Tag Archives: Sparrows

August 13, 2016

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.

July 20, 2016

A little more rain, the first in almost three weeks and not enough to stop fretting about the state of the Native Grass Planting with its desiccation and shriveling continuing apace. Water it and encourage too-rampant growth of competing Palmer’s Amaranth, Copper Mallow, and Bermudagrass, or hold off and risk the loss of the precious clumps of gramas, bristlegrasses, sprangletops, beardgrasses, dropseeds and three-awns? All is wet enough, though, and I hope to hear Cassin’s Sparrows again in #3 Pasture but no, only many Rufous-winged Sparrows trilling, or doing their convincing Eastern Towhee impersonations. It must not be enough for the Cassins’ to ask their partners after their singing dive and mating display, “Did you feel the earth move under your feet?” but that they have to hear a certain number of real thunder rumbles … as some human desert rats tell the mud-buried Sonoran Desert Toads must? Maybe not enough rumbles have come on us yet? Or are they troubled by the population boom of Rufous-winged Sparrows still in their dense population cycle here?

The handsome, shrubby Composite in The Lane near the tall water storage tank is as alive with a species of native bee as that Graythorn has been with Tarantula Hawks. These bees are ones I’ve never seen before. Short and stocky, golden in the fore-half, black behind, with slanted greenish eyes: they look like the Roswell Alien and they fly like little spaceships themselves, very fast, in a frenetic zig-zag pattern. They’re as handsome as the sprawling plant and its showy yellow rayless flowers, where they’re joined in the nectar feast by only a few butterflies, and a Tarantula Hawk or two. I think the plant is False Boneset, Brickellia eupatorioides but oh, those Composites, what critters to key out and identify they be–even more fun than grasses. Whatever this is, it might be the longest-flowering and most attractive “pollinator plant” wild on the range and should be propagated and disseminated widely.

Not one rattlesnake to be seen this Summer at Mason’s–the Roadrunners are many and large and often accompany me in groups of three or more as I scare up bugs and lizards in my own frenetic zig-zagging and flying saucer zooming across the pastures to get the endless rounds of chores done …

July 14, 2016

The adult, full-plumaged and handsome Vesper Sparrow is still here! It’s hard not to think this is the same bird of June 2nd, which was a rare-enough occurrence then. There is no record of the species having been seen in southern Arizona in July, will this mean something beyond global weirding? Has the constant and herculean effort of improving and restoring these river-shelf pastures so paid off for grassland birds that this species didn’t feel the call of its cooler summer home above The Rim this year? In the era before the great degradation of the Southwestern desert ranges by robber cattle barons and this endlessly fickle climate, would the Vesper Sparrow have been here–if sparingly–in July? Or is there a factor in play, of not many binocular-toting observers being on the ground outside an air-conditioned car, or tractor cab? Would it have been here now if so many Cascabel people and Saguaro-Juniper members and Tucson folk and even visitors from far away States over so many hours of the past ten years not dug and pulled and pricked their hides on the mesquites of every size that had to be removed if this grassland were to become whole again?

July 5, 2016

The scolding and hissing of Black-tailed Gnatcatchers comes from the scrubby mesquites and the Graythorns, the bird rather uncommon from my observations on this side of las Rincones Altas.. There are lots of little notes and clicks from other small birds, a pack of Bushtits are fluffing around (they look like dustballs with bills) and many immature Black-throated Sparrows are opening green mesquite pods for the still-tender seeds. They leave the chaff on the ground like peanut hulls on a honky-tonk dance floor.

I look down into the opening at the top of that iron gate post in which the Ash-throated Flycatchers have set up home, to see if that big baby had fledged yet from its solar oven nursery. I’d certainly want to get out of there! What?? … the bird is indeed gone, but I realize what I had been looking at a week ago wasn’t a baby, but the mother–I’d forgotten about Myiarchus moustaches! This time I had a better entry of light into the shaft to see, and thought it was sweet that she hadn’t shot upwards then with bill aimed into the eye of the cyclopean monster. Curiosity could have at least blinded this cat prying into their affairs but the pair of flycatchers have got completely accustomed to our coming and going and working right there, and seem undisturbed by our being near, even this near. What I did see this time charmed to no end: three beautiful small speckled eggs, perhaps just the beginning of a clutch.

Immature Hooded Orioles enliven the mesquites and the tall grass and forbs in the north of #2 Pasture, and among them is a large “baby” cowbird (cue the villain music?) begging and seeming to be communicating with an answering adult oriole but, I don’t witness enough to be sure it was that bird who raised it.

July 2, 2016

When Monsoon after her opening fiesta lifts the hem of her skirt of clouds enough above her ankles to wade in the arroyos she’s left running, all this land lies drenched and steaming.

Over a half inch of rain begins High Summer and the temperature soars from the delight of a cool 80 degrees yesterday to well past 90 today. The smallest of effort to push myself into #3 Pasture to listen for Botteri’s Sparrows pulls sweat to wet and darken the work shirt. No, no Botteri’s–but yes, yes! for a second day comes the rich, descending, see-sawing whistles of Cassin’s. They may have been here already but they do not let go their songs until rain actually falls for if it doesn’t, why waste the swagger and the aerial dance of courtship? Will they stay even if the much rarer Botteri’s has abandoned us and apparently withdrawn to their more usual range closer to The Border? The presence of the Cassin’s Sparrows is exciting and deeply satisfying enough to us and the Forest Service and the pastures, now after so much work of the past few years has turned the wide almost sterile Burroweed flats into the kind of mosaic of those shrubs and the native grasses that this “Species of Concern” might want to call home.

Those overgrown “ducklings” of the Mexican Mallard pair head for the shore whenever the Silverado appears at The Stockpond, move up through the weeds away from me crouched almost flat to the ground, quickly and more like lizards than large birds that can fly off if they want to. Black Phoebes have appeared again in good numbers through the pastures but especially in the branches overhanging the open water, after having been absent most of the Foresummer and early Summer. Where do they come back from?

June 27, 2016

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 …

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!

June 2, 2016

The ryegrass of the Winter Pasture (a quaint term! it’s 102 degrees …) is producing its countless flower spikes, and green grain too, and those pastures are alive with Lesser Goldfinches giving out their lemon twist chitterings, and bright House Finches feasting on the plants of the small grains.

A Chihuahuan Raven flies down The Lane, low and just in front of the windshield of the slowly moving Silverado: what a great view of prowess airborne! but the bird is up to no good at least from the point of view of other species now frantically planning for the families that will come in with the time of plenty that they and I hope is on its way. Pow, a Kingbird bonks Raven on its crown, the blow having no effect on the grace and intention of its flight, Raven without loss of the rowing of its wings can still forward navigate the air of The Lane with its head straight up in the air at right angle to its body, jabbing those big black mandibles at the Kingbird. Pow, a Mockingbird bonks Raven on its crown, Raven looks up in defiance again and glares menacingly at Mockingbird, while it still rows its wings and doesn’t in the least wobble … it stabs the weapon of its bill into the air but misses this second and also most agile bird who “ain’t nothin’ but business”. All three crash through the wall of mesquite leaves and out of sight while other birds throw themselves into a fray now invisible inside the tree … seconds later Raven shoots out of the large and very dense mesquite, a nestling dangling from its bill, the Mockingbird in lightning, angry pursuit, the two birds and the doomed baby disappear over a far pasture with it seems the whole bird neighborhood in uproar behind them.

A single Vesper Sparrow is still here! Bob helps me determine that there are no records of the bird in the first week of June in southern Arizona. “Global Weirding”, I suppose.