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SOUNDS OF THE STINKING DESERT

By Nic.Korte

     Some friends of mine really dislike the desert between Grand Junction and Delta—often referring to it as the “Stinking Desert.” They talk of poor scenery, heat, and gnats. For myself, I like it. I like the openness. I like the long views and the big sky. The creatures that live there seem to like it too—at least if you believe in song as a way of expressing happiness.
    My wife and I took a little walk in this desert the other day and we enjoyed the sounds of spring. My favorite song was the western meadowlark. I only saw one, but he was singing lustily and the sweet trills (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3o0FC7aqg94) accompanied us most of the way.
Once, we approached a rocky outcrop. The thin “tseet, tseet, tseet of a rock wren emanated from the rocks. This bird is well-named. There are no exposed rocks near some land my family owns at 8400ft here in Western Colorado. We had never seen a rock wren nearby. However, one year, we had a septic system installed, and the resulting excavation piled up quite a few boulders that remained for several weeks. After a few days—there was a rock wren claiming the rock pile for its territory. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zsmSTmB7ssY). I like rock wrens. Unlike the winter-fleeing house wren, which sings most of the summer in the aspen woods, a few rock wrens spend the winter here if their territory is a warm, south-facing slope. There are a few locations I know where I can find one and be reminded that spring isn’t far away.
     A bit later, my wife and I heard, what to me is the iconic western rangeland call, the down-slurred “peeuur” of the Say’s Phoebe (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vEL_ZPVtHak). The call is meaningful to me because my father-in-law’s family were pioneer Western ranchers. I met the Say’s Phoebe long ago on Great Uncle Bill and Aunt Gertrude’s ranch in Northern Arizona. It was a poor spread. High desert—not exactly like our local “stinking” kind—but with lots of sage and some pinyon-juniper. Say’s Phoebe’s were always calling near the ranch buildings. I can’t hear one today without thinking of the ranch.  

(Say's Phoebe by Jackson Trappett)

     This is also a good time to visit the low desert because of the wildflowers. 

    Our bird list was short, but flowers and birds as well as grasshoppers and other insects were present. So, for them, despite a barren environment that seems too hot, too dry or too cold... for them it is a good place…reminding me of the words of one of my favorite authors who after studying the harsh habitats enjoyed by some diverse creatures, remarked, “Every single one of them is right” (Joseph Wood Krutch, The Voice of the Desert). 

To keep up with the activities (such as Spring Bird Walks, Evening Programs, and Migratory Bird Day) of Grand Valley Audubon Society, check out our webpage at audubongv.org and “like” us on Facebook. Please send any questions to audubongv@gmail.com.

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