Summer in the Desert

The temperature is steadily rising, but life still abounds in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. The birds that consist on a diet of reptile, seeds, and insect, flourish in the summertime. Early morning and dusk are the preferred hunting hours and most animals know to seek shade and retire during the day, people included.

I have been doing a lot of photography lately and appreciate that this form of creativity doesn’t make me too manic. Just a solid haaaaappppy! In the early morning hours, I head down to the pond and photograph dragonflies and damselflies that flit back and forth along the surface of the water. Black Says Phoebes are in hot pursuit of them and it is a free for all feeding frenzy. Great White Egrets and Great Blue Herons stalk the shoreline and wade into the water searching for frogs and fish. The pond is teeming with life in spite of the heat. Kestrel’s swoop down from the sky at dizzying speeds and grab lizards sunning themselves contentedly on rocks. It is an eat and be eaten world in the desert, survival of the fittest, and probably because of the inhospitable conditions, (many people leave in the summer and I have the place mostly to myself) I have wildlife in abundance all around me, and the opportunity to record what I see uninterrupted by the impact of humans.

Callie has had another episode of asthma attacks but I took her to the vet in Encinitas and she prescribed oral prednisone. She hates having the pills rammed down her throat and has taken to avoiding me. It is helping though and she hasn’t had a bad coughing spell in days. The secret to ramming a pill down the throat of a cat is to have a towel wrapped tightly around them in a burrito style with the head sticking out so that they don’t claw you. Coating the pill with butter helps make the pill go down easier, and it most certainly helps to have a partner in crime assist you in the process.

We will be heading back to the beach tomorrow or Thursday, and I am waiting for a surgery date for cervical stenosis. It will be a relief to have this done and I am hoping for a positive outcome.

Happy 4th of July to all of my readers. Keep your pets safe during the fireworks display. Dogs in particular panic at the sound of fireworks and many pets are lost during this holiday celebration. Putting dogs in the bathroom with the fan running is a great way to help them feel more comfortable because the white noise drowns out the sound of fireworks exploding.

Where’s BatGirl?

I sometimes refer to Callie as ”BatGirl” for obvious reasons. She has this cute little black mask and loves to play pranks and gets quite physical with olive tree climbing and running along the sand with her tummy flattened and pretending that she is invisible.

One of her favorite forms of play is to hide and I seek. She really believes it takes some time for me to figure out where she is and delights in my ineptness. I, of course, being on the constant lookout for her and potential danger out here in the desert, really know exactly where she is most of the time. She can’t run loose outside of the yard and the call of the wild speaks to her now and then, so I have to be super vigilant. Ever since Romeo has made his nightly appearance, she is even more apt to scale the wall in search of love.

So this morning at dawn, we played a rousing game of hide and seek in the backyard while I pretended I couldn’t find her for the longest of time. I can tell that her eyes and ears follow me while I look up the olive trees and behind the oleander bushes all the while calling her name. When I finally spot her, she makes a dash for the house with me chasing close behind. After a delightful romp in the early morning sunshine, she rested by basking on the floor with rainbows flickering where prisms of light reflected multicolored flashes of color along the wall and couch.

She is a wonderful companion animal and is really quite the muse. I used to be a painter but now find painting too draining emotionally. Callie provides a creative outlet that actually fills me up with positive energy and a desire to take photographs and then write about it afterward. I am left feeling refreshed and energized, and Callie is spent and exhausted and ready to rest for the day.

She is still searching for Romeo in the evening, but alas, he did not pay her a visit this morning. Fortunately, I kept her mind off of her troubles by playing ”hide and seek” with her.

In Search of Romeo

Callie was called upon by a tomcat last night, and once it was light enough in the morning for her to go outside and into the backyard safely, I opened up the slider and Callie didn’t even make it past the door jam before she stopped to inhale the scent of Romeo’s calling card. It was intoxicating, to say the least. She then proceeded to check out all of the olive trees, oleander bushes, and the back wall. She knew exactly where he had been. At one time she would have had her hackles up and been totally outraged and indignant, now she seems interested and curious. Nothing like playing hard to get, to turn a feline on like little miss hard to get, Callie. I wonder if her suitor will ever show himself in the light of day?

