Wednesday, September 25, 2013

More first pets: Pollywogs!

We made the summer a regular pet-fest here, with plenty of mates for Russell the lizard. First there was “Climber” an interestingly colored beetle found on our patio that stayed alive for a remarkably long time in Luke’s bug house.

Then we happened upon an enormous puddle in a parking lot, brimming with tadpoles. We scooped up a cupful to take home and Nika and Papi helped the kids transfer them to the water table. A perfect home for the wiggly crew.

Here Luke is watching them happily swim as he eats breakfast the next morning.

We didn’t know what rate to expect for their transformation, but the fascinating process proceeded somewhat slowly giving us plenty of time to admire and photograph the pollywogs in various stages. First their legs appeared,

Then arms grew out and tails got shorter,

Finally they lost their tails entirely and started jumping out of the water. Funny little froggies – wait, I think they might be toads?

Our third little pet is still in transformation. The kids received a butterfly kit from my parents and sent away for the caterpillars a few weeks ago. We watched them hang from the top of their jar, harden into cocoons, and transferred them into a larger habitat. Now we’re just waiting for the butterflies to emerge!

I think this will be the last for a while in my series of posts on our southwest-y critters. Are you breathing a sigh of relief? Next up are some pics from our recent home projects and of course more kids on bikes. Now there’s a little time left in Eleanor’s nap, so I think I’ll pull out my autumn-y decorations to put up with the kids this afternoon!  

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Love at first lizard

For years now every cute pooch that passes our way has left me with a twinge of regret, slowly mounting to guilt. Luke and Eleanor would be so delighted by puppy kisses, doggy chase, and canine cuddles. And wouldn’t a pet teach them responsibility, respect for animals, and provide a faithful friend in moments of frustration? Yet, I couldn’t quite sign on for the complications that a pooch would bring into our lives. Did we want to spend big bucks to board a dog every time we traveled to visit family? What about all the hair and furniture abuse in the house? Shouldn’t I at least wait until both kids are fully toilet-trained before taking on another potty pupil? So we hemmed and hawed for the past few years over the merits and troubles of dog ownership, never quite ready to take the puppy plunge.

But then it dawned on me: dogs aren’t the only pet available. There are plenty of lower-maintenance pets that could help teach our kids the same valuable lessons, making a more gradual bridge to the responsibilities of dog ownership. Thus began our backyard hunt for a lizard. We had lots of laughs chasing the lightning-fast critters for weeks, never getting nearly close enough to pick one up. But then one morning Erik heard a curious rustling in our recycling bin. He looked inside and lo and behold, there was our new pet, conveniently contained in the bottom of the bin.

The kids were elated when Erik came in with the news and ran out to help. Unfortunately in the hubbub of scooping the lizard up, he shot off his tail as a wild wiggling decoy. Luke thought that was hilarious but Erik kept his cool and got the tricky little guy into the bucket nonetheless.

Luke had picked out a perfect name weeks before. He chose “Russell” because we always hear these lizards rustling in the leaves and grasses. Here Russell is spying a cricket on the rock.What a wild spectacle it is to see him pounce on a cricket and chomp it head-first with its legs sticking out on either side of Russell’s mouth.

Erik is a pet softie so Russell didn’t stay in the white bucket for long. Soon he moved on up to this 55-gallon tank. Now that the weather’s cooled a bit we’ve added a heat pad and UV light. We keep it by our back door so the kids can go outside to check on Russell or just look through the window at him anytime.

It’s precious to see them collecting ‘presents’ to add to Russell’s tank and going out to say good night before bedtime. What a sweetie that little Russell is, I hope he’s happy with us for a long time to come!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Monsoon adventures

After months on end without more than a few drops of rain, the heavens opened. With a fury. Sheets of water beating the ground. Hail clattering on the roof. Relentless, sustained pounding in a climax of the Southwest’s seasonal monsoon storms.

Unfortunately, at the time I was stuck in the Home Depot parking lot due to long delays at the paint counter, worrying about getting home in time to make dinner for the guests we were expecting and shivering from a dash through the icy bucket loads. But there was no dashing home. Central Blvd was a river at least a foot deep, and so I waited with all the other stranded drivers on the Home Depot high ground, awestruck at the sustained torrent of rain. 

Meanwhile, back at Wild Oak, Luke was running out into the sheets in crazy bursts of courage, Eleanor was crying with her hands over her ears in protest of the raucous volume, and Erik was taking photos. Then, for a brief time, our home turned waterfront.

