Tag Archives: Meadowlarks

January 10, 2014

The silvered Harrier is just full of fun and mischief today–I watch him do moves I didn’t think his species had a penchant for. He dives and pulls up in steep curves then low over the bermudagrass, making the Meadowlarks wild with panic. He doesn’t catch any.

At sunset when I’m getting the wheel lines drained (as night approaches the smell of a deep freeze down to the teens is in the air) the Bobcat so lusted after by that hunter is with me, keeps moving off lazily as I slowly come along, keeps itself at a hundred yards or so distant, looks back, stops. I say, “Meow!”, and it seems fascinated.

January 1, 2014

We were sittin’ round the ranch house some twenty
hands or more
most of us Americans but a few from Arkansas
one Dutchman from the fatherland one Johnny Bull
from Leeds
a Cornishman from Cornwall all men of different creeds
they were a sittin’ an’ a arguin’ busy as a hill of ants
how they’d get rid of the money they had buried in their
pants
that they’d made by hard cow punching work all
the year around
from sunup until sundown an’ a sleepin’ on the ground
where at night the polecat saunters round the chuckbox
after grub
and in passing by your hot roll gives your head a friend-
ly rub
where the rattlesnake lies dormant his fangs are like
a lance
’twas with them that I attended The Cowboy’s New
Years Dance

–Mark Chisholm, pre 1908, “The Cowboys New Years Dance”

Big Mahogany Ants are in wild and mad, kettle-a-boiling wakefulness at their wide hole–something about which I’m not thinking I needed to have a care (it is Winter, right?) when I open the truck door and drop a foot onto the ground in The Lane where I seek out the first bird of an informal First Day of 2014 bird count, a Brewer’s Sparrow. The ants, which aren’t amused by my presence, are sending out gatherers on this warm, sunny, blue spectacle of a New Year’s morning. I will keep chores to a minimum today, only check over the herd and water these pastures for neither kine nor grass have a horse in my race of trying to relax as best the day allow or quietly reflect on this year beginning and last year seamlessly gone. Saltweed splashes its tiny green and purple seedlings under a fence.

Mesquite rows full of singing Lark Sparrows …
Chipping Sparrows …
Say’s and Black phoebes …

Sparrows uncountable, flying up in masses, I turn the truck around to have the sun positioned so they’ll show better–most are Vespers and Larks, but I may suppose Savannahs and Lincolns and Songs are among them …

Western Meadowlarks …
White-crowned Sparrows, abundant in thicker edges …
Female Ladder-backed Woodpecker …

Sixty or so Red-winged Blackbirds in those splendidly understated winter clothes of theirs, crowning a lone wide-spreading mesquite …

Red-tailed Hawk …
Flicker, red-shafted …
Mourning Dove …

Brightest of red House Finches, knocked off his perch by a male Phainopepla with drama and flourish; I have for a very long time seen precious few of these Silky Flycatchers and their almost impossible elegance …

Gray Flycatcher …
Cardinal …
Chihuahuan Raven …

Until a breeze springs up from the North when Sun brushes down on the ridge of the grand Rincon I am comfortable without a jacket through a day that itself brushes 70 degrees. Bugs are aloft, gleam in the last rays and many meet their end as a Gray Flycatcher stokes its belly with them to make the freezing night pass the more bearably.

November 27, 2013

Dia de los Birds of Prey, this must be.  My eyes come to be welded to a Merlin doing a thrilling slow, then rocketing, then suspended-in-air ballet and when I turn my head to the side what I look right into are the eyes of a Harrier sailing in straight for my face, something that’s become a real habit of this bird!  It tilts slightly, glides over my head, as laid back as a stoned hippie.  It obviously doesn’t care what my business may be, and goes about its own chores unperturbed by my presence.  A short while later there comes a Peregrine in a stoop down over the pastures, it races over the Meadowlarks who scream out and bolt blindly off in different directions to be anywhere but there.

The globs of silk webs that have lately been appearing at the tips of small mesquites in the pastures are decorated with the tiny dried mesquite leaflets, much as are the coverings of bagworms.  Inside there is no worm or larva–but spiders, very showy spiders, black with white stripes and spots.  Their silk hiding place must be a tight little shanty for them on these cold nights.

Mesquite seeds are still sprouting fresh green pairs of cotyledons from cow poop, to give us joyous chores of some Christmas Yet to Come when the trees they’ve grown into have to be pulled with incomparably more effort.

Not a grasshopper, not a dragonfly.  These fields can be almost motionless for days, and silent, and then suddenly as happens today a tree will fill with Lark Sparrows and their whistles, cheeps and bright chattering.

