Tag Archives: Chats

June 1, 2016

I built me a homestead
way out on a desert
a great sandy desert
and I didn’t know why
and when it was finished
I sat on my doorstep
and stared at my desert
and stared at my sky …

–cowboy song collected by Tucson’s Katie Lee, in her “Ten Thousand Goddam Cattle”

In their timetable precision Yellow-billed Cuckoos–the “Rain Crow” of my father’s long ago Virginia country childhood–have arrived and call out around all the bosque of El Potrero. Rain would indeed be nice and if the birds will bring some well by Heaven, we’ll take it! In the whole of May all of 0.03″ fell on us. I heard my first cuckoo of the year at Mason Pastures yesterday, and Kathleen reports one from the day before that. One has to be careful in this because the Yellow-breasted Chats and even the Mockingbirds have worked the cuckoo chortles into their mimid repertoires. They are one of those birds that are either here or they aren’t, of a sudden on the first of this month that people brace themselves for, the cuckoos seem to drop out of the sky all at once and over the whole of the San Pedro. They complete the cycle of arrival of Summer residents and Spring migrants and tell that the fun and expectations of the avian parade is now brought to fullness for the year already and that yes, Foresummer and its splendid challenges is upon all us animals.

Gorgeous Western Tanagers all around The Pond, in the branches, on the water’s edge. A pair of Great Blue Heron fly off, perch each atop adjacent wheels of the side roll irrigator in the Native Grass Area beyond the barbed wire fence. Balancing on a cinder block jutting from the water, I go to open the fill-valve of the pond but a movement catches my eye, and through the now clear water (The Pond has for a year been mostly left unroiled by the cattle who now water at the refurbished metal tank some distance away) I see a large turtle, somewhat egg shaped in outline, lying flat and comfortable on the mud bottom grazing on a beautiful “new” aquatic weed that colonized The Pond after the herd stopped defecating into it. There are a dozen or more aquatic plants Arizona Game & Fish is on the watch for as invasive, is this yet another? Is the turtle? Taking its size into consideration I think the turtle most likely is. It’s gray with sediment built up on its shell and it would have to be caught and scrubbed if the marks diagnostic for the species were to be seen … I don’t think of trying, it’s hard to believe it’s let me get this close without zooming off out of sight into deeper water. It stays submerged as happily as any submarine, unbothered by my hovering over it.

August 15, 2013

The Ides of August, the Ides of Summer for birds and the wildings, but the appearance of those Red-winged Grasshoppers tell that the nagging of winter pasture preparation and seeding and irrigating will soon be more shout than whisper. We’ve got at least as far as confining the Mason Pasture herd to one 350 ft. X 850 ft. swath (about seven acres) of bermudagrass, between two lines of electric fence with an exit to the pond, so cow folk can eat off the crop almost to the ground and make that ready for tilling six weeks or two months from now, clean out around the mesquites that must be pulled or dug out so that the rattlesnakes coiled below them will be more visible.

There are many baby birds cheeping away in the mesquite branches, probably second broods all. I want to spend two or three days right now, though, making a bird list, during these last moments when the summer still feels long and sweet …

Yellow Warbler (singing)

Yellow-breasted Chat (singing)

White-winged Dove

Lesser Goldfinch

Vermillion Flycatcher

Bell’s Vireo

Blue Grosbeak

Purple Martin

Summer Tanager (singing, and call notes)

Mourning Dove

Bewick’s Wren


Abert’s Towhee

Lark Sparrow

Gray Hawk


Red-tailed Hawk

Gambel’s Quail

Crissal Thrasher

Black Phoebe

Western Kingbird

Savannah Sparrow (rare–but not unknown to be arriving now for winter)

The River is running, madly … many large blue dragonflies on The Stockpond, and “Whitetails”, or as I call them, Saddle Shoe Dragonflies. Bugs that like to harass humans are doing that, aplenty, worst of them are the tiny loudly singing gnats that fly into the cavern of an ear opening, get louder and louder but then their whine is suddenly cut off when they ditch into the pool of sweat that’s collected just inside the earlobe’s tinaja. This unpleasantness is made up for when the air is thick with the incomparable sweetness of huisache acacia blooms.

One of the cows, Molly, has had a bull calf and I’m worrying over both of them–the baby doesn’t know how to suckle, or maybe even that it’s supposed to. Mamma’s not looking all that good either, uh oh, a big chore coming on. I think she had it Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. … Save the life of my child/cried the desperate mother

July 23, 2013

Time to turn off the all-night irrigation … Moon is lowering, full, in a sky of blue milk glass it is set in a white corona in the mists, red dawn opposite, my ears within a corona of solid bird song–chats, vireos, finches, doves, that single Yellow-headed Blackbird. There is also the music of mosquitoes, who want my blood …


June 16, 2013

Poorwills, which I haven’t heard in a long time, are calling in the dawn saturated with a humidity of 86%.

