casitas de gila guesthouses bed and breakfast new mexico 575-535-4455
info@casitasdegila.com

Southwestern Guesthouses on 265 Acres
near Silver City, New Mexico
overlooking Bear Creek and the Gila Wilderness

Casitas de Gila Nature Blog

Casitas de Gila Nature Blog

Springtime Amongst the Cottonwoods

native grass along Bear Creek

Native grass along Bear Creek

Signs of Spring are everywhere on Bear Creek now. At last, our long, cold, dry La Niña Winter is over and the dormant, monotone-gray vegetation along Bear Creek is waking up. While a few late starters are still sporting furry whitish-yellow catkins, most stands of the Bluestem Willow (Salix irrorata), which grows in spotty thickets along the Creek, have progressed to putting out their first small green leaves. Shiny deep-green clumps of native grasses have also poked up here and there along the water’s edge, much to the delight of the Mule Deer and Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep who come down from the adjacent hills to drink and feast.

Yet as interesting and as promising as these and other first signs of Early Spring may be, it is the electric yellow-green leaves of Freemont’s Cottonwood (Populus fremontii), now lighting up in abundance throughout the Bear Creek floodplain, that command one’s attention, their borderline-garish verdant display simply impossible to ignore. Hiking along Bear Creek, one’s eye is repeatedly entrained in silent awe of these magnificent cottonwoods, as both young and ancient specimens alike stand illuminated in the brilliant, hard, early-morning light, silhouetted against the reddish-tan conglomerate cliffs rising precipitously in shadow from the floodplain across from Casitas de Gila Guesthouses.

Freemont's Cottonwood

Freemont's Cottonwood showing its spring colors along Bear Creek

Fremont’s Cottonwood is one of several species of cottonwoods found in the US, and is the dominant species found throughout the Southwest United States, in Arizona, California, New Mexico, Nevada, Texas, and Utah. It is a large tree, attaining heights of up to 120 feet, with diameters of 5 feet or more, and a crown often spreading in excess of 100 feet. The bark, while smooth in younger trees, becomes deeply fissured as the tree matures.

Fremont Cottonwoods are dioecious, putting out flowers from March to April in the form of a long, drooping catkin that differ between male and female trees. The fruit consists of egg-shaped capsules which split open when mature to release quantities of wind-dispersed seeds carried by tufts of cotton-like filaments, often covering the ground like snow. Leaves are heart-shaped, 2 to 3 inches long, a shiny deep green with white veins and serrated margins. In the Fall, these leaves turn a beautiful deep yellow to orange, turning the floodplain into rivers of gold when viewed from the hills and mountains above. Leaves are attached to the stems by a 1-1/2-to-3 inch long vertically-flattened petiole which produces the characteristic fluttering in the slightest of breezes.

Spring cottonwoods

Spring cottonwoods along Bear Creek

Cottonwoods are water-loving trees, with their deeper roots extending below the permanent water table. The wood is much like a living sponge, and the heavy, water-saturated branches are highly prone to breaking off in high winds. While inviting for shade and refuge, they can be deadly for campers during a storm. Normal life span is referenced as being 130 or 150 years; but in certain favorable and protected sites this could well be exceeded by many, many years. The largest known specimen recorded in the National Register of Big Trees is in Santa Cruz, Arizona, measuring 42 feet in circumference, over 13 feet in diameter, 92 feet in height, and has a spread of 108 feet.

spring cottonwood leafing out

A cottonwood leafing out in the Spring

For many a pioneer wagon-train family crossing the dry, parched wilderness of the American West, their water barrels running dangerously low, the sight of that distant sinuous band of Spring green to Autumn gold cottonwoods snaking across the landscape was the tangible godsend to their prayers. They knew that cottonwoods meant water – either at the surface or shallow enough to dig. They also knew that beneath those lofty, rustling boughs awaited a welcomed cool, shady respite from the incessant, searing rays of the Western Sun.

