Desert cottontail carcass 7-9-10 (Read the beginning of this story here)
All day long the rabbit lay in the wash. On Saturday morning I went outside and it was still there. Saturday afternoon a kettle of turkey vultures circled overhead, but none came down to earth, and there the rabbit lay. Saturday night is was still there as I sat on the terrace and kept vigil while talking to my daughter. Sunday morning and there the carcass lay under a thick gray blanket of storm clouds. Gus and I went out for breakfast. We returned home under the same gray skies but no rain. The air hung thick and humid with no sweet relief from rain. Sunday night a red watermelon sun slipped from behind the shelf of gray clouds and slid below the western horizon. I walked out to the front yard once again and peered into the wash. The rabbit’s body lay where it fell and looked as if it were melting into the earth. Darkness fell with cloud banks warring and distant lightening illuminating the edges of the clouds, but still no rain.
Now it is Monday morning. Sometime during the night the gray wool clouds slipped away leaving a hazy blue sky that looks like faded denim. It is 81 degrees as I step outside at 8:30 a.m. to eat my breakfast on the terrace in the dappled shade of the mesquite tree. A light wind is tossing the branches and teasing my hair. I sit here with my bins and scan the wash trying to see if the rabbit’s body is still there. I know exactly where to look. It is by two clumps of brittle bush with a stick that flipped up and fell across its body when it dropped, but from this angle I discover that a creosote bush is in my way and I cannot see.
I finish my breakfast with Costa’s hummingbirds zipping by my head, lesser goldfinches picking thistle seed from the feeder behind me and purple martins twittering and chirping as they fly overhead. Down in the wash I see at least four live desert cottontails running around and nibbling on the grasses. Gambel’s’ quail scurry about in various family groups, the parents calling and cooing to the young ones in constant communication. I see a lizard flip its tail up over its back and race up the riprap towards the top of the wash. I realize how lucky I am to live in such a place where wildlife is so prevalent. I do not need a zoo; I live in the midst of a wildlife park!
With breakfast over I start my chores in the backyard first filling feeders and birds baths and watering the plants. With that task done I finally head to the front yard to clean my bird fountain, fill those feeders, and water those plants. Now it is time to find out. Will the rabbit still be there?
I set the hose on the purslane and walk the few steps down the sidewalk to the best vantage point for seeing the rabbit. I locate the two brittle bushes and gaze at the fold of the earth. I look for the stick that lay across the rabbit’s body, but the rabbit is gone and the stick is about 4 to 5 feet away farther down the wash. Okay…so who ate the rabbit?
I take my bins and scan the nearby bushes and trees. I see no sign of hair or bones anywhere. This particular wash is really a manmade retention basin for storm runoff and as such it is fenced all around to keep people and pets out of it. Three years ago it was little more than dirt and stone with a few trees the developer put in as landscaping.
Since then creosote bush has moved in, along with brittle bush, desert grasses, a few weeds and some wildflowers, but as yet there are no cacti growing. Still, it has filled in quite a bit.
I see the fence everywhere with the gate that is halfway across the wash closed and I conclude that it probably wasn’t a coyote who got the rabbit, so it must have been something with wings. If it was, it either came during the night or early this morning, and whatever it was must have carried it off, for there is no body or evidence of a body anywhere around. Nature has taken care of its own. Perhaps that dead rabbit is feeding a parent or some chicks. One creature dies so another can live. This is the reality of life in the desert.
I pull my hose back into the backyard and water my final flowerbed. The hose is running at almost full and I am flood irrigating this one bed which I have yet to run drip lines to. Suddenly I see a tiny wet mouse climbing the block wall desperately. It makes it to the top, its gray-brown coat soaked and dripping, its long tail dragging a wet stream behind it. I think that it is going to sit there in the sun and dry. It is so upset that it doesn’t seem to mind me being so close to it. I have my bins but not my camera with me. I step down off the low wall I am standing on and take the few steps inside to exchange bins for the camera but when I return in less than ten seconds the mouse if gone! I search for it everywhere but I cannot find it. This is also the way of the desert. Where creatures appear and disappear before you know it. Life is happening all around me all the time it seems. I get to see these little glimpses of nature and almost every day there is a new drama happening outside my window. I only have to open my eyes and observe it.
For now, the curve-billed thrasher feed next to white-winged doves and cactus wrens.
Mourning doves coo and chase and purple martins sail above. Pyrrhuloxias feed next to northern cardinals and house finches and above it all the turkey vultures glide on desert thermals waiting to do their job.
Juvenile Gambel’s Quail trying to get at seed 7-12-10
So, who is in and around the yard today?
- Gambel’s Quail
- Turkey vulture
- Red-tailed hawk
- Mourning dove
- White-winged dove
- Costa’s Hummingbirds
- Gila woodpecker
- Gilded flicker
- Common raven
- Chihuahuan raven
- Purple martin
- Cactus Wren
- Curve-billed thrasher
- Canyon towhee
- Northern Cardinal
- House finch
- Lesser goldfinch
- House sparrow
- 4 cottontails in the wash
- 1 lizard
- 1 drenched mouse
Oh, and Poetry is happening once again on Kathie’s Poet Tree