Tag Archives: Warblers

September 12, 2013

Poorwill calls his “4:00 am, all’s still well,” and I turn on the coffee.

Young, greenish Summer Tanagers are wheezing in the mesquites at The Stockpond, hoping parents are still willing to give them their hand-outs. It’s been a good long time since any hummers have come there to drink, though there are still a number of them to be seen around the valley.

Seems to be a lull in grasshopper population and activity in general, except for the gigantic Lubbers, which have arrived at Mason Pastures and put on more and more of a show with those pink underwings of theirs flashing in their high, arching flight. Only Queen Butterflies, still no Monarchs–and as it would turn out, no Monarchs that I would ever see will cross these pastures the whole year.

Verdolagas are in bloom, these with extra large yellow flowers, mix beautifully with the magenta of a tiny flowered Four-o’-clock creeping among them. There are almost no toads out and about on the pastures by now, but what’s there have grown larger still and jump into wider-mouthed burrows when my passing shadow alarms them.

Time to see what autumnal winged insects are gathering in #3 Pasture, in its upper end where there are so many native plants and wildflowers and its Burroweed quarter is coming into its first flowering. A fully-plumaged Blue Grosbeak shimmers from the tip of a mesquite on the edge of the Dirt Tank, sings out as if it were the height of Summer. In past years the butterflies have made a real show here, but today they’re sparse (and it will turn out that they’ll remain sparse the rest of the season–there was a real decline in butterflies on The River for the whole year, to my eye.) A few Sulphurs and a Checkerspot come around the tiny, petal-less Burroweed flowers, and there are a number of Queens, one of which is an extra rich dark orange. I watch another Queen that’s not far away and through the binoculars I can make out the smallest and prettiest details, but … as I watch, it suddenly slumps over backwards, folds its wings together, drops from a blossom to the ground. I run the few feet to it, in time to see it give a couple twitches–and then it dies. No predator brought eternity to this little spark of life, I watched that happen of a moment its own. I’d never seen the likes of so Ecclesiastes an event … turn … turn … turn.

Although Burroweed can bring real problems to cattle if a rancher is careless in management, I also don’t want to see this flat of them in #3 Pasture eradicated: it’s a generous pollen and nectar bank that could be an ace in the hole for many Sonoran Desert insects each one of which is seemingly more jewel-like than those on the last bush I pass. The commonest by far is a Blister Beetle (the critter, a Pyrota sp., I dare not touch!), ochre and shining gold, with black spots at the tips of the wing covers, and other black spots on the upper back. It’s one of a number of these justly feared insects we have here, all of them beautiful and interesting (in that way that Poison Dart Frogs are beautiful and interesting), in their various genera and species found from Moosejaw to Mexico.

Mesquite, however, is something I do want to see eliminated there, but it is besting us again on that pasture, and looks like it will win the battle it has with us for land for expanding its forest–land we want for a grass community instead. At least I can get some satisfaction from pulling out a few Cocklebur, and, with exasperation after all our invasive weed eradication work I find about a dozen scattered Bull Thistle that are a foot or less tall, and one of about 18 inches. Those future problems, at least, get literally “nipped in the bud”. Camphorweed is in beautiful bright yellow bloom, and a few are already in seed. A passing Swainson’s Hawk is high high high, drifts off to hang in the sun on the horizon.

At the east end of this pasture the most beautiful wild Buckwheat (Eriogonum) I’ve ever seen has come into bloom, adding yet one more species to the growing list of native forbs that are coming into that area on their own. It holds shell-pink flowers in mounds over blue-gray foliage, each petal striped down its center with a deeper pink color. Livestock duties allow enough time to stop and admire, make a note or two, but not enough to key it out to species even if I had the manual to do so, not enough time to make a specimen for the herbarium, thus its identity will remain an enjoyable mystery, and that allows the experience of it and familiarity with it remain with a directness and immediacy that is a gift for those working directly on The Land. We know these beings mobile and immobile, despite not knowing how they’re named, or by whom.

As I leave, I go over to the ephemeral Dirt Tank in the corner of the next pasture to the south, and find the shore jumping with Yellow Warblers–the last of this species this year, heading south I guess. “See you next Spring … if we’re spared.” A single, half-toned Common Yellowthroat is also jumping through the drowned mesquite saplings, a Gila Woodpecker flies through, and an Empidonax with two broad buffy wingbars perches on those bare dead branches: the famous (or infamous?) Willow Flycatcher. Since they are untellable one from the other in the field, and especially at migration, no way can I say whether the bird is our summer resident “Southwestern Willow Flycatcher”, or one of the migrants coming through from the north where the species itself is considered merely uncommon rather than endangered. The tank remains filled with water, thanks to the continuing generosity of this year’s Monsoon, enough to where I’m thinking of this pond less and less as “ephemeral”.

