Critters often gather at the small pond out front.
By pond, I don’t mean a small lake. It’s more of a concrete-lined bird bath, sunk into the ground and shaped like a small missile hit it. It’s about 2 feet wide, if that. About a half-foot deep.
Cindy and I watch the comings and goings from our study. A window overlooks the pond.
Just now, a curved-bill thrasher is getting a drink. A Gila woodpecker waits its turn on the limb of a long-dead ironwood tree. A white-winged dove cuts in line. The woodpecker squawks and flits off.
Coyotes often stop by for refreshment. I’ve seen rabbits. Lots of rabbits. Rabbits and more rabbits. They reproduce faster than the coyotes can eat them. Or maybe the coyotes are just choosy eaters.
I’ve set up a trail cam in times past. An owl visited one night. It sat on the edge of the pond. It must have stopped by to wash down its dinner, perhaps a mouse or a squirrel.
Roadrunners have bellied up to the pond. Other birds and rabbits know to give roadrunners, owls and coyotes a wide berth. They hide and wait their turn. Why serve themselves up on a platter?
Nobody, it seems, wants to hang around the javelina. Sometimes one or two show up. Sometimes a whole herd. Or, as it’s formally known, a squad. Sometimes mom and dad stand watch while the wee ones quench their thirst.
I’m told javelina are very protective of their young. I don’t make a point of finding out. They certainly don’t trust coyotes. They’ve been known to pick off a baby javelina or two.
I’ve never seen a javelina share the pond with a coyote.
Frankly, nobody wants to share with javelina. They don’t just drink the water. They cool off in it.
Occupancy is limited. One javelina per dip. The biggest one gets dibs. It eases a hairy body into the pond, almost all the way in, kind of like a nesting bird. A very large bird. You could sell tickets: “Seeing is believing! A whole javelina in 6 inches of water!”
A minute or so later, the javelina stands up and, dripping wet, trundles off — leaving the pond with 3 inches of sludge.
Just like the javelina to ruin it for everybody else.
I’ll flush the pond out with a hose. I often refill the pond in any case, at least in summer. Evaporation runs high. And I have to get everything ready for Gambel’s baby quail. They generally show up in May or June.
Newly hatched, they’re little bigger than cotton balls. I fill the pond to the rim for them, whenever I can. They can’t bend way down for a drink, like mom and dad.
I’ve watched them try. They dart along the edge, searching for a perch to drink from. Sometimes they fall in. They flap the downy stubs that pass for wings. Somehow that works. They pop out of the water and join their cotton-ball siblings, already trailing after their parents.
Often, a baby chick looks up and realizes everybody’s left. It spots the family and makes a mad dash to get in line.
Cindy and I look forward to baby quail sightings. If I spot them, I yell: “Baby quail! Baby quail!” Cindy alerts me, if she sees them first.
But this year has us scratching our heads. What happened to all the baby quail? In summers past, they’d show up several times a week, sometimes by the dozen. This summer? We saw one baby trailing a pair of adults. That was a month ago. We’ve since spotted a small brood, maybe a half dozen.
Not a good showing.
For answers, I called Tom Cadden, a spokesman for the Arizona Game and Fish Department. He’s done his own quail survey. A very informal one. Cadden lives near a Phoenix mountain park.
“Normally we get a lot of quail around our yard this time of year,” he said. “I’ve seen some, not many.”
As for why, he added: “I gotta believe it’s the lack of rain that’s affected those numbers.”
Monsoon rains were a no-show last year, he said. And the winter was pretty much one long dry spell. It meant little in the way for quail to eat. A brutally hot week in June didn’t help.
Game and Fish tracks quail populations statewide, for hunters. Game managers recently completed a survey in spring. It’s based on listening for quail mating calls. You know, the courtship that leads to baby quail.
“The numbers seemed lower this spring,” Cadden said.
A quail-hunting website concurred. It reported few, if any, baby quail were spotted in May.
Cindy and I aren’t hunters. We just enjoy watching baby quail stumble around like little Keystone Kops. Well, not so much this year.
Thanks to a lack of rain. And javelina behaving badly.