Callie has a Suitor

I have suspected for several nights now that Callie’s suitor has returned because she disappears in the evening for hours at a time, and after searching for her, I found her under a chair in the master bedroom that has a hollow base to it. She curls up under this chair with her front paws and chin facing the sliding door, and peers out intently into the blackness of the night. When I caught her hiding under there, she got up quickly and sat by the window and kept staring. I can’t let her out at night because of coyotes, so she has no choice but to stare at whatever it is she is looking at but with the glass door as a barrier between her and it. Living in Borrego Springs prevents her from unchaperoned access to the outdoors, and I am not about to let her out after dark when I can’t see a thing.

About a year ago, we had the tuxedo tom, a relatively young black and white, tall and lean, gorgeous male in his prime, strolling through the backyard, meowing as tomcats will do, and Callie would throw herself against the door in outrage as she screamed like a banshee and scared the shit out of me. She has always despised her own species because the boys in particular when we lived at the beach, would take one look at her cute little behind and darling back legs and be totally smitten. They would advance on her aggressively instead of taking it slow and easy, and this would make her very upset. I would have to chase them off when we went out for walks together and she hated the attention.

There is also a ginger tom that has managed to survive as a semi-feral male for at least 4 years now that I know of, and he is squat with a thick neck, is short legged and one tough looking home-boy. I am amazed he is still alive and can only surmise that someone must periodically feed him and provide fresh water. I suppose he has access to all the backyard pools too. But summer temperatures can reach a whopping 124 degrees, and most people leave until the fall, so this is one tough cat. He has managed to avoid becoming a meal to the many coyotes in the area and hunt for himself, so this makes him a hero to me.

Both mark the olive tree and the screen door because Callie reacts by curling her lip and staring out into space with a funny, intent look on her face when she gets a whiff. Living out here in the desert for almost two years now has left her just a little bit lonely, and I think she doesn’t mind their presence as much as she used to. This morning because of the brightness of the moon, I got up at 4 am and while I was sipping coffee and Callie was resting on the stereo that provides warmth for her, we heard the distinctive mournful meows of one of her suitors. I couldn’t see which one it was, but Callie jumped up on the windowsill and stared out into the void, and this time she appreciated the attention.

Now I know why she is secretly going into the back bedroom and staring out into the backyard for hours. She is carrying on a secretive romance with Romeo, and this time because of the glass barrier, he is having to take it nice and slow and easy, just the way she likes it!

Wonder Cat

I have had two distinct moments in my life where my cat has risked death or injury to warn me of potential danger. The first time was when my daughter was a preschooler and was playing outside in a sandbox in the backyard. I give myself credit for recognizing that my cat’s behavior was odd and doing something about it, but never the less, my cat was a hero and held her ground and stayed between a rattlesnake and my daughter.

I went over to investigate because my beautiful black cat named Fanny, was crouched down low to the ground and while staying perfectly still, she was staring intently at the bushes. When I knelt down to see what she was looking at, I came face to face with a 6ft rattlesnake crouched and ready to strike. I jumped up quickly and grabbed Fanny and my daughter so that I could put them safely inside the house. I then called 911 and asked what I should do? The operator called the fire department and 5 men in full armor showed up 15 minutes later.

I assumed that they would relocate the snake, but no, one of the firemen chopped it’s head off with a shovel. I was taken aback by that, but the times were different and not as much emphasis went into the lives of wild animals in your backyard. They handed me the rattle, which I promptly gave to one of my nephews, and served them lemonade and then thanked them profusely for their heroism. As they pulled away in their great big fire truck, Lara and I stood by the curb and waved them off. I then went back to Fanny and praised her for being such a good kitty.