November 9, 2013

The last few nights have been mild, no ice and the days are more quickly warming through the morning and so they start off with a grand chorus of crickets.  In these the six more subdued months, bird song is low on the pastures and not high overhead, not of the woods of the riverbottom and side canyons and washes.  The Meadowlark is the voice of the goddess worshipped by human snowbirds, Winter Sun.  The pastures are getting greener, but not from seeds sprouting: it is from bermudagrass that’s come back to life after only a few days with temperatures hovering at 90.  Millions of heart-shaped cotyledons of Mallows are also adding verdure, the frogs are active, and the aluminum flow pipes for the irrigators come back to being too hot to pick up with bare hands.  It is so warm at sunset that the cold air stealing down the bottoms is something refreshing and welcome.  Ah but the Vermillion Flycatchers are not deceived by all this and give up the idea of staying on and winterkeeping with us, and today they move out entirely, southward, knowing as it seems they must of the predicted cold for tomorrow when the mercury is unlikely to break 70 degrees.  (When those flycatchers have spent a winter away, and return in flaming new waistcoats and black Zorro masks, we Cascabelenses will remark on it with joy, and spread the news.)

November 2, 2013

Hallowmas, Dias de los Muertos.  No matter the Winter trickling over this waning year, new flowers are come into bloom, vivid in color, huge in size: abundant plastic, freshly cleaned flowers suddenly burst from the roadside, where the families of the two lost vaqueros of this querencia have come to freshen and brighten the memorial to the deaths of their loved ones.  A tall crucifix marks where their men were swept from a hay-hauling rig after they made a move that couldn’t be retracted, of entering the Hot Springs Canyon, on that day a Crossing Too Far, when Monsoon growled a warning unheeded. The vaqueros didn’t make the other bank and safety and home and senoras.  They crossed to Eternity, instead.

Many many tracks that look like ancient pictographs of human hands are in the mud of the roads through Mason’s Pastures this morning.  I follow along where the raccoons must’ve been playing through the night, and scare into flight just as many Red-winged Grasshoppers from the sides of the tire ruts.

The day itself wings gently up to 81 degrees, and in the late light it is so warm that I sweat in my shirt, without vest or jacket on.  Gossamer catches that light and shimmers high over the grass, and a new hatch of bugs fills the air–glowing Sprites, with partners in the dance the Sulphur Butterflies in rich orange, or plain bright yellow.  Meadowlarks must rejoice in this Winter-long abundance of food for them.  Tall Conyza weeds are also glowing, the high, rock-strewn hills behind us lit golden, too, overarched by sky palest blue with half of it cobbled in little round, evenly spaced clouds.

October 22, 2013

Dozens of those pipits land around me as I set up the lines to guide for Joel when he soon comes to give another try at cultivating for the winter pasture planting, and a dozen Javelina come to drink at The Cienega there. Russet the Harrier floats by me, with such grace that no one can have helped yelping out like I, “Oh! Oh, oh!” Then all the Meadowlarks fly in, join this wildlife samba rolling down the Pasture around me.

It’s an evening of delightful balminess, a Bahamian 80 degrees at sundown. A Red-tail out there looks like it’s stomping grapes, then flies off with a snake dangling long from its talons, flies low over the pasture and vanishes along with the light into the bosque.

Doves, wave upon wave of them, come flapping loudly and wing-whistling loudly … volleys of 30 or 40 birds at a time, in low over the pasture to the North, come vaulting over the mesquite tree tops. Hundreds–countless–they come, they come, they come, landing among others already rimming the entire pond, two or three at every cow pog full of water. So crowded do they become that some hover and teeter barely above the water out in the middle with bills thrust down to sip like hummers, almost falling in. The air is so full of the loudness of all this, and the whipping around of wings, and the silhouettes of ever more arriving doves, I for a moment can imagine why some people could become unsettled or even feel panic with such a level of wild activity, remember Boris Karloff’s presentation of “Pigeons from Hell” that revisted me in nightmares for most of Third Grade. You know you’re in trouble when they stop cooing.

October 17, 2013

The pastures are hushed, cold. Ice stalagmites balance on the ground below the flush valves that had drained and dripped out in the night and I hope their passages and the many small pipe fixtures aren’t blocked with ice chunks when I get to turn on the water. Mexican General Grasshoppers are still to be found motionless and stupefied on mesquite tips while the cold shadow remains thrown across to The River by the ridge to the east. Russett Harrier would find that huge grasshopper more than a morsel–it would be more like lobster tail–if the bird spies it. Many Vesper Sparrows tseep their little notes from the tangles of dried and drying amaranth, saltweed and other forbs, and Brewer’s Blackbirds alight, the females softly and subtly beautiful.

Life perks up, becomes more enthusiastic with the day, which by mid-afternoon registers above 80 degrees. The year’s last Turkey Vulture has apparently found the year’s last rising thermal wind current, and sails overhead, south … there’ll be no more of this, with that favorite avian mascot of ours. It wants to find a soft corpse for a morning meal, not something that needs to thaw. Brindle will be relieved. Adios, amigo Zopilote–saludos a Mexico! Kestrel, though, wants fresh and moving prey. He’s out hunting, and he dive-bombs a Meadowlark I guess just for the devil of it, the Meadowlark lets out panicked whistles, and alights on the tip of an electric line post with consummate grace and complains about the indignity of it all.