Many of these pioneers would put down their own roots along these cottonwood-lined valleys. “No need to go further”, they would say, “it looks mighty fine right here”. Some would try their hand at farming, finding out fairly quickly that cottonwoods, while not much good for firewood or fodder for their animals, made a decent fencepost. Others, with more expansive dreams, would end up ranching the adjacent hills and mountains that spread out in endless emptiness before them, quickly learning to site their homesteads on the hillsides well above the reach of the floods that would periodically rage through the ancient cottonwood groves below. In time, quite a few of them would choose a more obsessive path, that of eternally chasing the illusive golden flakes that occasionally could be found shining enticingly in the stream beds beneath those same cottonwoods in the clear, shallow waters of the deeper canyons. And so it was in the valley of New Mexico’s Gila River and along the more hidden meanderings of Bear Creek. All the while the cottonwoods watched in soft, rustling observance.

To the Native Americans of the American West, however, the cottonwoods were much more than just a cool drink in a shady spot. For countless generations of various tribes, cottonwood trees were an integral part of daily life whose cultural uses ranged from offering a sacred connection to the Great Spirit to being Nature’s provider of everyday basics, from medicinal to edible to the utilitarian, and, sometimes, to the special. Several of these specific uses are listed below.

Freemont's Cottonwood bark

Fissured Bark on The Old One, along the Big Tree Trail at Casitas de Gila Guesthouses

Native American tribes associated with these uses, as documented in reference literature, are indicated by numerals in parentheses following the specific use. These tribes and their locations are as follows:

  1  Cahuilla, Central Southern California
  2  Chumash, coastal areas of Central and Southern California
  3  Diegueno (Kumeyaay), Southern California and Baja California, Mexico
  4  Havasupai, Grand Canyon, Arizona
  5  Hopi, Northeastern Arizona
  6  Hupa, Northern California
  7  Kawaiisu, Southen California
  8  Maidu, Northern California
  9  Mendocino, Northern California
10  Pima, South Central Arizona and Sonora, Mexico
11  Pueblo, Arizona and New Mexico
12  Wintun, coastal area Northern California
13  Yokut, Central California
14  Yuki, Northern California

In reviewing the uses listed below, it is highly probable that many, if not most, other Southwest tribes besides those listed used Fremont Cottonwood in most of the various ways listed, particularly in the medicinal and edible categories.

Medicinally, the uses were legion, in the form of infusions (steeping of plants in water or oil), decoctions (mashing, then boiling of plants to extract soluble oils and organic compounds), or as poultices (soft, moist mass of plants put on injuries or bites, generally applied heated). Primary active ingredients are salicin and populin, which are closely related to the chemical ingredients of aspirin:

Infusion of bark and leaves on cloth tied around head for headaches (1)
Infusion of bark or leaves taken for colds (14)
Infusion of bark or leaves taken for sore throats, fever or (14)
Infusion of bark and leaves used as a wash for cuts (1)
Infusion of bark or leaves taken for cuts and sores (14)
Infusion of bark or leaves taken to expel worm and intenstinal parasites
Infusion of leaves applied to bruises, wounds or insect stings (3)
Infusion of leaves effective against scurvy, urinary infections, heart troubles, and as a diuretic
Infusion of bark and leaves used on horses for saddle sores and swollen legs (1)
Decoction of bark used as a wash for bruises and cuts (9)
Decoction of bark used as a wash for horse sores caused by chafing (9)
Decoction of plant used as a bark for sores (10, 14)
Decoction of green leaves used applied to breaks or sprains (3)
Decoction of inner bark to wash broken limbs (7)
Poultice of leaves applied to bruises, wounds or insect stings (3)
Poultice of inner bark applied to injured areas (7)
Poultice of boiled bark and leaves applied to swellings caused by muscle strain (1)
Poultice of hot leaves applied to breaks or sprains (3)
Poultice or salve of leaf buds used for burns or skin irritations

Use as an edible food source:

Young, green pods or “berries”(female flower catkins) eaten or chewed as gum (4, 10)
Catkins (male flower catkins) eaten as a snack food (10)
Flowers (male and female catkins) eaten as a snack food (10)
Sweet and starchy sap consumed raw or cooked
Inner bark can be scraped off and eaten raw, cooked in strips like noodles or dried and powdered as flour substitute

Various utilitarian uses:

Pealed stems split and used to make baskets (4)
Wood used for the construction of shades and houses (4)
Twigs used for basket making (8, 10, 13)
Roots used to make twined baskets (6)
Wood used for fence posts (4, 10)
Trunks used to make wooden mortars (1)
Wood used to make bowls and plates (4)
Wood used occasionally but considered a poor source of firewood (3, 4, 9)
Inner bark fibers used to make skirts (2, 12)
Bark fibers used to pad baby cradles (12)

Special uses:

Central pole used in the Sacred Sun Dance Ceremony (numerous Plains Indian tribes)
Roots used for the carving of sacred Kachina dolls (5)
Hollowed logs used to make drums (4, 11)
Falling seeds used to indicate time to plant (4)
Wind rustling leaves believed to be gods speaking to people (5)

Freemont's Cottonwood

The Old One — the big cottonwood along the Big Tree Trail

Most of the trails in the Casitas de Gila Nature Preserve along the Bear Creek floodplain have extensive stands of Fremont Cottonwood. The growth of the younger cottonwoods in the central part of the floodplain since a major flood in February 2005 (8 feet above normal flow, bank to bank) is well documented in the Casita’s Self-Guided Nature Trail.

The Big Tree Trail leads past several old-growth and very large cottonwoods, including one giant specimen that measures 27 feet in circumference (8.6 feet in diameter)! This tree is well protected from floods and high winds by vertical ledges of Gila Conglomerate that buttress its east side. Thus protected, it is thought that this tree is probably the oldest tree on the property, possibly in the neighborhood of 200 to 250 years. To pause and sit quietly on the log bench placed at its base and to contemplate and listen to the fluttering leaves rustling far above is a treat for one’s soul. Judging by the numerous tracks commonly found in the trail next to this tree, it is apparent that this is a favorite spot for other residents of Bear Creek as well. Examining these tracks over the years, we and our guests have identified a wide variety of passerby fauna, including Bobcat (Lynx rufus), Coatimundi (Nasua narica) and even the occasional Mountain Lion or Cougar (Felix concolor).

References

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Populus_fremontii
http://www.treenm.com/education/fremont_cottonwood.shtml
http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/plants/tree/popfre/all.html
http://plants.usda.gov/plantguide/pdf/cs_pofr2.pdf
http://herb.umd.umich.edu/herb/search.pl?searchstring=Populus+fremontii

Posted in Bear Creek, New Mexico trees, wildlife | Tagged , | 2 Comments

THE SUPER-VOLCANOES OF THE GILA WILDERNESS

Thanks to the Discovery Channel, the National Geographic Channel, the BBC, and other mass media documentaries, most people have heard of super-volcanoes: large-scale geologic features, which when they become active, can spew 1,000 cubic kilometers (240 cubic miles) or more of ejected material in the form of lava, molten rock fragments and ash over vast areas of the surrounding countryside and into the atmosphere.

Technically referred to by volcanologists and geologists as calderas or mega-calderas, the best-known super-volcano of the United States is the Yellowstone Caldera. In recent geologic times the Yellowstone Caldera has had three super eruptions: 2.1 Ma (million years ago), 1.3 Ma, and the most recent only 640,000 years ago, when about 1000 km3 of volcanic material was blasted into the air, covering much of North America with up to 2 meters of ash and volcanic rock debris.

Piños Altos Range in the Gila Wilderness

Snow-covered layered volcanic tuffs from the Bursum Caldera in the Piños Altos Range in the Gila Wilderness as seen from Casitas de Gila Guesthouses

Calderas form when a hot spot of molten magma develops in the lower crust or upper mantle of the earth, causing the surface of the earth to bulge up under the extreme pressure of molten rock with trapped gases within the magma chamber. If the composition of the magma is rich in silica, say 60% to 70%, the molten rock is highly viscous and not likely to flow easily (unlike the silica deficient [50% or less] basaltic lavas of Hawaii which flow readily for miles and miles). Consequently, when the upward-moving molten silica-rich magma nears the surface of the earth, it undergoes a rapid drop in confining pressure from the overlying rock that allows for the decompression and expansion of the trapped gasses in the magma. When this occurs, it results in the explosive and destructive eruption of the volcano, and the spewing of the voluminous amounts volcanic ash and other volcanic material. Once the eruption and the emptying of the magma chamber is complete, it is then that the distinctive geomorphic landscape of the caldera forms.

