As we start on our walk, we encounter one of several cute little burrowing owls and its nest. As my dogs get close, the owl lifts off the ground, screeching and hovering like a mini-helicopter. Ringo takes heed and veers off, but Blanca, nose to the ground, ignores the warning shrieks and sticks her head into the nest. The owl makes one kamikaze dive after another toward Blanca, her (his?) talons fully exposed to cut her apart. Blanca thinks it's fun, yapping and leaping up into the air to nip at the bird. Silly dog!!
I do my own shrieking to get her away, and the owl voices another shrill warning and swoops, this time toward me! It flies within inches of my head and I have to take off my hat and wave it in the air to keep the owl from ripping my head to shreds. I make some tracks, the dogs close behind.
On we go, past the killer owl and by this time the pooches are getting hot. They love to dive into the water-filled ditches to cool off. Ringo can handle it. He gets in, gets wet, and gets out, no problem. Little Blanca thinks she can manage. And sometimes she can when the ditch is only one-fourth full. But this time the canal is topped off with swiftly flowing water and before I can call her back she plunges in. Her head pops up out of the water and she starts swimming frantically against the flow but she's still getting pulled toward the headgate. She attempts a few scrambles up the side of the concrete but the current is too strong and keeps sucking her back. I jump into waist-high water, scoop her up, and in my annoyance, fling her away from me. She sails in the air and lands on the road, sopping wet, panting, her tongue hanging out, looking happy and totally oblivious to the fact that she almost drowned.
An irrigator passes by in his truck and sees me. I'm still in the canal. He stops, gets out of his truck and lends a hand to help me out. "Gracias," I say sheepishly. He laughs, says "Por nada," and off he goes.
Do we turn back after dealing with killer owls and a near-drowning? Oh no! We're having too much fun! On we go to the next field. A farmer has set up a sort of bird refuge made of several brackish ponds filled with an amazing assortment of colorful winged creatures: a magnificent blue gray heron, an occasional snow white egret, red- winged blackbirds and a huge flock of black-necked stilts that take wing as we approach.
I stop walking so I can watch their ballet of flight and then I hear a most beautiful sound. It is the delicate thrumming music, the softly muffled motion of a hundred wings as the stilts fly overhead. They fly away from us, then turn in unison and soar over us once again. Even my dogs stop, heads lifted up, ears at attention, to listen and watch. So lovely.
Onward we go to another pond, this time inhabited with a family of American coots. They see us coming and wiggle their way across the water in that head-bobbing way of swimming. Ringo jumps in the water to chase them. I watch the coots high step their way to takeoff, appearing to walk on water before they wing their way to safety.
The dogs and I turn and make our way back to the car, avoiding the killer kamikaze owl and the deadly water-filled ditch. We take another route and have a peaceful walk back. I load the dogs in the car; their mouths are open, tongues are lolling and they look like they're grinning. They seem satisfied. And I'm satisfied, too.
I'm happy knowing that here in my back yard is a paradise composed of clear wide open spaces, beautiful birds and their music and friendly helpful people. I feel safe and happy at times like this. I also feel fortunate to live here
(Thanks to James E. Kuhn and his "Guide to the Birds of the Imperial Valley")
>> DENISE PAGE-DeMORST is a registered nurse at El Centro Regional Medical Center and University of California San Diego Medical Center. She resides in Brawley with her two boys, ages 42 and 17.