In moving, raising or dropping any of the electric lines that (mostly!) keep the herd where I want them to clean off the coming winter pasture areas, I get close to the soil and grass. Today this brings me to find something strange, a small white clam shell that is stuck on a grass blade that holds it about eight inches above the ground. I have no place or way to carry it safely, to show to Ralph and Kathleen later, but I wrap it in a little paper and slip it inside the pocket tally book, and continue with the fence post chore. That ought to do, I hope, but later I’ve forgotten completely what I’ve done with it and when I get down on one knee so I can get at an invasive weed that wants knifing out, I lean upon the other knee and remember the shell as I hear something fragile crinkling its way into dust inside the cover of that tally book. Guess I won’t make a fossil-hunter. Ralph later tells me that a fossil shell is exactly what I had found, of a creature that had in some dim past geological era lived on a sea bottom there. It must have been on the surface this Spring after being exposed by winter rains, when a grass sprouted under it and lifted it into the air.
If a bird could be said to be cute, the Nashville Warbler at The Stockpond I saw during lunch would surely. What a pretty little, neatly marked migrant, seen through the windshield of the truck, flitting too fast to follow through the branches over the water.
We see and hear the Tropical Kingbird again, at El Potrero.
We get a steer, “The Big One” to jump into the stocktrailer and go off across the pass to Willcox, for the pastoralists’ dilemma that this life requires us and the animal we raise to see our way through psychologically and emotionally. The day is spectacular, one that makes us grateful for our days unseamed by clocking in and clocking out though we are imprisoned by beauty, and duty. The rolling hills and wide bajadas are green, and on the flattest middle reaches of this splendid Summer range, the whistles of Cassin’s Sparrows reach into the cab of the Silverado with its windows open, an unlooked for positive side of the air conditioning not working for years. One bird’s voice grows the louder as we pass, then fades behind us, and just when it disappears as we roll slowly along so as not to break a leaf spring another comes to be louder and that one fades. This happens four times, it is the year of the Cassin’s.
A goodly flock of Yellow-headed Blackbirds lands and takes off, lands and takes off, at Mason Pastures. These are more than just stragglers that might have stayed behind when all the others went north from this part of Arizona in May, they must be birds returning from the North to spend the rest of the year among us again.
At El Potrero, I hear a call so unfamiliar to me that I don’t even have an idea what family of birds to think singer fits into. It’s loud, yet grasshopper like and chattering and then I see it–a kingbird and not just any kingbird, but a Tropical Kingbird. The thing displays and displays until I’m sure of what I’m looking at and then flies into a large mesquite shading my winter quarters there and promptly a Western Kingbird comes screaming through the air and dive-bombs the exotic visitor, chases it off, and there’s no time to pursue. Is it in post-breeding dispersal wanderlust, as it and many of its relatives take up? or has it been there all Summer, outside my awareness?
Two very gray-looking White-faced Ibis fly wing tip to wing tip low over my head at The Stockpond but are not tempted to land on the mud of its shore; they keep on their straight-southward path.
If not Autumn, then late sumer is icumen in: now who is an old and looked for friend rises and flashes and clicks over the grass–the first Red-winged Grasshopper. It speaks of livestock Fall Works to come, and that it’s time for pastures to be grazed down to their bones then tilled and planted in oats, wheat, barley and rye, and of the intense and wearying chores of irrigating them and getting them to sprout. The snapping of the Red-winged Grasshopper speaks of getting herd arranged in the upland country, the weaning of calves before their mammas go without them on that annual trek …
It is still Summer: a Rufous-winged Sparrow perches for a moment on a fencepost near me, and it’s carrying nesting material in its beak, flies off into the Saguaro Canyon across the road. I wonder again if this sparrow’s long breeding period from early Spring to the late Monsoon, and the fact that it is in one of its high-population phases now for a couple years, doesn’t have an effect on the other rarer sparrows’ Summer presence here. Do the Cassin’s keep checking back and find that the Rufous-winged have yet to check out, so they keep looking further?
A dragonfly different from all I’ve ever seen, comes to The Stockpond for one day: the “Widow Skimmer”, with wings banded in black and very pale azure at the tips so bright those spots appeared to be white; the body is dark. It would be a dragonfly collector’s treasure …
More Gray Flycatchers (but looking rather more green than gray), I hear their friendly and familiar, frequently called out “chee-bik! chee-bik!” in most every kind of cover, or fenceline.
A Western Wood Peewee now, down from the higher, moister canyons and mountain parks a full month earlier than the arrival of that species a year ago. An autumnal August indeed but the wobbles back and forth around the 100 degrees mark. The bugs are awful. Send more Peewees, please!
Still another winter resident bird returning: the Gray Flycatcher, a little bit ahead of his crowd. Yes, August must be rethought as much a month of Autumn as it is a month of Summer.
Seven young Mexican Mallards splash in The Stockpond, and a Great Blue Heron is frozen-still, aware of a Bull Frog … and there’s a splendid, be-plumed Snowy Egret …