Tag Archives: Warblers

August 24, 2016

In moving, raising or dropping any of the electric lines that (mostly!) keep the herd where I want them to clean off the coming winter pasture areas, I get close to the soil and grass. Today this brings me to find something strange, a small white clam shell that is stuck on a grass blade that holds it about eight inches above the ground. I have no place or way to carry it safely, to show to Ralph and Kathleen later, but I wrap it in a little paper and slip it inside the pocket tally book, and continue with the fence post chore. That ought to do, I hope, but later I’ve forgotten completely what I’ve done with it and when I get down on one knee so I can get at an invasive weed that wants knifing out, I lean upon the other knee and remember the shell as I hear something fragile crinkling its way into dust inside the cover of that tally book. Guess I won’t make a fossil-hunter. Ralph later tells me that a fossil shell is exactly what I had found, of a creature that had in some dim past geological era lived on a sea bottom there. It must have been on the surface this Spring after being exposed by winter rains, when a grass sprouted under it and lifted it into the air.

If a bird could be said to be cute, the Nashville Warbler at The Stockpond I saw during lunch would surely. What a pretty little, neatly marked migrant, seen through the windshield of the truck, flitting too fast to follow through the branches over the water.

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.

December 30, 2013

It is so cold that even in late morning ice still edges The Stockpond, where a Black Phoebe and a Yellow-rumped Warbler are duking it out over something in the overhanging mesquite branches. The temperature in that last dark hour before dawn here likely had dropped to about 15 degrees.

Yet another large bird has been brought low, this one a now torn-apart Mallard whose remains I find in their wreckage field stretching out from the pool at The Cienega. Well, not remains really–whatever it was that got it took away completely the bone, flesh, beak and quack, and left only lovely feathers. Some are small and bottle green, and there are larger ones of iridescent aquamarine, each tipped with a round white spot which when arranged together across a line must have formed the blue speculum with its white bar. Peregrine on the lurk? Woe to the ducks! (I’ve witnessed in a past year one of those falcons’ most accomplished hunting feats when it chose a female Baldpate from the buffet at The Stockpond, then on a patch of bare ground in #2 Pasture dined in blood and drifting duck feathers only about a hundred feet from the windshield of the truck. Oh the luck of seeing that!) It’s been over a month since I’ve seen a Peregrine, though.

October 1, 2013

Crescent Moon, topaz chalice, hovering above the peaks that crest the Muleshoe country, all else is stars and constellations. Not a sound of bird, but the night is rich with chirps and singing of insects. Martins overhead are gone, flycatchers on the mesas are gone, Chats in the bosque below are gone, there are no calls of Sonoran Desert Toads, nor Spadefoots, nor Red-spotted Toads from the far flats. For crickets, though, it is their time, and they will only get louder as the months of the year wind down–all their predators having gone to Mexico or dug towards Hades. When light finally suffuses the sky towards the East where Dipper rises and sparkles, two Great Horned Owls hoot a duet. Cold air flows right through the house, to be captured by closing doors and windows early as a hedge against the still 90-degrees-hot and sweaty days.

It’s a madhouse of birds newly arrived and soon to depart (though I wonder when) at The Stockpond: Bell’s Vireos, Blue Grosbeaks, the first White-crowned Sparrows, the first Yellow-rumped Warblers–the comforting and at-home burrs and buzzes of those Vireos, though, will be the last that I’ll hear for today they vanish. Several Wilson’s Snipe take off with a much bothered, “Shrekk! Shrekk!”, circle, land again, crouch, freeze, tilt their back end at a 45 degree angle with bill pointed a slant the other direction to touch the mud. The ephemeral dirt tank sounds like a bird aisle in a pet store, with the chattering and whistles of many Lark Sparrows, Pyrrhuloxia, and the Brewer’s Sparrows that today arrive at the Mason Pastures. Gad, one of those Fall warblers, the ones to be identified in part by process of elimination … green above, yellow throat, yellow under tail coverts, grayish crown; I think I can take it for a female Nashville Warbler. A Rock Wren calls out a chittling note from the hillside scree on the other side of Cascabel Road. Cassin’s and Western Kingbirds, still aplenty on the fences and wires and poles, still entertaining with their boldness, their colors, their lusty joy of flight.

Those little frogs of Summer never grew up into Bullfrogs (it appears we are Bullfrog free, who knows how, or for sure?) and they’re still very active–I can never get “the jump” on them and have a good look. Not that frogs are so easy to tell apart, even if they’re in the hand. No chance of that happening, what with how they leap in panic from along The Stockpond edge even at my distant approach, scream an “EEEeeeep!”, splash and are gone. Today, though, while I watch dragonflies and stand completely still, one of the frogs rises submarine-like to the surface at my feet; I don’t dare blink, though it does, one eye looking up at me, then the other. It has a knobby face, with a beautifully bright green jaw, the top of the head green but duller, and it’s spotted on every limb going out onto the toes. Could these be Chiricahua Leopard Frogs, known to be making their last stand along The Border in about the only habitats left that are dependably wet year round, ranch ponds and cattle drinkers? I grow tired being motionless, move ever so slightly, and it submerges and is gone so quickly that it is as if it had never appeared to begin with though little swirls of mud show something had indeed been there.

