Tag Archives: Herons & Egrets

August 31, 2016

People on the desert long enough
on a certain day about this time
in August feel
and taste
and see
a shift in the afternoon light and
shadows and breeze, and the
oppression of heavy air
lifts off and away
from each

and they let out a sigh
and breathe back in
a new Season
under another
desert Sun

Day after day the temperature tries to reach 100 degrees, and I take it for granted that as a diamond is said to be, the Sonoran Desert Summer is forever. But then–there is a morning like this one come, when coffee in hand I slip into the patio in the dark and wonder what is wrong, what is different. It sinks in, the world has gone silent, no notes from Purple Martins echoing down from stars, all is still and empty, not even a cricket though as the Autumn will, when it comes to its own winding down, have nights again in cricket song. We can get pretty gladly through every afternoon now that still sizzles, every still mid-morning with its drenching humidity, for we know we’re on our way to one of those months whose weather the World must envy, months that bookend that hot time the snowbirds famously flee in panic. This year there have been few storms violent enough to alarm much, nor did the house get hit by lightning and neither did the power pole and lines so no blackouts of more than a few minutes, the WiFi box never got fried once much less its usual several times, no tornado-like microbursts to upend and throw the patio furniture around.

The wide drifts on every flat and mesa-top of brilliant yellow flowers of Hierba de San Nicolas (Thymophylla acerosa) aren’t making a grand show this year, though there are scattered plants low underfoot on Firesky Ridge and they are still in bud, seemingly staying in an arrested state. Neither have I noticed any vines of the naturalized, exquisitely blue Morning-glory, begin their climb through the branches of Creosote Bush along the roadside. In this area of Cascabel the rain accumulation is about an inch and a half less than last year’s Monsoon’s, could that be why we haven’t had this flower display that is one of the delights of late Summer? Or is it that the rains have come at the “wrong” moments? (Mason Pastures, only a few miles away, received much more rain as storm cells passed over them than has come to Ridge House, and their Native Grass Planting has come back to life and greenery spectacularly. It turned out all right to have taken that chance and not watered them from the irrigation well.) The crop of mesquite beans everywhere is no more than half its usual plenty, and many trees have no beans on them at all–another case of rain falling at the wrong time? Many local folk tell that a rain coming at the height of bloom will abort the work of those sweetly scented blossoms, or mold the anthers and pollen but also this year the cattle herd hasn’t gone after the pods on the ground in the manic and addictive way they always do. Perhaps the cows with their oh-so-discriminating palettes have warned the community we shouldn’t expect the flavor of this Fall’s ground flour to be any better than so-so!

At those Mason Pastures the brood of Ash-throated Flycatchers in the post have long ago hatched and fledged, and by tomorrow–September–they’ll have left for the Pacific Coast of Mexico. I’m filled with a longing to go with these birds when they leave for where Summer itself will be migrating too, let go all this Romance of Western Life …

After the Sun is up and I’m watering the flowers on the patio, what is unmistakably some vireo begins singing out on the Creosote Bush flats, and it’s one I haven’t heard before. Bob had listened to a differently-voiced vireo at his place a couple of ridges away and in much the same sort of upland desert country during Spring migration this year; he identified it as a Gray Vireo, one of the “uncommon and local” species sought out by naturalists who travel a long way to visit southern Arizona. The bird here stays close to the house a good while, long enough for me to find recordings of Gray Vireo songs on the Internet and play them right along with what was coming from a Palo Verde. The real and the recording matched note for note, and so a “Lifer” bird is delivered right to the house before I even get on all my work clothes!

Too many kingbirds on the wires with obviously notched tails, birds that haven’t read the field guides (as Ralph says)–that tail shape is supposed to be the mark of the Tropical Kingbird. They’re silent though, not like that bird at El Potrero that gave itself away with its chattering. In the study of natural history there must be art, intuition, science. Making of friends with the notion that there will be birds, butterflies and bugs, that will not be identified even if you hold them in your hand, also helps. To strive for a life solved of all mysteries is hubris.

A “bug” lands noisily on a shrub next to me, oh it’s large, frightening enough that no one would think of holding it in the hand to identify, or get too close to its mysteries. It is more than intriguing enough to demand being wondered over. Looks can be deceiving and that was what this insect unmistakably mimicking the Tarantula Hawk must be all about! I first take it for one of those Tarantula Hawks that are visiting the Graythorns but then see how its strong black legs bow out to the sides, then come back together and are held in a tight row where it clasps the stem (picture a scissors jack) and the head was that of a fly, not a wasp, with large and bulbous eyes sticking out at the sides. The colors perfectly match the wasp it must imitate–the same orange-red and black–and the pattern fools the eye of the human and I’d guess this insect’s prey. Much of the body is black, but it’s the very long, fat abdomen that is orange, rather than the wings. What the insect does on landing is fold those wings long and straight over the abdomen, the wings are clear with tiny black veins and see-through enough that it appears suddenly indeed that they are what’s orange like those of the big wasp! Have I been fooled myself all this time, or is this something appearing on this desert only lately? (Later I mention it to Kathleen, who tells she has been seeing this very monster insect the last couple of years at 3-Links and was also sure it is a Tarantula Hawk mimic. As it turns out we are not alone in seeing it, and it is indeed a newly arrived and spreading species come north from South of the Border. This “Mexican Robber Fly”, Archilestris magnificus, was first recorded north of The Border here only about 2007 and that first published photograph from Arizona then caused a sensation in the world of entomology. Lately it has suddenly crossed over from rarity to “oh, there’s another one” from Arivaca through Cochise County. It does not sip nectar or nip pollen like the Pepsis wasps, but is a voracious carnivore on the wing snagging bugs and insects who presume it is looking for either a flower or a Tarantula, not for them.

