Young jackrabbits near tame, one of them has red-tinted legs and a red cape of fur over the shoulders.
More Spotted Sandpiper, today’s visitor still in beautiful breeding plumage. Undeniably then, shorebirds are moving south already and Western Tanagers, too, must be newly down from the neighboring high mountain forests and themselves are following the call to Mexico and Central America. The first of those “Autumn” (it’s not even August yet!) birds picks at hackberry fruit in the magnificent old tree at The Stockpond.
Spotted Sandpiper still in smart breeding plumage pokes and teeters around the marsh-edge of The Stockpond. And so it is here: Summer is already winding down like a party whose hosts you notice with sudden regret are giving hints are getting tired. Summer lets go sweetly here and we will have it for a good long time yet, Summer is kindly but it does know that there is also woven within her height the end of her glory.
The Ducklings have been gone about a week now …
The new day brings an utterly different world: 25 degrees on the ridges, and in the valley below sparkling chips of frost fall from mesquite tips. The bermudagrass pasture stretching out from the window of the Cowboy Caravan all the way to the huge saguaros on the far hill are white, icy, the Rincon above us dusted with snow. Yet the air warms enough even in the El Potrero bottomland for Sulphur Butterflies to come to life, and an azure grasshopper.
Still-green and fresh leaves of the big Hackberries at The Stockpond start falling off their twigs by mid-morning–they never had a chance to turn color before the coming on of a night that was surely in the teens. On the water swim a brace of fine Mallards, their wariness telling they are true wildlings. A Wilson’s Snipe is there, too, and a large sandpiper with a long bill, also extremely wary: a Long-billed Dowitcher. It takes off with a pained, “Pitty peet peet!”, showing a white slash of rump as it vanishes across the fields.
The birds at The Stockpond decrease when come the two or three day rains, because they can find water everywhere for a few days. I have the news from Ralph W. that the beaver dam on the San Pedro at 3-Links was blown out in the floods, the pond that was behind silted in, gone, and that fact has likely had the effect of more birds and other wildlife coming to us now that the other “natural” pool is lost. It will take a few days of drying out and running water to die off for avian numbers to go up again, so still today there isn’t much to be seen but a butt-bobbing Solitary Sandpiper (acting like a Spotted) in the mud, an immature Vermillion Flycatcher and a young Western Kingbird that is a perfect small version of a cleanly plumaged adult.
As this first day of calendar Autumn winds down, I move the wheel line all the way across #1 Pasture towards the south, to have it in place when the next irrigation cycle comes as the ground dries and no more storms sweep up from Mexico. As that wheel line blunders along, it pushes before it a storm not of rain but of wings and chitin: swarms of different grasshoppers that catch a lowering sun that makes them glow white and incandescent, with larger Red-winged Grasshoppers that are incandescent pink-orange swirling through.
The evening Stockpond is lonely, quiet–no martins, no nighthawks. None of the latter have been seen for a few weeks now and I’ll conclude that they’re well gone and indeed, they will not to be seen again here until Winter is also well gone.
A second Swainson’s Hawk has this evening joined the one I see most every morning in the same mesquite on the Cascabel Road, at our northmost, unirrigated #4 Pasture.
An odd bobbing and fluttering of a bird, like that of a Spotted Sandpiper and on the bank where one of those might be expected, caught my eye at The Stockpond but no, it is not a sandpiper. It’s a Northern Waterthrush! Immediately after, there arrived another Solitary Sandpiper in butterfly flight, pretty tail spread.
I’m joined at lunch at The Stockpond by a single Barn Swallow come to dip its bill in the water, and I realize that I’ve hardly seen one of them here since May. Not that they aren’t present nearby–indeed they nest abundantly (and some say, make themselves a nuisance) in patio eaves and barns all around us. With so much water flowing in The River, it’s there out of my sight where they’ve probably spent the summer coming to drink. The Waterthrush that arrived this morning is jumpy, flies off into the bosque whenever I move, but the hunger of the trip it must have been on to get here overcomes its fears. Dragonflies docked in pairs are dropping eggs just off the muddy edges, and a young Great Blue Heron comes to spend the afternoon.
“No, it’s Fall!” says the stiff flitting of a Loggerhead Shrike I welcome back to hunt our thorny scrub and barbed wire fences of the Cascabel Road; they left here a good six months ago, though I think they likely only get up higher in the Sky Island mountains of all our horizons. “No, it’s Fall!” tells the Solitary Sandpiper that arrives at The Stockpond muddy shore, the last of these birds having been here four months ago for an overnight going north between tropical America and British Columbia or the Yukon.
