Tag Archives: Hummingbirds

February 22, 2014

Crescent Moon looks like an illustration in a children’s book, distracts me from the dream I’ve just awakened from in which a Screech Owl was in her bare, spare tree-hollow, reaching up, being fed by her mate a Bewick’s Wren.  One is a Rancher, one an Environmentalist.  Will they be fertile?  The offspring from this pairing coming to fledge is the only hope The West may have as a place to be authentically occupied.


Broad-billed Hummingbirds are sipping at the nectar feeders of El Potrero, Cottonwoods are now a glowing green that equals the glitter of the little birds.


A pair of what must be Mexican Mallards are there when I reach Mason Pastures, and around the edges of The Stockpond in the mesquite branches are Ruby-crowned Kinglets, now appearing in greater numbers with the movement of the birds north out of Mexico.  The sprouts of Toloache are a few inches high, there near the bank, and out on the Cascabel Road.


At lunchtime–another pair of the Mallards joins the first, each set of birds perfectly matches the other: in both, one of the partners has a bill of lovely olive green with black nostrils and a black hook on the end, the other an orange bill saddled across in black.  These look to be ducks very much devoted to their mates, as if they are true male/female sets but since none of them look at all like a male Northern Mallard should at this time of year, I wonder if these bill colors can’t be found along an intergrade between the two forms that formerly were considered separate species.  I’ll let the canard illuminati continue their squabble over that, and their endless lumping and splitting of the two mallards, Mexican and Northern.  The legs of all of these are bright coral-colored, drawing the eye sharply to them.

June 18, 2013

Lizardtail (Gaura mollis), a common but distinctive tall wildflower of irrigated pastures hereabouts, is coming into bloom with delicate small pink flowers. In Spanish its name is much the more poetic, less grating in both sound and meaning than in English: Linda Tarde.

Five Mule Deer of the herd of seven come to eat, in the pasture where they bed down in the Sweetclover. They’re a bit bigger than they were a few weeks ago, and more shy though they do continue grazing with me nearby. What has happened to the two missing ones? Some have fine sets of antlers, others with antlers only beginning to show.

Today The Stockpond is ringed not with yellow birds (chats) but by a great number of blue ones (grosbeaks). Hummers galore zip down to the water surface, even more of them than I’d seen doing this before if that be possible. For the next two weeks–or until the sweeping in of the first couple of monsoon storms–The Stockpond will be The Place for birds. A couple of pairs of eyes pop up from below the pond’s surface, jut above and out into the air, and they seem to be taking a knowing look at the world. They are of frogs or toads coming up for air, and their monstrous size says that this must be the first appearance of the Sonoran Toad. Once the toads start splashing around in ponds and puddles, garden fountains and jacuzzis, it means the temporales are on their way and that, we hope, nothing will stop. As with the first showing of Gila Monsters, local people celebrate this moment of The Arrival of the Toads but also worry about it if they have pets that will worry this very toxic toad and mouth it.

June 13, 2013

It’s too hot to fight over space and water, so the hummers male and female only drink. The red algae has about taken over The Stockpond, and the hummingbirds have to force their bills down through the surface of thick scum. A couple of White-throated Swifts come in with a terrible whistle and whine, curve to the pond but scream off at the other without drinking, at least at first. Finally a few of them open a bill and plow through the thick covering, and get enough drops to keep them going. They are magnificently graceful, and so bullet-fast that there is no way to lay the binoculars on them in time before they’re gone and back to the slot canyons and cliffs rising on the other side of The River.

Though the Cascabel Weather Station registers something cooler, my thermometer says 110 degrees. It’s fortunate that Phat Phreddie has disappeared, for the work of clearing the last of the bolting, flowering Bull Thistle in that heat stuns me beyond caring whether the rattlesnake is there or not. Those goldfinches are all around me still working happily on the Malta star thistle seeds, oh bless them! The sky is not blue–it is incandescent. There are thunderheads in the East!

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.