Nine teal drop out of the sky, skittering, falling, completely out of control but completely in control, land like cannonballs with such a splash that they cause a mini-tsunami against the bank of hard-grazed Barnyard Grass. One swims warily, quickly away from the truck, shows fully a wing speculum of cobalt blue … she reaches the far shore of Barnyard Grass, turns forty-five degrees and the gem of that speculum lights wildly into an emerald that would raise the avarice of a jewel thief eyeing the Topkapi. A Great Blue Heron is unmoving in this wild splash-down of Green-winged Teal though perhaps he’s grinding his mandibles over the fright it will have set off among what’s left of the huge Bullfrogs he hasn’t yet dispatched. Heron remains implacable, inscrutable. He has an image to maintain.

September, tomorrow, the month larger numbers of Great Blue Herons begin to arrive, northern birds that will stay for the Winter …

So when the shadows lengthen
leaves have turned to dust
first there’s Summer, then
I’ll let you in,
September,
when it comes …

I watch the clouds go sailing
I watch the clock and Sun,
oh I watch myself
depending on
September,
when it comes

–Rosanne Cash and John Levanthal, “September When It Comes”

July 7, 2016

A single heron this time, but then it is joined by the other (I’ll presume it’s the same pair as yesterday’s); they appear to be immature siblings still together.

A huge, impressive squadron of Tarantula Hawks masses over the flowers of the large Graythorn at the gate into the Botteri’s Pasture, sipping nectar … a beautiful, unsettling sight and sound.

July 6, 2016

Chat
on a wheel line sprinkler
beetle in bill

Cuckoo
kuk-kuk-kuk-kaow’ing
in the Sunrise

but Bull’s a-Moon-in’
and a-spoonin’
the cow, Flame,

“Come wiz me to de cowzbah!”
he chortles to his latest squeeze …
birds, and bees

The first maturing mesquite pods are turning color, the cycles of the years come around faster and faster and it is time already to keep the herd sequestered here or there so that the seeds are deposited where we’d like them to be, either in the path of the big rototiller come September (if it comes) or where the winter pasture a year from now will be laid out and cleaned of its erstwhile bosque-ette before that cultivation and seeding of grasses is done.

A pair of Great-blue Herons fly away from The Stockpond.

June 23, 2016

The pair of Great Blue Heron are at The Pond, as they have been occasionally over the past week.

A Blue Grosbeak appears to be fly-catching in a spectacular manner, rising and rising and rising, straight up, then long, even faster plummets to its perch. Or is that a territorial display, or courtship? The literature tells almost nothing is known about those kinds of actions of the bird.

As I wander along setting up the length of an electric line that will help get the Botteri’s Sparrow area ready by confining the cattle to get its weeds too tall for the sparrows’ liking knocked back before the birds’ hoped-for arrival (many of the herd love that weedy Kochia, and the young tumbleweed), comes from high overhead the wild twittering of a pair of White-throated Swifts. My Gawd, the male swoops screaming down out of the blue like a Messerschmitt, while she rises slightly and meets him in a crashing copulation of immeasurable brevity. Then they’re off for more very swift Tango de Swift until they’re too tiny to see with the naked eye. They take hardly any time to disappear for after all, they’re as fast as fireworks. And their own kind of fireworks they are certainly making, on the wing yet! That takes “dancing on the ceiling” to a new level.

The range herd has not forgotten my vaquero’s cattle call, which starts out with one long then six short loud whistles–as soon as I begin they moo and lift their back ends to start to wander down The Lane to head towards the Botteri’s area, I in the lead. The Mockingbird in its big mesquite instantly lets out a perfect imitation of the whistle call and then does it again, oh goody, just what I need as an aid in the cattle management!

February 11, 2014

Even though the nights are near freezing the windows of the Caravan must be left open, or else the inside will heat too uncomfortably through the day–and it’s not even mid-February yet.

Cottonwoods are filling out rapidly, are the same color now as those Cucumber Beetles that are flying again in numbers over the pastures.

Friend Heron lies dead in the tall grass of #3 Pasture, it feels a stun to my own neck to see it there crumpled in heaps of huge feathers, its body core ripped out, gone, its bird-flesh probably now being turned into Odalisque the Bobcat, who is likely offstage picking her teeth. I look greedily at an exquisite broad gray plume, the fullest of feathers and with a fine and unexpected halo of marabou towards its base. I’m sure I’m not supposed to “have” it, what with our modern forgetfulness of the 4th Amendment when such a thing is found in one’s possession but I try it out for a moment in the Stetson’s hatband … nah, wouldn’t work there anyway, a little too Oscar Wilde. Maggots are quickly transforming the little flesh left of the Great Blue into other things that can also fly!

