This is the first of two baby fence lizards that got into the house in
the last few weeks. I guess I can't really blame them: it's getting
cold outside, even for an endotherm.
It's funny how we always start seeing lots of baby lizards when the weather
seems like it's getting too cold for reptiles to be out and about.
Maybe the little ones just haven't learned yet that they should find a nice
burrow to wait out the winter.
We usually capture spiders and crickets in the house with a cup and
card, and escort them outside.
But lizards are a lot harder to capture than spiders.
Even with cooperative hunting — Dave holds the cup and sneaks up
on the lizard while I try to herd the lizard toward him —
lizards are fast, and there are so many possible hiding places.
This lizard didn't duck under the cabinets, the hole you can see in
the photo. Instead it went the other direction and dove into the
heater vent. We pulled the vent cover and left a little ramp so the
lizard could get back up easily; later in the day, we found it, caught
it and escorted it outside. As we did the second lizard (assuming it
was a different one), a few days later.
Jenni at the Los Alamos Nature Center had an unusual request: if I saw any
red velvet ants, please scoop them up (alive) and bring them to
the nature center for display. They already had a few,
but wanted more.
Red velvet ants aren't terribly uncommon here in White Rock. I see maybe
one a month. They're gorgeous: well named, with bright scarlet
patches against black and a texture that looks velvety-soft.
There are several other species of velvet ants worldwide, but
only Dasymutilla aureola is common around the southwestern
US; rarely, I'll see a white velvet ant, also called the
thistledown velvet ant, D. gloriosa.
You don't want to try petting them to see if they feel velvetty, though:
they're actually wasps, and possess one of the most painful stings
in the insect world. The red velvet ant's other name is "cow killer",
because of how painful the sting is (the venom isn't actually dangerous,
and certainly won't kill a cow).
Our trees in La Senda have been ticking madly for about a week.
The noise had been worrying me. Some of our drought-stressed piñons
might not have enough sap to fight off bark beetles (we lost four
trees last year to the beetles). On the other hand, cicadas do make
clicking noises (like an orchestra tuning up, preparing for the symphony).
And the ticking noise came from junipers as much as piñons;
bark beetles are usually species-specific..
But eventually we were able to find a few of the tickers and photograph
them. Definitely cicadas, though they're noticeably smaller than the
big broods of 2014 and 2019, and greener, with bigger eyes
a 2019 cicada for comparison).
It's remarkably hard to locate cicadas to photograph them,
even when you're surrounded by junipers that each have several of them
clicking loudly. Once you see them, you can see the movement as they
make their ticking noises, and as they slowly work their way along a
It's the windy season, and the winds are crazy here. I'm pretty sure
I saw a house, some flying monkeys and a woman on a bicycle fly past
the window twenty minutes ago.
I'm not sure precisely how crazy — our weather station is only
showing a max of 18 mph, which mostly means there are too many trees
around it, but the weather station at TA54 just up the road is reading
26 right now, with a max of 48.3.
The cage that I built this spring to keep the deer away from the apple
tree (not that it ever flowers or fruits anyway) keeps wanting to slide
into the tree or topple over on top of it. I had to jump up twice
during dinner and run out to rescue it. So now it's tied to some big
rocks and, if those lose their grip, it's also tied to the fence.
This year's drought was fierce. We only had two substantial rainfalls
all summer. And here in piñon-juniper country, that means the
piñon trees were under heavy attack by piñon Ips bark beetles,
Piñon bark beetles are apparently around all the time, but
normally, the trees can fight them off by producing extra sap.
But when it gets dry, drought-stressed trees can't make enough sap,
the beetles proliferate, and trees start dying.
Bark beetles are apparently the biggest known killer of mature
We're aware of this, and we water the piñons we can reach,
and cross our fingers for the ones that are farther from the house.
But this year we lost four trees -- all of them close enough to the
house that we'd been watering them every three or four weeks.
Sometimes it seems like yellow is the color of fall.
First, in late summer, a wide variety of sunflower appear:
at the house we get mostly the ones with the uninspiring name of
cowpen daisy (Verbesina encelioides). The flower is much
prettier than its name would suggest.
Then the snakeweed (Gutierrezia sarothrae) and
chamisa (Ericameria nauseosa) take over,
with their carpets of tiny yellow flowers.
(More unfortunate names.
Chamisa has a mildly unpleasant smell when it's blooming,
which presumably explains its unfortunate scientific name;
I don't know why snakeweed is called that.)
Yesterday afternoon, I stepped out the back door and walked a few
steps along the rocky path when I noticed movement at my feet.
It was a hummingbird, hidden in the rocks, and I'd almost stepped on it.
Closer examination showed that the hummer was holding its left wing
out straight -- not a good sign. He might have flown into a window,
but there's no way to know for sure how this little guy got injured.
The first order of business was to get him off the path so
he wouldn't get stepped on.