May 30, 2013

Now at last, the dawn comes in at the ridge above Pool Wash with a temperature of 71 degrees, though in the Mason Pastures it’s “only” just above 60 degrees. The humidity has gone up, too, to 50%, and the air is lush and soft, and rich smells well up from watered areas. The one Mexican Mallard is soon joined by his mate, whom he right off chases across the water, and they zoom around and around until she hits the bank running–literally. They leg it off at a running waddle into the bosque, and disappear. The pond edges flicker with sparrows, Summer Tanagers, orioles, warblers, flycatchers, kingbirds, hummingbirds, a Cooper’s Hawk, doves …

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 16, 2013

Seventeen days after the last one was sighted, a Meadowlark is by itself out on the pastures! A lingering Western, or an odd summering Eastern?

Lark Sparrows are in court-n-spark mode, a male and female are singing together like two leads in an opera. He lets out with the sweetness of a canary, and jumps from the ground onto the spokes of an irrigator wheel, climbing them one by one, jumping from one side of the wheel across to the other while spreading his tail, sometimes the feathers wide into a complete fan, and as he reaches the top of the wheel, stretches upwards as far as his neck can extend while he’s singing. She stays below, twittering, joyful.

Ellison and I have our lunchtime at The Stockpond. The 96 degree afternoon brings in a female hummingbird to sip from the open water–she’s desperate enough to forgo whatever security her gender almost always seeks in sticking to the riser hydrant and avoiding the open water area. Instead of being dive-bombed and driven off by a male of her species, however, she is threatened by of all things, a dragonfly! One of those gaudy “saddle shoe” dragonflies (a Desert White-tail like yesterday’s, and maybe it’s the same individual) comes gliding innocently along below her, then rises quickly with obvious intent and attacks her again and again, but she escapes. If we hadn’t seen this with our own eyes … surely it couldn’t have been trying to prey on her, could it? (Much later I would do an Internet subject search on this, and found a number of just such incidents talked about, including one on an Audubon Society bulletin board webpage in which there was a reference to a film documenting a large dragonfly grabbing and carrying off a full-grown Rufous Hummingbird! Who knew?)

May 12, 2013

For a good while I suspected there was a leak in the underground irrigation lines, but where it was didn’t become known until an entire riser finally disattached itself all the way and must’ve blown like a missile from a silo into the air in Pasture #4. Once that was fixed, the increase in leftover psi was enough to have the pond-filling hydrant continue to spray a little shower out over the water through the night even after the system was shut down. A fine male Black-chinned Hummingbird liked this a lot, and was there darting in and out of the little arcs of droplets when I arrived.

Sunlight is just hitting the tops of the cliffs when I return to The Stockpond after I get the irrigation up, and I stop to eat a bowl of oatmeal and watch birds through the truck windshield, too shaky to continue the work I’d been doing on the energy of the one banana eaten before I started at that moment an hour before when there was hardly enough light to see. I come back to find one of the hummingbirds lowering himself into a Sitzbad at the water surface at the base of the riser and though one might think this would be sufficiently satisfying to him, oh no!–he spied a female who’d come along to land on the hydrant base to get a drink, and he flew up without delay and chased her right off the pond. (Females are still to be seen almost exclusively coming to that hydrant, knowing as they do what will happen to them if a male sees them drinking from the pond itself or even approaching its surface …) A half dozen or more male Black-chinned come along to the now much heavier shower spraying out of hydrant ‘s mouth, dance back and forth through the spray mid-air like a team rough-housing it in the shower, no females allowed. It is sheer exhibitionism, Life’s Will to Life, a chittering enthusiasm of Mind. I am reminded that in the tropics few birds come to waterfalls because of how the sound muffles the approach of a predator, but that this doesn’t apply to hummingbirds there, either. What can touch them? Well, I did once see children in Jamaica knocking off the eye-popping endemic ribbon-tailed “Doctor Bird” hummers from the acalypha hedges with slingshots, to take home and make shish-ka-birds. In Costa Rica I came on a lovely high waterfall in a jungled setting just back of a beach and sure enough, the only creatures around that water were hummingbirds, which came tumbling into the void before the cataract out of the air over the stream above, like jewels spilled from a green velvet bag.

A pair of Gray Hawks have been calling back and forth for three days.

