May 11, 2013

The Spotted Sandpiper is gone. A tadpole looking up through the water where the sandpiper had stood might this morning be fooled into thinking it was seeing an innocent white cloud rather than its doom, a cloud that can fling out a mortal bolt at lightning speed to grab the tadpole for breakfast. It is a Snowy Egret come to spend a single day with us. Wearing golden slippers it walks across the muddy bottom with consummate grace, a mist of aigrettes suspended over its back and all this beauty doubled perfectly by its reflection. This picture on a 1950s Florida postcard is jumpy, and flew off with a sharp bark, landed for only a moment then took off in panicked flight as if it had seen a plume hunter. When I came back a long time later to turn off the irrigation, though, it was much less bothered by me and I could watch it at leisure while it was cleaning up the pond of every vertebrate and invertebrate that could be snagged.

A first migrating Western Tanager arrived for a drink, to remind me that it is one of the most beautiful of North American birds and one on a par with any of its spectacular wholly tropical relatives. A Lesser Goldfinch alights on top the pond-filling riser, and sips from the dribble there.

Out on the pastures other Lesser Goldfinch graze on Wright Saltbush, (“Saltweed”) which plant happens also to be my favorite spring green and a pleasure peculiar to these Borderlands, delicious with a little olive oil drizzled through … gather it early while it’s tender and not very tall, with a tug of the fingers at the tips of the sprawling plants the best leaves and shoots will break naturally and these be thrown in a pot with a little water, brought just to the boil then heat turned off and left covered a while but eaten while still hot. The cows go crazy for it, and, happily, they find it in abundance …


Numbers of javelina are out there too, but what they’re grazing is the bolting wheat and barley and like the grosbeaks with whom they’re in competition, the animals are about mad for those grass heads coming into seed. The plants are so tall that all that can be seen of the javelina are ears and noses, as they reach up as far as their bodies allow them to get at the crop.