Wednesday, December 01, 2010

A close call

Pearl safely back in the run.
Sibella and the dogs up the street had been barking off and on all morning. I figured one of the neighbors' dogs was running loose, but with Sibella on guard I decided to risk letting the chickens out for some free-range time.

They'd been out an hour or so when Sibella sounded the alarm again. When it escalated from a few concerned woofs to hysterical barking, I jumped up and ran to the door. Huddled together on the porch—outside the minimal safety of the fence—were the chickens, and loping casually up the driveway was a coyote.

Ordinarily a visit from a big predator would be cause for celebration, but the chickens have colored our attitudes toward them. We still love and respect coyotes, foxes, ringtails, hawks, owls, etc., but we're also well aware of the danger they pose to our girls. If ever a predator hurt or killed one, we'd have no one but ourselves to blame. That would be hard to live with.

I watched for a few seconds to see if the coyote would turn back toward the house, then opened the door to let the chickens inside and led Sibella into the bedroom (she's not bird-friendly). The girls spent an hour or so in the house, which they love, but could not be persuaded to go back outside, even for a delicious bowl of oatmeal garnished with shredded cheese. I finally had to carry them one by one back to the run.

I'm not sure the girls even saw the coyote. It's their habit to come stand by the kitchen door after they've been out a while, waiting for me to bring out their treats. When other things alarm them—big shadows overhead, quail flushing, etc.—they usually respond by going back into their enclosed run, hiding inside their coop, or taking refuge under the porch or the chairs on the patio. I'm also unsure whether the coyote would have been brazen enough to walk right up onto the porch with Sibella barking from inside, but they're awfully smart critters, and this one was fearless enough to be strolling around the neighborhood in broad daylight.

At any rate, Sibella is the hero of the day, the girls are confined to quarters until further notice, and I'm going to have a restless night dreading the coyote's return. —SW

Extraordinary Chickens Extra Extraordinary Chickens Extraordinary Chickens 2011 Wall Calendar 

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Arizona voters: Keep politicians' hands off our wildlife!

There's so much at stake this election day, including the future of wildlife management and open space in Arizona. Prop. 109, touted as necessary to protect hunting and fishing from animal rights activists, is a thinly disguised power grab by politicians. It would allow the state legislature to take complete control of state-level wildlife policy and invite lawsuits to overturn laws that regulate hunting and fishing, either of which would be a disaster.

The Arizona legislature hates it when voters keep something out of their hands. Ever since the people approved a plan to reserve up to $20 million each year from the state lottery for state parks and nongame projects (the Heritage Fund), the legislature has tried to get control over the money. After running the state's finances deep into the ground, they finally succeeded in stealing the state parks portion of the Heritage Fund by repealing the statutes enacted by the people. They even stole private money donated toward ensuring a future for our state parks. In a tourism-dependent state teetering on the brink of economic disaster, this is shooting us all in the foot.

But were the politicians satisfied with that? Nooooo. Now they and their special-interest puppetmasters have cooked up this ugly piece of work, Proposition 109:
A "yes" vote shall have the effect of:

1. making hunting, fishing and harvesting wildlife a constitutional right,

2. giving the State Legislature exclusive authority to enact laws regulating these activities,

3. prohibiting laws that unreasonably restrict hunting, fishing and harvesting wildlife or the use of traditional means and methods, and

4. establishing hunting and fishing as a preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife
Promoters of 109 insist that they are only trying to protect hunting and fishing from being outlawed by animal rights activists. One problem: There is no such threat to hunting and fishing in Arizona. If there was, and it had any chance of succeeding, how could this proposition have any hope of passage? It's pure paranoid fantasy designed to manipulate naive citizens into supporting the takeover of the Arizona Game & Fish Department and its hunting and fishing revenues by the legislature and special interests.

The vague wording of Prop 109 allows the legislature to bypass the Game & Fish Commission (whose makeup is already under their control thanks to a recent power grab), making the Arizona Game & Fish Department directly responsible to a body of non-biologist politicians who have proven themselves incompetent even at those tasks normally delegated to a legislature. As one commenter said, "These nutballs would screw up a one car funeral."

Conferring constitutional-right status on hunting and fishing, declaring these activities to be the preferred means of managing wildlife, and prohibiting laws that "unreasonably" restrict these activities invites lawsuits over seasons, bag limits, area closures, etc., severely limiting the state's ability to manage wildlife for the benefit of all its residents, not just the 9% of Arizonans who hunt and/or fish (the fourth lowest population of sportspersons of any state in the U.S.; source). Prop 109 is opposed by former members of the Game & Fish Commission as well as mainstream conservation and humane organizations and a number of newspapers, including the conservative Arizona Republic.

