After the Rain…..

By Dan Weisz

Saturday afternoon it rained for the fourth day in a row at my house!  It has been dry here for so long and last year, when Tucson had one of the driest years ever, we hardly received any of the officially recorded rain at our house.  So I’ve been loving the rains this week. Saturday I sat outside waiting for the storm.  For almost an hour I heard the rumbling of thunder as the storm approached.  Then the gentle rain began and it lasted almost an hour.  The rains change the look, smell and feel of the desert.  I sat on the porch and watched things become active once the rains stopped:

After the rain soaks in, everything looks so much darker. This pair of Gambel’s Quail came out in the open and spent time preening and shaking off the water, trying to dry off.

A young Gambel’s Quail, from this year’s brood, stepped onto a dead cholla skeleton to dry off.

House Sparrows came alive and their chatter filled the air.

A male Northern Cardinal came to the sunflower seed feeder and gorged on sunflowers.  When he flew off, he landed on a cholla and immediately began feeding a female Cardinal.  I wasn’t able to get the female in sharp focus but I wanted to share the behavior captured here.  The male Cardinal is engaging in “courtship feeding” as he passes a seed from his mouth to hers.  This lets the female know that the male is a good partner. He demonstrates that he is reliable and dependable and can be a great provider.  Afterwards the male flew off though the cholla and the female flew off in another direction.

Beyond the yard and behind some prickly pear cactus, I could see a Cottontail Rabbit feeding on mesquite leaves. What fascinated me was watching the rabbit grab onto a branch and lower it, making the tender leaves accessible.  I didn’t know a rabbit could use its hand or paw like that.

Once it bit off the leaf of its choice, then it ate the leaf  a little at a time by pulling the leaf into its mouth by using its lips.

At other times, the rabbit stood on two legs and just stretched as high as it could stand to reach leaves above its head.

One of the neighborhood Brown-Crested Flycatchers flew in, perched for a while, and then flew off.  I usually hear and see them daily as they come in to drink from one of the birdbaths. This time, it just passed on by.

A Curve-billed Thrasher went about its business back beyond the prickly pear.

This female Lesser Goldfinch spent some time finding just the right nesting material.  We are well past their nesting season, so I don’t know whether this bird was planning to have another clutch of babies, or was just ‘feathering’ her nest, or what.  The female Lesser Goldfinches do the nest building (males don’t) so she knew what she was doing.  It’s just that I don’t know exactly what she was doing.

Two Gila Woodpeckers called from the top of a mostly dead mesquite tree.  From far below, I could barely make out the red feathers on the top of this male’s head.

I heard the unmistakable sound of a Cooper’s Hawk and had to get out of my seat to look around to find it.  There, at the top of another mesquite tree was one of this year’s neighborhood juvenile Cooper’s!  The sky was still cloudy in this and the other photos, but the bird’s colors looked very fresh and clean.

This is one of my favorite photos of the afternoon. The Cooper’s spent a lot of time looking around. At one point it scratched its head or beak for a bit, and then very slowly lowered his foot.  As it did so, it would pause and look around.  The feathers on its head are puffed out so his head looks very round.  This photo begs for a caption but the hawk is probably just thinking “So that’s what my feet do!”

A portrait of a young Cooper’s Hawk.  The blue/gray eyes lets us know this is a fledgling, recently off of the nest.  The brown streaky feathers on its breast and the brown (not gray) head and back feathers lets us know this is a young bird.  The Cooper’s Hawk will go through several molts before obtaining its full adult plumage sometime next year.

There were two hummingbirds flying around: a male Costa’s and a female Broad-billed.  The Costa’s was asserting itself and relentless in chasing the Broad-billed Hummingbird away from any of the feeders.  At times, it perched up high just to keep a lookout for the intruder.

At other times, the Costa’s Hummingbird sat lower in the foliage.

And I do know that it is wrong to ascribe human emotions to birds and animals, but doesn’t this hummingbird appear very pleased with himself??

After these photos, I came back into the house.  It was a good afternoon.  I did think it might be a good evening to try to get some Lesser Nighthawk photos.  It felt like a good way to complete the day.  So just before sunset I went out front and into the street.  The Lesser Nighthawks came out as usual but were flying very high and far away.  Finally, one did come flying up the street and at a low level.

With the rains, I’ll bet there were plenty of delicious insects in the skies for this bird and the others that were out foraging.  It should have been a good night for them!  Seeing them capped a good day for me!

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