Thursday, October 30, 2003

October 30, 2003
Bird numbers are way down. I have a resident Anna’s male—who must think he is in paradise, controlling so many feeders—and at least one female Anna. I see male broad bills from time to time but don’t have the sense they are actually living here.

The brilliant young cardinal hasn’t shown his beak in a while, but from time to time I see the tell-tale empty sunflower shells on top of the feeder. I’m still putting some seeds out in the flower pots, and have seen one immature female and an adult female, but not often.

The quail are still around. I had about eight of them two days ago, and three this morning. I continue to put out suet, seeds, sometimes fruit, and of course nectar, but mostly all I’m attracting is sparrows, finches, and doves. Which is good! I’m not complaining!

Two days ago on the River Walk we encountered a smallish and I think quite young hawk that didn’t seem too sure what it was doing. It flew from bush to bush and even perched on the walkway railing for a while, just a few feet from us. It was brownish-reddish and heavily speckled with an extravagantly banded tail. I don’t have a clue what it was. Most likely, from my bird book a Swainson’s. I wish I knew raptors better. Maybe I will take a course.

Final nature note: the fires in California are still raging and the wind has shifted so that the smoke is over Arizona. The entire valley is covered with a dark pall of smoke and dust—worse than with our own summer fires this year, because then only the north and east were covered. You can’t see any of the mountains, and the air feels heavy and unhealthy.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

October 14, 2003

I had a beautiful chile plant in my front yard that I tenderly nutured for nearly ten years (watered twice a day in the heat, covered when it got cold, fertilized). It was a volunteer plant, grown from a seed that some bird probably pooped into the pot, which I used to use for seasonal stuff. It had gotten very big and lush, and always had both white flowers and little red chiles on its stems. The other morning when I went out to get the paper, I saw that it was gone. Some mean person had picked it up in its pot and made off with it. I hope whoever it was takes good care of it (sniff!).

There haven’t been too many birds of any sort in the yard. I have just a very few hummers—a male Anna that seems to be here for the winter, a couple of probable female Annas, and a broad bill or two. I still see the quail in the mornings—sometimes as many as eight of them. When I see large flocks of quail (or herds, or coveys, or whatever), I wonder about their sociology. In the summer, when they are raising families, they don’t seem to mingle much—in fact, I’ve seen one family group drive away another. But then they seem to come together after the family frenzy has died down. The other morning I counted three males in the group. I can’t tell who’s just recently become a male, but presumably there is a dominance order among them. I must pay more attention.

The cardinals are essentially gone. The only one I’ve seen in ages is the clever young male who figured out how to use the feeder. He isn’t around too much, but seems to come at least once most days. How do I know? If I don’t see him, I can see the tell-tale sunflower shells on top of the feeder!

Finally, on our walk along the river the other day, we saw a herd of vultures, circling and swooping together. I’ve seen these flocks in the past and been told that they migrate together. (I once saw a flock of eighteen circling above the McDonald’s at Tanque Verde and Kolb.) There were at least twenty of them—I lost count. Quite a magnificent sight. But the best was one vulture who dropped out of the overhead circle and landed on top of a power pole. Then he stretched out his wings, forming a cross. He held that position for quite a while, looking just like an eagle on top of a totem pole—except for his small, rather creepy red head.