A dear mamma cow, Brindle, looks a little odd, isn’t walking with the right rhythm, and while I try to divine if she has a problem or it’s my imagination, an immature Cooper’s Hawk hunts past us. Tom and I look over this herd later on, and find Brindle’s entire left side collapsed and enlarged; neither one of us have seen anything like it, and fear she will be carried off by it. Vultures have lately become thin on the air, not many around still to clean up a carcass, but one suddenly comes into view high over the cow and the humans now alarmed by her appearance. Everyone instantly has the same thought, endemic in this far country under the Mae West Peaks: “She’d better do it now before the Vultures leave.”–Kathleen. “Good thing the vultures haven’t left!”–Pat.

The last sun rays on The Stockpond light brightly, stunningly, the stripes on the head of a single Snipe, who probes the mud with its marvelously long bill, all the way up to its eyeballs!

September 26, 2013

A bird of prey roars past me, I’m sun blinded by looking towards where it disappears but I could only make out for sure that Miss Otis is going to be able to lunch today–on dove. The first Peregrine, in the first few days of Fall, pitching ducks into horror on ranch ponds everywhere?

Still the ephemeral stockpond in #2(north) Pasture has water in it, well, it’s been hard to call it “ephemeral” this year. A red-brown bat comes to drink there at midday. The presence of that water can lull one into thinking that Monsoon has yet to leave us, but the ever growing number of Red-winged Grasshoppers giving their rattling display flights nags otherwise.

A few Barn Swallows are at the big Stockpond, bright blue Damselflies are there, too, and in such numbers that it seems the banks have sprouted an edge of light, gauzy flowers that might melt with the sun. In the mesquites, a Tennessee Warbler (a rarity in these parts) and a Warbling Vireo.

It is still hot, in the 90s at least (with days sometimes trying to reach 100) and it seems there ought to be afternoon storms. I miss the head-rush terror and thrill of approaching lightning, miss so the thunder, miss her calling from far up the valley, “I come.”

September 20, 2013

On the edge of #3 Pasture I find a returned Marsh Wren that lets me approach within a couple paces, close enough that I can see the white stripes on its back. I also find the place in the fence on the road (well, one of the places in that fence) where Mycha the Cow took advantage of how the whole line is being buried in the mud and rubble of sheet flood after sheet flood. The top wire is now so low that Mycha just springs over with ease and nonchalant grace, to vacuum up the mesquite beans that those other, mere mortal cows who don’t have the nerve to follow (gracias a Dios!) can only dream about getting to. I haze her up the long road stretch to The Green Gate, she traipses back in, I pull up to The Stockpond and lose Mycha’s grand, teeth-grinding irritation in a water’s edge once again so alive with birds that I don’t know what to look at; I’m still so worked up and shaking over the chase with that cow that I can’t hold the binoculars still for a while anyway. Once I calm down, the birds all set themselves before me beautifully: pairs of Wilson’s Warblers, pairs of Black-headed Grosbeaks, sets of Lazuli Buntings, kingbirds, a bright female Bullock’s Oriole, Bell’s Vireos, an Orange-crowned Warbler, Abert’s Towhees, Blue Grosbeaks, a Nashville Warbler, immature Western Tanager, a Black Phoebe, McGillivray’s Warbler, a Swallow bombs in and bombs out too fast to see what species. A pair of Lucy’s Warblers are the last I’ll see in what seems with them a true farewell-to-Summer (I thought they’d all gone by now, it’s been so long since I’ve seen or heard any.) The flock of Brewer’s Blackbirds passes overhead.

The cows have been set to graze down the bermudagrass in #2(north) Pasture, to make easier its preparation for the planting of winter small cereals, as wheat, oats, barley and rye plants are called when used for grazing. Another Marsh Wren is there, and from the uncultivated other side of the River fence slides along another snake, who crosses bare patches of ground and pops down into a hole in the tufts of bermuda. This Ring-necked Snake is more mellow than yesterday’s Rattler (though it, too, is said to be venomous) and a handsome reptile it is: lead gray, with an orange band around its neck worn like a fine piece of jewelry.

The Monsoon, the Summer, end with a bang literally, as thunderstorm cells sweep in and over the Mason Pastures …

September 19, 2013

As I drive away from the house I look up to the Rincon, where Full Moon sports with the highest peak, is shining out from a mother-of-pearl sky; thrashers scold, sparrows tsip and cheep. The season is on the other shoulder, in the bottomland it is 57 degrees, while it was 95 degrees when I left The Stockpond at 5:15 last night.

