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Further joys of nidification

There are places like this in the garden and around the house:

nestwagongolden glovespeachflat

Laissez faire places, where neglected green wagons fill with garden miscellany, well-worn gloves are left out in the dust, empty peach flats perch forlornly on footstools. These neglected corners are golden places — especially in spring, when things are looking for private spots to nest. The three opportunities above were discovered by hens of one sort or another, females looking for somewhere to hole up with their young, to tuck in their larvæ, to get uninterrupted rest.

<hideyhen< Nid the First.  The small red arrow points to where a Gambel’s quail hen has been sitting tight in the debris in our garden wagon for a few days.  She’s easier to spot in the photo below, a tight telephoto of her wary eye from the same angle.  I wish her luck: although she’s well-hidden from bumbling humans, we’re not sure how the youngsters will find their way over the sides of the wagon once they hatch.  We have a policy of non-interference in these circumstances, but at some point, a ramp may have to be constructed.  Update: while the hen was away briefly, it was possible to count 9 eggs in place.

hidden hen

Nid the Second.  In the desert, it’s advisable to always look into a shoe before slipping your foot in.  The same goes for gloves left outside for a week: E tried to put on a work glove this morning, and found that his fingers didn’t go all the way in.  Looking inside, he discovered that a female leaf-cutter bee had found the interiors of the stiff leather fingers just right for stashing her eggs (alongfingernid with food for the eventual larvæ) between individually-constructed layers of soft leaves — three green tubes and one purple.  The colors of the tubes depend on the bee’s plant selection.  A spare pair of gloves in the garage that no one was using enabled E to get the yardwork done, and the nest-glove and its contents were left to hatch or be scavenged.

Nid the Third. The final nesting location is more domestic, and will not be news to anyone with cats: it’s the simple miracle of a box spontaneously generating a cat of frootflatprecisely equivalent volume.  Here Miss B has condensed in the peach-flat we call the “Summer Palace” since it sits by the sliding glass door, allowing the sights and smells of the back yard to be taken in at leisure, even in sleep.

With all of these casual nesting choices being made in objects intended for another purpose, I’d like to point out the irony of the fact that the deliberate, pricey nest box we set up for woodpeckers and/or screech owl is unused, so far.  Of course: it’s the wildlife correlation to kids ignoring the toy, but playing with the box it came in.

(All photos by A.Shock)

Posted by Allison on Apr 20th 2013 | Filed in birds,close in,cool bug!,natural history,nidification,the cats,yard list | Comments (2)


Mellow from basking in the sun on the spiral stairs, the beeyooteeous Miss B was ready for her close-up, not at all a common occurrence.

Posted by Allison on Jan 30th 2013 | Filed in close in,furbearers,the cats,yard list | Comments (2)

The thing on the balcony railing

This is a sight I often wake up to: a looming goofy fluffwad with alien eyes strung along the hand rail of the little loft over the bed, like a leopard on a limb.

If it looks dangerous, it probably is.  I don’t mean the cat; he’s a pussycat.  I mean dangerous to do, because it’s about fourteen feet up and Hector Halfsquid is a hapless clod.  He’s fallen off once (to my knowledge), startling us awake coming down thump next to the bed.  He landed on his feet — like a cat — on the carpeted floor, entirely unharmed.  If he’d landed two feet over, he probably would have broken our legs breaking his fall.

It’s particularly annoying because at a time when I’m so busy I don’t have time to write a proper post and can only fling up some cloying snapshot of the household furstock with a brief anecdotal caption, The Cats just loaf around the house 22 hours a day, lying about like flat pools of hot hair, not moving a muscle except to lazily stare at lizards through the sliding glass door and shed, giving off not only copious amounts of fur, but also the impression that this is exactly what’s expected of them.  And who has time to argue?

Posted by Allison on Sep 4th 2012 | Filed in furbearers,the cats | Comments (4)

The night of the enormous centipede

Last big monsoon event brought rain and a spadefoot to our Phoenix area yard. Tuesday night’s big monsoon event brought even more rain and a centipede.

This guy is a Scolopendra polymorphus, a Sonoran centipede, sometimes called a tiger centipede. This one is about 4 inches long (they can grow up to about 7 inches), and has crawled up the outside of our back door screen, possibly in search of prey, or maybe to escape flooding in the nearby soil, where it very likely dens up.

It’s a beautiful animal, although I have to admit I’m not partial to centi- or milli-pedes (it may be all the pointy little appendages) but as this one’s a neighbor, I’m trying to be inclusive. Apparently, I’m not the only one who has a hard time liking them. Our cat, Hector Halfsquid, spent the evening on the inside of the wet screendoor alternately approaching hesitantly and hurriedly backing away from the centipede, giving the impression of being simultaneously fascinated and repulsed by it.

(Photos A.Shock)

In fact, even today he’s still giving occasional neurotic “creepy hops” where from deep sleep he suddenly jumps out of his skin, apparently having received Gary-Larson-esque “cumulative willies” from the many-legged visitor. Hector’s wariness is probably justified, as these guys can deliver a powerful and venomous bite; not dangerous in most cases, but certainly painful.