So last night as I was getting ready for bed, I noticed Callie on the floor in a crouched position and she was looking outside at what I thought was the black and white cat. Usually, she jumps up to her loft Kong bed, but this time she was crouched under a chair and looking outside very intently. I patted her and closed the curtain and didn’t think much of it until she moved over toward the bed and stared under the bed. When I asked her what she was doing, she gingerly went over to the bed and started to reach out and tap something ever so cautiously under the bed. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed something move that was the color of the carpet and it darted into the shadows. I thought that it was maybe a cricket or spider, but thought it best to know for sure and went to go get a flashlight.

When I bent all the way down and laid on the floor, I stared at what was maybe a piece of carpet that had been pulled up. I aimed the flashlight directly at it to see it more clearly and tried to focus on what it could be. It was dark under the bed and the beam of the flashlight just barely lit up the creature. When Callie once again went up and tapped it ever so quickly, I realized that it was a 2″ scorpion and I yelled for Michael to come and help me so that we could kill it! With Callie on one end of the bed and Michael and I on the other end, Michael was able to smash it with the tip of a broom.

Once again, I would rather allow animals to live out their lives, but when it comes to the desert and boundaries, they can’t come into my house. Everything in the desert has survived because of fangs and venom and I do not want to be the recipient of a bad encounter taken by surprise. The tarantula was a whole other story though, and I was happy to escort it back out into the desert. But scorpions, ants, killer bees, cockroaches and other such pests need to go.

So last night was special and I truly have a wonderful cat and am so appreciative that I paid attention to her. She clearly didn’t want me going to bed until I checked out what she was guarding. She was not going to let the scorpion out of her sight. She knew it was dangerous or at the very least, a pest that would give me a painful sting and she wanted to protect me. Thank you, Callie! I went to bed and marveled at what an awesome cat I have and slept soundly and in peace for the rest of the night. I will still walk around barefoot, but will always heed Callie’s subtle warning!

I did some further research on scorpions and while most have a sting comparable to a bee, the Arizona Bark Scorpion can be lethal. It is flesh-toned, loves to invade homes and are small- less than 3″. That sure sounds like the scorpion Michael killed yesterday. I am not sure if they travel this far south, but with climate change, who knows? Better safe than sorry.

Now Until the Rains Come

The Peninsular Bighorn Sheep of the De Anza Country Golf Course will be making their way down from the highlands to the green of our country club until the rains come and new, native plant growth, occurs. They have no other choice but to search out food to eat for about one more month on the desert valley floor.

The dominant ewe has learned to take the herd down to eat every day around 10:00 in the morning. It is fascinating to watch them descend so rapidly and straight down the sheer rock cliffs, that they sometimes outrun the falling rocks that are dispersed as they jump. Today it took an agonizingly long time for three young males to get up enough nerve to cross the street, only to be frightened back up a third of the way in seconds flat. They are incredibly fast and agile, and almost silent on thickly padded hooves.

Once they feel safe enough on the golf course, the herd of about 30 sheep, settle down to graze for several hours before ascending back up to the top of the hillside where they remain until tomorrow. The sheep do a fair amount of damage to people’s landscaping, and especially to the barrel cactus, but most of us are happy to pay such a small price so that these native species of bighorn can make it through until the winter rains return.

Peninsular Bighorn Sheep

In my last post concerning the tarantula, I casually mentioned that I was hoping my sister Gayle and I would be able to see the bighorn sheep while she visited me in Anza-Borrego for my 62nd birthday. We went on a bike ride this morning, and what should we see, but a herd of 30 or more crossing onto the De Anza Golf Course!

First, the dominant collared female descends down from the mountainside and stops in the middle of the road to check for danger. She looks back and forth with her ears twitching and eyes darting and seem so wise and knowledgeable. When it is determined that all is safe, the lambs and yearlings follow down cautiously. When the ram fondly named “Bob” comes up from behind, he can’t help but be noticed as he shows off his magnificent head of horns. He has one horn that has been broken off at the tip and this plus his size and age distinguishes him from the other rams. His head of horns looks so heavy and burdensome, that he barely holds his head up. He is also seen doing what is called “snaking” which is an aggressive stance that is meant to drive the herd forward. He looks menacing and very powerful, and the young males and lambs keep a wide birth. The ewe just stood there and let him nuzzle her for awhile before moving on slowly. She has seen it all before and seemed almost bored with his advances. After he checked her out thoroughly, he stuck his tongue out and sniffed the air while promptly peeing. She had quite an amorous effect on him and it took him awhile before he followed her over to the green grass.

