Geographically speaking, the Great Basin is classified as a cold desert. I find this ironic in July and August when, in places, the temperature may approach 110 degrees F. But the classification is based on the area’s precipitation which falls mostly as snow, rather than rain. Native plants and animals have adapted to the extremes of temperature and aridity, and many thrive in their particular niche.
Incongruities exist where there is water. From it’s source in the West Tintic Mountains, Cherry Creek flows to the desert below. While the stream is small, it is perennial and determined. It’s course is lined with thick stands of willow and occasional cottonwood trees, in contradistinction to the juniper and sagebrush that crowd it on either side.
Long ago a local rancher dammed Cherry Creek midway between the mountains and the desert. He is little more than a memory but the impounded water remains, a small but essential way station for migrating birds and an unexpected summer home for a number of species that normally breed in more hosptible places.
As I sit atop a low hill looking down on this jewel, shimmering in a winter sun that has begun its slow slide from zenith to western horizon, I count nearly a hundred birds from a dozen different species swimming in its waters or lounging on its banks. A great blue heron, perched in the branches of a dead juniper tree, stands watch. As the migration progresses more waterfowl, grebes, waders, and shorebirds will restore themselves here, as I have seen them do so in the past, surrounded by snakeweed and juniper. American coots breed here, as do mallards, red-winged and yellow-headed blackbirds, yellow-breasted chats and common yellowthroats, Virginia’s rails and norther harries, anomolies in the land of sage thrashers and sage sparrows, gray flycatchers and gray vireos, black-throated sparrows, ash-throated flycatchers, juniper titmice, and Scott’s orioles. But sucessful anomolies all the same, the beneficiaries of the magic of unexpected water.