Tag Archives: Finches

June 2, 2016

The ryegrass of the Winter Pasture (a quaint term! it’s 102 degrees …) is producing its countless flower spikes, and green grain too, and those pastures are alive with Lesser Goldfinches giving out their lemon twist chitterings, and bright House Finches feasting on the plants of the small grains.

A Chihuahuan Raven flies down The Lane, low and just in front of the windshield of the slowly moving Silverado: what a great view of prowess airborne! but the bird is up to no good at least from the point of view of other species now frantically planning for the families that will come in with the time of plenty that they and I hope is on its way. Pow, a Kingbird bonks Raven on its crown, the blow having no effect on the grace and intention of its flight, Raven without loss of the rowing of its wings can still forward navigate the air of The Lane with its head straight up in the air at right angle to its body, jabbing those big black mandibles at the Kingbird. Pow, a Mockingbird bonks Raven on its crown, Raven looks up in defiance again and glares menacingly at Mockingbird, while it still rows its wings and doesn’t in the least wobble … it stabs the weapon of its bill into the air but misses this second and also most agile bird who “ain’t nothin’ but business”. All three crash through the wall of mesquite leaves and out of sight while other birds throw themselves into a fray now invisible inside the tree … seconds later Raven shoots out of the large and very dense mesquite, a nestling dangling from its bill, the Mockingbird in lightning, angry pursuit, the two birds and the doomed baby disappear over a far pasture with it seems the whole bird neighborhood in uproar behind them.

A single Vesper Sparrow is still here! Bob helps me determine that there are no records of the bird in the first week of June in southern Arizona. “Global Weirding”, I suppose.

January 8, 2014

Chipping Sparrows, lots of Chipping Sparrows, at The Stockpond, as bright of eye and wing and life as a flock of tropical finches. Gambel’s Quail drift in and out nervously for water, Abert’s Towhees though own it all, arrive, chase each other off, come back, squabble and squeal their notes, bomb back and forth at each other low-profiled and fast like brown-feathered torpedoes.

Javelinas, now with babies, mow and mow the winter pasture, but after all, they must be allowed their pound of greens. I and the cattle are growing impatient, though, for the time when the crop has outgrown this constant porcine pruning and the pastures can also be a bovine buffet.

Still I haven’t found a way to catch a Polka Dot Beetle to have a close look–they know well how to evade a predator, fly off faster if you just stare at them, seem to fold wings and drop to the ground if you make a move to scoop one in the air, then they scramble off quickly in the thatch or scurry along the underside of a leaf and vanish.

Pillbugs are active, I turn up numbers of them in the course of digging out mesquites large and small in front of, behind, and beyond the fence of The Stockpond in anticipation of the return of Purple Martins in a few months. Those charismatic birds need a wide, clear approach and runway as they come to drink, as do the various swallows of summer, swifts, and bats, and if the mesquites are left in place it will be not much time before their crowns have grown across into a wall that would be a menace to the flying creatures’ navigation and swing.

A Gray Flycatcher has been at the water’s edge all day, and is joined after sunset by one Mexican Mallard who comes in for the night.

January 1, 2014

We were sittin’ round the ranch house some twenty
hands or more
most of us Americans but a few from Arkansas
one Dutchman from the fatherland one Johnny Bull
from Leeds
a Cornishman from Cornwall all men of different creeds
they were a sittin’ an’ a arguin’ busy as a hill of ants
how they’d get rid of the money they had buried in their
that they’d made by hard cow punching work all
the year around
from sunup until sundown an’ a sleepin’ on the ground
where at night the polecat saunters round the chuckbox
after grub
and in passing by your hot roll gives your head a friend-
ly rub
where the rattlesnake lies dormant his fangs are like
a lance
’twas with them that I attended The Cowboy’s New
Years Dance

–Mark Chisholm, pre 1908, “The Cowboys New Years Dance”

Big Mahogany Ants are in wild and mad, kettle-a-boiling wakefulness at their wide hole–something about which I’m not thinking I needed to have a care (it is Winter, right?) when I open the truck door and drop a foot onto the ground in The Lane where I seek out the first bird of an informal First Day of 2014 bird count, a Brewer’s Sparrow. The ants, which aren’t amused by my presence, are sending out gatherers on this warm, sunny, blue spectacle of a New Year’s morning. I will keep chores to a minimum today, only check over the herd and water these pastures for neither kine nor grass have a horse in my race of trying to relax as best the day allow or quietly reflect on this year beginning and last year seamlessly gone. Saltweed splashes its tiny green and purple seedlings under a fence.

