Category Archives: Birds


I’m just a soul whose intentions are good…oh lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood.
(Not written by, but made tearfully famous by Eric Burden in 1965)

Changes. They’re harder when we get older but are often worth the struggle. I just got back from a week in CT, my home state. A family member I hadn’t spoken to in 20 years called because she needed me. I did not hang up on her, I got on a plane. A highly emotional reconciliation and physically demanding visit followed. It was wonderful. I have been telling people all my life I have no family but now that has changed, and a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. She had me ROFL when she said, in all earnestness, “well you know you come from a long line of over-reacters.” Ha ha, like you don’t? I laughed so hard I fell off the couch.

I spent the week ‘unplugged,’ my first since the beginning of the computer age. No email, no google, no Trayvon, no bitter news to keep me in a constant state of agitation. (First thing I read when I got back though was this unholy alliance between Hollywood and Washington. It’s always been there, but this spectacle splashed all over front pages everywhere makes me sick in a whole new way—two professional groups of liars teaming up, a powerful fusing of the sordid with the corrupt. America, running on a currency of lies and coverups is now one big hateful reality show. Incontinent conservatives, please stop! You’re HELPING him!) But my hiatus was freeing, and had begun before I left. Too ashamed to dispense my moody posts, too involved in my own demise to comment on others. I apologize to my friends for neglecting you, but I do not sparkle with wit and humor, I crackle with confrontation and cynicism.  My friend Harry from The Fool Folds his Arms had these wise words:  I sometimes wonder if the Internet was invented to keep people occupied and passive while the powerful continue to chip away at what little they don’t control already. Well put Harry.

When I got home I learned of two shocking deaths here in AZ. The first was an older woman I adored, cancer. It happened fast and I didn’t know and I still can’t believe it.

The second was the untimely death of a young man whom I had struck from my life because of his cruelty toward his animals. I grew to hate him. I will not miss him but I am not glad he is gone. Like wishing for revolution and getting it, then cowering as the new regime inflicts more aggression and brutality than the last, I can’t know what will replace him. His (very nice) family is dumping the house cheap. Is it wrong of me to feel in my heart it’s about to get worse? No, it is merely experience speaking for me—I can’t unknow the past. Does the deletion of a selfish person add balance to the world? Absolutely not. It doesn’t work that way.

Here are a few pictures from around town this week.

I tried to research this bird but could not be sure what it is. Can anyone help? Saw him along the San Pedro River.

We don’t get many bluebirds in my neighborhood so this was a treat. He hung around for a few days and now he’s gone. But the exotic orioles are beginning to arrive, and they too, are just passing through. Time to buy oranges. The swallows are back and rebuilding their porch light nest with great dedication and style.

Funny young pigeon watching me at a customer’s house. I was so flattered how close he let me come to him.

These new solar panels in the historical part of town have got everyone’s panties in a twist. Irate letters to the local papers abound…’the town wouldn’t let me put a carport in because it wasn’t historical!’ and ‘why didn’t you make them put the panels IN BACK OF the inn?’ etc., etc. Now I learn they are selling the power generated from these back to the power company. What do you think?

Look familiar? Although not the exact model as “Christine,” they used several models in the movie and this ’59 Plymouth Savoy was one of them. I love the flag on the antenna. Don’t see many American flags around here.


Taking a Mental Shower

A friend from a past life contacted me a few days ago. Catching up with old friends means honestly assessing yourself to report your standing in life. It forces us to confront head-on how the choices we make cast us in circumstances we never dreamed of.  I spend so much time agonizing over work, politics, world news, and Very Bad People that I often fail to see the beauty in the world. It didn’t take me long to realize that my self-appraisal revealed much more umbrage than peace, more plague than pleasure, more condemnation than concord.

As Darwin said: it is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change. So I looked for beauty, but no week would be complete without the sliding scale of angst. And where I land on that scale depends only on me.

We’re having some beautiful dark rainy days. This powerful sculpture was done by a local artist I have met and was impressed by. I don’t know if this metal female warrior is from mythology or the artist’s mind—but it’s absolutely stunning and even more so in the rain.

This is another part of the metal sculpture above. These figures perch high on a wall around a mountainside home. Spectacular.

These beautiful angel figures were made by Ben Dale who made the warrior figures above. The owner of this house commissioned this after 9/11. Note she flies the American flag, something we see little of here. It was raining when I took this picture.

Strange modified bus parked on Erie Street. I don’t know who owns it or what it’s for, but it’s pretty cool. I don’t know how they drive a bus so low to the ground though.