Calderas are so named because of the cauldron-like shape that results from the collapse of the interior land surface of the center of the volcano following the eruption and emptying of the underlying magma chamber. Super-volcanoes or mega-calderas can be huge: the Yellowstone Caldera, for example, measures 30 miles by 45 miles. Oftentimes mega-calderas will experience repeated cycles of resurgent doming of the caldera floor as more molten magma rises to the surface of the earth, followed by renewed eruptions and collapse. Super-volcanoes can wreak havoc on a monumental scale, with devastating climate and ecological affects felt on a world-wide basis, including mass extinctions of species and mini-ice ages.

Mogollon Range in the Gila Wilderness

The Mogollon Range in the Gila Wilderness with layered volcanics from the Bursum Caldera

While most of today’s visitors to Yellowstone National Park are aware of the Park’s explosive past and unstable present, it is fairly safe to say that it would be the rare visitor to Southern New Mexico who would have any idea that the seemingly benign and now silent Gila Wilderness, which forms the spectacular mountainous skyline just 5 miles to the north of Casitas de Gila Guesthouses, shares a similar, albeit much older and complex, geologic history. It is here, in the Gila Wilderness, over a span of some 15 million years, that Southern New Mexico was witness to one of the most explosive and largest areas of continuous volcanic activity in the world, and one which rivaled every aspect, in terms of overall size and magnitude of ejected volcanic material, of its Yellowstone counterpart, 700 miles to the north.

Catwalk Nature Trail, Glenwood, New Mexico

The Catwalk Narrows cut by Whitewater Creek in Cooney Tuff from the Mogollon Caldera

Geologic research in the Gila and Aldo Leopold Wildernesses and surrounding Gila National Forest shows that this area has been the site of at least 4 major mega-calderas that were active over a span of time from 35 to 20 million years ago. From West to East these are: the Mogollon Caldera, the Bursum Caldera, the Gila Cliff Dwellings Caldera, and the Emory Caldera. These calderas formed within a vast volcanic landscape referred to as the Mogollon-Datil volcanic field, which stretches some 100 miles from Datil south to Piños Altos.

Few exposures remain of the oldest caldera, the Mogollon Caldera, dated at 34 Ma (34 million years ago), which was active during the Late Eocene and Early Oligocene epochs. This caldera was located in what is now the heart of the Mogollon Mountains, the imposing mountain range which extends northwest from the community of Gila towards Glenwood and then turns north towards Reserve. Although the Mogollon Caldera is typically covered over by younger volcanic deposits, a lot of what is known about it has been gleaned from research done along Mineral Creek near Alma and at the Catwalk Recreation Area, where exposures of a portion of the rocks which made up the wall of the collapsed caldera can be found along the east side of Whitewater Creek Canyon near the beginning of the Catwalk Trail. The size of the Mogollon Caldera is not known due to the cover of younger volcanic material; however, judging by the combined thickness of the pyroclastic rhyolitic ash fall and ash flow tuffs of the Cooney Tuff formation, which totals about 3,000 feet, it is highly probabe that this caldera was immense.

Catwalk Trail, Southwest New Mexico

Cooney Tuff from the Mogollon Caldera, along the Catwalk Nature Trail in Glenwood

A few million years later, during Early Oligocene time, approximately 29-28 Ma, renewed vulcanism once more took place within the Mogollon Mountains just east of Glenwood. This activity culminated in the formation of the huge Bursum Caldera, which measures some 18 miles by 25 miles across. Once again, massive and explosive eruptions of pyroclastic rhyolitic ash fall and ash flow deposits took place, burying most of the Mogollon Caldera deposits, with what is now known as the Bloodgood Canyon Rhyolite Tuff and the Apache Spring Tuff formations.

Contemporaneous with, and overlapping the eastern margin of the Bursum Caldera, the smaller Gila Cliff Dwellings Caldera, 28 Ma and measuring some 10 miles by 16 miles in diameter, was busily erupting, blowing out extensive deposits of rhyolitic pyroclastic ash flow and ash fall material to form what is now mapped and known as the Shelly Peak and Davis Canyon tuffs.