Coralitos (Rivina humilis) are plumping out the berries that will soon be red and showy in the bosque of The Lane, and they’re still in pretty white and pinkish bloom. Gardeners are reduced to having to buy these plants, in order to enjoy such beauty.
Song Sparrows have returned to the muddy edges of The Stockpond for the first time in at least a couple months, though I know they hadn’t left Mason Pastures. I scare up some unidentified sandpiper, which flies off rapidly without giving me a chance to put the glasses on it–probably a Spotted Sandpiper from the voice (“Pweeeeep! Pweeeep!”) but there are many others that are already visiting agricultural ponds in Arizona in their transit south.
Lesser Goldfinches are on the wheel line irrigators, sipping water that dribbles from seams and nozzles.
High columns of flying ants on the move pick up the morning sun that gives the see-through assemblage a bronze glow. The River is loud! A Spotted Sandpiper is at The Stockpond, only a few weeks after the last one was seen, but now such a visit would be more expected as the birds start to move perhaps all the way to the Southern Hemisphere. It takes a long time to get to Chile, might as well leave now. Summer is hardly about to end, but the days trickle from her, neither is Autumn about to begin, but her whisper is there. If one tramps these pastures and the grasslands over years, feels the sun and comes tuned to the subtly changing angle of its light, there comes a day of a sixth sense that brings one of those whispers: “And the Red-winged Grasshoppers? They’re about to be here …” I look down only moments after having this thought, see on a bare patch of dirt a set of scarlet and black wings that can only have belonged to one, its body already cut up by ants and carried away by them.
A magnificent sky for the whole morning, clouds towering into blue, thunder far off and harmless now but giving fair warning. By noon is a fearful storm, by sunset the clouds drift apart, and openings show sky again. I get home to Ridge House and find the great cliffs of the Galiuro Wilderness shining alabaster in sun, against the dark storm beyond them in this landscape that can only be called gigantic, one in which man’s size still shows true: small.
The stars are dim through the clouds, vanishing for moments in violent lightning, martins are up there flying in their usual places before dawn, calling to each other and earth, their voices vanishing for moments in overwhelming thunder. Spadefoot Toads are stirred by the rumble, and continue sending their melody up from the far bottomlands. The River itself sings all the way to El Potrero.
Summer Tanagers are still singing their full repertoire at the Mason Pastures, where a Spotted Sandpiper pays a rare summer visit for a day at The Stockpond. The sandpiper is still in breeding plumage, spots and all–a wanderer from the confluence of the Gila River and the Bonita, where it is thought to breed sparingly?
This soft, warm dawn invited the toloache to open its huge white trumpets on the road edge outside the main gate of Mason’s, their perfume drifts out visions of Georgia O’Keefe and other shamans who came before her, of O’Keefe’s revelations to us of a new worldview, of new worldviews revealed to Native Americans through ceremony using the plant, the glowing petals speak too of rites of passage and the passage of spring into summer. I must take all the pleasure I can from the sight of this spectacular plant now, for soon enough the road grader will come along and knife off all the gravel edges and then some, all the way up to our fence, Cochise County having proven the way it has that it will not suffer wildflowers to brighten this road any longer.
Once inside the gates and down to The Stockpond, I find another Spotted Sandpiper is there teetering through the mud, probably for the day. It should be about the last one that passes north. Through the increasing heat (just under 100 degrees again) the first Purple Martins that will fly low enough to skim the pond surface with open bill come along. There are only a few, but soon there will be large numbers of them dropping in for a drink before they return home to their saguaro mansions in which they nest up on the hills and low mountains. The birds must come from a good distance out on the desert; there aren’t very many large saguaros right around here.
After I move each of the wheel lines sixty feet to the north for their next set of waterings early tomorrow, a Swainson’s Hawk lands at the edge of the large puddle left out in the open where the irrigator tractor had been. Only 125 feet away from me the handsome bird of prey drinks at leisure, and acts like he’s not the least bit afraid of me. I come back a while later and find the hawk gone, but other raptors are there aplenty: Turkey Vultures. The ones who have already drunk their fill are standing around on the grass, or are perched on the pipe axles, and at the tractor itself one is sitting in the center atop the engine hood and each of the four wheels are topped off by a single big bird, some staring out at the countryside, some with wings spread in what The Turkey Vulture Society calls “horaltic pose”. (Imagine, a Turkey Vulture society!) The wheel line tractor fitted up as it was with black-feathered vultures looked appropriately like a Victorian hearse …