A pair of precocious little gray birds I’ve never noticed before have spent the summer with Robbin and me, drinking several times a day at the dog’s water on the deck. Smaller than our Western Flycatcher and with a slight crown like a Kingbird, we assumed they were juveniles. At 111 degrees they water more frequently now, arriving open beaked, the female seems shier and more bedraggled than the male. The best ID I can come up with is that they are Wood Pewees, but I defer to others more qualified.
Besides the livestock water troughs that are difficult for many birds to drink from, our inadvertent plumbing leaks draw a wide variety of birds from all around. Now that the spring Bird Wars are over, a territorial drama where the eggs and babies of one nest feed the babies of a larger species, they seem to have found peace in the shade of our yard. Woodpeckers cling to sprinkler heads to get a drop at a time, coveys of quail include a pipeline leak on their daily rounds and Towhees cool beneath the mist of our garden irrigation. It’s quite a show if you can stand to be outside.
The telephone line goes cold;
birds tread it wherever it goes.
– William Stafford (“The Farm on the Great Plains”)
He was old, but younger than I am today,
digging earthworms for a rusty coffee can,
cane pole and cork bobber for the bass hole
on the Kaweah where he pumped water
for summer pasture before the Flood of ‘55
took it all, but memories, downstream.
In those days, we were rich with time to spend
on foolishness, watching water and bobber
in the warm morning’s sunshine. I call
back occasionally, but there is no ring
on the other end for anyone to answer,
no one left at home, no fish in the bass hole.
With a few exceptions, I tend to lump all the little birds together, especially in the spring. The constant flittering that seems to begin with the house finches courting on the railing, the rosy chests of crooning males that seem to intensify in the process, followed by a period of squabbling with neighbors while claiming space along the beam with a steady rain of dry materials from construction and deconstruction overhead. With space enough for half-a-dozen households, it’s entertaining, but messy.
My sister, who was visiting from the Bay Area, was impressed with all the avian activity when Robbin and I both noticed a bird we hadn’t seen before, bigger than a finch, but smaller than the clan of blackbirds, who’ve taken residence in two coastal redwoods, strutting across the lawn between unabashed breedings. To add more birds for our entertainment, Robbin filled the bird feeders for the first time in months that drew the stranger in, along with a pair of Bullock Orioles. Even noting the distinguished details of the stranger with binoculars, I couldn’t identify it online or within the several bird books on hand.
So taking a page out of my wildflower identification experience, I photographed it last evening on the feeder. Only in the photograph did I really see its ‘large’ beak, then went online this morning: I think it’s a Black-headed Grosbeak!
Within a week of late October rains, a forest
of green blades twisting, chasing warm
golden light between canyon horizons,
reaching while we sleep to a waxing moon
sailing south across black starlit seas—
a germination thick as hair on a dog’s back.
Hard clay turned soft underfoot, under cloven
hooves, out of the bleached and brittle rubble
of last year’s feed, a spreading miracle of green
as the earth stirs with another birth of grass.
And we are tied to it, mentally shackled
and physically restrained to work within her
moody generosity, daring not with word
or thought to piss her off—we have our gods
and goddesses we adore, stealing glimpses
every chance we get outside to pause
and praise them. All our totems, the bird
and animal people of the Yokuts know
our names, know our habits, show us the way
this canyon was designed to support life,
here and beyond us, with a crop of grass.
Weekly Photo Challenge: “Chaos”
While waiting for the water tank to fill yesterday morning, I took the big lens to the stockwater pond that is receding to see if I might get some clearer photos of the birds I posted on July 1, still unable to identify them.
Rather drab birds except for the pair of white tail feathers, about 10-12″ long overall. They have been circling the shore of the pond looking for grasshoppers in the water that they have flushed from the surrounding grasses. They are busy birds with rather large feet, somewhat comical to watch.
The size and behavior of a grackle working the shore of a stock water pond that is drying up.