May 3, 2013

A pair of Mexican Mallard at The Stockpond, but the Solitary Sandpiper has indeed gone as has the Kingfisher. The Cooper’s Hawk gives those kookaburra calls from the bosque offstage to the south. It’s cold again, no hint of Foresummer … the temperature hovering at 40 degrees! Windy, oh so windy, and the single Green-tailed Towhee who’s now getting to be on the late side of hanging out here likely feels still quite in his element, so why would he leave for the North? The hummingbirds are hardly in a cold stupor, three or four male Black-chinned come to cavort in the little waterfalls sluicing from one green algae ring to another floating on the surface, as the riser tall above them splashes water down. We would love to do this if we were their size … hummers are so human sometimes, and we, so hummer. No females play in the algae this way, but one comes flying in and onto the side of that vertical riser and lands in the manner of a Swift, upright and flat on the pipe, her body pressed hard to its side below the opening and in that position she bathes in the dribbles running down from the hydrant joint. I have no idea how she holds on.

Meanwhile, the pickup I’d been sitting in had a rear tire losing air while I was watching the pond. So much for tending to the wheel lines getting them watering again: this was the third flat since yesterday and the usable spares had finally run out. Gggrrrrr, I grumbled and stomped up the lane through mesquites with canopies of leaves still wrecked by the deep freeze of two weeks ago. Eeehhhehhheh I didn’t want to be hitchhiking on this early cold morning on which not many folk would be stirring. Out on the wide open gravel road to Cascabel outside the green ranch gate it was windier still, and dust devils came along down the road edge one after another to take aim at me squarely, one or two forcing open my tightly closed eyelids …[…]

I take a childhood comfort in the sound of Redwing Blackbird calls, between gusts of wind the notes of the bird come to my ears from that sadly wilted canopy of mesquites now getting burned off even more by the wind. The dust is risen to a heaven that has become the mauve color of those grasshoppers’ wings of yesterday, and the details of the mountain ridges and canyons are blurred-out all around. At last a large yellow tool-van appears around the far south bend of the road, coming towards me but by this time I’m wind-blown and shaggy … he slows way down, not to avoid coating me in road dust (that’s already an accomplished fact) but to have a look, and in the end he must decide my shabby ranch clothes make me too iffy and scurvy character in an Old West comic book. He picks up speed and adds more dust to the mauve sky and to my shoulders then all goes quiet again but for the wind as he disappears. The cold does not let up. Strangely, in the moment that I grasp the perfection of this lesson in The Suchness of Things–cold, wind, flat tires, dust, uncompassionate and fearful motorist, lust for hot cowboy coffee, regret that I’d had no more to eat than that one banana–perfection drifts down to me from somewhere impossibly high in the dusty air overhead. “Curlee! Curleeeeee!! Curlleeeeeeeeeww!” … the cry of the ghost of a whole wild continent lost, and the hair on my neck rises. I know what it is, but it can’t be what it is, it just can’t, but then for a few moments the speck appears in a pocket of air somewhat clear of dust, the binoculars find it and I see the splendid long bill and cinnamon wings of a lone Long-billed Curlew, the bird nearly suspended in the headwind …[…]

My experience of The West is somewhat more sober than what was described in this pleasant boosterism that over decades to 1910 evolved into the anthem, “Home, Home on the Range”. The Suchness of Things: had the morning gone as planned and I not been visited by the usual troubles familiar to Dave Stamey if not to Dr. Higley, I’d’ve been long gone from these pastures and on to other chores … without that flat tire I’d have missed that curlew as it was trying to find The River or an irrigated field. It didn’t land in ours though it flew lower for a look. In New Mexico some years back, while I was working in the alfalfa fields of dear friends outside Roswell, I and an ol’ boy neighbor rancher were standing together when a spectacular large flock of Long-billed Curlew swept in and landed at the edge of the irrigation flood. As the birds set about snapping up insects the advancing water forced into the air ahead of it, I asked the man if the curlews had a local name. “We call ’em, ‘Mile-or-more-birds’.” “Mile-or-more-birds?”, I said. “Yessir.” “So why d’ya call ’em that?” “Wellsir, when one o’ those birds shoves that bill up the @## of the one standing next to it, ya can hear that scream a mile-or-more.”

