Tag Archives: Kingfishers

May 2, 2016

Among chores and the cow-critters of Mason Pastures, there are lately passing through birds that even for here, are remarkable. Thought I’d share some “jottings” (more like scribbles) from the pocket notebook of the recent weeks …

Two Gray Hawks
Tristan, Isolde,
in love song duet
out of the lush wood it drifts
through budge budge of swallows
and to my ears–
and grumble of thunder that thrills
and welcomes me home
to Summer.

A male Wood Duck on The Stockpond, for one day.

Kingfisher thought he might get hold of tender squablets of Vermillion Flycatchers in their nest out on the branch over the water of The Stockpond, and so spent some minutes giving the alarmed and harried parent birds their annual Spring heart attack …

A great swirl of Rough-winged Swallows curves and descends to the pond in midday heat, to opera playing on public radio while I eat lunch.

I don’t open the middle wheel line irrigator hydrant until I’m sure that the first line has come up to full pressure after its last flush valve closes and stops hemorrhaging water. I put the binoculars there, on its east end, but my sight instead landed right on a low-flying creature I thought by its flight was a bat still out and now caught by the first sun rays, but–it was a very leisurely and solitary Vaux’s Swift! I could have watched and watched, the way I could have that Wood Duck, so rare is such an opportunity of seeing that swift at all, much less in a situation with the light perfect, against good background (vegetation and not glaring sky behind it), its closeness, and how it hung around so temptingly, but,     with that valve having closed, I had to tend to another riser and hydrant that must be opened.

A warbler morning at The Pond … Wilson’s, Yellow-rumped, Orange-crowned, more Wilson’s, a dapper-dan Black-throated Gray (good, understated taste in suits, that bird–I don’t think I’d recorded any before at the place …)

Another great swirl of birds who spend much of their lives on the air–a flock of White-throated Swifts. I’d never be able to count them, they screech and zoom right past my head and seemingly right through me, to drink for the smallest of moments from The Stockpond where I stood.

A splendidly flaming Bullock’s Oriole above a treetop, out on a long wand of a mesquite branch.

A Mockingbird is immitating a Yellow-billed Cuckoo.

and now a large flock of Violet-green Swallows; they spend the day over the pastures swinging low, swinging high, the next day are gone.

Kingbirds already in goodly numbers, and already on the fight.

I’ve got to get that riser closed down, the pump has turned itself off, and as I buzz across the pasture with the chore blinders on, I glance up to see a finch of an obvious strangeness that demands a lifting of the binoculars and, oh my … what has Alex’s devotion to turning that sprouting mesquite bosque back to grassland rewarded us with? A beautiful, and oh-so-rare Dickcissel. It’s not far away, I can see every detail that confirms the bird that looks so like a Meadowlark in miniature. Even if Botteri’s Sparrows don’t come again this summer, the appearance of the Dickcissel (apparently none have ever been recorded in the month of April in southern Arizona!) confirms the rightness of having taken on so awful, painful, and tiring a chore of keeping our little world safe for those sparrows by removing those mesquites. It seems as comfortable there as it is on its native, vast, waving grass of The Plains.

Through all the glory and rarity of these birds of our April, the flycatcher still stands out, and it can take your breath …

Vermillion Flycatcher,
bird aflame
never consumed,
from your ashes
no need to arise
for the one consumed
by your fire, is I.

August 2, 2015

The Monsoon. Bug time big time, when you never know what’s going to hatch next, what’s going to appear that none of us have seen before here, what’s going to appear that we wish we hadn’t seen, ‘specially at night on the floor. (And as the more tropical Desert moves slowly northwards out of Sonora, there are surprises in store that no Wall will stop, surprises beautiful or dreadful–or both!) I only spent a few nights this Kissing Bug season listening intently in the dark of our hot June for that drone-whir of a big one zooming low over the bed, checking out the blood buffet it wants, then that, um, blood-curdling little bang against the wall and ensuing total, sudden silence as it lands there to plot its next move. Only six bites this year, now I’m so sensitized to the nasty and distinctive sound The Thing makes that it can wake me from sleep and have me scrambling for the vacuum cleaner to put the suck on it in a sweet turning of tables, or have a paper towel around it and with a quick squeeze, dispatch it. Aviso: DON’T whack these guys with a magazine or a shoe heel against a wall, especially a white wall, unless you need someone to divine the future from a large red Rorschach blot mess. I found them on the windowsill, on the woodwork, in the sink, in the tub–“Kissing Bug Bath & Beyond”. Nicer(?) was a visit one evening by a huge, I do mean, huge, Blonde Arizona Tarantula, revealed to me suddenly when I turned on the bedroom lamp to read and found it just over the pillows, suspended upside down and hanging on to the underside of a swag of curtain I’d pulled out of the way so whatever precious cool of the night air movement would pass through the room. With its beautiful long dark legs, it sure stood out against that white curtain material. They fall from the ceiling onto people’s beds from time to time. I wound the alarm clock, and put out the Tarantula. Maybe it went looking for Kissing Bugs in the night garden.

There is beauty in smaller packages. A few days ago on a sweat-drenched late afternoon just when I’d had it with pulling mesquites and mesquite-lings from what will be one of this year’s winter pastures for the cattle, I scared up an exquisite moth of about a two-inch wingspan, white of fore- and hindwings, with scattered black flecks and points, a short russet cape down its upper abdomen, that cape, too, dotted with black. It was fat, and seemed strained in take off–gravid, I suppose. Some minutes later a very similar white moth took wing from another mesquite I was disturbing, this one very active, wild and warier, with a fast, purposeful flight even under a hot afternoon sun in air of 99 degrees. Its hindwings, though, were the same russet of its own abdomen cape, leading me to think not only was a lovely moth of these parts newly revealed to me but of all the luck, both its dimorphic male and female forms were. At home later, a quick google-search brought the identity: the Salt Marsh Moth, or Acrea Moth–not a desert specialty, but a species found in many parts of the world and whose similar relatives are known as “Ermines.” What an appropriate folk name that would be for this Acrea Moth of ours, too, as can be seen in these pictures from the Internet site, “Butterflies and Moths of North America“:

(who could resist this moth-apparition of one of those sad-eyed DeGrazia children?)