The Emory Caldera, 34 Ma and measuring some 15 miles by 34 miles in diameter, is the eastern-most caldera within the Gila National Forest, lying partly within the Aldo Leopold Wilderness at the southern end of the Black Range near Hillsboro and some 15 miles east of the eastern edge of the Gila Cliff Dwellings Caldera. Like the other calderas in the Gila Wilderness, the Emory Caldera ejected tremendous quantities of pyroclastic rhyolitic ash fall and ash flow deposits such as the Kneeling Nun Tuff, which is the material which makes up the unusual rock formations at City of Rocks State Park, 25 miles south of Silver City.

Catwalk Nature Trail, Glenwood

Cliffs of Cooney Tuff from the Mogollon Caldera along the Catwalk Trail in Glenwood

If the above geologic history and descriptions of rocks comprising each of the four Gila calderas sounds similar, that is because they are. The reason for this is that current geologic and geophysical data and research suggests that these four caldera, while coming from separate and shallow magma reservoirs, were being fed from a much larger, deeper and common magma chamber, which in geologic terminology would be called a batholith.

Following the eruptions and collapse of the calderas of the Gila Wilderness and surrounding area, extensive mineralization emplacement took place, including precious and base metals such as gold, silver, lead, zinc and copper, and non-metallic fluorite. This mineralization occurred within the ring faults surrounding the calderas, plus a host of other associated faults and intrusive dikes structures within and adjacent to the calderas. With the discovery of this mineralization in the mid-1800s, mining became the major driving economic force leading to the settlement and development of Grant and Catron Counties, with the establishment of several early mining districts in the area, such as the Cooney Creek-Mogollon mining district, where mineralization has been dated at 17 Ma, the Piños Altos gold mining district, and the Gila fluorspar mining district located near Gila at the mouth of the Gila River Canyon which was developed during WWII.

Agave, Catwalk Nature Trail, Glenwood

Agave growing on Cooney Tuff from the Mogollon Caldera along the Catwalk Nature Trail in Glenwood

In addition to the emplacement of mineralization, other late-stage volcanic activity continued in association within the calderas and surrounding area with the eruption of basaltic andesite flows about 26-25 Ma and additional rhyolite and basaltic flows around 22-21 Ma. Gradually, such activity decreased as the deep magma chambers cooled, although even as late as 5.5 Ma basaltic flows still occurred from time to time in the area, as evidenced by the presence of these flows interbedded within the Gila Conglomerate adjacent to the Mogollon Mountains, such as those observed about five miles east of Casitas de Gila Guesthouses in the Bear Creek drainage.

Today, many visitors to the Gila Wilderness come to enjoy the remnant heat from these ancient fiery, super-volcano calderas in the form of the numerous hot springs that are found throughout the area. While some of the springs are well known, such as the Gila Hot Springs and Turkey Creek Hot Springs, countless others await their discovery by the intrepid hiker explorer. To be sure, while the fire down below may be out, the oven is still plenty hot!

References:

Ratte, J. R. Marvin, C. Naeser, and M. Bikerman, 1984, Calderas and Ash Flow Tuffs of the Mogollon Mountains, Southwestern New Mexico, Journal. Geophysical Research. 89(B10), 8713-8732.

Ji. C. Ratte, S. Lynch, and W. C. McIntosh, 2006, Preliminary Geologic Map of the Holt Mountain Quadrangle, Catron County, New Mexico, New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources, Open-file Digital Geologic Map of OF-GM 120.

Geology of the Gila Wilderness- Silver City Area, 2008, New Mexico Geological Society, Fifty-ninth Annual Field Conference, October 23-25, 2008, New Mexico Geological Society, Inc.

Posted in geology, volcanoes | Tagged , , | 13 Comments

JAVELINAS AT THE DOORSTEP

javelina near silver city, new mexico

This javelina is out for a leisurely afternoon stroll ...

This morning I went out for a walk along the Big Tree Trail with our two English Springer Spaniels, Bower (age 4) and Chloe (age 2). Just as we came out of the woods to cross Bear Creek on our return to the Casitas, we suddenly came upon a small group of adult Javelina with young ones in tow. I suppose they were as startled by our sudden appearance as we were startled of them. In any case, Bower let out a woof or two and started towards them to investigate, with Chloe following. But as soon as he saw what they were, he quickly decided that really wasn’t such a good idea and came running back, with Chloe fast behind. (For all his bravado as a great hunter, Bower is finally beginning to display some instinctual adult sense. Plus, we have taken great pains to train both Bower and Chloe not to bother the Javelina, Mule Deer, Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep, and, very importantly, rattlesnakes. Most unfortunately, however, he, unlike Chloe, still hasn’t learned to leave the Striped Skunks alone.) Anyway, we took a little detour around the Javelina family as they continued foraging their way down the creek, and returned to the Casitas.

