Friday, June 24, 2011

Species a Day, Week 10

Check out the rest of my Species a Day writeups here.

Haikus were fun last time, so I figured I'd do it once more. (Don't worry. The next edition has three dragonflies and a spider in it, so I'm sure I'll be back to full pedantic ramble mode.) I may add full writeups to this soon, but until then, someone has been commandeering the computer during summer break, so you get these. I didn't mock my sister this time (no bees), but I still did my best.

The first and last pictures are by my son, so I guess he partly made up for the computer hogging.

Day 64: Golden paper wasp, Polistes aurifer

Trust me: Leave them be.
Do not spray them in the air.
Learned the hard way. Ran.

Day 65: Arizona tan mantis, Stagmomantis gracilipes

Little cannibals.
Started with many of you.
Few left, but well fed.

Day 66: Killdeer, Charadrius vociferus

Born with eyes open,
Downy hatchlings totter out.
Mother scolds: Kill-dee!

Day 67: Queen butterfly, Danaus gilippus

Milkweed sap defense.
For mating, guy brings plant drugs.
Alkaloids. Hey; works for him.

Day 68: Hackberry emperor, Asterocampa celtis

Erratic flier,
Eating carrion and dung.
Beauty from refuse.

Day 69: Say's phoebe, Sayornis saya

Cinnamon belly,
Wagging tail, and darting flight:
Grassland flycatcher.

Day 70: Gambel's quail, Callipepla gambelii

Chicks follow in line,
Like ten fluffy tennis balls,
Chasing plume-topped pear.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Lessons from some fathers

Things I learned from my father:

  • Love. Everyone. Always. As hard as you can. Tell them.
  • Farts are really funny.
  • You are absolutely obligated to screech sing along to every song on the car radio, ability and kids' reputations be damned.
  • How to lose spectacularly at chess.
  • Learning how to keep score in baseball properly, how to play a good hand of poker, and how to deliver a lame-ass pun are very important life skills indeed.
  • Affection and opinions are best worn on your sleeve. And sometimes forcefully launched from it.
  • The Beach Boys and Jim Croce rock, no matter what anyone tells you.
  • The Buffalo Bills also rock, despite what everyone tells you.
  • Memorizing the starting lineup of the 1983 St. Louis Cardinals is way more important than those dumb toddler milestones.
  • The best books are read and reread throughout your life, foisted upon others, and discussed at greater length than it took to read them.
  • Pushing stuff to the side of the room instead of cleaning it is OK, as long as you don't tell Mom where you received the permission.
  • When someone isn't listening, simply speak more loudly. Repeat until they agree, because if they disagree they obviously don't understand.
  • If you really are proven wrong, admit it. Own it. A self-effacing doofus apology gets you infinitely more mileage than a stubborn asshole routine. A sincere one gets you even more still, but it's damn difficult.
  • "Leroy Brown" must be heard at least a dozen times in a row to be fully appreciated.
  • Salsa + cream cheese = best nighttime snack ever, regardless of how you feel in the morning.
  • Embrace your inner nerd.
  • If you tell a dirty joke, your kids (OK, nine-year-old Kim) will repeat it at the very first opportunity, along with who told it.
  • People are full of contradictions. It makes life interesting.
  • Shorts only have to be a few inches long. It's OK if you're six and a half feet tall, just yank those puppies up and you're good to go. The horrified looks on your kids' faces mean they admire your boldness.

Things I've learned, from or courtesy of my husband, while parenting with him:

  • Fatherhood is a choice.
  • So is love. It's an emotion, but it's an exercise in courage and patience, every day.
  • Seriously, farts really are funny.
  • If the rule is "half an hour of video game time," it's totally OK to wait until Mom is gone and let one's son play four and a half hours instead.
  • How to continue losing at chess.
  • Matching? Pssh. The kid's wearing pants and a shirt, isn't he?
  • If one partner is good at horsing around and setting up complicated children's toys, and the other is good at big-time empathy and the sex talk; you violate the natural order at your own peril.
  • Coldplay rocks, no matter how many times one's wife makes fun of your pussy playlists.
  • OK; maybe Coldplay doesn't rock. Still, like what you like, and own it.
  • Hearing someone tell me that I'm "really damn good at this," while pointing to our son will reduce me to tears.
  • A partnership is a messy, sublime, boring, exciting, horrible, wonderful thing. Sometimes all of those, before noon.
  • If the kid's into Star Wars, we're obviously doing something right.
  • Gungans are lame, but Ewoks are way worse, and it's vital to impart this knowledge in a somber father-son chat.
  • Having a kid is a great excuse to buy ourselves all the toys we always wanted. Rock tumbler, insect jars, and giant bubbles, anyone?
  • Vomit is never to be cleaned up by Dad.
  • He's really pretty damn good at this too.

