Slowing Down the Days

WesternTanager3910Western Tanager                                 click to enlarge


Not quite yet. It’s not quite Spring enough and certainly too soon for Summer but it’s starting. The birds are coming back. We tell time here by when certain birds return, it’s one of  the ways we make the year last longer. If you’re waiting for something to arrive it makes time slow down but the trick is you have something else lined up to wait for when you finally get what you’ve been waiting for in the first place. If you don’t then time grabs the bit between its teeth and races hell-for-leather forward and before you know it its way too late. You’ve lost a whole month or even a year or if you’re not really careful a whole damn life. We don’t want to lose a second, let alone a whole life, so our waiting calendar is pretty full.

Back in February the bluebirds arrived, then Robins, some people say the Robins don’t leave but I can tell you they avoid the high country until it warms up some. The Camp Robbers or Clark’s Nutcracker have been here all winter. They moved on down to get out of the miserable weather above the tree-line in December. We’re waiting for them to go back home. Magpies are another year-round bird here. We’re just waiting for them to do something different. Stellar Jays head downhill when the weather gets bad but they’ve started returning now, so all’s well with them.

Golden eagles are hanging out more on the cliff face behind the house and the Great horned owls have started nesting. There are a pair of Redtail hawks checking out the nest on the road to the cement plant so maybe we get to wait to see what happens there. And one of the big arrivals that screams out Spring, is the return of the Willox St. ospreys and they’re back. I saw the female sitting on the nest yesterday and the male perched nearby guarding her. Now we can wait for this year’s chicks to arrive. That cements Spring firmly in place. The world is becoming right again.

The glitterati of the bird world hasn’t shown up yet but that’s what happens when you wait. You gotta wait. We’re talking hummingbirds in all their various flavors and one of my personal superstars the Western Tanager pictured above. I’ve got time slowed down to just over twice its normal speed which is pretty good actually. There’s a line in an old song about going so fast that telephone poles going by looked like a picket fence. It used to be that days were the telephone poles, now it’s years that are the telephone poles. I’m actively considering adding waiting for the coming of free-range penguins to my wait list. That ought to slow things down pretty good.


Higher Than The Clouds, Lower Than The Heavens

HigherThantheClouds1594Golden Eagle                                     click to enlarge


In our part of the country we have a lot of Golden Eagles. They seem suited to this high rugged country where the cliff tops are often higher than the clouds.

The rock faces that jut out over the valleys below are perfect for their nests and give them places to rest while they survey the countryside that stretches for as far as the eye can see. They are rarely seen at rest as they are much more comfortable floating on the thermals that rise up along the edge of these mountains.

There are a pair of these Golden eagles that have made this spot the northern limit of their range and spend much of their time here hunting the rabbits that make up their prey. Occasionally they get everyone excited as it looks like they’re going to start a nest but for the last 19 years it hasn’t happened. They fool us by indulging in “false nest-building” where they carry in nesting materials and start to build a nest then give it up part way through  the process.

Over the years this pair or maybe their offspring have flown back here with their young, usually one or two recently fledged birds, having them roost in the old dead snag that sits on the cliff’s edge and then flown away, leaving them to figure out the rest of their lives. The youngsters, being used to the parents being gone for long periods of time while they are out hunting, don’t seem to realize that this time is different. This time they don’t come back.

Over the period of several days the young hop around the tree gradually taking little short flights from tree to cliff-top and back again until hunger sets in. Then their activity becomes more frantic until the bravest one suddenly takes off and begins looking for food. It isn’t long before the other follows suit and they’re both gone from their perches more than they’re there. They return to the snag less and less until one day they’re gone. They seldom come back for the rest of the summer.

This image is of one of the adults in late spring using the last of the days thermals to gain altitude prior to heading south to where its main nest site is. Huge thunderheads have been building all day and a front is moving in that should bring some much-needed rain. The weather doesn’t seem to bother the birds and they are often seen riding the wind squalls that precede a storm. Although much of their flight is somewhat nearer the ground so their contact time once they spot prey is less, they often get to great heights, hanging motionless in the sky, just a dark spot against the blue, higher than the clouds but lower than the heavens.


The Neighbor

The NeighborGackle1012
Gackle                                           click to enlarge


Neighbors. Unless you live just south of the North Pole you’ve got some. Lots of times you like your neighbors, they’re helpful, they’re kind of quiet, they keep the place up, they don’t throw trash in your yard or steal your newspaper, they’re pretty good as neighbors go.

But then you sometimes get neighbors like Mrs. Gackle here, the ones who are constantly sticking their heads out the door, yelling at your kids to stay off the lawn, watching to see that you don’t park too close in front of her house, telling you if your dog even looks at her rose bushes she’s calling the cops, you know who I mean.