Mesquite rows full of singing Lark Sparrows …
Chipping Sparrows …
Say’s and Black phoebes …

Sparrows uncountable, flying up in masses, I turn the truck around to have the sun positioned so they’ll show better–most are Vespers and Larks, but I may suppose Savannahs and Lincolns and Songs are among them …

Western Meadowlarks …
White-crowned Sparrows, abundant in thicker edges …
Female Ladder-backed Woodpecker …

Sixty or so Red-winged Blackbirds in those splendidly understated winter clothes of theirs, crowning a lone wide-spreading mesquite …

Red-tailed Hawk …
Flicker, red-shafted …
Mourning Dove …

Brightest of red House Finches, knocked off his perch by a male Phainopepla with drama and flourish; I have for a very long time seen precious few of these Silky Flycatchers and their almost impossible elegance …

Gray Flycatcher …
Cardinal …
Chihuahuan Raven …

Until a breeze springs up from the North when Sun brushes down on the ridge of the grand Rincon I am comfortable without a jacket through a day that itself brushes 70 degrees. Bugs are aloft, gleam in the last rays and many meet their end as a Gray Flycatcher stokes its belly with them to make the freezing night pass the more bearably.

October 3, 2013

The Snipes are finding The Stockpond very much to their liking this Fall, and are there when I drive up to its edge in the pickup. A Mexican General Grasshopper staggers through the dust on the bank, it surely doesn’t like the temperature of lower 40s at least until the sun gets stronger. Bright orange or red House Finches are in the mesquite tops around the banks. Later, when the thermometer goes past 90, richly colored Sulphur Butterflies come to sip at their own lunch of minerals in the mud while I doze in and out. A color riot there–White-tail Dragonflies and bronze dragonflies and large cobalt blue dragonflies, young Western Tanagers with heads just showing the orange blush of their coming adulthood (these would be the last hangers-on of that lovely species), Blue Grosbeaks, immature Vermillion Flycatchers … pink beryl … sapphires … citrines …

Full-sized, outrageously ornamented and bizarre Mesquite Bugs are on the wing up in #3 Pasture; they amaze unendingly, fly through air redolent with the Victorian aftershave aroma of the well-named Camphor Weed that I’ve tromped through as I pursue those big bugs. Sulphur Butterflies rule the patches of what Burroweed are still in bloom.

June 11, 2013

House Finches come in a swarm, jabbering and singing, to clean up on the seeding heads of barley and oats and wheat that are starting to turn gold. 2013 House Finches come in a swarm, jabbering and singing, to clean up on the seeding heads of barley and oats and wheat that are starting to turn gold.

May 31, 2013

One night of warm and tender breezes coming through the windows of the house was a delight, but the second (last night) brought … them. Cone Nose Kissing Bugs. Every year I forget about this when the sweetness of that first truly soft summer night comes along, and then–well even the sound of a toy wind-up helicopter buzzing the bed in the dark, then a sudden silence as whatever big insect it is lands on the wall over there doesn’t jog the memory of the little horrors yet. The sudden sharp pains that come later do, though, and the flicking on of the light that shows six, eight of them scurrying under the sheets or between the mattress and boxspring or disappearing into the open end of a pillowcase, and then there’s that one that still has its assassin bug snout deeply plunged into my big toe. Before night’s end I’m burning under most of my skin, feeling like a turkey in a pot of brine with a flame being turned up slowly below. By dawn a fever sets in, and I start out the day’s labors trembling a bit and worn as if I’d put in a day’s work already. About as limp as a tortilla that’s been patted too much, I wander unenthusiastically among the herd, watching what they’re eating now, looking for jaw problems if they’ve got into too much foxtail grass heads … […]

June is bustin’ out all over, with the welts of Kissing Bugs that is, but I’m hoping not with Chagas’s Disease which pathogen has been increasingly found over the years carried by those hateful insects in southern Arizona. What will global warming bring us next? Vampire Bats, I suppose, which are already only 170 miles south of The Border.

One of the little greeny-yellow flycatchers hops around in the mud on the far side of the pond, too far away to tell whether it be something rare for this week of the year, like a Pacific-slope Flycatcher, or a common transient like a Willow Flycatcher. Neither does it make any sounds that’d help get an identity for it, so I just enjoy it and make no attempt to “nail down” one of that group of birds that the professionals have been having the most fun with splitting and then splitting again into one species and then subspecies and another.

