Saturday, August 6, 2011

A Post for Naturalists

Path to the Prayer Hogan. Hogans are traditional eight-sided Navajo structures, with the door always facing East.

The habitat surrounding The NABI campus consist of piñon and juniper, sagebrush, with maybe three deciduous trees on the campus itself. It is often dry and the ground sandy, except for this time of year when monsoon rains flood the washes and turn the sand to mud and clay. Looking out over the land, the primary colors are green and brown, and once in awhile there are bursts of red and purple prickly pear blossoms. To a passerby, it might seem gray and dreary. Even the birds reflect the colors of their habitat: Gray Vireo, Gray Flycatcher, Black-throated-gray Warbler. There are sandy colored Canyon Towhees and dusky gray Juniper Titmouse.

Not all the wildlife, however, is devoid of color. The colorful side of piñon/juniper habitats must be searched for and found over time, perhaps not in a day, or even a week, but after many months of being aware of one’s surroundings. Driving along the wash-board dirt roads one might catch a glimpse of the canary yellow of a Scott’s Oriole, or the tangerine orange of a male Bullock’s Oriole in migration. In late July and August, Rufous Hummingbirds with shimmering red gorgets cluster around birdfeeders on their way to Central America. If one is lucky enough to get a close look at the fast-moving Black-throated Gray Warbler, even they have a speck of sunshine yellow on their lores.

But besides color, the land is also full of unusual life forms: horny toads, hummingbird moths (sphinx moths) which hover over tube flowers at dusk and sit on window screens during the day, and alien-like cicadas which buzz like miniature chain saws throughout mid-summer and leave behind husky skins which they have shed.

Perhaps my favorite wildlife memory at NABI is the howling of coyotes as they throw back their heads and release their high-pitched voices. It is an eerie sound, they are the ghosts of the land which hide in the washes during the heat of the day and come out around sunset.

For the birders out there who might be reading this blog, here is a list of birds seen on the NABI campus and some of the nearby dirt roads:

White-faced Ibis (closer to Sanders)
Turkey Vulture
Red-tailed Hawk
Swainson’s Hawk
American Kestrel
Mourning Dove
Eurasian-collared Dove
Broad-tailed Hummingbird
Rufous Hummingbird
Northern (Red-shafted) Flicker
Hairy Woodpecker (a single bird)
Gray Flycatcher
Say’s Phoebe
Ash-throated Flycatcher
Western Kingbird
Gray Vireo
Western Scrub-Jay
Common Raven
Barn Swallow
Juniper Titmouse
Bewick’s Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Western Bluebird
Northern Mockingbird
Black-throated Gray Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Western Tanager
Spotted Towhee
Canyon Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Lark Sparrow
Bullock’s Oriole
Scott’s Oriole
Western Meadowlark
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch
Lesser Goldfinch
House Sparrow (kinda goes without saying)