Tag Archives: Raptors & vultures

October 29, 2016

A Merlin comes along like a winged bullet, only a foot off the ground it shoots across The Lane in front of the truck. The sneakiest of predators! no one is safe. I don’t know if this individual is the same that has come to be with me over the last few Winters, for it takes no alarm at my presence or my workaday moves through the pastures–it has sometimes come bombing up from behind me as I walk through the grass and check to see whether the ground is dry enough after irrigation to take cow foot traffic safely. This wild and formidable bird of prey may pass so closely that it seems I could raise my arm and it would alight on my wrist as if I were a Mongolian falconer.

In the long mesquite-bosque’d alley that runs between #2 and #3 pastures to The River, I search for Mycha’s day and a half old black calf she’d probably left there for the Universe to care for (or, eat!) while she went to loll about The Pond far away. I find a small black grasshopper with an iridescent sheen, a kind I don’t remember seeing before, impaled on a barb of the top wire of the dividing fence. It’s always interesting to have a look at a shrike’s larder, but as I get very close to the victim it moves a leg, and then both antennae one at a time slowly back and forth. I wonder how many people have seen a shrike putting away food for a later day. I must have missed the event by only minutes. Like a Roman citizen must have, I shrink away from this Spartacus and feel equally behooved not to interfere. The bird had sung its own version of the ballad of outlaw Claude Dallas, “… and a shrike’s got a right to hang some meat when he’s livin’ this far from town.”

I go the rounds of checking sprinkler nozzles for blockages or being jammed in place and not turning in circles, and a big kettle of vultures rises and rotates up from the Valley floor: they must be gathering. Every year I think we should throw them a going away party!

Through the binoculars I use to watch the wheel line irrigator in #2, I catch sight of a good-sized butterfly crossing the pasture. It looks like a Monarch … or is it just that I want it to be a Monarch? It flaps and flaps and works, rises and rises at a 45 degree angle until it is very high (for a butterfly anyway) and then glides … and glides … and soars like a Children’s Day kite. Back and around and dipping, with hardly a pump of a wing now, it’s not on its way to anywhere, not hard put to look for food–it’s just enjoying the sublime pleasure that comes of its abilities. The Universe has a sense of humor and fun, so why shouldn’t a Monarch? Why shouldn’t we?

July 23, 2016

More Western Tanagers jarring the bosque and The Lane with their tropically beautiful plumage and patterns. Other Say’s Phoebes are arriving, too, and will probably stay through to the Summer breeding season of 2017.

A Gray Hawk is “makin’ lazy circles in the sky” (well, “Oklahoma” was filmed not very far away after all) in #3 Pasture high above my head in that Red-tail way, which behavior I’ve never seen with this bird before. The Camphor Plants below it scattered through the grass have a first flower or two open.

May 11, 2016

Remember that expression, “red letter day”? This was one in my Cascabel birding life, though I couldn’t have expected it to have been, out on the desert and in the now about-roasting heat that was heading towards 100 degrees. Pat, Roby, our neighbor K. (who often joins in on riding for cattle affairs) and I left out horseback for Cascabel Pasture in late morning, which moment finds the prickly pear cactus in perfect bloom in all their variety … they look like roses or water lilies or tulips, are not wilting even if we are, are startlingly clear yellow with glowing green pistil, or the color of creamsicles, topaz, orange-yellow with a red spot at the base of each petal, bright yellow with a hot pink stripe up the centers.

“Hey, is that an eagle on the top of that saguaro?” Roby called out. The rest of us swiveled around, and he volunteered to ride Yaqui across the flat and up a ridge, to get a closer look. “It looks like it has a white head …”, and he left us. Not much later we could see him and Yaqui appear out of the mesquite and flowering paloverdes to start to climb the ridge below what we could see was a strange and very large bird, a bird of prey–it took off, rose up into the air as if it were being assumed into Heaven but then put on a display of aerial grace and ability that took the breath away, a declaration: “I am lord of the ether.” Then it lowered, curved, and came right over our heads and soared and stilled itself mid-air, and soared away. White head, a black cap, white band towards the ends of long eagle wings: a Crested Caracara! Bob Evans and Ralph and Kathleen Waldt have experienced the rapture of this raptor on The River, but I hadn’t expected to. We four on our horses were ourselves riding on air after the sight of that bird as splendid as it is rare.

