Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Saturday at the Cienega

2 February 2008 (Marsh Wren photo)

It’s Superbowl weekend and all minds are focused on the Giants and the Patriots, except for those of us bird-brained enough not to care. There we are out pursuing our passion in the fresh air and sunshine walking about with our heads tilted backwards in the inevitable posture of true birders. My husband and I are an odd mix, for he is truly a football fan, and the Giants are his team. He’s been loyal to them since childhood and has stuck with them through thick and thin. He’s also done the same with me. That faithfulness carries over into every part of his life. And so it is that on the Saturday before the Superbowl we spent 3 hours birding at the Arivaca Cienega and an hour at Arivaca Lake. His is not so much an interest in birds as it is an interest in photography. By buying the Nikon D80 we found a way for both of us to enjoy birding.

While we are standing at the picnic area trying to identify some sparrows (which turn out to be vesper sparrows) another couple comes walking up the path from the Cienega. They tell us the green Kingfisher is hanging around, so we hurry down the path to investigate for ourselves. It’s just after noon time and it is so warm that I have shed my long-sleeved shirt in favor of a sleeveless one. A slight breeze ruffles my hair and at times I have to grasp the strings of my birding hat to keep it from flying off my head, but I am comfortable and the warm sun feels so good on my skin.

We take the left-hand fork and come to the pond under a huge cottonwood tree. A wooden platform here allows us to get a good view over the water’s edge. I scan the bank for a bird as small as a sparrow with a beak half the length of its body and then I see it! Gus hurries closer and snaps off some pictures. The kingfisher is initially in the sunlight but it quickly flies into the shadow of the bank opposite from us where it perches on a tangle of branches and virtually disappears. Though the bird is green in color, the white speckles of its plumage imitate the dappled light proving to be an effective camouflage. We continue our trip around the loop and this time venture even farther out past the marsh where we see a few meadowlarks and a snipe. On our way back we detour to the pond once again and this time Gus is able to get even better photos of the kingfisher with a fish in its beak!

By now it is late afternoon but we decide to check out Arivaca Lake which is only 7 miles from our current location. The road leading into the lake is 2.3 miles long and dirt. Fortunately our new Hyundai Santa Fe is high enough clearance that we can make it. We are far from any human habitation out here. I scan the horizon looking for bandelaros, Mexican bandits who try to steal drugs and illegal human cargo from the coyotes who guide them over the border. Last year some bandelaros shot up a truck they thought was full of drugs, but proved to be full of human beings. Four people died as a result. Birding can be a dangerous business out here!

By the time we arrive at the lake the shadows are long and deep. The earlier warmth is all but gone. Now I not only have my long-sleeved shirt on over the sleeveless one, but I also have on a vest and a jacket and I’m still cold!

Arivaca Lake is nestled in a deep canyon with rocky cliffs and forested banks. The dark water is ruffled with small waves blown up by the persistent wind. Coots, Ruddy ducks and widgeons dot the surface. A lone pied-billed grebe swims away from us and our camera, and then dives beneath the surface. Two fishermen round a corner of the lake which is long and narrow with twists and turns. We can only see a small portion of it from our vantage point. While Gus is snapping duck pictures, I walk toward the far end where the creek runs out of the Bosque. Here the water is a little shallower and I find a spotted sandpiper teetering along the sandbar. Over the water’s edge a black phoebe darts out for an insect and alights on its perch again. I hear a twittering in the trees behind me and go searching for the maker of that sound. I find a small flock of chipping sparrows. I am surprised to find them here.

The cold and coming darkness drives us to our vehicle. It is an hour’s ride home and darkness hits before we make it back to the interstate. On Arivaca road we have to pass through a temporary check point set up by the border patrol. It wasn’t here last time we came to the Cienega, so I assume it is the extra security in place for the Superbowl that takes place tomorrow in Tempe, AZ. The young guard is friendly and we chat about birds and birding. He foolishily asks why people go birding and before you know it I’m off on a tangent rhapsodizing the virtues of birding and birder’s obsessions with listing. Gus rolls up the window and we drive home.


Kelli Russell Agodon - Book of Kells said...

Hi Kathie,

I followed your comment to your blog. The kingfisher is my favorite bird (I always refer to it as my totem bird)--there is one that sits on the telephone wire by the mudflats I pass near my house. I've been passing a kingfisher in that area for years and it's still such a thrill to see it.

And "Meme"-- Yes, that's what we called my great grandmother! In the internet it means: "an idea, project, statement or even a question that is posted by one blog and responded to by other blogs."

Thanks for your note. Glad I found your blog as well.

Kathie Brown said...

Kelli, I love the name of your Blog. I learned about the book of Kells in college. Reading your's and Patrice's Blog encourages me to reconnect with my literary side. Kingfishers are amazing birds. Quite distinguished looking, don't you think? How nice to see one almost every day. My grandchildren call me Meme. I thought I would like to be called Nana but when my Nana passed away I felt like that was "her" name, so I chose Meme because I like the French language and my husband's family is French Canadian! Thanks for stopping by. I hope you'll visit again.

Amy said...

I had to chuckle at your statement about the posture of a true birder! It's a miracle birders don't fall off cliffs. I've been known to step into the occasional woodchuck hole because I'm not watching where I'm going. Your scenery out there is so vastly different than ours. It's flat as a pancake here!

I coulda sworn I saw a kingfisher on my way home a few days ago. I did a double take which almost landed me in a drainage ditch! If it was indeed a kingfisher it was the first one I've seen out here. Cool birds!

Kathie Brown said...

Shh-h-h! Don't say that too loud! They might insitute distrated birder laws! I know what yu mean though, that's why I let Gus drive when I go bird watching! I hope you did get to see a Kingfisher. Just pull over and look next time!

J. Karl Clampit said...

Very nice picture of the Kingfisher! Ours here in Arkansas are a lighter blue color. They are one of my favorite birds. Very hard to get a good picture of them, they love the water. I too see one almost daily perching on a cut off telephone pole. I love their 'rattle' has they fly over the water.

Larry said...

Great Kingfisher photo! Gus is a great photographer-considering he is a Giants fan.-it pains me to say this as a Patriots fan but congratulations to the Giants and all their fans for the Superbowl victory.

Kathie Brown said...

j.karl clampit, king fishers are amazing birds. I'm always so pleased when I see one. Thank you for stopping by my blog!

Larry, that is very gracious of you! I'll tell Gus to read what you said! He is in football heaven. It has been a great year for him since his 2 favorite teams, the Red Sox and the Giants won their championships.