Flickering Light

Posted in John's Musings by john


I spent an eventful week photographing a nest of gilded flickers in a saguaro deep in the desert. When I first knew these birds, they were considered their own species. Later, they were lumped with the Northern flicker and demoted to a mere subspecies.  Recently, their status as a full species has been reinstated.  I own three different bird guides of various vintages, which reflect the flicker’s changing fortune. If the flickers weren’t oblivious to the ornithologist’s debate, they would be the most confused birds in the desert. I found my flicker nest by mistake when following a friend’s directions to a great horned owl nest.  The situation was ideal:  the nest hole was low and there were two 7 foot yuccas positioned perfectly behind which I could hide myself so as not to disturb the birds.  More importantly, the location was remote enough that I was sure I would never be disturbed.  I spent the first few days in blissful tranquility.  On the third day, a bright red helicopter passed overhead.  It went back and forth over me, which I thought was rather strange.  To avoid detection I wedged myself between my protective yuccas.  Then it flew so close over my head I felt I could almost touch it. Suddenly it stopped, turned in my direction and hovered, facing me from a stone’s throw away.  Having a helicopter hovering right over you in the remote desert is not a very relaxing situation.  Were they looking for illegal immigrants?  Drug dealers?  Flicker photographers?  In any case, it appeared to me that I had certainly attracted their attention.  Finally, the helicopter flew off, as did my birds, and I decided to return to my car and meet whatever fate awaited me.  On the road out to the highway I saw a cowboy on his horse on top of a hill, a scene right out of a western movie.  I stopped and asked him what was going on with the chopper and he told me that they were rounding up cattle for branding.  It was just as well I asked, because when I returned to my house, about ten miles away, the same helicopter hovered nearby.  Had I not known about the roundup, I’m sure I would have suspected that it had followed me.  I wonder what the pilot thought when he saw some lost soul wedged in between two yuccas out in the middle of nowhere.

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