Tag Archives: Cowbirds

July 13, 2016

Sprawling over the ground in #2 Pasture, a spectacular star-leaved melón de coyote gourd is in bloom; the fruits to come may taste beyond horrible but the yellow flowers are gourd-geous, worth a spot in anyone’s garden.

The Tarantula Hawks are still mad for the nectar of that Graythorn at the gate of the Botteri’s Pasture and the whole bush flickers with their wing shimmer–and aha, two adult orioles fly across that grassland, an almost-adult cowbird in aerial tow cheeping petulantly–the three disappear into the mesquite edge, more cheeping, they all come out again with the “parents” trying every move they can to ditch the pesty baby, all of them fade out of sight towards the far gallery forest along the San Pedro.

July 5, 2016

The scolding and hissing of Black-tailed Gnatcatchers comes from the scrubby mesquites and the Graythorns, the bird rather uncommon from my observations on this side of las Rincones Altas.. There are lots of little notes and clicks from other small birds, a pack of Bushtits are fluffing around (they look like dustballs with bills) and many immature Black-throated Sparrows are opening green mesquite pods for the still-tender seeds. They leave the chaff on the ground like peanut hulls on a honky-tonk dance floor.

I look down into the opening at the top of that iron gate post in which the Ash-throated Flycatchers have set up home, to see if that big baby had fledged yet from its solar oven nursery. I’d certainly want to get out of there! What?? … the bird is indeed gone, but I realize what I had been looking at a week ago wasn’t a baby, but the mother–I’d forgotten about Myiarchus moustaches! This time I had a better entry of light into the shaft to see, and thought it was sweet that she hadn’t shot upwards then with bill aimed into the eye of the cyclopean monster. Curiosity could have at least blinded this cat prying into their affairs but the pair of flycatchers have got completely accustomed to our coming and going and working right there, and seem undisturbed by our being near, even this near. What I did see this time charmed to no end: three beautiful small speckled eggs, perhaps just the beginning of a clutch.

Immature Hooded Orioles enliven the mesquites and the tall grass and forbs in the north of #2 Pasture, and among them is a large “baby” cowbird (cue the villain music?) begging and seeming to be communicating with an answering adult oriole but, I don’t witness enough to be sure it was that bird who raised it.

June 25, 2016

Alex finds a knick-knackly perfect, exquisitely miniature Woodhouse’s Toad with its tiny leopard spots, on the ground next to him while he sits eating lunch on The Pond bank. It would be too easy to crush one with a casual knee or an unknowing step.

Two large family groups of Gambel’s Quail cross in front of me as I come along in the old Silverado, each group of bouncing, fuzzy, gravity-defying Ping-Pong balls leaving out from their different sides of the road (after looking both ways?) and passing each other in file as if in Paris crosswalks, looking like so many school girls shepherded by nuns and of course there is always the one who will be off by itself, in panicked lateness shooting forward to catch up, likely named Madeline.

Mockingbird flies out into the middle of the pasture, scolding the flock of Brown-headed Cowbirds and letting them know they are in the minds of an awful lot of avian citizens the scum of the Earth. The notes of that Mockingbird are unmatched for disdain.

September 18, 2013

One or two individuals of a broad array of birds decorate The Stockpond, all nicely plumaged: Wilson’s Warbler; Black-headed Grosbeak; Bell’s Vireo; Brown-headed Cowbird; McGillivray’s Warbler; Vermillion Flycatcher; young Western Kingbird; Blue Grosbeak; a female Lazuli Bunting (though plain, still pretty with that blue tail of hers); and Gray Flycatcher–the first returning individual that I’ve seen, pumping its tail down in that distinctive way of theirs that is a godsend of a diagnostic “mark” for this species in a crazy-making genus. The more-greenish-than-grayish little flycatcher jumps off a branch time and again, drops and splashes in miniature belly flops into the pond, and is up then on the wing quickly enough to avoid sinking.

Blue Grosbeaks out in the pastures, who seem still to be unaware their endless Summer will indeed have an end, cavort on the wheel lines, bathe at the tops of the wheels in water that stays collected in the grooves with the constant passing around of the arcs of spray. The shining, sapphire birds stand and let themselves be hit by the waterdrops thrown over them, shake themselves off, then slide down the incline of the wheel to land in another puddle when they want even more fun!

Atop one of the plastic (insulated) electric line posts a large Apache Jumping Spider hangs out, waiting for some bug to land haplessly. It jumps inside the hollows of the post where the wires pass through when I come close for a better look at this most beautiful of Southwestern spiders, and then it comes back out and stares at me through all those eyes as if trying to remember where it knows me from. It is all black velvet and red velvet, most elegantly patterned.

