No, I am not going to pontificate on the NCAA basketball tournament in progress, though the testosterone-driven excitement around the games certainly parallels the changes that I see in the hummingbirds in my yard. Anna’s Hummingbirds have been chasing each other around like ballistic missiles with hyperdrive all month. When a surprising snowstorm raged through Arizona in the final two days before the vernal equinox, it was shocking to see zipping flashes of hot pink though the snowflakes. When I would replace a feeder of frozen nectar with fresh liquid, the feisty little birds buzzed my head as if annoyed that I was not out there at the crack of dawn with sugary elixir. Patience is not a hummingbird virtue. Continue reading
A blustery stranger arrived unannounced on Friday. The day dawned clear like so many others. By 11 as I drove home from the college for a quick lunch, the unexpected guest had arrived, leaving the door open so that its forceful breath whipped up whitecaps on Watson Lake. Dust and leaves swirled in its powerful exhalations. Low clouds streamed over the rounded crests of the Bradshaw Mountains. Winter had suddenly returned to Arizona. Continue reading
After a day spent mostly at the computer screen, I need to stretch. Granite Dells stretches me, pulls me irresistibly into the mazes of outcrops and canyons, especially appealing when thunderheads have finished their rumbling and are sailing away across the heavens, mission accomplished.
I head toward Granite Creek, its cottonwoods pulsing with the choruses of strident cicadas. Though monsoon storms have been modest at best in this neighborhood, the weeds, native and otherwise, are dense and lush. Fortunately, mosquito populations here are lower than last year, and as long as I keep moving, I avoid serious blood-letting.
There are signs here indicating that this is a restoration area, and the twenty-foot cottonwoods and shorter velvet ash and hackberry trees are evidence that recovery is occurring. A developer had grand plans for this area, and he drained a small recreational lake that had been used by residents and tourists alike in the “good old days” of early Prescott. He also cut out the willows and cottonwoods that framed the pond and leveled the whole works for his development. There were plans for a bridge across Granite Creek where now there is a fair-weather ford—a bridge that might have impeded Wood Ducks and Black-Hawks as they flew up and downstream searching for food. With money pouring from his deep pockets and machines moving the earth with seeming impunity, he didn’t take one thing into account: his development was right next to the property of one of the Dells’ most colorful characters, Happy Heavenly Oasis (no, this is not a pseudonym). Continue reading
A friend of mine sent me a newspaper clipping and asked “What the heck is going on here?” Entitled “ ‘ Porpoisidal’ Dolphins,” the article quotes some marine mammal researchers who witnessed “violent and fatal” attacks by bottlenose dolphins on harbor porpoises. They were baffled that one marine mammal would attack and kill others not likely to be direct competitors, but they speculated that high levels of testosterone might have been involved.
It’s challenging to evaluate such reports because of our human perspectives. We shake our heads at human gang-rapes and shooting sprees, somewhat comforted that these are aberrations even among humans. We accept the range of human variability without recognizing anything similar among other animals. Then some researchers discover panicidal (murderous) chimps or individual baboons that stalk and kill young antelope. Then there is Fifi, behaving just fine at home but becoming a raging pack animal out to kill when running loose with other “domestic” dogs. These are perhaps the flip side of cases where the lion lies down with the lamb, where the tiger mother raises piglets or the she-wolf raises a feral boy. You can advance hypotheses about the overwhelming strength of maternal instincts or the corrupting influence of testosterone; some may prove true, others not. The interesting thing is that we are surprised. Continue reading
In nature, every sound has meaning.
Stepping out of the house this morning to scatter a handful of bird seed for the local quail and other welcome guests, I heard an unexpected sound—a few series of sharp, somewhat hollow kowp calls that made my hair stand on end. A Yellow-billed Cuckoo! As our house sits atop a dry jumble of granite boulders, one of the last birds I expected to get on my yard list was the stream- and thicket-loving cuckoo, but there it was. Unmistakable if you know the sound. And the calls were coming from appropriate habitat, the green ribbon of cottonwood, willow, and ash trees that follows Granite Creek a hundred yards or so away. Continue reading