A Great Blue Heron this morning at that pond, and at least four Summer Tanagers call around it, some are adult males in bright red plumage. A large “finch”, white below, gray above, and with conspicuous large white eye ring is there too, who knows what it is, leaves before a better look and a determination can be had. Many things will remain unidentified in this pretty good group of birds–Little Brown Jobs, Little Green Jobs, Little Yellow Jobs. There is too much ranch work needing tending to, to give time to sorting out even a few. The aquamarine-colored Damselflies still swarm around the mud edges, and bottle green ones hover there, too. A folded-wing Skipper Butterfly skips from mud to mud, it has dusky brown wings, the lower ones with white trailing edge.

In one mesquite edge or another seen as I make work rounds are Green-tailed Towhee, McGillivray’s Warbler, another Dusky-capped Flycatcher … and along the Cascabel Road at the Mason Pastures’ north end is a fine adult Gray Hawk, the final one I’ll see in the Season of Plenty now winding down. Bug kind flies on, clicks, chirps, as if les bon temps will forever roule: small grasshoppers with turquoise hind wings, gorgeous nearly-hovering Lubbers in 1957 Studebaker color combinations of pistachio and melon-pink, black and yellow, the still-sweet Sweet Clover racemes of blossoms flickering with many Sulfur Butterflies.

Other residents are out that I’d rather see with more distance between … as I barge through the tall grass to get a wheel line moved, I nearly step on top a skunk, who takes the surprise good naturedly though the canopy of entwined grass stems might be what keeps it from being able to raise a tail well enough to add even more interest to the afternoon. Then something else moves itself, parting that grass in a long line as it comes towards me. Must be a snake, I think, and then its diamond pattern can be seen through openings in the blades, and the head, and the rattle-ended tail of a fella who’s all business and thoroughly p.o.’d. I tear off. It keeps up, just behind and for longer than I want. A Mojave Rattlesnake would be the first conclusion out here that would be come to, though Wikipedia says, “Although they have a reputation for being aggressive towards people, such behavior is not described in the scientific literature,” meaning, I suppose, that not enough scientists have moved wheel line irrigators.

The afternoon brings 100 degrees, the humidity builds and builds to a swelter. Monsoon is fixing to let loose on us one last blow.

September 18, 2013

One or two individuals of a broad array of birds decorate The Stockpond, all nicely plumaged: Wilson’s Warbler; Black-headed Grosbeak; Bell’s Vireo; Brown-headed Cowbird; McGillivray’s Warbler; Vermillion Flycatcher; young Western Kingbird; Blue Grosbeak; a female Lazuli Bunting (though plain, still pretty with that blue tail of hers); and Gray Flycatcher–the first returning individual that I’ve seen, pumping its tail down in that distinctive way of theirs that is a godsend of a diagnostic “mark” for this species in a crazy-making genus. The more-greenish-than-grayish little flycatcher jumps off a branch time and again, drops and splashes in miniature belly flops into the pond, and is up then on the wing quickly enough to avoid sinking.

Blue Grosbeaks out in the pastures, who seem still to be unaware their endless Summer will indeed have an end, cavort on the wheel lines, bathe at the tops of the wheels in water that stays collected in the grooves with the constant passing around of the arcs of spray. The shining, sapphire birds stand and let themselves be hit by the waterdrops thrown over them, shake themselves off, then slide down the incline of the wheel to land in another puddle when they want even more fun!

Atop one of the plastic (insulated) electric line posts a large Apache Jumping Spider hangs out, waiting for some bug to land haplessly. It jumps inside the hollows of the post where the wires pass through when I come close for a better look at this most beautiful of Southwestern spiders, and then it comes back out and stares at me through all those eyes as if trying to remember where it knows me from. It is all black velvet and red velvet, most elegantly patterned.

Harvester Ants are cranky after the irrigation leaves their big, bare circle drenched, they swarm all over the place and I know they’d find me trying if I came any closer, but there is a very large, pale brown Swallowtail butterfly who keeps flitting around them. It’s a female Pipevine Swallowtail, the only one I’ve seen this year–and usually males are everywhere through Summer but they were scarce this year. She has cream spots striped between with blue on her underwings, and flashes amythyst on her upper surfaces–a very different color than that indescribably tropical blue of the males. She lands all over that circle, throws out a proboscis to the mud but is only relaxed for a second or two before she has to hot-foot it as ants try to latch on to her tiny feet. She seems to know just how much she can get away with before she’s got to take wing and try another spot.

September 12, 2013

Poorwill calls his “4:00 am, all’s still well,” and I turn on the coffee.

Young, greenish Summer Tanagers are wheezing in the mesquites at The Stockpond, hoping parents are still willing to give them their hand-outs. It’s been a good long time since any hummers have come there to drink, though there are still a number of them to be seen around the valley.

