Signs of Spring

By Dan Weisz

Paper Wasps are semi-social creatures and their colonies consist of workers, males, and queens.  Only the queens and mated female offspring of the queens survive the winters.  The one below is likely collecting plant material to begin building her first nest of the year.  That’s one sign of Spring.  The prickly pear below is showing you the leaves that it has on new growth.  Yes, cactus does have leaves, at least for a short time- another sign of Spring

There is a saying that, in the desert, everything either has thorns or stingers.  How true!

The male Red-winged Blackbirds are all advertising their handsomeness at Sweetwater Wetlands.  They constantly perch up high, singing their hearts out and showing off their pretty epaulets.  They hope the ladies are listening.

The pair of mated Red-tailed Hawks spent part of their morning in tandem, grooming and preening.  While this pair lives along the Rillito, we have red-tailed hawks in the Foothills regularly.

When I first saw this Killdeer in the Santa Cruz Flats, it was repeatedly making persistent and urgent calls.  I thought it was making its “distress call” that Killdeer use to distract predators from their nests on the ground.  This is what he sounded like:  http://www.xeno-canto.org/361296 

Apparently, it was not making a distress call but was making a different call.  A female killdeer approached and, well, another sign of spring!

This Black-tailed Gnatcatcher was calling atop trees in Rio Vista Park along the Rillito River.  We see these in the Foothills regularly  Its scolding calls are unmistakeable:  
https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Black-tailed_Gnatcatcher/sounds 

One recent morning I was excited to see a huge flock of Cedar Waxwings near my house.  Cedar Waxwings are described as “a silky, shiny collection of brown, gray, and lemon-yellow, accented with a subdued crest, rakish black mask, and brilliant-red wax droplets on the wing feathers” by the allaboutbirds.org site. 

They are social birds that winter in Arizona in flocks and are nomadic, wandering in large groups looking for fruit and berries to eat.  They love our mistletoe berries.  What alerted me to their presence was the high-pitched calls of the entire flock.  Click on the link below to hear that sound:
https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Cedar_Waxwing/sounds 
I imagine they will begin returning to their homes in the north soon.

Finally, I had heard that Amazon is experimenting with delivering packages using drones.  Apparently, in my neighborhood they are delivering packages by Gambel’s Quail.