Tag Archives: Owls

January 17, 2014

Hiroshige Moon-set
on opposite horizon,
in dawn-pink sky
against bare cottonwoods,
and walnut,
above penumbral shadow
dark blue.

Just within the fence on Cascabel Road I finally have to stop digging out an old T-post and go search out whatever critter is calling from the canyon and mesa to the east a long descending trill and chatter. I presume it’s a bird I’m unfamiliar with, who knows, something newly arrived from Mexico and, ahem, undocumented, now the climate of Sonora heads north inexorably. A wren? I have no idea what the Sinaloa Wren–a species new for the United States found the more frequently not much south of here–could sound like, and this voice certainly has a wren motif, or should that be a wriff? After scrambling through two sets of fences and into the rough hillside of Catclaw and Saguaros, I arrive near the source of the odd notes as best I can figure just when the hoot of a midday owl silences whatever it is, and I don’t hear it again. I ought to resist the drive to find out every last fact about this place.

Gray Flycatcher, pumping its tail …

A White Tiger Moth comes over, slowly, passes on by. Twenty Javelina bring their babies to the cool and green winter #2 Pasture, and tuck into the vast salad bar.

The balmy air of late afternoon is full of bugs dancing, on what elfin mission? They move in the orderly bounces of a pinball, or zigzag back and forth and back and forth … Phoebes chitter on the posts, then dive and sail into the shimmering horde, the birds’ moves telling me they can outwit and out maneuver any of these insects that know so well how to evade me.

The day’s become so warm that it’s a pleasure to go back to work on the fence in the shade of the old and giant mesquite trees, where I’m somewhat camouflaged. I hope to hear the mystery trilling song again, from those slopes rising steeply on the other side of the road. While I dismantle the fence that Mycha the cow makes shortcake out of when she wants to get mesquite beans on the outside, there comes a huge Accipiter swirling and diving into the road but apparently missing its target. Gambel’s Quail in the sunset light behind me scatter, and purl excitedly as they flee the raptor even though they’re a thousand feet away from us. The hawk is big and brown, with the bright slash of a white eyebrow over the most intense of gazes, lands on an electric pole almost overhead of me: a Goshawk! Is it what had taken down the Cooper’s Hawk whose feathered remains were on the pasture a month ago?

November 1, 2013

Morning.  Crystalline.  Cloudless.  Blue.  The mercury has dropped through the floor of the 30s, to my fascinated horror it is trying to arrow on down right through all the 20s without a stop, and into the teens but stays just shy of that in the early sunrise hour.  The pastures are scattered with ice and I’m glad that their big irrigation hoses were emptied last night.  The wide swaths of Barnyard Grass I cross are still green but frost edges each blade–it is all so sun-dazzling that were it to take any more time getting to the other side of the pasture I’d come out from it snow blind.

The scenes change before my eyes, the visions of the pastures quiver as I watch ice begin to drip and hoarfrost vanish and the edges of all things dissolve.  Quickly strengthening Sun like an orchestra leader raises his baton, and the mercury responds: the First of November, the first day of the Sonoran Second Spring, whose arrival is told by the European Foxtail Grass and the annual rye volunteered by last year’s plantings, now re-sprouting suddenly and massively over half of #2 Pasture.  The grass returning to the wide pradera is already an inch tall … when did that happen?!  I didn’t notice it yesterday!

By noon a drowsy warmth is coming on, but rounds of chores are such that I don’t get to eat lunch for a good while; a Great Horned Owl calls in the hot 2 o’clock hour when I get to settle back into a steep bank of The Stockpond and open the lunch mochila.  It is almost 80 degrees; it is almost 60 degrees above the temperature at dawn.   All the water is a startling algal bloom color of antifreeze, and the heat has brought awake from their morning’s frozen stupor many insects to come to drink from it: Tarantula Hawks, dragonflies varied and beautiful, a Painted Lady butterfly.  What will it take to put them finally into dormancy, or death?

