Saturday, May 30, 2009

26: The poultry anniversary

Tom and I just celebrated our 26th wedding anniversary. Our gift to each other was chickens, specifically four "Americana" or "Easter Egger" chicks less than 48 hours old. They're not a pure breed, but they should lay the famous blue-shelled eggs of their Araucana ancestors.

I picked them out at a local feed store with an eye toward eye candy. Clockwise from the left are Bonnie (red), Grace (black), Joni (blond) and Pearl (multicolor).

Extra credit if you figure out how we chose their names. As you can see, they're already bonding with Tom (though I think I heard Joni the prima donna cheep that he should use conditioner on his beard). --SW

Ooh! Ooh! Blue purple! Blue purple!

That was Tom's brother's response on seeing a male Varied Bunting for the first time. As a law professor, Bob was seldom at a loss for words, but a sunlit view of this spectacular songster against the San Pedro River's brilliant green cottonwoods totally tied his tongue.

Unlike their more cold-tolerant Lazuli cousins, Varied Buntings arrive right around the end of the spring birding season. We just saw the first of the season in our yard this week, perhaps the same one that stopped by last summer for a sip at our dripper:

If they were more regular visitors to our yard, it would be tempting to swelter in the photo blind for a few hours in hopes of getting a more flattering portrait. —SW
 The Sibley Guide to Birds

Monday, May 25, 2009

Blue wave!

I just stepped out the door to check on a couple of recent transplants in the garden when a male Blue Grosbeak whizzed by about a foot from my face. I watched him land in a mesquite at the edge of the road and realized that there was another male sitting on the opposite side of the same bush...and another in the mostly-dead ailanthus. Then a female popped up out of the bottom of the same bush and a fourth male zoomed in for a landing between the first two. Wow! —SW


Five male Great-tailed Grackles sky-pointing
Patagonia Lake State Park
May 13, 2009

Another memorable moment from last week's Fiesta de las Aves activities. —SW

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The pause that refreshes

Male Blue Grosbeak
Las Cienegas National Conservation Area
May 11, 2009

Photographed on the Cienega and Grassland field trip during Fiesta de las Aves. —SW

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Moon of the Giant Asparagus

Palmer Agave, Agave palmeri
Huachuca Mountains April 29, 2009

Every year I'm caught off guard by the first agave bloom stalks. The first ones appeared at the end of April, and it seems like they're all over now. This signals the beginning of the end of the plant's life, as it puts everything it's got into its massive flower stalk, but the nectar and pollen are a boon to nectar bats, hummingbirds, orioles, doves, and insects of many kinds. —SW

Friday, May 22, 2009

New life

Vermilion Flycatcher nestlings
San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area
near Casa de San Pedro Bed & Breakfast

May 12, 3009

An update on the photo I posted on May 6: A week later, the nest held three plump, healthy-looking, and well-camouflaged nestlings. They were hunkered down in the morning chill when we first passed, looking more like nest debris than baby birds. I was pretty depressed to think that the nesting had failed, but my spirits rose when we came back by at the end of the walk and saw Dad fly in with some chow for the kids. On May 19, they were very close to fledgingpretty good for a nest so close to a busy trail. —SW

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Bipolar weather

Southeastern Arizona's dry season is usually locked in by late May, but the heat arrived a little early this year. Last week, Tucson was setting records with temperatures over 100° F., and even high, cool Bisbee was sweltering in the high 80s and low 90s. Then a high-pressure system settled in over the Four Corners - the typical "monsoon"pattern that draws moisture inland from the Gulf of Mexico. Clouds gathered, providing a welcome break from the almost-summer sun, but a few light sprinkles yesterday weren't much more than a tease.

Imagine my surprise walking out the door early this morning into drizzling rain and temperatures in the 50s. It rained off and on all morning in Miller Canyon, so I spent much of the morning's walk drying lenses on my binoculars and the spotting scope (I didn't even bother bringing the camera), but my small group and I were rewarded for our perseverance with views of several Red-faced Warblers, Painted Redstarts, singing male Hepatic Tanager and Black-headed Grosbeak, a Greater Pewee, and a pair of Spotted Owls.

Back home after the walk, I dried myself off, dug around in the closet for my fleece jacket and the fuzzy cap I crocheted this winter, and heated up a can of French onion soup and a cup of Mayan chocolate instant coffee—none of which would I have imagined doing in late May in southeastern Arizona.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Committing to the future

Nesting female Vermilion Flycatcher
on the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area
digiscoped from approximately 30 feet away

After the economic and emotional roller coaster of the last few months, it does wonders for my morale to see neotropical migrants settling in for a new nesting season. They didn't spend the winter worrying whether bulldozers spared their nesting habitat for another year, whether there had been enough rain to provide food for them and their families, whether some evolving pathogen to which they have no immunity is waiting for them with the next mosquito bite. Even if they were wired for worry like us humans, there'd be nothing they could do about it. There's a lesson in that.

Take time this spring to lose yourself in the hormone-fueled passion of a singing male or the serenity of a broody female, reacquainting yourself with the essence of life and putting in perspective all the petty complications of human existence. --SW