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Desert Solitaire - Bird Sighting

by John Oliver


I got to add to my bird list this afternoon. It is 75 F and sunny out. Sitting out in my backyard (1/4 acre of desert) in town I heard a combination bird call that sounded familiar. I did not have my binocs with me. But the pair stood their ground while I went inside and grabbed the glasses and the bird book.

They were sparrow shaped and size but the colors did not look right. The song was a combination of high whistles, sharp chirps and clicking. So I turned to the sparrow part of the book (Petersonís Western Birds) and leafed right through them to the Juncos. The song was right and the bright-yellow bill matched. Their dark plumage and, most telling, their black orbs confirmed the Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis). Tucson is right square dab in the middle of their winter stomping grounds. It appears that they breed as far north as central Alaska.

I noticed that the Yellow-eyed Junco (Junco phaeonotus), also called the Mexican Junco, was already checked off in the book. The ďSky IslandsĒ of extreme southeast Arizona and southwest New Mexico are itís northern most range. They come up from as far as Guetemala. It is marked in the book that I saw the Yellow-eyed Junco in the Huachuca Mountains of Arizona.

Itís funny, about half of my bird sightings have been in the mountains and about half have been in the backyard. I have more At Home sightings when the cat is not around. The birds donít seem to mind the dog at all.

We are at the winter/spring crux with our weather. The aloe vera in the front yard has shot up its flowering stalk and the bright red flowers are about to open. The small agave also produced a stalk but it does not have the flair of the aloe vera. The 50-year-old mesquite in the backyard is just starting to put out its tiny green compound leaves.

Yes, the spring will be beautiful and soon the heat will pounce. Only people are foolish enough to be active outside at two in the afternoon during a Sonoran summer. Out in the desert the animals are still, the birds are still and the lizards are under rocks. It is 125 F and if you had any brains at all you would be out of the sun. Sitting in the shade of a house-sized boulder, drinking water that has never tasted so sweet and realizing that shade has never had as much value. You can give testimony that the slightest breeze is pure Nirvana.

So you wait till just before the sun goes down behind the distant hills then head out. The moon has already cleared the ridge and soon itís fullness will turn the desert into an unbelievable landscape where the tops of Saguaros glow blue and the teddy-bear chollaís furry coat is an inviting luminescent yellow.

I am thankful to any process, creation, mistake, happenstance or pre-determined course that put me here and gave me the ability to perceive this world. Yes. Thanks.


ďThe highest treason the meanest treason is to deny the holiness of this small blue planet on which we journey through the cold void of space. --- Edward Abbey