I doze off with head tilted back comfortably into a hollow in the level top of the dusty pond bank, winter Stetson lowered over my face to the nose.  Nothing matches the pleasure of such a nap mid-work in so peaceful a haven, nothing so good at restoring ambition!  Something wakes me, maybe my own snoring … and in the moment before I open my eyes I hear a huffing and growling even deeper than my snore, close by, and getting closer.  I lift the hat and stretch my head backwards for a nervous look, without turning over, and see a world of upside-down mesquite trees on blue sky, and the long face and little eyes of an upside-down champion-size Javelina coming at me all a-bristle, grunting, angry and meaning business, about ten feet away.  “WaaaaaahhhHHHHH!”, I belt out my own growl, flip sideways and let out another, but the single-minded critter’s brain seems to have shut down and it comes forward even more aggressively.  In another try at returning the animal’s belligerence in hopes of scaring it off ( <*<yawn>*> … how tedious to have lost my nap …) I stretch up standing as tall as I can, curve high my arms and open wide my hands while screeching like the mythical Onza and take a step towards the Javelina, but on comes the bedeviled thing that wants back this waterhole for its troupe.  I wonder if those animals drew lots to see who’d go do this–they sure picked the right one.  I back up a couple steps, do the bear impersonation again, the Javelina bristles up even more and quickens its step forward.  One more try at this bluff and I’ve backed into the edge of the pond, and the realization sets in with a sickening mental squall that there’s no choice but to run into the water–backwards–so I could keep steady eye on the situation, or at least try to.  Onward the unhappy thing comes, right to the edge of the water as I keep stumbling in reverse but now splashing and kicking up swirls of the blackest goo, blind to what is behind me, and I guess I’m going to have to skip out backwards into the middle of that mud and water I have never wanted to touch.  Just when Cousin Javelina starts to come on in after me, I hit a trip wire: barbed strands that stretch the tall pond-filling riser to the air pocket releasing sniffer a little ways down the water main that’s buried in the mud.  And … over … I … go, still screeching out, sideways and down and fall flat into water that must be a soup of intestinal parasites and who knows what else in the deep bottom of an age’s accumulation of black and syrupy cattle manure.  Oh the smell that welled into the air … the wild splashing to find the footing to get back up standing … the wave of black muck that covered me with an odor that makes me retch–NOW the Javelina decides this creature it’s decided to attack might better have been avoided, and after a quick panicked snort of “Why, just look at the time!”, it trots off fast and huffing, to the extended family on the other side of the grove of mesquites, and they’re gone.  The irrigation is running, and I realize I can turn the handle on that pond riser hydrant to get such a blast of water that I’m peeled of the mud covering boots, Wranglers, shirt, and what little skin that’s ever exposed anyway to the Sonoran Desert sun.  Though I’m clean in not much more than an instant with the convenient power washing, a certain miasmic smell lingers, as does an ear-pounding, worked-up tension that will take its time to fade off.  It’s not the first such event, and won’t be the last, I think to myself, and I also think to myself that the reason cowboys wore a side arm was to drop or scare off the Adventure of the Day–keep his skin, keep his life going long enough for the next horse to try to drag him across the rocks and cactus and that he must stop literally dead in its track if he is to live, or until the next skunk or bobcat wants to tear him up and get those clever rabies bugs into him, or stop a Mojave Rattler who has experienced a loss of composure and comes zinging after him.

More bugs, beetles, and spiders fill the air and creep in the grassland in the strong afternoon sun–around The Cienega, blue or green or deep copper dragonflies and one small one that’s pale bronze and very shiny, and blue damselflies … a gigantic katydid … a pale brown, very small jumping spider.  No matter the November date some of these are ones I haven’t seen heretofore, and that I suspect are just now starting their flickering candle quickly extinguished life on the planet.  Among the new ones in the bermudagrass are a few brilliantly colored, small beetles in shape like a blister beetle, green, with three pairs of black polka dots showing down the length of the “back” when the insects are at rest.  Afraid they are indeed blister beetles, I dare not harry them; I name them “Polka Dot Beetles”.