Happy Father's Day to my dad, who I miss dearly, my husband, who actually volunteered for this gig AFTER being vomited upon, and to all the dads out there. You guys rock. Now help take out the trash.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Friday 5: My top five critter spotting opportunities

I got a cup with insects all over it today in the mail, and I am totally thrilled.

I should probably tell you that the cup in question is this really awesome cup by the even more awesome Dragonfly Woman, which I won by commenting on her blog, which I totally was going to do anyway because her blog is, well, awesome. Seriously, imagine all my pet interests, combine them, and have someone write about them with greater skill and consistency than I do, and you'd have her entomology blog. Go check it out.

I mention her for two reasons. First, the mug. LOVE it. Second, I told her last week that I was totally going to steal her "Friday 5" blog feature, and she didn't tell me to shove off and quit being an idea thief, so I will now appropriate it here. The idea: five things each Friday (duh). I quickly began to compile a list. Coming soon: Five really dumb/dangerous things I've done outdoors in Arizona, Five awesome Arizona places (that I hated as a kid), My five favorite field guides, and Five ways my cheapskate family survived the 123-degree summer with no air conditioning.

First, an easy one, and something I actually get asked quite often: My five top critter spotting spots or methods. In no particular order.

1. Boyce Thompson Arboretum

An easy choice. I've written about the arboretum before, and our family has been visiting regularly for years. I think one of my favorite things is how everyone shares what they've seen. Want to see a gray fox? A black widow eating a coral snake? A squirrel taking it to a Gila monster? Want to know where the nests are, where to spot a painted redstart, where a particular warbler hangs out and whether that hummingbird is an Anna's or a female broadbill? Find a worker or a member and ask what's new this week. People compare notes all the time.

2. Random spots on the side of the road/times I meant to find a different animal

OK, so I do plan trips to see specific animals. Eagles, rare warblers or ducks, even (especially) certain spiders or insects when I know they're "in season." But more than anything, I'm opportunistic. I almost never come back from a nature walk or hike with the shots I'd planned to get, but I always come back with something I like. On a slow day at the arboretum, I saw this Jerusalem cricket (one of only two times I spotted one).

Other times, it's literally on the side of the road. I was driving to an assignment and spotted a Harris's hawk pair hunting. I pulled over and stood at the edge of some guy's horse stable to get the shot. And sometimes, I stop for totally non-exciting animals, because I like to make them exciting by photographing them. This fly was along a walkway, on a garbage can. Exotic, huh?

3. Gilbert Riparian Preserve

In my Species a Day posts, I generally try to stick to animals that anyone else in Arizona can see. I have neither the time nor the money to really travel, but the point is, that's OK. There are a ton of exotic animals in our backyards. The Gilbert Riparian Preserve (or Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, or Gilbert Riparian Institute -- the name seems to change depending on who's talking about it) is great for making this point. I mean, you exit the library, walk across a bridge over a city pond, and right there you've got hundreds of animals. Almost 200 birds alone have been spotted at the preserve, and that's to say nothing of the dragonflies and damselflies (which are awesome right now), the spiders, the turtles and fish (urban fishermen love the place), and the snakes.

David and I took a walk the other morning, and at one point were surrounded by hidden, croaking/honking/whateveryoucallit herons. Like, really LOUD. It was like that scene in American Werewolf in London where the main character is surrounded by howls and yips, but he can't see anything. It was totally eerie and awesome. We felt secluded. And then, an hour later, we were in the car. Accessible nature at its best.

4. My backyard

Remember how I said we have tons of cool animals in our backyards? I mean it literally. Most of my mantis, spider, finch, sparrow, lizard, moth, hummingbird, and dove shots were taken within steps of my front or back door.

I grew up doing this. We had this big, flat piece of crappy wood in our side yard. It was junk. I don't know why it was there. I just know that I looked forward to each new evening, when I could lift it up by a corner and jump back to watch what scurried out. I guess I never grew out of it.

