Ranger Kathryn's Arches

May 1, 2011

A day in the life of…

My daily commute. Probably prettier than 99.7% of commutes in America.

It was one of ‘those’ days. The typically clear sky was dappled with lots of cumulus clouds, which made the grand sandstone features of Courthouse Wash sparkle with light and shadow. My task was to hike up the wash and look for any hints of nesting raptors. Clues that would tip me off would be finding fresh whitewash on the cliff wall, seeing raptors enter or exit a potential nest site, or finding a pair exhibiting courtship behaviors. If I found them on the wing, I’d patiently sit and wait and try to spy on them at their perches.

The perfect temps were accompanied by the gusty April winds that whip around the canyons, picking up sand and tumbleweeds, making me shut my eyes when a blast hit. I had a map and a GPS in my pack, and began to wander in a westerly direction to see what I could see. A group of canyoneers tromped by, looking for Ring Arch. They’d be the only people I would see all day.

Swifts and swallows chased insects overhead, and to my delight I could tell the two species of aerial acrobats apart in the mixed group. I wandered farther from my truck; a Spotted Towhee warbled at me from the low branches of a dead shrub. A mile more; I stopped to put on sunscreen, and a Say’s Phoebe started in on his sad song. Up the wash I went, trying to avoid having to bushwhack through nearly-impenetrable tamarisk and sage.

Out of the corner of my eye I caught a familiar movement. A small raptor was flying quickly toward a dead juniper, and took up residence at its top. My binocs told me it was an American Kestrel, our smallest falcon, and it looked as if it would sit a while; I set up my spotting scope to study it.

This female perched and preened, and over fifteen minutes did a 360-degree pirouette for me so I could see every side of her in detail. Her bold face pattern amused me, as did her habit of bobbing her tail incessantly. And then she dashed noisily to another perch close to the cliff, whining intensely for many minutes.

A bright male flew in and sat atop a nearby tree, listening to her vocalizing but doing nothing. Soon the female dashed into a hole in the cliff, the edge of which was covered with fresh whitewash. She led me directly to her nest! Patience pays off! I fixed the point on my GPS and spied on them for a while longer.

Thanksgiving fills my heart for the privilege I have every day to witness goings-on in the natural world that I’ve missed for years. There is no plot to today’s post; it’s a Zen-like bird’s-eye view of “a day in the life of Arches wildlife intern Kathryn Burke.” I just let you tag along with me today. Thanks for your company.

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