May 13, 2013

The temperatures begin today to cross into the 90s, pushing the vegetation along into Summer that a calendar claims falsely will not come to us for more than another month. The Stockpond’s surface is covered with a film of pollen. Even the cattle are coughing.

On the pastures yellow sweet-clover (Melilotus) is growing lushly, tall, and blooming abundantly, its fragrance carried on the wind and inviting in the Mule Deer whose favorite graze it seems to be. Our cattle go right after this naturalized plant as soon as they’re rotated into a new pasture with it, too, even though it has coumarin within it that supposedly can affect an overindulging animal badly. I’ve never seen any such outcome with the plant, though, I guess because the toxin cannot become active without enough humidity for a mold to grow on the plants. (Humidity will at least half the time register in the single digits this month and next; so much for mold …) Cowbirds have come along in numbers, and true to their name are attending the cows. A last flock of Chipping Sparrows came down to one of the large puddles around an irrigation riser: the birds will be gone any day to the North, or leave for the oak woodlands at higher elevations here where they spend the summer in spare numbers. In Pasture #3 a pair of Brown-crested Flycatcher are purrrrtling and courting, at least I think they’re Brown-crested going on the strength of that rolling purtle, but I wasn’t able to see those tiny details of how far towards the tip goes a darker banding on the tail feathers. The other calls don’t match exactly those described for either Ash-throated or Brown-crested, though are closer to “whit-will-do” than to “ka-brick”. The field guide isn’t very helpful, either, with,

Ash-throated Flycatcher:
smaller bill than Brown-crested;
very pale gray [breast];
very pale yellow [belly]


Brown-crested Flycatcher:
larger bill than Ash-throated;
pale gray [breast];
pale yellow [belly]

Truly a “dastardly duo”, as Tucson Audubon Society calls such confusing pairs of species. If I accidentally left the big hose out of the port on the wheel line irrigator, those birds would immediately take up housekeeping (or at least house building) inside the pipe-axle’s ready made cavity. Sometimes I find the cows have unhooked that firehose from the port and left it flung out on the grass to the side, which also leaves the inside of the axle/pipe open to the househunting flycatcher pair. Years ago I hooked up a water hose to an open port of one of the units elsewhere across The River, turned on the pump, and in a few seconds had distributed a nest in pieces into a couple dozen sprinkler heads and there was the devil to pay to get them all cleaned out again. You only have to do that once before you flush out a system like that first with the endcaps off, should you have found one of those ends open or that a hose had been off for a few days! As much as these flycatchers are among my favorite birds, I want their attention be focused elsewhere for nest sites such as “natural” holes abandoned by the woodpeckers who had excavated them in the saguaros on the slopes just above us.