Some of my best times birding are spent looking for the hidden spots of the world. I find the most unusual birds and sometimes the most peace in vacant lots. They are undiscovered and abandoned places, full of mystery, trash and treasure, and if undisturbed for a long time, they are often the happy habitats of birds.
We have driven to Coolidge for the afternoon to spend some time with my son. It is football playoffs time and as the men settle in for their football game I wander out into the warm afternoon sun. As I pad across the pavement a Eurasian collared-dove eyes me from the overhead wires.
I glance across the flat expanse of desert before me. I use to find so many birds in this vacant lot, but today only jackrabbits scuttle up from the brush as I hike across the dusty earth. A lone Say’s Phoebe bobs its tail from the top of some desert broom. It has a vast terrain to hunt in, but it looks like slim pickin’s to me! In the distance I see the crumbling walls of the Casa Grande Monument. I head in that direction, but take a meandering path.
For the next half mile I see nothing other than mourning doves and grackles flying overhead but as I cross the road I start to hear the sounds of birds. In the two years that I have lived in Arizona I have watched the open land disappear as new neighborhoods and houses go in. Along with the neighborhoods come the new schools, and more land is lost to wildlife. Out here the west seems so big that the loss of a few acres doesn’t seem like it could matter much, but it does. Each little piece of earth is home to wildlife and as the habitat is fragmented and the humans become more numerous the wildlife moves on, moves out, or dies off all together. My son says he has not seen the little owl in the vacant lot I just crossed in a very long time.
But I am here now, here in this wild and discarded place. A neighborhood is growing to the west of it. The curbs and roadways are already in. To the East a new school has risen since the last time I was here. How do they build them so fast? And right here where old trees tower, and remnants of another day lie discarded and rotting the trees and bushes are full of evening birds.
Farther down through the vacant lot I wander with yellow-rumped warblers singing me along my path. They don’t seem to mind the garbage strewn about their domain, but I start to wonder if I am safe back here. I’m quite a ways off the road. Would anyone hear me if I needed help?
A flock of White crowned sparrows flutters by and lands in a thicket. Their thin voices call a soft “zeet zeet!” in the waning light.
Then a flock of Gambel’s quail scurries across an opening. Everything about them says, “Hurry! Hurry!” but they have nothing to fear from me. How I wish I could communicate that to them.
With the sun below the horizon the full moon rises in the eastern sky. It is a round balloon in a lavender sea.
I know my time here is short now but I see a lone dark shape high atop a utility pole in the distance. I walk closer hoping for a better view but as I do clouds of mourning doves rise from the tree lined canal that borders the vacant lot and separates it from the Casa Grande monument. Wave after wave of birds rise alerting the hawk to my presence. It lifts on dark wings into the sky and vanishes into the night.
Big January Update:
70. Brewer’s Blackbird; Rita Ranch Fry’s Parking lot 1-10-09
71. Green winged Teal; Santa Cruz River at Ina Road, Marana 1-10-09
72. Road Runner; Picacho resevour dirt road. 1-10-09
73. Eurasian collared Dove; Coolidge, AZ 1-10-09
74. Great-horned Owl; Sycamore Canyon 1-12-09
Big January Participants:
Larry: The Brownstone Birding Blog
Mary: Mary’s View
Mike: 10,000 Birds
Ruth: Body, Soul and Spirit