An arroyo crosses through the edge of our property, nature’s watershed path for the looming mountains behind us. But in the year we’ve been here, we’d never seen even a trickle of water run through.

But that afternoon the arroyo surged to a rushing flow, certainly too fast and deep for a child to walk across. If its size was gauged by Albuquerque’s Rio Grande, this would definitely be a Rio Pequeno. Erik missed getting a pic of the wild flow since he didn’t want to bring the camera out in the rain, but here it’s still trickling.

All summer the cacti had been drying up and dying from the miniscule precipitation we’d been receiving. So when our rain gauge recorded 1.5 inches in just over an hour of the storm, we were all elated.

Then, unbelievably, the mega-monsoon repeated itself two weeks later, but with even more fury of wind and rain. We only heard about that storm, as we were in New Hampshire at the time, but what a sweet repeat for our thirsty landscape. Since then occasional storms have continued to frequent Albuquerque, in happy downpours or soft showers. The climatologists say that the extra rain hasn’t brought an end to our region’s drought but it certainly has helped to save the fading flora and fauna. And it’s been our first true monsoon season in our time here, as the drought had obscured the typical month of drenching afternoon storms in late summer.

This year, we’ve driven through the hail to rescue Erik, mid-bike-commute home. We’ve splashed in puddles and waded in gentle arroyo flows. I’ve been home for many of those and cherish the drama and the deluge – the extra-pungent rain smells from the dusty desert ground, the thick clouds rolling down the mountains, and the rush of rain out the canals on a flat adobe roof. Here’s hoping for many more drenching monsoon seasons to come!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Bully is back and other wild encounters

Thanks to the hanta virus (which thankfully has not been reported in our area), my severe snake-phobia has melted away and left behind a stranger who delights to see a snake outside our house provided it doesn’t have a rattle. Now I say, go snake go and eat those mice! Both Bully (our former reptilian house guest) and his heavyweight mother/father were recently spotted near our front door on sunny afternoons. One time the kids were with me and we all enjoyed the enchanting swish, swish, swish as he slithered away into the grass. Another time we found a fresh snake skin on some branches. What a fascinating souvenir these friends leave for us to find.

There was, however, one stressful reptile encounter back at the start of the summer. I went out to check on Erik and the kids’ progress cleaning the front porch. Just on the edge of all the action I was startled to see this little guy lying unnoticed.

It can be hard to tell if small snakes have a rattle or not, so we followed our standard questionable snake protocol and took a photo to check the pupil shape via zoom. And… AAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!! Vertical slits! Venomous. The only venomous snakes listed in our local fauna book are dangerous rattlers.

I started to despair. We were overrun. The rattlesnakes were at our door, waiting to storm our home. Pack now! Where’s the ‘for sale’ sign? Load the car!! But truly the little guy seemed to lack the aggressive temperament associated with rattlesnakes. We sent off photos to a friend, a bona fide NM wildlife authority. To our great relief we quickly heard back that the snake is poisonous but not dangerous to people because his venom is mild and he’s rear-fanged: a night snake. They’re seldom seen because they only come out at night and are extremely shy, but this one was injured and trapped on our porch. My sympathy was stirred and I pitied the poor little guy.

Snakes aren’t the only local resident that’s more active in the warmer months. The past few weeks we’ve heard numerous reports from neighbors about the garbage and birdseed seeking antics of a local black bear. These were all benign but there was one startling bear encounter earlier this summer in our neighborhood. A young black bear pushed in a single-pane window and entered a house in search of food -- an exceedingly rare incident. For some reason the owner confronted the bear (instead of leaving with the doors open), and he suffered a bite on the hand as a result. We have yet to see a bear, but we do hope that they stay in the mountains to avoid execution by the NM animal control units!

Other wildlife encounters from our first year at Wild Oak include Eleanor’s favorite: ‘deers’ munching right outside her window during bedtime stories. Luke and I were awestruck by a gorgeously striped and whiskered bobcat striding down our porch in the middle of the afternoon. Then there are the endless bunnies and hummingbirds, frequent hawks, occasional quail coveys, and a returning roadrunner in the backyard.

I’m still not a fan of scorpion season, but my abhorrence has dimmed a bit as time has passed. Upon close examination the variety that we’ve seen seems to be one whose sting is on par with a bee. All in all, a small price to pay to live in a city-side nature oasis.

I’ll be back to post soon on the three wildlife species that the kids recently adopted as pets: Rustle, Climber, and Froggies!