Perhaps it is the constant news,
each day a different page,
that I close the book
to watch the Killdeer herd
their brood of errant children—
one always lost. Hatched
on the run, they learn all
the words they will need,
corralled beneath spread wings,
in a few short minutes
until one or two escape
in different directions
to go exploring the forests
of dry and brittle grasses.
It takes two to keep four together:
she to hold the bunch
while he makes circles
leading the last stray home.
Never enough roofs to shed the sun in the San Joaquin,
I’m leveling a pad for a barn with the skid steer
that’s become a hydraulic extension of my hands
between two huge Valley Oaks, four-foot across—
a roost for two Bald Eagles, long-dead witnesses
to father and son not learning to work cattle together.
In the ash pile of fallen limbs, a Killdeer sets and defends
her nest as I surround her with windrows of clay clods
to crumble and fill once the chicks are hatched.
Feathers fanned to fight for hours, her eyes bleed red
as her mate drags a wing nearby. Perhaps respect
lets four speckled eggs stop progress along the creek.
Killdeer spread their wings
over indentations in the crushed
gravel, over four speckled eggs
that look like granite washed
off the mountains and mined
from an ancient alluvium,
then hauled up the canyon
and spread like a blanket
in our driveway to keep
summer’s dust down
or getting stuck in winter’s
mud when it decides to rain.
Sometimes in the spring,
we mark them with a rock
to avoid lest we forget
little puffs on toothpicks
born on the run for bugs
and the cover of the creek.
I could have been born a bird
on a gravel island in the creek,
learn to hide in a small world
before I found the gentle grace
to fly, hop rock to rock
as mother drew intruders off
with shoreline flaps of her white
petticoats, feigning injury,
crying seriously in low circles.
I could have been born a bird
without certainty, without worries
about my death or taxes.
Keeping track of our cattle is never perfect, but keeping track of the Killdeer, even for a short time, requires so much assumption and speculation that it verges on fiction. Nevertheless, our Killdeer, defending the eggs in her nest, disappeared with her babies for the creek last week. Due to the drought and a creek that hasn’t run much for the past three years, we’ve had only one Killdeer nesting in our gravel driveway so far this spring.
Robbin noted that one of our pair of crows was carrying what appeared to be the white fluff of a Killdeer chick back to their nest earlier this week. We know how it goes, everyone is someone’s breakfast. But yesterday, crossing the remaining puddles in the creek, we found two chicks and an attentive, adult Killdeer in the cobbles and grass.
Getting two out of four to the creek, 200 yards and across the road, is a good percentage when one considers the gopher snake on the prowl for eggs, the crows and a variety of other predators. It’s a leap to assume this is the same Killdeer, but with no others around our driveway to the house, not as far as you might think.
Not far from the Roadrunner’s cactus nest, a Killdeer is also sitting on eggs. The shoulder of our gravel driveway usually offers three or four Killdeer a good place to hide and incubate their eggs. To keep from running over them, we’ve been known to place a rock close to the nest. Once hatched, the Killdeer takes her babies to the creek about 200 yards away. But barely running this year and last, we’ve only this one Killdeer nesting.
I had hoped to get photos of her broken wing act, her ploy to lure the dogs away. But she stood her ground yesterday to protect her nest.
Juvenile Blue Heron