pen. The next morning, when I was feeding the horses, the hawk and another one like it flew over my head and circled over some nearby vacant lots for a few minutes, I assume they were looking for rats or rabbits but didn't find any. A week or so later a hawk that looked the same flew into the willow tree again and then dived into the big pear tree near my front door. Seconds later it came out with a sparrow clutched in one foot. That tree is where all the sparrows have 2 very large community nests and they roust there at nigh. With one of the sparrows taken by the hawk they were upset and noisy all day. Can't blame them, but the hawk has to eat, too. I have seen lots of Red-tailed hawks here as well, and one something that looked more like a falcon. We have some of the small sparrow hawks that seem to stay here year round. We gave several kinds of owls in our neighborhood but of course they are hard to get pictures of since they are usually only out at night. There are a couple of great horned owls that we hear a lot in the late winter and early spring when they are mating. There are some barn owls and the cute little borrowing owls but I haven't seen any of them lately.

 One of our resident mockingbirds sat by the rain gage the other day as if he were checking it out and disgusted that we have had so little rain right here even with other parts of the state getting more.
 A young scaled quail getting a drink.
This has been the first time we have had Gamble's quail or California quail show up. These 2 have hung around all summer. Normally we only get the scaled quail as shown in the rest of the photos of the quail. The scaled quail don't have the little topknots on their heads and aren't quite as large. Glad to see the Gamble's but wonder were they came from as I have only seen them in the southern part of the state and west into Arizona and California before.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

More Hints about Hummers

Thought I would add a few more hints about feeding hummingbirds. We see more and more of the tiny birds at the feeders because there are fewer and fewer of the wild flowers that the birds always got their nectar from before. One of the best ways to attract hummers to your yard is to plant flowers and scrubs that will draw the hummers in. I have a hard time keeping the flowers that they like here in the desert. I do grow lots of morning glories. The birds go to the big blue and pink blossoms but I don't think they get much from them. The same can be said for both the tame and the wild sunflowers we have. The birds go to the zinnias but don't seem to like what they find. One of the best plants for attracting hummers are trumpet vine. Most of these vines are orange but some are more red and some are yellow. It doesn't seem to matter what color they are. The birds like them and they are easy to grow. (except in my yard). Another favorite of the hummers are butterfly bushes and bottlebushes. Other plants are bee balm, honeysuckle, sage, red hot pokers, desert willow, and poinseina or bird of paradise. Also salvias, yuccas, and daylilies.
    So since there are fewer and fewer flowers for the birds we need to feed them so they are fat enough and healthy enough to make the migration to Central and South America for the winter. In hanging the feeders I have found several problems. Ants are one of the worst problems. It seems like regardless where I hang my feeders they ants find them. I have learned the best thing is simply to move the feeder to a different place when you find the feeder full of ants. I mostly hang the feeders on tree branches that I can reach. Any time I see ants in a feeder I empty and clean and refill it and hang it in a different tree. You can try a different branch in the same tree but the ants will find it sooner. Another way to keep the ants out is to put something like a cheep mentholatum or vicks around the base of the tree or on the bottom part of a metal pole if that is what you are using. (this can also help with squirrels, or those large termites that eat fence posts that are better known as horses or ponies.)
    Another problem can be bees and wasps. The hummers don't like them and will try to chase them off. Usually it's not that bad a problem here and I can tolerate the stingers. If you don't really bother them they usually won't bother you. If you swat at them and swing your hands and arms around they are more apt to get upset and sting. I got stung this year by a small bee for the first time in many years and I am not sure what I did to upset the bee. When changing out the feeders is usually when you will encounter the bees the most. One way to get around that is to change out the feeders in the evening after dark. Bees and birds will have gone to bed by then. I do this as often as I can remember to do it.
   If anyone has other tricks or hints for carring for these tiny, wonderful little birds I would be interested to hear them.

Friday, August 12, 2016


I am doing a post on the hummingbirds we have in our yard and I guess I should have started with the photo of the nest with the 2 tiny little eggs in it which is photo number 4. The second picture is of a new hatchling before it has any feathers or has it's eye's open. These are not the best photos as I didn't want to bother these little babies to much or their mama. 1st pic is of the 2 babies as they were starting to get their feathers and their eyes were open here. In this pic I think they are a sleep. The 3rd pic is of a different nest in my neighbors yards that had only one chick in it. We did find 2 other nest but they were not used. The nest were about the 2 inches across when first built but seemed to stretch a bit as the chicks grew. They were made out of bits and pieces of plants including a few tiny bits of wood. The female would sort of glue them together with spider webs. I would watch her gather the spider web off of the outside of my windows with her long bill. I used to wash the spider webs off of the windows ever week or so since we seem to have an over load of granddaddy longlegs spiders but while they were building nests I left the spider webs up. My neighbor had painted an old table green that sits on her back porch and now the paint is starting to peel off, and we noticed bits of green flakes off of the table in the nests.

 I have used feeders with out the perch on them and some with and the birds seem to prefer the feeders with the perch so they can rest while feeding. I noticed the youngsters really prefer them. Also the feeders with the perch are easier to clean as they have a wider opening for reaching inside to make sure you get all of any mold that might start forming in the feeder. I use the smallest feeders I can buy and change the food almost daily. Other wise in the warm or hot weather of summer mold can form quickly. If you don't keep the mold out the hummers can get sick and die. I only have about 6 or 7 birds most summers but my sister over in Arizona has had as many as 30 this summer. My sister in Oregon can get that many coming into her feeders, too. I don't buy the mix for my birds. I don't think the red food coloring would be good for them, plus you don't need it to get the birds to the feeder. Most feeders have part of the feeder in red. I make the sweet sugar water. I use one cup of water to one forth cup of white sugar. I make several cups of it at once. My pan wholes 6 cups of water which means I use 1 and a half cups of sugar. Bring the mix to a boil and let cool. That will last my birds about 4 days since I change out the feeders daily even if there is sweet water left in them.

 Water drops in these feeders, not mold.

Here in Rio Rancho we have mostly Black Chinned Hummingbirds with a rust colored Rufus Hummer once in a while. It is the Black Chinned ones that nest here.

I get all kinds of other birds coming into the feeders for the sweet water. Like orioles, English sparrows, mockingbirds, and once in a while this woodpecker.