The day ends as it almost always does, with a swing around the “real” Stockpond, the one I keep constantly water-filled down near The Green Gate. Female Lazuli Buntings are there on its shore, their blue tails making them stand out from the other brown finchy birds. Lesser Goldfinches are pecking off and eating bits of salt from the cattle mineral block!

September 6, 2013

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.

August 30, 2013

Another three-quarters inch of rain. Every tenth of an inch is recorded, celebrated.

A Gray Hawk glides through the bosque branches, not far above the ground. These birds will only be with us a few more weeks. A gray Diamondback is coiled in one of the truck tracks in #2 Pasture, I almost trample it as I move along in my sunrise bliss but the cascabel appears to be in a cold torpor. Well, the temperature is only 71 degrees. I’m only gone a few minutes to attend to an irrigation hydrant, but already the rattlesnake isn’t there when I return through. There are lots of them in this northern end of that pasture, and we’re also seeing lots of small (two feet long) ones crossing Cascabel Road. … an oriole family group is still acting very clannish in the trees of the alley between this and the pasture to the north, Vermillion Flycatchers seem as bright as they did in the spring when they arrived, many kingbirds are hanging out together and trying every new air-borne trick of the wing they see or that occurs to them.

A for-sure–and handsome–Wilson’s Warbler comes to The Stockpond, I suppose that was indeed what had been there yesterday. I am not going to let go of summer with much grace, but the appearance of this favorite bird is solace.

Poorwills calling at sunset tuck the day into bed.

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 24, 2013

Dawn raindrops are falling on The Stockpond, 68 degrees feels cool, Killdeer call out mournfully from the native grass planting beyond the pond fence and the circle of mesquite trees is full of the music of young Yellow Warblers trying out their repertoire. The pasture itself is dark still, the sun not having got high enough above the ridge to shine down onto the grass, but the cottonwoods in their line along The River are dazzling and quivering in those first rays that also make the cliffs glow startlingly white, while all this brightly lit landscape is backdropped by the black sky of a very promising temporal.

Chris E. and James C. in their digging the endlessly thorny mesquititos from the bermudagrass in #1 Pasture come upon one of the showiest lepidoptera larvae any of us have seen, apparently feeding on mesquite leaves. It is green (of course) and looks to be some extreme hornworm with not just the one horn on its posterior but also with horns in clusters and singly along its length but especially on the head. It is like something from “Where the Wild Things Are” … the hornworm horn, not quite at the end of the critter, is curved, purple with a yellow tip … a bunch of such horns on the head … and most amazingly, rows of glittering silver-foil decorations all down its sides, as if inset by a Navajo jeweller. We suspect this is the larva of some moth, and can only wonder over what the adult could look like, and suspect that it will be just as magnificent a creature as its younger self had been.

Rain is never assured no matter how dark and promising the sky (we almost never use the word “threatening”, not out loud anyway, afraid as we are of offending the powers that bring us this life), and though it may come down hard in a real chubasco later today or tonight, that is not assured and the pastures are irrigated anyway. If the promise of those clouds does hold true, waterings after this will be decreased proportionate to the amount of rain that falls by the end of the rain wetting. Kingbirds, mostly Westerns, are having their mad fun on all the barbed wire fences, and Rough-winged Swallows in a flock are low over the pasture. Under the swallows I push through the waist-deep Barnyard Grass, out to a nozzle that’s jammed itself stationary on one of the tall grass inflorescences. The whole pasture is a waving sea of these pale seed heads caught in the sun, just below this glowing blanket is an under-wave of bright green leaves, themselves glittering with the morning rain that has passed. We don’t have to have a Monet on our walls, because we live in one.

I read the sky later, know I must flee if I am not to risk being swept away by a flash flood coming down an arroyo that crosses the gravel road, or just as irritatingly, having to watch a flood’s lapping edges for hours as the calculation is made that it is safe enough to enter and cross and then get home. In the next twenty four hours another wild storm leaves us with almost another inch of moisture. Our offerings must have been found acceptable.

August 15, 2013

The Ides of August, the Ides of Summer for birds and the wildings, but the appearance of those Red-winged Grasshoppers tell that the nagging of winter pasture preparation and seeding and irrigating will soon be more shout than whisper. We’ve got at least as far as confining the Mason Pasture herd to one 350 ft. X 850 ft. swath (about seven acres) of bermudagrass, between two lines of electric fence with an exit to the pond, so cow folk can eat off the crop almost to the ground and make that ready for tilling six weeks or two months from now, clean out around the mesquites that must be pulled or dug out so that the rattlesnakes coiled below them will be more visible.