The politicians are also trying to get their hands on the Land Conservation Fund, one of our best tools to preserve the best of Arizona's remaining open spaces and the wildlife, rural communities, and quality of life that depend on them. Prop 301 would allow the legislature to subvert the will of the people of Arizona by draining the Land Conservation Fund to apply a pitifully inadequate band-aid to the hemmoraging state budget.

Neighbors, please vote to support wildlife and open space by voting NO on Prop 301 and Prop 109. Don't reward our legislators for their irresponsibility or allow them to make wildlife management any more political than it already is. --SW

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Coati Tuesdi

Peterson Field Guide to Mammals of North America: Fourth EditionWhat a surprise to arrive at one of our bird monitoring sites overlooking Old Bisbee this morning and be greeted by a chirping troop of White-nosed Coatis! These diurnal, social members of the raccoon family recently recovered from a local population crash, so it's particularly nice to see five healthy-looking "teenagers" with five adult females.

Alternate names include coatimundi (co-AH-tee-MUHN-dee, "mundi" referring to the solitary habits of adult males), tejon solo ("lone badger"), pisote, chulo, chulo bear, and chulo monkey. When you see "monkey" in an Arizona place name, it probably refers to these guys.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Portrait of a worried dad

This male Lesser Goldfinch has every reason to look worried. He and his mate have a very late nest in the plum tree by our patio, so when I heard an unusual amount of mewing and chipping out there I went outside to see what was going on. The goldfinches were eyeing a Curve-billed Thrasher making its way through the thick foliage toward the nest. Our thrashers don't miss many meals, so I didn't feel too guilty distracting it with a few harsh words ("Hey! I hear your sister is dating a starling!") and convincing it to leave. The finches stayed exactly where they were, still on high alert. Probably not a good idea to go straight back to a nest when the predator might still be watching.

Stokes Field Guide to Bird Songs: Western RegionLesser Goldfinches are one of those those birds whose voices are so delicate that even their harshest calls lay as sweetly on the ear as a song. More sweetly than their own songs, in fact, since these consist largely of other birds' calls. One of our neighborhood males sings rapid-fire songs that consist mainly of flycatcher calls: Ash-throated, Brown-crested, Vermilion, Say's Phoebe, Cassin's Kingbird, Western Kingbird, Western Wood-Pewee. A male that lives in Miller Canyon does a great impression of the "rubber duck" call of the Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher. The phrases go by so fast that the bird may be four or five species further along by the time you can say, "Hey, wasn't that a...?" --SW

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

September surprise

So, yesterday morning I was out on the patio supervising the chickens' free-ranging activities and watching the show at the feeders when I notice this hummer sitting on the far feeder across from a Rufous/Allen's...

Something about it set sirens off in my head. As the Rufous/Allen's backed away, the other bird raised its head in response...

...revealing the long, curved bill of a Lucifer, the first confirmed in our yard in the nearly 15 years since we moved in and put up the first feeders.

A Field Guide to Hummingbirds of North America (Peterson Field Guides)The species nests here in the Mule Mountains, so hopefully we'll see more of them next season now that this lady has found our garden and feeders. With a Calliope that Tom spotted later in the afternoon, our 48-hour hummingbird tally came to a whopping 8 species: Broad-billed, Violet-crowned, Black-chinned, Anna's, Lucifer, Calliope, Broad-tailed, and Rufous (mostly "Rufous/Allen's," but most of the juvenile males are identifiable to species by their tail feather shapes). SW

Monday, August 23, 2010

A lovely creature however you pronounce it

The lush monsoon grasses are setting seed, and waves of Lazuli Buntings from the north are feasting. This gorgeous male was among many at Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area yesterday morning.

The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North AmericaWhen you see one of these, what do you say?

"Look! There's a La-ZOO-lee Bunting!"?

"Why, I believe that's a LAZ-oo-lie Bunting!"?

Or maybe "Check out the the little blue dude!"?

Leave a comment with your favorite pronunciation, or take the poll in the sidebar. --SW

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The burning season

It's fire season in southeastern Arizona, and our beloved Chiricahua Mountains are burning.

These are photos from the Horseshoe Fire, which was set---that's right, deliberately set---on Wednesday, May 26. By Thursday afternoon it had expanded into the South Fork watershed of Cave Creek Canyon; by this afternoon, it had grown to 1,400 acres.

Forest Service crews are working to contain it, but officials have warned that it may continue to burn until the summer rains begin.

The fire races toward a ridge.

A tanker helicopter refills at a pond.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

I've got my eye on you...

I'm pretty sure we're on their life lists:

White-winged Dove

Male House Finch
Juvenile Cooper's Hawk