A Great Blue Heron sails past out on the Pastures, how can a birder ever get used to this species being in the desert? Its size and movement, pure majesty. The five Yellow-headed Blackbirds are here today again and I wonder if they’ll stay nearby for the summer.
The big, wingless red and black “Velvet Ants” (wasps) have started their purposeful and quick search over the ground for the holes of other wasps and bees they might parasitize, oh they are splendid insects if a bit scary, considering their powerful sting’s reputation. I find a few more Bull Thistle flowering heads that must be removed, some have bees impaled in an upright position and dead on the bristles of those flowers, as if put on a pin there by a collector. Were they clumsy? trapped by the arrangement of the prickles? stuck there by a predator? blown into the involucres by the spring winds that never ended this year? (I’m about to be blown into craziness myself by the dry blasts that hit the Ridge House through the night, clear the table of every paper, pull the pictures off the refrigerator magnets and all, pull paintings down, slam doors, turn over patio chairs, blow lamps off shelves …)
Later in the day those winds spring to life, a hot blast of air like a propane torch has the metal frames of my glasses burning my nose and eye brows, 10% humidity, the temperature soars to 107 degrees–not quite to that point where I could start to malfunction. It’s too late for the souls of those Creosote Bush leaves to cry for water and the Monsoon, for they are blowing off in pale yellow and brown masses and the hills round about become even more barren … […]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uicy9wFuNvU
4 a.m. at the house on Fire Sky Ridge between Sierra Blanca Wash and Pool Wash, the martins are as high as the moon nestled among a few meek clouds overhead. In the light the moon pours down the birds pour down calls and notes. I stand on the patio, coffee cup in hand, under the ramada. Over it and all the dark lands arches a firmament of the martins’ starry whistles. This phenomenon which I’m not sure anyone else is much aware of comes to an end as it always does about fifteen minutes before the dawn light comes. Lesser Nighthawk quaverings and weird chuckles come suddenly and night-jarringly out of the dark from out over the Saguaro slopes that drop into those washes.
Their loud, “check!” calls draw my attention to the five Yellow-headed Blackbirds that again today have arranged themselves artfully on the wheels of the irrigation lines. In another pasture Abert’s Towhees chase each other up and down the wheel line axle pipes. It is time to keep an ear out for Botteri’s and Cassin’s sparrows, and this morning I see a far sparrow singing like a Chipping, but with a wren-like ending to the song. I have a second to catch rufous on its crown before a bleepin’ Lark Sparrow chases it far off (later in listening to recordings of the Rufous-crowned Sparrow I’m encouraged to think that a Rufous-crowned it is …)
Kathleen and Ralph W. must see the evening spectacle of birds at The Stockpond before the days of it trickle down and away when Monsoon arrives, so tonight while I was getting the lines up to their watering for the night our naturalist friends arrive in their pickup and set themselves along the shore. It takes me longer than usual to make sure all is running efficiently out on the pastures, and I just miss the parade of martins coming through and sweeping the water, and I’m glad Ralph and Kathleen have been able to see it. What I do see when I get there is a lowered tailgate spread with delectables and fine food, a bowl of fresh large cherries, homemade cookies, a slab of brie cheese for heaven’s sake, crackers, all to be washed down with cabernet, all as if pulled from some never-exhausted magic bag from The Arabian Nights … and then comes in that vast swirl of Poorwills, bats, and nighthawks of two very different sizes–immatures and adults? Lesser Nighthawks and Common Nighthawks? I had been thinking the Nighthawks that come in and hover to drink for that suspended moment have the manner and grace of storm petrels, and similarly Ralph volunteered on his own that what they reminded him of is Kittiwakes. We talk about these things far into the night, well, “far” where we’re concerned in this life that puts us to bed earlier than town folk. Who’d let any of those rare goodies be left on the tailgate anyway? The conversation is as delectable as what is spread on the sideboard of the tailgate, and that’s not just because I mostly have cows to talk to all day.
The Stockpond is again almost empty of dawn bird visitors, it’s warmer today but again in the 50s, and humid. It alarms me to see that since yesterday the red algae has about taken over the whole surface of the water, but as the morning progresses it drifts into pieces and the water opens. Some friends will be along at sunset time to wine- and cheese-it while watching the bird show about which word is getting out to the naturalists on The River.
Beautiful Yellow-headed Blackbirds give their distinctive calls from the wheel line irrigators under a hot and sweaty half-moon–those temperatures by 8:00 am are flying up the scale, later, to 107 degrees. Down the humidity goes, to single digits.
Evening, though, is exceedingly pleasant by the water, with our cheese and the red wine. An elegant Cooper’s Hawk flies in while we sit there, stands on a rock at water’s edge a long time, ready to pull back her bow and let fly if a luckless bird comes past. We chat in low voices, and watch the hawk–
“Boy, she’s sure sittin’ there a long time!”
“Patient is the hunter.”
“We should call her Diana.”