January 24, 2014

A whole flock of Abert’s Towhees races up and down the banks of The Stockpond in their frenetic way, and out on the water, three beautiful Ring-necked Duck.  Song Sparrows, Phyrrhuloxias, and a Green-tailed Towhee also come.

Cold wind, cold air, icy skin after I get wet clearing debris from running sprinkler nozzles–though the mornings have begun to warm to where at least they start out above the teens.  The ant circles are without sign of life on the pastures on this day that will barely reach 60 degrees.  Our now-resident Heron stalks the tall grass looking for mice or gophers, both of which there are in plenty!

The plants of Spring that emerge and slowly develop during the cool days of Winter are stirring to life, unsettlingly early it seems … a London Rocket holds up its first flowers, and, oh no! Malta Star Thistles  … Malta Star Thistles are popping up their so-innocent looking rosettes.

Digging out more posts in my work that I hope will foil Mycha’s fence jumping and escaping this summer, I toss from the shovel a stripy Whiptail Lizard, sluggish and still in its winter nightcap (I feel guilty for having awakened it) and then a Twin-spotted Spiny Lizard who is very much more active and downright peeved about having been unearthed.  I can almost hear it grumble, “Well didja hafta do that?!” as it runs off at full speed before some Roadrunner can arrive.

A day of sullen sky, gray to its end.  Many, many doves whistle overhead as they go to The Stockpond when it’s almost too dark to see them, as I finish getting the wheel lines ready in case there is much of a freeze tonight.

January 15, 2014

Great Blue Heron in #2 Pasture’s winter grass startles me, it’s unafraid, looks like an ornament on some other green lawn in the Gnome Belt.  It moves leisurely to the other winter cow graze in #1 Pasture.

The Stockpond is completely frozen over in the morning, by noon completely thawed.

Northern Mockingbird …

Lesser Goldfinch …

I continue pursuing the Polka Dot Beetles, hoping someday to have one in hand for a real look, but they are so wary and their talent for escape nearly incredible.

A Peregrine comes from behind and, off to my right, rockets past in a horizontal only a few feet above the pasture I stand in, slices into the next through a narrow gap in mesquite, any Meadowlark in there won’t know what hit it.  It then circles high, high, out of sight of my naked eye, steel gray, like a Phantom Jet with an “Off I go, into the wild blue yonder!”

Say’s Phoebes have paired up, joyously chase each other up and down the hall, er, from one post or sprinkler head to another, even their calls lascivious.

Verdin …

Waiting on one leg in #1 Pasture is the companionable Heron.  It decides to follow me on my rounds into the bermuda grass of #2.  Maybe my footfalls flush out mice towards it?

Six Mule Deer, against the sunlit arcs of irrigation in the waning afternoon …

November 30, 2013

Just as I had when the season of the Red-winged Grasshopper started almost four months ago, I find a blazing scarlet wing lying on a path, then see a single live grasshopper on this another sweetly warm afternoon in the mid 70s.  Polka Dot Beetles are also out, massing again in great numbers everywhere; they are hovering up to ten feet over the grass.

A Mountain Bluebird drifts down out of the sky, lights atop an irrigator wheel.  A chip of blue ice, Prince of the High Country, color of a glacial rivulet.

Sun is gone behind leaden clouds long before its moment to set.  In an astounding silence on the pastures, a pair of Great Blue Heron hunt–I’d bet they’re angling not for frogs but for gophers!  They’re colored the very grays and blacks of the sky above them.  The Tamarisk trees drift orange, and yellow, long avenues and rows and single Cottonwoods are nearly wholly green or green-and-yellow or gold, some are become empty gray crowns of twigs with their edges hoops of rich butter, others are artists’ wide brushes dipped in all these colors and stood upright in a jar.  The River is a palette of Thanksgiving hues.  The gallery forest’s colors are delicate, on this last day of November muted, like Christmas lights already placed but waiting to be lit with great fanfare by December Sun tomorrow.

November 26, 2013

Lots of ducks whistling in, and fast–Mexican Mallards and Northern Mallards and everything on the “hybrid” continuum between the two.  A few small Bronze Dragonflies are about, and the giant Great Blue Heron who might want to snatch them out of the air.

Over the pastures: a Kestrel, yellow-green grasshoppers, a single pale yellow small butterfly, a single war-torn Pipevine Swallowtail, and Polka Dot Beetles seemingly well adapted to nights below freezing.  Large flocks of Winter plumaged Red-winged Blackbirds that hide in the silver-and-gold bermudagrass take off and do aerial moves wondrous to see, “pit-tickkk! pit-tickk!” they chatter.  They may not be as colorful as they are in Summer, but they’re just as elegant in their seasonally appropriate tweeds that set off so beautifully their black, much fanned.  They move around constantly, all fly out of sight, all fly back–but they’re less frantic to go to another pasture if the cows are with them.  The flocks come along horizontally, in a flat, broad bunches, then every bird drops suddenly like a stone and vanishes in the tall grass.