Another ram that was not as mature as the first ram, but big never the less, came down with a solitary ewe shortly afterward, and they deliberately ignored one other as they slowly crossed without mishap. Later, my sister witnessed them walk past each other and then hit horns loudly with sideways, glancing blows off the head. There were some play acting and ramming of heads, but nothing serious took place. It will soon be the rutting season, as this is November, but for now, it didn’t look like much energy was put into it.

How fortunate for us, that we were to be able to see the entire herd move across the street safely and settle down to graze on the golf course at the bottom of the hillside. The golf course is not a good place for these native, desert animals to graze, but it sure filled me with pride and wonder to see them survive in such a hostile environment. They only come down from the mountains when they absolutely have to, and only because their natural foliage has run out. I am pleased beyond words to have seen them today and to acknowledge that the herd has grown in numbers from last year. This is a good sign that the bighorn sheep in this area are once again stable! It is unfathomable to me why trophy hunters would want to decapitate one of these magnificent rams just for their horns!

A Night to Remember

Last night was Halloween. There are no trick or treaters out here in the middle of nowhere, but I did witness an extraordinary sunset! Usually, the sunrises are much more beautiful because the sun sets behind the San Ysidro Mountains and the lighting isn’t very good. When the sun rises, it illuminates the mountains. But last night was an exception to the rule! Watch as the colors change from gold and pink to deep purples and rose tones.

Tree Climbing Cat

I have never had a cat that loves to climb trees as much as Callie. And she especially loves to climb trees with me watching her. She crouches low to the ground and waits for me to notice before she races up the trunk of the nearest olive tree. When she sees me looking at her, off she goes in a blur of fur! As soon as she gets to where she wants to be, she settles down and surveys her surroundings like the desert queen that she is.

A Sequel to the Sacred Olive Trees

Today dawned golden and bright with a brisk temperature of only in the 50’s. This is the best time of year to be living in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and Borrego Springs. Exotic migratory birds like the oriole, tanager, and flickers, return for the winter. Packs of coyotes have raised their young and if all goes well, the pups will survive and contribute to the chorus of howls and yips by adding their own little squeaky voices to the early morning mix. The bighorn sheep once again move to higher ground with their springtime lambs and every one of us that made it through the harsh summer can take a deep sigh of relief. The desert is where I call myself home now, and I am eternally grateful that the heat is once again behind us.

The summers are brutal here in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. We had a high of 124 degrees F, but because there is a constant source of water that is made available with natural springs flowing most of the year, bighorn sheep, bobcat, mountain lions, badgers, desert foxes, quail, roadrunners, many species of birds, jackrabbits, cottontails and so much more, are able to survive the summer heat.

Fortunately for us, we were able to travel in our 24ft Class C RV during most of the hot summer in order to escape the scorching months of July and August with our cat, Callie and only had to return last week to settle in for the fall and winter season. We will continue to take shorter trips for the fun if it, but the desperation of fleeing the heat of summer is behind us.

Callie has been on an antibiotic for 7 days now for acute bronchitis, which was triggered again when we drove through the horrific fires of Santa Rosa, California. Due to the highway 101 closure, we were forced to dry camp at Salt Point Campground north of Bodega Bay in order to try and get away from the smoke. Fires had broken out all over the map and we were not successful in finding a campground which was smoke-free. She started coughing soon after we spent the night there and it became progressively worse the second half of the 5-week trip. Fortunately, I have a good vet in Morro Bay who was able to call in a compound prescription for us and she is on the road to recovery.

This morning was the first day Callie dashed across the backyard in order to reach a fast enough momentum to climb high up on her beloved olive trees. She loves these trees and climbing them is a passion for her. The higher she climbs, the prouder she becomes! It is always a good sign when she throws herself on the trunk of the tree and then dashes straight up until she can climb no higher. It made me feel good too, to see her once again feeling better.