There are many baby birds cheeping away in the mesquite branches, probably second broods all. I want to spend two or three days right now, though, making a bird list, during these last moments when the summer still feels long and sweet …

Yellow Warbler (singing)

Yellow-breasted Chat (singing)

White-winged Dove

Lesser Goldfinch

Vermillion Flycatcher

Bell’s Vireo

Blue Grosbeak

Purple Martin

Summer Tanager (singing, and call notes)

Mourning Dove

Bewick’s Wren


Abert’s Towhee

Lark Sparrow

Gray Hawk


Red-tailed Hawk

Gambel’s Quail

Crissal Thrasher

Black Phoebe

Western Kingbird

Savannah Sparrow (rare–but not unknown to be arriving now for winter)

The River is running, madly … many large blue dragonflies on The Stockpond, and “Whitetails”, or as I call them, Saddle Shoe Dragonflies. Bugs that like to harass humans are doing that, aplenty, worst of them are the tiny loudly singing gnats that fly into the cavern of an ear opening, get louder and louder but then their whine is suddenly cut off when they ditch into the pool of sweat that’s collected just inside the earlobe’s tinaja. This unpleasantness is made up for when the air is thick with the incomparable sweetness of huisache acacia blooms.

One of the cows, Molly, has had a bull calf and I’m worrying over both of them–the baby doesn’t know how to suckle, or maybe even that it’s supposed to. Mamma’s not looking all that good either, uh oh, a big chore coming on. I think she had it Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. … Save the life of my child/cried the desperate mother

June 10, 2013

I’m buzzed by the summer’s first brown and yellow, large wasp, which I call a “Brown Man”, the Jamaican name for a similar species. They will have to be watched for now every time a covering on the wheel line tractors is lifted: from the ceiling of those covers these wasps love to suspend a nest, and they don’t like it much when the lid is rudely yanked up and banged over on its side when the engine needs to be started. Another smaller, all-yellow wasp lands on an irrigation puddle, and floats on the water’s surface film while taking a drink.

Caribbean Horseweed, as I call it, (Conyza bonariensis, or less flatteringly, Asthmaweed) is coming into bloom; it is not as sought after a graze as is its northern cousin, the Canadian Horseweed (Conyza canadensis) that is also shooting up abundantly but flowers much later atop neck-high stalks. The beautiful deep magenta-maroon tiny carnations of Scarlet Spiderling (Boerhavia coccinea) hover in a mist of the thinnest of stems over bare patches of ground in #3 Pasture. The handsome Malvella (Malvella lepidota), which has the not so handsome common name of Scurfy Mallow, holds hibiscus-like, chaste white cups of flowers on plants sprawling through the low places at the top end of #2 Pasture. It deserves being brought into Arizona gardens, should be in hanging baskets in the Tucson nurseries.

The temperature the narrowest slice off 107 degrees … cowbirds, buntings that for some reason are still here, various flycatchers, warblers, all crowd into the shade of the wheel line wheel rims, sitting out the heat of the day perched on the upper spokes. At The Stockpond, Martins that appear black in the midday glare swing in to skim the green water where it’s open among the drifts of red algae, all this a pattern of colors of jewels and precious stone … jet … peridot … carnelian. Now the female hummers come in numbers to point their bills into that open water, driven so by thirst I guess as to risk the usual male divebombing. Black-throated Sparrows, rarely seen in this spot, also come to the water’s edge, and Cardinals too, and many Yellow Warblers, one of which has a crown and face with a glow of orange.

May 25, 2013

Full Moon is lowering itself towards the crest of the Rincon when I leave in the “dark” and thread the ridge above Pool Wash and slowly lower myself towards the canyon bottom and out on the Cascabel Road. The grand, bare cliffs are all in a glowing mist, a world that in this moonlight is there and is not there. Nighthawks are purring loudly and then softly, and from every knoll and canyon bottom rings out Whit-will-do! Whit-will-do! of Brown-crested Flycatchers … the early bird catches the cicada. On the road drive to the pastures the air is sweet and cool on my face. Owl is going home, Poorwills fly up from the gravel or flicker into my headlights, kangaroo rats bounce and jackrabbits try my patience when they decide that safety lies under turning truck wheels and not in the creosote flats they could peel off to instead.

My chest aches in the cold air, but then again it has done since I got knocked face-down flat to the ground yesterday afternoon by the electric fence when after crawling under and to the other side of it, I lost balance while I was getting to my feet and leaned back enough to lay the wire across the nape of my neck … bang! I long to direct the herd grazing these bottomland pastures from horseback alone, abandon the wires and the batteries and the electricity. The temperature and Moon are dropping, and I get the impossible pleasure of seeing four moonsets in succession, over this ridge or that, or when Moon snuggles himself into one gap in the mountains or other while I myself swing around north and south to drop cowboy gates and open hydrants out on the pastures …


Bright his smile may be, but his night at The Stockpond is far from a silent one. The dark of the mesquite bosque is all sound and singing–Cardinal, Yellow Warbler, Bewick’s Wren, Lucy’s Warbler, chats (lots of chats), tanagers, grosbeaks, Mourning Doves, Bell’s Vireos, kingbirds, House Finches, and a Vermillion Flycatcher that’s dancing mid-air. While singing out, he slowly crosses high over the pond, demanding of the avian world, “Oh, am I a stud, or what? Dig me!!” The fiery red little bird likely had done that through the whole night, dancing in Moon’s follow spot. The pair of Mexican Mallard swim around each other, painting yin-yang symbols with silvery water.

Later in the bright morning sky three Purple Martins, two males and a female, are sewing patterns on the blue, letting out far-carrying notes, twings and plangs in a courtship danse apache among two rivals and their would-be mate. Below in the mesquite edges and the weeds growing ever taller fledgling Lesser Goldfinches are complaining to their parents that not enough bacon has been brought home lately, “you don’t expect us to go out and get it ourselves … do you?” My life as ranch hand with its shocks by electric fences and lightning seems as tenuous as that of the baby bird whom I’d just saved from a pool of irrigation water in which it had wet its feathers thoroughly. I can decide to rescue it if I can as validly decide to leave it to drown, though all I probably did was save it as a fresh meal for a coyote. So be it. I put it way off into the grass, where it will stay hidden at least for a while, could dry out after all and end up changing the entire course of Evolution.

May 23, 2013

Dawn brings with it temperatures in the upper 40s still. Chunks of cobalt, chunks of lapis take wing–many Blue Grosbeaks, and Lazuli Buntings. In the gray light, a Lucy’s Warbler is jumping in and out of the cavity in the railroad tie gate post in which one of those birds was busily putting in a nest a bit less than a month ago; I thought it had been abandoned. There are many chirping babies around and if I remember, Lucy’s fledge with a startling quickness.

While I sit in the pickup sipping coffee after completing irrigation rounds, a Gray Fox comes along to get a drink at the pond. A beautiful animal, it is–red fur on its legs, and a swath of red that runs diagonally from its red ears down the sides of its body. It sits over there for a good long while, black-tipped tail draped elegantly, but acts nervously about something beyond it most of the time though it didn’t seem to care about me. Around him many swallows are flying in for quick on-the-wing dips of their bills into the water, and there’s a real “mess” of tanagers, of both species, coming to drink as well. One of them is a first year male Summer Tanager in that peculiar transition to adult plumage: green, blotched with red all over like either I’m seeing spots before my eyes or he has some dreadful tanager pox.

Sapphire blue damselflies are alighting on the irrigation hoses wherever the units have put out enough water to build little ponds that will of course drain away. The air has heated to just short of 100 degrees, and the grassland birds have discovered quite the way to stay comfortable: with the humidity at 4%, the seventy-foot wide zone of wet soil dwn the center of which the wheel lines sit becomes a giant evaporative cooler, and the upper spokes of the wheels of the units are crowded with birds who get as high as they can up under the wide, flat aluminum “tire” so it can shade them. Close up under one wheel canopy alone there were stuffed a Lark Sparrow, a Cassin’s Kingbird, and two Western Kingbirds, obviously enjoying that shade and “cool”!

May 20, 2013

Was The Stockpond ever “ducky” this morning: besides the pair of Mexican Mallards, there were three Gadwall and a Green-winged Teal working over the mud furiously and upending themselves to dabble on the bottom and in the bases of water weeds and rushes. So much, I’ll guess, for nymphs and eggs of dragonflies, damselflies and darners!

A jewel of a male Broad-billed Hummingbird came to sit at my shoulder for a little while on the top strand of a barbed wire fence, allowing me to take in every detail of the exquisite little thing. He dropped, chipping away happily, to a spray of Copper Globemallow where he worked on every flower before vanishing in a buzz. (The House Finches also come to the Globemallow: they love to munch on the freshly opened petals, the same way they will go after the flowers of winter annuals, especially pansies and petunias, and wipe out displays in the gardens of the Southwest’s desert oasis cities.)

A mixed group of Lucy’s Warblers and Western Tanagers come at lunchtime to splash and fluff and bath at the base of the hydrant riser at The Stockpond.