It seems in past years that by the last day of May there were many more butterflies to be seen, and I check around the edges of a large pool of leftover irrigation water for them, in Pasture #2(north). On the mud there is a beautiful hairstreak, species unknown, and Queens sailing around (not a single Monarch yet) and the tiniest butterfly I think I’ve ever seen, or some authorities say, that anyone’s ever seen, a Western Pygmy Blue. I’m stooped over so I can get within an inch of it (with my glasses off I can focus that close in), when there is a short, quick, angry rattle from a snake as huge as that Pygmy Blue butterfly is small, and I catch sight of the Diamondback as it pulls into a coil over where the grass can hide it a little after it had tried to strike me. Although it missed by four feet, I am “rattled” nonetheless. I suspect the rattler hangs out near the edge of the water and waits for plump House Finches to arrive to drink and that are distracted in thirst, House Finches that to a hungry rattlesnake could look appropriately dipped in bright salsa, or rich red chili paste, so brightly colored are they. I bet he’s thinking, “mmmmm … finch! Tastes like chicken!”

Back at The Stockpond, it’s too early to turn off the irrigation so I watch the lots and lots of Barn Swallows sweeping in for drinks. Haven’t been able to figure out what it is that brings the Song Sparrows in such numbers to this deep mud. I don’t see them drinking often, but they do pick tiny things from the open water’s surface and at times they act more like shorebirds than Emberizids what with how they wade out til they’re belly deep. They go for things that look like seeds (but, of what?) and they also sneak up on apparent insects back in the mud flats, pounce on them and chase them first, but again, I can’t make out anything. I wouldn’t think you’d have to sneak up on seeds, so it must be a life form that can escape; the shore is often nearly completely ringed today with these sparrows.

Out in the fields the exhuberance of young sparrow-hood and the primavera has passed for the Lark Sparrows, which are to be seen here and not attending their packed finchy raves. All their “rowdy friends have settled down” and the big flocks that were so entertaining now dispersed, gone off to raise families. Farewell, what’s left of spring, what’s left of youth. […]

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.

May 20, 2013

Was The Stockpond ever “ducky” this morning: besides the pair of Mexican Mallards, there were three Gadwall and a Green-winged Teal working over the mud furiously and upending themselves to dabble on the bottom and in the bases of water weeds and rushes. So much, I’ll guess, for nymphs and eggs of dragonflies, damselflies and darners!

A jewel of a male Broad-billed Hummingbird came to sit at my shoulder for a little while on the top strand of a barbed wire fence, allowing me to take in every detail of the exquisite little thing. He dropped, chipping away happily, to a spray of Copper Globemallow where he worked on every flower before vanishing in a buzz. (The House Finches also come to the Globemallow: they love to munch on the freshly opened petals, the same way they will go after the flowers of winter annuals, especially pansies and petunias, and wipe out displays in the gardens of the Southwest’s desert oasis cities.)

A mixed group of Lucy’s Warblers and Western Tanagers come at lunchtime to splash and fluff and bath at the base of the hydrant riser at The Stockpond.

May 14, 2013

The Stockpond is perfectly still, and perfectly reflected in its dawn-pink mirror is the pair of Mexican Mallard … in the bright green mesquites all around the chats are doing what they do best, chatting. The air has a comfortable coolness to it but by afternoon will reach nearly to 100 degrees.

At lunchtime a Pine Siskin alights in the branches of one of The Stockpond mesquites, just above Tom O., Nancy F., and me, while we eat lunch on the bank.

A first cicada for this place (they were active on range a week ago already) splits that afternoon heat with a long wailing rattle, this sound the faultline where spring ends and a summer begins that seems never will end. Blossoms on the spikes of Copper Globemallow (Sphaeralcea angustifolia) are beginning to open, now the plants finally have recovered from those two deep freezes that had killed most of them to the ground, if not altogether. (In other, milder years there can usually be found a flower or two on the plants in every month of winter.) This much-favored browse of our herd and the deer who also live with us is nutritious for four-leggeds. It and other members of the genus Sphaeralcea are important to livestock from here down through the Mayo lands of Sonora and far into Mexico and they respond in a positive way to the animals’ pruning.

Small Azure butterflies, showing copper on wings above, and below a sheen of silver-lavender laid over black zebra striping, are coming to the yellow Sweet-clover flowers.

Western Tanagers are becoming much more noticeable, and in patterns of black, white, yellow and orange-red they flash down The Lane in front of the truck.