I am distracted by a Vermillion Flycatcher still hanging on in the valley, and almost step square onto the back of a Striped Skunk who–I am so thankful!–merely ambles off grumbling about its klutzy human neighbor.  I’ve lost count of the number of similar encounters I’ve had with skunks in the pastures on both sides of The River over the years, all of them without having come to an unhappy end.  Luck? or do skunks have a mostly undeserved bad rap, at least if they’re not rabid?

October 21, 2013

Sky is music itself–“Chick chack chick! Chick chack chick! Chick chack chick!”, down from the passing Brewer’s Blackbirds … “Sweet sweet sweet sweet”, from the Pipits … “Chick chack chick!” … “Sweet sweet!”

The largest Tarantula Hawk ever comes thirsty to The Stockpond, where there are lots of dragonflies, damselflies and Snout Butterflies today. A relaxed covey of Gambel’s Quail drink, too, and then from the bank behind them most unwelcomingly comes popping up a Cooper’s Hawk, bringing chaos to replace the innocent peace and I can almost hear the hawk let loose a rakish “Bleuh!” just before it snags one of the quail, as if in vampire cape of approaching Halloween.

An owl hoots, in the warm 75 degrees of last light. Poorwill is friendly, not at all put out by the truck in The Lane, bounces its head up and down then rises and with fine acrobatics catches a moth bright in the headlights. We whistle and chirp, one with the other for a while until I wish it a good night’s day, then make a last stop before utter dark at The Stockpond where swallow-like bats are right at its surface taking drinks and moving across like rocks being skipped. As they fly by in zig-zag fashion they seem to flash on and off; they’re very pale, and there are very many of them.

October 1, 2013

Crescent Moon, topaz chalice, hovering above the peaks that crest the Muleshoe country, all else is stars and constellations. Not a sound of bird, but the night is rich with chirps and singing of insects. Martins overhead are gone, flycatchers on the mesas are gone, Chats in the bosque below are gone, there are no calls of Sonoran Desert Toads, nor Spadefoots, nor Red-spotted Toads from the far flats. For crickets, though, it is their time, and they will only get louder as the months of the year wind down–all their predators having gone to Mexico or dug towards Hades. When light finally suffuses the sky towards the East where Dipper rises and sparkles, two Great Horned Owls hoot a duet. Cold air flows right through the house, to be captured by closing doors and windows early as a hedge against the still 90-degrees-hot and sweaty days.

It’s a madhouse of birds newly arrived and soon to depart (though I wonder when) at The Stockpond: Bell’s Vireos, Blue Grosbeaks, the first White-crowned Sparrows, the first Yellow-rumped Warblers–the comforting and at-home burrs and buzzes of those Vireos, though, will be the last that I’ll hear for today they vanish. Several Wilson’s Snipe take off with a much bothered, “Shrekk! Shrekk!”, circle, land again, crouch, freeze, tilt their back end at a 45 degree angle with bill pointed a slant the other direction to touch the mud. The ephemeral dirt tank sounds like a bird aisle in a pet store, with the chattering and whistles of many Lark Sparrows, Pyrrhuloxia, and the Brewer’s Sparrows that today arrive at the Mason Pastures. Gad, one of those Fall warblers, the ones to be identified in part by process of elimination … green above, yellow throat, yellow under tail coverts, grayish crown; I think I can take it for a female Nashville Warbler. A Rock Wren calls out a chittling note from the hillside scree on the other side of Cascabel Road. Cassin’s and Western Kingbirds, still aplenty on the fences and wires and poles, still entertaining with their boldness, their colors, their lusty joy of flight.

