In Death, Supporting Life

A lesser nighthawk perches on a dead buckhorn cholla on the 118th Street Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2020

Nighthawks were a new species for me when we moved to Arizona. I see them relatively often near the break of day, zooming about low to the ground in erratic flight like massive swallows. When sitting still they can be pretty hard to spot and usually I only manage it if see them land, as in this case when a dead cholla lended its support on a spring morning.

My Stomping Grounds

An environmental portrait of a cactus wren singing from the flower stalk of a soaptree yucca with mountains in the background in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2020

As the first light of day spills across the desert, a cactus wren sings from the flower stalk of a soaptree yucca as it makes the rounds of the high places. In between this patch of McDowell Sonoran Preserve and the mountains on the horizon are a host of subdivisions, including ours, I see the mountains on the left from the back porch. There are 5 (!) preserve trailheads near us and this is where I do most of my hiking, either in the massive northern area like this or down by the mountains. The preserve continues quite a ways to the south, those trails are great fun too (our second favorite house was at the southern end) but the northern part is my favorite.

High Holes

A male gilded flicker perches outside a hole near the top of a sagauro near Powerline Road No. 2 in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2020

If the Sonoran Desert was naught but saguaros and woodpeckers it would still be a delight. I didn’t think I’d have a shot at this gilded flicker, I was watching flycatchers when he flew up to a hole near the top of a saguaro. Given the angle to the sun he was in shadow but for a moment he leaned far enough left that the light fell upon his profile, showing his red mustache and the yellow wing linings for which he is named. They apparently prefer making nests near the top where the newer growth is softer, while the Gila woodpeckers have stronger beaks that give them more latitude in where they drill their holes. I’m not sure if this was his nest hole or not, he didn’t bring any food in his bill and only looked in briefly, he might have just been interested in the flowers blooming above his head. But it could be he was afraid to enter with me watching so I bid adieu and continued on.

Rock Climbing

The rattle and black-tail of a black-tailed rattlesnake are visible as it climbs a rock near Granite Mountain in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2020

An aptly named black-tailed rattlesnake goes rock climbing near Granite Mountain in May, a new species for me. From what I’ve read they are relatively laid back but deliver a large dose of venom when they strike. This one was a ways off the trail and I only got partial views as it slowly made its way up the rock pile.

TA black-tailed rattlesnake flicks out its tongue as it climbs a rock near Granite Mountain in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2020

The Cholla Calls

A cactus wren perches in a buckhorn cholla along Powerline Road No. 2 in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2020

Have I wandered too long in the desert heat? The cholla is talking to me. Not in quiet whispers but in bold boisterous calls, raising my spirits and quickening my pace, pulling me closer. So far I have not been drawn into its warm embrace, so far, so far.

Welcome, Welcome

A saguaro I call the Green Elephant blooms at sunrise with a bouquet of flowers at the ends of each of its sprawling arms, taken on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2020

I see her often, the Green Elephant, usually just a quick hello as we pass on the trails. Sometimes though I head out just to see her, as I had the week before, when I promised I’d try to be back the next week. Though getting up was hard the reward was worth the effort as she greeted me with so many bouquets of flowers she could scarce hold them all betwixt arms and trunk and ears and tail. “Welcome, welcome, stay and wonder,” she whispered for in the east the sun began to rise.