Shortly after the house finch left his perch a cactus wren flew in and posed in the same spot. Was it class picture day? Would a canyon towhee fly in, a little oatmeal spilled on its shirt? A black-throated sparrow with an unruly cowlick? A white-crowned sparrow with a bright smile and a mouthful of braces? Sadly no, the mixed flock of birds continued to move across the desert so I continued up the trail.
I don’t normally associate the word ‘soft’ with saguaros but they do have this soft white material on new growth where the spines develop. A few weeks ago this cactus wren gleefully ripped out as much as it could carry in its beak before flying off, only to return for more. Normally I would assume it was looking for soft material to line its nest but at this time of year it must be that the male cardinals dress up as Santa Claus for Christmas and the wrens do their part by gathering material for the long white beards. This desert does know how to put on a show!
A cactus wren sings atop a saguaro at the end of April in 2018. It was also the end of our first month in Arizona and my second trip to Brown’s Ranch, having visited the day before as well. The cactus wren was the first bird I saw on my first hike after we moved here, at nearby Pinnacle Peak, also singing from a saguaro but before the sun had risen. They were nesting at the Brown’s Ranch trailhead and I assumed would always be so easy to see so close but I’ve had less luck this year.
At least on the trails, at home one was beside me a few minutes ago as it worked the porch for food. A couple of weeks ago two wren parents were also close by on the porch, feeding their hungry and boisterous chick as it fluttered its wings to draw attention the way so many young birds do. As one parent fed the little thing I heard a thud at a nearby window and my heart sank thinking the other adult had flown into it. But then I laughed when I realized the sound came from the other side of the window and the source was our youngest cat Trixie who could no longer hold back her desire to be introduced to the young family.
It has been a sad day but not a day without beauty. In between talking to the vet in the morning and taking Ellie in to be euthanized, I walked into my office and saw Boo and Trixie transfixed in the window. I walked over assuming they were looking at a bird and was delighted to instead see a western whiptail in the bushes next to the window, a favorite lizard on the trails but a new yard species for me. When we got home with heavy hearts after saying goodbye to Ellie, I saw a cactus wren in the backyard, a first for the new house although I had seem them at the rental house and of course on the trails. This one was perching on a saguaro fruit last summer in McDowell Sonoran Preserve.
Last spring I was amazed at how many birds fed at saguaros as they bloomed and fruited, such as this white-winged dove sticking its face into fruit at the end of an arm along the Latigo Trail. It’s a good thing saguaros aren’t carnivorous or a lot of birds would lose their heads!
Cactus wrens are smaller than the doves but still large for wrens, this one stuck its head deep into a blossom on the saguaro where it was building its nest and raising its young. When it emerges its head will be covered in pollen, some of which will be deposited at the next blossom it visits.
The tiny verdin had to stick most of its body into the fruit to feed at the back, in this picture it is feeding closer to the front and only its head is hidden. When the fruit ripens it is the white-winged doves that eat the most, but other birds enjoy the short-lived bounty as well.
We bought a house!
We spent yesterday with our realtor visiting a handful of houses we hadn’t seen plus our two favorites from prior visits. By the end of the day we were close to making an offer on our favorite but wanted to sleep on it. I went hiking this morning near my second favorite house and had a wonderful time and was satisfied I could be happy there, but all the same my overall favorite retained its crown. My wife felt the same so we met our agent this afternoon and put in an offer and the sellers accepted it!
We’re both excited and exhausted!
We first arrived in Arizona at the tail end of March, a month later I met this cactus wren early one morning as it built its nest in the arms of a saguaro. As it tried out the nest I assumed its home was nearly complete and that it was applying the finishing touches before eggs were laid and babies were raised. It showed how much I had to learn about my new home as the wrens still had plenty of work to do, building up the sides of the nest and putting a roof on top to protect from the desert sun, with an entrance in the side they could fly in and out of as they brought food in and took waste out.
There is still work to be done before we take possession of our house too, we close at the end of February and will move sometime in March. But tonight it is enough to be thankful for the opportunity we had to come to Arizona after our time in Oregon came to an end, that we were able to leave one wonderful place and arrive in another. I’m thankful for that little wren and for that big saguaro, for helping me fall in love so quickly with the Sonoran Desert. For the Gila woodpeckers, the gilded flickers, the curve-billed thrashers, the white-winged doves, the quail, the Gila monsters, the whiptails, the side-blotched lizards, the diamondbacks, the bobcat, the antelope squirrels, the cottontails, the jackrabbits. On and on and on.
The desert is our home, soon a house will be too.