A Little Off

A primary wing feather of a northern flicker (red-shafted) sits on a lichen-covered builder in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on December 31, 2022. Original: _Z722527.NEF

On the last day of the year I was walking Bear in the desert when I noticed some extra color amongst the lichens. “A flicker feather!” I exclaimed to a disinterested pup, and since I had my superzoom got out the camera for a quick snap of one of their lovely primary wing feathers (see the US Fish & Wildlife Service Feather Atlas for more examples). I hesitated because something was off but I couldn’t put my finger on it. There was a beat, and a beat, and a beat, then I realized it was from a red-shafted flicker!

Before we moved here this variety of northern flicker was a backyard bird for us, and when I read that Arizona had both this flicker and a gilded flicker that nested in saguaros, I hoped I’d get to see one of the gildeds, however unlikely it was. Once we arrived I realized it was not unlikely at all as I had it the wrong-way round, the golden birds are the ones I see frequently. I once thought I saw a red-shafted flicker flying across the desert but I later so second-guessed myself that I struck it from my list. There aren’t any saguaros in the section of the park where I found this feather, perhaps I’ve been hiking around too many saguaros to see my once familiar friends.

But how can you not?

Transfixed

A saguaro with exposed damage that resembles Medusa in George Doc Cavalliere Park in Scotttsdale, Arizona on October 16, 2022. Originals: _ZFC2899.NEF to _ZFC2919.NEF

While watching woodpeckers I noticed the saguaro beside the trail had exposed damage resembling Medusa’s head, covered in swirling snakes. That saguaros have a thin gorgon layer between their green skin and the spongy material beneath would explain why I sometimes stand transfixed before them, unable to avert my gaze.

The Return of White Whisker

Our cat Trixie relaxes on the couch on December 10, 2022. Original: _Z721861.NEF

As a kitten in addition to her normal allotment of whiskers Trixie had three thick white ones. Once they fell out they never grew back, at least not until recently when one made its bold return. It fell out a few days back and so far its siblings have stayed dormant, so she’s back to looking like her normal self. This picture is from December when White Whisker was in full force.

Artist-in-Residence

A great horned owl perches on a granite boulder covered in bird droppings in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on December 30, 2022. Original: _CAM6414.ARW

While walking Bear I noticed a large mural painted across a boulder in the desert and wondered who the artist was. While I don’t usually bring the telephoto zoom on dog walks, I had it on this occasion and there’s a nice spot on the trail here to stop for a snack break. As Bear lapped up his water I trained the lens on the rocks and was shocked to see the artist-in-residence was in residence! Bear isn’t much of a birder, especially not when they’re this far off, he’s more fond of mammals. There are lots of jackrabbits here, when he sees one his eyes light up as if to say “Giant rabbit!”, which isn’t quite true but I’m not going to split hares with the pup.

I Didn’t Even Make It A Day

A close-up of our cat Trixie looking out from a cat bed on October 9, 2022. Original: _Z727176.NEF

New Year’s Day arrived with a steady and gentle rain, Bear and I took advantage with a long walk in the neighborhood we had all to ourselves. It almost felt like Portland save for the saguaros standing in the mist. Trixie slept in my lap most of the day, when daylight fell the winds picked up and she hopped off my lap and hid under the blanket beside me. She disappeared when a thunderstorm arrived with the night so I went into the bedroom to check on her, bending down to kiss the tiny lump under the covers on my side of the bed, thanked with a quiet squeak. When the storm passed she returned to my lap but I was chagrined my promise there would be no thunder until July didn’t survive even a day into the new year.

Lost Worlds

Heavy clouds obscure the McDowell Mountains and Tom's Thumb in Scottsdale, Arizona on December 30, 2022. Original: _Z722417.NEF

My week off from work brought heavy clouds and gentle rains, reminding me of lost worlds. Looking out to the obscured mountain peaks, of ancient times when land emerged from the sea. Walking Bear in the mist and rain, of walking Ellie in the damp Portland winters, toweling her off when we got home. The rain caught Bear and I but once on our long walks, I stayed dry since I still have all my rain gear, and Bear, like Ellie before him, was as happy in the wet as the dry.

Morning Ablutions

A canyon towhee pauses while preening at sunrise on the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on September 18, 2022. Original: _CAM5336.ARW

Another in my series exploring light as it arrives or departs the desert. If it looks like the towhee puffed out its feathers to protect against the cold, it hadn’t, this was mid-September when cool hasn’t yet entered the desert’s vocabulary, much less cold. I was watching it preen before sunrise and luckily it was still at it as the light peeked over the mountains, the hills behind it still in shadow.