Harvester Ants are cranky after the irrigation leaves their big, bare circle drenched, they swarm all over the place and I know they’d find me trying if I came any closer, but there is a very large, pale brown Swallowtail butterfly who keeps flitting around them. It’s a female Pipevine Swallowtail, the only one I’ve seen this year–and usually males are everywhere through Summer but they were scarce this year. She has cream spots striped between with blue on her underwings, and flashes amythyst on her upper surfaces–a very different color than that indescribably tropical blue of the males. She lands all over that circle, throws out a proboscis to the mud but is only relaxed for a second or two before she has to hot-foot it as ants try to latch on to her tiny feet. She seems to know just how much she can get away with before she’s got to take wing and try another spot.

September 16, 2013

Yet another dawn called forth by the Poorwills, after an evening before also filled with their cheering whistle. The rains drizzle off and then end for now, I guess “for good”.

Kingfisher at The Stockpond, and still vireos, and a Great Blue heron comes gliding in like the Flying Monkeys. Brown-headed Cowbirds are out beyond on the pastures, where suddenly, too, there are lots of Vesper Sparrows where none had been yesterday and even though the days are getting hotter and hotter, and stay just shy of 100 degrees. No nighthawks in the early evening sky overhead, but one does appear at The Stockpond, eminently lonely, reminding me how often one who is leading my kind of life can be, too. There is no opportunity to be maudlin, I am driven from the water’s edge by the sickening drone of mosquitoes thirsting for blood.

If nighthawk numbers are decreasing, the calling of Poorwills is obviously increasing on the evening air up on the mesas around Ridge House. Must be that our resident Poorwill are being joined by others coming south, or being replaced by them–maybe ours have themselves already flown over The Line into Old Mexico.

July 5, 2013

What thick air, 81 degrees, 3:45 am, coffee in hand as can so be enjoyed in a treasured Cascabel Clayworks mug. Dark, but there’s the thinnest of Crescent Moon giving the tiny glow of a nightlight behind the clouds. At zenith a few stars but only one house light shows across the canyons, overhead a covering of martins calling down from so great a height that it could be imagined their quarky notes are broadcast from the stars themselves. The birds seem if anything even more numerous than when the nights are bright and clear but perhaps the clouds change the acoustics. This will be the first day of the season I won’t be closing the windows early to keep in the cool, because the house never got cool to begin with, so the windows will be open to let in any tiny movement of air. Bed sheets and pillows toasted to the high 90s are now to be lived with.

When dawn comes, tanagers and grosbeaks are singing at The Stockpond and many nighthawks come for an on-the-wing drink but–no toads! The Sonoran Desert Toads have just … vanished, the water surface left now unruffled, the air above it quiet. The gigantic amphibians have come and gone, like that.

Yellow-headed Blackbirds are decorating a wheel line tractor, as they love to do. Two much younger ones are among them today, which seems to be evidence the species is breeding nearby though I must remember that years ago when I contacted the Audubon Society in Tucson to report a rancher telling me the birds were nesting in the edge of his pond across the River, I was told that was an impossibility. One of the pretty males has a neat white–rather than black–mask.

Pairs of round mesquite cotyledons have popped above their cow poop peat pots, assuring us a future of hard work of tree removal for many years to come. Two Brown-headed Cowbirds are sitting on a cow; I can count the number of times I’ve seen them actually do this, but I imagine it was their habit with their buffalo friends as well.

Sue and a friend come in the evening in hopes the bird show might still have some thrill to it, but only one nighthawk appears. We do see an impressive black tarantula with blond body come past in its measured, giant spider-ly fashion as we sip wine, a male according to what I can read. Suddenly from the gallery forest of willows, cottonwoods, hackberry and of course mesquite along the River bed behind us comes the sounds of large critters crashing through, breaking large branches and sticks in a panic we can’t think what the cause of can be. We never see the animals, but we can tell they’ve topped out over the steep banks where they could at last make a passage and escape something they feared mightily–then comes what sounds like a rush of wind through those cottonwoods. It’s not wind; I realize it’s a flood, and a big one, and that the deer or the javelina or whatever they were, were running madly ahead of a wave coming down that narrow and deep sandy channel that’s been dry for many months. The water arrives in wild fury, stretches immediately bank to bank, and down its course bounces and tumbles and rolls and then flies past me large branches, logs, whole railroad ties that had been H-braces on a pasture edge somewhere between here and Mexico, bobbing styrofoam coolers, a tennis ball … I jump back, fearing that the overhanging bank would collapse under my feet and add me to the number of bodies that have been swept away and gone over the years, some found, some ground up and never found, left buried under quicksand miles downstream.

