For months now, most of us under stay-at-home orders have watched, from the safety of our sofas, as the pandemic storm rages around us, upending our daily routines and the way in which we conduct our lives. At times it seems like the very earth beneath our feet is shifting, causing us to lose our balance, our sense of wellbeing, our direction. Now that we have gained more knowledge about the disease and people have a better understanding about how it is transmitted, a complacency has settled in, like the calm within the storm's eye. This sense of security gives us the illusion that life will soon be back to "normal," and that we can return to our pre-pandemic routines. But I fear there may be more stormy weather ahead and I sense that nothing will be quite the same again, perhaps even for the better. I rather like having my prescriptions mailed to me, picking up my groceries and chatting with my doctors via the Internet!
With all the changes happening around me, one thing remains constant: the birds. They are oblivious to our human condition and have carried on with their normal spring tasks of migrating, looking for mates, building nests and raising young. Watching these little objects of light and color brings some sense of normality to my days, brightening my backyard and community parks with their beauty, songs and lively personalities.
My state's stay-at-home order fits right in with my own decision last year to stick closer to home and these days I bird almost exclusively in Verrado, the Arizona community in which I live. Snuggled into the foothills of the White Tank Mountains, there are over 20 miles of walking paths, 75 neighborhood parks and a couple of golf courses. The wide variety of habitat – from dry (and sometimes not-so-dry) washes filled with cactus and desert scrub, to grassy parks with towering trees, lush vegetation and water fountains – creates a diverse environment especially attractive to migrating birds. A veritable bird smorgasbord, if you will.
Our abundant winter rains this year resulted in an explosion of color: yellow Acacias and Palo Verdes, pink Desert Willows and flowering Ironwood, purple Jacaranda trees, all standing in a carpet of greenery that is dotted with Brittlebush, Fairy Duster and other wildflowers. All the colors and sweet nectar of the blooms have drawn more insects than I remember in the past and that means more insect-eating birds.
Birding in one place all the time may seem redundant - boring even - to some, but for me, each day holds the chance to observe the common-place or the possibility of something new: an Anna’s Hummingbird collecting spider webs to finish her nest, a Cassin’s Vireo singing from the top of a tree, a bright Wilson’s Warbler darting through tree limbs, a lemon yellow Western Kingbird twittering atop palm trees. These are the things that bring joy and hope to my life and uplift my spirits.
I love to hear the Western Kingbirds chatter and squeak as they chase each other through the tops of the palm trees.
Birding close to home allows me to really get to know the birds that call Verrado home, as well as those who have stopped by briefly to stock up on food before continuing on their journey, or stayed around to raise young. I've had the pleasure of watching several Anna's Hummingbirds build nests and hatch chicks, and a Costa's Hummingbird pair feed their fledging – so tiny! I discovered where the Hooded and Bullock's Orioles have made their nests and delighted in the fact that a Western Screech-Owl came to nest in the same saguaro where a pair nested last year. I found a Cooper's Hawk's nest and am eagerly awaiting the arrival of their brood.
No matter the weather or what is happening in my life, Verrado always surprises me. Its unique habitat creates a one-of-a-kind environment in which to study, photograph and paint the beauty of our natural world.
Let me share with you some of the birds that have paid a visit to my ‘hood this spring…so far! Click on any image to start the slide show. Next up: A Baby Boom in Verrado.