Sunday the sun finally rose with some warmth, but yesterday’s coolness lingered in the valleys and even on the mountains. The result is a temperature inversion with cool air trapped beneath a layer of warmth above. As Gus and I head out for a walk in the neighborhood the filtered light casts a thin veil of haze over the mountains. While the valley below looks like it is under a brown cloud, the Santa Ritas look like a water color painting of the real thing, vaporous and gauzy shapes fading into a dazzling white infinity.
We walk up to the new neighborhood that is being put in farther up the mountainside. Here these “Estate Lots” are 2 to 3 acres in size. While the roads and utilities have been put in, the surrounding desert has not been disturbed yet, and so the birds and wildlife have adapted to this change in their environment and the paved roads make it a pleasant place to walk. I hear the silvery tinkle of Black-throated Sparrows in the scrub around me, as well as the "zeet! zeet!” of other sparrows in the brush. Overhead a red-tail circles lazily on the thermals, searching through the haze for something to dine on.
There is warmth in the sun today, and Gus and Blossom are feeling it. They head back down the mountain leaving me to my reverie. Gila woodpeckers abound in the desert and I watch as they fly from cactus to cactus. Then I spot a Gilded Flicker in a mesquite tree. I slowly creep closer for a better look. When it decides I am getting too close, it takes to the air, squawking its alarm. Suddenly another flicker unseen by me takes wing, and as they fly off into the surrounding desert together, yet another large bird takes to the air and crosses their path like an X. I watch as the bird flies on silent pointed wings, its large buff and white body flying swiftly away from me. My eyes follow its flight path as my brain searches to put the details of what I’ve just seen with previous knowledge and experience. Bingo! I realize that I am seeing a barn owl. It must have been perched somewhere in one of the nearby mesquite trees unseen and silent, but when the Gilded Flickers raised the alarm it felt it needed to move on to safer territory. How I wish I could tell it that it has nothing to fear from my presence.
Black-throated Sparrow in cholla cactus by Kathie 11-30-08
I’ve gotten lost in my bird watching haze. I am walking alone in my own peaceful dream. I veer off the road onto one of the dirt trails that crisscross the desert and loop around the neighborhood. Here I finally see the many sparrows I have been hearing. They flit nervously about the desert, darting from cactus to bush, or diving into the grass. If the desert was a brain, then these little birds are the thoughts that dart about between neurons and synapses. At least, that’s what they make me think of. Trying to get a good look at one is just as difficult as trying to capture a fleeting thought. Finally I catch a glimpse of a rufous-winged sparrow, as well as some Brewer's, some chipping sparrows and a few black-throated sparrows. Winter is sparrow season here in Arizona and sparrows present their own identification challenges. With over 20 possible species, and many in their dull winter plumage, I realize that I still have so much to learn.
- Blue Haze: Programmed Auto, Focal Length 70mm, 1/1000 sec - F/8
- White Infinity: Programmed Auto, Focal Length 70mm, 1/640 sec - F/6.3
- Flicker on Saguaro: Sports Mode, 300mm, 1/1000 sec - F/5.6
- Black-throated sparrow: Sports Mode, 300mm,1/500 sec - F/5.6
- Unknown Sparrow: Sports Mode, 300mm, 1/500 sec - F/5.6
Be sure to visit My World Tuesday for a trip around the globe while sitting comfortably at your computer!