Columns

Along the Ditch

Photo by Jim Womeldorf

Autumn arrived in the Adobe Hills. Last week’s raging storm brought rain, lots of rain. It drummed on the roof and ran in rivulets down the windows. The kind of rain that replenishes every green thing for miles overnight.

Today the air is cool, and the trees stand taller. The rose has bright new buds—its last hurrah before frost—and the scrubby hills are soft with moisture. Mount Sneffels and its high-headed companions are topped with white, and patches of gold mottle the piedmont. At the hanging feeders, the last of the hummingbirds fuss and hover, and behind the house, the proud quail parents oversee the safety of their flock from atop the rabbitbrush.

We love the daily visits from the birds that share our high desert home and have taken the responsibility of providing additional food sources and fresh water to ensure their wellbeing. But when winter finally garnishes the landscape in white and shades of gray, where do the birds of summer go?

To be honest, I don’t always know. The redwing blackbirds left a couple of month ago for parts unknown, but yesterday one was back. Just one. The hummingbirds, of course, are heading south on their great miracle of a migration, flying nonstop across the Gulf of Mexico. That’s what the feeding frenzy is all about, of course. Sort of like bears in a frantic rush to acquire as many calories as possible in a short amount of time, just a lot smaller and significantly less dangerous. Makes you wonder why they waste all that energy fighting over the feeder.

The quail are, for us here in the Adobes, probably year-round, as are the doves and pompous scrub jays. The jays rule the platter feeder and can deplete a day’s worth of food in about an hour, shoveling out the little seeds to get to the preferred sunflower seeds, which seems to work out well for the smaller birds who scrounge the leftovers on the ground.

There’s the obvious pecking order, but even the scrub jays scram when the eagles or the falcons are about. When there are no small birds to be seen at all, almost always, the big birds are making a low, slow pass over the house, usually leaving behind only a tell-tale shadow, although sometimes I find a clump of soft feathers from what I’m sure was once a plump, well-fed dove.

The goldfinches show up late in the summer. They whisper among the scraggly branches of the sunflowers, hanging upside down or perched atop, with occasional tentative visits to the nearby water fountain, a popular spot this summer for the birds and bees alike. There are more birds, of course. Some don’t visit near the house. Others are more nocturnal, or just plain shy. It’s daunting to name them all. To the casual eye, the Adobe Hills may seem sparse and bare, but they are alive and abundant with wildlife, supported by the nearby Uncompahgre River, the ditch that runs from April to October, and a few ponds here and there.

Every day brings something remarkable, but the transition of seasons is a special time. There’s always something new to witness, to exclaim about, or just sit in wonder and contemplate. Yes, it is the end of summer, but thankfully, not the end of our daily visits at the feeders. I’m looking forward to the return of other feathered friends this winter, even as I hate to see the hummingbirds leave. Safe journey, little guys. It’s a big world out there.

About the author

Deb Barr