Tag Archives: Killdeer

October 14, 2013

My fingers are frigid (it’s down near freezing), their cells remember the tropics. Later on I get the first complete face full of winter irrigation water, though it’s much warmer than the air that has got up to 40 degrees. Birds have gone back up to good numbers, equalling the lost summer splendor but their colors are more subdued and subtle, their vocals more quiet and discreet, so different from the Neotropicals who now mostly have returned to their sambas and salsas. For the next six months the sparrows will reign, and I go over and over them in the field guides, as I must every year. I’d have difficulty with some of them even if they were right in my hand.

The day warms comfortably, into the 80s, Red-shafted Flickers have come back from whatever local place they’d hidden out in for Summer and a Phainopepla sings out, “prrrrrt!” in The Lane, back from whatever local place it had also hidden out offstage for the Summer. Then comes a huge arrival of Western Meadowlarks, who claim all the pastures for their own. American Pipits overhead, whistling “Sweet!” while in flight, their movement something between a bat and a Vermillion Flycatcher. A bright russet Harrier (which I’d rather forever call “Marsh Hawk”), its rump gleaming like a spotlight, freaks out all the phoebes. A Sparrow Hawk, errrrr, Kestrel, displays some mighty fine colors, and Killdeers (Killdeer?) are bouncing through the gathered piles of pulled mesquite–and still the winter pasture is not prepared, cannot be planted. An impressive number of White-crowned and Chipping sparrows comes to The Stockpond, to join Lazuli Buntings (and the last are these to be seen) bathing in the cow pogs at the edge of the shore.

Small blue butterflies (Azures? Blues?) are visiting the Burroweeds in #3, which don’t have much in the way of blossoms to offer them any more.



August 24, 2013

Dawn raindrops are falling on The Stockpond, 68 degrees feels cool, Killdeer call out mournfully from the native grass planting beyond the pond fence and the circle of mesquite trees is full of the music of young Yellow Warblers trying out their repertoire. The pasture itself is dark still, the sun not having got high enough above the ridge to shine down onto the grass, but the cottonwoods in their line along The River are dazzling and quivering in those first rays that also make the cliffs glow startlingly white, while all this brightly lit landscape is backdropped by the black sky of a very promising temporal.

Chris E. and James C. in their digging the endlessly thorny mesquititos from the bermudagrass in #1 Pasture come upon one of the showiest lepidoptera larvae any of us have seen, apparently feeding on mesquite leaves. It is green (of course) and looks to be some extreme hornworm with not just the one horn on its posterior but also with horns in clusters and singly along its length but especially on the head. It is like something from “Where the Wild Things Are” … the hornworm horn, not quite at the end of the critter, is curved, purple with a yellow tip … a bunch of such horns on the head … and most amazingly, rows of glittering silver-foil decorations all down its sides, as if inset by a Navajo jeweller. We suspect this is the larva of some moth, and can only wonder over what the adult could look like, and suspect that it will be just as magnificent a creature as its younger self had been.

Rain is never assured no matter how dark and promising the sky (we almost never use the word “threatening”, not out loud anyway, afraid as we are of offending the powers that bring us this life), and though it may come down hard in a real chubasco later today or tonight, that is not assured and the pastures are irrigated anyway. If the promise of those clouds does hold true, waterings after this will be decreased proportionate to the amount of rain that falls by the end of the rain wetting. Kingbirds, mostly Westerns, are having their mad fun on all the barbed wire fences, and Rough-winged Swallows in a flock are low over the pasture. Under the swallows I push through the waist-deep Barnyard Grass, out to a nozzle that’s jammed itself stationary on one of the tall grass inflorescences. The whole pasture is a waving sea of these pale seed heads caught in the sun, just below this glowing blanket is an under-wave of bright green leaves, themselves glittering with the morning rain that has passed. We don’t have to have a Monet on our walls, because we live in one.

I read the sky later, know I must flee if I am not to risk being swept away by a flash flood coming down an arroyo that crosses the gravel road, or just as irritatingly, having to watch a flood’s lapping edges for hours as the calculation is made that it is safe enough to enter and cross and then get home. In the next twenty four hours another wild storm leaves us with almost another inch of moisture. Our offerings must have been found acceptable.

July 1, 2013

A couple of hours before sunrise, the patio wet … a moonless, vast land can be heard gladly sipping down into itself what that first, early wild storm of a new Monsoon Summer brought it. My lips have no trouble finding the rim of the coffee cup in the utter darkness. The invisible Purple Martins swirl overhead, sing down through the balmy, soft night of a perfect 71 degrees. I wonder what I’ll find at the pastures. I wonder if there is a road left to get to them on. Now comes the season that folds a tropical saturated air into a stiff batter of monsoon heat, when one’s clothes will be drenched through, with patterns of white edges lined out on it where the salt from the body marks a high tide of sweat. Now come days when it will be 100 degrees and raining, likely to reach a peak a couple months from now when hurricanes can hurtle up from the Sea of Cortez, which after all is just beyond our horizon, and mix even more power into the usual storm cells that can materialize right overhead of us.