A lone Cassin’s Kingbird chatters farewell, the coming night that will be in the mid-20s will be too much for its temperate tastes and so no more will grace these fencelines. Every butterfly will probably be hard won from now, too, what ones the Kingbirds haven’t eaten; a Red Admiral races by, is nervous in that way of theirs.

The wide rings of Three Awn (Aristida) grass that edge the ant circles in #3 Pasture have taken on the rich colors of Autumn: within, the low walls of stems and leaves are rusty and green, and without are the palest of brown-yellow. Gazing into the depths of these wonderful natural circular sculptures is like gazing into the depths of a crystal.

Full Moon, already pendant in opalescent sky, balances within a cup in the mountain skyline when I top out on the ridge, almost “home”. The wild walls of the Galiuro, the Muleshoe, Sierra Blanca, the Mae West Peaks–all of them the color of the merlot I’m looking forward to pouring …

[…]

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cqgNagMVydU

Although about to lose this home, still I am comfortable for some nights more, holding a glass of wine the color of those mountains, windows to shut and make cozy the room, but out there? Out there it is different, out across those bajadas marching endlessly to each horizon, on arroyo floors and in washes, the cold air will be flowing in the Sonoran Desert nights down mercilessly over beacon-drawn migrants paying a price for the starry tales they hold on to, migrants praying for a home, praying for roses to grow in a patio their own …

[…]

October 14, 2013

My fingers are frigid (it’s down near freezing), their cells remember the tropics. Later on I get the first complete face full of winter irrigation water, though it’s much warmer than the air that has got up to 40 degrees. Birds have gone back up to good numbers, equalling the lost summer splendor but their colors are more subdued and subtle, their vocals more quiet and discreet, so different from the Neotropicals who now mostly have returned to their sambas and salsas. For the next six months the sparrows will reign, and I go over and over them in the field guides, as I must every year. I’d have difficulty with some of them even if they were right in my hand.

The day warms comfortably, into the 80s, Red-shafted Flickers have come back from whatever local place they’d hidden out in for Summer and a Phainopepla sings out, “prrrrrt!” in The Lane, back from whatever local place it had also hidden out offstage for the Summer. Then comes a huge arrival of Western Meadowlarks, who claim all the pastures for their own. American Pipits overhead, whistling “Sweet!” while in flight, their movement something between a bat and a Vermillion Flycatcher. A bright russet Harrier (which I’d rather forever call “Marsh Hawk”), its rump gleaming like a spotlight, freaks out all the phoebes. A Sparrow Hawk, errrrr, Kestrel, displays some mighty fine colors, and Killdeers (Killdeer?) are bouncing through the gathered piles of pulled mesquite–and still the winter pasture is not prepared, cannot be planted. An impressive number of White-crowned and Chipping sparrows comes to The Stockpond, to join Lazuli Buntings (and the last are these to be seen) bathing in the cow pogs at the edge of the shore.

Small blue butterflies (Azures? Blues?) are visiting the Burroweeds in #3, which don’t have much in the way of blossoms to offer them any more.

 

 

October 5, 2013

Snipes are a good way out on The Stockpond, silhouettes with perfect reflections probing the mud, one freezes in a camouflage crouch even in such obvious view as I walk from one truck to the other past them, and I drive out to the herd.

Air is cool if not cold, the dust I kick up hangs in deep layers over green grass sparkling with dew. While my attention has fully to be on such things as a snaky steer that doubtless is fixing to escape the weaning enclosure, I catch sight of a lowering flock of birds whose flight has a familiar and peculiar gait to it, giving me to think that Western Meadowlarks have arrived to decorate our pastures for the Winter with their flash of yellow, flash of white, their fluting and their whistling. There is not time to drift over the pastures with them.

In the afternoon cooler even than yesterday’s, once that snaky steer gets religion and he comes to be resigned to a new order, “Sweet sweet! Sweet sweet!” notes fall to Earth from that highest, wholly blue sky, and settle like feathers in pendulum-drift down to the cattle’s ears and mine: American Pipits, invisible they are so high, but announcing their own return from some alpine meadow.

A drive around the edge of a pasture deep in grass on my way to see if that 1,000 pound steer had settled in with the two heifers and younger steer also being fenced weaned, the truck scares into the air in front of it whirling and clicking Red-winged Grasshoppers–the largest number yet of this brilliant insect that is the long and lingering Summer itself. But no, Summer is indeed ending: the Blue Grosbeak in its immature browns I see today is to be the last, as will be that Western Kingbird.