A sudden cold morning, so cold I put on a winter canvas rancher’s vest to make the before-the-sun-comes-up rounds of turning off the waterers across all the pastures. The temperature is in the low 50s; by noon it will be in the 100s. It is so cold there are almost no birds at The Stockpond, a great shock now I’ve come to be accustomed to the showing of so many who come in from the greatest of distances to get their water and stay alive. They must all be shivering somewhere!
The evening. I’ve finished turning on all the waterers again and at The Stockpond the scene is a very different one than morning’s, more different than can be imagined at the end of this roasting day. Did that chilly dawn actually happen? In the last rays from high overhead descends a swirling vortex of swallows, martins, bats, nightjars–swinging low, dipping for moments longer and shorter, in sets in an orderly fashion; their numbers can hardly be grasped. Then the sun is gone, the critters of daylight’s last shift drink but are seen only in the reflection of the pond’s surface that picks up a final light coming down from the arc of the sky. Our friendly Jackrabbits sit in front of the dark mesquite wall across the way, I only know they are there because their ears can be seen in upside-down reflection in that pink water. An entire reversed Great Blue Heron is there in the wide mirror, too, its actual body I can hardly make out against the dark trees even though it is so sizable a bird.
Ah, they’ve finally come out, those most gigantic, most frightening of all wasps I’ve seen in the world–and also one of the most beautiful of any insect species–a flying chunk of azurite, the Tarantula Hawk Pepsis grossa. “Look upon me, and be still,” one says in the voice like the sound of a not very distant helicopter as he lazily swings past me on the shore of The Stockpond.
Jackrabbits in gentle pairs, trios or quartets, as opposite creatures from the formidable Pepsis wasps as could ever have come to be on this Earth, come to graze every sunset now on deeply growing bermudagrass just inside the double-gate entrance of #1 Pasture. They become so used to my coming and going at this time of day, when they’re feasting at the only buffet left open in town, that they do not move off as I walk right through them in my chore of opening a riser that in the night will freshen up their salads. I squeek at them and they look squarely at me with no fear that I can read. They are downright friendly, and somehow it feels that they know I’ve got something to do with providing them this luxurious meal. Actually they’re probably just acting through a wild desperation by this point in the Long Hot Foresummer when most all else for miles around us is left a cinder.
We take the horses on range out from El Potrero: we need to keep in riding condition and so do they even if there are no cows to check on up there until the “Fall” (the English sense of what is a season doesn’t work well here.) There are a few Saguaro in sparing bloom, and on the arm of one that still had a single blossom is the first open red fruit offered to most every sort of diurnal, crepuscular, and nocturnal wildlife by these cactaceous restauranteurs, these Saguaros on a thousand hills. It is eerily quiet among the giants and among all the countless Whitethorns that appear dead from the drought: no cicadas sing.
The Elf Owl are so scarce this summer that hearing anything of their entertaining, squeeze-toy chatter is something notable, and a delight. There was one talking outside the window in the night, but I don’t think it called my name.
The County Agent in Willcox, Kim M., lets me know that if it were she, she’d go with caution and pull out that single Rushpink growing and flowering in #3 Pasture … but when I go back up there to do just that I can’t find a trace of it! Did it already disperse all those seed parachutes, then in its ghost fashion become invisible? I guess we’ll find out next year if we’ve yet another invasive to worry about in that field.
White butterflies are probing the Sweetclover–but only the few white flowered ones–out where the deer take their rest. Those white blossoms are as fragrant or even more fragrant than are the yellow.
An all gray, very large Sphinx Moth is about, with a row of amber spots running the length of both sides of its abdomen. There are several species with these markings, though I think this must be the common Tobacco Hawk Moth, that scourge of tomato growers everywhere.
Lizardtail (Gaura mollis), a common but distinctive tall wildflower of irrigated pastures hereabouts, is coming into bloom with delicate small pink flowers. In Spanish its name is much the more poetic, less grating in both sound and meaning than in English: Linda Tarde.
Five Mule Deer of the herd of seven come to eat, in the pasture where they bed down in the Sweetclover. They’re a bit bigger than they were a few weeks ago, and more shy though they do continue grazing with me nearby. What has happened to the two missing ones? Some have fine sets of antlers, others with antlers only beginning to show.
Today The Stockpond is ringed not with yellow birds (chats) but by a great number of blue ones (grosbeaks). Hummers galore zip down to the water surface, even more of them than I’d seen doing this before if that be possible. For the next two weeks–or until the sweeping in of the first couple of monsoon storms–The Stockpond will be The Place for birds. A couple of pairs of eyes pop up from below the pond’s surface, jut above and out into the air, and they seem to be taking a knowing look at the world. They are of frogs or toads coming up for air, and their monstrous size says that this must be the first appearance of the Sonoran Toad. Once the toads start splashing around in ponds and puddles, garden fountains and jacuzzis, it means the temporales are on their way and that, we hope, nothing will stop. As with the first showing of Gila Monsters, local people celebrate this moment of The Arrival of the Toads but also worry about it if they have pets that will worry this very toxic toad and mouth it.