4 Times 500

Helio Castroneves prepares to climb aboard his Team Penske racing car at the CART race at Portland International Raceway in 2001

Congratulations to Helio Castroneves for winning his 4th Indy 500. I loved him from the start as a rookie but all those pictures are on film waiting for a rainy day to be scanned, this was the last time I saw him, at Portland International Raceway in 2001. Our paths diverged so I never got to see him race in person again but so happy to see the success he’s had during those years, don’t think you’ll find anyone who wasn’t thrilled to see him join the rare club of 4 time winners.

A Faithful Father

A male gilded flicker perches outside his nest in a saguaro at George Doc Cavalliere Park in Scottsdale, Arizona on May 8, 2021. Original: _RAC8770.arw

My favorite times to be in the desert are around sunrise and sunset, transfixed by how rapidly the light rises and falls, changing not only in intensity but color. I love the moment as the sun fades when a little diffuse red light mixes in with the heavier scattered blues, similar to the light here. But the sun, while low in the sky, had not yet set, instead blocked by a band of smoke in the northwest from a burning desert. While a depressing sign of things to come in the drought-stricken West, there was hope before me too. Flower buds on an old saguaro, soon to burst into blossom. And a faithful flicker father landing at his nest, squeaking voices inside welcoming him home.

Red Mustache

A male gilded flicker peers out from the top of a saguaro covered in flower buds at George Doc Cavalliere Park in Scottsdale, Arizona on May 8, 2021. Original: _RAC8820.arw

A few weeks back flower buds dotted the tops of saguaro arms with the occasional early bloomers producing a flower or two. Normally the flowers are white but this one appeared to have a red mustache, perhaps a trick of the light as the sun dipped behind the mountains and only a little direct light fell upon the high points of the desert.

The Desert Family

Our cat Boo rests on the back of the futon in our living room on May 8, 2021. Original: _CAM1594.arw

Last night when it cooled down enough to open the windows I logged off work and moved from the living room to my office. As I was getting my things together I noticed Sam was at the top of the cat tree, wide-eyed, staring out the window. I went over and realized a javelina was eating mesquite seeds out front so I turned off the lights and Sam and I settled in to watch it.

A few more of various ages came wandering in so I went to get Boo and Trixie and we all settled in to watch the desert family though one of us couldn’t see so well in the dark. Eventually two adults sauntered in with five adorable babies in tow. Trixie was in front of me next to the screen so she had a front row seat when an adult brought two of the babies right below the window. She stayed quiet but from her body language I was a little worried she might explode.

The javelina spent a lot of time in the yard, from beginning to end 20 or 30 minutes, so fun to see and hear, at least for all of us but Boo. He got scared and ran off when one of the adults sprinted across the yard, so he wasn’t there when the babies arrived. I could tell he was nearby though as when the little things started making a ruckus the darkness growled behind me. He was already a little stressed as he hates the ceiling fan in my office, I held out turning it on for as long as I could but it’s gotten too warm to not run it, so sadly for now I’ve lost my tuxedo sidekick. Here’s hoping he gets used to it as I loved having him tucked in beside me all winter.

A Plethora of Perches

A young Harris's hawk looks out from atop an old saguaro at sunset on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on May 9, 2021. Original: _RAC8897.arw

An old giant provides a plethora of perches for a young Harris’s hawk to choose from as it scans the desert floor at sunset. This time of year the perches are relatively soft courtesy of the large flower buds (and by now, flowers themselves). Apparently Audubon would name the birds for his friend and supporter Edward Harris but when he first drew one for his book Birds of America he called them the Louisiana hawk. The University of Pittsburgh has the entire collection online but be forewarned, it can be a real time sink.

There is a movement to rename birds named after people, something I’d like to see. I’d rather see birds named after their nature (especially for these hawks, their social network since it’s so unusual) rather than an homage to a human, regardless of whether the person should be remembered or forgotten or somewhere in between. Interestingly Wikipedia notes, among other things, Audubon may have stolen the Harris’s hawk specimen he used as a model for his drawing.

We humans are complicated creatures.

Hawkland

An environmental portrait of a young Harris's hawk atop an old saguaro as it looks out over an expanse of desert, Cholla Mountain visible in the distance, as the sun sets on the Latigo Trail at McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on May 9, 2021. Original: _CAM1682.arw

Most of the desert falls into shadow as the setting sun clings to the saguaros and mountains; a young Harris’s hawk looks out over its home from atop one of the old giants. Looking north towards Cholla Mountain there aren’t a lot of saguaros but there are around me, a short walk to my right leads to my favorite. Walking left leads to an area chock-a-block full of them and all the wildlife they support. Nearby too is the neighborhood entrance I’m heading towards with the park about to close, it’s not my neighborhood but we live close by and my wife was picking me up, having dropped me off earlier for an evening hike before the encroaching summer heat puts an end to those.

Great Scott’s!

A male Scott's oriole sings from his perch atop the flower buds of a saguaro on the Rustler Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on May 2, 2021. Original: _RAC8508.arw

Last weekend I stopped at the end of the Rustler Trail for a water break, trying to decide which way to meander on the network of trails, when an oriole flew into the ocotillo in front of me to feed from its flowers. Caught flat-footed holding a water bottle I didn’t want to make any sudden moves towards the camera, we both needed refreshment, but I did get a chance for pictures when he flew off to a distant saguaro and sang to me from the flower buds before disappearing down the trail.

I made a mental note to add Bullock’s oriole to my bird list for the day even though I was surprised his plumage was so yellow. It was only when I got home and looked at the pictures that I had a little laugh at myself when I noticed his head and shoulders were solid black and, while clearly an oriole, he looked nothing like a Bullock’s. In my defense I had gotten up two days in a row for a sunrise hike, the first time this year, so the old gray cells were not in finest form.

I fired up Sibley’s on the iPad and discovered my friend was a Scott’s oriole, a new species for me and thus a new species in my attempt to photograph every animal of the Sonoran Desert atop a saguaro (though I have to say, the mammals aren’t cooperating).

I ended up hiking the Upper Ranch Trail to the Rustler Trail to the Latigo Trail to the Hackamore Trail to the Tarantula Trail to the West Express Trail, returning via the Hackamore Trail to Cone Mountain Trail to Upper Ranch Trail. It was my first time on the West Express, there are formal trails in this part of the preserve now instead of the temporary off-map trails that were there before.