Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Promising visitor

The hummingbird feeders outside my kitchen window hang above a firethorn bush so neglected and overgrown that it's a menace. The branches flame out in every direction, just waiting to snag clothes or flesh. The reason I don't try to get it under control--aside from the fact that every time I go near it with a trimming implement it fights back until it tastes my blood--is that nearly every species of bird seems to love it. Flocks of cedar waxwings descend on it in winter to strip the berries, and every summer the latest crop of mockingbirds trains for future mating violence by using it as a launching platform for practice assaults. Yesterday it drew one of the most welcome avian visitors I've had in a long time--a male orchard oriole.

Even though orchard orioles are common summer residents here, they have always shunned my yard as a nesting site. I get one or two females passing through every year on their way south for the winter, but I've never once seen a male until yesterday. He lingered for quite a while, hopping delicately around those vicious thorns in search of bugs, stopping periodically to ponder the antics of the mob of hummingbirds overhead. I hope he was scoping out a location for next summer's housing. I'm keeping my fingers crossed--and leaving that firethorn alone.

Illustration by Alexander Wilson, 1808.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Oh, it's you

One of the trails I frequent has a resident pair of coyotes this summer. I see them once or twice a week. They must have a den in the area but I haven’t seen any sign of pups, though there is a third adult that joins them sometimes, possibly their offspring from last year. They fled the first few times I came across them, as coyotes generally do hereabouts. Ours are not bold, suburban coyotes—not yet, anyway. But I’ve become a routine presence to this little family now. When I walk by they look up, check me out, and then go back to the business of ferreting around under the trees in search of snacks. Coyotes will eat nearly anything, from lizards to persimmons. Right now the wild black cherries are falling in abundance, so I’m sure they’re eating a share of those. I eat a few myself.

The coyotes have stopped taking much notice of me but I always take notice of them. Encountering them has become the highlight of the day. I love that they don’t run from me anymore, though I wouldn't attempt to approach them. That would be a breach of etiquette that they’d never forgive, and on the off chance they decided they didn’t mind me getting closer, it would be a bad thing. If they failed to avoid other hikers they’d be doomed.

I'm a little embarrassed my sentimental attachment to these critters. Coyotes are really nuisance animals. They are aliens in this part of the country, 20th century invaders who arrived and thrive thanks to land-clearing development. Aside from their bad habits of killing livestock and munching on house cats, they wreak havoc on the native wildlife, especially foxes. Wherever coyotes move in, the fox population declines. Bobcats, too, suffer by the presence of coyotes, which is a particular shame because the bobcat is the only wild cat we’ve got here anymore and they have enough problems dealing with the destruction of their habitat.

Still, I can’t resist this particular little group, so tolerant of me invading their space. (They occasionally leave a pile of scat right in the middle of the trail, just so there won’t be any doubt about ownership of the territory.) When the sun shines through the trees and dapples their fur they are breathtakingly pretty, and no other animal moves with the slinking grace of a coyote.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons