We live in a wild place. Our property backs to two hundred-plus acres of the Vistoso Nature Preserve, one of the many wildlife sanctuaries in Oro Valley. A variety of species of wildlife make their home in the Preserve from mule deer to javelina, coyotes, and bobcats. A mountain lion is sighted occasionally, and a black bear was reported in Big Wash preserve in our town. We are interlopers that they tolerate. Our town is bounded by the Catalina Mountains to the east and the Tortolita Mountains to the north. Animals retreat to the mountains during the hottest months of the year just as many people do. Come late summer, they return to the valley just like people do. It is common to take a walk in the neighborhood accompanied at a respectful distance by a family of javelina or a lone coyote. Bobcats pop in and out of yards, using fences as elements of their parcourse. Lizards and geckos are more prevalent than flies. I’ve not heard or read of a person being attacked by any of these animals in our town but people with small pets, cats, and dogs, have to be vigilant. Great Horned Owls and hawks have been known to carry off the little pets and a hungry coyote may attack a dog even if it is on a leash. We have a plethora of quail, rabbits, and lizards so you don’t see emaciated coyotes around here.
Ken and I have our cups of tea and coffee every morning on the back patio. Tea for me, coffee for him. Our open-air aviary attracts hundreds of birds daily. We enjoy the morning antics of tiny hummingbirds, small wrens, sparrows, and finches with the larger doves, mourning and white-wing. The variety of birds changes with the seasons. Dozens of Gamble Quail live in the underbrush at the edge of the Preserve all year around. They come as families to eat their share of the bird food we put out each morning. They squeak like a baby’s toy to call each other. In spring, they bring their offspring, eggs on legs, Ken calls them. The little ones can’t fly so they scurry around the ground, coming through the rail fence into the yard to chase each other until mama quail calls them back. They follow their mama in neat lines with papa as the shepherd bringing up the rear. There is always the renegade who goes his own way and makes papa double back to round him up.
The winged visitor I enjoy most is the mockingbird. I named her Moxie. She was a steady visitor for a few years, sitting in a tree near our patio. Her conversation is amusing. Che-che-che, he-be, he-be, chirp, whistle, chitter-chitter, needer-needer, trill, click, twitter. She performs long soliloquies. We missed her for two years. I think she quarantined during covid, but she is back now. We noticed her delightful chatter a couple of weeks ago. She can scold like the cactus wren, clack like a roadrunner, and caw like a crow. When homes were being built near us a few years ago she would rat-a-tat-tat like the nail gun. She doesn’t join the feasting throng but sits in a tree above the crowd. Mockingbirds prefer insects and fruit to the seeds we provide. By 9:00 in the morning she goes on her way. I’m not sure about the lifespan of a mockingbird, so there may have been many over time, but I choose to believe it is Moxie again and again. I am very grateful she returned this year to entertain us.
Another friend who joined us this year is Redtail Hawk. He sits high in the tallest tree. Mostly he is on the lookout for breakfast. When he soars in to take his watchful place all the birds, especially the doves, take off in a thunderclap of wings. He sends his squeaky greetings down to us as he sits preening. Gradually the birds reappear to continue eating. We discovered he is only interested in the doves. I think the smaller birds are too much trouble for the sustenance they provide. If a dove gets careless and returns too soon, Mr. Hawk is on it like white on rice. Doves are not quite bright and slow to boot, very easy prey for Red. He sometimes perches on one of the cinderblock fence posts with his catch and consumes it slowly. Soft grey feathers float into the breeze as he strips it down to the meaty parts. Not bothered by humans nearby, he concentrates on his meal. Then he too leaves the backyard for other daytime adventures and we are left with the twitters of the smaller birds. They are quiet during the afternoons, naptime, but start up again at dusk for a short time until dark. Resident bats come out at dusk. They are very quiet as they snap up flying insects. They are reclusive during the day. We are ever aware of the natural world in this place we call home.