August is the classic time to visit southeast Arizona. The monsoons have cooled the air and greened the desert, and all the late summer breeders are singing, the “Mexican” specialties are fledging young, and northern migrants are passing through in large numbers. As if that weren’t enough, August is high season for vagrants from the Pacific and from Middle America. Who knows what this year will turn up?
There are plenty of opportunities to help me explore my favorite landscapes on earth. Why not come along?
Thursday, August 4, 6:00 am
Fort Huachuca Birds and History, with Tom Wood
Friday, August 5, 5:00 pm
Saturday, August 6, 6:00 am
Sunday, August 7, 6:00 pm
Monday, August 8, 6:30 am
Thursday, August 11, 10:30 am
Thursday, August 11, 5:00 pm
Friday, August 12, 5:00 am
California Gulch, with Jake Mohlmann
Saturday, August 13, 10:30 am
Monday, August 15, 6:30 pm
Tuesday, August 16, 5:00 am
Wednesday, August 17, 5:00 am
Thursday, August 18, 5:00 am
Friday, August 19, 5:00 am
Saturday, August 20, 5:00 am
Eighty-five years ago today, on July 22, 1931, Alden H. Miller witnessed a series of events seen by few ornithologists before or since.
Collecting in Utah’s Wasatch Mountains, Miller shot one of a pair of juncos attending young, Miller found that it was a male hybrid, with the back and flank patterns of the pink-sided junco but a paler, intermediate head. The female, a visually “pure” pink-sided junco, was spared.
Five hours after her mate had been collected, a new male had arrived, courting her with song and tail flitting. Miller shot this second male, a bird with pink flanks, intermediate head color, and a mixed back color.
An hour later, a third male had attached itself to the now twice-widowed female; the newcomer was quickly dispatched and found to be more or less a pink-sided junco, but with intermediate head color.
By noon, yet another male had given his life for science, victim to his interest in the bereaved female; this bird had the back of a pink-sided, the flanks of a gray-headed, and the head color of an intermediate junco. Miller wrote:
I am doubtful that these males were all unattached previous to their interest in female X…. There was no doubt of the attraction of the female for all of them, however…. No intolerance was evidenced by the female. Some of the males gathered food for the young. This indicates disregard on the part of the junco for differences in colors of sides and backs.
Any wonder juncos are so confusing?
Now that the tree swallows are done with them, it seems like every birdhouse at Mill Creek has been turned to a new purpose: as a song perch for noisy, feisty, fecund little spartina-dwellers.
Yes, that’s a wren. Yes, that’s a house. But that doesn’t make it a wren house — or a house wren, either.
It’s the season of plenty for cedar waxwings. The streaky young are out of the nest to join their parents in gorging themselves on the ripening cherries and mulberries.
These handsome little gluttons are everywhere right now in northern New Jersey, but the most fun is watching them on the edges of the salt marsh, when small bands emerge to hunt insects over the mud, hovering and fluttering among the more dashing swallows and swifts.
Who would have thought to add a tide table to the waxwing watcher’s toolkit?
Percy MacKaye’s fantasy masque “Sanctuary” was quite a big deal in the early part of the last century. It quickly became a standard part of the program whenever a bird refuge or nature center was dedicated, and inspired everything from songs to high-design bird baths.
The play was premiered in September 1913 at the dedication of the Helen Woodruff Smith bird preserve in Plainfield, New Hampshire. The cast at this first performance was an illustrious one:
Both Eleanor and Margaret Wilson took part in this first performance, Margaret singing the prelude and her sister taking on the role of Ornis, the collective spirit of birddom.
The author’s daughter, Arvia MacKaye, “fell into reverie” as the prelude was sung — a prelude credited in later publications to her own precocious pen.
Joseph Lindon Smyth and Percy MacKaye himself played the leading roles of the Faun and the Poet.
Bit parts were assigned to family members and friends. Little Arvia changed her costume to play Hummingbird, and Cardinal was the sculptor Herbert Adams.
Witter Bynner, a prolific and largely forgotten poet, was suitably fierce as the plumer Stark; happily, the masque ends with his conversion to the preservationist cause.
There was another, more important conversion, too. Eleanor and Margaret Wilson’s father was named Woodrow, and the president and his wife were in the audience that September day in New Hampshire. Perhaps he recalled the play’s adjurations when he signed the Migratory Bird Treaty Act a few years later.