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.
Three-quarter Moon in its move towards setting drops in the West below the thick cloud of the day’s coming storm and into open sky, and a perfect lunar rainbow springs onto the opposite horizon over Muleshoe where dawn will come. It’s the last morning of tending to irrigation at sunrise, for the electric rates for the pumping change over today to “winter hours” and cannot be engaged except in the middle part of the day.
A flock of returning Brewer’s Blackbirds passes overhead, telling of Fall no matter how much the workday’s challenging heat and sweat denies it.
Grosbeaks and Bell’s Vireos might still be about as pastorale fades after a spectacular sunset, but there isn’t a nighthawk to be seen at The Stockpond. Not very long ago the Chats would’ve been tuning their orchestra under such a Moon, but there is no singing now but from the mosquitoes. Dove wings come whistling through the muggy air, in the heat that is stupefying even after dark.
Spadefoots pipe in the murky water of the seasonal dirt stocktank, and at the main pond that Summer Tanager sings away purely in the madrugada as if it is still Spring, one Great Horned Owl hoots as if it is still night. Song Sparrows are also in song, which hasn’t been heard for a while, and the tune and lyrics of the local subspecies gives me to remember that the melodies of the ones that were such a part of the arrival of my childhood’s Springs on the Eastern Seaboard do differ, not by much, but enough to be interesting. They also look different, enough that it took me a while to decide that what I was seeing here was the same species. For those really advanced birders, the many regional forms were outlined in my first field guide’s appendix, but mostly it seemed people in those days were only concerned with the general species–such as “Song Sparrow”–much in the way that nobody in the era would have found a need to know how much the temperature one neighborhood over varied at the moment from their own, as is presented now in all television weather coverage.
A young Western Kingbird has grown to become talented enough to catch a hairstreak butterfly, though has some challenges getting it down. There is a flash of red from its bill lining when it opens wide and tries something else … the first returning, rare early Tree Swallows appear in those pastures, and many Lark Sparrows are back in view. Abert’s Towhees are doing a lot of singing, sounding not quite like robins, not quite like sparrows. White-winged Doves are also cooing as if it is still Spring, another cuckoo I haven’t heard much of calls from the riverside bosque towards the old Lancaster Ranch, and the cuckoo at the pond also declares its territory.
Coulter’s Spiderling (Boerhavia coulteri) is the next herb coming up strongly and abundantly, rushing quickly to blooming stage everywhere there had been nearly bare soil; there are acres of it.
It’s been a couple of weeks since The Stockpond was much visited in the evening by the martins, but tonight they buzz in five or six at a time, with many more circling in holding patterns waiting for an open slot to approach the water.
A day to ride the range in air heavy and summer lush, in the light and cool breeze is the promise of rich downpours to swirl up from the Sierra Madre just over our horizon. Swirling up from below us on our horses already is the perfume of the large yellow nodding bells of Cuernitos, Proboscidea althaeifolia, one of the two species here that forms those whimsical fruits we call Devil’s Claw. This is one of the cleanest, richest fragrances of a flower I have ever come on in the world, though but for the level of its intensity, it would be indistinguishable from that of its relative the Paulownia tree of the temperate zone. It is fascinating also that the flowers of this Proboscidea and those of the Paulownia are also nearly identical in size and shape, but are opposites in color–the former, yellow, the latter, pale lavendar. It is a joy to ride on the desert when the Cuernitos is in bloom, as much for what you smell as for what you see, and this year with all its moisture that is especially so.
A totally blue sky arches over us during most of our ride, and then forms a little cloud over the peak of Mt. Lemmon, then another over the peak of The Rincon. By the late afternoon when I go to the pastures to check over things with the herd, those two little clouds have grown and fit themselves together, and grown rapidly then into a monster thunderstorm cell. It’s a Monsoon agate evening sky, the leaf blades of Barnyard Grass under the pink glow of the air above their wide meadows are the lurid color of lime popsicles, lit by the last of a sun about to be swallowed by a black wall of clouds. Swallows are flying, pobrecito Red-tailed Hawk is trying to ditch a kingbird who is flying just above it and delivering pecking blows to the bigger bird’s back, a pair of Great Horned Owls calls back and forth, mosquitoes bite my ears and forehead, a couple of nighthawks are scooping up bugs overhead.
Two nighthawks and a bat sip at the water, and then comes an early night.
Time to turn off the all-night irrigation … Moon is lowering, full, in a sky of blue milk glass it is set in a white corona in the mists, red dawn opposite, my ears within a corona of solid bird song–chats, vireos, finches, doves, that single Yellow-headed Blackbird. There is also the music of mosquitoes, who want my blood …
Butterfly numbers and variety are increasing in their slow way this season, but it still seems they’ve been decimated by that most bitter of cold spells last winter or by the drought of the last year, or both. A Checkerspot is here or there, or a Metalmark here or there–someday I’ll apply my mind to studying the tricky differences among the species but then by the time such leisure comes my way there’ll be no mind left to apply to anything much. Hairstreaks … Blues … Azures … Tailed-blues … doubtless I’m seeing a few of all of these, maybe a single specimen of a species in a whole springtime, or masses of one or two others teasing the eye like a box of ping-pong balls upended and bouncing crazily all over the place so that the eye can alight on no detail. They’re all silvery to blue, or blue to silvery, some with copper sheen, some with exquisite, complex tails so tiny they can hardly be seen. A species that in goodly numbers rises in eddies and swirls from the mud of The Stockpond’s edge is finely striped below (but no tails), and has a pair of round eyes on the edge of each hindwing. One is being tame enough that it doesn’t take flight and allows a very close approach … isn’t that nice of it? As I enjoy this rare chance to see these beautiful markings, it sinks in on me that something is sunk in on the butterfly: stabbed into its tiny abdomen are the fangs of a black spider who apparently hangs out here where the buffet will come to it.
A “small” Mexican Tarantula Hawk, bright cobalt, shining, as gloriously beautiful as it is baleful, zooms past us over the water, the first blue Pepsis of the summer. Tarantulas do come to these banks, but this wasp was probably looking more for a drink than for a spider buffet it could leave for its offspring. So many insect and arachnid chisels and straws and harpoons! The first mosquito of the year shoves hers into my earlobe.
From all the branches along The Lane, from the lone and handsome large mesquite in #1 Pasture, from the bosque, from the River bank, from the mesquites growing scattered in the old alley running down to The River, come to my ears nestlings cheeping and peeping, some softly, some wildly and demandingly, and the frantic coming and going of tireless parent birds catches my eye. Flycatchers and warblers, kingbirds–the close approach of an ever-hopeful raven doesn’t amuse the kingbirds, and I more than once see a huge black silhouette flying off grouchily with Daddy Kingbird in hot “basta ya!” pursuit, trying to bean ol’ Raven on the head with a sharp bill … who is to decide which most deserves to be nourished, which will be nourishment? […]