The Stockpond is ringed with chats, hunting, jabbering, bathing in the water-filled craters left by cattle hooves in the muddy edge. Most birds though are sticking to the branches overhanging far out on the pond, down which they hop and creep until they reach the water where the branch tips allow them to touch it. I come to be conscious, suddenly, of something that apparently had been there the whole time: a large brown feline sitting statue-still at the trunk of one of those mesquites across the pond. I suppose the cat could make birds nervous. A beautiful thing, it must be a Bobcat though the face is strangely shaped and not quite right for one. The head swivels in 180 degree arcs, level, taking in everything, but that is done as slowly as a revolving restaurant. It’s young, still has spots up the legs, and it shows no hint of being aware of my presence. The rather pointed, rather heart-shaped face intrigues me, and I slip as quietly as I can out of the door of the pickup. It seems still unbothered. I want to see what the tail looks like, something I can’t do with the animal in the position it sits in slightly facing me. My slow creeping along the edge of the pond still doesn’t bother it! A few more feet and I’ll risk lifting the field glasses. I look down for a split second to be sure I don’t lose my footing and slip into the pond, look back up–it’s gone. Vanished, and I mean vanished; I get to the spot in a few moments and there is no sign of it across any of the wide pastures that stretch beyond, and no sight of it on the open floor of the bosque.

June 15, 2013

The Yellow-billed Cuckoos are long overdue … was that the first I just heard, calling from the bosque? No, but it seems the Yellow-breasted Chats have learned to work cuckoo notes into their songbook. Where are the cuckoos?

This time many White-throated Swifts come to The Stockpond, descending with long approach to the water with bold chattering–how did they have it communicated to them that the water hole was open, besides the fact that the algae had parted enough to allow easy drinking? Obviously through “Twitter”.

It’s raining across the Rincon peaks, and the moistened branches and leaves of the Creasote Bush of their vast bajadas puts out on the wind that most wonderful of scents, the smell of The Desert in the rain. It does not rain at Mason’s, though.

May 25, 2013

Full Moon is lowering itself towards the crest of the Rincon when I leave in the “dark” and thread the ridge above Pool Wash and slowly lower myself towards the canyon bottom and out on the Cascabel Road. The grand, bare cliffs are all in a glowing mist, a world that in this moonlight is there and is not there. Nighthawks are purring loudly and then softly, and from every knoll and canyon bottom rings out Whit-will-do! Whit-will-do! of Brown-crested Flycatchers … the early bird catches the cicada. On the road drive to the pastures the air is sweet and cool on my face. Owl is going home, Poorwills fly up from the gravel or flicker into my headlights, kangaroo rats bounce and jackrabbits try my patience when they decide that safety lies under turning truck wheels and not in the creosote flats they could peel off to instead.

My chest aches in the cold air, but then again it has done since I got knocked face-down flat to the ground yesterday afternoon by the electric fence when after crawling under and to the other side of it, I lost balance while I was getting to my feet and leaned back enough to lay the wire across the nape of my neck … bang! I long to direct the herd grazing these bottomland pastures from horseback alone, abandon the wires and the batteries and the electricity. The temperature and Moon are dropping, and I get the impossible pleasure of seeing four moonsets in succession, over this ridge or that, or when Moon snuggles himself into one gap in the mountains or other while I myself swing around north and south to drop cowboy gates and open hydrants out on the pastures …


Bright his smile may be, but his night at The Stockpond is far from a silent one. The dark of the mesquite bosque is all sound and singing–Cardinal, Yellow Warbler, Bewick’s Wren, Lucy’s Warbler, chats (lots of chats), tanagers, grosbeaks, Mourning Doves, Bell’s Vireos, kingbirds, House Finches, and a Vermillion Flycatcher that’s dancing mid-air. While singing out, he slowly crosses high over the pond, demanding of the avian world, “Oh, am I a stud, or what? Dig me!!” The fiery red little bird likely had done that through the whole night, dancing in Moon’s follow spot. The pair of Mexican Mallard swim around each other, painting yin-yang symbols with silvery water.

Later in the bright morning sky three Purple Martins, two males and a female, are sewing patterns on the blue, letting out far-carrying notes, twings and plangs in a courtship danse apache among two rivals and their would-be mate. Below in the mesquite edges and the weeds growing ever taller fledgling Lesser Goldfinches are complaining to their parents that not enough bacon has been brought home lately, “you don’t expect us to go out and get it ourselves … do you?” My life as ranch hand with its shocks by electric fences and lightning seems as tenuous as that of the baby bird whom I’d just saved from a pool of irrigation water in which it had wet its feathers thoroughly. I can decide to rescue it if I can as validly decide to leave it to drown, though all I probably did was save it as a fresh meal for a coyote. So be it. I put it way off into the grass, where it will stay hidden at least for a while, could dry out after all and end up changing the entire course of Evolution.

