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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.

Three Predators: Ash-Throated Flycatcher Edition

An ash-throated flycatcher turns about in mid-air as it realizes there are two fuzzy Harris's hawk chicks in the their nest in a saugaro on the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2020

An ash-throated flycatcher was about to land in the arms of this saguaro when it noticed the two fuzzy heads in the nest and did a mid-air about face and returned to the trees below. Flycatchers are built to snare insects on the wing so aerial acrobatics are second nature to them. Through it all the saguaro has fruit bursting open up top, offering up both its red pulp and its many seeds to all willing to risk flying above the hawk’s nest. Death comes in many forms in the desert, but so too does life.

Three Predators: Loggerhead Shrike Edition

A loggerhead shrike jumps from the top arm of a saguaro to try to catch some small prey moving about in the desert below, as two fuzzy Harris's hawk chicks sit oblivious in the nest, on the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2020

A loggerhead shrike jumps from the top arm of a saguaro to try to catch some small prey moving about in the desert below. Oblivious to it all, inside the big nest of sticks are two fuzzy heads barely able to hold themselves up, young Harris’s hawks who can’t much move about the nest much less the desert. The shrike is no threat to the youngsters or it wouldn’t have been allowed this close, as unseen in the picture are three other predators, an adult hawk not visible from my vantage point but sitting atop a saguaro nearby, and two more high up on a transmission tower a ways behind me with an expansive view of the desert and any threats that might approach. An adult had been on the nest at sunrise but had left presumably to hunt while the rest of the family kept an eye on their newest arrivals.

Changing Elevation

Our cat Sam stretches out along the top of the cat tree in my office in June 2020

As the seasons pass some animals change elevation seeking temperatures more to their liking, Samwise no exception. With the full heat of summer coming on our snuggler extraordinaire will often come in for some affection and then flee to the tops of the cat trees where he can stretch out and cool off a bit. Trixie feels no such migratory urges and the little furnace has been stretched out along my legs all morning as we watch Formula 1 practicing in Austria.

There Are Yardbirds, and There Are Yardbirds

A juvenile Harris's hawk perches on a rooftop in the Troon area of Scottsdale, Arizona in Apri 2020

A young Harris’s hawk perches atop a house in our neighborhood in April. Last year I noticed all the yardbirds scatter in an instant when an adult landed on our back fence. Hopefully enough green space will remain that the hawks can stay as more and more of the area gets turned into subdivisions, as our neighborhood must have a couple of decades ago (we were settling into our lives in Oregon back then).

Time to Leave

The long thin body of a western patch-noses snake lies across the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2020

I was nearing the end of my hike when I saw a colorful stick lying across the path. At first delighted as I knew it was going to be a new snake species for me, my heart sank as I approached and it didn’t slither off into the grass. Afraid it had gotten run over, I was a bit confused when I saw its head, mostly hidden in the grass (not visible in this picture), as its eyes were open and bright. I laughed to myself, wondering if it was like when we adopt a cat and at first they hide under the bed, only their tail is sticking out giving away their position. The rear of its body covered so much of the trail that I felt I had to convince it to move along as this trail is heavily used by cyclists who wouldn’t likely see it in time to avoid it. I saw a dried yucca stalk in the grass and thought to tap it nearby, but just the sound of pulling the stalk from the grass sent the snake on its way. I whispered my apologies for having to startle it but best to find a safer place to warm up in the morning light.

This was my second snake sighting this year and my first ever of this species. I don’t know my snakes well and initially thought it was some type of garter snake based on its long thin body adorned in stripes, but something about the shape of its head seemed off. Upon closer inspection (in pictures, not in person) it has a large triangular scale at the front of its head, perhaps an aid when looking for reptile eggs to eat.

The head and upper body of a western patch-nosed snake it partly hidden in grass on the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2020

Hallelujah Arms

A battered old saguaro on the Morning Vista Trail has fruit atop its many remaining arms, while some of the other arms have been snapped in half or broken off altogether, taken in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2020

The rising sun illuminates a battered old saguaro, some of its arms shattered in half and some broken off altogether. But it still has a host of hallelujah arms raised towards heaven, all now fruiting and not just hopefully starting new life from its seeds but sustaining the lives of others with its fruit, a prized treat for many birds. In the picture below, taken just before the sun rose, a curve-billed thrasher feeds atop one of the taller arms.

A curve-billed thrasher feeds on fruit atop a battered old saguaro on the Morning Vista Trail, taken in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2020

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.