A BIRD’S NEST
Bruce F. Barber
“So? …what’s the big deal about a bird’s nest,” she asked?
“It’s where I find them that makes the difference,” I replied. “Not only in trees, but in cactus, desert bushes and caves.”
I was telling my daughter, visiting from Pennsylvania, about her mother’s and my desert treks and a few of the things we encountered out there. Although she lives on a farm, she wasn’t impressed when I mentioned finding birds’ nests… until I told her in detail.
While I make no claim to having seen every kind of North American bird’s nest, the fact that my wife and I are desert travelers has afforded us an opportunity to see more than a few. In one remote place, for example, we saw the nest of the endangered Blue Heron. We’ve seen ospreys’ nests, bald eagles’ nests, vultures’ nests, large and small owls’ nests… even the near-impossible: A roadrunner’s nest.
It was the finding of smaller birds’ nests that I was telling my daughter about. My wife and I had led neighbors on a Sandrail Run into Valle Chico (near Baja California’s San Felipe de Jesus). This was a relaxed outing for no particular purpose except to provide men and women who’d never before experienced the desert an opportunity to learn about things I knew would knock their socks off. Departing home at 7:00 a.m., we were standing atop a landmark volcanic outcropping by 7:30 where I pointed to and explained a brief history of the Colorado River Delta, Sonora’s Desierto de Altar, its Sierra Pinacate (about 90-miles distant), and a little of Baja California’s northeastern quadrant.
6,000,000 years ago this part of the Californias was at the bottom of an ancient sea where (millions of) seashells were collecting on it’s sandy floor. Subsequently, over the millennia, the seashells dissolved, the sea receded and those calcium-rich sands turned to nature’s concrete. As our friends stood on a rock-hard mound more than 1,000 feet above today’s sea, they found a breath-taking view—one that included the Sierra Pinta, Cerro El Chinero, and a segment of Baja’s northeastern. They were stunned by natural phenomena they had no idea existed.
On the north side of the mound we showed them a small cave in which bees had created a hive and were busy collecting nectar from surrounding desert plants. Completing our tour of the mound, we led them through a low-grade fossil site and, ten minutes later, stopped at a prominent fossil site where 6, 7 and 8,000,000 years ago, clam, oyster and snail shells had collected in individual colonies.
Our next stop was at a place I call the “Little Grand Canyon,” where a solidified ancient mud flow is slowly eroding away. It was here that our friends had their first sighting of the multi-headed Biznaga (Barrel cactus), which grow in profusion in central Valle Chico. Later, crossing the valley floor, we encountered many other ‘multi-heads’ including a 40-headed plant.
It is sightings like the beehive and multi-headed cacti that keep us in awe about nature’s intriguing accomplishments. And, it was near “40 Barrel” that we saw our first bird’s nest of the day. A large nest for such a small bird (a cactus wren), it was firmly attached to a spiny cholla in a manner strong winds could not dislodge. For fear of upsetting the thing, we made no effort to peek inside its tiny opening although we knew it was the season for birds to be sitting on eggs.
Continuing our outing, we drove via El Chaparral, a place where vaqueros had penned two wild Javelinas, to park in the shade of flowering mesquite trees near our favorite waterfalls. Then, as we enjoyed a savory lunch, we spoke of the surrounding desert and the Indians who had populated this region for so many years before Columbus’ first day on earth.
After lunch, we continued our trek across the desert floor. Passing the bone-dry Rio Huatamote, we stopped to reflect on the waters it had known. Rio Huatamote, Arroyo Huatamote, the Huatamote Trail: The riverbed was an avenue that, for some 2,000 years, had been an ancient Indian thoroughfare between Valle Chico and the distant Sea of Cortez.
One hour later, I left the roadway to drive into the desert to allow my group to see a geologically uplifted area seldom visited by anyone. Within a minute, it seemed, as three of us enjoyed a cool refreshment, our women shouted down to us from the rim of the uplift. Scampering like children in a playground, they were enjoying themselves to the fullest.
“Look what I found,” shouted one of them. “It has eggs in it.”
We went where she was standing at the entrance to a wind-blown cave. There, on a 6-inch ledge at the back of the cave, was a tiny nest glued to the ledge with a mixture of clay and a bird’s saliva. The nest itself was built of sand, fine twigs, and what appeared to be rabbit fur although I knew it had been plucked from the bird’s own breast.
In the center of the nest were three pink-hued eggs about three quarters of an inch long by three eighths of an inch wide. The bird had chosen well. Her nest was completely protected from the elements and, as far as we could tell, other wild animals, as well. Her youngsters would not only mature in peace but we, if we chose, could observe their progress during future visits.
Satisfied with our discovery, we returned to our buggies to begin the final leg of our journey. 30 minutes later, however, we encountered friends on a run to Valle Chico’s peacock farm. While we were talking, my wife chanced upon another bird’s nest… as large and as beautiful as any we’d seen.
Back on the dusty road again, we came to the end of another magnificent day in the desert… a day filled with the wonders of nature. From the Colorado River Delta to honeybees, petrified seashells and waterfalls. From yesterday’s Indians to present-day birds nests… and three new lives in development. From the history of this place (which includes the first Europeans to lay eyes on the peninsula) to the reality of today, the desert is as beautiful a place as there is on earth. Like a newly hatched bird is to its nest, the desert is the one place where I truly feel at home.