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PATIO GUESTS

Our patio fountain, home to a few flitty goldfish (not koi, no chin whiskers) is a big draw for the Cooper’s Hawk. This fly-in hunter regards it as his private buffet. The fish, on the other hand, do not – and are uncooperative. They flee into shadowy hide-outs under lily pads and tumbled pots; they must detect his approach from way off. Coop soars in and lands on the top of the fountain. From this perch, he scowls intently down at the water, hoping, hoping. In vain. Frustrated, he settles his bottom half in the second tier of the fountain, and dips himself repeatedly, bobbing up and down in the water, fluffing and flapping his tail feathers in a whimsical cooling cleansing. It’s his spa.

 

When he’s done, he flies aloft and dries himself on the roof, whence he sorties to the neighbors’ to check for edibles. He’s handsome; I’m glad he considers us worthy. But I, the finches, and the goldfish are relieved to see him go. At his approach, the smaller birds had flown away in a frenzied startle, fanning out to make poor targets. Now they return to the thistle and sunflower seeds, doves too, to their ground level pickings from the feeder debris. And all take their own turns at the fountain. Late afternoon comes – the desert sun’s rays angle in to light up the red and yellow breasts of their last sips before they drift to the trees for the night.

 

Then, in season, comes the cautious single-file parade of hatchlings up from the lower garden, next to the grape arbor. Under the cumquat, just under the comforting edge of a spreading juniper, quail positioned their nest. The eggs have popped out tiny teetering fluff-balls, chicks who by are now are ready to move up into the larger world of the patio. The black-plumed caps topping adult heads jiggle like antennae as they lead their babies from the protected nursery, ultimately guiding them into the daunting vastness of the Catalina Foothills preserve. That will be their new home, where by instinct all quail belong. They carefully pass by the patio ramada, disappearing into the dense hedge haven of oleander bushes, exit route to the Great Outside. We will see our quail again later on, down on the road, busy crossing from one cactus patch to another. The chicks lose their adorableness – they’re entering their teens, bigger each day, skilled at ducking predators.

 

That garden exit path alarms me, because the occasional transient bobcat also pads into that floral dimness. It’s every animal’s covered departure path from our walled garden. He doesn’t come often – just checks in now and then for small live stuff.   And so comes the bobcat. We sneak hushed to a window to observe his arrogant strut across the bricks. He is muscled, strong, catlike but not – and handsome. When my husband first saw him he said, “Come here! Look at that huge cat out there.” But the  short, curled tail identified him as not a house cat…and he was big. He comes around looking, I think, for the odd prowling rabbit. Senor rabbit finds cover under long leaves arching out from our tropical bird of paradise. The bobcat wanders on to the neighbors, dissatisfied with us.

 

But to me, the most surprising drop-in was the roadrunner.  The chaparral. He advanced slowly, placing one dainty foot in front of another, his spikey black crest leading his speckled body, trailing his long tail. Cocking his head, beady eyes checking side to side, he made his way to the water source. A quick hop, and up he went to the bottom lip around the fountain. A few dips and sips, and when I turned back – he was gone. Never to return. At least not when I was looking.

 

Owls perform at night, hooting from their high watch on the iron gate. A flashlight illuminates their eyes… they glow eerily. Annoyed, the owls silently flap off, insulted. Our cookout guests have been entertained. They head off into the desert nighttime, saguaros looming like guards. We go in to bed.

 

I love Tucson.

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