April 14, 2013

[E]arly at the Stockpond, in the mobile bird blind of the pickup, on the radio the gorgeous music of Mexico’s “Age of Gold” coming out of Sonora and so well set to this grandscapes that were once not fenced off from that fair land. Hopelessly sad music, hopeless love for la Malaguena Salerosa, the cheesiest of organ arrangements that scream novella, and of course the tragically romantic, boleros in harmonies that drift over saloon doors of a cantina and into the street, Eydie Gorme singing that it is my inescapable fate to love her, corridos from The Revolution. White fluff from willows drifts past and lands on the water outside the truck windows. The track of a Turkey clearly marked in the dust makes the line from where the bird left the protection of the mesquital to cross the parking opening and down to the water’s edge; I haven’t yet seen one of these birds on the Mason place, but once in a while used to see them in the bed of the River to the south at Heaven Sent Ranch in the years I was a hand there. From the looks of those birds, I had thought then that they were Gould’s Turkey that had simply wandered north out of Sonora down the San Pedro. I wonder about this one.

Large flocks of Lark Sparrows, taking to the air in swirls as I wade through the grasses to open hydrants and set wheels for the day’s watering. I listened to a handsome one high in a mesquite top, by himself giving a concert like no other of his kind I’ve heard–I couldn’t tell it from the Summer Tanagers that were due to arrive from the south tomorrow. A Brewer’s Sparrow was also singing pretty notes in the mesquite saplings that are a constant battle to keep from taking over the grazing fields; right now is the end of that sparrow’s winter residence here and they usually disappear of a sudden. That summer song had me thinking they were restless now. That most exquisite bird of tropical hue and amazing grace arrived in massive number, hawking low over all the pastures: the Violet-green Swallow.

After having got three pastures’ irrigation up, I waited back at the Stockpond for the Great 2013 Wren Drive to start once the other Cascabel Wren Wranglers came along this morning–our eminent naturalists Ralph W. and Kathleen, and avid birder pard Bob E. Kathleen had suggested we play gamekeepers and walk in a line across the grasses, sort of beat the bush and see what flies up so more can be learned about this wren phenomenon that becomes by the day more astonishing. One of us might circle out and around to push a bird back towards the others … here at the water, though, I had merely to watch.

Lots of male Black-chinned Hummingbirds came zooming in to the water, hanging suspended and making acrobatic moves of incredible agility, each trying to chase off the other four or five so he could have the pond alone else he might not have enough water to drink! Sometimes this is out in the middle where the birds will drop and hover, drop again, hover, reach the water in this stair-step fashion and daintily break the surface of the pond with a fine bill-tip. At the edges where the water is only inches deep, the hummers drop themselves at hover right down onto the water, and slide themselves back and forth forcing the water to clean their keels, even landing for moments with wings whirring so they don’t sink; they look like tiny airboats. Some land in little pockets of shallow water that are cupped in the floating green algae, while keeping only the slightest of wing movement going so’s not to lose their balance. None of these things would go on for very long, not with their wing mates coming in at a divebomb to knock them out of the way with a chatter and whizz, “Hummbres, it’s goin’ on High Noon and this pond ain’t big enough for the five of us!”

On the strength of the experience of last week’s flushing of the Marsh Wrens by the moving wheel line, and the ease with which I saw those wrens a couple days ago, I’d promised the Wren Wranglers a good show but the little we saw turned out to be hard won. None of the birds showed themselves but for brief flashes of russet and brown and we were left with the frustration rather than the mystery now lost once I’d got that identity on them. Well, didn’t really matter to us, who all know that naturalists the country over dream of this place, and dream of being out in it of a morning just like this one. Not ones to give up, though, we moved on to other winter pastures to the north where there turned out to be few of the wrens but rather many more frustrating sparrows of who knew what species. How much time remains before all these LBBs (“Little Brown Birds”) give the place over to summer flycatchers, when the oats, barley, rye and wheat give the place over to bermudagrass and the main cattle herd comes back down to its lushness from higher, wild ranges? We used Kathleen’s roundup brushbeating until we got one of those elusive sparrows to light in a bare mesquite sprout, and we could get finally one i.d, Savannah Sparrow, which in past winters were much more numerous and might well have been so this whole winter but hidden themselves much more, too. Then too, wintering White-crowned Sparrow have been much less seen at least at Mason’s than in other years; we did come on a few of them today.

A Summer Tanager glows in a bare tree, when we return to the Stockpond and bid farewell to each other after a most enjoyable morning. The bird is a day early! That Lark Sparrow that was singing like one of that tanager kind must’ve heard him.