Javelina footprints

Javelina front footprints

Javelina (Pecari tajacu), or as known elsewhere in the Western Hemisphere by their other common name, the Collard Peccary, are one of the most interesting animals commonly found in the Casitas de Gila Nature Preserve. They are native to and are found abundantly throughout the Southwest U.S., as well as in Central and South America. In size they are about that of a medium-sized dog, adults weighing up to 40 or 60 pounds. They are easily recognized by their large, tapered and triangular-shaped head with a rubbery pig-like snout, a heavy coat of coarse, salt-and-peppered gray and black hair in adults (brownish to reddish in juveniles), and a lean, muscular body mounted on short, spindly legs with two toes in front and three in back. In appearance, they also bear considerable resemblance to the wild razorback hog or feral domestic pig of the Southern U.S., which originated in Europe, and with which they are sometimes confused.

Prickly Pear in Southwest New Mexico

This prickly pear made a great snack, spines and all!

The Javelinas here at Casitas de Gila Guesthouses are generally found in small family bands or herds of up to 15 or so individuals. While they do feed on insects, reptiles and worms, their preferred diet consists of all types of plant material, including roots, grass, seeds, and fruits which they find in abundance along the Bear Creek floodplain and harvest readily with four straight canine tusks, which in adults are about 2 inches long. Amazingly, one of their favorite foods is the Prickly Pear Cactus, a plant that is covered with needle-like spines up to 2 or 3 inches long! I personally can vouch for this being true, since the flowering Prickly Pear is one of my favorite desert subjects to paint. Over the years every one I have used as a painting subject has been eaten by a roving band of Javelinas after my painting was finished.

Javelina have notoriously poor distant eyesight, which they make up for by having a good sense of hearing and smell. They have a strong scent gland located on their rump with which they mark their territory and fellow herd members. Unmolested they are not aggressive, and will quickly leave the scene when humans appear. Occasionally, however, and if forced to, they will defend their territory, usually with much grunting and gnashing of tusks as a warning, especially when there are babies or young ones present. Woe be unto the dog that chooses to chase them! When this happens, typically several adults in the herd will almost always become very aggressive, and, as a result, the dog generally comes running straight to its owner with all the javelinas chasing after. Definitely not good.

The best time and place to see the Javelinas at Casitas de Gila Guesthouses is early in the morning or in the afternoon down along Bear Creek where food is most dependable. Less commonly, they will be found on the hills adjacent to Bear Creek when they are hankering for a good feed on Prickly Pear Cactus. Once the days start getting hot, they are rarely out and about from mid-morning to late afternoon, preferring instead to find a nice shady spot for a siesta, and then becoming active once again during the cool evening hours.

javelinas in Gila, New Mexico

Two javelinas munching on fresh zucchini. There's no use trying to grow vegetables here unless the garden is fully and securely fenced.

For a few years right after we opened we used to have the Javelinas right at the doorstep. This occurred when we decided it would be a nice touch to have pumpkins around the Casitas and at the office between Halloween and Thanksgiving. It’s hard to say what the guests thought of our efforts, but the Javelinas loved the pumpkins! The night-time sounds of chomping incisors and grunting and fighting over the pumpkins became an annual event, as the Javelina very quickly noted the date of the Great Pumpkin Feast on their calendar. So we had to give it up. Much better to have those critters down by the creek rather than up at the Casitas.

For the last half of 2010, and so far this year, the climate for the Western Hemisphere has been dominated by the presence of strong La Niña conditions in the Eastern Pacific. When this occurs, winters in Southwest New Mexico tend to be dry and cool, and this year is no exception. Presently, in our area most upland sources of water are in the process of drying up, or have already dried up, and are unlikely to be replenished until the Monsoon Rain Season begins in late June or early July. At the Casitas, however, Bear Creek runs year ’round. As a result, during the dry seasons increased numbers of animals and birds come to the area around Casitas de Gila and Bear Creek because of the dependable availability of water. If the current dry conditions continue into Spring, and in all likelihood they will, the number of furry and feathered visitors to the floodplain below the Casitas should increase. Judging by the number and variety of tracks in the trails along the floodplain over the past couple of weeks, this certainly seems to be the case, and right now the two-toed tracks of the Javelina can be seen everywhere!

