Saturday, February 9, 2008

Post from the Deck

In spite of living in the snowbird region of the United States, I rarely get out to hike anymore on these sunny winter days. That may change, but for now my nature fixes come from time spent on my deck. And what a deck it is!! A voluptuous backdrop to my view: a butte, covered in desert plants, maybe 250' high. Below it, a long and narrow green belt that begins to pitter out just where my deck begins. Completing the trio: a watering hole that lies immediately below. In a climate where water is gold, it cajoles life from far and wide to come and drink.

Most of the wildlife I see comes in a constant trickle -- morning, day and night -- from the greenbelt, the "jungle". It's like a gondola in there. Under the tiny-leaved desert trees and below brittle desert bushes, hiding inside hollowed out grey trunks and deeply dug ground burrows they take refuge: javelina, coyotes, a great horned owl and his daytime niche-mate the red-tailed hawk, hoards of cream-colored ground squirrels, scorpions, warblers, the occasional giant jack rabbit, and the surreptitious roadrunner, among many, many others. All of this lies within the confines of a major metropolitan area, surrounded by miles of blacktop.

I come out here to work, but things rarely get done. With the courtship and calls of early spring in full swing, today was particularly unproductive (for the human). My favorite: the resident roadrunner. Today he had a tree lizard dangling haphazardly out both sides of his bill. He eyed me for a bit, I eyed him, and then we both continued on (me with my keyboard, him with... more predating and courting). The Greater roadrunner is smaller than most people realize; Wiley Coyote's nemesis was freakishly large, and most people are shocked when they see the real thing. But one look at their surreptitious movements tells you roadrunners are every bit as calculating as the cartoon version, and certainly as cool. The Greater roadrunner cooing call, used in courtship, is the one I hear most often -- especially at this time of year. Imagine the clapping sound of shuffling cards, and then muffle it, reverberate it as only the syrinx of a bird can, and you get something akin to a roadrunner coo. I've also compared it to a mini version of something you might here in the movie Jurassic Park (and equally hair-raising). More than other birds, the roadrunner conjures to mind their distant dinosaur relatives.

It's hard not to be entranced and romanced into distraction by the desert life. Poor me.

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