The Birds and the Bees
EL PASO, TEXAS – The hum of the wings from hundreds of bees and wasps could almost be felt as a subtle vibration in the air under the Desert Willow. It was Spring at the Pass of the North, and the gush of blossoms on those bushes and trees which survived the Deep Freeze of 2011 seemed to have attracted every pollen-hungry creature from hundreds of miles around. Wisteria made it. So did the Vitex trees and the Virginia Creeper. However, the Pyracantha bushes, which gave us beautiful tiny white blossoms in Spring and bunches of red berries in time for Christmas, as well as the old English Ivy and all the Oleanders, didn’t. Neither did the Star Jasmine, one of my favorite flowering friends around May with its pungent perfume wafting across our kitchen porch from small white five-pointed blossoms.
We are in the middle of one of the region’s worst droughts in over sixty years, which had just followed the all-time coldest freeze ever recorded (over sixty-two hours in early February where the temperature never got above 20 degrees, dropping to -15 or less with windchill at nights)!
The weather extremes this year have been phenomenal. That’s why the rush of blooms that arrived in late Spring, and the flying friends those blooms attracted, was so dramatic for us.
Strange creatures live in the Chihuahua Desert, one of my favorites is called a Tarantula Wasp. She’s a huge black behemoth almost three inches long and twice that in erie orange acetate-looking wingspan. The name befits her, as she hunts down her large hairy arachnida prey, fearless and almost deliberate against those giants.
All Summer long, the swimming pool is visited by a caravan of aerial tankers: Yellow Paper Wasps (sometimes mistakenly called “Yellow Jackets”). Lighting on the calm cool pool, using surface tension to float while filling themselves up, then slowly lumbering back into the air noticeably burdened by their liquid cargo….they are fun to watch on a hot lazy afternoon.
Then, there’s the huge red and orange dragonflies, armored hovering killing machines, which begin their aerial life as alien-looking nymph predators around the coy pond.
Raptors are a common visitor as they migrate through the El Paso-Juarez river valley and high desert pass: Owls, Merlins, Peregrine Falcons, Hawks, Eagles…
Almost every year, we see a flock of beautiful bright blue Steller’s Jays migrate through the Pass of the North. For some reason, this hillside subdivision we live in at the top of O’Keefe, on the flanks of Crazy Cat Mountain (a foothill of the Franklin Mountains that bisect the city), is a preferred rest stop for many species of birds. Bring ‘em on!
Then, there was the time in the Spring of 2014 when a VERY RARE visitor showed up at Casa Donnybrook: the Varied Thrush. Normally only seen along the west coast and mountain woodlands of California, Oregon, Washington and Alaska, this beautiful member of the Thrush Family has found in our backyard a temporary refuge from the strange Chihuahua Desert. Presently noted on the Rare Bird Alert System for the period from mid-February 2014 to at least late March 2014, when this blog was updated.