Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Clearing My Head

California Brittle bush 3-20-09 by Kathiesbirds

As the slow gray dawn blushes pink in the east my feet hit the floor as my mind races. For the first night in over a month I have made it through the night without the pain killers I have been taking to alleviate the jaw pain from a dental procedure gone awry. I had feared this day would never come, yet here it was. I hate to take medication of any kind but the pain and swelling were unendurable. Yet, I could feel my creativity slow with every pill I took. Now I feel the weight of my own body as I walk out the front door. I have been inside for too long. I crave nature like a drug. I need to be outside and away from these walls and this ceiling. I want to shed these human trappings and fly free like a bird…

Globe Mallow 3-20-09 by Kathiesbirds

…however, it is Friday before I finally take that walk and after doing all my morning chores it is late by the time I get out the door at 9:30 a.m. The workers have already been busy on the house across the way for three hours or more. An overcast sky greets me today. The great blue yonder is lost in a veil of thin gray clouds that shield the sun’s rays, but I feel the humidity in the air. The day feels muggy to me.

Fairy duster blossoms a.k.a. False mesquite 3-20-09

Wild flowers are blossoming everywhere and with blooms come the bees. I can barely look at a flower without finding a bee crawling greedily over it. They seem frantic in their search for pollen and not one iota interested in me. I am glad to see and hear the bees, even though I know most of these are probably Africanized. I keep my distance as I walk along with the hum of their spring song in my ears.

Wolf Berries 3-20-09 by Kathiesbirds

Brittlebush 3-20-09 by Kathiesbirds

Vesper Sparrow on Mesquite with Creosote bush 3-20-09

Down the street I cut the corner on the Saguaro Loop trail. This little patch of desert is often ripe with bird life, and this morning is no different as the songs of sparrows, curved-billed thrashers, and the cackle of cactus wrens greets me.

Cactus Wren 3-20-09 by Kathiesbirds

Update 3-28-09: Mormon Tea identified by Diane. Thanks Diane!

I wander slowly down the winding trail past plants I know and some I don’t. So many things are in bloom right now, and the wolf berries are already fruiting! I find one strange plant with tube-like stems and buds emerging like grains of wheat!

Its overall size is about 2 feet high and scraggly. I marvel at the shape and texture of the buds and wonder what it’s called.

I follow the gravel path onward and emerge on the pavement again. Car after car passes by in the time it takes me to reach the road and cross to where I disappear into the desert on the Barrel Cactus Loop Trail.

These trails are marked and maintained by the HOA for use by residence and others.

From here I can see the new Fire Station with its silver roof blending into the soft gray sky. It’s not the prettiest place in town, but I am glad that they have done the whole building with solar power.
I am taking this trail because it follows the wash behind my friend Sherri’s house. Whenever I visit her I see and hear so many birds in the open space beyond her fence. Today I want to see what I can see and hear for myself, alone and uninterrupted by conversation or the need to socialize. I need to be alone in nature. I need to feel like I am someplace wild. I have been seeing thrashers everywhere and now is no exception. They perch aloft on ocotillo and mesquite and fly to the ground to skulk beneath the scrub. I am searching everywhere for something new, but I am seeing all the usual suspects. Verdin call with their “tu-tu-tu” from the tree tops. Sparrows scatter like dust in the wind. I hear the “chi-CA-go” call of Gambel’s quail farther out in the desert while all around me the backs of houses loom like manmade cliffs.

Thrasher Sky 3-20-09 by Kathiesbirds

The width of this open space varies as it runs between the neighborhoods. The trail meanders down into gullies, then brings me close to backyards. I do not like being close to the backyards. This is not quite the nature fix I wanted, but I am amazed at all the birds I am seeing. How is it that they have been able to make peace with the human presence? They seem to feel safe in this desert scrub as they dive for cover when they hear my approaching footsteps. Though I try ever so hard to tread lightly, my footsteps on gravel sound like magnified crunching even to my ears.

New Growth on a Prickly Pear 3-20-09 by Kathiesbirds

I find a little wooden bench behind someone’s house. It looks so inviting in the shade of some bushes. I consider sitting for a few moments to see if the birds will relax and come to me, but I can hear them calling father down the path and I walk on.

Desert Hackberry Bush 3-20-09 by Kathiesbirds

The sounds of sparrows singing has risen to a cacophony right behind Sherrie’s house. I stand here and try to figure out why this place? What is so inviting to the birds right here. The presence of Hackberry bushes is one clue, as well as numerous varieties of cacti. I see Palo Verde Trees and mesquite along with creosote bush and other scrub I don’t know the names of yet. The homes above me on the west end at their rail fenced yards where the gravelly earth slops down to the wash. This is one of the widest points between the two neighborhoods and for some reason, the birds love it.

Canyon towhees in Hackberry bush 3-20-09 by Kathiesbirds

I can identify white-crowned sparrows, brewer’s sparrows, house finches, house sparrows and rufous-winged sparrows here. I find one lone pine siskin in a nearby bush, and then a pair of Canyon towhees flies into the hackberry bush before me like desert dust with feathers and wings. They watch me warily before diving for cover again.

Desert cottontail 3-20-09 by Kathiesbirds

I feel like I am walking down the bunny trail when a little Desert Cottontail comes hopping along. It doesn’t see me at first, but stops dead in its tracks when it does. It pauses on the path and we stare at each other for a few seconds before it hops off into the surrounding scrub. I am about to continue down the trail when three more little bunnies come racing towards me. They spot me even sooner and veer off sharply not knowing that I would never hurt them.