April 28, 2013

There are no wrens taking wing before wheel line irrigators as I move them across the pasture–they are gone! No Western Meadowlarks–have they gone too? In their place a dazzling and minute Azure butterfly has scattered itself, searching out small flowers that are struggling back from the cold.

The “regular” Mallards are gone, too, their place taken by a “Mexican” Mallard pair–appropriate to a day that will reach well above 90 degrees, and appropriate to that romantic Sonoran AM-radio station that I tune in again this Sunday after the early irrigation chores are taken care of. A pair of Yellow-breasted Chats come down to the Stockpond shore and drink; we have I think the most brilliantly colored of any subspecies of this bird that ranges over most of the country. The usual many hummingbirds are sipping or sparring for king-of-the-pond, the White-winged Doves cooing and calling in even greater numbers than before, in the bosque all around and the mesquites overhanging the water. Although I’ve read that it has spread through the South, the White-wing is still to me the embodiment of Sonora and these Spanish Borderlands we it must seem beyond reason love so passionately. The sound of them as winter ends immediately puts me at ease, assures me the valley of the Rio San Pedro is still a wondrous and different place. One hears their voice in the background of Tom Sheridan’s delightful book of the Sonoran village of Cucurpe, that place “Where the Dove Calls”, and I expect their sound inspired the huapango, “Cucurrucucu Paloma”. Joan Baez does a more than fair imitation:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7xl84wjM8z8

Songs about Mexico, and Mexican music, avian and human, are whether or not Manifest Destiny wishes to face it a part of this very landscape stretching out beyond the Stockpond through monte and matorral to the Rincon and the Catalina and the Galiuro, and south to the Sierra Madre … […]

Me he de comer esa tuna, aunque me espine la manoNo matter the hand be pierced by spines, I can’t other than eat of that prickly pear. This is always sung with the exquisite pain of romance in mind, but it well sums up cowboy life as at least I have known it and still know it here, sums up the relationship those who make their living by ranching have with what is just another painful romance, one that in the end leaves you stove-up if not physically broken, likely penniless–but satisfied …[…]

April 22, 2013

After that appearance of a single Chat yesterday, the mesquite is full of them, all calling, all in competition I guess for the choicest summer territory; it’s a wonderful Voz del Bosque. Wrens still aplenty today, and Meadowlarks appear again in numbers, mostly in #3 pasture.

April 21, 2013

The Mallard is out there, alone on the cold pond; in the 30s again. I sit in the pickup bird blind, the early Sunday “Domingo Romantico” out of Sonora bringing into the cab that finest 1930s and ’40s music of Mexico, while I watch Black-chinned Hummingbirds who seem utterly unperturbed by winter returning here right after they did. The males stream in and out from the bosque, land for the briefest moment in a bed of algae and pull single green strands from the floating mess, up into the air for a ways but then let go … or they try picking up a strand of it in the tip of the beak, as if they were pulling a thread to knot, but that gets dropped, too, though the bird can be high above the water before it lets go. Maybe the most surprising was the hummer who flew to the base of the tall riser that comes up out of the water near the pond edge, that is opened to let water flow in an arc from the top to maintain the Stockpond’s water level. As this stream hits the surface, a sort of ojo de agua is formed: a ring of water that rises with the impact of that stream. That hummingbird loved to hover just above this ring of flowing and bouncing water, then lower himself ever so slowly onto it with wings still a-whir above his back, and in this way he’d ride up and over and then slide into more open water beyond, then he’d take off. Humans are hardly the only animals that do things for the sheer enjoyment of them! I remember one Black-chinned last summer who’d come to the leaf tip of a millet plant that had sprouted from bird seed, if I had a sprinkler going and the leaves were wet and holding water in a bit of a cup at their base. That little bird played in the water, lowering himself onto the leaf tip when a stream would be running towards the base, and he’d “slide” all the way, then go back and do it again.

A first Wilson’s Warbler, a beautiful male, flies in, and numbers of White-winged Doves now coo from the bosque and from the wondrously large hackberries around the Stockpond … a probably long dead Mexican in gorgeous tenor croons with them, “Tell her … tell her I think of her, even though she doesn’t think of me … tell her that I die for her”–how different is that from what the doves are getting at? A just arrived Yellow-breasted Chat fusses and hoots, hidden deeply in a graythorn bramble.

I return throughout the day to change wheel lines and waters, and scare up a wren or two–today one showed the black stripes on its back as it flew off across the tips of the barley and oats, so I’m sure these are Marsh Wrens still.

The day ends with a Great Horned Owl silhouetted among the upmost snags of a dead mesquite, a black cut-out against the almost gone red light of evening, looking rather spooky.