This hipster art is impressive only because it exists publicly. I don’t know what statement, if any, it’s trying to make.

I guess every town has to have its little Occupy movement. 

The beautiful Mule Mountains in the rain. So far nobody’s burned them down, though there have been a few attempts.

Some musicians playing in St. Elmo’s Bar parking lot a few days ago.

Desolation Row, what I think of every time I pass Coronado Nat’l Park, 30,000 acres burned over the summer. Roads are still closed up there from monsoon mudslide destruction.

I clean a house at the bottom of Carr Canyon, where the firefighters worked to save homes of people who live there. This customer has extensive bird feeders in her yard, and many animals come. This gorgeous little doe comes every day.

Goldfinches on feeder at house on Carr Canyon Road.

Saving the best for last—here’s Maxi, all ready to go for a ride. She truly is too cool for school.

The Week in My World 8-31-11

A harrowing, adrenaline-charged midnight rescue of a starving chained dog in my neighborhood…another neighbor with an old camper in his yard reports harassment by drug cartel members…so hot you can’t breathe…oh who the hell cares? Put the razor blade down and look at some recent six word stories and pictures from my world.

Autodidact’s delusions at least self-taught.

Noxious aura radiates from negligent psychic.

Dignity gone. Queasy dawn. Agreement withdrawn.

People’s revolution. Virtuous intentions. New oppressors.

Antisocial butterflies invited to somber soiree.

Forked road. Left, elimination, right, bereavement.

Don’t worry be happy. Lobotomy included?

Please amputate right leg this time.

Exfoliated angst shards predicted. Better duck.

Polluted hydrologist burst into brackish tears.

Beautiful, meticulous, handcrafted artwork. Price reduced.

Amo, amas. In extremis. Ante bellum.

Suicide hotline, on hold. Elevator music.

Every year during monsoon the nectarivorous Mexican long-nosed bats (Leptonycteris curasoae yerbabuenae), come at dark to drain the hummingbird feeder. Bats are major pollinators and/or insect eaters and there is no reason to fear them. Plus, they’re really cool!

Long-nosed bat drinking sugar-water at the hummingbird feeder.

A big flock of them come every night and drain the feeder within half an hour. It’s definitely worth buying extra sugar to support them!

Beautiful, mysterious long-nosed bats love nectar and sugar water. Both their roosting sites and their main source of food, the agave, are being destroyed by people and fires.



The second brood of barn swallows (Hirundo rustica) have been born, raised, and fledged. There will be no more this year. This series of pictures starts with newborns.

3 days old. It takes about two weeks for the swallow babies to reach maturity. Like most birds, both parents are extremely attentive.

For the first week after the babies fledge, the parents continue to watch, feed, and guide them. The babies still return to the porch light nest every night for several more weeks.

Hey, you on the end! Listen up! I have important stuff to tell you!

During monsoon blasts of rain pour down in one part of town but not another.

We are at 5,000 ft., so we are actually IN the clouds. Picture taken from my street.

The Monument fire destroyed my favorite refuge, Coronado National Park, and the road in is closed due to destruction by flooding as there are no trees left to stop it. But the San Pedro River is lush and full, and the animals don’t care that the water is muddy.

Raccoon prints along the San Pedro, which is teeming with wildlife seeking water.

Tanagers and Chats, Arizona Style

Birdseed is a luxury expense I can’t afford, but I’ve found ways to enjoy having birds in the yard that are inexpensive and attract a wider variety than housefinches and sparrows, who will chow down a bag of birdseed in days. I buy marked-down fruit, and suet is on sale everywhere now. I get free bread from the senior center (which we eat too of course) but it is often already stale (they receive unsold bread from the supermarket). The birds love it and I love them.

Male western tanager at the oranges

Male western tanager with piece of bread

Male western tanager. You can see they have different shapes, which seems odd to me.

Male western tanager showing his little butt

What? I'm not fat, I'm fluffy!

Male western tanager---look how slender this one is.

A treeful of tanagers!

Time to replace this orange half.

Tanagers always come with their mates: female western tanager.

After the birds have taken a bit of fruit or suet, they rub their beaks back and forth on a branch or other surface.

Female western tanager. Female creatures are usually less colorful than the males, this helps camouflage them when they have babies. But they are just as beautiful.

Yellow-breasted chat, the largest of the warblers.

Yellow-breasted chat, the male and female look very similar.