Posted by Allison on Aug 18th 2010 | Filed in close in,cool bug!,Invertebrata,natural history,the cats,yard list | Comments (5)

Studio assistant

Hector Halfsquid leaves his mark.

Posted by Allison on Aug 28th 2009 | Filed in art/clay,the cats,three star owl | Comments (1)

In the Cat’s Own Dream (equal time category)…

…she’s Queen B in the Fiery Jungle.

(B in the Grass, watercolor 7×10″ A. Shock 2009)

Posted by Allison on Jun 30th 2009 | Filed in art/clay,drawn in,the cats | Comments (0)

In The Cat’s Own Dream…

…he is Hector Roi:

"Hector Roi", 7"x10", watercolor, A. Shock, 2009

“Hector Roi” watercolor and colored pencil, 7×10″ by A. Shock 2009

Raccoon recount

Also, on an unrelated but more naturalistic topic, a reassessment of the local raccoon population has been necessary.  The night after the Hair Hen post, mama raccoon showed up with FOUR kits.  It was clear that this could not be yet another litter, and also that there were not two Hairhens: it was one female who was bringing out cubs one or two at a time, as they became ready to join her nightly foragings.  So, as it stands now, the count is ONE hairhen and FOUR kits.  Last night they were preening and nipping each other in the fork of the big Palo Verde, making endearing snarling sounds.  Too dark for photos, unfortunately.

Posted by Allison on Jun 22nd 2009 | Filed in art/clay,drawn in,the cats | Comments (0)

There’s another one, too

And here she is: meet Miss B.

Sorry, that’s all you get.

Posted by Allison on Dec 17th 2008 | Filed in close in,the cats | Comments (0)

Stacked Toad effigy vessel part 3, also why is a toad not a frog?

There have been many delays and distractions for the Stacked Toad Effigy Teapot: computer failure and restoration, other deadlines, and Thanksgiving, including a tragic Saguaro Plunge, details to be posted later.

But here is the next phase: the “lid” of the “teapot” is in place, and also the “finial” (knob), with Hector Halfsquid for scale.

This involved the addition of more toads — the final toads — to represent the top of the “teapot”.  The visual theme is toads-upon-toads, stacks of toads, piles of toads.  During the Couch’s spadefootlet episode, I was reminded of the toadly practice of Climbing On Your Neighbors.  When kept in captivity in large numbers, toads (and other amphibians and reptiles) will climb on each other with no regard for personal space, or any politeness at all.  I wanted to capture this “toe-in-the-eye” sense of physical involvement in the Toad Stack.  So on went two more toads, atop the base grouping of four toads.  Despite more than a week having elapsed this was not a problem, because even in the desert clay can be kept workable if enough dry-cleaners’ plastic and moist towels are employed. On the right is a shot of damp paper towels swathing the heads of the toads; they will need to be textured at some point, and if they’re too hard, it won’t work and the moist towels keeps the clay pliable and soft enough to receive an impression.

The effect of the two new toads, striving against each other on top of the pile, was what I wanted, but they needed a focal point — a flying insect they’re both trying to swallow.  This was the finial, or knob, of the “teapot” “lid”:

At this point, I always feel a piece is almost finished: the basic elements are sculpted and in place, there are at the moment no structural crises to solve.  But it’s far from the truth: a lot still remains to be done — texturing, refining shape detail (toes!), cleaning up stray clay bits and meaningless marks, applying decorative slip, etc.  For instance, I’ve forgotten until now about parotoid glands, which will have to be added.  And, other time-consuming details like compound eyes on the flying prey item.  So stay tuned for the next post on the effigy teapot: Texturing the Toad.

(Potential Toe Count: 104; Actual Toe Count: 49 so far; current Biological Digit Deficit, 53%)

Increments so far:

Why is a toad not a frog?

You almost certainly know this, but a toad isn’t a frog.

If that came as a surprise, it’s time for a speedy round-up of amphibian facts:

In general: toads have dry warty skin, frogs have moist slick skin. Toads need little or no water except to breed; frogs are usually amphibious. Toads have large kidney-shaped swellings behind each eye called parotoid glands; frogs have round hearing-related structures called tympani behind each eye. Most people think toads are gross but frogs are cute. That isn’t science; it’s just bad taste. Frogs croak, but many toads like  Woodhouse’s toads have beautiful muscial trills. ( If you were a Woodhouse’s toad, you’d think that was beautiful…) Toads have stout compact bodies with short legs for hopping; frogs are often svelte and long-legged for leaping.  Most frogs have webbed feet, most toads are not or only partially web-footed.  Frogs are more inclined to climb; toads are more inclined to dig.  Both can secrete irritating or even poisonous compounds that deter predators.

To the right above is a photo of a Ramsey Canyon Leopard Frog being aquatic.  Contrast it with the photo below it, a tropical toad from Belize. (photos, A. Shock)

In fact, these distinctions are generalizations and don’t hold true for every frog or toad. For more detail, I recommend the Dorling-Kindersley Eyewitness book Amphibian, by Dr. Barry Clarke.  It’s meant for kids, but it’s really all anyone but a real herpetologist needs to get the gist of of toads, frogs, and caecilians.

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