A House Finch sings sweetly from a dead branch at the top of a juniper. It’s halfway up the wall of the canyon. Ahead, sharp notes descend from a Canyon Wren. Plaintive Mourning Doves coo across the canyon. One flies, calling in flight, the sound exasperated like a plastic toy squeezed repeatedly to squeak, squeak, squeak through a tiny pore. A raptor screams. But loudest is the rustle of leaves, which is not a rustle but a splatter when I find it—a Spotted Towhee in the sand. It, too, is like a toy, like a metal, wind-up bird that hops rapidly. Those are the hectic, quickly repetitive motions of the towhee. It jumps backward and then forward, spraying sand at each motion. Shushoooa! Shushoooa! Sand against dried leaves and matted stems at the margin of the small creek where the towhee works. Back, sand sprays—forward, sand sprays; the towhee pecks at the sand with each forward motion, smoothly dipping its head following the aggressive forward sweep of its feet, pecks a second time; back—forward, shushoooa! peck, back, shushoooa! forward, shushoooa! peck, backforwardpeck, shushoooashus! backshushoooashus!forward shushoooashus!peckback shushoooashus! I’m distracted by the beat of wings—a metallic hoosh, hoosh; a crow’s wings sound of wire—I look up, behind me and up, around and up—I cannot find the crow, only hear its wings against wire.
A delicate, vegetative rattle, like someone walking calmly toward me—it’s a dry cottonwood leaf, twisted half around that shakes in the wind against a twig.