Those little frogs of Summer never grew up into Bullfrogs (it appears we are Bullfrog free, who knows how, or for sure?) and they’re still very active–I can never get “the jump” on them and have a good look. Not that frogs are so easy to tell apart, even if they’re in the hand. No chance of that happening, what with how they leap in panic from along The Stockpond edge even at my distant approach, scream an “EEEeeeep!”, splash and are gone. Today, though, while I watch dragonflies and stand completely still, one of the frogs rises submarine-like to the surface at my feet; I don’t dare blink, though it does, one eye looking up at me, then the other. It has a knobby face, with a beautifully bright green jaw, the top of the head green but duller, and it’s spotted on every limb going out onto the toes. Could these be Chiricahua Leopard Frogs, known to be making their last stand along The Border in about the only habitats left that are dependably wet year round, ranch ponds and cattle drinkers? I grow tired being motionless, move ever so slightly, and it submerges and is gone so quickly that it is as if it had never appeared to begin with though little swirls of mud show something had indeed been there.

A dear mamma cow, Brindle, looks a little odd, isn’t walking with the right rhythm, and while I try to divine if she has a problem or it’s my imagination, an immature Cooper’s Hawk hunts past us. Tom and I look over this herd later on, and find Brindle’s entire left side collapsed and enlarged; neither one of us have seen anything like it, and fear she will be carried off by it. Vultures have lately become thin on the air, not many around still to clean up a carcass, but one suddenly comes into view high over the cow and the humans now alarmed by her appearance. Everyone instantly has the same thought, endemic in this far country under the Mae West Peaks: “She’d better do it now before the Vultures leave.”–Kathleen. “Good thing the vultures haven’t left!”–Pat.

The last sun rays on The Stockpond light brightly, stunningly, the stripes on the head of a single Snipe, who probes the mud with its marvelously long bill, all the way up to its eyeballs!

September 3, 2013

A lemon slice Moon, shining through clear, cool air that’s richly moist and that, yes, tastes of Autumn. Poorwill, Owl, Coyote sing their Sonoran bolero.

Six Teal fly up from The Stockpond, I’d better make more careful approach from now on: another of the little hints of Fall being on the way. The ducks circle and circle, but do land again and stay nervous while I’m there. How to tell which these are, Blue-winged or Cinnamon? The head of one is reddish, and I think I can safely call that one, at least, a Cinnamon, but the others …?

It’s still Summer, the Monsoon tells with a drenching storm in the afternoon.

September 1, 2013

Before the first sun lights silver the granite crowns of the Rincon, those broad peaks hover high in cool purple, across the fresh dawn air filling that vast gulf between the truck and them, as I chug and slide down the ridge to the arroyo bottom. The Great Cliffs on the River that frame my workaday world by the time I get to the Pastures are so dazzling in their alabaster that I must squint if I look over that way before the sun has got high enough to put shadows on them. Early September only hints Fall here, but whispers there are, of a change from the comfortable lullaby of Summer on The River. Towards noon the air is 100 degrees–and then on a Mallow as I make the rounds I see some species of caterpillar that looks like a Wooly Bear, mostly orange, but with a long black stripe running its length. Surely this is some kind of Tiger Moth and maybe special to Southeast Arizona, but on seeing it I am standing again outside grade school of fifty years ago in Pennsylvania, full of regret over the loss of vacation freedom but taking solace in that bit of wild that was a Wooly Bear crawling over my shoe. (I remember too another little boy who had noticed the delighted attention I was fixing on the caterpillar, and who raised the toe of his shoe and brought it down in a way he knew would display to me with stabbing effect the squishing out of bug guts to either side–he hoped to keep the world safe from the scourge of future masculine sensitivity that he must’ve divined was on the increase.) This Wooly Bear today is awfully hairy, no way would I think of touching it.

At workday’s end (does a work day end?) I finish those rounds turning off water, come to the darkling Stockpond, from the unending work take solace in the myriad bats and the many Nighthawks coming to drink. I scare up a sunset Great Horned Owl at the Green Gate as I leave, and further on see another in silhouette in a mesquite on The Lane. Poorwills flutter up, and call in the warmth of dusk.