Lesser Goldfinch 3-20-09 by Kathiesbirds

A few steps farther down the path I hear the twitter of a lone Lesser Goldfinch atop an ocotillo. She grasps her thorny perch and sings her spring song to a pale sky before flying off. A male Pyrrhuloxia flies to the top of a tree to sing, and then I spot his female staying low in the brush. Eventually she joins him briefly before melting quietly into the shadows and thickets once again.

I must have stood here for over a half an hour trying to figure out all the birds I am seeing, but the heat of the day urges me onwards and I finally continue down the path. Suddenly the scrub grows silent and I wonder why. They say the birds are down by ten, and it must be after that time. Did they all simultaneously decide to sleep? I spot a male cardinal fighting with a thrasher in a tree a few paces on. I pause to try to coax it up by “pishing.” As I purse my lips and force the air between them the birds actually dive for cover and then a Cooper’s hawk rises slow and irritated from a nearby tree. Of course! I should know by now. If all the birds become suddenly silent, a hawk is usually lurking somewhere nearby. If I had just looked a little farther down the path I might have seen it sitting on its lookout perch.

I can feel the heat on my back now and I fear I am starting to burn. I quicken my pace as I finish the trail and emerge on the street once again. In the last few paces of the desert wash another thrasher waits atop a saguaro, a Gila woodpecker laughs at me and three mourning doves fly up on whistling wings from beneath the shelter of a creosote bush beside the path I walk on. Though this trail wasn’t as remote as I wanted, still, the sights and sounds of the desert soothed my soul. I feel more peaceful now. I walk home in the heat of a midday sun with a happy feeling of fatigue. It’s a satisfied tiredness. I think it is time for a nap!

In all I saw 23 species of birds today, March 20, 2009. Here is the list:
  1. Gambel's Quail
  2. Turkey Vulture
  3. Cooper's hawk
  4. Costa's Hummingbird
  5. Mourning dove
  6. Pigeon
  7. Gilded Flicker
  8. Gila woodpecker
  9. Curve-billed thrasher
  10. Cactus Wren
  11. Verdin
  12. Raven
  13. Canyon towhee
  14. Brewer's sparrow
  15. White-crowned sparrow
  16. Rufous-winged sparrow
  17. Northern Cardinal
  18. Pyrrhuloxia
  19. Pine siskin
  20. Lesser Goldfinch
  21. House finch
  22. House sparrow
  23. Vesper sparrow

Note: All of today's photos were taken by Kathie on March 20, 2009 with the Nikon D80.


Anonymous said...

Lovely colours Kathie, I particularly like the Chocolate flowers.

nina at Nature Remains. said...

Glad you had the wonderful walk you needed!
That cactus wren is adorable--no matter which species, they all show that same wren spirit, don't they!

Ruth's Photo Blog said...

Oh,those flowers are all so pretty.A most enjoyable walk.Thanks.

Lynne at Hasty Brook said...

I love walking with you Kathie. Next month in West Virginia we'll be like old fiends! Can't wait.

bobbie said...

Thank you for that beautiful walk and your photos that bring it all to life.

I'm so glad you got a full night's painless sleep.

I never heard of chocolate flowers. They look like brown eyed susans.

Kathie Brown said...

Roy, glad you like the flowers. I am researching them to make sure I have identified them correctly. They look like brittle bush but the flower centers are different. So far the interenet has been no help!

Nina, yes they do! I like all the wrens.

Ruth, thank you too!

Lynne, I am so looking forward to meeting you and everyone else at New River. I do feel like you are my friend already. I hope you are ready for a big hug! I've been saving one up for you!

Kathie Brown said...

Bobbie, Thank you for your well wishes. I have been off pain medication for over a week now. Yeah! I never thought this day would come! As for the chocolate flowers, yes, they do look like black-eyed susans, but the blossom is smaller and the center is not so wide or as dark brown. And I'm still trying to see if I've identified them correctly. Glad you came along.

Doug Taron said...

A delightful walk. Thanks for letting me come with you. I'll bet you are seeing the spring butterflies by now. A cool one to look for is the Pima orangetip. It's yellow with bright orange tips on the wings.

Diane AZ said...

What a wonderful walk. Hope you're feeling better. Your chocolate flowers look like California Brittlebush and the mystery scraggly bush looks like a mormon tea.

Deborah Godin said...

What a trip! I think I'm 'almost' as refreshed as you! Aren't those cactus wrens handsome birds!!

abb said...

I'd say that was one successful walk! Glad you're feeling better!

SLW said...

A very impressive walk and list! Reminds me of my days in the desert, making me miss all these critters you've met... Thanks, Kathie, for a trip back...

Gaelyn said...

Kathie, I'm so glad you felt better and could get outside for a nature fix. I sympathise with that need. As always, your walk was delightful and I felt like I was there. So nice to have trails so close to home, even if not very remote. And you saw sooo many birds. Don't forget your sunblock.

Larry said...

Sorry to hear that you've been through so much suffering.I am with you on the need to be some place wild. That is why I don't enjoy birding field trips as much as going out on my own. I enjoy group field trips for the social aspects but not as much for the nature and birding aspects.

Kathie Brown said...

Doug, the butterflies are out and I have some photos to post here soon! It's very windy today and I was out on my IBA survey so I've been busy with bird photos too!

Diane, thank you for the info! I have heard of Mormon tea but I did not know it looked like that!

Deborah, are you warm also? I'm always glad to have you along for the hike!

TS Annie, it is so good to feel better!

SLW, you are welcome! Thanks for visiting my blog!

Gaelyn, it was a nice walk, thank you. I did see a lot of birds and they are busting out all over all of a sudden! I have so many to post about right now!

Larry, I am with you there. I love to meet new people but I also enjoy my time alone and I see more birds by myself because when I am with others there is too much talking and laughing going on! All is good and I need both.

Susan Gets Native said...

"Fairy Duster"...that is just so perfect.