Monthly Archives: July 2016

June 28, 2016

Just before midnight the sky comes undone, its seams rip open and great flashes of lightning loosed from its rents and even greater booms that shake the window glass–then the wall of rain slams into the Ridge House from the north. Everyone I know is up and figuring they might as well enjoy the drama of the first storm even if the lights of the valley have gone out soon after it all began. The world on our Desert and how we dance with it is changed, utterly, the empty glasses of a thousand thirsts forgotten in the rage of the downpours …

Merciless heat like a furnace blasting
desolate waste, no shadows casting
watch him–now his horse he’s leading …
horse is down, stretched out and dying
horseman kneels, to the sky is crying
watch him–hear the mournful pleading:
Demon Desert!…
–Sons of the San Joaquin, “Watch Him (Demon Desert)

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 25, 2016

Alex finds a knick-knackly perfect, exquisitely miniature Woodhouse’s Toad with its tiny leopard spots, on the ground next to him while he sits eating lunch on The Pond bank. It would be too easy to crush one with a casual knee or an unknowing step.

Two large family groups of Gambel’s Quail cross in front of me as I come along in the old Silverado, each group of bouncing, fuzzy, gravity-defying Ping-Pong balls leaving out from their different sides of the road (after looking both ways?) and passing each other in file as if in Paris crosswalks, looking like so many school girls shepherded by nuns and of course there is always the one who will be off by itself, in panicked lateness shooting forward to catch up, likely named Madeline.

Mockingbird flies out into the middle of the pasture, scolding the flock of Brown-headed Cowbirds and letting them know they are in the minds of an awful lot of avian citizens the scum of the Earth. The notes of that Mockingbird are unmatched for disdain.

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 22, 2016

A King of the Roadrunners trots cockily by with a checkered-striped lizard so big hanging from its bill that the very long, orange tail of the thing drags on the ground. It is the largest Roadrunner I’ve ever seen, with a lizard appropriate large. Canyon Spotted Whiptail? Without a specimen in hand, I’m afraid to pronounce it such but no other description of an Arizona reptile matches.

June 20, 2016

Oh Dolly, Dolly–how can you sing out from the radio, “Together you and I can stop the rain/and make the sun shine!” I hope she and Porter don’t come here, at least not now, the temperature yesterday having gone past the brink of 114 degrees and today, 109. Or is Dolly’s big hair of such continental massiveness that it can make its own weather, and would bring us rain no matter the words of her song? On second thought, maybe I should see if they’ll play it again.

The Ash-throated Flycatcher pair are on the double road gate at the north end of Mason’s, the male performing a whisper of a mating with his partner. She then pops through the large hole in the side of the heavy iron gate post a few feet above the ground and settles onto her nest within. This is the second year Alex and I have seen these birds occupy the place, which must cook with a Bessemer furnace-like heat! My clanging around her and cowboy drop-gate rebuilding there–the gate pivoting on the very post–has no effect on the bird’s behavior and she ignores me as she’s apparently smart enough to conclude that I am no threat, the same as she did last year. This casts doubt on the growing effort to see that all such pipes used in ranch fencing be covered, their blocked up to keep birds from getting trapped inside.

An adult Say’s Phoebe puts in a rare summer appearance, hawking out after bugs from the top of #3 Pasture’s wheel line. After a number of summers’ observation of them, I can only come to think that they leave the area to seek out the human-made structures now much preferred for nesting sites, the nearest of those being a distance away on ridges to the north.

June 17, 2016

Suddenly many minute-sized black tadpoles fill The Pond, on the surface, in wiggling, swimming layers down to the bottom; I’ve never noticed these before though I’d heard many adults for the first time at this pond earlier in the season. One on the surface, of about one inch in length, has four well-formed legs and an adult-looking head but still waves a tail behind it, certainly tiny for being at this stage of about-to-leave-for-land, its body leopard-speckled in little round black spots, the little legs with dark bands. They can’t be Bull Frogs, the size at this stage of maturity seems to tell that these are native Woodhouse’s Toads, those wonderful singers we must hope never get pushed out by some other introduced creature. Another new sight, reminding one that there are phenomena that are to be seen on the briefest of days, or even hours, and likely not every year: the bank of The Pond while I’m watching the funny little tadpoles, is alive with many odd beetles, shiny blue-black with very bulbous abdomens 2/3rds their length and bright brick red. Will I ever see those again?

June 13, 2016

The herd has returned from the mesas and arroyos and canyons of the Saguaro Juniper wildlands, which chore’s accomplishment this year seemed particularly like tooth pulling. I’d stopped asking, “What else could go wrong or interfere with this?” and now its challenges were being forgotten. I count the cows, heifers, steers, calves and bull one by one as they parade by the truck (“lined out” as is said), they come past to a Symphony #4 of some composer I’ve never heard of on the Tucson classical station … the bovine parade moves slowly, regally to the processional, ah, Majesty of Cow. Then again, instead of Symphony #4 they could be hearing Mambo #5. I’ve found out the rather alarming result if a Leontyne Price aria is played for those new calves born on range and now here getting used to us up close. It was good to have tightened the fence recently. There’s always one who’s different though–one young calf approached the truck instead, and didn’t think there was a banshee come to carry off its soul. O mio babbino calfo …