5. Other people

I'm the weird bug lady now. The critter girl. The mom who likes spiders. You get the idea. Point is, everyone knows I'm into this kind of thing. My husband caught a cicada and palo verde beetle for me, and brought home a centipede corpse another time. My mom gave me the giant crab spider and scorpion. Online friends helped me find and photograph bald eagles. I get at least one e-mail every few days entitled "What IS this thing?!?!" with an accompanying photo of a spider or insect. I know where to look (and what to look under) to find some really choice animals, and that's because people who know my predilections share. So keep letting me know. I have nets and jars with air holes on my person pretty much at all times.

So there you have it, my current top five, and you can apply the same ideas even if you're not in Arizona (definitely check out the preserve and arboretum if you are, though). Any suggestions for new places?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Schnepf Farms

The following review is out in this month's issue of Times Publications, but if you're like me and live in the middle of nowhere, you might not have caught it, so I wanted to share here. The peach picking has concluded, but go grab some apples, plums, and veggies.


In our family, we don’t make strawberry shortcake. We make peach shortcake.

Well, by “we,” I mostly mean my mother. But it’s so good that I -- who normally considers boiling pasta to be “preparing” food -- took it up a few years ago. My husband and son have been dropping unsubtle reminders to make the dessert again.

Fortunately for me and my peach-loving family I can go to Schnepf Farms, in Queen Creek, to get locally grown peaches.

The farm combines agriculture with education and entertainment. They call it “agri-tourism,” or “agri-tainment.” Whatever you call it, kids love it.

My son, David, and I visited Schnepf Farms this month, and we’re certain to go back soon. In fact, he was asking to revisit before we’d pulled out of the place.

The farm, celebrating its 70th anniversary this year, is currently owned and run by Mark and Carrie Schnepf, both themselves from long lines of Arizona farmers. The land was purchased by Mark’s grandfather and has been passed down in the family ever since. He hopes to pass it on to his own children.

If my own son’s enthrallment at the farm is any indication, his kids should be thrilled to call the place their own.

We headed straight to the peach orchards, and before I’d gotten my bearings, David had grabbed a bag and rushed off to the nearest tree.

The fruit came right off the branches and was easily accessible. The trees are all kept trimmed so the peaches are within easy reach without ladders.

The thing to look for, according to Mark Schnepf, is color. Peaches that are ripe for picking will have rich golds and spots of deep red. They’re a little soft -- they’re supposed to be -- so don’t squeeze too hard. (I discovered this firsthand as David got a little too zealous and showered me in peach juice.)

The orchards boast six different varieties of peaches, which all ripen at different times starting in May. This day, Florida prince peaches were ready for picking. They’re small peaches, but sweet and juicy, and are said to be ideal for making desserts. Since the organic farm uses no pesticides (and hasn’t for 45 years), the fruit is safe to eat straight from the tree, but we resisted.

In addition to the peaches and apricots the farm offers this time of year, you can head to their U-Pick garden for vegetables. David got a close look at the squash and zucchini, just starting to develop from the blossoms; and we checked out Romaine lettuce, leaf lettuce, baby turnips, Swiss chard, kale, green onions, carrots, and more. Beside the vegetables we found a field of sunflowers and purple larkspur flowers that just begged for ogling and photos.

Peach picking goes into the first week in June, and then tapers off and they offer Ana apples and melons for fruit picking, and their vegetables include okra, beets, turnips, pickling cucumbers, radishes, summer squash, sweet onions, potatoes, sweet corn, green beans, zucchini, green onions, and carrots.

Save some time, because after you’re done picking fruit and veggies and strolling through the flowers, Schnepf Farms offers a petting zoo and a train ride. During festivals, they run a carousel ride (the oldest operating carousel in the state), a “flying farmers” ride, a giant mountain slide, hay rides, and more. David lingered in the petting zoo, quickly bonding with an assertively affectionate pygmy goat and practically refusing to leave when the young goats began to suckle from their mothers.

The farm is free to enter, and a couple of dollars will get you into the various attractions.

Peaches and apricots are available for picking $1.90 per pound. If you don't want to pick your own (though that’s half the fun), you can buy fruit for $2.50 per pound at the farm’s Country Store. The store also offers countless other goodies. Try their famous peachy cinnamon rolls.

Schnepf Farms has shifted its focus in recent years, remaining an active farm but concentrating on inspiring people to reconnect with Arizona‘s agricultural heritage and to make memories.

We made our memories. And now, I’m told, I’m required to make shortcake.

