April 13, 2013

A honeyed and calling fragrance in the air, sweet, drifting to the Stockpond from the direction of the San Pedro, which river wanders by close to the west. I presume it is from the clouds and sprays of pink tamarisk blossoms in the reaches of the bottomlands, where there is now a show of color that can be seen from Cascabel Road from enough of a rise.

The lone male Mallard still floats on the pond, he’d been kept company by an adult Black-crowned Night Heron until I drove up. Night Herons being a jumpy sort, it vanished quickly not to reappear. Was this the one that spent a few days here last June when in immature plumage but by now should have matured into an elegant adult bird? Northern Beardless-Tyrannulets (the name is longer than the tiny bird itself–is that true of the Southern Beardless-Tyrannulet, too??) gave their wheezy, sneezy whistles from the bosque and later as I made rounds I could hear them all along the River; I guess they’d arrived together in the night. They can be called down from the trees if one wants to get a close look; I must’ve hit on their territorial call. This is another creature that in late years could be come across in every month of winter, but this season’s frigid air must’ve driven them far to the south, maybe completely out of Arizona. Their arrival in numbers should also in a “normal” year have come about two weeks ago but they were loathe to leave wherever they were.

The wrens began their usual flying up from my footfalls as I walked along the wheel line to open a hydrant, but this day they didn’t fly off quickly nor drop out of sight maddeningly. Several of them flitted off only a few feet, then landed on the spokes of the irrigators so close to me it was hard to focus in with the glasses, jumped around, looked for spiders and such in the corners of the aluminum. There were the white spots I’d been told about, but most amazingly, there were on each of their backs lines of pretty black stripes. I could hardly grasp this, because it identified these little mystery birds that are everywhere in the deep winter grasses we’d planted in October and December as the Marsh Wren!

We have in our way recreated long-vanished cienegas with these winter leafy pastures for the cattle, by bringing water up from 25 ft. under ground and spreading it over these acres. It may be that rather with the grazing schedule, the wrens move from one area of these winter cereals to another with the waterings, which make of them a marsh about a hundred feet wide that stays wet in the shade of the plants for a few days at a time, this cycling accomplished through all the acres over a week’s period. By now the wrens have become used to my tromping through and didn’t go so far off before slipping back beneath the grass canopy. I’d hope Iris Dement would approve of “allowing” the birds to show themselves in their own time like that. Letting their “mystery be” was a pleasure.

After a winter that had the Lark Buntings abandon us, they are passing back north through the pastures. Many females, many males in an eclipse plumage but not a few in their startling and sharp black-and-white courting outfits. I watched one of those fine males for a while, who was moving along the ground looking for insects and seeds in remarkably plover-like actions. Then he and several others flew up and arranged themselves artfully in a round young mesquite tree, and these immediately joined by other birds each competing in beauty: Lazuli Buntings as bright as blue reef fish, numbers of sorrel and white and black-pointed Chipping Sparrows in their full fresh spring plumage, a single Vermillion Flycatcher for a tabasco splash, unfurling pastel mesquite leaflets a foil for all these colors of a Mexican tin Tree-of-Life come brightly to life.