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1,000 POUND BIRDS

Becky’s contribution to Michael’s Gila Nature Blog

mexican horses at Casitas de Gila

Our two horses: Yaqui (left) and Saino (right)

Ever since we began letting our two horses, Yaqui and Saino, graze on the 30 acres immediately surrounding the Casitas, we’ve had a problem with the bird seed.

Each Casita has a bird feeder and a can full of birdseed. Guests at Casitas de Gila Guesthouses are welcome to keep their feeder full and enjoy the variety of birds that visit. The problem is that two of the “birds” weigh 1,000 pounds each. As you can well imagine, we go through a LOT of birdseed. So it’s always been a bit of a dilemma for us. We want our guests to feed and enjoy the birds. But we really don’t want the horses eating the birdseed. Our guests, on the other hand, are generally delighted when the horses come around and are thoroughly entertained while watching them tip the feeders.

Pine Siskins at Casitas de Gila near Silver City, New Mexico

Pine Siskins feast on peanut suet

Not so long ago, some thoughtful Casita guests left behind a couple packages of suet. Not wanting to waste them, I got a holder and we put the suet up at the house, right outside our kitchen window, where we could watch. It was moderately successful in that some of the finches ate the suet, but the block of suet lasted quite a while. Eventually I had to decide whether to retire the holder or buy suet. I bought suet. Berry-flavored suet. The birds liked that, and they ate it fairly quickly. So a couple of weeks ago I bought peanut suet. WOW! The Pine Siskins practically flocked to that suet! What a show we had every morning while we sat by the window and drank our Irish tea.

After watching this for a couple of mornings, I had an epiphany. Why I did not have this epiphany long ago puzzles me, but at least I finally had it.

I could replace the bird feeders with peanut suet!

The horses can’t get at it (maybe, not sure yet). And the birds will still come. Throw a little seed on the ground below it for the other birds, and voilá! problem solved.

Silver City bed and breakfast

Yaqui feasts on birdseed

Having a filled suet feeder at each Casita still doesn’t completely solve the other horse-and-birdseed problem we’ve had over the years: The horses will do everything they can to get into the can of birdseed. And it’s not just the horses! Mice, chipmunks and squirrels also want their share of birdseed.

Through the years we’ve have various kinds of containers holding birdseed. They all had one thing in common: they had to fit under the bench on the porch, away from the horses and any wetness. The mice, chipmunks and squirrels ate right through the plastic containers to get to the seed. And generally the horses could grab onto them and pull them out. Metal would be good, but we couldn’t find anything small enough to fit under the bench but large enough to hold a reasonable amount of seed.

A few years ago we hit on the idea of buying the holiday popcorn tins, tossing the popcorn, and filling the cleaned-out container with birdseed. Well, this worked great! Most of the time.

Occasionally one of the horses would manage to get into a popcorn container. We’d clean up the mess and try to keep the containers out of their reach. One day I was walking past Casita de las Flores and I saw the lid off the container. I was grumbling about those darn horses as I started walking over to put the lid back on. Several steps later, a very large squirrel jumped out of the container and ran off! Dang, I thought! We haven’t licked this problem at all.

So off I went to get a pair of pliers and proceeded to bend the lid edge in all around. I did this on all five containers, and now the lids needed to be pried off to get at the seed.

That worked really well for the squirrels; they simply could not get at that seed now. But the horses … well, all they had to do was get that can out from under the bench, step on it a few times, and they had their birdseed treat again.

Each re-purposed popcorn can now bears a large label:

BIRD SEED: KEEP UNDER BENCH—AWAY FROM HORSES

So far, it’s working.

Now if we can only figure out how to keep the horses from drinking the hummingbird food . . .

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Becky & Michael O'Connor, Owners
CASITAS DE GILA GUESTHOUSES & ART GALLERY
50 Casita Flats Rd • PO Box 325 • Gila, New Mexico 88038
575-535-4455

info@casitasdegila.com

 

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