Large Mercies

A cuve-billed thrasher swallows after feeding from a saguaro blossom on the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2020

Even with a relatively long beak, come springtime curve-billed thrashers end up with faces covered in pollen courtesy of the massive flowers of the saguaro. Saguaros are many things, subtle is not one of them. I’m thankful for the mercy of these large flowers, because if they were carnivorous they could easily eat their fill of desert birds who thrust their entire heads into the blossoms (and later, fruit) to feed.

A cuve-billed thrasher sticks its head into a saguaro blossom on the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2020

OCCUPIED! OCCUPIED!

A white-winged dove looks up from feeding from a saguaro blossom as another is about to land, taken on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2020

A white-winged dove looks up from feeding from a saguaro blossom as another is about to land. The incoming bird landed on the leftmost blossom so they were able share the perch for a while. I haven’t seen so many white-wings this year, to be fair I haven’t hiked as much this spring and summer and when I do it’s often on different trails, but we also aren’t seeing so many in the yard as last year. Which works out well for the mourning doves as in numbers the larger white-wings can push the smaller doves around but this year the white-wings are fairly subdued and it’s only the quail parents with babies whose wrath the doves have to avoid.

New Arrivals

A desert spiny lizard sits behind the entrance to its new home, it moved into an antelope squirrel's home, taken in our front yard in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2020

I was delighted when an antelope squirrel dug a burrow in the front yard, but its time with us was rather short as I’m fairly certain a bobcat got it. A pair of spiny lizards moved in shortly after, although I didn’t see the female for long. A roadrunner made several attempts at this one on different days and I don’t know if it was eventually successful, as while I didn’t see the lizard for a while there is one around occasionally now, so perhaps it moved on to a better location. Hard to say as there are multiple lizards in the area as some came over to sample the flowers on the bush above this rock. The only way I could tell they weren’t all the same lizard is one was regrowing its tail and one had a missing front leg (it looked like it had learned to live without it just fine).

A desert spiny lizard is partially seen behind a cactus as it sits near the entrance to its home in our front yard in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2020

A Nest Surprise

A Harris's hawk sits in a nest in a saguaro in front of pink skies on the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2020

After the hawk I had been watching flew off and sat beside another member of its family on a transmission tower to the north, I wandered up to the saguaro where it had been sitting. Wanting to extend the tranquility of the morning and with the sun about to rise, rather than hoof it up the trail to find the saguaros I originally intended to photograph, I stopped for a water break and to enjoy that moment when the light sweeps over the mountains. I lazily pointed my long lens at the old hawk’s nest I saw last year, I didn’t think it was being used so I was rather shocked to see one of the adults atop it. I put the camera on the tripod and got off a shot before the pink skies disappeared. When the sun rose, the hawk’s face was in shadow, as it was last year. A deliberate choice? I’d certainly do the same, the sun here is something else altogether.

A Moment of Peace

A near silhouette of an adult Harris's hawk perched on the tallest arm of a fruiting saguaro on the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2020

My hiking has fallen off dramatically the last six weeks as most days I’ve been too worn out to get up early. I managed it a couple weeks back and decided to photograph a pair of saguaros in the light of dawn and sunrise. Before I got that far up the trail I ran across a Harris’s hawk from the family I watched last year, so I stopped and played around with some near-silhouettes as it sat atop the fruiting arms. I decided not to press on to my original target as this saguaro is literally next to the trail and I wouldn’t be able to pass without spooking the bird. It felt like a form of sacrilege to disturb the tranquility of the desert dawn, so I whispered “Take as long as you like,” then laughed and added “only let’s not make it hours.” I stayed back but knew I could really only buy it minutes as I’m not the only one who loves this trail. Only no one else came by, leaving the two of us in the quiet, relative quiet, as we were joined by flycatchers and thrashers and woodpeckers and wrens, with small flocks of white-winged doves flying overhead and mourning doves cooing in the distance.

I didn’t get the picture I came for but what joy I received in return!

Of Seals

A harbor seal closes its eyes with its feet and tail sticking out of the water in the shallow surf near Cobble Beach at Yaquina Head Outsdanding Natural Area in Newport, Oregon in October 2017

The past couple of years I’ve been watching some old movies I haven’t seen before, using Turner Classic Movies to catch up on some old gems. Last night I TiVo’ed Ingmar Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal”, which has been on my watch list for some time. I haven’t watched it yet and since I try to not find out anything about a movie before I watch it, even the basics of the plot, I don’t know if the movie is about harbor seals, elephant seals, or leopard seals. With seven seals, maybe all of them! Can’t wait to find out!

Legs Up, Hands On Hearts!

A wave begins to break over the body of the first harbor seal in a group at Cobble Beach in Yaquina Head Oustanding Natural Area in Newport, Oregon in October 2017

The rising tide brings waves that overwhelm the sleeping locations of the harbor seals, eventually sending them into the water. The bigger seals often held the ground that let them sleep the longest while the younger seals took the first brunt of the wave action. As each wave swept past, they’d raise their legs in unison, allowing the water to sweep over their bodies instead of knocking them into the sea, though in the end the water always wins.

I could spend hours watching the seals, relaxing on land or swimming in the sea, someday I’d love to spend more time in the area. A couple of years ago when it was time to choose between two job offers, the job in California would have put me relatively close to the coast with not just harbor seals but other mammals I haven’t seen before. If the cost of living had been swapped between the two locations perhaps we’d have gone on a different adventure, but thankfully the Sonoran Desert had its own wonders in store.

Harbor seals lift their legs as a wave breaks over them at Cobble Beach in Yaquina Head Oustanding Natural Area in Newport, Oregon in October 2017

A group of harbor seals lie with their legs raised after a wave swept past at Cobble Beach in Yaquina Head Oustanding Natural Area in Newport, Oregon in October 2017

At Home

A male harlequin duck swims in the crashing surf at Yaquina Head on the Oregon coast, taken at Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area in Newport, Oregon in October 2017

A male harlequin duck swims in the crashing surf at Yaquina Head on the Oregon coast, he was not caught unaware in this chaotic environment as this is where he likes to live. It was a delight to watch the ducks thrive in the surging seas alongside the harbor seals, two species so completely different and yet living side-by-side peacefully.