May 2, 2016

Among chores and the cow-critters of Mason Pastures, there are lately passing through birds that even for here, are remarkable. Thought I’d share some “jottings” (more like scribbles) from the pocket notebook of the recent weeks …

Two Gray Hawks
Tristan, Isolde,
in love song duet
out of the lush wood it drifts
through budge budge of swallows
and to my ears–
and grumble of thunder that thrills
and welcomes me home
to Summer.

A male Wood Duck on The Stockpond, for one day.

Kingfisher thought he might get hold of tender squablets of Vermillion Flycatchers in their nest out on the branch over the water of The Stockpond, and so spent some minutes giving the alarmed and harried parent birds their annual Spring heart attack …

A great swirl of Rough-winged Swallows curves and descends to the pond in midday heat, to opera playing on public radio while I eat lunch.

I don’t open the middle wheel line irrigator hydrant until I’m sure that the first line has come up to full pressure after its last flush valve closes and stops hemorrhaging water. I put the binoculars there, on its east end, but my sight instead landed right on a low-flying creature I thought by its flight was a bat still out and now caught by the first sun rays, but–it was a very leisurely and solitary Vaux’s Swift! I could have watched and watched, the way I could have that Wood Duck, so rare is such an opportunity of seeing that swift at all, much less in a situation with the light perfect, against good background (vegetation and not glaring sky behind it), its closeness, and how it hung around so temptingly, but,     with that valve having closed, I had to tend to another riser and hydrant that must be opened.

A warbler morning at The Pond … Wilson’s, Yellow-rumped, Orange-crowned, more Wilson’s, a dapper-dan Black-throated Gray (good, understated taste in suits, that bird–I don’t think I’d recorded any before at the place …)

Another great swirl of birds who spend much of their lives on the air–a flock of White-throated Swifts. I’d never be able to count them, they screech and zoom right past my head and seemingly right through me, to drink for the smallest of moments from The Stockpond where I stood.

A splendidly flaming Bullock’s Oriole above a treetop, out on a long wand of a mesquite branch.

A Mockingbird is immitating a Yellow-billed Cuckoo.

and now a large flock of Violet-green Swallows; they spend the day over the pastures swinging low, swinging high, the next day are gone.

Kingbirds already in goodly numbers, and already on the fight.

I’ve got to get that riser closed down, the pump has turned itself off, and as I buzz across the pasture with the chore blinders on, I glance up to see a finch of an obvious strangeness that demands a lifting of the binoculars and, oh my … what has Alex’s devotion to turning that sprouting mesquite bosque back to grassland rewarded us with? A beautiful, and oh-so-rare Dickcissel. It’s not far away, I can see every detail that confirms the bird that looks so like a Meadowlark in miniature. Even if Botteri’s Sparrows don’t come again this summer, the appearance of the Dickcissel (apparently none have ever been recorded in the month of April in southern Arizona!) confirms the rightness of having taken on so awful, painful, and tiring a chore of keeping our little world safe for those sparrows by removing those mesquites. It seems as comfortable there as it is on its native, vast, waving grass of The Plains.

Through all the glory and rarity of these birds of our April, the flycatcher still stands out, and it can take your breath …

Vermillion Flycatcher,
bird aflame
never consumed,
from your ashes
no need to arise
for the one consumed
by your fire, is I.

February 12th

The Mourning Cloak, in so many other places the harbinger of Spring, appears today as if its alarm clock hadn’t gone off and everyone else has arrived already, but no matter, seeing the first of them will always give thrill to a naturalist’s inner child, and stoke memories. Red-brown dragonflies with blue-tinted wings are buoyed on air that already approaches what are summer temperatures in many places, and I wonder if we won’t hit 80 degrees today. A bobbing out there on the water, and a sending out of rings of tiny waves in all directions catches my eye: a large moth, on its back (the Lepidopteran Backstroke, I suppose) is trying to get to a bank, but how did it just fall into The Stockpond? What beauty … with forewings having two diagonal white bars across them over gray, pink lower underwings, a bright red-brown body. This must be the Tricolor Buckmoth, a species special to the Greater Southwest on both sides of The Border from Carlsbad through Sonora to the Baja and Arizona.

The tiny grasshoppers in their thousands are still on the irrigation hoses.

