Outside my den window 30 mourning doves are huddled near the feeder. Puffed up for warmth they appear to be fluffy gray rocks with beaks and eyes. None are feeding. They seem to be enjoying a communal roosting, a group "waiting" for the day to begin. Two hours later the flock has dispersed. A few doves are feeding now, joined by the nomadic Gambel's quail. The quail are busier than the doves are. They scratch frantically at the seed, constantly changing position. As one bird moves down the slope into the wash the others follow in spurts until one lone female remains. She pecks and scratches furiously, then frantically follows the rest down the hill. A new day has begun in Sycamore Canyon.
Over the weekend a cold front moved in. It rained off and on leaving puddles in the yard and ponds in the washes. The birds always take advantage of this abundance of water by splashing and bathing in it. The males Anna's hummingbirds have joined the males Costa's. They do battle for the feeders or for favorite lookout spots in the mesquite tree. I had suspected I was seeing female Anna's, but seeing the male with his rosy head on Saturday confirmed it for me.
I finally bought myself a binocular harness, which allows me to carry my binoculars hands free without the strap hanging across my neck. I attached it to my binoculars last night and set out for the desert to try them out. It isn’t long before I am wondering what took me so long to purchase one. I can easily raise my binoculars to my eyes, focus on a bird, and then let go. The elastic straps hold the binoculars snugly to my chest and I can put my hands in my pockets for warmth, or pull out my notebook and pen to record a sighting. The weight of the binoculars is supported by my shoulders instead of my neck, which is far more comfortable and less cumbersome as the binoculars don't bounce around or swing free like they do with just a strap.
It was about an hour before sunset when I headed out the door. The western horizon was blanketed in clouds. A stillness hung over the desert magnifying sound. As I headed down the road I thought I heard water flowing and walked off into the desert towards one of the many washes. But the wash was dry. Where was the sound coming from? I walked a bit further and was surprised to find the source was someone’s backyard fountain a hundred yards away. It sounded like a swift flowing stream!
Farther down the road I see a coyote cross just after the passing of a car. Mourning doves are everywhere and they walk swiftly away or fly off with whistling wings if they feel I am too close for comfort. I hear little zeets and chips, but whatever birds are making those sounds are well hidden in the desert scrub. Car after car drives by on the road. Their presence makes bird watching a self-conscious activity, so I veer off on a new trail for privacy and peace.
This trail meanders along a wash on one side and the back of a neighborhood on the other. Along the wash the trees, cacti and scrub grow thickly. I hear birds chattering down in the wash. A quick motion catches my eye and I see a desert cottontail hopping off to denser cover. To my right I see the backyards of houses through the view fence that allows the homeowners to see into the desert. One person is grilling his dinner and I wave hello as he is only about 20 feet from me. We chat for a few minutes before I move on.
The sun has set now and I know I must get home before it gets dark. As I have not been on this trail before I have no idea where it comes out or how long it will take me. I follow the trail past the fenced in neighborhood in the gloaming. Soon I find a break where I can access a street. I am almost home now. I hurry in the rapidly darkening night. Christmas lights are coming on all around me. Inflatable snowmen and penguins with igloos dot the yards of these desert homes. I smile at the irony of it all as I walk through the chilly night air and up my driveway to home.