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Sunday, November 3, 2013

Mexican Hat - an ounce of seeds = a bazillion seeds!

Yesterday, I planted almost an ounce of Mexican Hat (Ratibida columnifera) wildflower seeds.

Note to self: an ounce of these seeds is enough to cover the entire state of Arizona. Added bonus--1/10 of an inch of rain fell last night.

With enough monsoon rainfall, these should bloom in the summer, and they attract bees and butterflies. We shall see next year if some of them make it!

Mexican Hat
Mexican Hat (Ratibida columnifera)

Copyright © Deborah A. Ayers - All rights reserved.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Ringtail at the hummingbird feeder

Now that my annual bat visitors have left for the season, the most frequent evening guests to my hummingbird feeders are two ringtails. They don't always come together, but there are definitely two. They have the sweet tooth and prefer the sugar water.

There's also a rascally raccoon that's a bit more shy. He seems to go for the seed feeders, and I usually put them away each night to keep him from dismantling them and gorging on birdseed. (He has learned to unscrew the hook AND knock it out of the tree AND pop the lid in under a minute.)

Ringtail at the hummingbird feeder
Ringtail making a nightly run on the
hummingbird nectar, October, 2013.

Ringtail at the hummingbird feeders
She gets the feeder tilted...

Ringtail at the hummingbird feeder
...and getting just the right tilt while spanning from the tree to the feeder...

Ringtail at the hummingbird feeder
...can be a stunt worthy of a Cirque du Soleil.

Ringtail at the hummingbird feeders
After sloshing and sipping for about 45 minutes...

Ringtail at the hummingbird feeders
...the feeder will be virtually empty when she finally leaves.

Ringtail at the hummingbird feeders
She doesn't even seem to mind having her picture taken.

Ringtail at the hummingbird feeder
Posing for me while I stand only about six feet away.


Copyright © Deborah A. Ayers - All rights reserved.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Sonoran Whipsnake - but this snake is NOT poisonous!

This Sonoran Whipsnake makes an appearance every so often. Well, actually I should say that I SEE him every few weeks. For all I know, he makes daily appearances.

Like all whipsnakes, he's VERY fast and VERY long--probably more than 60+ inches. He eats the same things that rattlesnakes do (lizards, birds, small mammals, etc.) but he's NOT poisonous.

I followed him back to his hidey-hole so now I know where he lives. Now that the rattle snake population has been reduced, he might feel more emboldened to roam around.

Sonoran Whipsnake
Sonoran Whipsnake - but this one is NOT poisonous!, September 2013


Copyright © Deborah A. Ayers - All rights reserved.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Annual bat visitors at the hummingbird feeders

For the second year in a row, as summer just begins to ebb, my hummingbird feeders start to receive visitors around the clock as the nectar-feeding bats begin to migrate south through southeastern Arizona to Mexico and Latin America. My first clue that they've arrived is an empty hummingbird feeder in the early morning hours. Compared to hummingbirds, bats are pigs!

There are two types of nectivorous bats in southern Arizona, the threatened Mexican Long-tongued Bat and the endangered Lesser Long-nosed Bat. These mammals have learned that hummingbird feeders make good sources of nectar, and I'm happy to make gallons and gallons of sugar-water to feed them. I'm participating in a citizen science research project to provide data to better understand their migration patterns. (Learn more.)

Bat at the hummingbird feeders
Nectivorous bat at the hummingbird feeder, August 2013

I don't have the best camera for taking night shots, but I hope to eventually get a clear enough shot to properly ID them. They fly so close to me, I can feel the air from their wings!

Bat at the hummingbird feeders
Bat hovering near the ground on the right August 2013.

This bat is a bit harder to make out from the dark shapes around him, but look carefully among the cactus below the draping mesquite branch under the feeder on the left.

Bat at the hummingbird feeders
Bat in mid-flight.

Unlike hummingbirds, bats can't perch on a feeder because their legs don't bend in the right direction. They swoop in, take a quick sip, and then swoop back out again. That means trying to take a picture of these eat and run critters is even more challenging!

Bat at the hummingbird feeders
Bat sipping from the feeder on the left, August 2013.

Bat at the hummingbird feeders
Bat approaching feeder on the right, August 2013.


Copyright © Deborah A. Ayers - All rights reserved.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Landscaping Project Part 2: Removing the Goat Hill Phase 2

Next came the design phase which the LOML and I thoroughly enjoy. Perhaps a bit too much. We can obsess for hours over design details, but we like to think we add value to the design process and the final product is better as a result of thoughtful collaboration.

Design Sketch 1 Original
Design Sketch 1 Original

Design Sketch 1 Original
Design Sketch 1 Revised

We contracted with Katherine Prideaux of Prideaux Design. We had seen some of Katherine's work when we met her on a design tour. Plus, Patty Warren, of Warren Architecture, whose professional opinion we admire, also had good things to say about her.

