Though I only saw it in silhouette I knew from shape and size which of our ground squirrels I was seeing as I came down the Saddlehorn Trail. This is a rock squirrel, the one I see least. The trail wound away from it so this was my only good view, I did like that I could put the tops of saguaros behind it for context as it looked out from atop the large granite boulder.
At the start of 2011, after taking the previous picture at Horse Lake I moved to adjacent Long Lake, the pink skies fading in intensity despite the trivially short drive. Though side-by-side the differing natures of the lakes meant some wildlife preferred one to the other. Dead snags stood upright across the narrow width of the lake with many of their fallen brethren floating nearby. It was my favorite spot for close looks of teal and grebes and mergansers, with egrets and herons and bitterns hunting the shallows. In the warmer months turtles sunned on the logs, one of the few reptiles in the area. Mammals also made an appearance though not as often: otters fishing, raccoons and coyotes prowling the edges, deer up on the banks. Nutria too but then they were everywhere.
The tallest snag was near the road out-of-frame to the right, one day to my astonishment an adult bald eagle perched there almost right above me. Swallows would stop to rest as they hunted the skies above the lake, while below blackbirds and sparrows searched the marshy shores for insects to feed their young. The tall snag on the left was a favorite spot for kingfishers, as well as taller ones on the right, it was my favorite place to watch them as they dove down from the heights and plunged into the water after small fish.
But time took its toll on the former trees and one by one they began to fall, until on a visit four years later I sadly noted in my journal they were all gone. On a later visit it seemed more of a marshy meadow than a lake though perhaps in the rainy season it would fill up again. I wondered what animals would now call it home but it was not for me to know, change wasn’t just coming to the lake.
One of my favorite places at Ridgefield was Horse Lake, an innocuous seasonal pond at the start of the auto tour. To the left and right of this image grew clumps of tall grasses where bitterns and herons and egrets hunted. Dabblers like teal and pintails and wigeon congregated further left and right. In this open spot if there wasn’t much road traffic, and if you were patient enough, shy divers like scaup and bufflehead swam up to feed. The not-so-shy coots were always around, and often too the skies filled with cackling geese who wintered at the refuge in large numbers.
And once, and only once during my many visits, sunrise lit the skies a vibrant pink that reflected off the frozen pond. My favorite time to visit was on rainy days where you had to take it on faith the sun had risen, towels strewn round the Subaru as I listened to the pitter-patter of raindrops and the chitter-chatter of ducks. Because it was the start of the auto tour, there could be too much traffic for my liking on sunny days, and during the winter about every other day brought duck hunters and volleys of shotgun blasts. But in memory it can always be as peaceful as it was on this day and many others besides, as morning came to my little Horse.
We had a new visitor to the house today, I was working in the backyard when I noticed this lovely western diamondback rattlesnake coiled up by the back fence wall. Since it was in a section far away from the only place it could get out, we called the Phoenix Herpetological Society and soon thereafter someone (our pool person as it turns out) came out to safely relocate it in the desert.
A yellow-headed blackbird stuffs his beak full of insects, destined for his hungry family back at the nest, as he straddles plants just above the waterline. Taken at Long Lake at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in May 2011, the yellow-heads didn’t often come as close as the more ubiquitous red-wings but it was such a treat when they did.
One of the beauties of the auto tour was if you sat there quietly, sometimes the animals would walk right by the car. Or even stop beside you, as with this hunting heron scanning the marsh beyond. With its back to me, a gentle breeze tussled the feathers atop its head, showing off the white strip of feathers they grow as adults.