Hooded Oriole pairs are showy and colorful out in the tall grass and weeds, far from the bosque edge, and over those pastures are winging many Rough-winged Swallows, mostly juveniles from large families. Monday’s swallow is fair of face … the Rough-wings have also lately taken to perching on the branches of the mesquites overhanging The Pond, giving a rare opportunity to study them leisurely, and do they ever chatter there while they sit! Masses of dragonflies are low over the same pasture, echoing the sight and behavior of the swallows above them.
I peer down through the top of the iron gate post where the Ash-throated Flycatcher has her nest, and as my eyes focus through the dimness I can make out not a mother but a big baby bird alone in there, still fuzzy but well along, its eyes piercing the dark and looking straight up, deeply and resentfully (or is it hopefully?) into mine. I must look to it like Cyclops, with my one eye gazing down from the opening in the roof. Actually I am as startled as this juvenile bird is, especially when it suddenly lets out with the most remarkable sounds, sharp loud clicks like the shorting out of some powerful electronic unit that carry a long way, all the while with its brilliantly colored maw held open wide … How does it make such a noise? The disembodiment of those clicks is so unsettling I draw back involuntarily and determine not to investigate that nest cavity again. I’d heard this a couple days ago from some paces away from that post, though couldn’t imagine what it was that was putting out the sound effect–had some live wire come undone and was sparking-out on the metal posts? The noise may be what greets anything the fledgling thinks is going to be bringing it something, rather than a panic or warning.
Fledglings rule the fencelines, the wheel lines, the mesquite hedgerows, the bosque edge, the thickets, the stalks of maturing oats–and their parents. Vermillion Flycatcher siblings … Lark Sparrow babies everywhere … Bell’s Vireo young’uns with fluttering wings hopping along from one parent to another, begging, all these gray birds and the birdlings poking around and fidgeting madly through a bramble of Graythorn and mesquite just outside the truck; they fill the open window as if it were a broad television screen. And on The Pond, a lively set of eight Mexican Mallard ducklings where none had been seen the day before. They’re not ducklings exactly any more, already half grown the way they are this year upon their appearance though they still can’t fly. The now quite tame Mallard parents will probably acculturate these offspring to our human ways, as they did their last year’s brood. Where could these have hatched? The river has been dry for a while, without the deep grass on its banks where ducklings could hide the way there was a year ago. In 2015 the family arrived out of the riverbed, the very young ducks walking behind their parents much earlier than this, too–that surprise of a dozen ducklings that added so much life to The Pond came then the first week of May, and by the end of the first week of June they’d left, parents and all. Many came back later, at least who survived the King Snakes and the coyotes, fully grown and fully winged: we could always tell which they were among other ducks by how relaxed they’d stay when we’d drive up or I’d scoot around the water’s edge to record and empty the rain gauge.
When will the rain gauge need emptying again? In this most Fearsome Foresummer we’ve almost become numb to, our unconscious is turning over the possibility that it won’t ever again have water in it …