Sunday, August 9, 2009


All during the cool days of late winter and early spring, we are treated to the gallantry of gaudy, red male finches, parading their avian testosterone in feats of vainglorious acrobatics above our rear deck. Below, their female audience busy themselves at the two hanging feeders overflowing with black oil sunflower seeds, feigning either a planned indifference or outright disdain for all the aerial foolishness going on. The finches come, seemingly by the hundreds, far outnumbering the juncos, sparrows and noisy red wing blackbirds who vie for our daily handouts, as we watch from our grandstand seats.
Because we overlook both a river and a pond, the coming and going of seasonal waterfowl is a constant in our observing hours, and it is not unusual for the latter to play host to more than forty or fifty Canada geese; and ducks in the hundreds. Now and again a pair of snow geese will overnight with us, seeming to fit right in. Three pair of great blue herons nest and raise young in our tall grove of cottonwoods each year, and pose for us on one leg apiece in their patient waiting game in the pond’s shallows.
Red-tail hawks and an occasional kestrel patrol all this activity, just in case they spot some easy pickings, and they favor the power pole in our back yard as a gazing gallery, a spot which also appeals to a barn owl we love to see and hear. Twice this spring we admired a pair of golden eagles who glided by us at house level as well as a single bald cousin.
At least one pair of geese we kept an eye on this spring, chose not to nest near the water, but on a high rocky hill where their young sang a noisy chorus at every take-off and landing by their food-bearing parents. We watched in amazement early one morning as a parade of two adults and seven baby geese picked their way down the hill, across our backyard, over rocky barriers and through the tall grass of an irrigated field to the safety of the water – and the launching of their first family swim.
With the arrival of summer, the picture changes, and so does the palette of nature’s colors. Bluebirds, swallows, fly catchers and swifts cruise the sage country on one side of our house, and yellow-headed and Brewer’s blackbirds join the ground crew under our finch feeders. Ever since the first of May, our two hummingbird feeders will have been under constant assault by first dozens, then hundreds of starved black throats, broad-tails and the occasional “lost” rufous. But. . . those busy hummingbirds no longer have an exclusive claim on all that hand-mixed nectar. About three years ago, some “wandering” orioles discovered our sweet shop, and apparently marked us on their built-in GPS system. To be exact, one pair of hooded orioles and another belonging to the Bullock’s race stopped by and did a taste test. They and their growing progeny are now our summer regulars, and between the two colonies we are probably feeding a dozen of these wondrously-colorful members of the blackbird family.
At one time, all orioles were labeled as “Baltimore orioles”, to which was later added a group known as “Northern” orioles. Because their ranges are subject both to change and overlapping, there have emerged the two races we see here in the southwest. Except for the Lazuli bunting and the western tanager, I believe our two oriole visitors are about the most beautiful of all American song birds. They bring an eyeful of delight to our back window. Along with their usual fare of insects and seeds, we are happy to supply their built-in sweet tooth with the nectar they love.
As well as a great sense of color, Nature also has a sense of humor, and proof of that is embodied in a big bird, who seldom resorts to flight, has been known to “knock” on our sliding glass door, and enjoys coming to watch the antics of our hummingbirds (hungrily and with malice aforethought) almost daily. So, along with a photo of one of our cherished orioles, I am including a shot of our favorite roadrunner “The Beeper”.

Al welcomes audience call-ins during his weekly radio program Provident Living – Home & Country heard each Monday at 4:00 PM on KSUB (590), Cedar City.

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