A startlingly beautiful Black-headed Grosbeak comes to the feeder at El Potrero this morning, and now an ear must be kept out for their equally beautiful notes at Mason’s. In a more usual spring these will have appeared a full month earlier than this and again one thinks to one’s self, “what gives?”
A single Marsh Wren, which a little bird told me would be the last. It is 90 degrees today, and those wintry Savannah Sparrows have gone back to sulking and racing mouse-like through the tall green grasses; this, too, will be the last of these snowbirds-defined before they leave for the Mogollon Rim or go on up even to the Arctic.
With temperatures returned to the 80s, it is right that the Summer Tanagers are giving out what is the voice of the hot summer here, “Pik tuk … peek tuk tuk …” The bosque rings with bird chatterings, whitterings, and calls.
Ellison and I stop on the Cascabel Road at Pasture #3 to watch a Gila Monster cross from one side to the other with the assurance and swing of a bulldog, and one neighbor and another comes along, stops and asks what’s going on–everyone loves a Gila Monster, and this spring has brought out more of them than I have ever seen.
A few wrens in the wet pasture grass.
Scattered tanagers sing out from deep in the bosque and from its edge, but I do not see them–at this time they’re likely Summer Tanagers.
I watch for the Osprey that landed last evening on the electric pole while I sipped wine at the house where I’m spending the summer on a ridge high above Pool Wash. Will it come soaring over the River? It arrived complete with a large, obviously freshly caught fish in its talons which it spent the next couple of hours eating at great leisure! This was like a mirage in the sere desert and tall, arid cliffs stretching out in all directions from the patio, but somewhere were living waters and not just living waters, but waters with large fish in them. The bird flew in from the direction of the Muleshoe Ranch escarpment, so I’d guess the fish was from a stream in that area; mostly all it will find in the San Pedro right now is hot sand.
After that appearance of a single Chat yesterday, the mesquite is full of them, all calling, all in competition I guess for the choicest summer territory; it’s a wonderful Voz del Bosque. Wrens still aplenty today, and Meadowlarks appear again in numbers, mostly in #3 pasture.
The Mallard is out there, alone on the cold pond; in the 30s again. I sit in the pickup bird blind, the early Sunday “Domingo Romantico” out of Sonora bringing into the cab that finest 1930s and ’40s music of Mexico, while I watch Black-chinned Hummingbirds who seem utterly unperturbed by winter returning here right after they did. The males stream in and out from the bosque, land for the briefest moment in a bed of algae and pull single green strands from the floating mess, up into the air for a ways but then let go … or they try picking up a strand of it in the tip of the beak, as if they were pulling a thread to knot, but that gets dropped, too, though the bird can be high above the water before it lets go. Maybe the most surprising was the hummer who flew to the base of the tall riser that comes up out of the water near the pond edge, that is opened to let water flow in an arc from the top to maintain the Stockpond’s water level. As this stream hits the surface, a sort of ojo de agua is formed: a ring of water that rises with the impact of that stream. That hummingbird loved to hover just above this ring of flowing and bouncing water, then lower himself ever so slowly onto it with wings still a-whir above his back, and in this way he’d ride up and over and then slide into more open water beyond, then he’d take off. Humans are hardly the only animals that do things for the sheer enjoyment of them! I remember one Black-chinned last summer who’d come to the leaf tip of a millet plant that had sprouted from bird seed, if I had a sprinkler going and the leaves were wet and holding water in a bit of a cup at their base. That little bird played in the water, lowering himself onto the leaf tip when a stream would be running towards the base, and he’d “slide” all the way, then go back and do it again.
A first Wilson’s Warbler, a beautiful male, flies in, and numbers of White-winged Doves now coo from the bosque and from the wondrously large hackberries around the Stockpond … a probably long dead Mexican in gorgeous tenor croons with them, “Tell her … tell her I think of her, even though she doesn’t think of me … tell her that I die for her”–how different is that from what the doves are getting at? A just arrived Yellow-breasted Chat fusses and hoots, hidden deeply in a graythorn bramble.
I return throughout the day to change wheel lines and waters, and scare up a wren or two–today one showed the black stripes on its back as it flew off across the tips of the barley and oats, so I’m sure these are Marsh Wrens still.
The day ends with a Great Horned Owl silhouetted among the upmost snags of a dead mesquite, a black cut-out against the almost gone red light of evening, looking rather spooky.
The lone Mallard, and a lone White-crowned Sparrow, at the Stockpond.
A few Marsh Wrens, with no reason to leave such a comfortable spot as their pasture cienega, I guess.
