Thursday, May 17, 2007

urban doves

Seven years ago, I moved into a house in an old (for this sun belt city) subdivision. One of the big attractions to the place is the large, L-shaped patio which is abundantly shaded by two very large non-bearing mulberry trees. Once established, I hung a bird feeder and suet block to see what birds might come around.

Absent a snow storm to push a bit of variety down from some nearby foothills, I mostly see English sparrows, house finches, mourning doves, the occasional rock dove, and, somewhat to my surprise, white-winged doves. I grew up in areas with white-wings but this is at least a couple of hundred miles north of what I knew as their normal range (although the linked page describes them as having been observed as far north as Alaska!). Although I hadn't seen a white-wing up here in twenty years of casual observation, they seem well established. Further, the number of white-wings around town seems to be generally increasing. More interesting still is the fact that over the years a number of the doves on my feeder have made it a habit to spend the winter here. Most northern dove hunters are familiar with the phenomena of the first little cool front in September sending every dove around winging south for Mexico. This trend ought to be even more pronounced with white-wings, as they are a more tropical bird than the mourning doves. However, while the occasional mourning dove will spend the winter, I have a dozen or more white-wings year round.

I have read that the white-wing dove population in Texas has shifted from the lower Rio Grande Valley north to Austin, San Antonio, and other urban environs where they find the trees for roosting and nesting that have mostly gone away as south Texas brush is removed to create fields. I'm not aware of any similar pressure which would cause the birds to head north out here farther west. Regardless, the white-wings have apparently discovered another urban niche and are busily filling it. I have to say I'm pleased with the prospect. Any native species, especially one which not widespread in the U.S., expanding its range seems like a pretty good thing.

Perhaps just as exciting, this spring an Inca dove visited for a bit- the first time I've seen one of those little guys so far north in over twenty years of living here. Maybe global warming is sending these border birds north. If so, I eagerly await the first jaguar sighting in the southern Sangre de Cristos.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


I have been reading Richard Nelson's "Heart and Blood: Living with Deer in America" and a couple of Nelson's descriptions of encounters with deer and of deer interactions caused me to think of some of my own encounters with deer. I think any big game hunter who has spent much time in the field probably has at least a couple of stories about having deer walk right up to or right by him, which is an event which ought to make anyone's day. More than that, Nelson's description of deer socialization brought to mind a morning nearly ten years ago.
It was late September and I had taken a sleeping bag, groundsheet, water and rifle up to an unroaded mesa top which consists of large parks interspersed with aspen and spruce. I cold camped a couple of hundred yards behind a small hill overlooking one of two tanks on the mesa and the first gray light found me shivering in the frost and overlooking the water. Soon four mule deer does, each with that year's fawn, made their way down near the tank. Rather than water, they commenced to feed in the swale. After half an hour or so, one of the fawns suddenly straightened up, looked wildly around, the sprinted through the other deer, describing a quick half circle as soon as it got past the outermost, only to stop and nonchalantly resume browsing. All of the others were showing various signs of alarm- a couple had even started to run themselves. I, too, was busy looking for what had spooked the doe. However, as the instigator was showing no more signs of flight, after a bit they settled down and went back to feeding as well. Ten minutes or so after that, one of the does tore off through the group with no warning, bumping one of the fawns in the process, who chased after her. A couple of quick turns, they both stop, pant a moment, and go back to feeding. For the next hour or so, the deer fed around and eventually watered, spicing up their morning with bursts of "tag" which followed some set of rules I never figured out. Periodically, one of the does or fawns would take off and charge pell-mell through the group, sometimes being chased by another, sometimes bumping one of the others, only to suddenly stop and go back to feeding. Maybe it just felt good to run on a chilly morning.

Nelson expresses an aesthetic preference for whitetails, but to my mind, nothing really compares to the blocky grace of a big Rocky Mountain mule deer. Further, although it usually means that I've been busted, I also get a thrill every time I hear the wheezy snort a deer uses to warn of a predator. Those does and fawns described above eventually fed back into the edge of some aspens to bed, while I left them to it and crept back off the hill to circle around the mesa edge, looking for a buck.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007


Recipe, or perhaps prescription for the alleviation of general workday ennui:
12 oz. of elk steak, grilled over charcoal 'til warm red in the center
6 oz. of oak leaf lettuce, torn into pieces and tossed with a vinagerette
6 oz. of boiled new potatoes, sliced and fried brown in a bit of olive oil, with fresh ground pepper and salt
10 oz. of Beringer '04 North Coast merlot

1 oz. of Balvenie Double Wood 12yo Single Malt, to tamp all of the above down

digest the above with a familiar and favored book

Play Cowboy Junkies' "Trinity Session" followed by Coltrane's "Ballads"

Note marked reduction of ennui