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.

The House at the Top of the World

A bird's nest sits near the top of a teddy bear cholla atop the debris field along the Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in December 2018

I was a bit surprised to see birds building nests in cacti when we moved here as it didn’t seem to be the most comfortable place to raise your children but I can see how it might keep ground predators at bay. This nest in a teddy bear cholla looked out over the desert from atop the debris field along the Marcus Landslide Trail. The nest was no longer in use as I took this at sunrise on Christmas Eve, I’m glad I didn’t wait as over the winter the nest slowly disintegrated.

Backyard Beauty

A female Anna's hummingbird looks at me while perching on a bougainvillea branch in front of pale verde trees in our backyard in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2019

Though I haven’t spent much time photographing them we do get a variety of birds to our small backyard. Our house is on a slope with a narrow common area below the back of the house with some trees and cacti and grasses, although it isn’t easy to get back there it does provide a nice backdrop. This spring a verdin couple nested in a buckhorn cholla below the house and if I angled my lens just so against the metal bars of the fence I could photograph the entrance. As I watched them a female Anna’s hummingbird occasionally flew into the bougainvillea I was sitting next to, eventually I pulled the camera away from its precise setup and took some handheld shots of her. The dark patch on her neck will glow a bright red if the sun hits it from the right angle.