June 10, 2013

I’m buzzed by the summer’s first brown and yellow, large wasp, which I call a “Brown Man”, the Jamaican name for a similar species. They will have to be watched for now every time a covering on the wheel line tractors is lifted: from the ceiling of those covers these wasps love to suspend a nest, and they don’t like it much when the lid is rudely yanked up and banged over on its side when the engine needs to be started. Another smaller, all-yellow wasp lands on an irrigation puddle, and floats on the water’s surface film while taking a drink.

Caribbean Horseweed, as I call it, (Conyza bonariensis, or less flatteringly, Asthmaweed) is coming into bloom; it is not as sought after a graze as is its northern cousin, the Canadian Horseweed (Conyza canadensis) that is also shooting up abundantly but flowers much later atop neck-high stalks. The beautiful deep magenta-maroon tiny carnations of Scarlet Spiderling (Boerhavia coccinea) hover in a mist of the thinnest of stems over bare patches of ground in #3 Pasture. The handsome Malvella (Malvella lepidota), which has the not so handsome common name of Scurfy Mallow, holds hibiscus-like, chaste white cups of flowers on plants sprawling through the low places at the top end of #2 Pasture. It deserves being brought into Arizona gardens, should be in hanging baskets in the Tucson nurseries.

The temperature the narrowest slice off 107 degrees … cowbirds, buntings that for some reason are still here, various flycatchers, warblers, all crowd into the shade of the wheel line wheel rims, sitting out the heat of the day perched on the upper spokes. At The Stockpond, Martins that appear black in the midday glare swing in to skim the green water where it’s open among the drifts of red algae, all this a pattern of colors of jewels and precious stone … jet … peridot … carnelian. Now the female hummers come in numbers to point their bills into that open water, driven so by thirst I guess as to risk the usual male divebombing. Black-throated Sparrows, rarely seen in this spot, also come to the water’s edge, and Cardinals too, and many Yellow Warblers, one of which has a crown and face with a glow of orange.

June 9, 2013

The double gates swing wide into The Lane, and receive the cow herd we’ve pushed down from the uplands with along the way an overnight stay for them at Elna & Jimmy’s on the bank of Hot Springs Canyon. It is of course fun to participate in such a now-rare thing, and the help offered and given by Saguaro Juniper members is grand–a few people on foot, some in vehicles and stocktrailer rig, three on horseback. In the era of wildly hazing (yee … haw) cows, calves, bulls, heifers and steers sardine-style into trailers, taking off and being done with it, while I rode along I wondered if we aren’t the last holdout in Cochise County of such an “Old West” way. We are in part pushed into it by the cost of fuel, and a poverty of facilities, but equally so by wanting to stay with something that is in direct touch with the animals we raise, the horses we ride, and the landscape we ride–and stride–across.

“The Great Cascabel Cow Move of June 2013” goes smoothly and sweetly on a surprisingly “cool” morning (60 degrees at dawn) and our Foxtrotter, Loompy, performs gorgeously beneath me, but fretful and watchfully, tightly wound I’ll always be in such an affair. The years have gone by since these lands, past which we bring the herd, have been taxed according to their value for growing beef instead of taxed according to their value for growing real estate profits, and the fences along the gravel road reflect this: mostly, they are down, caught by the grader and torn into messes, or gone completely including water gaps where a canyon’s opening would be a natural temptation for a cow to peel off into. Owner’s aren’t so concerned now about keeping livestock in because mostly they don’t have any, or concerned about keeping someone else’s out. It would be easy to have a wayward animal lead a bunch off to the hills to the East, or crash into the River bottom and have them all disappear into a hopeless tangle of saltcedar, mesquite, willow and cottonwood, which would turn a fine day into near endless misery. Cascabel Road isn’t much of a cattle highway any more, but everyone handles the reality superbly. When those Mason gates swing and close behind, I let out a great lungful of air, give thanks for all those people around me, give thanks that we and our fellow livestock are all whole, Molly didn’t have her calf in the road, and the young ones had kept up (sometimes Loompy nudged their butts to keep them motivated.) There is romping and bellowing and running as the herd that’s brought in runs in with the herd that has been at Mason’s through the winter and they work out the points of becoming a single unit.

In the late afternoon I return to check on the state of peace or conflict, and find the Brown-headed Cowbird population already increased proportionately with the “new” herd size! Up in #3 Pasture, our very own distelfinks–Lesser Goldfinches–are massing on the seeding heads of Malta star thistle, feasting, joyously twittering or giving out lazy, satisfied notes. That won’t be enough to get control of the nasty weed, but the birds are most welcome to stay for this dinner.

Lots of Purple Martins are overhead after the sun is gone, their number over the spring being few up til now.

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.