The Gackles, well mainly Mrs. Gackle we haven’t seen Mr. Gackle around the place, (everybody thinks she did him in and he’s buried in the basement) bought this loft in the same building that the Osprey’s own. It’s a pleasant place located in a nice part of town along an irrigation canal that always has plenty of fish in it when the waters high. We call it Willox St. manor and as the Osprey’s have the penthouse in this high-rise you can see their comings and goings, how big their family is and how fast they’re growing, when the Mr. brings home a trout and how large it is, pretty much everything that is going on in their lives.

Mrs. Gackle, who is renting, some would say nearly squatting, with the rent she’s paying, doesn’t like all the coming and going around her front door, and she goes to great lengths to tell everyone so. The Osprey’s completely ignore her except during the times when she is particularly obnoxious. Then they might slowly cruise by at nest level and you get the feeling that although they are primarily fish eaters they might be considering how Gackle would taste. When that happens Mrs. Gackle prudently stays inside until they return to their own business.

Life for the urban wildlife community has its ups and downs and the Gackles are just a small (but noisy) part of it. It won’t be long now and the Osprey’s will be returning from their winter vacation in Florida to take up residence in their summer home at Willox manor and start this years family. It is unclear whether they have renewed the Gackles lease.

Daybreak or the Harsh Light of Morning

HarshLight3360-3675Daybreak Monument valley                       click to enlarge


Unless you’re an early riser many people miss daybreak. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, daybreak is when the sun comes up and everything that was dark is now light. This term is used a lot in the west. Usually by cowboys and long haul truckers and some waitresses. It is also sometimes known  as dawn. Daybreak or dawn is almost always a good thing unless one has a hangover and wants to sleep for another week. But then what are you doing out in the desert with a hangover? What’s a matter with you? Stay home. You’re missing some of the best sights in the whole wide world.

Dawn in the low desert comes with startling swiftness. One moment you’re stumbling around in the dark wondering where your other shoe is and the next it is so light out you can’t blink fast enough. I like that. Talk about Wham Bam, that is some instant gratification. Yeah it’s possible to run around and duck down behind a rock in the shadows until your eyeballs adjust but that’s only available for a minute or two, then the sun gets a little higher and that’s it. It’s day out. Wake up.

Monument valley has a lot of daybreak in the morning. This is just one small example of it. To get the full effect of it you have to be there for a few days and make a good concentrated effort of getting up every morning, then you’ll understand how this thing works. So if you’re not doing anything tomorrow, you already missed it this morning, hop on over to Monument valley just before daybreak and be prepared to be impressed. Oh yeah, and don’t forget your RayBans.


This Old Tree

ThisOldTree4481Grandmother’s Tree Monument valley

click to enlarge

And now, as the Python’s used to say, for something completely different. Trees, especially old trees, have always held a special place In my heart, as it seems to in many others also. I always stop and photograph them whenever a particularly interesting example appears. This one was shot in the backcountry behind Monument valley. When I do see an old tree that has struggled and survived it brings out the poet in me. The only problem with that is I can’t write poetry worth a damn so I spent a little time wandering through the land of the poets looking for examples that say things about these old trees that I can’t put into words myself.

A Tree

Every branch shaking, shifting, and falling in the icy wind,
A tiny leaf at the very end holds strong,
Why am I here, questioning wondering waiting, for that final pulse that will blow him down?
But in that tree was a force, a force of life, a force of strength, a force unmatched by the icy wind.
That tree was a young tree, a tree that never crossed roots with wild bushes,
Bore fruits desired by many, tasted by few and discarded by the very planter,
Questioning why am I here, questioning is this the only way,
Now the broken branch begins to fall, now this tree was not very tall,
No other tree was like this tree, this tree was special,
This tree was alone,
This tree was bearing the strain of an icy wind,
Just as the branch had hit the ground there was silence all around a calm in the drifting storm
Now this was rare, a tree this young, a tree this strange, a neglected tree, a tree with shallow roots, a tree with hollow bark had survived the storm.
Questioning why me?
This tree was a lonely tree, this tree knew he would grow strong, weak body strong thoughts kept the tree unmoved on broken paths.

