2011 in Review
Doug and I have lived in the Sonoran Desert for seven years. During this time Doug had to haul water for all of our needs as well as for his plants. During the last six years, Doug has planted our front yard and started on an area that he calls the riparian area. Arizona has many “rivers” that have no water save during the rainy season of the year. Our creek is the dry kind. He wants part of our 4 acres to be filled with trees as well as many bushes that will provide homes and food for many different birds.
The water district in which we lived decided it was time to drill the well, dig trenches, and lay pipe. Needless to say, we were thrilled. The company hired to dig trenches and lay pipe, had excess dirt after the pipe was buried. Doug suggested that they deliver the dirt to our place saving removal costs. They liked the idea! Our land that was flatter than a pancake now has a “mountain” as well as several hills. Several of these hills were planted with many different cacti.
(pictures pipes mountain
Doug told me I had a black thumb so I let him tend the plants. My job became recording the changes mainly using photography. All of the pictures were taken here at Desert Rat Studio.
Every month brought changes to Doug’s garden. Doug’s vision of his garden was starting to take shape though we knew it would be years before it was complete. The plants we started with were small but we hoped they would grow. The first cactus that Doug planted was totally gone the next morning – roots and all. The area around us was mainly dried weeds and creosote bushes. The rabbits and desert ground squirrels loved all of our plants. Result – LOTS of rabbit fencing around everything.
Living plants were not the only thing Doug planted.
He also planted dead trees, (one that I call my Halloween Tree), and rotting logs. Why? To develop the natural food chain needed to support the different birds and to provide raptures places to perch. Many critters also needed a natural home if they were going to stay.
The desert flowers are exquisite.
Many of the summer flowers are night bloomers that close as soon as it starts to get hot. Most of these are large white flowers. The day flowers tend to be colored with their size varying from very small to quite large. The San Pedro cactus had over 100 large, white flowers one week.
I like lots of color so my favorites are day bloomers.
European bees find the blossoms early in the morning and work as long as there is pollen and daylight. We are trying to encourage the native bees to make their home here. They also pollinate the flowers but don’t sting.
Queen of the Night, Peniocereus greggii
Doug’s favorite flower is the Queen of the Night, Peniocereus greggii.
This information was given to me mainly by Doug.
Eniocereus Greggii – Arizona Queen of the Night
Doug likes variety in his garden. We have multiples of some plants. The Queen of the night is definitely an example of a plant that he has planted in many, many places on our property. This article, he wrote a number of years ago. I think the Queen of the night deserves a page of its own.
Eniocereus Greggii – Arizona Queen of the Night A.K.A. Reina De La Noche A.K.A. Indian potato cactus, Sweet potato cactus and other names.
To see it in nature for the majority of the year is to not see it. Most would not see or observe the plant at all in it’s natural setting. If one takes the time to look up and read the description written by many botanists, it is described as looking like “a bunch of dead twigs”. My observations of it in it’s natural settings in the Sonoran desert is that it can be possibly be found most anywhere, not greatly abundant but can be found in the open by itself. This is not it’s preferred habitat because it is a rather frail plant subject to having its upper growth broken off by most anything passing by or putting pressure on its stems. Its stems are normally not thicker than a large finger of a human hand, often thinner. Quite often it becomes multi-branched. Branches varying from shades of green to gray in color.
I most frequently see the better examples of this plant as an understory plant under or around a great variety of plants in the Sonoran desert: mesquite, crucifixion thorn, creosote, palo verde and ironwood. I have seen more under ironwood than any other though I am not able to determine why but speculate that the extensive canopy offered by ironwood is a favored habitat. Hard to spot in this environment most of the year as it blends in almost perfectly camouflaged admist the lower dead branches of canopy.
An exquisite flower in the desert, I find it’s blooming cycle to be very unpredictable. Growing it here, it’s first blooming has varied by as much as six weeks. Anytime from the last week of May to the first week of July. By some, the Queen is referred to as one of a group called orchid cactus which include Peniocereus, Selenicereus, Hylocereus, and Epiphylum’s.