A pair of Red-tailed Hawks swing in tandem, mirror each others steps and romantic dance moves in what I can only think is honeymoon glee and grace. They race across the fields and then in a couple of broad circles high and then low shoot into the Saguaro Canyon and out of it again, come over me, bank hard and head back to the dividing ridges. Their shadows, cast sideways by the horizontal light of late day, race up, up and up the slope and close in on the pair they’re chasing, until those shadows meet the birds and fold themselves into them them as the hawks come almost to brush the ground at the rocky crest, and vanish then down into the next canyon.

January 30, 2014

Bob comes to help dig mesquite, and reports there are Mexican Mallards on The Stockpond and while we are working, he finds the first Filaree in bloom with its flowers of an odd hue of magenta washed with blue. A brown and russet young Harrier patrols around us on tilting wings.

The day warms … and warms … … 78 degrees … … and out come more Bronze Dragonflies and even Sulphur Butterflies. Well so much for Winter, which I’ll declare has lasted all of six weeks and two days, and began the day after I marked the end of “Fall” when the last of the Sulphurs were a-wing in mid-December on the last day of that month that had reached 75. My shirt is soon darkened by sweat as I dig out those T-posts of the fence long ago so buried in silt and gravel of sheet flooding that Mycha can lightly step over it and get loose on the Cascabel Road if the top wire isn’t raised by another two feet to that optimum 48 inches. Already chores like this one are nagging me, that I’m afraid won’t get done before Summer but better well be. There’s not much I hate more to hear than a voice on the phone telling, just as I’ve put feet up, “Um … your cows are out.”

January 17, 2014

Hiroshige Moon-set
on opposite horizon,
in dawn-pink sky
against bare cottonwoods,
and walnut,
above penumbral shadow
dark blue.

Just within the fence on Cascabel Road I finally have to stop digging out an old T-post and go search out whatever critter is calling from the canyon and mesa to the east a long descending trill and chatter. I presume it’s a bird I’m unfamiliar with, who knows, something newly arrived from Mexico and, ahem, undocumented, now the climate of Sonora heads north inexorably. A wren? I have no idea what the Sinaloa Wren–a species new for the United States found the more frequently not much south of here–could sound like, and this voice certainly has a wren motif, or should that be a wriff? After scrambling through two sets of fences and into the rough hillside of Catclaw and Saguaros, I arrive near the source of the odd notes as best I can figure just when the hoot of a midday owl silences whatever it is, and I don’t hear it again. I ought to resist the drive to find out every last fact about this place.

Gray Flycatcher, pumping its tail …

A White Tiger Moth comes over, slowly, passes on by. Twenty Javelina bring their babies to the cool and green winter #2 Pasture, and tuck into the vast salad bar.

The balmy air of late afternoon is full of bugs dancing, on what elfin mission? They move in the orderly bounces of a pinball, or zigzag back and forth and back and forth … Phoebes chitter on the posts, then dive and sail into the shimmering horde, the birds’ moves telling me they can outwit and out maneuver any of these insects that know so well how to evade me.

The day’s become so warm that it’s a pleasure to go back to work on the fence in the shade of the old and giant mesquite trees, where I’m somewhat camouflaged. I hope to hear the mystery trilling song again, from those slopes rising steeply on the other side of the road. While I dismantle the fence that Mycha the cow makes shortcake out of when she wants to get mesquite beans on the outside, there comes a huge Accipiter swirling and diving into the road but apparently missing its target. Gambel’s Quail in the sunset light behind me scatter, and purl excitedly as they flee the raptor even though they’re a thousand feet away from us. The hawk is big and brown, with the bright slash of a white eyebrow over the most intense of gazes, lands on an electric pole almost overhead of me: a Goshawk! Is it what had taken down the Cooper’s Hawk whose feathered remains were on the pasture a month ago?

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 …

January 13, 2014

Predators are the Presence on this beautiful, frigid (19 degrees) morning with all puddles iced over: a Red-tailed Hawk huddles atop a wheel line tractor, a Loggerhead Shrike pursues a sparrow who is weaving and ducking and chirping out notes full of panic and plea.

Common Ground-Doves …

Luna,
almost-full Orb,
the Presence on this mild early evening,
sky pink below,
bare trunks and tracery of mesquites,
glowing disc hung behind–
winter Hiroshige.

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.