Emmanuel Mohanlall

I never saw a discontented tree. They grip the ground as though they liked it, and though fast rooted they travel about as far as we do. They go wandering forth in all directions with every wind, going and coming like ourselves, traveling with us around the sun two million miles a day, and through space heaven knows how fast and far! ~John Muir

Trees are poems that earth writes upon the sky,
We fell them down and turn them into paper,
That we may record our emptiness.
~Kahlil Gibran

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time is now. ~Chinese Proverb

Sit still with me in the shade of these green trees, which have no weightier thought than the withering of their leaves when autumn arrives, or the stretching of their many stiff fingers into the cold sky of the passing winter. ~Fernando Pessoa

The oaks and the pines, and their brethren of the wood, have seen so many suns rise and set, so many seasons come and go, and so many generations pass into silence, that we may well wonder what “the story of the trees” would be to us if they had tongues to tell it, or we ears fine enough to understand. ~Author Unknown, quoted in Quotations for Special Occasions by Maud van Buren, 1938

A tree never hits an automobile except in self defense. ~American Proverb

Every creature is better alive than dead, men and moose and pine trees, and he who understands it aright will rather preserve its life than destroy it. ~Henry David Thoreau, “Chesuncook,” The Maine Woods, 1848

I hear the wind among the trees
Playing the celestial symphonies;
I see the branches downward bent,
Like keys of some great instrument.
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
~Joyce Kilmer,”Trees,” 1914

We say we love flowers, yet we pluck them. We say we love trees, yet we cut them down. And people still wonder why some are afraid when told they are loved. ~Author Unknown

And as always, from the guy with Deep Thoughts

If trees could scream, would we be so cavalier about cutting them down? We might, if they screamed all the time, for no good reason. ~Jack Handey

Epic Fail



EpicFail8736Bald Eagle  Yellowstone                      click to enlarge


At the beginning of the season, which starts in early spring, the songbird tryouts are held in Yellowstone National Park. Birds from all over the country fly in to audition and try to sell their stuff. It’s absolutely huge if you get picked to be one of the parks resident songbirds and the completion is incredibly tough.

This competition is a pass/fail selection process so each performer chooses their very best material to present to the judges. They only get one shot at this so the pressure is immense. The judges are unyielding in their quest for excellence and show the various tryouts little or no mercy in evaluating their performance. It can be brutal to hear their critiques.

The selection process is open to anyone who wants to try and the only requirement is that they be a bird. This young lady is back for her eighth straight year and although she is persistent that doesn’t increase her abilities. She has failed to be accepted each of the eight years despite several tearful attempts to sway the jury. The judges are looking for birds that sing melodious songs that are simple, easy to repeat, and identifiable. Ms. Maseve LaNez has never gotten past the first few stanzas of her perennial favorite “America the Beautiful” and she didn’t again this year. In fact one of the judges said she sounded like Tom Waits in a blender. Now I know that they have to be truthful, and well constructed criticism is helpful, but that is just plain mean.

The tryouts are over for the year and there were plenty of great selections to fill the resident songbird slots. As usual there is a fine representation of larks, warblers, trillers, pippins, syncopates, callers, rollers, and a new category this year, jazz scatters. There is however for the eight straight year, no large Bald Eagles singing “America the Beautiful” in our nation’s premier national park. At first you might think that just isn’t fair somehow, but then you haven’t heard Ms. LaNez sing it either. The Judges were right.


Whoa Dude, Are We Cool Or What

WhoaDude7268Black Bear cubs – Yellowstone          click to enlarge


Regardless of whether you agree or not it is now officially Spring. In fact we’re four days into it. That means spring babies. Black bears, grizzly bears, foxes, elk, wolves. Bighorn sheep, the list goes on.

Some of the newest youngsters take a more elitist view of their arrival like these two black bear cubs, although twins they are not identical. We shall call them Solenoid and Nodule. These may not be traditional bear names like, Fang and Claw and Leroy, but then we live in different times and the naming nomenclature has changed somewhat from what you may be used to. They are some of the first among equals as far as their stature in the park is determined.

Being one of the big three predators in Yellowstone brings some pretty cool perks and these two are already discovering one of the biggest, which is all the attention they’ll get from now on. As superstars on the list of what the tourist come to see they are some of the privileged few and they take full advantage of it. Having just finished a prolonged session of goofing off in the cutest way they can come up with, they’re not above a bit of self-congratulation.

Mom, whom you’ve met before and know as Rosie the Queen of Mt. Washburn, is just out of sight behind a large tree and is keeping a watchful eye on the two. When they get completely out of hand she’ll appear, give one disgusted grunt and they’ll be up a tree so fast it’ll make their heads swim. Cubs, no matter  how cute, do not disobey Rosie.

Right now however, they got it made and they know it. They’re still little enough that school hasn’t started yet. Once that starts much of the goofiness will be toned down because it’s serious business being a bear, and there are lots of tough lessons ahead. Right now though they get to say “Hey Are we Cool or what”. And they are.