The washes and arroyos did run large in that single temporal, but I make it through down Cascabel Road as daylight comes on. Close to Mason’s the torrents had ripped across the gravel and dirt, then ripped back to the other side, then burst through a bank in a fulfillment of some endless memory of the land, and filled to the top with water the old earthwork stock pond that in other years had reached such a state only towards the end of a rainy season. I stop, stare in amazement at it for there was no pond there yesterday, take in the lushness, smell the fecundity and odor of the South Seas. At The Stock Pond I hold up the column of the rain gauge in a joyful disbelief: almost one inch of rain, the first rain enough to comment on since February. Imagine … rain. An inch means I can delay the resumption of the irrigation cycle on the bermuda grass, save money, work at something else, save water.

There is not a bird at The Stockpond–not a bird–though there are call notes in the mesquital, and the down-slurred, slightly peevish whistles of a Tyrannulet; the rich songs of our summer residents are all stilled after the violence of the storm. Those friends are going to try to gather again this sunset time on the banks here to take in the evening bird show that’d got cancelled on us last night by the sideways-driven rains and the lightning bolts and the threat of flash floods coming down the arroyos, but there isn’t much promise of spectacle now that today water can be had everywhere and in abundance. Then a White-throated Swift rockets through over the water, water that is noticeably deeper than at this time yesterday. A single large winged termite drops from the air above onto my thumb–they’re emerging already after only one night of rain. Another White-throated Swift swoops through, with a screaming whoosh so fast as hardly to be made out on its approach, but when it is only a couple feet from my head I get a thrilling look at this incredibly beautiful and dapper bird. The swifts don’t much like the look of the water, which is this morning wholly changed from yesterday–mud where any water open at all can be seen–most of it is carpeted with red algae. There are bubbles rising from below that are then held unburst in the thick red covering that stretches from one shore of newly sprouting Barnyard Grass to the other. Suddenly the air is all Purple Martins, but only one or two are willing to poke their bills into so nasty-looking a pool for a drink. The cattle amble in, also wholly changed after the storm in their shimmering, dust-free coats. Surely the Creature from the Black Lagoon is about to jump up through the only open water edge and snag a calf. We’ll see later in the day if the nighthawks and bats will come as they have been in such increasing numbers over the weeks of a Foresummer that now of a sudden have ended. A fiery Summer Tanager comes to a mesquite tip, sings sweetly, slowly as if he’s afraid of shattering the wet enchantment, the notes seeming to come from a bird ventriloquist, his bill moves so imperceptibly.

Chores mostly done, when Saguaro Juniper folk were drifting into the Cafe du Stockponde, I myself drift on up to see if the herd had learned from the lightning strike that scared their little hooves into a high fandango last night, and were still honoring the electric fence in that #2 Pasture. They had learned, to my relief, for if once they get over to that just water-filled old pond there on the other side of the low and flimsy portable fence, it’d be almost impossible to get them out of there again, what with how they have everything a cow could want in there and with how she can hide from a drover and parry with him back and forth on either side of many a mesquite tree. A Killdeer has come to enjoy the pond’s muddy edge, I can hear. I walk back to the truck through the deep summer grass in late day sunglow and am swept over by a vast number of Lesser Nighthawks, high and low, very near and gliding past in their odd flying style, scattered from right where I stand on out to the horizons.

Evening thunderstorms look like they’ll stay on the mountains, and back at The Stockpond the tables are set, cheese sliced and arranged, wine poured from a bottle, olives readied to be plucked from a bowl. The water is open–not a trace of red algae!–though green algae floats instead in scattered swirls. It’s all Lesser Nighthawks tonight and rather than having decreased now there are so many other places for them to drink, they arrive from the lands roundabout, and arrive, and arrive, and the air pulses and whirs with them and then … shoots down from the sky a Cooper’s Hawk, who stretches out its taloned feet and sinks those claws into either side of a nighthawk ten feet in front of our faces, the nighthawk’s wings raise and are jammed up under the wingpits of the bird of prey and both sail as one off into the bosque where hungry baby hawks watch for their next goodies. We’re just stunned and let out gasps, all the nighthawks vanish, no sound, no movement. Sue breaks the spell that’s taken over the air now empty of birds:

God! Life’s a crap shoot!