Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Howls in the night

I wish I had the ability to record the sounds outside our window right now and share them with anyone reading this blog. We’ve been treated to a spectacular coyote chorus tonight much earlier than their usual midnight concert. One of the things I love about living on the edge of town is the diversity of wildlife that visits our yard and adjoining desert. Coyotes are among of my favorite animals and although I know that puts me in a minority, you have to admire any creature able to adapt and co-exist so well. Humans have been at war with coyotes for at least two hundred years and all that our shooting, poisoning, trapping and persecution has accomplished is to eliminate the stupid coyotes and encourage the smarter ones to breed more. We’ve bred super-coyotes that prospered as the less adaptable wolves were eliminated from most of their range. And then coyotes expanded their range to fill the void. Mexican Wolves used to roam these mountains but they have been gone from southeastern Arizona for quite a while. Some day I'd like to go up to northern Arizona where they have been restored (a much better term than re-introduced) to listen for wolves, but for now I'll have to content myself with the coyote chorus. What sounds like 25 coyotes outside the door is probably 3 or 4, enjoying the unseasonably warm nights and just being coyotes. It’s easy to see why many Native American cultures revered coyotes as “the trickster” Oddly, Josie, our border collie, shows no interest in the howling going on outside.

She does have an interest in some of our other visitors-javelina. If you think squirrels at a feeder are a nuisance, try these guys. I put out a quail block for our local Gambel’s Quail and the javelinas KNOCKED PICKETS OUT OF OUR FENCE to get inside to the sweet molasses-based block. After a couple of hours of hand–to-hoof combat (in the middle of the night), I gave up and heaved the quail block over the fence and went for my camera. Josie had a bad encounter with javelinas, totally innocent on her part. She dashed out the door one night after alerting me to the presence of the beasts on the porch. Before she could react, one gave her a nasty gash in her side that necessitated an emergency vet run and several weeks of comical Elizebethian collar-wearing for our Princess. She now alerts me whenever javelinas are on the porch and then quickly retreats to the bedroom when I go out to shoo them away. “Go get ‘em Dad, I’ll just stay in here”. Javelina are not really pigs, they are our North American peccaries but their flat snout and pungent odor seem very pig-like. Their presence reminds me were living in an interesting corner of the world but I wish they'd leave our garbage (and dog) alone.

Friday, January 06, 2006

The Four-letter bander's code for Harris Hawk should be HAHA

If I can just hotwire this baby, those jackrabbits won't stand a chance!! (apologies to Gary Larson).

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Snow Goose "Lite"

The Ross's Goose is a diminiutive version of the Snow Goose - about a third smaller, with a dainty bill, proportionally shorter neck, and more rounded head. The little lost goose shown above, photographed January 2, 2005 during the St. David, AZ Christmas Bird Count, was dwarfed by the domestic Mallards it was slummming with. They're an abundant winter resident in parts of California, but being a refugee from the Ross's-poor Central Flyway I always get a thrill picking out the little guys in a flock of Snows. Just before sunset on the Elfrida Christmas Bird Count, I found a flock of 98 geese - 75 white Snows, one blue Snow, 21 Ross's, and a lonely-looking Greater White-fronted - chillin' with the Sandhill Cranes in a fallow field near Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area - not bad for a desert.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Christmas Bird Count - Quality over Quantity

A Christmas Bird Count is a great way to start the New Year. I've been doing at least one Christmas Bird Count for the last thirty years or so and they are some of my best Christmas memories. In Fort Worth, I did the same territory each year on the Nature Center I managed for 14 years. Although I could have practically stayed in bed and called in the results (after so long 90% of the count was predictable) it was that other 10% that got me out of bed before dawn and out each year.

The Elfrida count was held New Years Day and while the rest of the country nursed hangovers and watched football games, we had a beautiful 60 degree day with bright blue skies to watch birds. To maximize the diversity within mostly agricultural area count area, our 15 mile diameter circle includes the foothills of the Swisshelm Mountains in an area known as “The Granites”. Sheri and I decided to cover “The Granites” since it required a high clearance vehicle to access the area. We had never birded the area before and didn’t really know what to expect, but we had a great time. We did find some mountain birds (Rock Wren, Canyon Wren, Black-chinned Sparrow) to fill out the count list, but the list total is soon forgotten except by the numbers-crunchers that will analyze population trends. What I will remember of this count are the spectacular views, a small troop of coatis playing hide and seek in the rocks and the caterwauling of a bobcat in heat echoing off the canyon walls. The rock slabs are pockmarked with "bedrock mortars", deep depressions left by grinding stones used by Apaches and others to grind acorns for flour. It's easy to imagine a group of Apaches sitting on these rocks and talking as they worked to process the acorn harvest.

In the flats we found a family of Harris’ Hawks in hot pursuit of a jackrabbit. The five hawks had the frantic hare surrounded at one point but he managed to elude them eventually, showing that not all the broken field running on Sunday was on the football field. Harris Hawks are the only raptor that hunts cooperatively like a pack of wolves and are always a treat to find. We’ve been watching this clan for years and feel like they are old friends. A fine way to spend the holiday.