Yellow-breasted chat

Yard Birds of April

These are some of the birds that have been coming to the feeder to fatten up for breeding season. I gave up buying birdseed a few years ago because it’s too expensive and they chow through it so fast. But they seem happy with what I’m offering—suet, chopped apples, breadcrumbs, and a big bucket of fresh water. Soon there will be babies. The swallows haven’t arrived yet but the porch light, prime swallow real estate, awaits. If I’ve misidentified any of these birds, please correct me.

Male blackheaded grosbeak, showing his tummy

Male blackheaded grosbeak and male house finch

Male Bullock's oriole

Male Bullock's oriole standing on a fresh orange half. If you put out oranges, they will come.

Female Bullock's oriole

Male blackheaded grosbeak at suet feeder, with male cardinal peeking from around branch

Male pyrrhuloxia, similar to the cardinal and fairly common in the US southwest

White-crowned sparrow and male pyrrhuloxia

White-crowned sparrow

White-winged dove

Cactus wren, unknown if it's male or female

Cactus wren hanging on to feeder

Curve-billed thrasher, unknown if it's male or female. The thrashers are big and sometimes chase smaller birds off the feeder.

I think this is a female Anna's hummingbird. We planted a tiny chinaberry tree a few years ago, and not only did it survive the February freeze, but this is the first year it's flowering. I'm excited that it's attracting the hummers.

Female Anna's hummingbird, I think

That Wraps Up the Nests

Hummingbird nest with two eggs in mulberry tree

Baby season is over for the local birds. I have a big window in my office so I feel privileged to be able to observe the mating, nest building, egg laying, and nursery care for several species. Two sets of swallows have fledged from the porch light, and two sets of hummingbirds from the mulberry trees in the yard. It’s a team effort between the mother and father—I like to think I’m in on it but I’m sure they’re helping me more than I’m helping them.

The hummingbirds build their nest on the flimsiest of branches during the height of monsoon storms—it never looks like they’re going to make it. We call the babies “riders on the storm” and they do get tossed around. But the parents choose their site with a purpose, the bigger birds would have a hard time landing in there on a tiny branch. I went out there and threw pebbles at a pair of cactus wrens a couple times. Cactus wrens are common in the desert but this is the first time I’ve ever seen them in the yard—I was all excited until I realized they were harassing the hummer nest and the little mother was going at them with all she had. Such is nature. All’s well with the hummer babies,  but there were a few fatalities with the second swallow brood. I hate the death part, but only the strong are going to survive and carry on.

Baby hummingbirds just hatched

Baby hummingbirds one week old

Getting bigger

Growing up fast

Ready to fledge!

More Mysteries of the Swallows

swallow nest with horsehair streamers

The swallow parents have been making repairs to the nursery in preparation for 2010 Brood #2.

Horses are popular where I live, and various equines reside in my neighborhood. The swallows will collect long mane or tail hairs that are shed and carry them back to the nest. They weave the long wirelike filaments into the mud to reinforce the nest.

The parents fly in and out of the nest about a hundred times a day. Last year the mother became entangled in one of the strands and though we were able to free her, it was not pleasant for anyone. So now, when I see the streamers flapping about, I go out there with a pair of scissors and cut the damn things off so the swallows don’t hang themselves. Wouldn’t you?

I’m bemused by some of the birdbrained building plans of this swallow family. Why? Why would they use an ingredient that is very likely to be dangerous? I don’t know. But I will continue to care for my precious little charges to the best of my ability. There is no better natural insect control than birds and bats, and swallows are at the top of the list. And even if they weren’t I would do it anyway.

A Moral Dilemma

OK so I have a bunch of cats—how many? I don’t know, I prefer to stay in denial about such things. Cats are easy to accumulate when you’re involved in animal rescue, especially the ones that aren’t very charming or adoptable. But this is their home, and naturally I prefer them to hang around the yard than head out to the desert to be a hawk or coyote’s dinner.

Every year the swallows build their nest on our front porch light. We’ve tried taking their nest down (not while there are eggs or babies in it though!) but they just come back. They think they have a permanent building permit here! What puzzles me is that the swallows know that cats live here. They start screeching and swooping every time one of the cats sets a paw on the front porch. I then feel compelled to get a squirt bottle and chase the cat away to protect the swallows. Some of the cats do feel obliged to eat a bird now and then, so they can’t be trusted.

Obviously we can’t be there every minute to guard the swallows. The parents make two broods per summer. The first set fledged a few days ago—but I know we started with four babies and ended up with three. The parents are now making repairs to the nest for batch number two.

What would you do?

newborn swallow babies

swallow babies a couple days old

swallow babies about 4 days old

swallow babies about one week old

about two weeks old, ready to fledge

ever-watchful swallow parents