Seems to be a lull in grasshopper population and activity in general, except for the gigantic Lubbers, which have arrived at Mason Pastures and put on more and more of a show with those pink underwings of theirs flashing in their high, arching flight. Only Queen Butterflies, still no Monarchs–and as it would turn out, no Monarchs that I would ever see will cross these pastures the whole year.

Verdolagas are in bloom, these with extra large yellow flowers, mix beautifully with the magenta of a tiny flowered Four-o’-clock creeping among them. There are almost no toads out and about on the pastures by now, but what’s there have grown larger still and jump into wider-mouthed burrows when my passing shadow alarms them.

Time to see what autumnal winged insects are gathering in #3 Pasture, in its upper end where there are so many native plants and wildflowers and its Burroweed quarter is coming into its first flowering. A fully-plumaged Blue Grosbeak shimmers from the tip of a mesquite on the edge of the Dirt Tank, sings out as if it were the height of Summer. In past years the butterflies have made a real show here, but today they’re sparse (and it will turn out that they’ll remain sparse the rest of the season–there was a real decline in butterflies on The River for the whole year, to my eye.) A few Sulphurs and a Checkerspot come around the tiny, petal-less Burroweed flowers, and there are a number of Queens, one of which is an extra rich dark orange. I watch another Queen that’s not far away and through the binoculars I can make out the smallest and prettiest details, but … as I watch, it suddenly slumps over backwards, folds its wings together, drops from a blossom to the ground. I run the few feet to it, in time to see it give a couple twitches–and then it dies. No predator brought eternity to this little spark of life, I watched that happen of a moment its own. I’d never seen the likes of so Ecclesiastes an event … turn … turn … turn.

Although Burroweed can bring real problems to cattle if a rancher is careless in management, I also don’t want to see this flat of them in #3 Pasture eradicated: it’s a generous pollen and nectar bank that could be an ace in the hole for many Sonoran Desert insects each one of which is seemingly more jewel-like than those on the last bush I pass. The commonest by far is a Blister Beetle (the critter, a Pyrota sp., I dare not touch!), ochre and shining gold, with black spots at the tips of the wing covers, and other black spots on the upper back. It’s one of a number of these justly feared insects we have here, all of them beautiful and interesting (in that way that Poison Dart Frogs are beautiful and interesting), in their various genera and species found from Moosejaw to Mexico.

Mesquite, however, is something I do want to see eliminated there, but it is besting us again on that pasture, and looks like it will win the battle it has with us for land for expanding its forest–land we want for a grass community instead. At least I can get some satisfaction from pulling out a few Cocklebur, and, with exasperation after all our invasive weed eradication work I find about a dozen scattered Bull Thistle that are a foot or less tall, and one of about 18 inches. Those future problems, at least, get literally “nipped in the bud”. Camphorweed is in beautiful bright yellow bloom, and a few are already in seed. A passing Swainson’s Hawk is high high high, drifts off to hang in the sun on the horizon.

At the east end of this pasture the most beautiful wild Buckwheat (Eriogonum) I’ve ever seen has come into bloom, adding yet one more species to the growing list of native forbs that are coming into that area on their own. It holds shell-pink flowers in mounds over blue-gray foliage, each petal striped down its center with a deeper pink color. Livestock duties allow enough time to stop and admire, make a note or two, but not enough to key it out to species even if I had the manual to do so, not enough time to make a specimen for the herbarium, thus its identity will remain an enjoyable mystery, and that allows the experience of it and familiarity with it remain with a directness and immediacy that is a gift for those working directly on The Land. We know these beings mobile and immobile, despite not knowing how they’re named, or by whom.

As I leave, I go over to the ephemeral Dirt Tank in the corner of the next pasture to the south, and find the shore jumping with Yellow Warblers–the last of this species this year, heading south I guess. “See you next Spring … if we’re spared.” A single, half-toned Common Yellowthroat is also jumping through the drowned mesquite saplings, a Gila Woodpecker flies through, and an Empidonax with two broad buffy wingbars perches on those bare dead branches: the famous (or infamous?) Willow Flycatcher. Since they are untellable one from the other in the field, and especially at migration, no way can I say whether the bird is our summer resident “Southwestern Willow Flycatcher”, or one of the migrants coming through from the north where the species itself is considered merely uncommon rather than endangered. The tank remains filled with water, thanks to the continuing generosity of this year’s Monsoon, enough to where I’m thinking of this pond less and less as “ephemeral”.

The day ends as it almost always does, with a swing around the “real” Stockpond, the one I keep constantly water-filled down near The Green Gate. Female Lazuli Buntings are there on its shore, their blue tails making them stand out from the other brown finchy birds. Lesser Goldfinches are pecking off and eating bits of salt from the cattle mineral block!