Monthly Archives: May 2016

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.