A Common Sight

A mourning dove perches on a log beside the Rustler Trail early in the morning in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2019

It sometimes still surprises me to see mourning doves out in the middle of the desert, even though they are one of the most common native birds in the States. They are year-round residents and also common visitors to our backyard. They are fairly skittish so I see them a lot more than I photograph them, but this one on the Rustler Trail posed early on a spring morning.

Sometimes It’s Good To Be Wrong

A Harris's hawk perches on a large rock and looks down over the desert with the mountains in the background from the Gooseneck Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in July 2019

I had always imagined the desert here was a vast expanse of sand and an occasional cactus. I’ve never been so happy to be wrong as beauty abounds in the Sonoran Desert in forms large and small. Early on a sunny July morning this Harris’s hawk and I surveyed our desert home from the Gooseneck Trail.

If, However

The tail of a western diamondback rattlesnake is visible showing the rattle, the black-and-white bands, and part of the camouflaged body in heavy brush beside the Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in July 2019

If the rest of the diamondback was as vividly marked as the black-and-white bands of the tail there wouldn’t be nearly so many surprise encounters with humans. However as ambush predators they rely on surprise encounters with the small creatures they eat, when the camouflaged coloring of the rest of their body comes in handy.

Growing

A juvenile red-tailed hawk balances atop the flower buds of a saguaro beside an off-map trail in the Pima Dynamite area of McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2019

In May I met this young red-tailed hawk on one of the off-map trails in the Pima Dynamite area, it was still growing in confidence if not in size. Its movements were still a little unsure, here flaring out its wings slightly to maintain its balance atop the flower buds of the saguaro. It kept its head on a swivel, looking at not just its nearby sibling but listening further off for the parents that were keeping in touch vocally (and perhaps visually, they had a taller vantage point than I). The yellow in its legs and beak was quite pale but it had already accomplished much by growing to this size, as babies even the top predators are vulnerable to other predators such as the great horned owls I saw on the previous hike and heard hooting that morning.

By now it will be an old hand at flying about the desert even if still wearing its juvenile plumage. I turned around at this point as its sibling was on a saguaro right next to the trail and I didn’t want to disturb them, they had enough on their minds, enough to learn about their desert home. I can sympathize.

Pushups

The rising sun lights up the blue underside of an male ornate tree lizard as he does pushups on a large granite rock along the Gooseneck Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in August 2019

With a pounding headache and growing nausea I had to chuckle as I walked down the trail that this would be a sunrise best enjoyed sitting on the back porch beside the pool, except that having done only one other short hike the past month it felt good to be out on the trails. Between allergies acting up and being tired I chose an easy short hike close to home, a section out on the Gooseneck Trail, with my planned turnaround the first big rock formation. I reached the rocks at sunrise but didn’t find anything to shoot, if I had been feeling better I would have found interesting plants and patterns in the rocks but the creative part of my brain was moving at half-speed, to be generous.

After a long drink I put my bottle back in my bag and prepared to leave when I noticed a stick on the rocks beside me. The stick started doing pushups and I stood frozen in confusion as I’ve seen a lot of sticks and this is not typically how they behave. There was a beat. Two. Three. Four. Oh right! A lizard! I slowly and steadily moved a smidge down the trail so I could photograph him and thankfully he did another set of pushups, the rising sun lighting up his brilliant blue belly.

I headed back up the trail with lighter footsteps, forgetting for a moment the headache and nausea, feeling for just a moment that perhaps I could extend the hike. With the rising heat I wisely decided that discretion was the better part of valor and I headed back to the car and a lie down on the couch. From last weekend, this weekend I didn’t manage even a short hike, though the afternoon swims have been refreshing.