August 29, 2013

A little before sunrise at The Stocktank, the first Teal take wing. I’ve been lulled so long into endless San Pedro summer I didn’t expect the return of waterfowl so soon (it’s later than I think), and did not approach the water carefully enough to be able to see which species of these famously jumpy duck they were. Too large for Green-winged, they’re either Cinnamons or Blue-winged. A set of owls is gossipping still, probably saying about the human with no stalking skill, “Now there’s a lubber!” A lone Summer Tanager calls out its pik-tuk-tukk, but doesn’t sing. Was that a Wilson’s Warbler already? Something yellow, small, bright.

Masses of swallows are over the pastures, probably on that ethereal path heading south. A large flock of large blackbirds shoots past on high, too high to figure out what they are but I’m guessing they’re the first Brewer’s returning or passing, could be going to winter anywhere from here to Tehuantepec, truly a “North American” species. So many of the birds of this place are restive … coming, passing, or thinking of leaving. Overhead are silhouettes of many I’m certain are on the move, with bills pointing south.

The Sonoran Desert Toads smug in the knowledge of how they’ve arrived uptown there in the much-watered native grass seedling field have grown to silver dollar size.

August 11, 2013

A return walk to that blown out irrigation main in #4 Pasture to see if it’s holding pressure gives an impression that all the world is being devoured by those White-lined Sphinx worms. There are at least four or five to the square foot of Boerhavia that they are quickly decimating, but they leave alone the related Annual Windmills (Allionia choisyi) that are growing among them and showing their pretty, tiny lavendar-pink blooms on widely sprawling plants. The worms are fabulously beautiful: lime and yellow, with black stripes and red bars. I imagine them in their not millions, but probably billions, this year when every flat is massed with their host plants from here up to the canyonlands and over to the far-off Pecos. If any Elf Owls waited out the dry spring with its lack of flowers and thus lack of insects for them, they will be feasting on hornworms this year no doubt. (I once had a pair come down to visit a number of evenings in a row years ago, when one of them brought its own dinner, a huge Tomato Hornworm that it held in one foot while it balanced on the branch with the other. I watched the last of the sunset while only a few feet away from me the little toy owl bit off the head of the hornworm and working from the bottom up squeezed out the liquid green contents and slurped them–a sort of slimesicle–while I toasted the sweet little creature on its hunting prowess, raised my glass of wine to it with a “Bon appetit, frere!”) Also no doubt, there will be a bumper crop of hornworms of various species and the Screech Owls will be seen aplenty around the spotlights on garages and house walls, flying out of the dark of a sudden to snatch a large hawkmoth adult and vanishing back out of sight where it will munch away leisurely on a branch.

One of the few butterflies that are common this year, the Orange Sulphur, flits over all the pastures, sipping at almost any kind of flower they can find open. Grasshopper numbers are still growing, and don’t seem about to decline. In fact I wonder if this year they aren’t going at some point to reach a critical mass and then mow off all the bermuda we have spent our time and our wealth growing. At least for now, there appears to be not a single leaf chewed off, and I wonder what they’re doing. They’re certainly leaving behind a real mass of grasshopper excrement, which must be as good a fertilizer as any cricket poop that is a product of growing popularity among the organic set lately … […]

The mesquites are hung (already!) with whitening beans, they look as pretty as any cultivated flowering tree, as tinselled as any fir at Christmas. On one of these, bright Lark Sparrows perch on each branch tip to complete the look, as if someone had attached to the mesquitebaum the finest of Austrian ornaments, ones that wind themselves up and sing. The second week of August, our Sonoran Summer, perfected. All that has come before from those first days when the mercury shot over a line into the 90s, the wicked Foresummer, the first wild storm and haboob wall of dust, the first flood of The River, have built to this. A pleasant, 96 degrees late afternoon, the Saguaros on the hilltop are stark against giant white Monsoon clouds, the clouds themselves hard against an impossibly blue sky. All things looked at, in every direction, are as if viewed through a stereoscope. The White-winged Doves do yet call and coo, as if spring has not gone to high summer of Los Temporales. Their notes wonderfully blend with far away thunder.

July 25, 2013

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.

Mosquitoes. Mosquitoes.

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.

July 24, 2013

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.