Because of the goat hill incline, there's no question that this area was a design challenge. Several times we needed to revisit a concept because what worked on paper just didn't work in this space.

The original sketches here are actually revisions over the very first drafts which didn't take into account the fabulous views of the city at night. This rendering includes a seating area around a fire bowl to take in those nighttime views.

Design Sketch 2 Original
Design Sketch 2 Original

Design Sketch 1 Revised
Design Sketch 2 Revised

Additional changes have been made to cut some cost. Since this is our second major landscape project, we have (hopefully) learned to spend money on the things that will be most meaningful to us. Plants? Yes. Fancy landscape lighting? Not so much. The pleasure of living out this far is the amazingly dark night skies!

The challenge now will be to make this a unique space that doesn't just mimic every other contemporary patio!

Design Sketch 3 Original
Design Sketch 3 Original

Design Sketch 3 Revised
Design Sketch 3 Revised

Copyright © Deborah A. Ayers - All rights reserved.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Landscaping Project Part 2: Removing the Goat Hill Phase 1

I never met the original owners (who were also the designers) of this house I now call home, but it's funny how you can tell so much about a person simply by how they lived. The elderly couple clearly had their quirks, and it was obvious that in their sunset years, they didn't spend much time outside.

I do.

Year one the back patio that faces east was redesigned to create a cozy area for enjoying those chilly "winter" mornings. Year two, THIS year, it was time to tackle the front.

In both cases, the objective was to lure nature. I didn't want a swimming pool. I've got the community pool pretty much all to myself. I'd rather have fountains and flora to attract the native wildlife.

Entry, August 2013
Front door, August 2013

Lower Patio, August 2013
Lower Patio. Catio is seen above. August 2013

Landing, August 2013
Lower landing, August 2013

The steps leading up to the front door couldn't have been built to code. The incline was so steep, it was dubbed, "The goat hill."

Goat hill, August 2013
The goat hill.

Goat hill, August 2013
Another view of the goat hill.

I hadn't bothered to "clean up" the landscaping in this area knowing that it was going to be removed so it looked awful. The Cactus Wrens loved all the Teddy-bear cholla, but they'll have new places to nest. I made sure there were no active nests before the demo began!

Side, August 2013
Notice the large Teddy-bear cholla in the foreground.

Side, August 2013
The side of the patio.

Side Planter
The side planter. The saguaro will remain.

Top of the driveway
The top of the driveway looking down.

Copyright © Deborah A. Ayers - All rights reserved.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

And that strange noise in the night is...

Only I would get almost giddy to finally identify what I've been hearing for months on my evening walks. When I heard it, I often thought it sounded like a chattering monkey. Yeah, right. There are no monkeys in the Sonoran Desert, but listen for yourself!

Strange sounds in the desert can be almost anything--mammal, lizard, amphibian or bird. Because I usually heard my "monkey" late at night, I thought it might be an owl. I even spent a couple of hours online one evening poring over owl audio clips but I never found what I heard, and I never quite had the courage to ask Brad, my local expert at Wild Birds Unlimited, what kind of a night bird sounded like a monkey. Besides, discovery is half the fun!

But tonight I saw AND heard my night monkeys when two lesser nighthawks careened overhead. I see nighthawks almost every night, but I don't often hear them in flight.

Lesser Nighthawk
Copyright © Deborah A. Ayers - All rights reserved.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Broad-billed hummingbird - panting in the heat

This broad-billed hummingbird can almost always be spotted somewhere around the back patio. Today he's been perching on the agave right outside of my office in the shade of the hot, hot day. Perfect for front row viewing by me!

He's panting in the heat. And yes, birds do pant just like other animals and for the same reason--it helps to cool them off.

Broad-billed hummingbird on the back patio
Broad-billed hummingbird on the back patio, June 2013

Broad-billed hummingbird on the back patio
Broad-billed hummingbird - they pant just like other animals.

Broad-billed hummingbird on the back patio
Broad-billed hummingbird on the back patio, June 2013

Copyright © Deborah A. Ayers - All rights reserved.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Don't look back

Wherever you go

Artwork courtesy Heron Dance

Black-headed Grosbeak - spring pass through

The black-headed Grosbeaks were munching at the feeder. Either the ones that pass through here in the spring are always females, or the desert version of this bird is a bit duller in color. There are regional variations so I'll have to find out which it is.

Black-headed grosbeak

Copyright © Deborah A. Ayers - All rights reserved.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Sugar Salt Fat - There's NO conspiracy!

As my stylist, Andi, snipped my hair, we got caught up on the usual small talk that stylists are famous for. I gave her an office update, told her about the latest home improvement projects, and lamented that I hadn't been rollerblading.  She reported the flyaway grey hairs she'd spotted on Jennifer Aniston (only a stylist would notice that...) and described her latest read Salt Sugar Fat by Michael Moss.