This also solves a longtime mystery, of the identity of long haired, formidable-looking caterpillars that appear on the mesquites of Mason Pastures, whose spines and heavy fur we’ve had a great care not to touch for fear of being burned (though now I read that these caterpillars are harmless.) Apparently the gorgeous if frightening larvae can range in color and form so widely that one would automatically take them for several species. One of these is much like the Wooly Bear of Eastern states, and this I’ve now found goes by the lyrical, appropriate name, “Black and Tan” …

Earlier on that same day, Anna Lands reported to me something she saw happen at The Stockpond where she waited for me to join her for lunch: a female Vermillion Flycatcher shot out over the pond and grabbed a dragonfly mid-air after the insect had been depositing eggs over the water. I had no idea that little flycatcher would go after an insect as large as that. Those birds are fearless: this Spring I was entertained by a mated pair of them dive-bombing a huge Belted Kingfisher as it made circles around the pond, closer and closer in towards the flycatcher nest half way up a big mesquite on a branch over the water. The closer the big bird swooped, the more frantic and angry was the reaction of the pair of small Vermillions. It was a surprise later to find out that indeed those kingfishers will snatch a nestling if they can get away with it, I guess no less a dainty than would be a minnow. Kingfisher never got to find that out for itself, though, because the flycatchers won, at least this bout.

Early August, and the Red-winged Grasshoppers have appeared earlier I think than I have seen before–the first during the final week of July. The Monsoon is revving slowly, and at last has started to bring good, terrifying and dangerous chubascos that cause me to flee the pastures and hole-up at the Ridge House where I wonder how the place can stand the huff-and-I’ll-puff blasts of 50, 60, 70 mph winds. Then yesterday during a sunrise of incredible calm, there was not a breath to rearrange the spectacular flights of ants in air as saturated as a Hawaiian morning. After the night of a ferocious storm that dropped an inch and a half of rain, the ants swirled for miles and miles of gravel road, in Van Gogh glittering swirls of golden stars, to delight, and to creep out. It was the greatest bughatch I’d ever seen, like driving into snow, collecting in bronze and copper shining drifts across the road surface. I had to close the windows, Too many were landing on my hat brim and nose. I finally had to have at least air movement inside the cab of the pickup by the time I got to the pavement, on my way to check on our rather famous Molly the Cow and her new, impossibly beautiful calf Barbara Clark named, “Two Too.” In a few moments, though, the truck was flying through even greater masses of undulating, madly mating insects, which hit the windshield with the pit! crack! of driving into an ice storm, they hit my face with the sting of wind-wrenched pebbles as I sped along trying to get through them, got sucked roundly into a nostril, ack! snort! gasp! The truck slid on piles of them along the edge of the road, and I got out at Three Links to open the gate to get to Molly, with having had quite enough of “bugs”!

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.

September 11, 2013

Swainson’s Hawks, scattered across the agricultural lands through the Summer, now are in numbers noticeably on the increase, and they must be in the swing of their famous migration. Below them the Morning Glory petals are shot through by the sun, as if azure blown glass salvers had been strung along the roadside.

A Kingfisher splashes at The Stockpond, and the Blue Grosbeaks are still around though seem less conspicuous. In the Picnic Tree mesquite, lots of young Vermillion Flycatchers that haven’t realized they’ve grown too large to be cheeping like hatchlings, are still harrying their parents who must’ve just about had it with them by now.

Poorwill calls his “8:00 o’clock, all’s well,” and I turn out the light.

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 … […]

May 2, 2013

The Stockpond is alive with birds, among them a single (shouldn’t it be so?) Solitary Sandpiper hunts the shore, unafraid of me; if past observation holds this will be the one day he is with us, on his way to Canada or Alaska and he’s loading fuel for a trip over vast deserts that lie between this mud and Idaho. Summer Tanager males are increasing in numbers (who’d complain?) and into the middle of them and some oddly olive-tinted Song Sparrows and a whole lot of frantic Yellow-rumped Warblers comes screeching and rattling a male Belted Kingfisher, which after the middle of April is in these parts a great rarity. He is elegantly beautiful, and appears to be coming up with fish in his big and splashy dives into the pool from the overhanging mesquite branches from which he’d knocked the tanagers, but there’s not supposed to be any fish in this pond. I’m unable to get a better look at what he’s preying on before he leaves and it’s doubtful I see him again.

As I make rounds through Pasture #2(south), a large rosette of a Milk Thistle jumps into sight–incredibly prickly and incredibly attractive but out it must come, without remorse. A number of us spent a lot of time a year ago removing every plant of that dangerously invasive species we could find, from tiny seedlings to large ones in beautiful lilac-colored flower. A year ago they were in almost every pasture, but the removal of the one today I hope marks the extirpation of this troublesome Eurasian “weed” from Mason’s. It may be only a matter of time before more appear, since this exotic is coming at us from at least three directions: south towards Cascabel on the road from Pinal County, northwest from roadside thick with it outside Dragoon, northeast from the verge of the freeway from Tucson on the edge of Benson. Vehicle tires may have most to do with this, though I know of the plant being grown in pots for its beauty and for its reported medicinal properties.