Early light. The air is frigid, in these lowest of flats to which the cold of every mountain range east and west drains and pools. Mallard is unbothered with his feet wet in his pond, but I know what it will be like to open the hydrants for the wheel lines and get soaked by the wide fountains of water that’ll shoot up the sleeves of my workshirt and into the tops of my rubber boots. The silence is near unearthly, no migrants from the tropics stir or warble or scold. What was greening mesquite is collapsed everywhere and melting in dribbles, from their tree tops down to every last small one sprouted out across the pastures; their growth they’d put on so far this spring won’t make it through to turn dark green now, or expand. It will all have to be pushed out again from nothing. So much for the oft-heard truism that mesquites know when to leave out, for none of these apparently did! I wonder how many times I’ve seen this happen with them of an April, and though I didn’t plant by them as some do, I regret that this year will not be one of that sweet green, stained-glass light in the bosque for a few days while the leaflets are still small and pale and the canopy shimmers and glows. We can’t depend on a yearly show of wildflowers, and we can’t depend on having this pleasure every spring, either.
Holding the freezing metal handles of the irrigation risers while turning them to open the water is itself trial enough, but my wetted hands then go to aching deeply, and then go to numbness seconds after the water comes flying out the more explosively as the valve is opened wider. The sprinklers came up to full pressure, shooting out in arcs of about 50 ft. and turning their big circles, and already within three revolutions the weeds, grass, and now-wrecked mesquites are encrusted with filigrees and lace of shining white frost and ice crystals that appeared so quickly that it seemed some spell of the Sierra Madre had been chanted out by an hechicero offstage and unseen. It is surely lower than 20 degrees F., but I don’t need to know. I just want the sun to rise.
Come up it does, and as the day warms by fifty degrees or more, a vast array of plants begins to turn odd colors and twist up, then fall to the ground and flatten themselves. Oats … sow thistle … conaigre … melilotus … desert mallow … bindweed … tansy mustard … Wright’s saltweed … conyza … bull thistle and star thistle … the bermuda grass that was coming along so robustly to give cows a wider buffet soon–all collapsed and will not recover. But spring cannot be stopped and the afternoon warmth brought out a huge native black bee, and the first deep amythyst flowers of Silver-leaf Nightshade on a plant that wasn’t affected in the least by the sub-freezing night. Winter finches were in their comfort zone–Vesper Sparrows on every barbed wire fence and in the grassy edges, and the Savannah Sparrows weren’t shy at all today. I scared up a few Marsh Wrens, even though they all should have been on the 3:10 to Yuma four days ago.
A fine Cassin’s Kingbird perched atop a close-by wheel of the irrigators as all was being closed down in the pleasantly warm afternoon, its belly bright, lemon dot-candy yellow.
Our male Mallard flies in quacking on the Stockpond–what has happened to his mate? He swims around, calling for her, but she hasn’t been here for a week and is not to be seen again. He’s alone in the cold, and oh is it cold, below freezing. He doesn’t mind the water of course, but it’s no fun to me to be getting the usual drenching out of the hydrant getting up the first set of irrigation … both M’llard and I should be on the Sea of Cortez, or I in Alamos. Painting. Writing. The duck, though, if he is a truly wild one, will likely be heading north or finding a cooler spot in the New Mexico high country within a few weeks. Right now this one is plenty cool enough.
A few Marsh Wrens in that newly grazed pasture of last evening’s herd, and not a few Savannah Sparrows, which are less secretive in the cold air. A Gray Flycatcher lets me approach almost to it on the barbed wire fence at the edge.
The male Mallard still alone at the Stockpond, and in the outmost mesquital beyond and nearer the River, a fine Bullock’s Oriole, a much later than usual arrival of this “neotropical”. Many Yellow-rumped Warblers in splendid and bright marriage garb, coming down to the pond edge for a drink, or hunting through the pasture grass pipit-like. This is too beautiful a bird to be tossed off with an, “Oh, just Butter-butts”, by the Life List Set that comes to Arizona to seek out our famous avian rarities. Normally that warbler’s numbers are larger earlier, and smaller by now, but this is turned on its head; they are everywhere.
Out in the deep winter pastures, another warbler: Yellowthroats are rising, flying off, and dropping into the grass, much like the Marsh Wrens who are not to be seen today.
Our little mixed herd of a couple dear old cows, steers and heifers for grassfed beef, and heifers we’ll keep, race out and kick up their heels in joy over coming into new grass that will be grazed for the first time, in this late afternoon of air that whispers change. The temperature twenty degrees lower than yesterday’s, the day cool but lively, and this beautiful sunset all is very quiet, so quiet the contented munching of the herd carries far and I bask in an all-is-well bucolic sweetness. The air all around and over them is electric, beryl-green, shot through with gold, Barn Swallows swirl and chitter through that air, and snap at the insects the cows as they move stir into flight. A moment of great contentment for those golondrinas, the cows, and me.
Nicely above 80 degrees this afternoon, and that brought out the Zebra-tailed Lizards that so love the dryness and heat of the desert edges, with sand too hot to stand on so they move as if in flight over it, tails a waggin’ and twitchin’ and frothin’ back and forth. The Marsh Wrens are still here, I thought they’d have left on yesterday’s 20 mph hot winds; there are a few Meadowlarks who didn’t get pushed out by those winds, either.
Many Barn Swallows, of a sudden flying and twittering over the pastures.