Arizona Sycamore against an impossibly blue Arizona sky
(Photos by Narca)
Fall comes late to southern Arizona. Up north, trees are bare by now and shrouded in ice. Here Indian Summer has drifted into fall, and shifted bit by bit into chilly winter, yet any venture out-of-doors is still an immersion in color.
Richardson's Geranium in autumn dress
Consider Whitewater Draw in the Sulphur Springs Valley northwest of Douglas. Low afternoon light slants across the ponds where a Canvasback naps. Waves of Sandhill Cranes drift in, settling among thousands of their fellows in a dancing, clangorous multitude. Two dazzling Snow Geese catch the sun.
The land glows. We skirt the ponds with my brother. Suddenly a wheeling mass of Yellow-headed Blackbirds returns to their evening roost in the reeds. They announce their coming, loudly. A friend, Steve Laymon, once described the voice of a Yellow-headed Blackbird this way: imagine a Red-winged Blackbird being held under water.
Yellow-headed Blackbirds descend pell-mell to their evening roost.
These blackbirds are mostly males. The males and females tend to migrate separately. Once years ago, I saw a fallout of male Yellow-heads in the city of Chihuahua, Mexico, as night descended. They festooned every tree and telephone wire around us. Two weeks later I returned to Chihuahua, and that night a huge flock of female Yellow-heads descended on the city to roost. The males and females were following the same migratory path, but the males were going first, to set up their breeding territories in preparation for their mates' arrival.
A Merlin routs the panicked blackbirds, but soon they settle back in for the night. What form do their dreams take, I wonder? Spilt seed for foraging, safe harbor in the reeds, and––after the cold––the gurgling songs of spring?