The musing was barely out of my head when [Bob Rogers and a colleague from] The Nature Conservancy appeared around that same bend to the south that the yellow van had, oh was I thankful that another vehicle had come along at last and in it were friendly faces! […]

True to the spirit of Dave Stamey’s song, the temperature had risen by 45 degrees by afternoon when I went back to continue the day’s work in those pastures. The wind, though, was no longer wild enough to be blowing grit into my teeth, and the sky had turned back to Arizona blue over the first pretty flowers of the rather ugly-named but reputedly tasty Hog Potato. Swallows everywhere over Pasture #3: Violet-green Swallows, Barn Swallows, the season’s first Cliff Swallows, Tree Swallows, and of course many Rough-winged Swallows, all swirled together in a massive flock, gyrating and hunting the insects that have come back to life after the morning’s deep chill … […]

April 29, 2013

Queen butterflies and a very large Blue (what species? and we think sandpipers are a challenge to tell apart …) are seen here and there, not much yet. Too early for Monarchs. What there are a lot of are Kingbirds, I have never seen so many in one place yet it’s reported to me there aren’t many elsewhere on The River. Here on the fencelines of Pasture #3 was a Konvocation of Kingbirds, a dozen or more, the acrobatics of their flight a thrill to watch as always–each one more beautifully plumaged than the last, grays, olives, blacks, clean white, shimmering yellow. Almost all were Western Kingbirds, among them a single Cassin’s, which is growing to be one of my favorite birds. Still a few White-crowned Sparrows in the brushy alley that borders the pasture, and overhead, recently arrived for the summer, a flock of burbling and bubbling Brown-headed Cowbirds, their notes dropping to the ground with the sound of water splashing into the Stockpond. I’ve read that it’s a mystery how the birds learn these sounds and songs, given that other species with other things to teach their actual young are who raise the cowbird from egghood. More mystery here, to let be.

Heading back to the Stockpond, I opened a “cowboy gate” to get out of that pasture, and noted a Lucy’s Warbler very near in the mesquite branches and unruffled by my presence. It had dried grasses in its bill, and was obviously heading towards a nest being built somewhere, then right in front of me it dropped down to the massive old railroad tie post onto which the gate was hung. It vanished for a few moments on the other side of the tie, then popped back up into sight, looked at me again and flitted off for more building material I presumed. Once I got the gate looped-up and closed, I went around to the other side of the post and sure enough, there seen easily within the rotting out heart of the railroad tie was a nest appropriate to the size of this sprite of a bird. It wasn’t very enclosed by walls of wood, in fact it was in more of a ledge that had formed about a third of the way into the body of the tie, with a wide crack above for entry–one would be able to see very easily the eggs that would come, and the nestlings. It still was no place one might imagine a cowbird getting into and in there wedging its outlaw egg, but it’s reported that this is just what happens. The nest I found today is at least the fourth I have come on in exactly this sort of place–a railroad tie gate post with some degree of decay–over the years of being a ranch hand, and invariably the birds have raised their broods despite my constant coming and going on one chore or another that demanded opening and closing their gate, and the babies and parents have been completely at ease with my getting glimpses of their progress. I don’t see any mention of such a thing, such a nesting site, in the professional literature, and Cornell states flatly that the species does not use nesting boxes. I would sure describe these railroad ties as such! or at least they could inspire the design of one that the Lucy’s Warbler would be willing to accept.

Back at the irrigation riser that’s filling the pond, the temperature is climbing well past 90, towards 100 degrees. A female Broad-billed Hummingbird drinks from the hydrant leaks at the top, and what turns out to be the last Vesper Sparrows come desperately to the pools as well–another of those species that leave of a sudden as May’s heat comes in ferociously, to head for the Mogollon Rim a mile higher, and points north from there. The usual Black-chinned hummer males describe geometrics on the air, zipping around in almost impossible moves over the whole pond and in the noonday shimmer, a Common Yellowthroat and very red Song Sparrows come for sips, too. Most dainty of all are the gigantic (many would say, frightening!) Tarantula Hawks that land some distance from the edge on muddy footing, and carefully tread to where they may press their lips to the water. They take long draughts. Everyone leaves alone these extras from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, for they’re packing heat like no other creature. A Summer Tanager that’s even more red than the wings of the Tarantula Hawk comes down, but perches on a rock out in the middle, and before he lowers himself to the edge of that rock to reach the water, has his perfect double reflected in the surface.