Sept 19, 2021 - Dec 19, 2021

The shortest day of the year has come and gone; time for a quick look back at fall critters. Katie and I spent a second fall in SE Arizona, and there are some similarities and big differences from a year ago. One of the big differences is that we now own property and we are trying to figure out how to be here next summer, especially since running off to the NW last summer didn't really escape the heat. We are also even more involved in the human machinations within the valley.  All making for an odd mix of quiet and chaos.

The good news for winter is that we are already getting some winter rains. Yet another difference from last year.

A Quiet Fall

During our second fall in the Sonoran Desert of SE Arizona, the land has been mostly quiet.  In many ways, it feels like the desert is sleeping off a hangover from the massive party that was monsoon season from July through September. Fall is typically a dry season here, and it has lived up to that. The incredibly rich greens that we came back to at the end of August have given way to mostly browns and golds. The hills are covered in dry grasses and the river is once again, as my friend Ralph Waldt describes it, a "golden necklace" of cottonwood and Goodding's willow.

There was no lack of grasshoppers, though. They were out in abundance. Not the invasion they had here a few years ago where they were chewing through screen doors, but they were everywhere. 

One thing missing from last year are the thousands of sparrows along the river and other places. While the incredible numbers last year were said to be unusual, the dearth of sparrows this year feels just as unusual. It's hard to know why we had such an influx last year, but it is possible that the habitat loss from the Bighorn Fire in the Catalinas had something to do with it, as well as the dry summer, which meant that the only grass you could find in the valley was along the river floodplain. This year grasses are everywhere and seeds are abundant, so there is less need to congregate along the river. A single white-throated sparrow has been spotted twice now, which is not a common sighting in the valley, even though they are said to winter in SE Arizona.

A somewhat surprising similarity from last year is that I again regularly find up to three great-horned owls along the river where I walk in the mornings. The surprise is that they appear to exhibit very similar personality traits as the three I observed last year. One appears to be an adult and the two others may be first year juveniles. The adult rarely flies away and mostly ignores me, looking satisfied with the night's hunting. One of the younger ones generally puts up with me and will even hunt along the bank of the river during the morning for insects. Apparently, it isn't as successful as the adult in obtaining more satisfying prey during the night. The third owl is very skittish and I usually only see it flying away. I assume that the two young owls are different individuals from last year, but they sure are acting the same.

The end of this fall marks a full year that we have owned property in the Middle San Pedro Valley. That particular piece of property is near the confluence of the San Pedro River, Paige Canyon, and Hot Springs Canyon and is part of a wildlife corridor that residents of the valley have been working to protect for a few decades. Even though that part of the river does not flow perennially, over the last three years we have observed that it holds onto the monsoon water for some time after the flows have gone away. It is a place where wildlife can get to water that isn't artificially extracted from the underground aquifers and subsurface flow, which continue to recede in the area. Unfortunately, it has been drying up earlier each year, partially due to rogue cattle finding it. It is dry now, but I was able to note a number of larger mammals utilized it while it was available: Deer, coyote, bear, mountain lion, and coatimundi.

The general quiet, outside of human-introduced noise, has reinforced the usefulness of attentive stillness for nurturing awareness of all of life around me. When I allow myself to really listen, then the subdued undercurrent of activity makes itself known. It isn't always easy to take the time when so much of humanity is buzzing. 
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