I keep track of what animals I see in the parks but I’m not too religious about it, I mostly just pay attention to the animals that are close so a proper wildlife watcher would come away from the same visit with a much larger list. I’ve seen mockers in the local preserve every month except September, so I was hoping to spot one on recent hikes but had no luck. Yet in the first week of October as I headed out of the park, the light a ridiculous red from the setting sun, there sat a patient mocker in this gorgeous old ocotillo, just begging to be photographed.
One of the problems with hiking early in the morning, apart from it being early in the morning, is that several of my favorite trails go east from the trailhead straight into the rising sun. While I liked how it backlit this mockingbird high atop an old saguaro, maybe the sun could sometimes rise in the west? The south? The north? I’m willing to be flexible.
With a headache not yet relenting I was delighted to be greeted as soon as I stepped off the parking lot by the songs of a mockingbird, perched on the flower stalk of a soaptree yucca. Technically the sun had risen but it would be a little while before it cleared the mountains and bathed us in its warm light. For now the mocker and I enjoyed the cool and the blue of the waking desert. I tore myself away in time to reach my target for the morning, a ladder-backed woodpecker, just as the sun arrived.
Back in June I woke up early before work so I went out for a short hike, spending the morning the way I had the previous two mornings, watching a mockingbird dance and sing as the sun rose. The previous day a curve-billed thrasher had flown in and the mocker stayed out of sight for a while, but on this morning I got a picture of it singing right as the first light arrived. But then almost on cue the thrasher flew in, dried saguaro fruit clinging to its beak, and the mocker yielded. I noticed the previous morning that although it would lay low for a while whenever the thrasher flew in, eventually it would always come back to dance and sing, but on this morning work waited so I could not.
Although I grew up with them in the east we didn’t have mockers in Oregon so I’m getting reacquainted after two decades apart. This past week I watched this mockingbird doing its dance on successive mornings, possibly to establish its territory from this high vantage point on a granite boulder where it would have been visible from further distances (I never saw another mockingbird). It would fly up a short distance and do these aerobatic maneuvers, reminding me more of a flycatcher, as it arrested its climb and returned to the rock. In between hops it sang a wide variety of songs, although a thrasher would sometimes fly in and the mockingbird would lay low for a while.
I had been looking forward to being reunited with mockingbirds when we moved to Arizona and I have not been disappointed. I see them in our backyard but this one was singing along the Marcus Landslide Trail, going through its whole repertoire of songs on a sunny winter morning.
I grew up with mockingbirds but I left them behind when I moved to Oregon 21 years ago. We’ve been reacquainted at times over the years when I traveled back east, I met this mocker eating berries while balanced at the end of a tree branch on a trip to South Carolina in 2006. My stepfather had passed away a couple of weeks earlier and my wife and I stayed with my mother through Christmas. I took a number of walks around the neighborhood, watching the local wildlife, seeking out joy to balance the sadness.
Mockingbirds will be a part of my life once more, they are one of a small group of birds that aren’t in my part of Oregon but are in both Arizona and the Southeast where I grew up. Looking forward to the reunion.