Saturday, May 24, 2008

Heavy weather

We've just endured a wretched three days here in beautiful southeastern Arizona. A fierce low pressure system brought savage winds, rain, sleet, hail, and snow to our little corner of paradise. The winds started when temperatures were running slightly above normal (hot, in other words) and humidities very low, which played heck with tender young leaves. Gusts up to 58 mph were recorded at the Bisbee-Douglas airport, and a substantial portion of our roof is scattered over our yard and neighboring properties. Our newly planted vegetables and many of our flowers look like they've been sandblasted.

Then on Wednesday night the temperatures took a nosedive. Thursday morning's bird walk in Miller Canyon was seriously chilly, but there was lots of activity as tired, hungry birds tried to recover from the wind and cold, and the deep canyon protected us from the winds. I felt especially bad for the Spotted Owl family 50+ feet up in a huge fir -- their nest was swaying so much that they could have used scopolamine patches. (I so wish I'd had a digiscoping camera to capture the fuzzy little face poking our from under its mama's wing.) Back at Beatty's Guest Ranch, hungry hungry hummingbirds, including two White-eareds and a Lucifer x Calypte hybrid, put on quite a show. [Subsequent observations revealed this bird to be a Lucifer-like hybrid, probably Broad-tailed x Costa's.]

The winds raged on through Thursday night, the staccato beat of rain, sleet, and hail against our bedroom window making it hard to sleep. It dried out a bit yesterday morning, but the cold, gusty conditions continued through the afternoon and into the night. As we made our way to yesterday afternoon's hummingbird banding session in Carr Canyon, the peaks of the Huachuca Mountains were thickly capped with snow, something we've never seen this late in the season in our 20 years in Arizona. Our banding crew was bundled up like Inuits except for me -- my burliest turtleneck sweater and woolly socks weren't quite warm enough, so I ended up borrowing a jacket from one of the volunteers. The weather had the birds in a much less cooperative mood than usual, but gentle application of warm breath seemed to calm them down. A male Broad-billed, two male Magnificents, two female Anna's, a female Black-chinned, and a premature escapee male Blue-throated were our rewards for soldiering through.

At least the storm brought some precipitation, which should compensate a bit for the destructiveness of the winds and cold. I'm expecting to see a renewal of nesting activity over the next week or so as birds that lost their eggs and nestlings start from scratch. A pair of Greater Roadrunners in lower Carr Canyon seemed to be getting a head start yesterday afternoon--mating just yards from the road and totally unfazed when two carloads of bird banders pulled up to gawk at them! --SW