The Birds and the Bees

Carpenter Bee and Wisteria

EL PASO, TEXAS – The hum from 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 survive. 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.

Orchid-like blossom of the Desert WIllow

We were 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.   In early February 2011, the El Paso area went through over sixty-two hours where the temperature never got above 20 degrees, dropping to -15 Fahrenheit or less with windchill at nights!

The weather extremes in this high desert valley are phenomenal.  That’s why the rush of blooms that arrive in late Spring, and the flying friends those blooms attracted, is so dramatic for us.

Desert Willow

Monarch Butterflies enjoy the nectar from English Ivy blossoms, now gone…

Robin feeding on English Ivy berries

Monarch butterfly migrating through the Pass of the North

A giant Tiger Swallowtail enjoying a sip from the Desert Willow blossoms.

A giant Tiger Swallowtail enjoying a sip from the Desert Willow blossoms.

White-winged Dove in Pyracantha

Pyracantha berries at Christmas, now gone due to the deep freeze in 2011….

Young Ladderback Woodpecker visits the Desert Willow

Adult Ladderback Woodpecker searching for a meal.

Adult Ladderback Woodpecker searching for a meal.


woodpecker-pecans 11-18

Woodpecker catching the last of the season’s pecans from a neighbor’s tree.

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.

Tarantula Wasp detail

Tarantula Wasp on English Ivy

All Summer long, the swimming pool is visited by a caravan of aerial water tankers: Yellow Paper Wasps (sometimes mistakenly called “Yellow Jackets”).  Alighting 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. If they annoy our use of the pool, a flyswatter is always handy!

Yellow Paper Wasp sipping from the pool

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.

Dragonfly Nymph feeding on a wasp

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…

Sharp Shinned Hawk with meal

Common Poorwill rescued from our swimming pool

Red Hawk having it’s lunch interrupted by a mockingbird

Mexican Brown Eagle on old telephone pole along the Orogrande Highway through the Tularosa Basin

Prickly Pear Cactus Blossom

Roland…our Desert Tortoise

Virginia Creeper in Fall blush

Visitors to Casa Donnybrook

Baby Quail in late June…quick things!

Roadrunner cruising up Donnybrook

Lots of visitors during the drought this year, a skunk stops by for a drink out of the dog bowl!

Juvenile Bull Snake found on our front porch!

Young bull snake before we released it back into the yard.

Steller’s Jay

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 Street, 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!

Stellar Jay visiting Casa Donnybrook

Steller’s Jay visiting Casa Donnybrook

Varied Thrush

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.

Varied Thrush-Male seen in the backyard of 4332 Donnybrook, El Paso, TX March 2014

Varied Thrush seen in the backyard of 4332 Donnybrook, El Paso, TX in March 2014

Detailed close up of Varied Thrush using the "facilities" in our yard!

Detailed close up of Varied Thrush using the “facilities” in our yard!

Close up using Nikon 300mm telephoto, Varied Thrush looking over his shoulder!

Close up using Nikon 300mm telephoto, Varied Thrush looking over his shoulder!


In the Summer of 2017, our grandchildren (Reagan, Dawson and Judah) and daughter (Bailey Perry) spent the summer with us at Casa Donnybrook.  The house and backyard, and the pool filled with floaties, were full of life and sounds from dawn to dusk. In the midst of it all, within a few feet of the adult heads walking underneath the oak tree next to our pergola, a brave hummingbird couple built a nest and raised two babies! I discovered it in mid-August, just as the young hummingbirds took wing.

Hummingbird Donnybrook1-Aug17

Hummingbird mother feeding two young

Hummingbird Donnybrook3-Aug17

Young hummingbird about ready to leave the nest they’ve outgrown!

Hummingbird Donnybrook2-Aug17

Fast-forward three years, it’s Spring of 2020 and we’re in “lockdown” at home during the Covid-19 Flu Pandemic.  I check the nest most every weekend when I mow the lawn and clean up the yard, something this year looks different….it’s been “upgraded” and rebuilt!  Waiting a few minutes off in the shadows of the master bedroom door, I spy the little visitor swoop down from a high perch – where she was resting in the afternoon sunshine.

They’re back!  But, are these the chicks that hatched here in 2017 or are they the parents of those hummingbird nestlings who have found their way back during their annual migration. No matter, welcome…to Casa Donnybrook!

Hummingbird resting 4-17-20Hummingbird nesting-sunny2 4-17-20

Hummingbird nesting-sunny 4-17-20

Now, we can’t wait to see the tiny eggs hatch in a month or so!  She keeps the nest covered most all the time, restless anticipation…..


Datura is a genus of nine plant species that are common throughout the Southwestern United States and Mexico. This particular species, Datura Innoxia, comes up in our side yard every year during the summer growing months.  The flowers are remarkable in their size and short lives – they last one evening, hence one of it’s common names “Moonflower. The seed pods are covered in spines, and yield dozens of black seeds when mature.  Carlos Santana named one of his most popular albums “Moonflower“, which was released in 1977.

Jimson Weed Flowering-Donnybrook 2017-label-LR

The flower of the Jimson Weed or Moonflower, known as Datura Innoxia, thrives in the El Paso Del Norte area.

Both the seeds and flowers, as well as the roots, contain high levels of tropane alkaloids such at scopolamine and atropine. Early Native American cultures used the plant for therapeutic purposes such as an analgesic, poultice for wounds, and anesthesia.  It has more of a reputation from it’s use (both in antiquity and in modern culture) as an intoxicant and hallucinogen (some say it is more delirium, but that is a fine distinction). This common, modern-named “Jimson Weed“, has caused many instances of young adult death or serious illness due to the variation of toxins from plant-to-plant and species-to-species.

A very famous artist, Georgia O’Keefe, who lived in Northern New Mexico, painted several well-known works featuring the flower of the Jimson Weed plant, establishing this plant as an iconic image of the Desert Southwest:


“Jimson Weed” by Georgia O’Keefe


Cristo Rey Moonset

El Paso Blood Moon Eclipse1-LR-titlesINHL Logo Globe Grey-Preserving the Past


~ by Dave Etzold on June 12, 2011.

One Response to “The Birds and the Bees”

  1. What absolutely amazing pictures! The wasp and dragonfly are stunning. Of course, the baby quail wins it 🙂

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