Andi is just a couple of years older than I am. She owns the salon, works out at a Cross-fit gym, rollerblades, and tries to eat healthfully, more or less following a paleo diet--one of the latest food fads to creep into mainstream America. Although our conversations are confined to the shampoo bowl and the styling chair, she's always struck me as a bright woman. So it surprised me a bit to see how caught up she was in the whole "conspiracy theory" of this book. (Full disclosure: I have only read excerpts.)

The gist of this New York Times bestseller is that food companies, especially companies like Kraft, that Moss dubs Big Food, have conducted market research and then conspiratorially worked with scientists to manipulate the chemical formulation of foods to get us addicted to their unhealthy products. Chapter by chapter the tale unfolds how we are hapless victims of sophisticated food engineering.

I listened. After all, she had scissors in her hand. But it took almost my entire day's quota of self-discipline not to roll my eyes.

Sure, food companies spend scads of money on market research. The cola wars conducted by Pepsi and Coke equal the GDP of a small developing nation. And it's no secret that science has helped formulate "food," (I use that term loosely) in such a way that it's perceived as tastier.

So what.

If Big Food is conspiring to addict us to their products and thus make us fat, then so is cable TV. After all, the television producers also conduct extensive market research to determine what type of riveting programs we want to watch so they can produce entertainment that keeps us planted on the sofa for hours. Perhaps Big Food is in cahoots with the cable companies since people tend to consume unhealthy food while watching TV.

And while we're at it, we might as well assume that Big Food also manipulates car manufacturers since they build into their vehicles the cup holders that hold those gargantuan sweet drinks and lattes.  I predict a sequel!

It might surprise the readers of books like Sugar, Salt, Fat, Fast Food Nation and other bestsellers in this food conspiracy genre that pleas to cut back on processed food aren't new. I read William Duffy's Sugar Blues in 1975 at the tender age of 12 

If there's a conspiracy to reveal, it's the one to absolve everyone but the so-called Big Evil Corporation of any wrong doing.  Lots of people bypass the junk at the grocery store and steer clear of restaurant food just about every day. (I being one of them.)

Companies only give us what we are willing to pay for. If it was as easy as using science to sell food, there would be no need for additional market research and every product put in the store would be a success. The fact that there are food flops like Heinz's EZ Squirt green ketchup and Coca-Cola's New Coke prove that success isn't concocted in a lab.

Everyone has a choice. It's convenient to say and perhaps even a bit exciting to think that an elite few have figured out "the game" but that most people are still being manipulated and duped. That's the stuff of bestsellers and far more interesting than saying that people make poor health and life decisions. But as with food, the convenient choice isn't always right one.

Copyright © Deborah A. Ayers - All rights reserved.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Hooded Orioles arrive!


Hooded Oriole - March 2013
Hooded Orioles arrive!

Copyright © Deborah A. Ayers - All rights reserved.

Aloe striata - custom pots - March 2013

Last year, Realm, a local landscape design firm, worked to turn what was dubbed "The Box" into a cozy patio. The pots look great. I've been disappointed that Realm did not remediate the staining on the concrete. It definitely detracts from the overall cool look.

Aloe Striata in custom made pots - March 2013
Aloe Striata in custom made pots - March 2013



Aloe Striata in custom made pots - March 2013
Aloe Striata in custom made pots - March 2013

Copyright © Deborah A. Ayers - All rights reserved.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

A lizard enjoying Spa Ayers

A lizard enjoying a hot rock treatment at Spa Ayers. I couldn't ID him from my Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles in Arizona so if you know what he is, please let me know. At some point, he'd been in a skirmish because he'd lost part of his tail earning him the default name of "Stumpy."

Lizard enjoying a splash on the rocks in the fountain
Lizard enjoying the splash of the fountain, March 2013


Lizard enjoying a splash on the rocks in the fountain
The water was cold since the evenings are still cool.


Lizard enjoying a splash on the rocks in the fountain
He looked like he was enjoying himself.


Lizard enjoying a splash on the rocks in the fountain
But lizards are cold blooded which means
he was probably a bit too chilly in here.


Lizard enjoying a splash on the rocks in the fountain
I moved him to a warm rock in the sun and he sauntered off soon after.

Copyright © Deborah A. Ayers - All rights reserved.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Mama and Papa Quail sighting!

I had my first sighting of Gambel's quail this season. A mama and a papa looking for seed under the feeders! This was six days later than last year when they I spotted them on March 10.

Callipepla gambelii nbii

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Because 55 degrees really is cold!

In southwestern PA, 46 degrees on February 10 is "milder." In Tucson, Arizona 55 degrees on February 10 is cold. I'll take the AZ cold over the PA mild!

Temperatures