Epilogue: I made it. We gorged on it. Definitely going to be a tradition.

Schnepf Farms is open Thursday through Sunday, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Peach picking starts at 7:30.) For more information, visit or call (480) 987-3100.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Species a Day, Week 9

Check out the rest of my Species a Day writeups here.

In haiku. Something different.

Day 57: Honey bee, Apis mellifera

Tiny bee in car,
You terrify my sister.
The rest of us laugh.

Day 58: Greater roadrunner, Geococcyx californianus

Greater roadrunner
Clenches lizard in death grip.
No Meep, Meep warning.

Day 59: Sonoran bumblebee, Bombus sonorus

Sonoran bumblebee,
It is true, bumbles do bounce.
Off my head. Quit it.

Day 60: Greater bee fly, Bombylius major

Oh, greater bee fly.
What a freaky tongue you have.
Go see my sister.

Day 61: Green mantis, Stagmomantis I'm-not-sure

Praying for live prey,
No wonder you like our home.
Roaches and crickets.

Day 62: Blue-ringed dancer, Argia sedula

Days spent chasing you,
Covered in sweat and debris.
I look quite insane.

Day 63: Canyon wren, Catherpes mexicanus

In mountains and canyons,
Snowy throat, rufous body.
Prodigious whistler.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

We really have done many a spider mama eating

Don't worry; I'm still catching up on my Species a Day writeups. My son just got out of school, and invited every boy between the ages of 5 and 12 in the city over, so I'm rediscovering how to work at home during summer break.

For now, he's rediscovered the cartoon Gargoyles, so I can catch up for a second. Probably only a second, and I want to sneak outside to photograph some spiders and damselflies, so I'll cheat.

I found this website the other day. It scans your Tweets and makes up new Tweets. It's dumb, but it seems to know me creepily well, sort of. I'll even ignore its lack of grammar and syntax and the fact it thinks I'm into sailors for some reason.

My next Tweets, apparently:

  • A typical argument: khosey1 posted a photo: More vulturey goodness. More fireworks, again
  • Species a photo: You guessed it, more shots of spider me happy.
  • I have a glowing American avocet, Recurvirostra.
  • Photo: I love a female. Check it out today!
  • Everything happens for my head Oooga booga! khosey1 posted a photo: They make me happy.
  • Day 24: Finch. Not quite as crisp.
  • khosey1 posted a photo: His underside. I have too many sailors around here.
  • It liked us, but does only slightly relevantly, here.
  • Yeah; an easy one. The first from below, too. I'll have more shots from its?
  • My son. Honestly, almost the specific species.
  • We really did many a spider mama eating.
  • Species a lot lately. I ... Species a photo: Ed fills in my backyard. OK, help me Voldemort.
  • Sailor's delight: Mothra. Lizard on a post.
  • I love a typical discussion between my desert tortoise.
  • My recent, silly, just-for-fun blog post has nothing?
  • A hundred black widows, where you'd expect?
  • Things I wasn't sure it's too many sailors around here. I just realized I had this guy.
  • Saguaro cactus: It was recently emerged from the ducks.
  • Rounding out all my greater yellowlegs.
  • On being a backyard shot: Bubbles! Not quite as many now.
  • It's too many black widow times now. You guessed it, more coming.
  • Super fun. My people are super happy about the only slightly lit weed.
  • It was the additional mantis from my below.

I'm off to find a mantis. There aren't any from my below, last I checked.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Photo winner announced!

You know what sucks about giveaways? I totally feel bad that I can't select everyone. However, I think my husband would be less than thrilled if he saw a bill for 36 big fancy prints, followed by another big-fancy-print run we already have planned (more on that later). We do have to budget money for food, mortgage, and other frivolities. Alas.

Thanks so much to everyone who participated. I love you all super much. I went old-school and put everyone's name on a slip of paper (multiple times, for multiple enter-ers), and had my son draw. That's right; we keep our Easter baskets out just for you, not because we're too lazy to put them away. So the winner, drawn by my kid (and cat) is...

Jennifer McIntosh! (Pronounced MACK-in-tosh. My capital Is look like lowercase Ls, apparently.)

Just e-mail me your info, and let me know which print and size you want.

And don't despair if you didn't win. If y'all like, I'll do this every once in a while going forward -- maybe more prints, or maybe books.

Jen, congrats! Make sure to share when you receive it! Thanks once again, everyone.