The fruit formed after blooming is edible and the tuber has been regarded as a food source by native peoples. Tubers as large as 150 pounds have been recorded though 10 to 20 pounds is regarded as a large one.
June 3rd and 4th, 2008
May 26th and 27th, 2009 with a few stragler blossoms on the 28th and 29th
Also on July 8th and 9th, 2009
June 20th and 21st 2010
2nd cycle – July 18th and 19th, 2010
3rd cycle – August 3rd and 4th, 2010
The tall dead tree in this picture was moved by Doug to this spot and replanted it. He put this ironwood skeleton in for the raptors. We have seen vultures and hawks sitting on the branches. They like structures that are tall so that they can see the surrounding area as they look for food. They prefer dead trees over trees with leaves all the way to the top as the leaves block their view.
The trees of the desert can’t be ignored. Many of them have beautiful flowers as well. Some of the flowering trees that we have are: Desert Willow tree with white, pink or purple flowers that flower most of the summer. The Palo Brea and Palo Verde trees have yellow flowers in spring. The Yucca’s bell like flower blooms at different times depending on the variety.
Greater Roadrunner – Geococcyx californianus
The roadrunner built it’s nest in a cactus that is larger than m husband. The babies were extremely hard to see.
We have lots of birds but not a great variety yet. Our trees are still small so there is not a lot of nesting spots for them. We do have burrowing owls, thrashers, doves and roadrunners as well as sparrows and finches.
Turkey Vultures – Cathartes aura
The bird sitting in my Halloween tree is really the start of the desert rat studio. My husband had seen quite a few vultures in the area and started doing some research on them. He found out that “Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park” had a welcome back day for the vultures. He contacted them about people who might like to study the vultures away from roadkill.
The Burrowing Owls Habitat
A point of possible interest is an established colony of burrowing owls in residents. The corner of our property where we have the nest will be restricted to entry but is easily visible by those bring binoculars. This colony started out as one natural borough almost at the edge of our fence line. Doug wanted the burrowing owls to stay but he also thought he would put up a fence in the near future and would most likely drive the birds away. “Wild at Heart” gave Doug the help needed to make a burrowing owl habitat. It involves lots of digging, long corrugated black pipes and buckets. Doug made an eight apartment condo and hoped that the owls would move in. The owls decided to move the into the new quarters and stayed. We have somewhere between five and 10 owls year-round.
The Burrowing Owls HabitatThe babies come out of their burrows almost as tall as their parents. To leave their home, they have to climb through a 10 to 12 foot tunnel from a depth of 5 feet to ground level. You can tell the babies by their light chests these pictures were taken at desert rat studio.
The black circles that you see are the entrances to the tunnels that the burrowing owls followed to get to their nest. The tunnel is made of corrugated plastic pipe that the owls can easily walk on. There are small holes that rainwater can drain through if and when it rains. (We have had at most 2 inches of rain so far this year.)
This design was given to Doug by “Wild at Heart”. Since Doug can’t get anything without changing it at least a little bit, he changed the design:
- The white posts are directly over the burrowing owl nest. Someday, when we can afford an infrared camera, we will be able to see into the nests to check on the babies.
- There are eight nests in each grouping. There are 24 burrows in all, but the birds “move” once in a while. Some are set up as a two room condo. Those have a short tunnel leading from one room to the other. This gives mom and dad a chance to get away from the babies. But mainly, it gives them two ways out and two ways in if there is danger.
This corner of our property (100 x 120 feet) has been dedicated to the burrowing owls. Since they like open spaces, nothing tall is planted in this area and very little else is planted here. Doug has put in cholla cactus skeletons and branches from dead trees for perches for the birds to sit upon. There is one creosote bush that sprang up on its own that we have left in this area.
The main reason that the burrowing owls like wide-open spaces is because they spend much of their time on the ground and they can see predators before they are on top of them.
There is a little fountain on the west side of their area that the adults use.