Sunday, September 3, 2017

Death From Above... and Below

WARNING! Contains graphic descriptions of insect mayhem and hornworm carnage! Few people would think of Hornworm Caterpillars as being much more than tomato-devouring, nightmare-inducing, yucky, poopy garden pests. And for long time we would have agreed with that. But if you look at them as a soon-to-be White-lined Sphinx Moth, that opinion could be softened a bit. We have "volunteer" datura plants that sprout spontaneously in our front yard throughout the year. We let them grow, because the Hornworms would rather eat Datura than our tomato plants. Fair enough. So while weeding around the Datura recently, we were surprised to witness a scene of carnage. On the ground beneath the largest well-chomped Datura I noticed a very small Hornworm being set upon by ants. It was crawling as quickly as it could, trying to escape the methodical ant gang. Imagining the eventual Sphinx-Moth-to-be, I scooped it up in my garden trowel and placed it up in the Datura plant. The little Hornworm quickly grabbed the leaf and ducked underneath it, out of sight. I went back to my weeding, but immediately found another little Hornworm in the same ant predicament. And another one. And another. All together, there were 8 or 9 small caterpillars in various stages of ant attack. None of them looked very happy. I quickly reassessed my decision to weed in that particular area. As I pondered where to weed next, a Paper Wasp flew into the same Datura plant. It flew very slowly and purposely between the Datura stems and under the leaves, like it was searching for something. Finally it zeroed in on one of the larger Hornworms, which flinched as the wasp approached. The Paper Wasp backed off, then found a smaller Hornworm. That Hornworm wasn't as lucky as the first one, as the wasp started munching on its midsection. The wasp tried to fly off a couple of times with the Hornworm, but it was too heavy with the additional weight. Finally the wasp was able to trim it down to a "travel size" and flew off with its prize. More Paper Wasps came into the Datura, hunting down Hornworms and carrying them off. The Hornworms that fell onto the ground were quickly found by the ants. This Hornworm carnage went on for at least another 20 minutes. The larger Hornworms in the Datura plant remained unscathed, probably because they were too big for the wasps to contend with. I looked down on my shoe and saw a tiny little Hornworm crawling up to safety. I picked it up and placed it on a different Datura plant, away from the mayhem. So hopefully we will have at least one beautiful White-Lined Sphinx Moth in our yard, in the near future. "Every moment there is creation, every moment destruction. There is no absolute creation, no absolute destruction. Both are movement, and that is eternal." ~ Ramana Maharshi (Indian philosopher, 1879-1950)

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Night Shift Pollinators

Yesterday evening we were out in our front courtyard, enjoying a colorful sunset and crescent moon setting in the west. In the Desert Willow tree behind us we noticed a small blur moving amongst the branches. As we watched, even more of the blurring movements became noticeable in the tree until we counted at least 7 or 8 of them. After a closer look, we saw they were White-lined Sphinx Moths. With a wing span of 4 to 5" and a thick body, it's easy to see why they are sometimes called "hummingbird moths". Their movements as they hover in front of flowers and dart amongst the branches is reminiscent of a feeding hummingbird. After watching the moths in the willow, we went out into our front yard to see if there were any others. On our big red lantana bushes we counted at least another 7 moths. They were busily flying between the flowers, pollinating as they sipped nectar from each bloom. By then it was getting darker and more challenging to take pictures of them.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Disappearing Soon, from a Neighborhood Near You...

This past winter's rains have produced an amazing spring wildflower bloom throughout our desert area. Close to home we even have pockets of brilliant colors in unexpected urban areas.

There is a beautiful swath of wildflowers less than a mile from the busiest intersections in our city. These couple of acres are surrounded by busy shopping centers, car lots and a 6-lane state highway.

We stopped for a spontaneous wildflower walk while we were running errands in town. On the dunes we found carpets of lavender Sand Verbena, delicate white Dune Primrose, a few scattered Spanish Needle, bright yellow Dune Sunflower and Desert Marigold. Encelia and Creosote were also blooming, and we saw many different species of bees busily pollinating the profusion of flowers.

We have lived in this desert for over 30 years, and can remember the open spaces before they started to get paved over and "developed". Spectacular blooms like this remind us of what we will be losing to another future big box store or fast food restaurant.

"God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December."
~ James M Barrie, British Playwright  (1860-1937)

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

WALK, Don't Run

A recent morning run morphed into an unscheduled wildflower walk, when I noticed some colorful blooms peeking through in a field of invasive mustard and other weeds. Flower species seen included Phacelia, Salt Heliotrope,  Desert Dandelion, Dune Sunflower, Popcorn Flower, and Brown-eyed Primrose.

(A bit of spot "guerilla gardening" weeding also took place, to give the natives a bit more room and a better chance at propagation.)

Sunday, February 12, 2017

First Monarch

We saw our first Monarch Butterfly of the season today, flitting around one of our milkweed plants in our yard. Perhaps looking for a place to lay its eggs?

It was one of the warmer days we have had recently, so hopefully this is the first of many more butterflies to come.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Great Expections

Our winter season so far has seen a lot more rain than in recent years. Although it hasn't been enough to lift us out of the multi-year drought, it should be very good for desert wildflowers this spring. We are already seeing signs of new plant growth and even some flower buds.

We had a couple bands of rain come through this weekend, with another storm forecast for Monday. The nearby mountains are white with snow, which means our nights and early mornings are chilly.

Friends are "annuals" that need seasonal nurturing to bear blossoms. Family is a "perennial" that comes up year after year, enduring the droughts of absence and neglect. There's a place in the garden for both of them.
~Erma Bombeck

Monday, October 24, 2016

Thunder and Lightning and Rain (Oh Boy!)

We were happy to get more rain today, which came through in 2 bands. The first was an afternoon shower that lasted about 20 minutes. It was accompanied by distant thunder and lightning.

The second band hit after dark. It was a pretty good downpour, along with a roaring thunder and lightning show. We turned off the inside lights, and turned on the pool light to watch the rain come down.

Tomorrow's weather forecast is for muggy conditions and warm temps in the high 80's.

"Early impressions are like glimpses seen through the window by night when lightning is about."
~E. F. Benson, English novelist  (1867-1940)