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.
The pair of Great Blue Heron are at The Pond, as they have been occasionally over the past week.
A Blue Grosbeak appears to be fly-catching in a spectacular manner, rising and rising and rising, straight up, then long, even faster plummets to its perch. Or is that a territorial display, or courtship? The literature tells almost nothing is known about those kinds of actions of the bird.
As I wander along setting up the length of an electric line that will help get the Botteri’s Sparrow area ready by confining the cattle to get its weeds too tall for the sparrows’ liking knocked back before the birds’ hoped-for arrival (many of the herd love that weedy Kochia, and the young tumbleweed), comes from high overhead the wild twittering of a pair of White-throated Swifts. My Gawd, the male swoops screaming down out of the blue like a Messerschmitt, while she rises slightly and meets him in a crashing copulation of immeasurable brevity. Then they’re off for more very swift Tango de Swift until they’re too tiny to see with the naked eye. They take hardly any time to disappear for after all, they’re as fast as fireworks. And their own kind of fireworks they are certainly making, on the wing yet! That takes “dancing on the ceiling” to a new level.
The range herd has not forgotten my vaquero’s cattle call, which starts out with one long then six short loud whistles–as soon as I begin they moo and lift their back ends to start to wander down The Lane to head towards the Botteri’s area, I in the lead. The Mockingbird in its big mesquite instantly lets out a perfect imitation of the whistle call and then does it again, oh goody, just what I need as an aid in the cattle management!
Mockingbird chases a Brown-headed Cowbird out of that big nesting mesquite–as with Raven, all the way across #2 Pasture, and out of sight.
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.
I built me a homestead
way out on a desert
a great sandy desert
and I didn’t know why
and when it was finished
I sat on my doorstep
and stared at my desert
and stared at my sky …
–cowboy song collected by Tucson’s Katie Lee, in her “Ten Thousand Goddam Cattle”
In their timetable precision Yellow-billed Cuckoos–the “Rain Crow” of my father’s long ago Virginia country childhood–have arrived and call out around all the bosque of El Potrero. Rain would indeed be nice and if the birds will bring some well by Heaven, we’ll take it! In the whole of May all of 0.03″ fell on us. I heard my first cuckoo of the year at Mason Pastures yesterday, and Kathleen reports one from the day before that. One has to be careful in this because the Yellow-breasted Chats and even the Mockingbirds have worked the cuckoo chortles into their mimid repertoires. They are one of those birds that are either here or they aren’t, of a sudden on the first of this month that people brace themselves for, the cuckoos seem to drop out of the sky all at once and over the whole of the San Pedro. They complete the cycle of arrival of Summer residents and Spring migrants and tell that the fun and expectations of the avian parade is now brought to fullness for the year already and that yes, Foresummer and its splendid challenges is upon all us animals.
Gorgeous Western Tanagers all around The Pond, in the branches, on the water’s edge. A pair of Great Blue Heron fly off, perch each atop adjacent wheels of the side roll irrigator in the Native Grass Area beyond the barbed wire fence. Balancing on a cinder block jutting from the water, I go to open the fill-valve of the pond but a movement catches my eye, and through the now clear water (The Pond has for a year been mostly left unroiled by the cattle who now water at the refurbished metal tank some distance away) I see a large turtle, somewhat egg shaped in outline, lying flat and comfortable on the mud bottom grazing on a beautiful “new” aquatic weed that colonized The Pond after the herd stopped defecating into it. There are a dozen or more aquatic plants Arizona Game & Fish is on the watch for as invasive, is this yet another? Is the turtle? Taking its size into consideration I think the turtle most likely is. It’s gray with sediment built up on its shell and it would have to be caught and scrubbed if the marks diagnostic for the species were to be seen … I don’t think of trying, it’s hard to believe it’s let me get this close without zooming off out of sight into deeper water. It stays submerged as happily as any submarine, unbothered by my hovering over it.