It's another one of those days when I realize I have been inside for too long and I need to get out. My body is craving sunshine and fresh air and my spirit is craving the solitude of nature. It's been awhile since I've been out into the wash so, though it's already getting late for bird watching I pack up my gear and head out the door around 9:45 a.m. It's a short walk across the street to access Sycamore Canyon Wash. Dogs bark at me from behind block walls as a rapidly warming sunshine beats down on me. The humidity is lower than is has been of late, and for this I am grateful. Ahead of me a thunderhead is dancing on the Santa Ritas which look lush and green after this summer's monsoon rains. (Look for the photo in tomorrow's Skywatch Friday post.) They say the monsoon is ending, yet storms continue to roll through the area with more expected this afternoon and later this week.
Even before I pass the neighborhood boundary I am seeing and hearing birds. A Gila woodpecker laughs from a nearby bush, then drops to the ground beneath it. In that same bush some house finches hide in the dense greenery. Then, a flock of about 20 house sparrows flies from a nearby rooftop to land in a mesquite tree in the wash. Here is the edge of human habitation and wildness.
I start south down the trail to enter the big wash with the calls of cactus wrens and curved-billed thrashers following me. I pass numerous desert hackberry bushes bursting with their tiny orange fruit, so beloved by birds. These hackberries are edible and have a slightly sweet taste, but, while they may satisfy the appetite of a bird, it would take many to fill up the stomach of a human being.
As I pass through the barbed wire opening that leads into the canyon I am greeted by wild cotton blooming all along the edges of the sandy wash. The delicate white flowers open joyfully to the sunlight, exposing their fertile centers to desert pollinators. I can hear the buzzing of bees and other insects all around punctuated by the rapid clicks of Arizona Clickers hiding in the brush. I see the delicate and erratic fluttering of butterflies in every direction as they move silently about.
I am already feeling the heat of the day as I turn to walk up the wash by the big cliff. I am 20 to 30 feet below the houses that perch above on this canyon rim. From here they cannot see me, nor I them, and I feel as if I am alone in the desert with this wildness. A glance about me reveals all the trees, shrubs and flowers in full leaf and bloom. For the moment this verdant landscape looks like a lush oasis, but soon the drying autumn winds will turn the grasses yellow, and then brown. Drought deciduous plats will drop their leaves and once again the desert will turn brown, gray-green and sandy. Soil moistened by rain will crack. The Sonoran Desert Toad will hide. The White-winged Doves and Turkey Vultures will migrate south. The Purple Martins have already fled their summer homes. I may have seen my last one two days ago. I will miss their flute like twittering as they fly above my house.
Clinging to the side of the cliff a clump of trailing four o'clock tumbles down in a violet cascade. I listen to the noisy chatter of a verdin and soon spot the tiny bird with its yellow head and red epaulets flitting about amongst the foliage of a nearby tree. While I am in the process of locating the verdin I discover a female Costa's hummingbird roosting beneath the canopy of a desert Palo Verde. The Palo Verde tree is covered in thousands of tiny green leaves in response to all the recent rain. It forms a thick and shady shelter for this tiny bird. I recently read in Stokes Beginner's Guide to hummingbirds that Curved-billed Thrashers and Greater Road Runners both prey on this desert species and that Costa's Hummingbirds will avoid feeding if either of these birds are present. I can hear the "Whit WHEET!" call of a thrasher farther up the canyon. I hope this little gem is safe beneath these branches. I move quietly away and leave the tiny bird undisturbed.
Across the wash from the Costa's I seek shade beneath my favorite overhanging mesquite tree. The fluttering of a plastic bag catches my eye and I glance up to see this blue "desert bloom" caught in the spines of another tree. While it almost looks pretty set against the sky, this plastic poses a real danger to wildlife and is evidence of our human impact on the land. I would like to take it down and bring it home to throw away, but there are 2 reasons I don't. One is that it is up too high for me to reach. The other is that I have learned by experience that if I want to collect garbage from off the desert plants I'd better have some thick gloves for, usually whatever is caught on the spines is also full of spines and glocids it has collected on its windy and tumbling journey to wherever it is now caught. Perhaps I will come back later to purposely remove it. For now it serves as a reminder to close our trash and recycle bins tightly. This is one "desert bloom" all of us can do without.
I feel the tension and stress leave my body as the rhythms of nature wash over me. It's as if the air, soil, sunlight and greenery permeate my being. Though I can hear the sounds of construction in the distance, here the sounds of nature are closer and sooth my frazzled soul. I catch the motion of birds in a bush and find some Black-throated Sparrows flitting about. While two are mature Black-throats I am momentarily thrown off by the presence of a juvenile with it's still developing facial markings. I hope I am seeing the much rarer five-striped sparrow, but quickly realize it is a juvenile Black-throat.
This pile of debris beneath a bush is not the result of flash floods, but rather the collections of a pack rat in the construction of its desert den. This desert creature is smarter than I am, hiding from the heat deep with in its shady interior. As sweat pours down my back I decide it's time for me to head home also.
I leave the desert where I entered it and walk back home. The fairy dusters growing in the parking strips are all in bloom also and a powerful attractant for butterflies like this cloudless sulfur.
Across the street my eyes are drawn to these Texas Rangers exploding with blossoms. These plants seem to burst into bloom overnight creating vibrant purple splotches to the landscape, then just as quickly the blooms seems to fade and drop, but when they are in bloom, the effect is spectacular. A little research reveals that they blossom in response to heat and humidity and are sometimes known as the barometers of the desert. Read about these drought hardy plants here.
My walk is done, my soul is soothed. I've quenched my nature fix for today. Who knows how long it will last. I suspect I will need to feast from nature's bountiful table again soon for my soul is soon famished without her. It is a healthy fix, however, one that shall sustain me throughout my life.
Photographer's Note: All of today's photography is by kathiesbirds with the Nikon D80 set in sports mode and the 70 to 300 mm lens with VR reduction.
Birds Seen Today
Location: Sycamore Canyon Wash
Observation date: 9/9/08
Notes: At 9:45 it was 77 degrees F.
Also saw 1 cottontail rabbit, 1 ground squirrel, some Zebra-tailed lizards and numerous butterflies. Mostly clear skies with a light breeze.
Number of species: 15
Turkey Vulture 3
Mourning Dove 7
Costa's hummingbird 1
Gila Woodpecker 3
Gilded Flicker 2
Cactus Wren 4
Curve-billed Thrasher 4
Green-tailed Towhee 1
Canyon Towhee 1
Rufous-winged Sparrow 2
Black-throated Sparrow 5
House Finch 7
House Sparrow 20 All the house sparrows were behind a house at the edge of the wash. They did not go far out into the canyon.